Even the title and cover picture says it: there are issues related to being married to a famous Christian author, artist, speaker and quadriplegic who heads a world-wide ministry to disabled persons. Whose name (and ministry) comes first? Ken Tada knew about some of the difficulties when he married Joni, but the “daily-ness” of Joni’s physical needs plus the annoyance of always living life in Joni’s shadow was enough to wear down Ken’s dedication to Joni and to their life together and transform their marriage into a series of tasks that had to be done instead of a joyful journey.
In case you don’t know, Joni Eareckson Tada is the founder and CEO of Joni and Friends, an organization that provides practical support and spiritual help to special needs families worldwide, and equips thousands of churches in developing disability ministry. Joni is the author of numerous best-selling books, including When God Weeps, The God I Love, Heaven: Your Real Home, Joni, and A Step Further. Ken Tada recently retired from thirty-two years of teaching school. He and Joni have been married for over 30 years.
Joni and Ken is a great “anatomy of a marriage” kind of memoir that probes deep into what it means to love someone consistently, daily, and sacrificially. Ken knew what he was getting into when he married Joni. She was already a bestselling author and a quadriplegic when the two of them met, began dating, and eventually married, believing that they could serve God together better than apart. Ken knew, in a sense that he would have to take care of Joni physically for the rest of their lives, that there would be difficulties in their marriage that able-bodied spouses can only imagine. He knew, but mostly on an intellectual level. He didn’t know how exhausting the quotidian tasks of caring for Joni, supporting her emotionally, and following behind her in her calling would become. After many years, Ken seems to have done what many spouses who are in difficult marriages do, both men and women: he checked out emotionally. He And in response to his distancing himself from her, Joni began to pull back, too. It happens in many (most?) relationships, even those with far fewer challenges than Joni’s and Ken’s marriage.
This book would be a good read for someone who is caregiver for a disabled spouse or parent or child. The narrative could have been improved with a more chronological organization of the story and with more information from Ken’s point of view about the couple’s struggles. However, the lack of particulars about how Ken was feeling and what he was thinking may come from a difference in the personalities of the two people involved. I get the idea that Ken tends to keep his thoughts and feelings more hidden and unspoken whereas Joni comes across as the more emotive and dramatic of the pair.
Marriage is an endlessly fascinating subject. How do two people get married and stay married? What makes a good marriage? Do all marriages go through seasons of aridity and apathy? How does a married couple go about renewing their passion and love for one another? Where does the ardor for a lifetime of mutual submission and servanthood and love come from?
The answer to that last question: the Holy Spirit himself who is the Maker and Sustainer of any marriage, even, I believe, non Christian marriages. But no one ever said it was going to be easy. Worthwhile, yes, but not easy.