After 43 years of living paralyzed from the neck down and recently learning that she now has breast cancer, Joni Eareckson Tada remains all smiles.
"I want to assure you that I am genuinely content to receive from God whatever He deems fit for me even if it is from His left hand because better something from His left hand than no hand at all, right?" the beloved disability advocate and quadriplegic said in a video message to supporters.
Tada, 60, was diagnosed with cancer early last week and it was confirmed on Tuesday that it is malignant. She is scheduled to undergo surgery on Monday when doctors will better understand what stage the cancer is at.
For decades, Tada has assisted and given hope to those affected by disabilities through her Joni and Friends ministry. Paralyzed since 17 after a diving accident, Tada dedicated the rest of her life to God and has, in the process, inspired countless people around the world.
The cancer news came as a shock to many of her supporters.
Since the announcement on Wednesday about Tada's new challenge, numerous comments went up on the ministry's Facebook page, letting her know that she is in their prayers.
Over at the Joni and Friends International Disability Center in Agoura Hills, Calif., the staff, while concerned, reflected the same hope and trust that Tada had.
"One of the things we know here at Joni and Friends, because we minister everyday to people affected by disability and affected by life-challenging trauma, is that ultimately we rely upon God, we are in His hands, He holds our future, and that nothing that comes to us is a surprise to Him," said Steve Bundy, managing director of the Christian Institute on Disability as well as International Outreach at Joni and Friends International Disability Center, in an interview.
"Obviously, we do not desire to see her suffer anymore than she has, [but] we recognize that God is at work, He's doing something and He's going to use cancer to bring that about."
Bundy has known Tada personally for seven years and has been serving at the ministry for over four years. And when he sees her expressing optimism and full trust in God even in the midst of suffering, he knows she's not putting up a front for the sake of staying strong before her supporters and the disabled.
"What you hear from Joni is truly Joni," he told The Christian Post. "This is a woman of great faith who has spent 43 years in a wheelchair. This is not a woman who is going to pretend about things. You are seeing a woman who is truly communicating her very deep and personal thoughts and feelings and trust and faith in God, not to perform or not to display anything for people but it's because it's who she is."
"It's who God has molded her to be after 43 years of suffering and 43 years of her surrendering to the will and call of God," he continued. "You're seeing a woman surrendered to God, saying 'Lord, here's my life, take it and use it. I trust in You and if that's quadriplegia and it's a wheelchair, I surrender to that. If it's cancer and whatever the outcome might be, I surrender to that.'"
Tada and those at Joni and Friends view trauma and suffering from a biblical worldview, Bundy noted. There is an understanding that God is "very much involved with the suffering that we encounter and His intention is to work it out for the good of ourselves and for the good of those around us," he said, citing the Bible passage Romans 8:28.
People may not define "good" the same way God defines it, he added. Though they may not completely understand what God is doing, they trust in His word and believe that ultimately everything is for His glory.
"It is an attitude of surrender," Bundy explained. "It is also an attitude of trust in the character of God and the goodness of God."
And it's the attitude that Tada takes.
She stated in her video message that she and her husband, Ken Tada, are "utterly convinced" that God is going to use the cancer to "do something big" through the Joni and Friends ministry. Moreover, she is now able to empathize and journey alongside people who are not only struggling with a disability but also with cancer.
Tada assured that she will not be "shaken" by the cancer but will continue to trust in God as her rock and fortress.
"I mean I haven't gone through 43 years of quadriplegia to be shaken by this news, right?" she said.
Nevertheless, she has asked for prayers that she will be rid of the cancer and fully healed.
Joni and Friends offers various ministries to people with disabilities around the world. Wheels for the World is the flagship ministry in which some 8,000 people are fitted with a wheelchair and presented with the Gospel. Inspirational stories are broadcast through international radio and television programs.
Also, through its Christian Institute on Disability, the ministry has developed a university level course on "A Theology of Suffering and Disability." The course – currently offered at such schools as Biola University in Southern California, Dallas Theological Seminary and Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. – prepares students to have biblical view of the issues of suffering and disability and equips them to be able to minister to people affected by disability whether it's in the marketplace or in the church, Bundy explained.
Updates regarding Tada's health and progress will be posted to the "Joni's Corner" section of the Joni and Friends ministry website at www.joniandfriends.org.