Her earrings catch my attention.
They are hammered gold, with crinkled edges that flash brilliant. I am captivated. I've heard about these earrings.
They were once smooth and square, polished and perfect. She treasured them, an unexpected gift from a friend. But she inadvertently dropped one on her office floor, impaling it on her wheelchair tire, the crunching sound betraying the damage.
A jeweler told her that he couldn’t fix it. But he could make the smooth one match the other. It was a risk, but she decided to trust him.
In the back room she heard the sounds of hammering and grinding. Did he know what he was doing? But he returned with a matching second earring. Marred and mangled. But strangely magnificent.
I stare at these earrings. They are exquisite. From my vantage, they are not marred at all. Quite the opposite, they look like the work of a skilled craftsman. The hammering has produced something breathtaking.
The lesson is vivid. I don’t want to struggle, to take the hard road, to be bruised. I’d prefer an easy, smooth life. But it is the pounding that produces character, character that reflects light. As I see the twisted gold shimmering, I am amazed at the beauty from what has been battered.
As we talk, my gaze shifts from her earrings to her hands. We’re having dinner and I’m watching her eat. This is not idle curiosity; I know with post-polio that my arms are failing and I too may struggle to feed myself. She frequently needs help and must be content with the way others help her. How they cut her food, what they put on her plate, when they can attend to her needs.
As a foodie, I cannot imagine eating that way. I want each bite to be exactly the way I envision it.
I watch and wonder if I could accept help with such grace. After a moment of observing, I know that I could not. At least not in my own strength.
I say to her quietly, “It must be so hard - you can’t always have things the way you want them.” I’m voicing my own struggles, my own fears, my own pain.
She laughs and says, “I’m a type A person, and with quadriplegia, nothing is exactly the way I want it. Nothing but my writing.”
She leans towards me, looks me straight in the eye and declares with unwavering certainty, “But it’s all these little decisions, these everyday things I surrender, the choices I make daily, that will one day shine in glory. These will all count.”
I swallow hard. I needed to hear that. These little choices, these seemingly insignificant ways that I have to relinquish what I want, when no one sees and no one else knows, they all count. Because Someone does see and Someone does know. Not one of these sacrifices will be forgotten. One day, they will all shine in glory. They will all count.
The waiter asks if anyone wants coffee. We both respond enthusiastically. As I stir in my cream and sugar, I take a sip to make sure it’s the right temperature and taste. I can change it if I need to.
She can’t do any of those things herself. But she is still grateful for coffee.
I think about her previous words. Her moment by moment surrenders. Her choices to be grateful when things are not perfect. Her dying to self.
This is an act of worship. It counts. It has eternal significance. Every time she is given a sip of coffee that scalds her, or is lukewarm, or too strong, she has an opportunity to glorify God.
I will remember this conversation for a long time. My responses matter. I can show the surpassing worth of Christ when I suffer well, when I joyfully accept circumstances that are less than perfect, when I lay down my need to control. Giving up my right to have something exactly as I want can be an act of worship.
As I sip my coffee I want to say, “You don’t have to wait till heaven to see how those choices will shine. They are shining right now- in your countenance, in your character, in your courage. All of those daily choices to surrender what you want have transformed you. And they are transforming me, as I glimpse what joyful surrender looks like.”
You may have guessed from my story that my dinner was with Joni Eareckson Tada. Although I have only met her twice, she has mentored me for decades through her writing. Her books, When God Weeps, A Lifetime of Wisdom and A Place of Healing are well-worn on my shelves. Through them, Joni has taught me how to suffer.
As I sit and talk to this woman whom I have long admired, I’m struck at how genuine she is. She radiates the glory of Christ and His grace abounds in her. She personifies her message of reliance on God, as few others can. Most people write and speak about what they have learned; Joni talks about what she has lived.
Much as I admire Joni, I want to point not to her, but to the incredible God she serves. The God who uses the aching, raw things in our lives to transform us into something beautiful. The God who sees our every sacrifice, our every act of surrender. The God who knows our every unfulfilled longing.
Joni closes her inspiring memoir, The God I Love, saying, “There are more important things in life than walking.”
After meeting Joni, I have to agree.