I enjoy memoirs and books about marriage. So, I was very curious to read the new book Joni and Ken, An Untold Love Story, a collaboration between Larry Libby, Joni Earekson Tada, and Ken Tada.
The story begins with Joni's diagnosis of breast cancer in 2010. Then, it jumps back and forth in time to share bits and pieces from Ken and Joni's life together. At first, I found myself very puzzled as I read. The stories would stop and start quickly and abruptly. "Where are we going?" I found myself wondering.
Then I came up with analogy that helped me. Reading the book is like looking at someone's baby book. Usually, there are one or two pictures for each milestone. Each picture is a snippet, not the whole story. Pictures usually reflect significant memories. When looking at a photo album, you'll often flip back and forth through the pages and in time as the album does. This book does the same thing, moving back and forth.
I expected to enjoy reading this book, but I found that I didn't. Instead, I found myself with more questions than understanding and encouragement. I struggled to follow the train of thought because of how the book was organized and the ebook version I read didn't allow me to easily flip back and forth.
But, my concerns about this book extend beyond its organization. By the end, I was able to identify a few things that struck me about this particular memoir about marriage, but they are difficult to share because this couple loves the Lord and I do not want to criticize them in any way. I am very aware that Joni and her ministry have been deeply encouraging to millions of people. In America's Christian culture, Joni qualifies as a celebrity. She tells several stories in the book of being recognized everywhere she goes by people. Ken talks of recognizing that he was marrying a celebrity when they were engaged. And clearly, she and her husband, Ken, love the Lord.
I found that I couldn't identify with her perspective on life. It isn't because she's disabled and I'm not. She has a different view of suffering than I do. She talks of her perspective in this online interview from Tabletalk. There is suffering in this world because there is sin in the world. I remember David Jeremiah talking about his cancer when someone asked him why it happened to him. His response was, "Why not me?" This life is not easy. Jesus said in John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Joni has been an example to many of how to endure ongoing suffering and chronic pain by leaning upon the strength of the Lord.
But, sometimes suffering is because of sin. The point isn't always simply to draw closer to God. Sometimes there are lessons for us in regard to our own role in the suffering we are experiencing. Sometimes suffering is because we are enabling someone else to sin as well. That isn't okay either. We are responsible for our own actions if we are enabling someone else to sin. (Ezekiel 3:18).
In the case of a marriage, our own sin and our spouse's sin may require us to repent and apologize. This was one aspect of marriage and suffering not mentioned in this book. Instead, Joni quickly shifts to focusing on enduring the suffering rather than addressing repentance and apologizing in the stories she tells. Learning to apologize has been very important to my husband and I in our marriage. Learning how to take responsibility for our part and not the whole thing. Learning how to process afterwards and share openly and honestly so that hurts might heal... I know that I am sensitive to the importance of this aspect of marriage, because it has been a hard lesson for me (and one that I'm still learning to practice!).
Another aspect of marriage not discussed was what it means for two to become one. As the story is told, it seems as if Joni had (and still has) her ministry and life and makes her plans. Ken also had his life--teaching and coaching for the first twenty-five years of their marriage. Their lives intersected on weekday evenings--or at least that seems from the snapshots in the book. I honestly couldn't tell what it meant to them that two become one from the stories of their marriage prior to Joni's cancer diagnosis. Yet, at one point their transcript from an interview with Dr. James Dobson mentions that they saw themselves as one. This was where I felt puzzled, as I mentioned earlier in the post. I was left with more questions than understanding.
After finishing and reflecting on this book, I don't think I'd recommend it, because from my perspective it tells a very uneven view of marriage.
Please note that I received a complimentary ebook copy of this book from Zondervan for review.