Book Review: Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story

Joni and KenAt 36, Joni Eareckson felt that marriage was probably not in God’s plan for her, not only because of her age, but because of her paralysis resulting from a diving accident in her teens. Who would be willing to take on all that would be involved?

After Ken and Joni met at church, then got to know one another, then started dating, Ken felt he could. He knew he loved her and he felt their marriage could work.

Joni was afraid he idealized her. He had read about her before meeting her, accompanied her on mission trips, heard her speak, and even though she tried to be realistic about herself and her humanness (when the leg bag collecting her urine broke in public while on a tour behind the Iron Curtain, she quipped that that was God’s way of not letting the attention and acclaim go to her head), she was afraid some people thought of her more highly than they ought to.

But after much time together and discussion, they married, And though they loved each other dearly, after some years the relentless details involved in Joni’s care began to wear on Ken. He began to pull away, to need time to himself to get away from it all. Soon their lives were on nearly parallel tracks, rarely intersecting. She had had a ministry and association before he came on the scene, and he felt unneeded in her world: he had his teaching and coaching and fishing trips.

Then unexplained and excruciating pain descended on Joni, not only requiring more care, but causing frustration because nothing seemed to help. And then came a cancer diagnosis…

Marriage has its rough spots anyway, but add all these to the mix, and any of them could break a marriage. In Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story, with Larry Libby, they want to make clear that what pulled them through was not their own strength, but God’s grace when they came to the end of their own strength. They don’t want to come across as super-saints, but as real people who found God’s grace sufficient in the most trying of times “to attain a new level of love rather than simply surviving or grimly hanging on” (p. 15).

I loved Larry Libby’s preface, talking about fairy tales and sad love songs, then musing:

We all dream dreams and know very well that they don’t always work out. Life is particularly hard on high expectations. Things hardly ever fall together the way we would have scripted them. The fact is, if we put our hope in a certain set of circumstances working out a certain way at certain times, we’re bound to be disappointed, because nothing in this life is certain.

So what’s the solution? To give up on dreams?

No, it is to realize that if we belong to God, there are even bigger dreams for our lives than our own. But in order to walk in those bigger dreams, we may face greater obstacles than we ever imagined and find ourselves compelled to rely on a much more powerful and magnificent God than we ever knew before (p. 15).

I know it’s the style these days to have a book jump back and forth in the time line, but it is somewhat confusing and choppy, and I think would have flowed much better maybe by opening with one incident and then flashing back to the beginning and progressing from there to the current time.

There is one kind of odd spot in the book when Joni had a horrible night suffering from pneumonia and prayed that Jesus would manifest Himself to her in a special way. As Ken ministered to her, suddenly she said.”You’re Jesus!” She went on to say that she could feel His touch through Ken’s, could see Him in Ken’s smile. That I can understand, but manifesting Jesus, being a conduit through which He can work, isn’t the same thing a being Jesus. And I think that’s what she ultimately meant.

I scanned some of the reviews on Amazon and was surprised to find some criticism that the book didn’t contain enough or reveal enough. I thought it was quite gracious of the Tadas to reveal as much as they did in order to show God’s grace and to encourage others: the rest really is none of our business.

Overall I loved the book and would recommend it to anyone.

I linked to this speech of Joni’s before, but it shares a condensed version of some of what is in the book.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

15 thoughts on “Book Review: Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story

  1. Thanks for reviewing this one…it’s been on my list. I know what you mean about the choppy style of writing. I don’t notice it until I read an older (smoothly written) book. It can be confusing…especially if you put the book down and have to remember where you were bouncing.

  2. I just recently heard about this book and stuck it on my Amazon wishlist. Then I saw that you had reviewed it and I went ahead and purchased it. (It’s on its way!) I have only skimmed your review since I plan on reading it for myself here shortly…then I’ll have to come and compare notes! Just didn’t want to see too many more reviews pop up before I had a chance to read it for myself! 😀 (So you are at fault for making me click “Add to Cart” this time!)

  3. Enjoyed your review. I’d seen this book mentioned somewhere and wondered how it was. I always appreciate reading about Christian “celebs” and learning that, just like the rest of us, they’re human. I remember my shock, years back, upon learning that Ann Kiemel’s marriage had not been a bed of roses.

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  5. I marked the same passage in the introduction. I thought that was beautifully put.

    I also found the story of Ken being Jesus was a little….weird. I’m willing to believe your explanation is what she meant to say but it came across rather poorly and odd.

    This one won’t be a top favorite for the year but I suppose I am glad to have read it.

    My thoughts, in which I link back to yours:

    http://www.readingtoknow.com/2013/04/joni-ken-untold-love-story-by-ken-joni.html

  6. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: April 13, 2013 | Semicolon

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