Joni Eareckson Tada, who has resumed travel since her cancer went into remission, sympathized with struggling Americans and wounded soldiers, offering them words of encouragement during her Thursday speech at the National Day of Prayer.
Tada, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2010, was on stage Thursday addressing the depressed outlook that is affecting many Americans.
"Americans are nervous; Americans are restless; and what troubles me the most is that Americans are uncharacteristically pessimistic," she said.
Tada, a quadriplegic who served as honorary chairman for this year’s National Day of Prayer, credited the uncharacteristic change in Americans to a number of things including "the national debt, rising gas prices, partisanship, political partisanship, in fact, right here in D.C.
“And boy, it doesn't help when you sit at home and watch videos of the tsunami (in Japan) and the tornadoes down South."
All those things, she believes, have left many overwhelmed and decidedly "throwing in the towel."
Tada advised those feeling that way to seek some new perspective. "Perspective is everything when you are experiencing the challenges of life" she advised.
The beloved Christian author offered stories of her personal struggles as encouragement to Americans to remain optimistic.
"Forty-four years of quadriplegia, I deal daily with chronic pain. And [when combined with] the recent battle with breast cancer, I know something about uncertain times," she told the audience.
Tada, now 61, suffered a diving accident as a 17-year-old that left her a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic. During her two years of rehabilitation, Tada learned how to paint by holding a brush between her teeth. Her fine art launched her into the spotlight and led to a bestselling autobiography entitled Joni and movie feature.
She also went on to serve on the National Council on Disability and the Disability Advisory Committee to the U.S. State Department.
She has since founded the Joni and Friends International Disability Center where she tackles tough questions about God and spiritual healing through her radio program and family retreats. Joni and Friends also provides free wheelchairs to the disabled worldwide.
In the middle of her ministry, Tada was diagnosed with a new challenge – stage 3 breast cancer. Tada stopped traveling last June to undergo surgery. She also underwent four rounds of chemotherapy last October.
On Thursday, she recalled when her husband Ken showed her G. I. Jane after her head was shaved and recounted the bouts of nausea she felt after some of her chemo sessions.
She shared with the audience that some mornings when she wakes up, she often realizes anew the challenges being paralyzed and unable to use her hands or her legs, the pain in her body and the constant wait for friends to come in and give her a bed bath, help her through exercises and get her dressed. Tada testified that although she often feels that she cannot bear this experience, she constantly relies on God's strength and prays for His smile to greet her helpers.
As she shared those candid details she encouraged audience members and those watching the Internet broadcast not to dwell on the negative moments. Instead, she urged Americans to change their attitude about trying times.
"Trials are not just assaults to be withstood. No, trials are opportunities to be seized," she said. And with that perspective, Tada said, "Life becomes inspiring, not in spite of the problems and the hard hits, but because of them."
She reminded them that God is in control, and He has the victory. Tada instructed listeners to, instead of succumbing to challenges, think "Game on!" "Let's go!" "Victory is within Reach!" and to keep challenging themselves to work harder and deepen their relationship with God.
The National Day of Prayer was established in 1952 by President Harry S. Truman via a joint resolution of Congress. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan amended and signed a law permanently designating the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer.
Shirley Dobson, wife of prominent evangelical Dr. James Dobson, leads the annual observance. This year marked the 60th annual observance. This year's theme was "A mighty fortress is our God."
Tada was the keynote speaker at the Washington, D.C., observance. The celebration also included a speech from freshman Congressman Allen West (R- Fla.) as well as a performance by three-time Dove Award-winning artist Ginny Owens and worship leader Jared Anderson.