On July 30, 1967 Joni Eareckson dove into the waters of Chesapeake Bay. She was eighteen years old. It was the last time she would be able to use her arms or legs. Striking her head in the shallow waters, she suffered a broken neck that left her a permanent quadriplegic. According to her story in Joni, she sank deeper into anger, depression, suicidal thoughts and spiritual doubt. But, over time, she emerged with a faith that inspired others and created change for the handicapped world-wide.
Controlling a brush with her teeth, she became an accomplished artist, wrote forty books, and recorded several music albums. In 1979 she founded Joni and Friends, a Christian ministry to the disabled throughout the world. Her organization, Wheels for the World, collects wheel chairs that are refurbished by prison inmates and distributed to disabled children and adults in developing countries.
Rachel Scott was seventeen when she was gunned down as the first murder victim at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Rachel’s Christian witness and her vision for acts of kindness that can make a difference inspired Rachel’s Challenge, a movement in her memory. Rachel’s Challenge has reportedly touched more than twenty million students worldwide in an effort to reduce violence and teen suicide.
According to the Bible, Joseph was thrown into the well by his brothers and sold by them as a slave into Egypt. Years later he become Prime Minister in Egypt and was able to rescue his family during a widespread famine. Confronted by his brothers who sold him into slavery, Joseph said, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Genesis 50:20)
Peter recognized that all of us experience difficulty and pain. In his letter he wrote, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13)
The Apostle Paul wrote, "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5).
We each must work through our own suffering and pain, trusting God to give us strength to discover the good that He wants to bring into our lives. Sometimes it takes many years for this to come into focus. Sometimes, we never see it. At those times we can only live by faith. When something terrible and confusing happens to us we always have a choice, to turn inward in disappointment and disillusionment, or to turn outward and look upward in faith and hope.