A Wheelchair and a Song: “Alone Yet Not Alone”


If Jesus could hang on a cross for me,
then I can sit in a chair for Him,
for “in [His] strength I find my own.”

JoniI love Bruce Broughton’s Oscar-nominated song Alone, Yet Not Alone. The lyrics, written by Dennis Spiegel, speak of the God who is, who is the ever-present, comforting, caring, loving, tender refuge for those who love Him. In the recording studio, with helping husband by her side, quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada lifts her haunting voice to one of the most soul-moving melodies to ever grace my ear. And she does so seemingly without much effort – though we know better. Joni’s lungs function at 50% capacity. So, Mr. Tada helps his wife with the required breath support to sing, literally pushing her tummy in when needed. Joni’s broken body means the vocals are recorded one line at a time. Undoubtedly, there is so much going on here. What a breathtaking picture of husband and wife, one that chokes me up without fail, almost every time. 
Though I hunt for words to describe how this overwhelms my heart with emotion, I cannot find them. And though I am deeply saddened by the Academy’s recent action to rescind the Oscar nomination, I cannot help but think the controversy will better serve the composition, its composers, and its message in the long run. Thank-you, Bruce, for your hard work. It’s a brilliant work of art. Thank-you, also, for standing with a faith-based film in an industry hell-bent on celebrating its depravity.
Alone...As I’ve read about the film, watched its trailers, and listened to the song, it quickly donned on me that while the plot centres around 18th century colonists in the Ohio Valley, the gut of the film addresses a universal issue. We will never be as that 18th century family was. However, if we live long enough, we will know the loneliness that comes from bearing a burden no one can bear for us. Joni knows that. Her wheelchair is the epitome of her weakness, a constant reminder of her frailty. And only Joni knows what its like for Joni to sit there. Yes, she sits there gracefully. But I am sure she has her moments. Why she needs that chair is a burden no one but Joni bears. She is truly alone in that. It’s a heart-wrenching burden I have come to know.
For years I fought hard to not be defined by my disease. But as I get older, the rare condition I live with has determined my use of a wheelchair. I still walk. But not far. I stand. But only for a time. So when I travel all expenses paid to the San Francisco Bay Area to honour my commitment as a research subject at Stanford University, the airline provides a chair and a push through security to my departure gate down the jet bridge. I remember the first time I needed a chair. We were at the University of Alberta Hospital, keeping an appointment at the Genetics Building. I couldn’t keep walking. So, I sat. She couldn’t see my tears because she was pushing my chair. Yes, I felt very diminished. But I also felt a deep sense of sorrow for my wife. If anything, am I not to take care of her? Should this not be the other way around? Does life know no end to grief and sorrow? I never felt so alone, and broken, in all my life. I love you, Bev.
Why I tell you this is quite simple. Obviously, this song and its players pluck my heart strings. But that’s not all that stirs my heart. There’s more to the story here. Bruce and Belinda Broughton have an adult son who suffers with the very same disease I do. There are about 2000 known cases of Cystinosis worldwide. Usually diagnosed in early childhood, Cystinosis is a ‘genetic metabolic disease that causes the amino acid, cystine, to accumulate in various body organs (kidneys, eyes, liver, muscles, pancreas, brain, and white blood cells).’ Without cystine depletion, the accumulation destroys organs gradually. And though there has been many advancements in drug therapy, the disease remains incurable. Without speaking to the composer, his wife, or their son about this, I venture to say that they know what it’s like to be alone, bearing the burden of sickness, a very rare sickness. This could easily be said of any parent and child with any disease; I have only begun to understand something of the pain my parents endure.
But here’s my point: though set in 18th century Ohio, the film and its title track has much to say to those living in the 21st century. Alone, Yet Not Alone speaks of a God who is not simply watching us “From a Distance,” but is “near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). This is a God,the God, who in fact bore a far more significant burden for us. In the Person of His unique Son, Jesus Christ, He bore the massive burden of guilt in His body on a tree, satisfying divine justice on account of our offences against Him. He was crucified for everyone who would ever believe in Him, turning from their sins, trusting Him and His work on their behalf. Nothing else could ever soothe my conscience and quiet my raging soul as I laid awake last night. With thoughts of my mortality hanging over my head, the loneliness of death crashed against my heart as waves crush the California coast. I will one day pass through the door of death alone. So will you. But we need not pass through alone. Jesus, the ultimate burden-bearer, bore the ultimate burden that we might be eternally guiltless, free forever from divine condemnation, free from the burden of the fear of death.

“I’m alone, yet not alone.
God’s the light that will guide me home.
With His love and tenderness,
Leading through the wilderness,
And wherever I may roam,
I’m alone, yet not alone.”

Until I’m Home, one thing is certain (and I’m sure Joni would agree wholeheartedly). If Jesus could hang on a cross for me, then I can sit in a chair for Him, for “in [His] strength I find my own.”
For you because of Him,
Todd Braye.
Soli Deo Gloria.
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Todd Braye
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary in 1997, then serving two small, rural Baptist churches over a 15-year period, providence is now directing me in other pursuits..[/author_info] [/author]

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