Last month the Biblical Counseling Coalition hosted our Annual Leadership Summit in Rome, GA, and we were blessed to have Joni Eareckson Tada, her husband Ken, and a team from Joni & Friends join us. In our time together we considered the important relationship between biblical counseling and disability ministry. This blog is a reflection of our time together.
A Legacy Is a Life Worth Imitating
Joni has lived the last 50 years of her life seemingly limited by a debilitating spinal cord injury. A diving accident at the age of 17 left her with quadriplegia, which has resulted in multiple other secondary and even tertiary disabilities over the course of 50 years. On top of that, she has battled through cancer and years of chronic pain. While these difficulties and sufferings are real, they are not what define Joni. Those who have been blessed to know her (and really anyone who knows her name) all know Joni is defined by who she is in Christ. Joyful and Christ-like are the words that come to mind when thinking of this dear sister in the faith. Joni is a living legacy and she is living a legacy.
Legacy is a term that gets a great deal of play these days, but what it really boils down to is living a life that is worth imitating. We should all strive to live in a way that we can say, as the Apostle Paul did, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Joni Eareckson Tada has certainly lived one of those lives.
Legacies Are Built from a Lifetime of Choices
If you ever visit an ancient monument you will notice that none of those massive structures are built from only one brick. Whether it is the Great Pyramids, the Colosseum, or the Temple Mount, each of these impressive structures is built with a multitude of stones or bricks interlocking and building upon one another. Our legacies are built similarly by the choices we make. Some of these choices will be large: following Christ, marriage, career, etc. Other choices will seem less significant: what to eat for breakfast, whether I spank my child for that disobedient act or let it slide. And each choice we make, whether large or small, will also vary in its quality. The quality of the brick laid will depend on whether the choice was made with the motivation of pleasing the Lord or some other god.
When Joni broke her neck she faced months of depression fueled by anger, self-pity, doubts aimed at God and His goodness, and accentuated by thoughts of suicide. Joni could have chosen to give in to that depression; to waste her life away wallowing in misery or cutting it short. Instead, by God’s grace, she chose to live a life worth living and worth imitating. Some of those choices were large: not to take her own life, to marry Ken Tada, to found Joni & Friends. Others seem less significant: to go to work even though it hurt to be driven down the 101 freeway, to confess a sinful outburst towards her husband and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. But each choice made to please God has added to a life built to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:9) and a life that has reached untold millions with the gospel and the love of Christ.
Legacies Aren’t Built Alone
Joni & Friends is a perfect moniker for a ministry founded and led by Joni because it reflects the life and legacy she is living. The body of Christ is made up of many members all working together, and any time one part tries to function on its own it fails. No one is truly independent, but those who try to live as though they are don’t achieve independence, only isolation.
Joni, by the very nature of her disability, is dependent. Every aspect of Joni’s life is bolstered and supported by others. Even a simple task, like clearing her throat, requires the help of her husband pressing in on her diaphragm to expel air through her weakened lungs. She has a team of ladies that help her accomplish the everyday tasks of life that most of us don’t even realize we do. She accredits her growing faith to many friends the Lord used to point her to Himself in the early years of her disability. Friends who wouldn’t assist her in suicide, but instead sang sweet psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16) with her to lift her eyes to heaven. Friends like Steve Estes, who opened up God’s Word to find answers to the many difficult and challenging questions she was wrestling with in the aftermath of her accident. But her dependence is not a hindrance; it is a force multiplier.
The more people we involve in our lives the more our legacies can be built. We will encounter more people who live lives worth imitating and we will live our lives before more people who can imitate us as we imitate Christ.
Legacies Are Great Achievements for God
Most of us will never have an international ministry bearing our names, but that doesn’t mean we can’t leave a legacy. Hebrews chapter eleven is often known as the “Hall of Faith.” It is filled with names like Moses, Abraham, David, Samson, and many other famous people. Have you ever realized though that verses 35-40 recount the faith of myriads of unnamed people whose lives had eternal influence and whose deeds are recorded in the timeless Word of God? If you follow after Christ and daily make choices to serve God rather than the world or self, then you too will live a life worth imitating. When you surround yourself with people you serve and who minister to you, then your life will have eternal significance. You will learn from people who imitate Christ and you will exemplify Christ to others. You will live and leave a legacy.
Questions for Reflection
Who do you have in your life who follows Christ and is worth imitating? Who is in your life that will benefit from following your example? What choices do you face today and in the near future? How will you make those choices in a way that will build your legacy rather than tear it down?
Curtis Solomon is the Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He and his family recently relocated to Louisville, KY from California to lead this ministry. He is completing a Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling.