By Joni Eareckson Tada
“File this, Francie, and make copies of this letter, would you,” I said to my secretary without looking up from my desk. “And, oh yes,” I sighed, “would you please pull out the sofa bed one more time?”
“Are you serious? Again?”
“Again.” With that, my face flushed and my eyes became damp. For the fourth time that day, I needed to be lifted out of my wheelchair and laid down. I had to undress to readjust my corset—shallow breathing, sweating, and a skyrocketing blood pressure were signaling that something was either pinching, bruising, or sticking my paralyzed body. My secretary tissued away my tears and unfolded my office sofa bed.
As she shifted my body, examining my legs and hips for any telltale pressure marks or red areas, I stared vacantly at the ceiling. “I want to quit this,” I mumbled.
We couldn’t find anything wrong. She put my clothes back on, hoisted me into my chair, and stepped back.
I looked sheepish. “Where do I go to resign from this stupid paralysis?”
Francie shook her head and grinned. She’s heard me say it scores of times. It’s nothing new. My disability is, at times, a pain.
As she gathered the pile of letters off my desk and got ready to leave, she paused and leaned against the door. “I bet you can’t wait for heaven. You know, like Paul said, ‘We groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling’” (2 Corinthians 5:2).
My eyes dampened again, but this time they were tears of relief and hope. “Yeah, it’ll be great.” I couldn’t return to my dictating. The verse kept sticking with me, and I whispered a prayer: “Yes, Lord, I do look forward to being whole, to having a body that will never know pain. But to be honest, what I really want is a new heart that doesn’t want to resign or quit.”
I sat and dreamed what I’ve dreamed of a thousand times: the hope of heaven. I jerked my will right side up, refocused my emotions, and realigned my thoughts. I mentally rehearsed a flood of other promises and fixed the eyes of my heart on unseen divine realities and future divine fulfillment. I zeroed in on a few heavenly coordinates to lift my sights above my physical pain:
When Christ appears, we shall be like him (see 1 John 3:2).
The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality (see 1 Corinthians 15:53).
That which is sown in weakness will be raised in power (see 1 Corinthians 15:43).
He has given us an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade (see 1 Peter 1:4).
If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him (see 2 Timothy 2:12).
It was all I needed. I opened my eyes and said out loud with a smile, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”
The scene I described can sometimes happen two or three times a week. Physical affliction and emotional pain are, frankly, part of my daily routine. But I only stay me-centered long enough to release a few tears and blubber a few gripes, and that’s it. I learned long ago that self-pity can be a deadly trap, and so I avoid it like the plague. I quickly move onward and upward.
Hardships are God’s way of helping me to get my mind on the hereafter. And I don’t mean the hereafter as a death wish, psychological crutch, or escape from reality. I mean it as the true reality. And nothing beats rehearsing a few time-honored, well-worn verses of Scripture if you want to put reality into perspective.
Every time my corset wears a wound in my side or I’m faced with a four-week stint in bed or I feel the stab of someone else’s pity, I look beyond the negatives and see the positives.
I recall that foreigners aren’t supposed to feel at home on earth (see Philippians 3:20).
I set my heart and mind on things above and wait on the Bridegroom (see Colossians 3:2).
I remember the promise of a new body, heart, and mind (see 2 Corinthians 5:4).
I dream about reigning on earth and ruling in heaven (see 2 Timothy 2:12).
I think about crowns and rewards and casting them all at Jesus’ feet (see Revelation 4:10-11).
When these Scriptures strike that resonant chord in my heart, I tune into the melody and hold myself in the state of listening to heaven’s music. Before I know it, the song lifts me, and I’m soaring on Spirit wings, breathing celestial air. I’m in heaven. It’s a glorious vantage point from which to look down on my pain and problems. The soul that mounts up to heaven’s kingdom cannot fail to triumph.
It’s odd that it took a wheelchair—something that bolts me to earth—to make me see the futility of fighting spiritual battles on the earthly plane. When I attempted to live on the same low level as my bolts, gears, wheels, and leather, I made blunder after blunder. I was powerless there until I shifted to a higher battleground and chose a different perspective.
Looking down on my problems from heaven’s perspective, trials looked extraordinarily different. When viewed from its own level, my paralysis seemed like a huge, impassable wall, but when viewed from above, the wall appeared as a thin line, something that could be overcome. It was, I discovered with delight, a bird’s-eye view. It was the view of Isaiah 40:31: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Eagles overcome the lower law of gravity by the higher law of flight, and what is true for birds is true for the soul. Souls that soar to heaven’s heights on wings like eagles overcome the mud of earth that keeps us stuck to a temporal, limited perspective. If you want to see heaven’s horizons, as well as place earth in your rearview mirror, all you need to do is stretch your wings (yes, you have wings, and you don’t need larger, better ones; you possess all that you need to gain a heavenly perspective on your trials) and consider your trials from heaven’s realms. Like the wall that becomes a thin line, you are able to see the other side, the happier outcome.