Following God Together
About the Guest
A hymn writer once said God only uses suffering "my dross to consume and my gold to refine". For quadriplegic Joni Tada, God has used more than four decades of confinement to a wheelchair to refine her character. And, after almost four decades of marriage, her relationship with her husband, Ken, has been refined into an exquisite portrait of God's fully sufficient grace.
After almost four decades of marriage, Joni Tada’s marriage to Ken has refined into an exquisite portrait of God’s sufficient grace.
Following God Together
Bob: The quality of your marriage is affected by your priorities. Here’s Joni Eareckson Tada.
Joni: Sit down, one time, with your spouse and just talk about, “What is the big picture?” Then, commit to make that your goal. For Ken and me—I trust for most Christian couples—it is heaven / it is the finish line. It is hearing those wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That’s what we want to hear! That’s what we’re living for.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 21st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear from Joni and Ken Tada today about how living with heaven in mind / with the finish line in mind can have an impact on your marriage today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5. It talks about how Christians are new creatures in Christ; and then, goes on to say that we’re ambassadors. We live as citizens in one kingdom—
Bob: —but we’re living in a different kingdom, representing the homeland / representing our King. I was thinking about that today because I was thinking: “We’re all ambassadors; but sometimes, when some ambassadors get up to speak, I cringe a little bit at how that ambassador is going to represent the Kingdom. I’ve never had that cringe happen when I hear our guests get up to speak and represent the Kingdom.”
Dennis: No; there’s something that resonates within the spirit that they should take the stage, and the podium, and the pulpit, and tell it like it is because they have lived in the presence of Jesus Christ in ways that we’re going to talk about today. We’re going to talk about a great love story.
Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada join us on FamilyLife Today again. Welcome back, you guys. It’s good to have you.
Ken: Thank you, Dennis; and thank you, Bob.
Joni: Well, what an introduction, Bob. My goodness! How, I want to be a good ambassador for Jesus.
Dennis: You always have been! You always have been.
Joni: Oh, let me never just defame the good name of Jesus.
Dennis: Well, Joni, you’ve written over 50 books. Ken, you are a world-class fly fisherman. You told me that yourself. [Laughter]
Joni: Yes; he is. He really is! [Laughter]
Ken: I am not a world-class fly fisherman.
Bob: But here, I’m just juxtaposing—you’ve written 50 books / you can catch fish—way to go / a great team! [Laughter]
Ken: Yes; I guess there is some connection right there.
Dennis: It’s a great team. Ken leads these outfitter adventures. In fact, it’s called “The Wild Adventure”in Montana.
Dennis: I’m going to get on one of those one of these days because I can wet a fly too.
Ken: That’s a lead-in to that book because this book is for men—the book that we just wrote.
Dennis: This really is a book—and Joni, you said it earlier.
In fact, why don’t you comment on this book? It’s called Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story.
Joni: That’s right.
Dennis: Say what you told me, just before we came on the air.
Joni: Well, I think the subtitle: An Untold Love Story—it is really Ken’s story. It’s an untold story about him. We have never peeled back the layers of our marriage quite like we have in this most-recent book; but after we crested 30 years of marriage, we looked at one another and thought: “You know—we’re not experts—we’ve never been to seminary / we’re not family counselors. But after three decades of quadriplegia—then, chronic pain and quadriplegia—then, breast cancer, and chronic pain, and quadriplegia—in some ways, that’s given us—I don’t know—some new fresh platform / a kind of an authority to speak to other couples about what commitment really is.” But it’s Ken’s commitment that comes shining through the pages of this book.
Dennis: I really want to disagree with you about the seminary thing.
Joni: Oh, come on.
Dennis: I think you have both been to the ultimate seminary—
Dennis: —every day—experiencing God and seeing Him at work in your lives, your marriage, and sharing that together. I have to say, as I told you earlier, your book really is quite a love story. It’s a paradox. It’s not at all the warm fuzzy that Hollywood would tell.
Joni: No. When Ken and I married—well, I should say before we married, we had lots of friends—not all of them believers / not all of them followers of Jesus—who suggested, that since I was a quadriplegic, that Ken and I should go away—try it out for a weekend / see if this was going to work: “Ken, can you handle it?”
But Ken and I just decided we weren’t going to do that. We weren’t going to violate our convictions. So, we went into this marriage, saying: “I do, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,” really not knowing how challenging those 24/7, non-stop, daily, dreary routines of my disability could be.
We call those years in our marriage the tired middle years. The first ten years / fifteen years of our marriage were extremely difficult.
Ken: It made for an interesting honeymoon [chuckle] you know, and—
Dennis: You really spell that out in the book, but I want to take you back to where you start the book. You begin with this romantic date that you’re on, where you declare to Ken that cancer had been a gift. I want you to tell that story.
Joni: Well, it’s hard to say it in 25 words or less; but Dennis, Ken has often said: “Joni, I don’t get why God has given you cancer. I mean—quadriplegic, chronic pain—what’s God doing?”
I remember saying to Ken:
“I think there was a time that probably the devil approached the throne of God and said: ‘Okay. You see that 17-year-old girl down there, having such fun? You give me permission to smack her with a broken neck. Then, let’s see if she’ll name your good name.’
“Okay; so God grants Satan permission. I break my neck, and I honor the Lord. Then, a few years later, I get married. Another decade later, I deal with chronic pain: ‘Okay; let’s see if she’s going to disown you now, God. Let me give her chronic pain.’ And I come through, by the grace of God.
“Then, the devil comes back to the throne of God and says, ‘Okay; so she trusts you with chronic pain and quadriplegia; but you just let me smack her with cancer. Then, I know she will really give it up / she’ll cave in. She will no longer follow you, God.’ And I have, but it’s only by the grace of God. I have no strength within myself—it’s all the grace of God.”
I said to Ken: “It’s been a gift because it’s not only, I think, strengthened my confidence in my Savior’s ability to sustain; but it’s given me such a huge appreciation for this guy, sitting next to me—
—the man who practices Christianity, with his sleeves rolled up, every single day, when he helps me with those day-to-day routines. They’re not getting easier / they’re getting harder—we’re getting older. Yet, the disciplines we learned through chronic pain and quadriplegia have sustained us, not only through cancer, but are now sustaining us as we head into our late 60s.”
Bob: That story you told about Satan going before God sounded like another story I’ve heard about that happening to another guy. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the story—a guy named Job?
Joni: That guy, Job.
Bob: Yes. There’s a point in Job’s story where, after a long period of time, he goes and says: “Okay, God. I would like some answers now, and I feel like I’ve earned them.” Have you ever had a moment like that?
Joni: I did, early-on. I really wrestled with what God was doing. In fact, when I broke my neck at such a young age—at the age of 17—I was extremely fearful of what God might do next to refine my faith: “Oh, my goodness! If You start with a broken neck, like what’s”—
Bob: “Where does it go from there?” Yes.
Joni: “—where does it go from there?” But honestly, Bob, as I shared that scenario, the devil going before the throne of God—and here I have quadriplegia, chronic pain, cancer—I guess I’m at the age, now, where it has become somewhat invigorating:
Oh my goodness! God thinks I can really step up to this plate and swing at this ball? He really thinks I can do that, with His grace? Well, I’m not going to let Him down. I’m not going to disappoint Him.
I’m certainly not going to give Satan, on the opposing team, the advantage. I’m going to swing at this ball. By the grace of God, and God alone, we’re going to hit a home run because that ball is heading to heaven.
It’s right on the horizon, and I don’t want to do anything that’s going to demerit my capacity for joy, and worship, and service in heaven. I want to—I just want to trust that God knows what He’s doing in my life!
I think Ken and I, together in our marriage, have sensed that, as we move on, year after year, in our life together.
Ken: But I have to say this, Bob. When Joni was first diagnosed with cancer, Jesus and I had some long conversations because, at 45 years in a wheelchair, I’m thinking to myself and asking God: “Why? Why Joni? After all this time, why would You allow her to have this cancer?”
It didn’t come to us right away. It caused us / the initial diagnosis caused us to stop and reflect on what was important. As time went on, and we got into the chemo, and everything else, what we discovered was: “Joni is such a great communicator.
“She’s been a great communicator for the disabled community—why not cancer?” We’ve seen Him, during this journey, how much God has used her to be able to speak to that very area—people who have had cancer. And not only that, the people we have come in contact with because of the cancer.
Joni: The nurses.
Ken: The nurses, the oncological surgeon, the oncologist, the—
Joni: —the x-ray technician.
Ken: The x-ray technicians.
Joni: Blood test people, surgeons—everybody.
Ken: And we always try to insert the name of Jesus when we talk to these folks. We would have never had that opportunity without the cancer.
Dennis: I want you both to comment on this because, again, Ken, this is not just Joni’s disease. It’s our disease—you, as a couple; okay?
As I was praying and thinking about talking with you guys today, I was taken back to Romans 8—to a passage that Randy Alcorn spoke to our staff, back in March 24, 2010—it’s Roman’s 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Dennis: Comment on that, Ken, because—
Ken: Well, how do we, as human beings that love Christ, show our love for Christ? Oftentimes, we say it and we pray it; but we don’t get a chance to demonstrate it. Here’s an opportunity for us, during this time, to honor God and to be able to show, in a tangible sense, and execute what we believe—that God is the Sovereign God.
I think, for us, we’ve just learned to trust Him more. Both Joni and I have said, at some point, there’s going to come a time when either one or both of us are going to have another diagnosis. So, it’s prepared us for the other side of eternity. But for this side of eternity, we are just so thankful that God has given us this opportunity just to show Him how much we love Him.
Joni: I think of that verse so often—Romans 8:18—when Ken and I have a disagreement or when we get haggling over the small, petty stuff. Invariably, one of us will stop—most recently it was Ken—when we were in the car, arguing about something. He stopped, pulled over and said: “Joni, what’s the big picture?”—that’s a big-picture verse that you just read—“What is the big picture? Why are we in this? Where are we going? What’s our goal?”
The big picture for us is the other side of eternity.
Ken and I, together as a couple, do not want to disappoint our Savior, Who has invested so much in us—my goodness—His own blood in us.
Friends, listening, I don’t know if you haggle with your husbands but sit down, one time, with your spouse and just talk about / sketch it out: “What is the big picture?” Then, commit to make that your goal. For Ken and me—I trust for most Christian couples—it is heaven / it is the finish line. It is the end of the good fight. It is hearing those wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That’s what we want to hear! That’s what we’re living for.
Bob: And Joni, there’s another verse that’s like Romans 8:18—it’s the one in
2 Corinthians 4—that says that what we’re going through is light and momentary afflictions.
Joni: Yes. Then, it says, “Therefore, do not lose heart.”
Bob: Do you really think what you’re going through is a light and momentary affliction?
Joni: This is where faith really kicks in, Bob, because I have to believe that the cosmic stakes are so high—that the joy that I’m going to experience in heaven is so great / that is so out of this world—
—that in comparison to that, indeed, my troubles are light and momentary.
That’s why I shared, earlier, how invigorated I am, and what a robust, rugged wonderful—I don’t know—it’s a man-sized faith that I can have if I would but not complain and trust God with the challenges. Again, it’s not just me espousing this—it’s Ken and I, as a couple—
Bob: —doing it together.
Joni: —doing it together.
Dennis: Yes, it would be one thing for me to say that, but for you two to say that in your book—I’ve been through your book, you know. You’re really talking about some of the most challenging circumstances two human beings could possibly face in a lifetime.
Joni: Well, to be fair, I’ve got some great girlfriends who help me get up in the morning and lay down at night; but still, the bulk of the burden often rests on Ken, especially getting up at three o’clock / four o’clock in the morning, every single night, to turn me / to reposition me in bed so that I don’t get pressure sores, to re-tuck my pillows, then to go back to sleep. That’s every single night for 31 years of our marriage! That has not altered one bit—that’s a lot!
I will never forget the time I had double pneumonia in the midst of my cancer. Ken was up for nine, ten, eleven, twelve days—every single night—five or six, seven, eight times—pushing on my abdomen, pounding on my chest, pushing on my back: “Come on, you—cough, cough. Come on, cough.”
I remember him whispering, in the middle of it all, “So is this the worse part of the ‘for better or worse’?” I said, “This is the worse part. This is, but we’re going to get through it.” Even then, to voice our vows, in the midst of such a terrible ordeal, was invigorating and, I think, soul-strengthening.
Ken: I think if we were to look back on our married life, we could not have written this book, three years into our marriage—not that we’re experts now. Thirty years doesn’t make an expert. There are many who are married a lot longer, but I think God has brought us on this journey together, as a couple. It’s been a journey, well-fought for. The lessons that we’ve learned have just been lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Dennis: Yes. I think you’re both hinting at a question I wanted to ask because, in your book, you write about, Joni, how you prayed for this black-haired guy in church / you didn’t know who he was. You were kind of squirming around in your chair there and decided you’d pray for this guy you didn’t know. Later on, he became your husband. I mean, Wow!
But he told you he loved you about a year into the relationship, as I recall. Is that right?
Here’s the question I want to ask both of you: “You said you loved her. Today, you know what it means to truly love. Do your best to explain what love is.”
Ken: I think, if I were to describe what love is—it’s the love that I sense Jesus has for us. When Christ came and said that He came to serve, I just think, “How good of God to put me in this position that I could serve Him through serving my wife.” Having a wife, who is of like-mind and loves Jesus, means everything.
I think that’s what’s been sustaining for both of us, over these past 30 years—and especially, over these past few years, that we’ve had to deal with the cancer. She’s my best friend / she’s my biggest supporter.
But I would say this—I would say that we don’t honor our vows like we [our culture] once did—you know: “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” We don’t do that. Not that I—I’m still working at it—but I would love for this particular book to reach out and touch the lives of men and their hearts and say: “Hey, step up to the plate. Honor your vows and honor your commitment that you made to your wife—
Joni: —“and you’ll be a better person for it.”
Ken: —“and you’ll be a better person.”
Joni: Well, mine’s a little more romantic, I guess; but I know that Ken loves me because he likes me / he wants to be with me—
—I’m home for him. As Dr. Robert Mount said, “Home is moveable.” When I’m in another room, Ken enjoys being with me. He enjoys bringing his fish magazines in and sitting with me—and that he chooses me, that he prefers me, that he wants to be with me, that he likes me—[emotion in voice] in spite of all the stuff that often accompanies what “me” is—that he chooses me, and likes me, and prefers me is so sweet to me, as a woman. It touches my heart like nothing else.
Of course, that fosters so much more affection for my husband when I see him choose me, be proud of me, speak about me on the phone to his buddies—tell his best friend, who is an outfitter up in Montana / a rough-and-tumble mountain man, who shoots elk with a bow and arrow, who is an expert fly fisherman—he’s just an incredible guy—
—Ken has always said of him, “Gee, I want that guy in my foxhole.” But to hear him say, on the phone, one night, to that man, Chris: “Chris, I’ve always wanted you in my foxhole. Watching my wife and her courage—oh my goodness—I want her to have my back. I want her to be in my foxhole.” Boy, that’s music to my ears.
Ken: Yes. Joni says it very well; but when I made that phone call, one of the things that we have discussed is that we are all in a spiritual battle. Chris is a brother in Christ. As Joni mentioned, he is your quintessential mountain man. I watched Joni, during this cancer journey, and I saw the warrior that she is. She is truly a warrior—fighting through all these—the pain and, now, the cancer.
So, I called Chris and I said,
“Chris, I have to tell you that after having watched my wife, I want you in that foxhole with me if we’re going to battle; but I’d like my wife in there first because I know she’ll watch my back.”
Dennis: Yes. “I know you’re a good shot with a bow and arrow. [Laughter] I want the shield—my shield and my hero—in there with me.”
Well, you guys are heroes to many. We need models, like you guys, who are running the race, all the way to the finish line of heaven—and maybe, not always with a smile on your face—but you’re not quitting. I think your book is just an unvarnished look at a real relationship that has had some very, very dark valleys that haven’t been momentary. They have gone on for years.
Dennis: I just commend it to our listeners to read together, as a couple—both husbands and wives.
Bob: We have copies of the book—
—it’s called An Untold Love Story. You can go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to order the story of Joni and Ken’s marriage: An Untold Love Story. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order, or call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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One of the things we talk about, here at FamilyLife, is how the natural drift in every marriage is a drift toward isolation. That’s something that Joni and Ken Tada have experienced in their 30-plus years of marriage together. We’ll visit with them about that tomorrow. Hope you can with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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