She begins every morning with a two-hour routine—washing, dressing, exercising. She needs at least seven helpers each week just to meet the day. A quadriplegic for 36 years, Joni Eareckson Tada can do very little for herself—not turn over in bed, not brush her own teeth, not apply makeup. She was 17 when she broke her neck, so most of her life has been spent in this condition, dependent on others for the most basic daily functions.
By the time the rest of world sees her, she looks beautiful, poised, perfectly turned out. Speaking to large audiences, addressing her daily radio show or writing her books, Tada comes across as a warm, self-assured, articulate woman. Her wheelchair is forgotten.
But of course she can never leave it. Pain is a constant companion. So is the knowledge that she lives on borrowed time. A broken bone, collapsed lung, or infection could put her into the hospital for months.
Tada requires two hours to go to bed each night. Since her body will tolerate the strain of sitting up for only so long each day, she needs to be prone by eight o'clock, sleepy or not. (On the road she can't manage that, but she pays a price when she gets home.) She used to find the long, still hours in bed claustrophobic. Now she welcomes the forced rest, using the time for quietness and prayer. In absolute bodily stillness she thinks through the whirlwind of activity that greets her each day.
"Having a disability is a full-time job," emphasizes Judy Butler, Tada's assistant for more than 20 years. If so, then Tada holds down two jobs. Her second job begins each morning when Tada drives in a specially equipped van to Joni and Friends, located in a prosaic office building in Agoura Hills, California. Tada works a highly scheduled day, ...