Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Squeezing the Lemon

Leslie Basham: Last fall, Joni Eareckson Tada joined Revive Our Hearts for the True Woman ’12 conference. Backstage during the conference, several members of the Revive Our Hearts team noticed how often Joni would break out into hymns. One of the team members asked Joni why she did this.

Joni Eareckson Tada: Hymns are important to me because I have to sing. If I don’t sing I might cry. Being a quadriplegic for forty-five years and dealing with chronic pain and cancer and being in my sixties with other aches and pains and issues, I choose to sing. I have to sing. I’m glad to sing because when I wake up in the morning and start singing, “Savior like a Shepherd lead us,” I’m already being led. I’m already setting the course of my attitude for the day. And for me, singing is a way of praying without ceasing morning, noon, and night. I’m so grateful for the songs that God puts on my heart.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, April 11.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Not long ago, several members of our team attended the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters. My friend, Joni Eareckson Tada, spoke on the final evening of that conference. I wasn’t able to be there this year, but I was sure wishing that I could have been, because as Joni spoke, I started seeing tweets and getting emails about how God’s hand was all over Joni as she poured out her heart.

One of our team members wrote and said, “Wow! This message is the perfect mix of grabbing my heart and being biblical and getting me to Jesus. I wish you could see Joni’s face. Dead silence in the room. She has gripped us in silence.” And then not long after that I got another email from the same team member saying, “Joni finished thirty minutes ago, but Janet Parshall is still in tears.”

Well, as soon as it was available, I pulled up the audio of Joni’s message and listened to it myself. And I agree. "Wow," was right! I couldn’t wait to share this message with you. So today and tomorrow, we’re going to hear Joni share very transparently about her marriage to Ken Tada and about prayer that isn’t answered as we hope. Now, as you heard a few minutes ago, Joni is prone to break out into hymns at, well, anytime. You’re about to hear that for yourself. So let’s listen to Joni Eareckson Tada.

Joni: If you spend any time with me at all, you know that I love the old hymns. I love to sing them, but I’m going to tell you something. I sing because I have to. I remember darker days when I was first injured and in the hospital. I wanted so much to cry, but instead I would stifle the tears and comfort myself singing a hymn like,

Savior, Savior hear my humble cry.
While on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.

It always reminded me, as I sang that, of the pool of the Bethesda. You know that portion of the Scripture from John chapter 5. When friends would come to the hospital to visit me, I always asked them to read it to me.

For there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called Bethesda, which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time . . . (vv. 2–6)

Oh my goodness, Jesus thinks thirty-eight years in a wheelchair is a long time. What does he think of forty-five years in a wheelchair? “Jesus asked him, 'Do you want to get well?' . . .  Jesus said to him, 'Get up . . . and walk'” (vv. 6, 8).

I cannot tell you how many times at night I would picture myself there at the pool of Bethesda on a blanket, perhaps lying next to the man with paralysis on his straw mat. And I would wait alongside him, waiting for Jesus to walk in through those covered colonnades. And I would see Him, and I would in my mind’s eye cry out, “Oh Jesus, Jesus don’t pass me by! Here I am! Heal me!” But as many times as I pictured myself there at the pool of Bethesda, and as often as I asked Jesus to heal me, I never got up. I never walked.

Sometime later, after I was released from that hospital and I lived with my sister Jay on the farm in Maryland, I heard tell there was going to be Kathryn Kuhlman healing crusade down in Washington, D.C. at the Washington Hilton Ballroom. I wasted no time. My sister took me. I’ll never forget when I entered that huge ballroom packed with people, the ushers escorted me to the wheelchair section.

Kathryn Kuhlman came waltzing out on to the stage in the spotlight. The organ crescendoed, the music rose, and suddenly the spotlight ended over on the far side of the ballroom where it seemed as though healings were occurring! Oh my goodness, all of us in the wheelchair section got so excited! It seemed to continue, more people getting healed! I felt like I was back at the pool of Bethesda: “Jesus! Come over here! Over here where all the hard cases are!”

Before that crusade even ended, the ushers came and escorted all of us in the wheelchair section out early. There I was sitting, number fifteen in a long line at the elevator. I looked up and down this very quiet line of people, and I thought to myself, Something’s wrong with this picture. What kind of savior, what kind of rescuer, what kind of healer, what kind of deliverer would refuse the prayer of a paralytic?

Okay, I thought when I got back to the farm and Jay put me to bed. Okay, if I can’t be healed, then I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to live this way. I’m just not going to do it! And very soon a bitter root, a real spirit of complaining, began to grip hold of my heart and nothing that anybody did for me was good enough. Every hurdle that I faced became another reason to feel sorry for myself.

“Queen Joni” I was. If things didn’t go my way, off with your head! Most of all, Christ the healer in the midst of all this complaining and bitterness, Christ the healer seemed so far, so distant.

I remember I would often tell my sister, Jay, “I don’t want to get up today. Just draw the drapes; turn out the lights; leave me in bed, and close the door.” But even, even in that darkness of my bedroom I, I had to stifle my tears and still comfort myself with hymns that would well up from my childhood in the darkness, singing,

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.
When darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide;
When others helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, [I’m so helpless,] oh, abide with me.

And finally in that darkness I cried, “Oh God, I can’t live this way either! So please, You’re just going to have to show me how to live. Please God!” That was my first plea for help. A short prayer it was, “If I can’t die, then show me how to live.”

It opened up much brighter days when my sister then would come into the bedroom and open the drapes, sit me up in the wheelchair, wheel me to the living room, and park my chair in front of a music stand, much like this one, and on it she would plop a big Bible. She put into my mouth a long mouth stick with a rubber tipped end. And I would sit there all day in the living room flipping through pages of the Bible this way and that, trying to make sense of it all.

Of course, I was still interested in healing. I was still wanting to know what the Bible had to say about it. I found out real quick. In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, you know the story, Jesus is performing all kinds of miracles for all kinds of sick and diseased people, all throughout the day and long past sunset. The next morning all the crowds returned. Simon and his companions go looking for Jesus, but they can’t find Him. He’s nowhere to be found. It seems that the Master had gotten up early that morning and gone off to a solitary place to pray.

So finally, when Simon and his friends discover Jesus, they tell Him about this crowd of disabled and diseased people down at the bottom of the hill, all looking for healing. But Jesus replied to Simon, in the thirty-eighth verse: “Let’s go somewhere else. Let’s go to the nearby villages so I can preach there also for . . .” Now get this, “. . . this is why I have come.”

Jesus, turning away from sick and disabled people looking for healing, people like me? And that’s when it hit me. It’s not that Jesus did not care about all those sick and disabled people at the bottom of the hill. It’s just their physical problems were not His main focus. The gospel of Jesus says, “Sin kills! Hell is real, but God is merciful! His kingdom can change you, and I am your passport.” And whenever people miss this, whenever they started coming to Jesus just to have their problems removed, the Savior backed away.

No wonder I had been so depressed. I mean, I realized I was into Jesus mainly to get my pains and my problems and my paralysis fixed. And yes, I began to see from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark that God cares about suffering. He spent most of his time on earth trying to relieve it. But, the Gospel of Mark showed me the priorities of Jesus because the same man who healed eyes and withered hands is the same man who said, “If your eye causes you to sin, or your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, gouge it out!” That’s when I got the picture. I always thought physical healing had been the "big deal," but as far as God was concerned, my soul was the bigger deal.

Ken and I recently celebrated thirty years of marriage. But I tell you, every step of the way with my quadriplegia, with my chronic pain, every step has been a tough, earnest, rugged, rigorous reliance on Jesus Christ. Even in marriage—especially in marriage—God is not so much interested in removing the problems, removing the disappointments or the pain. He is more interested in removing . . .

Well, remember that bitter spirit, that complaining spirit that I told you about? How nothing that anybody did was good enough. Well, it was early on in our marriage, and Ken was really starting to be weighed down. He was really starting to feel pressured with the non-stop, 24/7, day-to-day, dreary routines that this disability can bring. And my husband became depressed. I mean depressed with a capital ‘D.’ And I somewhat removed myself emotionally because it hurt so much to see my disability cause my husband such pain. Those were the “tired middle years” we call them in the book.

One night, Ken was particularly quiet. He had been all day that way—giving me the cold shoulder. I asked him what was wrong. He said, “Nothing.” But that night, he sat at the edge of our bed, and for the first time he opened up, and he said, “Joni, I’m trapped. I feel trapped, and there is no escape.”

My husband was being honest and open for the first time. And what did I do? What did I say? Out of the pit of my heart I spat, “Well, what’s the matter with you? Didn’t you realize it was going to be like this? When we took our marriage vows? I’m a quadriplegic. Didn’t you know it was going to be this difficult?!” I knew right away—instantly—that that was the wrong thing to say. So I quickly apologized and said, “Oh, Ken, I am so sorry. That was not like me. I mean, that’s not like me at all!” But you know what? It is like me. It is just like me.

God does not remove the hardships. He allows them, purposes them, permits, ordains them. Use whichever word you wish. He designs them. Pain and problems and paralysis become the lemon that He squeezes to reveal all the selfishness and the spitefulness. We don’t like that. My quadriplegia keeps squeezing the lemon—squeezing it so hard, revealing the not so pretty stuff of which I am made, and replacing it with empathy for my husband, with love and with patience and perseverance and longsuffering.

In the last ten years of my marriage to Ken, the daily chronic pain that I deal with has squeezed that lemon even more. I remember when I was in the worst of my pain. I’m talking about mind-bending, jaw-splitting pain. I can’t quite describe that as a quadriplegic. All I know is that ten years ago when I went through menopause, all of a sudden, I am in pain. Ken had to get up so many extra times during the night to turn me, to make me comfortable. I just couldn’t seem to get comfortable.

One night before we turned out the lights, he sat on the edge of the bed again and he confessed to me, “Oh, Joni. I am so tired, I have no strength for this. I cannot do this. I feel trapped.”

My response that time? “Oh, Ken, if I were you, I would feel exactly the same way. I don’t blame you. I don’t fault you. I’m not going to scold you. I just want you to know that I am going to be your biggest cheerleader through this. I’m going to help you, support you, be with you. If you feel trapped I’m going to find a way to open that cage, because you’re my best friend.” And I told him that, “You’re doing great. You are doing great.” 

And I tell you what, I could see it right before my eyes, this weight lifted off my husband’s shoulders, as well as a weight of anxiety and fear of the future. It was a huge turning point in our marriage. God was doing a healing—a deeper healing—in both of us. And Ken and I have discovered a love that holds on through it all, sometimes by a single thread.

We have learned that the strongest relationships don’t come easy. They are earned. They are tested by pain and frustration, and sometimes they are pushed to the breaking point. Like when I got breast cancer three years ago—a stage III breast cancer, with a nearly 3-inch tumor in my breast. All of it had to be lopped off. 

And then after my mastectomy, I’ll never forget my husband Ken and my good friend Judy Butler, with whom I worked with for so many years who took care of so many of my medical needs in years past. All of us were sitting in the office of my medical oncologist who with his clipboard was listing through a litany of problems I would be facing in chemotherapy. He began with, “Joni, you will have to be sent back to the hospital and a catheter port will have to be inserted into your chest. You will be given highly toxic poisonous drugs. Your bones—which already are fragile—will probably break. You will have many bladder infections, probably lung infections. You will probably have pneumonia. You’ll lose your hair; you will get nauseous.” A nurse called him out of the room. He quickly had to leave, shut the door.

“I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” I broke down in great heaping sobs. Quickly Judy got up, as she often had in the past, especially when Ken was depressed and could not deal with my disability. She came and quickly pressed me against her chest to hold me. And as I’m sobbing, I sense Ken get up and say to Judy, “I’ll take over from here.”

Oh my goodness, it was like music to my ears. It was like such sweet music to my ears. My husband wanted to take over. I mean, was this the same man who just years earlier was happy to let Judy do everything in concern to my disability routines? No! No! This was not the same Ken Tada. This was Ken Tada transformed from glory to glory.

The lessons we have learned in more than two decades of quadriplegia and pain prepared us to battle cancer. Now with every squeeze of the lemon, through every test and through every trial, we are able to let go of the worry and the anxiety and the blaming and fears of the future. These things, which by the way, are just as offensive to God as selfishness and spitefulness and a complaining spirit. The harder Ken and I were squeezed in the midst of that bout with cancer, the harder we leaned on Jesus—discovering an intimacy and a sweetness we had never known in our marriage up until then.

Nancy: That’s Joni Eareckson Tada. Through her message and the example of her life, she’s been showing us how the pressures of life can push us closer to Jesus. I wonder what came to your mind as Joni spoke about her challenges as a quadriplegic and dealing with cancer and chronic pain. The details of my struggles and the details of your struggles are different than Joni’s. But they still represent an opportunity for us to seek the Lord with fresh intensity and to watch Him use that pain to make us more like Jesus.

I’m sure you’ve been encouraged as Joni has shared so honestly about some of the struggles that she and her husband, Ken, have faced. That’s why I’m so excited about their new book called, Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story. This is a great book. Whether you are married or single, in a great marriage or a struggling marriage, it’s going to challenge you to live your life with gratitude and with joy.

As you read about some of the valleys that this couple has walked through, it will help you put your own struggles in perspective. And as you read about some of the mountains that they have climbed together, I think it will give you fresh hope and endurance and a commitment to Christ, and if you are married, to your spouse, as well.

We’d love to send you a copy of Joni and Ken Tada’s new book. We’ll be glad to do that when you support Revive Our Hearts with a donation of any amount. Just ask for Joni and Ken when you call with your gift. The number to call is 1-800-569-5959, or visit us online at

Now, we had to break partway through Joni’s message, and tomorrow we’re going to hear the moving ending. You won’t want to miss it. Joni’s going to reflect on some of those prayers for healing that she first lifted up over forty years ago. I hope you’ll be back with us and perhaps encourage some friends to listen as well.

Now one of the words that comes to mind when I think of my friend, Joni, is the word “courage.” I’ve just seen her run into the face of so many difficult challenges and do it with grace and with strength that comes from the Lord. In fact, God has used her life so many times to give me courage to run into difficult situations and to press into some of the more challenging parts of my calling. Perhaps you need courage today to press into what God’s given you to do. So as we close our time today, here’s Joni with some words that I think will encourage your heart.

Joni: If God is calling you into a direction or perhaps on the front lines of a movement and you feel timid or cowardly or fearful, when you stand strong and you take that giant step and you move on to the front lines, and, in fact, you step out beyond the front lines of the gospel and get in the demilitarized zone of where the kingdom is at its weakest, when you take those giant steps to move forward in places where no one else is going, that will breed courage. That will breed valor. That will breed enthusiasm and excitement for everyone who watches you. You’ll be a leader and people will follow.

Leslie: Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.




[i] Crosby, Fanny. Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior (music by H. Howard Doane). Public Doman.

[ii] Lyte, Henry F. Abide with Me (music by William H. Monk). Public Domain.

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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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