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Inspirational women- Who is your female hero?

In 1987 Joni Eareckson Tada treks to Leipzig, my hometown in former East Germany. I am 9, old enough to know free world travelers rarely come here. Joni is in a wheelchair. I see people in wheelchairs, often, getting in and out of their ground level apartments in our concrete jungle. Not smiling much. Certainly not looking like they’d want to cross an ocean.

I want to see Joni, a real American so we join a curious crowd in a downtown cathedral. I like Joni right away. She smiles big, even laughs, makes me laugh as she tells her story. If she could move she’d be the kind of speaker that leaps across the stage. But she is a quadriplegic since her tragic diving accident at age 17. Joni wrestles with God, mourns lost dreams, learns to gently embrace the truth of her own story.

I listen and secretly hope my story won’t include being trapped in my own body. I’d rather be trapped in this country. Maybe.

Where is grace when you become a quadriplegic at age 17? Tragedy forces a faith crisis, a stripping away of everything false. It screams WHY ME??Joni offers no tidy explanations. Instead, she opens a window to her heart and allows me to see grief and despair, healing and hope. She talks about her feeling openly, about the spiritual realm. People don’t talk like that where I live.

Joni prays to be healed, begs God for a miracle. God shows up in a different way, in a thousand different ways. But he does not heal her body. It hurts when your prayers don’t get answered like that. She hurts and heals, releases her bitterness. And Jesus, who could heal her and does not becomes her best friend.

She can’t talk openly about freedom here, but I sense it deeply in her story. Her faith and passion, strength and courage seem supernatural in the face of daily struggle. Extraordinary beauty forged in suffering. My heart awakens to the potential of living with that kind of radical, internal freedom. No room for bitterness and fear.

That night I grab a purple marker for a most important entry in my diary: “Tonight I met Joni. And so far, this has been the best experience of my life.”

Joni’s story stays with me for a long time. One day I write her a letter. “She may not respond,” dad cautions, “Joni gets A LOT of mail”. But a few months later there is a letter on my desk. From Joni. I still have it.

I think of Joni a couple of years later, while we light candles at twilight, same cathedral. Thousands of people are gathered to pray for peace and freedom, then go out in the streets, protesting peacefully. And then the wall falls. It takes courage to enter the darkness and we enter another’s darkness having first faced our own.

Joni plants this seed of courage in my young heart. Her story becomes a spiritual milestone marker, challenges me to reframe faith and love, the way I related to God. Joni has a rare depth and beauty borne of anguish, daily struggle. It has made her one of the most beautiful and wise women I have met. She is my faith hero.

Which women inspires faith and courage in you?

More about Joni:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVXJ8GyLgt0

http://www.joniandfriends.org/

 

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5 Replies

  1. Thank you for this Astrid. You conveyed her story beautifully. I think you are right about the advice. We are tired, worn and needing refreshment. I loved reading this. Thank you for a cup of love this morning.

  2. This is beautifully written and truly honors a beautful story. Thank you for sharing Joni’s inspiring faith here. I loved how she wrote you back! 🙂 great message, friend.

  3. Astrid, thanks so much for telling me to check out this post – WOW so powerful that Joni “planted this seed of courage in your young heart”. I have yet to meet her but she’s coming to a local church in April and I hope to get there to see her. Thanks so much for sharing. Her courage and faith has certainly impacted our family. Have a great day! Kim

  4. Amy

    I love this Astrid and I love Joni’s story! Nick Vjukic (who was born without arms or legs) is someone I think of often when I am tempted to complain or get my needs/wants confused. He said something like “Did I want arms and legs? Yes! Did I need arms and legs? No, God gave me everything I needed and more when he gave me a relationship with Him!”

    1. Astrid Melton

      Yes- he has a great way of sharing his story. He came to Portland a few years ago and I am bummed that I didn’t go hear him speak.

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