Mere Christians

Joni Eareckson Tada (Painter)

Episode Summary

What Joni plans to paint on the New Earth

Episode Notes

Jordan Raynor sits down with Joni Eareckson Tada, Author of The Awesome Super Fantastic Forever Party, to talk about the first 3 things Joni plans to do when heaven comes to earth, how everything we do in this life either increases or decreases our capacity for leadership on the New Earth, and how our work can be “ingredients in God’s happiness.”

Links Mentioned:

Episode Transcription

[0:00:05.3] JR: Hey everybody, welcome to the Mere Christians Podcast. I’m Jordan Raynor. How does the gospel influence the work of mere Christians, those of us who aren’t pastors or donor-supported missionaries but who work as managers and painters and actuaries? That’s the question we explore every week and today, I’m posing it to the one and only, Joni Eareckson Tada.


Since being paralyzed at the age of 17 in a diving accident, Joni has spent her life in service of others with disabilities. She served at the pleasure of presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and as an advisor to Condoleezza Rice on the disability advisory committee at the United States State Department but perhaps most famously, she’s the woman who paints masterpieces with her mouth.


She’s a legend and, trust me, she exceeded expectations. In this interview, Joni and I recently sat down to talk about the first three things she plants to do when heaven comes to earth. How everything we do in this life, either increases or decreases our capacity for leadership on the new earth and I loved her perspective on how our work can be “ingredients in God’s happiness." You’re in for such a treat as you listen to this episode with my new friend, Joni Eareckson Tada.




[0:01:41.0] JR: Joni Eareckson Tada, welcome to the podcast.


[0:01:43.9] JET: Good to be with you, Jordan, and of course, all of our friends listening all over the world. I love that Jordan.


[0:01:49.7] JR: Yeah, all over the world, we love it too. Yeah, I’ve heard it said before that trauma either leads people to grow bitter or better and in your case, from reading your story, it seems like both were true, right? You’ve talked a lot in the past about how after the accident, you were very bitter, even to the point of being suicidal. What happened to lead you out of that darkness, Joni?


[0:02:13.1] JET: Well, I’m assuming that our friends listening know my story. I broke my neck in a diving accident when I was 17. I had prayed just months before that accident that God might draw me closer to Him, that He might do something in my life that would, I don’t know, just create a greater intimacy or greater warmth with Him.


You know, “Lord, pull me to yourself.” I know I was heading off to college and frankly, I was beginning to head down a dark path that I knew would be the end of me spiritually once I started school, out of state and so I said, “God, I don’t want to be a hypocrite when I go to school. I don’t want to be a shame to your name on campus, I need you to do something. Just please, I need you to grip my heart as never before.”


Then I had my diving accident not but three months later and as you could imagine, I plummeted into depression and as you just said Jordan, I was pretty bitter. I could not understand how this accident could be God’s way of answering a prayer to be drawn closer to Him, what’s that all about? And little did I realize that and here’s – I’m getting too my answer to your question, little did I realize, people were praying and when I look back on what changed me, what got me up out of that bitterness and depression, I’m convinced it was the prayers of other people.


Sometimes even now, when folks ask me, “Joni, how did you get yourself up out of depression?” Well, 55 years later, I’m telling them, “You know what? Prayer made the difference.” So if you know someone who is struggling or discouraged or on the edge of just recanting his faith or just in immoral lifestyle, then pray for that person because we wrestle not against the flesh and blood of life circumstances like spinal cord injuries or devastating accidents, life transforming injuries, we wrestle against powers and principalities that would love nothing more than to steep us into depression, anger, bitterness, doubting the word of God of his goodness.


So I think it was prayer and secondly, prayer of course, the word of God, that made the big difference in my life for sure.


[0:04:35.9] JR: Yeah, no doubt. I’m curious of painting. You know looking back, you started painting after the accident, is that right?


[0:04:43.7] JET: No, I was a bit of an artist before my accident in high school. I would draw your senior picture for $5, so my father was a bit of an artist by hobby and I followed in his footsteps and loved to paint and draw and –


[0:04:58.2] JR: I love that.


[0:04:58.9] JET: But it was after my accident that my occupational therapist, knowing that I had no use of my hands, no use of my legs or hands or fingers, she suggested to me, “Well, Joni, I’ve heard you’re a bit of an artist, why don’t you try drawing with clenching brushes between your teeth?” and I thought that was an insult.


Like, “Only handicap people do that kind of stuff, not me.” So I was looking down my nose and everybody else, an occupational therapy until I got tired of feeling sorry for myself and Jordan, it was my occupational therapist who encouraged me to write and type and draw using a mouse stick and that’s how I got started with my artwork.


[0:05:40.5] JR: I love it. Did God use painting to cultivate hope in your heart?


[0:05:45.9] JET: Well, yes, He did, Jordan. I sure wish that our podcast listeners could actually see some of my paintings.


[0:05:52.8] JR: We’ll be sure to link to them in the show notes because they’re extraordinary. I was just showing my daughters right before we started recording and they couldn’t believe it.


[0:05:59.9] JET: Well, I was so amazed that I could “do something.” I mean, there I am, sitting in a wheelchair, unable to move, paralyzed, no use of my hands, what can I do? Well, when I learned how to paint, I was really excited. This was something where I actually had opportunity to create and express all that was going on inside of me and so, I asked the Lord just to foster my hopes to strengthen my outlook to give me a brighter perspective on my future and He certainly did, it was my artwork that really made the difference.


[0:06:36.8] JR: The theologian N.T. Wright has said that when people seize to be surrounded by beauty, they seize to hope and I see your life is proof that the inverse of that is also true, right? The creation of beautiful things cultivates hope and I think as Christians, I think we know that that hope, that longing is ultimately a longing for the source of beauty, which is God and his kingdom, would you agree?


[0:07:03.1] JET: I do and you know, I know that probably there are many artists who are listening in right now and there’s something that occurs to you. There’s something that occurs in your heart, when you create something that sings, that just sparkles, that captivates the eye, like you step back form the canvas and you go, “Oh you’re inspired” you breathe in, it’s like, “Wow, this is – I’m on the right track” it’s almost as though, you’re in the zone, you’re not even able to understand where the paint brush is taking you but it’s a delightful, glorious sense of exuberant joy when you create something that’s beautiful on canvas.


That makes others kind of fold their arms and go, “Wow, look at that.” That kind of makes you feel great too, it’s a wonderful feeling, it’s a sensation of, I don’t know, maybe it’s some kind of a symbiotic connection with our great creator, God, when we do something beautiful on canvas. So it happens the same with poets, I am sure. I know, when I’ve written poetry and it’s just smooth like silk, it just reads so well, it just captivates an idea and it’s such short succinct phraseology, it’s just glorious. So there’s just this special resonance that you sense when that happens, it’s a resonance with your Creator.


[0:08:21.5] JR: Yeah, no and that makes sense because every time I read in Genesis one, that God saw that it was good, that’s the picture I have, right? He didn’t just immediately move on to the next thing. He took a moment, whatever that moment is, however you wanted to find that moment to see that it was good and I think as we do that, we are creating, of course, an imperfect way a little bit more in his image.


Hey, speaking of beautiful pieces of art that stir hope, your new children’s book, The Awesome Super Fantastic Forever Party is a masterpiece. Tell us, number one, give us the quick summary of what this book is and why you wanted to write a book for kids about heaven?


[0:09:07.1] JET: Well, as you could imagine, without hands that work and feet that do not walk, I’ve longed and looked forward to that day when I will have a brand-new body and it’s like reality. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 assures us, it’s actually going to happen and although, I should add that please don’t be thinking that heaven for me is just a place where I’m going to get back all I lost and then some.


It's not going to be the day of Joni, it’s going to be the day of Christ, it’s going to be a day where sure, I’ll get new glorified hands and feet as well as enjoy happy reunions with loved ones but all these things are like fringe benefits to the honor of simply being on the invitation list to Christ’s coronation party.


Finally, the focus will be off myself and fixed on Him and His glorious day when He’ll be crowned the undisputed Lord and champion of the Universe, I can’t wait and I just want children in this new book, The Awesome Super Fantastic Forever Party, that’s such a mouthful, I just want them to have that same sense of excitement and joy about heaven.


That is not all about them, it’s not all about the cool stuff that you’re going to do like getting to eat all the chocolate chip pancakes you want all day. Now, I want boys and girls to understand the truth about heaven and what the bible has to say about it and so in this little book, I’ve distilled all the things I’ve ever learned about our eternal home and I have woven them all into this new book. I’m pretty excited about it.


[0:10:41.9] JR: It’s extraordinary, we got an early copy, we’ve been reading it almost every night to our girls and we love it. Here’s what I love specifically, you are in a very small package, dispelling a lot of lies about heaven that other generations have grown up believing. Namely, number one, heaven’s not going to stay up in the clouds. Ultimately, God brings heaven to earth.


Number two, heavens not filled with disembodied souls but resurrected, physical bodies. Again, this is 1 Corinthians 15 and one of my favorites, heaven won’t be boring. No, it’s not about eating all the chocolate chip pancakes as you say in the book, all for our enjoyment but we will be working and creating and ruling alongside Jesus the King for His glory.


So what is that specific promise, that promise of work in a redeemed body for all eternity? What does that mean to you personally, Joni?


[0:11:43.3] JET: Well, you know, I just finished memorizing Ephesians chapter one and the very last line, Jordan, says this. It says that, “We the church, we are the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” That is a mouthful, what does that mean? Well, I have an inkling since we are the fullness of him who fills everything in any way.


The church, His body, that this big expansive universe of which our little tiny blue marble of a planet is only an infinitesimal speck. This is huge, vast universe filled with galaxies that are billions of lightyears away, we’re going to fill that.


[0:12:27.8] JR: Yes.


[0:12:27.8] JET: We are going to subdue it, we’re going to rule that, we’re going to populate that, we’re going to create something beautiful in that. This grand universe is not going to remain empty, we are going to rule, we’re going to resettle, we’re going to make it lovely, we’re going to create and everywhere that the King is going to extend His hand and His rule, he will do it through us because he fills us in every way and through everything.


So as his body, we’re going to extend that rule and we’re going to partner with Him, we’re going to be His co-heir, we’re going to reign and we are going to make this grand, great universe that we at this point know nothing about, we’re going to make it beautiful for His honor and glory.


So, we’ve got work to do in heaven, we really do and as I often say, Jordan, oh my goodness, this life that we’re living right now, it’s but a wisp, a bit of smoke, fading vapor. Here today, gone tomorrow, we’re not even blips on the eternal screen. Yet, everything we do down here on earth, either increases our capacity for joy and worship and work and service in heaven or it decreases that capacity.


Our obedience and our trust and our great creator, God, either expands our capacity for joy in heaven and service or it jeopardizes through disobedience and I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to waste my sufferings, I don’t want to complain, I don’t want to live a mediocre Christian life. Man, knowing my destiny, I want to optimize every single day, make the most of the opportunity the Bible says.


As we do, as we live for Christ, as we trust Him, as we are bold and witnessing about Him, we are stretching our capacity for joy and worship and service in heaven. That’s not an idea original to me, that’s Jonathan Edwards spoke about that hundreds of years ago and of course, the Bible speaks of it when it talks of those who are great in the kingdom of heaven and those who are least in the kingdom.


I don’t want to be among the least, I don’t want to be in the lesser ranks. I want to do everything I can to be as happy in heaven and as useful to the king as I possibly can. So while I’m in this wheelchair, I’m going obey, I’m going to trust, I’m going to believe God and that’s what I want children to do as they read this book as well.


[0:14:59.3] JR: Yeah, it’s so good. I am thinking about 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul says that all of our deeds in this life are going to be judged. Some of it is going to survive the fire of judgment, some of it will not. The builder will be saved, those of us who are in Christ Jesus, our entrance, our adoption into God’s family is secure regardless of what we do in our work and lives but there are varying rewards attached to that.


There are varying levels of responsibility in the Kingdom of Heaven based on how we steward this life, so let’s live for that, right Joni?


[0:15:32.5] JET: Absolutely.


[0:15:33.2] JR: Hey, I was going to ask you, maybe you’ve dreamt about this, maybe not, what are the first three things you’re going to do when heaven comes to earth?


[0:15:39.7] JET: Well, I’ve got this idea. Okay, this is what I want to do. When I get to heaven, I will be free of this paralysis, this quadriplegia. I mean, I have been sitting still all my life, virtually all my life and when I get to heaven, it will be my prerogative, my divine endowment as it were to jump up, dance, kick, do aerobic, stretch, move, run but only in heaven will I have a chance to give one more sacrifice and that I think would be a sacrifice of praise to simply kneel at Christ’s feet.


This is what I want to do Jordan, I want to kneel and be very still. I’m going to bow, I am going to show Him a little bit of paralyzed praise as a kind of sacrifice. Jesus, I know I could jump and dance and kick and run but I just want, I choose to stay “paralyzed in praise” for just a bit longer just as a way of showing you how grateful I am for the many decades, you poured out grace upon grace to enable me to live a life of joy in my wheelchair and that’s one thing I want to do.


The second thing I’d like to do after I praise Jesus in that regard, I want to meet the tenth leper. A lot of people want to meet Moses and Daniel and Ruth and Ester and I’d like to meet the tenth leper. I want to meet the guy who had the disability and who was healed and yet had the sense to come back to Jesus and say thank you. I want to ask him about that. I want to resonate with him. I want to delight with him.


I want to jump up and down with him and say, “I know what you are doing that day when you ran back to Jesus and you gave Him great thanks for having healed you. I mean, your disease may have been leprosy, mine is quadriplegia but I get it. I know where you were coming from” and I just want to rejoice with him a little bit and share in that moment of recognition with someone in scripture who I have looked at and admired for many, many years.


[0:17:42.8] JR: I love that so much. I’ve heard you say that you want to paint big on the new earth, right?


[0:17:49.4] JET: Oh yeah.


[0:17:51.0] JR: Because right now, you are confined to obviously this tiny little space, do you have any idea of what exactly you want to paint on these massive murals on the new earth?


[0:18:01.1] JET: Oh, you know, I love painting landscapes. I really do and I have a western mindset, it’s an occidental mindset. It’s outward-looking, it’s forward-thinking, it’s expansive, it’s one of my favorite verses in the scripture. I say the words that, “You shall see the King in his beauty” and I love this part “And a land that stretches afar.” I love that, a land that stretches afar.


I would love to paint a big gigantic mural of a glorious landscape of what that Bible verse might look like, a land that stretches afar and you got to paint big if you’re going to paint something like that. So I look forward to doing that. Right now, my mouths were never meant to hold brushes and so I am very limited in what I can paint but I think when I get a couple of big paintbrushes, the sort of which you’d paint a house or a couple of big buckets, I can’t wait to give it a try.


[0:19:01.5] JR: I love it. I heard, this is a long time ago I heard this, it may have been an interview years ago with I think it was Larry King. You are talking about how when you were young long before your accident, you would sit in your dad’s lap and paint and he would take such delight in you. Do you ever envision your heavenly father doing the same thing, looking down and delighting in your work as a painter and as an activist Joni?


[0:19:27.9] JET: Oh yes and I think just as I gave my daddy great delight for me to sit on his lap and you know, he did in cases big strong hands around my knobby little hand and together, we would pick up one of his paintbrushes and we dab in the oils and we’d swirl these big broad brush strokes across his canvasses and I know it must have given him great joy to see me thinking that I was painting that picture.


You know, it just was a tickled him to death to see how, “Oh, look what I’m doing, daddy!” of course, I really wasn’t doing it. It was daddy who was doing it through me and I’ve got to believe that my Heavenly Father feels the same way when He creates things through me, when He writes through me, when He paints through me, when He speaks through me, when all I do down here on earth with an eye to His glory, He sees me working as though I were animated by Him and I think it gives him great joy.


Of course, it is all Him doing it and I am just the vessel, which He animates but oh, what a delight to partner with His Holy Spirit to create beautiful things, say encouraging things, write uplifting words. It is nice to know that you can be an ingredient in the happiness of God, that’s just huge.


[0:20:51.9] JR: Yeah, Psalm 37 says, “The Lord directs the steps of the godly, He delights in every detail of their lives” not just the big things, the little things that go into work and doing your work with excellence and love and telling other people about Jesus, man, He delights in that. He sees all of that, they’re ingredients in His happiness. I love that so much. Joni, Romans 8:28 says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” and that good is our sanctification as we see Him in verse 29.


In what ways does God led you to see this terrible event, your paralysis as good? Can you say that?


[0:21:29.3] JET: Well, it is. It’s a terrible wonderful thing. It is a heartbreaking yet heart bursting thing. It is a sorrowful but delightful thing. I am as it says in 1 Corinthians 6:10, “I am sorrowful yet always rejoicing. Having nothing and yet possessing everything. Being poor yet making many rich” and I think there’s two ways I’ve experienced this Jordan. Number one, I experience it in that, I don’t know, I just see how God uses this wheelchair as a platform to extend His mercy and grace to others and that’s huge.


It was at Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his wicked brothers, “You intended it for evil but God intended it for good” and then he adds, “For the saving of many lives.”


[0:22:25.4] JR: Yes.


[0:22:26.5] JET: I love that part because that’s the whole point.


[0:22:29.1] JR: It’s Ephesians 2:8-10, “I redeem you not for yourself but for good works to serve others.”


[0:22:36.4] JET: Exactly and so we got to be use of God. He intends these difficult things in our lives for good and that good is that we might extend that message of hope and life-transforming grace to others and so that’s one way in which I’ve seen God work it all out for my good but also in another way, my disability forces me every single day, every hour. I am constantly aware of my Savior and my need of Him.


Living without the use of my hands or legs is just too difficult to not rely on God and so I have a built-in deterrent against cruising on His grace as it were. I can’t get away with that because every moment is a great need. Every day there is a temptation to complain, every hour, there is a frustration that needs to be brought before His throne and so I’m so grateful that I’ve said it before, my disability is like a sheepdog that snaps at my heels and drives me down the road to Calgary where otherwise Jordan, I just know I would not be naturally inclined to go, so those are the good things that have happened from it all.


[0:23:50.7] JR: Blessed be the name of the Lord then. Yeah, I love it. Joni, three very quick questions we wrap up every conversation with. Number one, which books do you find yourself gifting most frequently to others?


[0:24:03.7] JET: Well, as of late, I’ve been gifting Dane Ortlund’s book called Gentle and Lowly, maybe some of our listeners are familiar with that book but if you’re looking for a closer intimacy with the Lord Jesus, if you’re looking for a book that really peels back the layers and reveals the heart of Christ, Dane draws heavily from puritan writers like Thomas Owen and Richard Sibbes and he does a great job with this book.


I have gifted this book to many, many friends as of late and I have listened to the audio pages four times alone. It’s just so delightful, so I would say Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly. Also, he wrote one called, Deeper Still, in which he goes a little bit further with that same theme.


[0:24:51.1] JR: It’s good. Hey Joni, who would you like to hear on this podcast talking about how the gospel influences their work in the world?


[0:24:58.0] JET: Oh my gosh, well, I will chose somebody just out of thin air, former president and chief operating officer, Doug Mazza. Let me tell you real quickly his story. This man was chief operating officer at Suzuki Motor America. He started Hyundai Motor America in the United States back in the 90s, a big, big executive corporate leader and who knew presidents, who travelled to Asia, who established, actually he established Suzuki Motorcycle in America.


An incredibly gifted stellar executive and he had a child with a disability and it not only broke up his marriage, it broke his heart and God used that child with a disability to drive Doug Mazza to his knees and then after that, his whole life took a different path and he ended up becoming our president and chief operating officer at Joni and Friends. He had read a book by Bob Buford called Half Time.


It is a book about how corporate executives in America can use the second half of their useful lives to invest in Christ’s kingdom and he decided to do just that. He took an early retirement from Hyundai Motor America and started asking God, “Where do you want me?” and he ended up coming to our ministry and in less than four years, our ministry capacity quadrupled and we were able to conduct so many more programs to serve people’s disabilities around the world.


It is a remarkable story, so I think your listeners would love listening to Doug Mazza, that’s just my humble opinion.


[0:26:36.2] JR: I will reach out to Doug. I love it. All right Joni, last question, what’s one thing from our conversation do you want to reiterate to our listeners before we sign off?


[0:26:44.4] JET: Oh, that’s a good one and I would say, don’t waste your suffering here on earth. Please remember that everything you do has a direct bearing on your capacity for worship jury and service in heaven. So don’t jeopardize your eternal estate but expand it, grow it, lay up treasures in heaven, trust God in the hard things and oh my goodness, what God won’t do with you to rule alongside him and this big wide universe and make it as beautiful and as glorifying to our heavenly father as you could possibly imagine. So don’t waste suffering, just make certain you trust God in them.


[0:27:25.5] JR: Amen. Joni, I just want to commend you and every mere Christian listening for the important kingdom work you do every day. Thank you for creating beauty and hope through your paintings, for reminding us of the Biblical hope of heaven, an eternity with God creating and working for His glory. Man, I just want to work for you on the new earth, that’s my new goal in life.


Guys, Joni’s book is The Awesome Super Fantastic Forever Party, go pick it up now. Joni, thank you again for joining us.




[0:27:59.2] JR: It’s very rare that a guest exceeds my expectations, especially big-name guests but, man, Joni Eareckson Tada just blew my mind. What a beautiful person, a beautiful example of faithfulness, and I am just so grateful for her reminder of the true Biblical hope of eternity.


Hey, if you missed the bonus episode about the name change of this podcast from the Call to Mastery to Mere Christians, be sure to check that out and, hey, we’re always looking for great guests to come to the show. So if you’ve got somebody that you want to recommend, maybe you even want to recommend yourself, yes, that is fine, we welcome that, go to


Guys, I’m praying that you enjoyed this first episode of the new brand, Mere Christians, I’ll see you next week.