Monday, December 22, 2014

Getting to Know Joni and Ken Tada

I thought I knew Joni Eareckson Tada. She is just a few months older than I am, so her story was of particular interest for me. I knew that her name was pronounced "Johnny," and not "Joanie," as many mistakenly think. I was aware of her diving accident that led to her paraplegia in 1967. I saw the movie, simply called Joni, in which she starred in 1979. I had seen her paintings, done with a brush between her teeth, and heard her sing the old hymns of the church, which she has loved since childhood. I knew that she started a ministry called Joni and Friends, an international disability center, providing radio and television programming, family retreats, wheelchairs for people around the world, and many other supports and resources for individuals with disabilities. I was aware of their training seminars and resources to equip the church in serving the disabled population. I was pleased when she got married in 1982. I had heard in the past few years of Joni's struggle with breast cancer. And so I thought I knew Joni Eareckson Tada.

But I was completely mistaken.

When I recently read Joni's book, The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking With Jesus, I realized that all the things I knew about Joni were only the surface details of her life. I met the woman herself in the pages of her memoir.

From Joni's earliest days, as the youngest of four daughters born to her beloved parents who gave her a passion for nature, the sea, and horses; through the days and years following her life-changing accident and her total dependence upon others for life's details that most of us perform without even thinking; to the Lord's deep work in her heart and life; to her travel to countries where the disabled are hidden from public view, as if they didn't exist -- through these and many other experiences so clearly recalled, I got to know this amazing woman. I glimpsed her suffering for the first time, and I was moved repeatedly by Joni's backstory.

Joni in the early years after her accident

The book whetted my appetite to know more about Joni and the man she married, Ken Tada. So I read Joni& Ken: An Untold Love Story. It is an intimate look into their marriage of over 40 years, a tender, honest story of love, depression, difficulties, and cancer. But it is also a story of dedication, faith, and deepening love in the face of great suffering.

On their first date, Ken got a glimpse into what life with a paraplegic would be like. He'd taken her to a lovely restaurant with a beautiful view of the ocean. He'd handled himself well, even though most of the responsibilities that fell to him -- lifting Joni into the car, feeding her, raising her glass to her mouth -- were new for him. But then there was the leg bag which needed emptying. She would normally have one of her caregivers assist her in the women's restroom, but, after an uncomfortable moment or two, Ken rose to the challenge and wheeled her outside where he could care for matters under a tree!

Ken and Joni at home

There were issues during the marriage, however, that caused stress between them, especially the constant strain of issues related to Joni's condition -- the paraplegia, the chronic pain that began in 1997 and has persisted, and the breast cancer diagnosis in June of 2010. In Joni & Ken, they tell the story of God's work in their lives individually and in their marriage. This is not the story of a famous person (Joni) with a few stories about her husband thrown in. It is the story of Joni and Ken, of Ken and Joni. It is their love story.

And it is the story of their love for God and His overwhelming love for them.

Did I know Joni before. No. Do I now? A little bit. And I can tell you that I have been so challenged by the faith, perseverance, and commitment of both Joni and Ken. I was deeply challenged in my own walk with the Lord, even convicted, as I read.

Do you know Joni and Ken? Here's your opportunity to see into the lives of two of the most honest, real, down to earth folks you'll ever know. You'll be blessed and challenged as you get to know them.

(If you'd like to know more about Joni's breast cancer, here is an excellent interview that Kim Lawton of NJTV did with Joni in 2013.)

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