Thursday, November 04, 2010

Review of "A Place of Healing" by Joni Eareckson Tada

I have known about the life and ministry of Joni Eareckson Tada since she published her first book, Joni, almost 40 years ago. As a teenage girl in Maryland, she was injured in a diving accident and has lived as a quadriplegic all of this time. She founded a ministry, Joni and Friends, to reach out to those across the globe with a wide variety of handicaps and challenges. She is a gifted singer, writer, painter (holding a brush between her teeth), and speaker. I have been privileged to meet her on a number of occasions, and have been blessed, challenged and encouraged by her ministry over the years.

In this latest book, she writes in the midst of a storm of overwhelming physical pain. She writes to gain perspective for herself - and to offer to her readers a chance to form their own perspective - in response to the question: "Where is God in the midst of persistent pain and suffering?" Her wrestling with these difficult issues is honest, transparent and lacking in cant or simplistic "Sunday School" solutions. She writes from a place of deep searching and experience. She shares the highs and lows of her own journey - beset with many pot holes, and she shares the journeys of others she has come to know who wrestle with the same demons.

She shares a wonderful story that resonated with me because it involves one of my favorite musicians, Yitzhak Perlman, the virtuoso who was afflicted with polio as a child.

"Instead of arranging to be seated on the stage at the beginning of his performance, he chooses to walk across the stage methodically and slowly until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, bends down, picks up the violin, nods to the conductor, and proceeds to play. As [columnist Jack] Reimer describes it, there is a certain majesty in this ritual.

During a 1995 concert, a string on Perlman's violin suddenly snapped, and everyone in the audience could hear it. The great virtuoso stopped and gazed at the broken string as those in the audience that night wondered what he would do. Perlman closed his eyes, and after a moment of reflection, signaled the conductor to begin again.

Though anyone who knows music understands that it's impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings, Perlman was undaunted. Apparently you could see this superb artist actually recomposing the piece in his head as he went along, inventing new fingering positions to coax never-before-heard sounds from his three-string violin.

The sophisticated New York audience watched and listened in awe, knowing they were witnessing a truly groundbreaking performance. when the piece was over, they exploded in appreciative applause. Mr. Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, and said in a soft, reverent tone, 'You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.'

That's another truth that keeps me going. Whatever strings are broken in our lives - if we concentrate, if we apply what we know - we can still play beautiful music with what we have left. In fact, it will be music that no one else can play in the same way." (Pages 100-1)

I had chills just reading these words. What truth - what inspiration!

Let me share one more excerpt that ties together - of all things - the Cuban Missile Crisis and Joni's ministry of providing wheelchairs to children and adults around the world. The scene is set as the U.S. and Russia are poised on the brink of nuclear war, and Cuba fears an impending bombardment by U.S. forces.

"The Castro government put out an alert, and there was a mad rush to evacuate many buildings, including hospitals. At that very unhappy moment in Havana, Jesús was being born. All the nurses had to leave the floor, but the soon-to-be-mother just couldn't leave. She had to deliver her own baby with no one to assist. In the process, her tiny infant fell to the floor and landed on his head - causing permanent brain damage. You can imagine the hurt and resentment Jesús' mother and father harbored against America ever since then.

But there we were, over forty-six years later - fifteen of us Americans - presenting Jesús and his mother and father with a new wheelchair, as well as the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that gospel brought healing, help, and hope to this little Cuban family. Jesús was so excited. His father, in tears, said to us, 'Now I will be able to take my son outside for walks in his wheelchair.'" (Page 174).

This wonderful book is filled with these kinds of stories and reflections. If you are struggling with any kind of pain - physical, spiritual, emotional - which one of us is not? - this is a book that will warm your heart and challenge your soul.

Joni and Friends Website


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