Before reading this book, I already knew who Joni Eareckson Tada is. Many years ago, I had read the book she wrote entitled, “Joni.” That book chronicled the journey that began with a diving accident she had at the age of 17. As a result, she became paralyzed from the shoulders down-a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. She submerged into suicidal despair. Joni was unable to kill herself because of her disability, so she pleaded with her visitors to help her. Despite the dark time she sunk into, she walked through it, and made her peace with God. Not just peace, she became an ardent follower of Jesus Christ. She even discovered she had artistic talent, and was able to do beautiful works of art while holding a brush in her mouth!
This story, “Joni & Ken An Untold Love Story” picks up a few years after the book “Joni” ended. She is still a quadriplegic, but full of joy, and loves God. She admits how difficult her life can be, but she also states the condition has brought her blessings! Joni has become very well-known, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. Her book “Joni” has become a mega best seller. Also, a well-done movie based on her book has been widely enjoyed and viewed. Her art continues to be very popular, she has begun a singing career, written another book, and has started and maintained a growing non-profit ministry. Joni has traveled around the world speaking to people from her wheelchair.
Despite her severe limitations, Joni seems to be doing it all. However, there is one dream she believes will never happen, the dream of getting married. Now in her thirties, she doesn’t let herself dwell on thoughts of relationships-she doesn’t want to open herself up to disappointment. Then Ken Tada enters her life. He begins an all-out effort to win Joni’s heart. Joni views him as a good friend, but he starts talking about marriage. Joni worries that he has no idea what he is getting into. She is concerned he doesn’t understand the great amount of work involved taking care of her, and the limitations she has that would affect him as well. She worries that maybe he is a little “blinded by the light” of her celebrity status. They have two very different personalities.
They do marry. On their wedding night, Ken finally sees how truly helpless Joni is, and how much he will have to do for her-and he isn’t ready for it. I am amazed that their relationship could work. Reading about some of their situations makes me frustrated. I would think two people without disabilities, but with personalities as different as Joni and Ken, would have a difficult time getting along with each other. It is magnified significantly when you consider everything involved with Joni’s disability and her challenges.
All of the work involved taking care of Joni seems to be become something Ken resents, and he pulls back emotionally. Patience becomes a rarer quality, and strained seems to be the best description of their relationship. Ken feels entitled to Saturdays being a sacred day for him. Not for them together, but for him alone. If that is disrupted, his silent anger is almost unbearable. Years of marriage pass, and they find themselves grinding through life day after day.
I know Ken has put much hard work into taking care of Joni. I am sure Ken does more in one day for Joni than many people do in their entire lives for another person. On the other hand, he didn’t go into this blindly, this was a relationship he chose. Their everyday life together seems so very painful for so many years, that it is hard to read about it.
In 1997, Joni develops chronic, debilitating pain. Despite Joni’s paralysis, she has pain that seems to be in every part of her body. This causes more work for Ken. Up until this time, Joni has had a surprisingly positive outlook. The overwhelming pain sucks away any cheerfulness Joni has managed to have up until this time. Doctors can’t explain the pain, or do anything to help it.
In 2007 while Ken is away on a retreat, he received this impression from God, “Joni is the most precious gift I have given you. You take care of her.” That revelation turns Ken around. He realizes that he would be devastated if Joni passed away. His outlook and demeanor do a complete turnaround. Ken believes it is his destiny to take care of Joni. Ken’s middle name, Takeshi, means warrior. Ken becomes a warrior who fights against the war of problems and illnesses that Joni deals with.
Despite all of the immense challenges the couple has faced, a new hurdle hits in 2010 when Joni develops breast cancer, then has a radical mastectomy. The radiation treatments that follow play havoc with her frail body. Joni thinks more and more about what a release it will be to go to Heaven, and wonders if this is what is going to send her there.
If anyone ever had any illusions that the life of a quadriplegic is easy, those ideas should vanish after reading this book. This is not a typical love story. When reading this, I can understand some of the challenges Joni feels. She had concerns about Ken being able to handle marriage to a disabled person, and really those concerns are realized, they were true and validated. Their marriage did hit choppy waters. It is difficult to take on the care of someone so needy, even more so when one has a personality that wants everything very structured.
Joni’s joy can be felt when the contentious situation in her marriage turns around, and gets better. Joni said she had always felt loved but after this turn around in her marriage she states she feels, “treasured, cherished….even beautiful.” It is obvious how much Joni loves her husband. Ken’s joy can be felt, too, when he feels he knows what his destiny is. I pray that God continues to keep this marriage in that positive state. It is obvious that this relationship owes is longevity to the deep faith of Joni and Ken. When I remarked earlier that I was surprised a relationship like this could work, it is clear it worked only because of the grace of God. The couple has now been married over 30 years.
One thing I didn’t like about the book were all the flash backs into the past that jump around so much. Flash backs are good, but these were so unorganized, it was confusing at times to read. This is a good book to understand the difficulties in living with disabilities, and the trials that took place in a marriage of many years-along with the importance of faith to go through them. I give this book four stars.
The publisher has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book through Thomas Nelson/Zondervan Publishing for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own, and I have not been compensated in any other manner. Despite my receiving the book free, it has not influenced my judgment, and I have given an honest opinion.
Her website: http://www.joniandfriends.org/