Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Joni Erickson Tada speak at a conference. In 1967, at the age of 17, Joni dove into the Chesapeake Bay but she misjudged the shallowness of the water. This resulted in a fracture between her fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae, which left her paralyzed from the shoulders down. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations. Since 1969, she has become a best-selling author, painter, and advocate for those with disabilities. She has also founded an organization called Joni and Friends, which helps those with disabilities and their families in countless ways.
Listening to Joni speak was incredibly moving for me. The joy she demonstrates in the midst of her struggle is very powerful. But, I really think it was her husband Ken who had the greatest impact on me … and he didn’t even say a word. You see, there were several times while Joni was speaking that she needed help. Once her bracelet got caught on her sweater. Even though she does not have use of her hands, she is able to move her arms up and down. Since the bracelet was caught on her sweater, every time she moved her arms, her sweater would rise up. Joni didn’t even notice this was happening, but her husband Ken did. Unprompted, he came from back stage and unhooked the bracelet from the sweater.
The next night, Joni was speaking and she needed help clearing her throat. She called for Ken, who came from back stage and began to help her clear her throat for approximately one minute by pushing on her stomach with his arm.
Those were only two examples of how he cared for Joni and he did those things with grace and gentleness. I do not even know this man, but watching him serve his wife in these ways showed me a whole lot about who he is … and he didn’t even say a word.
In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul talks of Timothy and he describes him by saying, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20) I am sure that Joni would say something similar about Ken: “I have no one like him … someone so willing to walk side by side with me and who is genuinely concerned for my well being.”
As I read Philippians 2 again this morning, I was really challenged by Timothy’s example. As Paul continued to write about Timothy, he said that he really does not have anyone like him. Everyone else seems to be concerned about their own interests and not those of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 2:21) But, Timothy seems to keep his eyes focused on Jesus and he leans in to what can help him know Jesus in a deeper way. This appears to fuel his “genuine concern” for others.
The more I see Jesus, the more compassion I will have toward those around me. Looking toward Jesus helps me remember that the people around me have souls … that the family who has just had a baby may be feeling overwhelmed. Because Jesus is concerned about this, I want to show that I am as well. Looking toward Jesus help me remember that my barista at Starbucks isn’t just there to get my coffee. He/She has a soul and because Jesus is concerned about their soul, I want to be concerned about it as well. Looking toward Jesus will help remind me that the person sitting alone at church has a soul and because Jesus is concerned about this person feeling lonely, I want to be concerned about it as well. Looking toward Jesus will help remind me that the parents of a child with a disability may need a break in order to feel refreshed. Because Jesus is concerned about the weariness they may feel, I want to be concerned about it as well. The more I look toward Jesus, the softer my heart becomes for those around me. But, I think the opposite of that is true as well … the more I look toward my own interests, the harder my heart becomes toward those around me and the less genuine concern I will have.
If you were sitting next to me right now you would have just heard me "sigh." My eyes drift so easily toward unimportant things and toward my own self-interests. It’s true for so many of us. I long to remember the words Paul wrote to Timothy: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:1) The desire I have for myself and for followers of Jesus everywhere is to see our affections continually stirred toward Jesus … to live in awe of who He is and the grace He has shown. As that happens, a genuine care and concern for others will follow and we’ll find ourselves moved to help and shining as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15).