Joni Eareckson Tada: The Influence of a Mentor

posted on

Laurie and JoniLaurie Elmore Thompson, author of Laurie’s Story: Discovering Joy in Adversity, is sharing this guest post with us on the power of having a mentor. Earlier this month Laurie taught alongside her mentor, Joni Eareckson Tada, at the JAF Southeast Disability Ministry Summit.

During my life, I have had a variety of mentors. Each person making a significant contribution to the woman I am today: Sunday School teachers, a middle school music teacher, and my mother played key roles in my life as they answered important questions and provided role models for me as I was trying to understand the world and what my purpose was in it. There were several young Christian couples who were dear to me and helped to lay the groundwork of what I would later desire in a lifelong mate. While in graduate school, my academic adviser became a mentor to me as she inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and make a difference.  I sought after some of these individuals because they inspired me-  I saw something different in their lives.

One person who has had a tremendous impression upon my life is someone I did not even realize existed until I was struck by a tragic Lauries Storyexperience at the age of 14. Someone gave me a copy of her book when I was in the hospital. Perhaps this friend didn’t know what to say or how to respond to my circumstances, or perhaps it was because this hero’s story had impacted her in some way. Either way, Joni Eareckson Tada quickly became my hero and my inspiration while I lay in a hospital bed in Albany, GA in 1982. I was thrust into the world of disabilities due to a drunk driver and I was overwhelmed quickly. As I read Joni’s story, I found someone who understood my situation and she not only survived,  she overcame! Her story came into my life shortly after I accepted Christ and it filled me with encouragement and strength when so many of my friends did not know what to say. Joni helped me to see my faith in God from a new perspective. Whether or not He chose to heal my paralysis, I came to believe that He cared about me and could use my life for His glory. The passages of scripture I learned as a child came to life as I read her story! It was a divine appointment!

Over the years, I read more of Joni’s books and learned more about her ministry, Joni and Friends. I had the opportunity to meet her for the first time in person in the 1990s and I was starstruck. I stumbled with my words as I tried to come up with something to say to this woman God heroically used in my life. She was beautiful, humble and radiated the joy of the Lord-she was everything I desired to be! As the years passed, I had more opportunities to meet her in person and even spend time in conversation with her and her husband, Ken. I have become more active in her ministry and have even spoken at some events and hosted a workshop. As Joni has had an impact upon my life, I hope that I too can be an encouragement to others in sharing my life story. I realize that Joni is not perfect and I should not worship her, but I have come to realize the value of a mentor and how God uses such people to encourage us. Now that I am older, I see that we each have an influence on every single person we come into contact with. Will people remember what I have said or all that I have done? Probably not.  My goal is to have a positive influence so that people never forget how I made them feel and how I inspired their walk with Christ. So, thank you, Joni, for doing that for me!