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Enabling faith (Joni Tada's story)

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    Enabling faith (Joni Tada's story)

    Doug Rhodes looks over the wheelchairs, crutches and canes collected by the Sacramento chapter of Joni and Friends and headed to help people in Romania. Rhodes became involved through the urging of his son, Caleb.

    Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling
    Enabling faith

    Joni Eareckson Tada, who runs a worldwide ministry for the disabled, finds inspiration in Sacramento

    By Jennifer Garza -- Bee Staff Writer
    Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Saturday, October 12, 2002

    Joni Eareckson Tada was 17 years old when she dived into a shallow lake and crushed her spinal cord. Specifically, the impact crunched the fourth cervical in her neck, leaving her unable to move her arms and legs.

    That brief moment of "not thinking," as Tada describes it, changed everything. The once-active teenager became a quadriplegic and understandably,clinically depressed.

    With the help of a supportive family and a close group of friends, Tada made her way back emotionally. She says her friends from church kept her connected to reality, and slowly her life began to change. Tada started reading the Bible closely. For the first time in years, "I had hope," she says.

    Tada later wrote a book about her accident, the dark times that followed, and her faith in God. "Joni" became a best seller and, eventually, the basis of a movie. Tada is now a well-known Christian motivational speaker, best-selling author and an accomplished artist. She speaks to church groups all over the world -- she'll be at Arcade Baptist in Sacramento on Oct. 18 and Lake Tahoe Christian Fellowship on Oct. 19 -- and leads a worldwide ministry for the disabled, called Joni and Friends. As she always does, Tada will deliver a message of hope.

    "So many people need to be encouraged these days," she says. "We're terrified of the future, we go around slump-shouldered and heavy-hearted. Well, after 35 years of living life in the slow lane, after sitting here in this wheelchair, I'm telling you, you can only do so much. What you should be thinking about is how to apply God's word to your situation right now."

    Tada says she is simply someone learning one day at a time, someone who struggles with many of the same issues other people are facing. On the phone from her office in Calabasas, she is thoughtful, matter-of-fact and realistic.

    "You can only live with hopelessness and despair for so long," she says.

    At times, she has questioned her faith.

    "My confidence in God is occasionally shaken by a lung infection or a pressure sore that keeps me in bed for a couple of weeks," she says. "But during those times I am reminded how weak I am. God is near the afflicted, he favors those who recognize their limitations. Like the apostle Paul said, 'When I am weak, he is strong.' "

    Tada starts each day about 7:30 a.m. A friend comes to her house, bathes her, dresses her and gets Tada ready for work. By 10, she's in her office. On weekends, Tada paints or pencil-sketches with her mouth, a skill she learned years ago in physical therapy.

    "I chew through many a pencil to render a final picture," Tada says. A typical painting takes her four months to complete. Her artwork, now on display in Dallas, is scheduled to be displayed in Sacramento at the state Capitol next year.

    To her supporters, Tada is an inspiration, an example of enduring faith. She sees it differently. She's lucky, she says. She has financial security, celebrity and all the other perks that come with being a high-profile person.

    "The people who inspire me, the real heroes, if you will, are the Calebs of the world," Tada says. "People like Caleb live more inspirational lives and face more challenges than I do."

    She is speaking of Caleb Rhodes, a young man from Roseville born with severe cerebral palsy. He could not speak. He could not walk. He communicated by blinking his eyes, smiling his dazzling smile and making occasional sounds. Caleb loved sports and the Bible, and had an earnest desire to help other people. Caleb died in July 2001 from complications of his cerebral palsy. He was 17 years old, the same age Tada was when she had her accident.

    "He was so faithful and he handled everything with such grace," says Tada, who keeps a picture of the teenager in her art studio. "Whenever I get down -- and I do -- I think of Caleb and all the others like him."

    Caleb was the driving force behind the Sacramento chapter of Joni and Friends. "He left a legacy that has helped other people," said Doug Rhodes, Caleb's father. "How many people can say that?"

    People with disabilities are all too often overlooked, even by church groups, Tada says. Think of the person, she says, in the wheelchair sitting in the back of the sanctuary, often alone. Or the young man languishing in a nursing home with multiple sclerosis. Think of the people who would like to attend church services but can't because of their disabilities.

    With this in mind, Tada started Joni and Friends. The nonprofit organization, among other things, collects used wheelchairs, crutches and canes, which are then refurbished and distributed to the disabled in other countries where it is often nearly impossible to get these items. Joni and Friends also sponsors camp retreats for the disabled and their families.

    Tada first met Caleb Rhodes at such a retreat one summer. She was impressed by his spirit.

    "Here you had a kid who can't speak but is mentally alert. People may have been afraid to approach him because they didn't know what he understood. But it didn't seem to bother him. And once you sat down next to him and started asking questions, you realize here was a kid who's handling it all with grace."

    After attending a family camp, Caleb became adamant about starting a Joni and Friends in the Sacramento area.

    "God granted me the wonderful privilege of knowing him," says Doug Rhodes, who adopted Caleb after marrying Caleb's mother. Caleb introduced his father to Joni and her ministry.

    "Opening the Sacramento ministry was something that he really, really wanted," Rhodes says.

    For his son's sake, Rhodes agreed to take on the task. He left his job as an engineer to run the Sacramento-area office. It officially opened on Jan. 1, 2000. Caleb was the first to sit behind the director's desk. "He got a big kick out of it," Rhodes said

    Since then, hundreds of wheelchairs have been collected from throughout the Sacramento area. Hundreds of families have participated in retreats where volunteers care for the disabled and caregivers are given a respite from their duties.

    Caleb Rhodes lived to see this.

    Tada always remembers people like Caleb when she speaks. She always makes a point of talking about the everyday people who manage to find grace.

    "Believe it or not, I was just thinking of Caleb yesterday," Tada says. "I was having a bad day because my neck hurt. But then I looked up and saw his picture, and he was smiling.

    "I thought, my goodness, if he had so much confidence in God with his limitations, then why should I complain?"

    Tada and her husband, Ken, who have been married since 1982, have had their disappointments. They tried for years to have children and were "bitterly disappointed" when they realized they couldn't.

    "But then I realized I do have kids. I have kids all over the world in wheelchairs."

    Tada has had occasional health setbacks -- but they haven't slowed her down for long. She currently is writing essays for a book on hymns. She sits on the boards of several national groups and was appointed to the National Council on Disabilities by President Bush.

    In recent years, Tada has been outspoken on some of the research aimed at treating spinal cord injuries, specifically embryonic stem cell research.

    "We're creating a class of human being embryos for experimentation ... and that cheapens the value of life," she says. She calls it "harvesting" and "a travesty." She disagrees with statements made by actor Christopher Reeve about the need for such research.

    "He's a quad and I have great understanding and empathy for his urgent desire, but I believe he's misguided and misinformed. Some of the things he has said have been rash and irresponsible."

    Tada is offended when she hears phrases that describe disabled people "as languishing in a broken body."

    "Look, all of us have limitations," Tada says. She adds firmly, "all of us."

    Despite her physical limitations, Tada keeps a busy schedule. But she is looking forward to visiting the Sacramento area this week. One of the purposes of her trip is to raise money for the Sacramento ministry of Joni and Friends.

    "I'm living on incredibly good borrowed time. I'm always cognizant that I'm the exception to the rule. I'm very grateful to people like Caleb and his parents who live their lives with grace."

    Joni Eareckson Tada

    Will speak at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Arcade Baptist Church, 3927 Marconi Ave., Sacramento; and at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at Lake Tahoe Christian Fellowship, 3580 Blackwood Road, South Lake Tahoe. $15. (800) 485-1544.


    Joni Eareckson Tada has an AWESOME story. All of her books rock, especially her autobiography. This woman has overcome her disability in many ways and made an awesome life for herself that helps SO many others. God bless you Joni and you go girl!



      >They say it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate
      >them, a day to love them, but then an entire life to forget them.


        In recent years, Tada has been outspoken on some of the research aimed at treating spinal cord injuries, specifically embryonic stem cell research.

        "We're creating a class of human being embryos for experimentation ... and that cheapens the value of life," she says. She calls it "harvesting" and "a travesty." She disagrees with statements made by actor Christopher Reeve about the need for such research.

        "He's a quad and I have great understanding and empathy for his urgent desire, but I believe he's misguided and misinformed. Some of the things he has said have been rash and irresponsible."

        Sorry, I don't think Reeve is the one being rash and irresponsible here. Interesting how she has nothing to say about all the leftover embryos that get created in the IVF clinics and then simply discarded.

        She may be happy to live with her condition, but to deny that there is a need for SCI research on behalf of the rest of us, just ticks me off. [img]/forum/images/smilies/mad.gif[/img]

        Starlightangel, currently languishing in a broken body cuz I no longer have the stamina to sit up for a full day.
        "The only true currency in this bankrupt what you share with someone else when you're uncool." - Almost Famous


          She said she doesn't support that particular research, she didn't say ALL of the research.


            Point taken Lindsay, but why choke off one particular direction of research especially if it shows promise?
            "The only true currency in this bankrupt what you share with someone else when you're uncool." - Almost Famous


              Like a lot of people...

              It really sounds like she has moral issues with stem cell research. From what all she has said she sounds a lot like myself: doesn't support it and doesn't want any part of it. But that's just an opinion.


                Why do these people even support such things as IVF? After all, if God wanted people who need artificial help to reproduce to make babies, he'd have made them able to do so the way he intended it to be done. Where in the Bible does it say, "Thou shalt mix thy seed, and thy woman's, in a test tube?"

                Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.


                  The Stem Cell Divide: Joni Tada

                  Tonight we introduce you to a truly remarkable woman who is making her voice heard in the debate over stem cell research. Joni Tada suffered a diving accident 35 years ago that left her spinal cord injured and that left her without the use of her hands and legs. Today she's an author and runs her own foundation, Joni and Friends. While Tada would love to see a cure for spinal cord injuries, she doesn't want to see it happen through therapeutic cloning or embryonic stem cell research. Tada supports the use of adult stem cells for this research. Find out why, and what her opponents have to say, tonight on "Tech Live."



                    For those of you who have cable TV or a Satellite dish, you should be able to watch TechTV, if not, you may want to ask your company if they have any plans on getting this channel. I did see this interview with Joni Tada with Christopher Reeve and scientists who are in favor of embryonic stem cells and other Ph.D.s who are against ESC because they believe that the adult stem cells will do the same job.

                    I am pro choice and I want scientists to be able to use all of the available technologies that will move us closer to a Jules Verne wonderland instead of a Franz Kafka nightmare!

                    The test of success is not what you do when you are on top. Success is how high you bounce when you hit the bottom
                    --General George Patton

                    Complex problems need to be solved collectively.
                    ––Paul Nussbaum


                      OK, Joni is for adult stem cell research for a cure but against embryonic stem cell research.

                      Doesn't she understand that if it were not for fetal and embryonic research that we would not even know about adult stem cells? That stem cells were first discovered by research using embryos and fetal cells and that research led to the discovery of adult stem cells? Now, to be consistent in her beliefs, she should reject any cures that come from adult stem cells, too.

                      She also believes that God put her in her wheelchair for a purpose and she is living out His plan for her life. I don't buy that line of theology belief at all. I read her first book she wrote after she was injured. I read another of her recent books (part way through) after I was injured. I quit reading it and told my daughter to burn it up.

                      While I respect her accomplishments, her lack of consistency in her beliefs and using her power to slow research and cures is bothersome.