Something wonderful is going to happen at my house today—at least, I hope so.
It involves two people in particular: Katie, the young lady I've written about before (here) who is nineteen, wheelchair-bound, and terminally ill with cancer of the spine (so the doctors say); and Joni Eareckson Tada, world-famous speaker, artist, author, and advocate for the disabled, who also happens to be a quadriplegic. (Read her story here, as well as all over the internet! Her organization’s website is here.)
A few more facts: Joni helped in the effort to create the Americans With Disabilities Act, and she was present at the White House for its signing in 1990. She is a popular speaker who once spoke to over 100,000 people at a Billy Graham crusade in Hungary. Her organization has provided hundreds of wheelchairs for disabled people all over the world. She has been happily married to Ken Tada, a now-retired teacher and coach, for nearly 40 years.
It all started when I gave Katie a biography of Joni last year. She told me later that at first she couldn’t bring herself to pick it up and read it—Joni was paralyzed at about the same age Katie was, and the story just hit too close to home! But eventually she picked up the book and read it, and then Joni became her new favorite author. I supplied more of Joni’s books (she’s written nearly fifty books and sold millions), and then last fall, Katie sat down and wrote Joni a letter.
To her surprise and delight, she got a response. Katie had told her story in the letter, and Joni spoke to that and other personal bits from Katie’s letter that showed that Joni had truly spent time on Katie’s letter. Joni also enclosed three more of her books.
Katie was over the moon! I bought her a frame for the letter and continued to supply her with books.
Then a few months ago, my husband remarked how wonderful it would be if Katie could hear Joni speak somewhere. That got me thinking, so I sent an email to the Joni & Friends headquarters in California, asking if Joni was speaking anywhere in northern Indiana this year.
I got a response from Joni’s office that Joni wasn’t doing much public speaking these days, but how about a Facetime call between Joni and Katie? Now Katie and I were both over the moon!
But soon I ran into some glitches. Firstly, the cell phone reception out at Katie’s farm in the hills is pretty bad, and it was found to be unsuitable for a Facetime call. Solution? We would get Katie and her mother to my place in nearby Middlebury.
But how to do that? The family has a wheelchair buggy, but could a horse and buggy be parked in my yard? I live in a subdivision with an HOA. Solution? We’d take the chance. Sometimes it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.
But where to park it? As I walked around our property, the answer made itself known: Out in the yard, I found this old hook grown into a tree.
But how to get Katie into my house? My husband made a ramp which we keep in the barn, but he recently broke his T12 vertebra, so hauling it out with a broken back was out of the question. Solution? Katie’s mom said that they had a lightweight, foldable, portable ramp, which she could bring along in their wheelchair buggy.
So now it’s 10:15 on a Monday morning in May… Katie and her mother will pull up with their horse and special wheelchair buggy later this morning. After some pizza and a look around my woodland garden, Joni will call us from California at 2 p.m. Eastern time. All I can do is wait, and pray, and hope I can pull this off.
[later the same day…]
Everyone has gone home now, but what a special and wonderful day this turned out to be!
Katie, her parents, and her two littlest brothers (ages 4 and 6) arrived in the wheelchair buggy, which we parked in my back yard with no problem. With the ramp they brought, we easily got Katie into my house.
When the Facetime call came, I introduced myself and Katie’s family, then handed my iPad to Katie and sat in an easy chair nearby to listen and enjoy. Katie’s mom listened from the couch or behind the wheelchair while her father sat nearby, taking notes on everything.
Katie’s time with Joni was everything I hoped it would be, and more. Joni has an amazing way of relating to people, and she spent nearly forty minutes with my young friend. It was magical. As I listened to Joni’s encouragement and advice and loving concern, I had a hard time keeping back the tears… It’s not often that an ordinary person like me gets the chance to help make someone’s dream come true.
At one point Joni said, “Would you like to see my art studio?” Joni wouldn’t have known it, but Katie loves art and sometimes paints. I jumped up and stood behind the wheelchair for that part. Joni showed Katie many lovely things, and even showed Katie how she paints by holding a paintbrush in her teeth, and how she sticks it in her arm splint when she wants to take a break.
At the end of the call, Joni asked us all to gather around Katie’s wheelchair, and then she prayed for Katie and all of her family. It was the perfect ending.
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