The Awesome Super Fantastic Forever Party: Joni Eareckson Tada
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What if heaven’s so much more than what we tell kids? Joni Eareckson Tada challenges myths in her new storybook for the Tales that Tell the Truth series.
The Awesome Super Fantastic Forever Party: Joni Eareckson Tada
Ann: It’s Friday! Christmas is around the corner.
Dave: Oh, yes; I can’t wait.
Ann: I’m excited, and we’ve got a great program teed up with Joni Eareckson Tada that you’re going to love.
Dave: You’re going to love it; you’re going to love it.
Ann: Yes; and we know that you have a lot of great things and distractions ahead this weekend.
Dave: Oh, just a few. [Laughter]
Ann: Let me just plant this thought in your mind: “While you have just maybe a little bit of extra leisure time—I know that you moms don’t—but if you have just a second, we’d love for you to go online to FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Ann: So before the deadline next weekend, go to FamilyLifeToday.com—FamilyLifeToday.com—while it’s fresh on your mind.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So I was 13 or 14 years old—I was pretty much on a path to copy my dad’s life: I was chasing after girls; I was starting to drink; I was not going to church—I just—
Ann: It sounds depressing.
Dave: I mean, it was. Yes, I didn’t realize/I didn’t even know the Bible said the sins of the father will visit down through the third and fourth generation; I was on a path to copy my dad.
I’d go to see my dad in Florida, who’s now remarried. I was surprised as could be when, on Sunday morning, he said, “We’re going to church.” I’m like, “You go to church?!” We went to, if I can remember, it might have been Miami First Baptist; but it was a Baptist church in Miami. The pastor got up and introduced a guest speaker, who I didn’t know at the time, but her name was Joni Eareckson; now, Joni Eareckson Tada. She spoke, and it changed my life.
I’m excited; we’ve got her on the broadcast today. Joni, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Joni: Oh, Dave, thanks for inviting me; and of course, everybody listening in.
I tell you what though: you made me sound pretty old in that intro. [Laughter] What year was that?—like when was that?—the 1980s? [Laughter]
Dave: You know what? It had to be, yes; it was—
Ann: No, it was ‘70s.
Dave: —it was the late ‘70s; I would say ‘73. I don’t know what age that puts you on—but I’ll never forget—you came on and gave your story.
I know our listeners probably know a lot of your story, but I’d love for you to give us a quick version of what you said that day. I didn’t tell our listeners how you walked up to the podium, but you can tell them.
Joni: Well, I didn’t exactly walk up to the podium. [Laughter] I wheeled up to the podium. Real quickly, because I think many of our listeners probably know my story: I was 17 years old; it was a hot July day. I went swimming with my sister. I dove off this raft into what I realized, real quickly, was shallow water. My forehead thudded against the sandy bottom and snapped my head back. It crunched my cervical vertebrae and severed my spinal cord.
Weeks later, when my doctor told me—as I was lying there, paralyzed, in my hospital bed—“Joni you’ll never walk; you’ll never have use of your hands,” I was devastated. Oh, Dave and Ann, I’m just sure every parent listening/they think, “Oh, God, may that never happen to my child.” My parents felt the same.
And yet, God was giving me a strange unusual grace, which at that point, I don’t even think my parents were able to appropriate. He gave me a grace to rise up out of that depression by drinking in every single word of encouragement from the Bible that my Christian friends offered me from my hospital bedside. I knew, instinctively, that if I was going to survive this—somehow, someway, the answers were going to be in the pages of Scripture—I didn’t know where they were. I didn’t know what God would do—my future—all I knew was this fear and depression was claustrophobic: “I want out of it!” Even worse than getting healed, I just wanted to be free from the depression. It was the Word of God that made the huge difference in my life.
Ann: It’s interesting—because I had given my life to Jesus as a 16-year-old—I had never heard the gospel, and my sister had shared the gospel for the first time when she had heard it. I gave my life to Jesus. I had just gotten my driver’s license; and somebody told me there was this thing called a Christian book store, which I was like, “What?! There’s a store with Christian books in it?” I remember walking into this store, and they had Christian music playing; I had never heard Christian music in my life. I thought, “This must be what heaven is like.” And then I saw this book; it was called Joni. I bought it; I took it home; I read it in two days.
That book, Dave—just as you said, like the story of your life, Joni—and I was only 16, and you were 17 when this had happened to you. I remember thinking, at that age, like, “What if that was me at that age? How could I go on?” You’re very frank in your book that came out. What year did that come out, Joni?
Joni: The book came out in 1976; and just this year, they issued the 45th anniversary edition.
Joni: Honestly, Dave and Ann, you guys are parents; moms and dads are listening to you. I’ll just say: “If your child is struggling with depression, discouragement, fear, some limitation—I’m sorry; I’m just going to have to recommend this—what they call a Christian classic—the Joni book is just filled with, I don’t know, vulnerability/honesty and, also, anchors from God’s Word that can really help.
Ann: Well, it—
Joni: Thanks for mentioning that Ann.
Ann: Well, it was after reading that—because that was the year I gave my life to Jesus—so it must have been new out, because it was 1976; yes. I read it; and it was the first time I said, “I’m going to follow Jesus the rest of my life. If Joni can do this in a wheelchair, and preach the gospel, and tell people about Him in a chair, then He must be Someone worth following.”
I’ve been doing that since; so thank you. I think you’ve impacted/I bet every listener has a Joni story to share.
Dave: Yes; and you know, my struggle, when I was 13/14, walking into that church that day—which I didn’t want to go—I even judged my dad, like, “Okay, what are you doing going to church?” But he had found Christ; he was hoping to introduce his youngest son to Jesus.
I didn’t give my life to Christ that day, but I remember walking out. My struggle was: “I can’t believe there is a God, who would allow my mom and dad to get divorced and my little brother to die.” I’ll never forget, as I got into the car to go home with my dad, I couldn’t get your joy out of my head: “Here’s a woman, in a wheelchair,”—and you were honest, and you shared the struggle, and your struggling with God—"but there was a joy that was real.” That convinced me: “Okay, there must be a God if He can give that kind of joy.
That was a seed planted—that I found that God, a few years later—and here we are. So thank you, Joni. It’s really been a moment that changed both our lives.
Joni: That means so much to me. I mean, I—although let me say, my joy is hard-fought for. I’m such a good example of 1 Corinthians—I think it’s 10:16—“I’m sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. I have nothing; yet, I possess everything. I am so poor in spirit; and yet, I am so rich.” I live on that continuum of joy and sorrow, kind of like mixed and mingled together; but I think that’s what people relate to, I think.
Ann: Yes; well, you’ve written many books. Your latest book is a book for children called The Awesome, Super, Fantastic Forever Party, which is the best title. [Laughter] And then the subtitle is: A True Story About Heaven, Jesus, and the Best Invitation.
Dave: Did you come up with that title?
Joni: I came up with that title.
Ann: It’s good.
Joni: I thought, "How can I describe heaven?”—so there you go.
Ann: Why this book, Joni? Like why a book on heaven for kids?
Joni: Well, you know as well as I, the messaging of our culture keeps insisting that children put themselves first—that life is all about them—their desires, getting what they want, doing what they please. I think, because of this, so many boys and girls—Christians or non-Christians—they look at heaven as though it were a free ticket to Disneyland®: there’s going to be as many chocolate chip pancakes as they can possibly eat and the biggest waterslide in the universe.
But that kind of self-focus is totally foreign in heaven, and that’s what I wanted to get across. I wanted to lob a hand grenade into those myths and fantasies about heaven and help children get excited about heaven for the best reasons/for the reasons that will make them most happy on earth.
You and I were talking earlier, Ann, about heaven—and how kids/probably, the reason they think up all these myths—is because they’re so fearful that heaven will be boring. They know, as well as you and I do, that if they sing their favorite worship songs often enough that it gets boring. [Laughter] They tend to think, “Okay, are we going to run out of Scripture choruses after a few thousand years?”
Well, that’s from an earthly perspective. But in heaven, self-forgetfulness will be second nature; so nothing is going to be tiring, or wearisome, or boring. Praise—it would only be boring if we were able to stop and look at ourselves—to see: “Oh, do I like this?” “How am I doing? Am I sounding good, performing?” [Laughter] You know, “What do I have to contribute here?” But such self-consciousness will be totally unknown in heaven. There will be no self-awareness or self-absorption; there will only be a total losing of ourselves in Jesus Christ. That’s one good reason why heaven won’t be boring. We’re never going to get tired of praising Jesus; because, with every word of praise, we will get wiser, younger, happier; we’ll discover so much more.
I don’t want to dominate here, but can I give you a quick example?
Dave: Oh, for sure.
Joni: I’m thinking of that passage—and maybe, even many children know it from Isaiah, Chapter 6—where the seraphim, day and night, night and day, are saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” And you think, “Oh, my goodness; after 10,000 years, don’t they get tired of doing that?” [Laughter] But the truth is they are most—they are probably looking at God, and they see some amazing facet of His—and they go, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty”; but then, before they even get that phrase out, God has shifted and shown them some other amazing facet of His never-before discovered character. Once again, it’s: “Oh, my goodness; I did not know that. ‘Holy, holy, holy…’” But before they get that sentence out, again, God has revealed some other marvelous attribute: “Oh, holy, holy, holy…” It’s always, and always, a constant discovering of how amazing God is and that kind of excitement and enthusiasm.
Man, I really want to grip kids with that desire to praise God for all of eternity.
Ann: You sound excited when you talk about this yourself. I can’t help but think you’re anticipating. [Laughter]
Joni: I sure am! I’m going to jump up, dance, take/do aerobics. I can’t wait to get rid of this wheelchair and just explore all the nuances of having a new body. I think that’s why I really like 1 Corinthians 15—because in that passage, we hear/we learn all about what our new bodies are going to be like—and in that passage, the Bible uses the analogy of a dead seed, like a dead acorn.
You know, it has to be buried in the ground before it becomes anything; but when it germinates, and comes to life, first, as a seedling; then it becomes this gigantic oak tree, towering tall with huge branches and big leaves. Now, there is absolutely no way that little acorn could ever possibly imagine himself as a tree. Yet, he is one and the same as that gigantic tree; the promise of what that acorn will be one day is tucked within that little nut.
Even though an acorn and a tree look nothing alike, still, that acorn possesses the same DNA; and so it will be with our new glorified bodies. They’re going to be so amazing. And probably, Jesus gave a pattern of what our new bodies will be like when He, indeed, after His resurrection—appeared and He disappeared—He could move through time and space; He could walk through walls; He could eat; He could fellowship with His disciples. I think Jesus’ resurrected body gives us a little hint of, eventually, what our glorified bodies going to be like. I can’t wait! After 55 years of sitting still, without the use of my hands, I’m getting so excited. [Laughter]
Dave: Well/I mean, I can’t imagine. I’ve had thoughts of a new body for me—and I’m able-limbed; you know, I’m not that broken down—and yet, I think, “Man, what’s it going to be like to have no aches and pains?” I can’t imagine the angst and the joy that you feel, at the same time, sitting in a wheelchair for 55 years, thinking about a new body/a new world.
Joni: Absolutely. Oh, oh, oh, praise God for Revelation, Chapter 21, where God’s going to wipe away all the tears; no more death, no more sorrow/crying; no more pain. That’s going to be a wonderful thing; I can’t wait.
Ann: Let me read this page in the book—as we just described—it says: “And Jesus will give you a new body.” On this page, you have someone in a wheelchair—and some people—one person is blind; a girl has crutches that she’s walking with. And it says: “And Jesus will give you a new body. It will be shining and splendorous; and you will run faster and be stronger than you thought possible. Blind people will see; lame people will dance; deaf people will hear; and people, whose minds sometimes struggle, will enjoy minds that work just right all the time.”
On that other page—you have the page, where they’re struggling—and then, you see these new bodies in heaven in this glorious picture and page of light, and brightness, and yellows, and every color. They’re dancing and leaping with joy. It’s such a beautiful picture of what’s to come. [Laughter]
Joni: Well, that’s exact/you just described my favorite part of the book.
Dave: You know, as you think about families, sitting down and reading this book, what’s your hope/what’s your vision?
Joni: Well, my hope is that, through this book, children really will get excited for heaven. I think that moms and dads can best prepare kids for heaven by showing them—after they read this book—by showing them that every joy, every delight they experience, every pleasure, every, ”Aha” moment that they experience has a direct connection to our heavenly Father, the giver of every good and perfect gift.
Moms and dads listening: “The next time you’re with your little ones by a big thunderous waterfall; or the edge of the ocean; or you’re outside, and you see shooting stars—and they gasp in wonder—immediately, draw a line to God and His glory. That emotion of wonder that they’re experiencing—that response from God—cultivate in your child an appreciation for all that joy/all those delightful things finding their source in God. In so doing, you will be preparing/nurturing his little heart to lay up treasures in heaven.
Ann: Joni, as you talk—like I’m anticipating; I can see the joy on your face—and yet, you’ve described how you’ve experience pain. I know that you’ve walked through cancer; you’ve been in your chair, you said, 55 years; and yet—
Ann: —yet, look at like your joy. Tell me: “When you get to heaven, is it getting on your feet?—what is it that you anticipate?
Joni: Okay, this is how I picture it. Okay, so I’m going to break the tape at the finish line, like a marathoner. I’ll collapse to my hands and knees, on the sandy shores of heaven, gasping and heaving: “Oh, oh, God, thank You. I made it; I made it without dishonoring Your name.” And then I will roll over on my back, Ann; close my eyes, put my arms wide spread in the sand, just relishing the freedom of being beyond the confines of my human body and it’s paralysis. All of a sudden, I’ll open my eyes and Jesus over the top of me, will have stepped into my line of view, and He’ll say, “Welcome home G!”—“G” is my husband’s term of endearment for me. “Welcome home G. It was a long haul, wasn’t it? But you’re home. Well done, good and faithful servant.”
[Emotion in voice] I tell you what: it brings tears to my eyes, because I want to do everything I can—not to waste my suffering here on earth—and prepare for that glorious moment. I hope it’ll be just like that. Because when, Jesus does say, “Well done,” I’m going to immediately drop to my knees—and I’m going to be paralyzed for a minute— I’m just going to make myself not move for a minute. It will be my last chance to give a sacrifice of praise. I could be jumping up, dancing, kicking, doing aerobics—but I’m going to have a little bit of paralyzed praise, just for a minute as a sacrifice—thanking Him for all the grace He poured out on me, all these many years, to keep persevering and holding fast to the Word of God.
Honestly, Dave and Ann, it’s been my meat and drink. I’m like that person in John, Chapter 6, where Jesus says, “Eat My flesh; drink My blood”; you know, that’s me every morning, ingesting Jesus/drinking in all of Him that I possibly can; because man, this life is hard. I need everything of Him that He offers, and that’s a good thing. My paralysis then, has been a good thing to drive me to Jesus that urgently; don’t you think?
Ann: [Emotion in voice] Yes; you are—I mean, as you’ve been talking the last three minutes, I just have tears rolling down my face—because it’s easy to look at our lives and think/to feel sorry for ourselves of the pain or the suffering that we’ve walked through. But as you keep your eyes on Jesus, you inspire us/to remind us of what is ahead.
Thank you—for not only writing so many books that have inspired us and writing this new children’s book about heaven—but just for your life as an example of one, who is totally surrendered to the King of kings, and anticipates meeting Him, face to face, in worship. Thank you, because it makes us want to do that as well.
Joni: Oh, God bless you, Ann. That means so much. Thank you, friends.
Ann: Thank you.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Joni Eareckson Tada on FamilyLife Today. Her children’s book is amazingly titled The Awesome, Super Fantastic, Forever Party Storybook: A True Story About Heaven, Jesus, and the Best Invitation of All. Isn’t that just amazing? You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Do you ever feel like life is messy? Well, mistakes, hurt, and grief can overwhelm us; so what do we do with it? Well, next week on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann are joined by Noe Garcia to talk about using your mess for the good of God’s kingdom.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. Have a wonderful weekend and Merry Christmas this coming Sunday. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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