Repainting life with your teeth

This post first appeared as a guest post for Anita Mathias’ excellent blog, Dreaming Beneath the Spires.  You can check it out here.

Photo credit: Mike Yuen. Used with permission.

When I was twelve, I was asked to give a book review to the rest of the class.  It was supposed to be on our favourite book.  Lots of other girls stood up and talked about Black Beauty, Charlotte’s Webb, Enid Blyton books.

When it was my turn, I went to the front of the class.  I normally dreaded speaking in front of a group, but though I was nervous, I  spoke passionately about my favourite book.  It was not like the others, and when I finished, I could see that the class and teacher were not sure how they were supposed to react.

The book was ‘Joni’, by Joni Eareckson-Tada.  It is the autobiography of a Christian who was paralysed from the neck down after a diving accident at the age of seventeen, and how she comes to terms with her disability.  The story gripped me from the beginning; how would I respond if I were in that situation?  It was fascinating because of the emotional complexities that she explored: her hope, her disappointment, her depression, her relationship with God.  I also loved it for its outcome: a happy ending that was not dependent on her healing but on her outlook and trust in God.

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Twenty years on, and I now find myself disabled and encountering similar emotional and spiritual wrestlings.  I wonder at my twelve-year-old self choosing that book above all the others.  Could it be that God placed that book prophetically in my heart?

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As I think back now, it is not so much the words that leave the impression in my mind but the pictures.  She is an immensely talented artist, and (re)learned to paint using only her mouth, holding the paintbrush in her teeth.  Her paintings are detailed and beautiful.

As I look at them now, I see not only the aesthetic artistry of the images, but the beauty of suffering.  This is the hidden, powerful beauty that comes from painstaking discipline and endurance.  There is meaning and value and depth and intention in every stroke of the brush.

Her character is as her paintings; beauty wrought from affliction. My twelve-year old self saw that a little;  I now see it more.  I look at those pictures, and it gives me hope.

Hebrews talks about being surrounded by a ‘great cloud of witnesses’, those Old Testament heroes and heroines of the faith who inspire us to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us’ (Heb 12:1).   We all need the example of great women and men of God who have gone before us, who can help us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Joni is definitely in my ‘cloud of witnesses’.  Who is in yours?

Over to you:

  • What Christian books have made an impact on you?
  • Who’s in your ‘cloud of witnesses’?

Joni’s books are all excellent and well worth checking out.  Her autobiography can be purchased here (from the US) or from your local Christian bookshop.  Her website, Joni and friends (ministry among disabled) can be seen here.

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2 Responses to Repainting life with your teeth

  1. Jen 1st December, 2012 at 2:51 am #

    Hi Tanya,
    I’m catching up on all your posts slowly (and mostly when I can’t sleep as there’s no time in the day when the girls are up!)
    I can’t remember how old I was, but I read an autobiography of Corrie Ten Boom. She was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.
    She tells the story of the day when, many years later after she had spoken at some event or other, a man approached her. She recognised him as the guard she saw kill her sister.
    He asks her for forgiveness and holds out his hand. She knows she can’t forgive him and in she prays that if she takes his hand, that God would help her heart to forgive.
    Such humility, such grace and such utter dependence on God and obedience to him. She knew she couldn’t with hold forgiveness, even from this man, when she’d been forgiven so much.
    It also gives me hope though, even a great saint like Corrie found it hard and couldn’t do it alone – it’s ok for me to find it hard, and definitely ok that I cannot do it alone!
    Praise God that all he wants is a willing heart and he can do so much more than we could ever ask for or imagine!
    XX Jen

    • Tanya 3rd December, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

      Thanks for reading all my posts! 🙂
      I also LOVED Corrie Ten Boom when I was a child! I was really challenged by that story too. Some things stay with you, don’t they?

      Thank you – this has encouraged me to be honest about my own story – sometimes that’s easier than others!

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