Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, said the “first thing” she’ll do in Heaven with her new, glorified body is drop to her knees and offer a sacrifice of “paralyzed praise” to Jesus for His faithfulness to her while on earth.
“We don't know what Heaven is going to be like; we only have a glimpse and vague understanding, but we know Jesus is going to be there,” Tada, one of today’s best-known international advocates for people with disabilities, told The Christian Post.
“I don’t know how it's all going to fit, but right before the wedding supper and the guests are called in, right before we get started with the feast, I want to be able to kneel at the Lord’s feet and give Him that paralyzed praise. It’s the only way that I'll be able to show Him a true sacrifice.”
Suffering, Tada said, has opened her eyes to the beauty, glory, and hope of Heaven — something she is eager to one day experience.
“Down here on earth we have many opportunities to offer sacrifices of praise, but in Heaven, there won’t be that opportunity,” Tada continued. “There will be no chance for sacrifice or chance to share the Gospel or ask for the salvation of others. Only in Heaven will I be able to offer an actual sacrifice because although I'll be able to enjoy my glorified new body — which will be an amazing gift — to suddenly drop to my knees and not move when it’s my joy and right to move, will be my joy and a real sacrifice.”
Tada is no stranger to suffering: At just 17 years old, the evangelical author, speaker, and radio host was paralyzed from the neck down after a diving accident in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Joni author, who married her husband, Ken, in 1982, survived stage III breast cancer in 2010, but was once again diagnosed with cancer in November 2018. Following several months of treatment, she was declared cancer-free in July.
Tada, who spoke with CP after returning from a visit to the radiologist, said her doctors gave her the “thumbs up” following her visit. She reflected on God’s faithfulness over the last few months, expressing confidence her journey with cancer was not an “accident.”
“Both my pulmonologist and doctor gave a good report,” she said. “It was a long journey with reoccurring cancer and pulmonary hypertension, pneumonia, etc., but my husband and I were convinced we were not on a detour. That was the path God wanted us on. We met so many nurses, hematologists, office assistants, you name it, who we were able to pray for and share the Gospel with.”
“That,” she added, “was the thing God wanted us to do through this journey.”
The best-selling author of over 50 books told CP her own experience with suffering compels her to advocate for others with disabilities: In 1979, she founded Joni and Friends to provide Christ-centered programs to special-needs families, as well as training to churches.
Joni and Friends serves thousands of special-needs families through Family Retreat and over the years has delivered over 100,000 wheelchairs and Bibles to disabled persons in developing nations.
Tada told CP that while many churches do a “wonderful job” supporting initiatives that impact preborn and unborn children, the pro-life conviction must “carry on long past the birth of that baby.”
“How does a pro-life conviction show up when that child with autism has a meltdown in Sunday school? What about when that child ages and goes into long-term placement? What about the elderly? These children and their families need to be embraced by the body of Christ,” Tada said.
Churches must grapple with what it means to not just include those with disabilities, but embrace them, as well, she contended.
“They want to belong,” Tada said. “They want to know if they don’t show up for church, someone will miss them and be sad they’re not there. All too often, when the child with a disability doesn’t show up to Sunday School, teachers are relieved. Let’s not just mainstream or include them in programs; let’s make them feel like they belong because they’re part of the Body of Christ.”
“The pro-life perspective should impact everything we do and shape our biblical worldview toward those with disabilities, whether it’s infants with severe handicaps or adults with intellectual disabilities,” she emphasized. “We’re all image-bearers of God. How do we reflect Him; how do we make those with disabilities a part of the community and showcase their gifts and talents?”
“That,” she added, “is the challenge for the church today.”
Candid about her own struggles, Tada encouraged others experiencing chronic pain, disease, or other hardships to allow their weaknesses to drive them to the arms Christ.
“I wake up discouraged and in chronic pain. I wake up feeling overwhelmed that I've got to face a two-hour routine of a friend giving me a bed bath and a toileting routine, brushing my teeth, getting me dressed, and brushing my hair,” she admitted. “There are some mornings I wake up and I'm overwhelmed, and the day hasn't even started. I say, ‘Jesus, I can’t do this, and so Jesus, I need you to.’”
Tada noted that during His sermon on the mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3).
“When you wake up and come to God in spiritual poverty, the joys of Heaven are yours; the power of the Resurrection is yours to live,” she explained. “Glory in your weaknesses, for then you know Christ’s power rests in you. He pours out his grace on those who acknowledge their weakness.”
“For those who are feeling defeated and lifeless, wake up and say, ‘I’m going to allow this to drive me to Jesus,’” Tada advised. “I don’t just need Him day by day; but hour by hour, minute by minute. I think that’s the best way to wake up in the morning. Don’t be ashamed of those weaknesses, but use the enemy’s power against himself to secure victory.”
“I’m going to let the forces of this hurt and pain drive me to the cross,” she concluded.