The Cross and the Wheelchair

Joni Eareckson Tada has been in a wheelchair for 46 years and she wouldn’t change her life for anything.

Joni was 17 years old and fresh out of high school in 1967 when she dove into the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay and broke her neck. During her extensive rehab, Joni would lie in bed at night and violently move the only part of her body that she could control, her head, in hopes of breaking her neck again and killing herself. Finally, a prayer changed everything.

“God, if I can’t die, please show me how to live.”

For over four decades God has been answering that prayer for Joni. That’s how she can say that she wouldn’t change her life for anything.

Joni’s wheelchair is an object of great personal heartache and discomfort. But it is also an instrument God used to make her a new person. This is the same way that every Christian should view the cross.

It is impossible for me to understand the cross without first understanding that it was all my fault. Jesus came to save me from my sins (Matthew 1:21) and the cross was the only way to do it (Mark 14:36). In his love, the Father made it happen, “for my sake” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The image of a cross is more than just a fashion statement that artists like Ke$ha and Madonna wear. The very sight of it should remind me that I murdered Jesus. An innocent man, the only innocent man who ever lived (Hebrews 4:15), was murdered because of my sins.

But there’s more to the story. The cross is also an image of unparalleled grace. It is the place where my sins were exchanged for the righteousness of Christ. Because of what Christ did on the cross and through faith and repentance in him, I am no longer an enemy of God (Ephesians 2:1-3). Through no effort of my own, I am now the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The cross exists because of my sin.

It also exists for my righteousness.

Every morning, Joni Eareckson Tada starts her day off with a woman helping her to do the things that you and I never give much thought to. She gives Joni a bath, rinses out her mouth and helps her to get back into that wheelchair. As she lies in bed awake and hears the door opening, Joni thinks about the day ahead and the difficulties it will bring. And then she says another prayer that seems to change everything.

“I have no smile for this woman who’s going to walk into my bedroom in a moment. She could be having coffee with another friend, but she’s chosen to come here to help me get up. O God, please may I borrow your smile?”

The cross reminds us that we have no righteousness for God.

But it also reminds us that he has given us his.

For more information on Joni and her recent battle with cancer, click here.