Interview by Maina Mwaura
Best-selling Christian author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada announced in November 2018 she had been diagnosed with cancer for the second time.
Eight years ago, Tada was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy treatment. In 2015, she was declared cancer-free.
At age 69, the founder of Joni and Friends, an international ministry to people with disabilities, is battling cancer again.
In October, Tada re-released Heaven: Your Real Home with updates to the book first released in 1995.
Facts & Trends sat down with Tada and talked to her about faith, cancer, and the hope of heaven.
Facts & Trends: You recently shared publicly that you have cancer, may I ask how are you doing?
Tada: I’m doing well, despite my cancer just having returned. I’m one of these people who is so convinced of the sovereignty of God that it’s all in His purview. We can’t lose. I’m a Christian, I’m a believer, so nothing can happen in which I might lose. So I’m pretty content.
I had surgery about two weeks ago, and it’s healing up fine. My spirits are bright! Obviously people are praying, and my husband has been great in taking care of me. We’re just being infused with extra measures of grace because people are praying.
From my many years of living with chronic pain, or quadriplegia, or my former cancer, I’ve learned a lot about faith and knowing when people are praying for me.
You’ve been through a lot. Do you ever ask yourself “why me?”
Somebody just asked me this the other day. I can’t remember how he put it, but he said, “It seems to me God is doing less good for you and He’s doing a lot more harm.”
And I thought, you know, for the Christian this is such a critical question because [it] reveals what we believe about God. I believe God only does good for me.
In Jeremiah 32, I think it says, God only does good with all His heart and soul for the sons of Jacob. And then Psalm 84 verse 11 says “no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” I’m banking on verses like those.
How do you trust God in the midst of trials and sufferings?
That’s a good question. I think I demonstrate my trust in God in private [with Him]. But I [also] demonstrate my trust when I spend less time on the internet looking up issues dealing with my cancer and more time in God’s Word.
I think that’s one way of demonstrating trust. Am I going to trust the internet in what it predicts? Or am I going to trust God and what He plans?
I’ve got to watch my screen time with the computer because God’s watching and the Holy Spirit’s watching, and when He says turn it off, I’ve got to do that. So that’s one way of trusting Him.
Another way of trusting Him is not complaining and not projecting a ‘woe is me’ attitude.
How else do you see your faith carrying you through these trials?
We forget God is less interested in our physical comfort and more interested in our soul. My soul has become so much more settled. My hope is more anchored in Christ and in heaven.I believe every response I give to this new cancer, every inconvenience, and every pain has a direct bearing to increasing my capacity for joy, service, and worship in heaven.We live in a fallen world, and there’s going to be cancer. There’s going to be quadriplegia, there’s going to be pain, there’s going to be all kinds of stuff, I’m sure. When I go through the rigors of radiation, I’ll get extremely weak.
But all of it is in God’s purview. He’s interested in how I respond. Will I trust Him? I don’t want to diminish it by complaining or doubting or fearing God.
I believe every response I give to this new cancer, every inconvenience, and every pain has a direct bearing to increasing my capacity for joy, service, and worship in heaven.
You’ve re-released your book Heaven. Why did you decide to do that?
Well, I’ve learned a lot more in 25 years since I first wrote that book. I’ve suffered a lot more, I’ve prayed a lot more, I’ve read and studied a lot more.
I’ve changed. I’m a different person and a deeper person than I was 25 years ago. I’m bent on focusing on heaven as a person rather than a place. I think that’s the biggest difference.
I mentioned it in the first rendition of the book, but this time I made more of it. It’s all about the relationship with the Lord Jesus.
Hopefully not anytime soon, but are you ready to go to heaven?
Yeah. I think any Christian should be ready at any time. Of course, like Paul, I’m torn.
I don’t want to face the rigors of radiation on a quadriplegic body. And I have to postpone pursuing options to address my chronic pain during chemotherapy. It’s going to be a lot of discomfort in the next few months.
I’m a little torn like the Apostle Paul, but I would love to be free of the suffering and affliction.
Why are you torn between here and heaven?
I think it’s more needful for Christ that I remain for His purposes.
There are millions of people with disabilities who don’t know Jesus. And that’s why I show up at work every single day at Joni and Friends.
It breaks my heart to think the suffering a person in a wheelchair is going through is only an omen of even greater suffering to come if he doesn’t know Christ.
What misunderstandings do you think people have about heaven?
That it is the end, when in all reality, it’s the beginning. C.S. Lewis says this is just the title page down here on Earth, and the real adventure story begins in heaven.
When we flip the page and arrive in heaven, that’s when the real adventure begins.
When you get to heaven, what do you want to hear God say?
Joni, I’m so proud of you. Look at what you did with what I gave you. My goodness, because of your faithfulness, I’m going to put you in charge of 10 cities here in heaven.
MAINA MWAURA is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.