Though Joni Eareckson Tada does not divulge her exact age in these pages, she’s clearly pushing 60. It’s hard for some of us to imagine this, because we were so influenced by the images of her first book, JONI, in which she was such a young woman, struggling to accept the realities of her physically constricted life: a quadriplegic confined to a bed or wheelchair as a result of a diving accident.
But her mature age is the hook that makes this current book work. Looking back, over more than 40 years of confinement, often with physical pain, she speaks the wisdom of age and faith to emotions, feelings and questions that virtually defined her in her youth.
Each chapter starts with a brief scene from Tada’s past, written in the present tense. You are there with her --- in a Baltimore hospital feeling as if someone is suffocating her in the middle of the night; a month later, after a surgery, alone, afraid, despairing; on another day when a friend visits and reads a requested Bible passage; a decade later, when she’s speaking to a captive audience, prisoners at a correctional facility in Northern Virginia. “I told them how weak-kneed I sometimes got when I thought about living twenty or even thirty more years in a wheelchair.”
Tada then addresses the scene from a contemporary vantage point. In the chapter titled “Sufficient Grace” that starts in a prison setting, she reflects: “I’ll admit it, the long years haven’t made paralysis any easier.”
Yet the book is bigger than Tada’s personal story. As founder of Joni and Friends, “an organization accelerating Christian outreach in the disability community,” she draws vignettes of hope from a wide network of people needing and finding help and hope in difficult situations. And she presents a lot of scriptural teaching that broadens the text out to appeal to any reader who has faced disappointment, depression, discouragement, disillusionment --- and who hasn’t? Chapters specifically deal with the place of anger, feelings of “suffocation,” loneliness, and discontentment, the weight --- or waiting --- of time, the use of prayer, the place of hope, the promise of heaven…
I have not read many of Tada’s intervening books --- including three volumes of 366 daily readings and a work titled HEAVEN: YOUR REAL HOME --- so I cannot judge whether A LIFETIME OF WISDOM presents significantly new material. Having said that, I found this book refreshing. Tada has suffered too much to give easy answers, and yet she has written faith and hope on every page. And at the end, appendices provide 20 pages of Scripture passages (NIV) dealing with “God’s Control over Human Suffering” and “God’s Purpose in Our Sufferings” --- excellent resources for personal insight or ministry.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on February 17, 2009