Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story

Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310314691
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 04/02/2013
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ken Tada recently retired from thirty-two years of teaching and has come on board with Joni and Friends to serve as Director of Ministry Development. He is also a member of the Board of Directors and in 2001 received Family Life Ministries Robertson McQuilkin Award honoring “The Courageous Love of a Marriage Covenant Keeper.” Ken is an avid fly fisherman and helps to lead Wild Adventures, a fishing ministry for men.

Joni Eareckson Tada is CEO of Joni and Friends, an organization that accelerates Christian outreach in the disability community. Joni and Friends 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 bestselling books, including When God Weeps, Diamonds in the Dust, A Step Further, winner of the Gold Medallion Award, and her latest award-winning devotional A Spectacle of Glory. Joni and her husband, Ken, have been married for 35 years. For more information on Joni and Friends, visit

Larry Libby is an author and editor who has written a number of books including Someday Heaven and Who Made God? He and his wife, Carol, live in Washington.

Read an Excerpt

Joni & Ken

An untold love story
By Ken Tada Joni Eareckson Tada Larry Libby


Copyright © 2013 Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-31469-1

Chapter One


* * *

God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain. C. S. LEWIS

DECEMBER 6, 2011

Out of the corner of his eye, Giuseppe Bellisario saw the gleaming white Toyota van roll up into the handicap spot in front of his modest storefront restaurant tucked in the far right corner of the Agoura Hills Town Center. And smiled.

The bold-white, edged-in-scarlet letters over the entrance shone out in the California twilight: Grissini Ristorante.


Italian for "breadsticks."

But not just any generic, garden-variety breadsticks. His restaurants had always been known for their signature long, thin, artistically shaped grissini. And for warm greetings and assiduous ser vice. He had always seen to that.

Impeccably dressed as always, he straightened his jacket and collar and glanced into the dining area, feeling a small surge of pride. No, little Grissini's didn't compare to his legendary establishments of years gone by, at least not in fame, size, location, or celebrity clientele. Back in the 1970s, his first place, Giuseppe's, had been the talk of the town, gracing the corner of Beverly and Sweetzer, just off Wilshire between Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Those were the days! Giuseppe's had been the "it" place to go. Frank Sinatra would show up for lunch sometimes. Laurence Olivier would slip in for an early dinner.

Other celebrated restaurants followed, but none had been as exciting as Giuseppe's, with actors, writers, and directors popping in for those fabled Hollywood power lunches. He had a special table for them, tucked back in the kitchen where they could have privacy, dine quietly, sip a glass of Chianti, and savor all the simmering fragrances.

Then the years slipped away—so quickly!—and the time came when he told himself he was getting too old and ought to sell. And just like that, he cashed it all in and found himself retired. A nondescript Chinese restaurant now stood where Giuseppe's had once sent out its Italian fragrances and romantic aura into the night. Bellisario had stepped back from the whole business, intending to travel with his wife, Barbara, intending to "do other things." Funny thing about all those intentions. Somehow none of those "other things" seemed half as fun or satisfying as what he had done throughout his long career. So, perhaps surprising no one (and certainly not Barbara), he opened yet another restaurant, this time in a sleepy, out-of-the-way shopping center. In Agoura Hills of all places.

No, there weren't many celebrities dropping by these days, but the cuisine was as heavenly as ever, and besides that ... just look who was about to wheel through his doorway.

A sturdy Japanese man in his early sixties, clad in a brown jacket and a tan "Wild Adventures" baseball cap, emerged from the driver's side, stepped around to the back passenger-side door, pushed a button, and watched as the door slid open and a ramp descended.

Giuseppe waited for a moment as the man backed the power wheelchair down the ramp onto the pavement. Then, with consummate timing, Giuseppe stepped through the door into an abnormally chilly Southern California evening. Greeting the man with a handshake, and then a hug, he bent down to kiss the cheek of the pretty blonde woman in the power chair. Then, with a flourish that seemed second nature, he swung the glass door of his restaurant wide open to his friends.


A gust of warm air, scented with oregano, fresh bread, and Christmas candles, enveloped them.

"Merry Christmas, Giuseppe," the woman said.

"And Merry Christmas to you, caro. Your table is waiting. Always."

Inside, Giuseppe's little "retirement project restaurant" was a vision of white tablecloths, linen napkins, spotless silverware, glittering Christmas lights, and candles glowing in red glass containers. The voice of Dean Martin crooning in the speakers wrapped around them like an old favorite bathrobe.

Volare, oh oh, E cantare, oh oh oh oh, No wonder my happy heart sings. Your love has given me wings ...

With no hesitation, the woman in the wheelchair, wrapped in winter coat and scarf, powered up to a table along the wall. Her table. A small brass marker on the wall read "Joni Eareckson Tada."

Ken Tada, taking his seat, was already thinking of the menu.

"Giuseppe, do you have the veal tonight—on the bone—the one with the mushroom sauce?"

"Vitello marsala?"

"I think so."

Joni just smiled, drinking it all in.

We can sing in the glow of a star that I know of, Where lovers enjoy peace of mind. Let us leave the confusion and all disillusion behind ...

Dear old Dean Martin. She truly did feel that glow tonight. In some strange, inexplicable providence of God, she felt happier than she had for years.

Cancer, she told herself, not without a note of wonder, was a gift.

Chapter Two


* * *

This is God's universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world. JOHN PIPER

JUNE 20, 2010

Cancer hadn't felt like a gift in the beginning.

No, not at all.

Joni had been noticing the odd deformity in her right breast for over a month, a slight indentation, as though the skin were tacked to something inside. Strange. Maybe even troubling. But she had ignored it—or tried to. As the days went by, however, the indentation seemed deeper. On a Sunday afternoon in June 2010, she couldn't ignore it any longer, and she called Judy Butler, her longtime friend and assistant, into the bathroom to check out the irregularity.

"Do you feel a lump, Judy?"

Judy felt, looked away, felt again. "Yes." She looked into Joni's eyes. "Yes ... there's definitely something there." A pause. "Shall I call Ken?"

Joni nodded. "Please."

Stepping inside the bathroom, Ken took in the scene at a glance. Joni's and Judy's expressions in the vanity mirror told him more than he wanted to know. What now? At Joni's instruction, he too felt for an irregularity and found one. A definite lump. Something foreign. Something hard where nothing hard should be.

He looked up, making eye contact with both of them in the mirror.

Looking across at her misshapen breast in the glass, Joni said, "I really don't have time for this!" For just a moment, it struck everyone as funny, and they all laughed.

"I'll call Dr. Drew," Ken said. Scrolling through his contacts, he punched the cell number of Joni's personal physician, who immediately picked up. On a Sunday! And no, he didn't need to see them. They needed to get themselves over to Thousand Oaks Radiology first thing the next morning. He would call ahead and make arrangements.

So ... now they had an appointment. How quickly events seemed to move! On the short, thirteen-mile drive to the radiology center, Joni prayed, eyes open, watching the successive exits roll by. Kanan Road. Reyes Adobe Road. Lindero Canyon Road. North Westlake Boulevard. The 23 Freeway.

Uninitiated drivers in Southern California, flying along faster than they really want to go in the farthest right-hand lane, can suddenly look up in dismay to see the freeway dividing into two. And if the left four lanes are heading where you want to go, but you find yourself in the farthest right of four lanes bound in another direction, there's precious little opportunity to cross multiple lanes of racing, bumper-to-bumper traffic. In just a blink or two, you're swept along in another direction, toward another destination. Somewhere you couldn't have foreseen. Somewhere you never intended to go.

That's what this day was. This Monday like no other.

The freeway had divided, and Joni was being whisked away in a new direction. Fast. Toward ... what? Where? This much she knew. Her life would change that day. For better or worse, nothing would be the same after this.

A new thought intruded as Ken flipped the turn signal at Janss Road. So, life was about to change for her? Maybe that wasn't so bad. She suppressed the thought, only to have it circle back, stronger than before. Could this be ... her time, her release? Could this be THE exit she had longed for all those years? Did the exit sign read "Heaven"?

* * *

For a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, it was difficult, stressful—and in Joni's case, painful—to access the mammogram machine. When it was through, she marveled how the technician's face could assume a perfect blank. No expression at all. Like a mannequin.

"We'll need an ultrasound," was all she said.

In an adjoining room, a second technician moved the scanner across Joni's breast, clicking something in her instrument, taking measurements, but allowing Joni to view it all on the digital screen.

And what she saw, intruding into healthy breast tissue, was a large, dark mass.

Threatening. Like a storm cloud on the horizon.

Joni tried to keep her voice steady. "Is it a lesion?"

"Yes," the technician said, wrapping up the exam. "A doctor will be in right away to see you." Alone in the examining room, Ken and Joni exchanged glances, Ken pursing his lips and moving them back and forth the way he always did when he was agitated. (She knew him so well!) He held Joni's hand, knowing that she knew it but couldn't feel it. It was for his sake as well as hers.

Dr. Ruth Polan swept into the room, charts in hand, explaining that Joni had "a large, suspicious mass with irregular edges" and that she would have to have a biopsy. Joni took a deep breath and repeated the words back to her, making sure she had heard correctly.

The doctor pulled out a well-thumbed list of oncological surgeons; at the very top was Dr. David Chi.

"One of the best," she said, quickly adding, "but you'll have difficulty getting in to see him. His schedule is always full. I could recommend some alternatives ..."

Ken and Joni decided immediately to try for Dr. Chi. There must be a good reason why his schedule was always full. And why not? After all, this was God's itinerary, so why not check to see if He'd booked first class? They made the call from the imaging center, and it was as if the door flew wide open, amazing Dr. Polan but not Ken and Joni. Dr. Chi would see them in just a couple of days.

So just that quickly, they were linked up with a cancer surgeon.

A surgeon.

The freeway had split, and they were speeding toward a different destination than they had intended just twenty-four hours before. And there was no going back to the way it was.

Out in the van, Ken embraced Joni, wiped tears from his eyes, and blew his nose. Joni had no tears at all. The events of the past twenty-four hours seemed—distant, somehow.

Ken shook his head back and forth. "What next?" he said. They had been married twenty-eight years and traveled together on six continents, but this was uncharted territory, off the edges of any map they had ever seen. What did it say on the margins of those old world maps, where the known world fell away into mystery? Here be dragons.

No. Wrong thought, wrong image. Not dragons at all. God saw the whole map of their lives, right to the very edges and beyond. He could handle any dragons. Even one with a name like Cancer.

Joni suddenly remembered something Alan Redpath, a British pastor and author, had written.

"Remember what Redpath said, Ken? I think I can quote it. 'There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with great purpose.'

"Ken, I believe this cancer has come with great purpose."

Ken nodded, wiping his eyes again. "Yeah," he said, "but didn't he also say something about the Christian life getting harder the further you go?"

JUNE 23, 2010

Joni sat at her office computer at the International Disability Center, staring at a blank screen. Was there anything as empty in all the world as an empty Word document? With the assistance of her speech recognition software, she had the ability to compose text as quickly as most able-bodied people can type.

Well and good. But what should she say?

Earlier that morning, she had wheeled into Doug Mazza's office, her calm, competent COO at Joni and Friends, to tell him the news. The first words out of her mouth (before she'd even had time to think about it) were, "Doug, God must be up to something big." Joni was in transition; that much was obvious. But transition to what ... and where? Would she be in heaven in a few months? On her feet again ... running, running across meadows as wide as the sky ... taking long autumn walks with her daddy, feeling the leaves crunch beneath her feet ... dancing with the angels. Maybe, and maybe not. Whatever God had in mind for her, the agenda had certainly changed, and that much was almost a relief. She had something new to focus on now, besides the brutal, take-no-prisoners, never-ending battle with chronic pain.

Her staff needed to know too. And she wanted them to know. Wanted their prayers most of all.

And she'd need them. Just yesterday, Dr. Chi had performed the needle biopsy. She'd heard the word needle and thought nothing of it. How bad can a little needle be? she thought. Forget that! It was a nail gun into her breast—twice to get a good sample! It was her first indication that this wasn't going to be easy.

Lord, give me words. Your words. Where should I start?

Almost immediately the answer came. Start with gratitude. Of course. That was where so many good things began. She spoke aloud, watching the words leap to life in twelve-point Times New Roman on the monitor.

"You have always been so faithful to pray for Ken and me — especially for my health. But today I bring before you a new concern.

"I have breast cancer ..."

It was strange, almost surreal to speak those last four words into existence in her document. It was almost as though setting them down in that cyberdocument gave reality and finality to something that had seemed more like a bad dream. The freeway she was on had a name, Cancer, but it didn't have a final destination. Not yet.

"Ken and I have been assured by our doctors that there are many new treatments for breast cancer, and we are very hopeful for a successful surgery and a full recovery."

Again she paused. Were they really hopeful? Yes ... yes they were. But not necessarily hopeful in the circumstances. It was hope in Jesus Himself. The Resurrection and the Life. She looked again at what she had written. Now it was time to say how she felt about all this. But what did she feel? Had she put it into words yet—even in her own mind? This was no time for banalities or happy-talk phrases. This was life and death; this was war. Besides, her staff knew her too well; she had always been honest with them, and they'd see right through any window dressing. OK, then ... how do I really feel about this, Lord? Show me. She began speaking again.

"You have often heard me say that our afflictions come from the hand of our all-wise and sovereign God. And although cancer is something new, I am content to receive from God whatever He deems fit for me, even if it is from His left hand. Better from His left hand than no hand at all, right?! Yes, it's alarming. But rest assured that Ken and I are utterly convinced that God is going to use this to stretch our faith, brighten our hope, and strengthen our witness to others."

Joni knew her memo would raise many more questions among the staff than it answered. What stage was the cancer? Had it spread beyond her breast? Would her quadriplegic body, increasingly frail and wracked by over twelve years of chronic, searing pain, be able to endure yet another assault? And how in the world does a paralyzed person do chemo?

Who knew? God knew. And Joni knew Him. So did David, when he wrote: "Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken" (Psalm 62:5–6).

On the following Monday, Joni went into surgery.


Excerpted from Joni & Ken by Ken Tada Joni Eareckson Tada Larry Libby Copyright © 2013 by Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Writer's Preface: A Different Kind of Love Story 11

Chapter 1 The Gift 17

Chapter 2 "With Great Purpose" 21

Chapter 3 The Prayer 36

Chapter 4 It's Not about Us 51

Chapter 5 At the Altar 68

Chapter 6 The Testing Years 82

Chapter 7 Samurai 106

Chapter 8 Stepping Up 130

Chapter 9 Unfathomable Depths 144

Chapter 10 Conclusion: Reflecting on the Journey 160

A Personal Note from Joni and Ken 177

Acknowledgments 182

Resources for You 185

Notes 187

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Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
coramdeo540 More than 1 year ago
Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story Ken Tada , Joni Eareckson Tada with Larry Libby Book Description: This is the true love story of Joni and her husband of 30 years, Ken Tada. A love story showing what it truly means for a man and a woman to live in love ... in sickness and in health. Even the honeymoon wasn't easy. Did Ken realize what he was getting into when he proposed to Joni, a quadriplegic woman? As their marriage years moved on, Ken became increasingly overwhelmed by the never-ceasing demands of caring for Joni, who begins to experience chronic, extreme, nightmarish pain. Ken sinks into depression, and the couple finds themselves on parallel tracks in life, married and living under the same roof but drifting apart emotionally. But as they fight for their marriage and find their way through the mazes of depression and pain, they wrap their two lives around their rock---Jesus. During Ken's denial of Joni's diagnosis, and Joni's thoughts of how wonderful a quick exit to heaven would be, they experience a personal visitation with the savior you will never forget. Review: I found this to be a great read. Easy to get absorbed in it and so well written that I could not put it down. It was like being let into a side of Joni that is hidden. I felt privileged to read this story. It was the first ebook that I made notes in and highlighted things. That says a lot since I was storming through this book rapidly. There were many things that made me cry and laugh. I enjoyed the frank honesty of their life together. So many things were precious like their meeting and how sweet Ken was during their dating and up to their wedding. He was more the unknown in this story and it made the man into a real person. I can honestly say that any disability makes a life interesting. I have thought a lot about pain and the changes that occur while married. There is no guarantee that the state of one’s abilities will remain even young. It is more realistic to understand the in sickness and in health. I can empathize with the chronic pain and the cancer on top of it was a lot to wrestle with. I have often thought that the church has lost her understanding of suffering. To me this has been a struggle and found the resounding theme to be that of the Bible with life there is suffering. I am so appreciative to have the privilege to read and review this book. As the beginning promised this is the real love that is lost today. Not easy and not neatly packaged but definitely a love story of all time. I would like to thank Net Galley and Zondervan Publishing for allowing me to read and review this book in return for a free copy and I was never asked to write a favorable review by anyone.
miriamjacob More than 1 year ago
Ken and Joni live their faith on the world’s stage, always in full view of the glaring spotlight, where every flaw is highlighted and nothing is secret. Theirs is a faith that triumphs over all odds.  They inspire people to conquer the obstacles of life for the glory of God and the love of Christ.  A truly selfless couple who firmly believe that Jesus is the answer to all life's problems,  Ken and Joni overcome their personal challenges through complete surrender to Christ.  They inspire us to surrender our hearts to the One who loves us wholeheartedly.  Here is a unique love story for the ages. Their trials draw them closer to Christ and shape them on His Potter's wheel into His glorious likeness for eternity.  Their groundbreaking ministry "Wheels for the World" provides a free wheelchair and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to children and adults affected by disability.  Two lives live as one, two hearts beat as one, for the glory of God.  This poignant love story will reverberate through the centuries.  Through intense adversity, their love for Christ shines through. A story of hope reflecting Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. Miriam Jacob
PatWKirk More than 1 year ago
An athletic seventeen-year-old girl broke her neck while diving, changing her life forever. Over thirty years later, she still lives in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down. She has also traveled throughout the US and the world advocating for the disabled. Few of us haven’t heard of Joni Earekson Tada, singer, writer, and artist who does oil paints by holding the brush in her teeth. Ken Tada is the amazing man she found, married, and has loved for thirty years. When he married her, he knew there would be challenges. But he discovered the extent of those challenges on their wedding night. They had periods of near-estrangement as he struggled through the inescapable dailiness of it all. Ken became depressed. Then Joni’s physical disabilities increased. She went from no feeling in her body, to terrible pain, breast cancer, and pneumonia. The Lord took them through the turbulence to a place of deeper-than-ever love for each other and Him. There is a cute set of pictures on the back flap of the two of them laughing together. The authors of Joni&Ken tell the story in personal narrative, leading the reader into the action as though walking along with them. Neither Joni nor Ken are perfect, though talented and spiritually sensitive. What might be too depressing to read, becomes a journey with two nice people that we like.