A 25-Year Love Story: Ken and Joni Tada
About the Guest
A 25-Year Love Story: Ken and Joni Tada
Ken: You know, there were times where I thought, "Oh, I don't know if I can do this anymore," but I think the thing that has been the cement that has kept us together, it's so simplistic, is our love for Christ.
I mean, it's one of those things we've had to learn in our marriage that when the other person doesn't meet our expectations, we need to go to God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 29th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How does a couple persevere through hard times in marriage? Well, in part, by remembering that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. We don't have the opportunity very often to have a couple on celebrating their silver anniversary as a part of FamilyLife Today. But that's the case today, isn't it?
Dennis: It is. Ken and Joni Tada are joining us on FamilyLife Today, and this summer you'll celebrate 25, right?
Joni: Wonderful – a quarter of a century, is it possible?
Joni: Thank you.
Dennis: A lot of our listeners know Joni from her broadcast, "Joni & Friends." Their ministry, headquartered in Southern California holds family retreats, and I want you to share with our listeners a little bit about the retreat and how it started and what it's grown to, because you're going to have 19 of them this summer.
Joni: Well, when I served under President Reagan on the National Council on Disability, the government wanted to sponsor a conference for families, and it was a big, bureaucratic boring week of writing position papers and dealing with Social Security issues, and it was no fun. And I came back to our ministry office and said, "Those people spent a lot of money on a week that was so tiring for those families. We need to design something that's going to be fun and exciting, provide respite, spiritual refreshment, renewal in God's Word, connect families with other families, network them together, have just a blast – hands-down, slam-dunk fun around God's Word and each other. And that's what started the family retreats back in 1991.
Now we'll have 19 this year in locations all across the country, and five days of – what else – wheelchair hiking, swimming.
Ken: Well, I think that what makes in unique is the fact that they come as a family, you know, many of these families that have disabilities, they are not able to come as a family unit. And that part is wonderful, but I think also what makes it unique are the short-term missionaries.
Joni: We have volunteers who come and stick with that family. Each volunteer is assigned to one family, and that volunteer will hold the cafeteria tray in line and hold the Bible, turn the pages of the hymnal, take care of that child with a disability and his siblings while Mom and Dad have a romantic dinner with candlelight and a string quarter. We just make it special for moms and dads and for the kids.
Bob: We've got information on our website at FamilyLife.com about the retreats that you guys do. There's a link to your website, and if folks want more information, they can come to FamilyLife.com and click on over and find out where they're being held and how you can get involved either as a short-term missionary or as a family with a member who has disabilities so that you could be a part of one of these events as well.
I'm hoping that we're going to also be able to get some wedding pictures on our website from back 25 years ago. We'll have to scan a few of those in. Can we twist your arm to get a few of those up, do you think?
Joni: I think you could. Although, you've got to see me and my wheelchair with this flowing white gown. I look like a float in the Rose Parade coming down the aisle, drifting down the aisle.
Ken: That's a story all to itself. They had actually built a ramp – this was over at Grace Community Church, and to get to the platform you had to go up steps. So some of the guys in the church built this huge ramp all the way back so that Joni could, by herself, take the wheelchair up to the top of this platform.
Joni: It was a like a runway for a 747, and there I come floating down the aisle in my gown surrounding my wheels. It was a sight to behold, I’m told.
Bob: And you made it up the ramp with no problem?
Joni: I made it up the ramp. I charged my batteries and made it up to the top of the ramp.
Dennis: Well, let's talk about when you guys left the church, because after the church comes, obviously, the honeymoon, but it's really real life. I mean, you start your married life together.
You mentioned earlier that your first year of marriage was pretty rocky. I think that's the word you used. Emotionally, you were both ticked off at each other, just like any married couple. What was your anger about, Ken?
Ken: Well, I think, first of all, you know, both Joni and I were independent. We married a little bit later in life.
Dennis: You were how old?
Ken: Thirty – what was I – 33?
Joni: You were 36, I think I was 33.
Ken: No, no, 35 and 33. I have to go back in the years, but the point is that we both had our own lifestyles, and we were bringing those into the mix.
Dennis: Pretty independent people clashing.
Ken: And probably "A" personalities, so …
Joni: I think we thought of marriage as a 50-50 proposition, you know, and then we realized after our first year of marriage – no, it's not that. That's a formula for disaster. It's got to be 100 percent - 100 percent not a 50-50 thing.
Bob: We've talked for years at the Weekend to Remember conferences that we host about this whole 50-50 idea, and the problem is, we try to measure each other's performance, and we're not a good judge of the other person's 50 percent. We're a real good judge of our 50 percent.
Ken: And then you get into this tit for tat, you know. I mean, you do this, I do that. You do this, I do that.
Dennis: It won't work.
Ken: It doesn't work.
Dennis: It really is 100 percent - 100 percent, or it isn't going to work at all. So what was your anger about then, specifically? I mean, let's get some detail here, Ken. Because I know Joni is about to do it to you. So you better.
Ken: I see her really getting started and ready. No, I think that it was just the freedom – to be able to do things when I wanted to do them.
Dennis: Like watch "Monday Night Football?"
Ken: Like watch "Monday Night Football," or go away for – you know, just, like a day for a fishing trip or something like that without checking in. Now, that's –- I know that seems kind of ridiculous now, but …
Bob: But that's how you'd lived for 35 years, right?
Ken: Sure, I didn't check in with anybody. If I was going to go fishing, I'm going to go fishing.
Dennis: What was the first fight where you really …
Ken: Oh, this is a good one.
Dennis: Where you really raised your voice at each other, and you realized, you know what? I can't just slam the door and walk out on her?
Ken: Well, I can remember the first argument. The first argument was over our dog, and she caught me picking fleas off of our dog with the tweezers, her eyebrow tweezers. I'm telling you, it works really well.
Bob: Yeah, that seems realistic to me. I mean, that makes perfect sense.
Dennis: You didn't appreciate that, Joni?
Joni: I never slept with a dog before and, all of a sudden, my dog that had always slept in its basket, now had to be up in our bed. What is this?
But, you know, I think – going back to what Ken was saying, I think, to sum it up, he experienced a lot of trapped feelings. The psychological pressure that he had to help me in bed, he had to unhook my leg bag, hook my catheter up to straight drainage, clean out my leg bag, put my clothes on the wheelchair, tuck my pillows behind me – that's a lot. That is a lot for a man.
Ken: You know, I think what happened, too, I was starting to feel guilty, because as I was going through these various steps that I wasn't used to, I was trying to learn a routine, I was getting frustrated, and I wasn't comfortable with that routine, and it was causing me to – as Joni mentioned – to have these trapped feelings, but I didn't feel like I should share them with Joni, because it would hurt her feelings.
Joni: And there were plenty of times where I would sense this, this stony silence, and I would burst out in tears, "Well, didn't you know what you got yourself into when you married me?" Because I'd see him with these psychologically trapped feelings, and I'll never forget when I read Philippians, chapter 2, verse 4, boy, it hit me squarely in the heart. It says there, "Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but you should learn to look out for the interest of others."
And I decided, "Lord God, I don't want my marriage to be like this. I don't want it to be lived in stubborn silence." So the next time Ken had those trapped feelings, and he was walking around the house in that stony silence, I said to him, "You know, if I were you, I'd feel exactly the same way, and I don't blame you for those trapped feelings, and I don't fault you, because this is a big thing, this disability, and I can understand how you feel. I'd probably feel exactly the same way."
And I couldn't believe it with that one confession it was, like, suddenly everything opened up, and we could breathe. It was like the silence was gone and suddenly he had my trust that I wasn't going to attack him; that I was going to understand him. And when I saw that change happen in his eyes, in his heart, in his demeanor, and I think for all the challenges God gives and extra amount of grace, and I will look at Ken, and will you not agree, sweetheart, that our walk with the Lord Jesus is so much more sweeter.
We see some couples, and we are so grateful that we can talk to each other; that we can find comfort and solace in the word of God.
Ken: What makes it a little bit easier for us is that we have a dual language. We have a language of love, and we have one that we can maybe set aside or at least have a discussion about the disability, and the fact that, boy, I'm just getting tired. I'm getting tired today. The disability is just kind of wearing on me.
Joni: And that's my cue because I can read it, I see the signs, and I'll encourage him, "Ken, why don't you give your friend, Jan, a call? How about fly fishing? Isn't it about time you just started organizing another trip with the guys? How about" – just trying to find ways to encourage him, to lighten the load, to give him some time off away from this wheelchair. And that strengthens our marriage. It's incredible.
Dennis: I want to ask you, though, Joni, what about those times when you're down, and he says that, too. Isn't that an interesting mix at that point, when you don't have it within yourself to speak those encouraging words to say, "Hey, go ahead and go fly fishing," when you're in your own spirit saying, "I just need you to care for me, I need you to love me?"
Joni: Well, I think when there is that – what feels like a void, and there's nobody there who understands my relationship with the Lord Jesus is so much more precious than – when my father passed away in 1990, it was a very hard time, and I was 3,000 miles away from home, and Ken just – he – I don't know how to describe it, but he wasn't there for me, and that hurt so badly. And yet those were the most wonderful weeks of deep intimacy with Christ, singing hymns to myself – "May the mind of Christ my Savior, live in me from day to day. By His power and love control me all I do and say."
And I would sing hymns to myself and repeat Scriptures to myself, rocking myself to sleep with those words, and it was a tremendous comfort. And when his father died in 1993, I was prepared to help him, and it was at that point – remember that conversation, Ken?
Ken: Well, I think – and I freely admit, I didn't know how to help you with your dad. I thought going down to the nursing home in Florida and doing all of those things was my way of helping but unless you lose a loved one, unless you lose a parent, you really don't understand, and I think that – of course, after that, when your mom passed away, it was totally different.
Joni: It really was. Boy, there was nobody there like my husband Ken. It was incredible.
Dennis: I just want to say this, though, there are those moments in every marriage. In your case it was around the passing of a parent. It can be around something occurring with a child, loss of a job, health issues – those issues you're talking about are not necessarily specifically related to having a handicap or a physical disability, and every marriage has them.
Ken, did you ever think about quitting? Seriously think about quitting? I mean, did it ever get so tough?
Ken: I think I would be lying if I didn't say yes. There were times where I thought, "Oh, I don't know if I can do this anymore."
Dennis: But you didn't.
Ken: But, fortunately, no, I didn't. And I think the thing that really has been the cement that has kept us together goes back, and it's so simplistic, is our love for Christ. I mean, it's simplistic in one sense, but it's one of those things we've had to learn in our marriage that when the other person doesn't meet our expectations, we need to go to God.
Oftentimes, I think men and women will go other places to find that respite, but to go to Christ, to go to God, has been, I think, the comfort for both Joni and for myself when, Dennis, you mentioned that our resources are low, you know, we just don't have them.
Joni: Ken and I have been reading through the Bible in a year, and do you know what my most favorite time of the day is? It's about 9:00 at night, and he's put me to bed and pulled the covers up around me and given me my hot water – I've got to drink a liter of water a night before I go to sleep – and I'm all snuggled in, and he pulls up the chair, and he gets out his glasses, and he opens up his Bible, and we read together. It's the most wonderful thing.
And the other night when he was doing this, we were in the Book of Ezekiel, and Ezekiel can be, in some places, a little tiring to listen to, but it was like meat and drink and, it was, like, the most wonderful thing. And I was lying there thinking, "Here we are reading Ezekiel, chapter 38, or whatever it was about the cubits of the temple, and the whole chapter is about nothing but the cubits of the temple, and it's so wonderful. We're reading the word of God, and I remember thinking, "Oh, Lord Jesus, I am a happy, happy person and what a happy marriage that we enjoy something like this, that nightly routine."
And it's so basic, it's so simple, and it's so powerful, incredibly powerful, and I'm just enormously happy that, as we celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this year, I can be so proud of my husband and proud of the Lord Jesus in him.
Dennis: I wanted to ask you a question about children. Now, you guys don't have any children. Was that a foregone conclusion from the beginning of your relationship? Was it medically impossible? Tell us about that discussion and what took place there.
Joni: Well, we tried to have children for many years after we married. I knew I was in my mid-30s. We were going to have to try hard real fast to have children, and I was never successful. I went to an infertility clinic, and we …
Ken: Well, you should tell them, Joni, that you can have children, or you could have children.
Joni: I can have children, and many of my quadriplegic girlfriends have had children. But, for some reason, I wasn't able to conceive, and I'll never forget the last visit to the infertility specialist, I was driving. Back then I drove, I'm a quadriplegic, I know, but I drive a van that doesn't have a steering wheel. I operate it with a joystick that fits around my hand, and I can push forward to accelerate and pull back to brake, but that's another story.
But I was driving myself home from this infertility clinic, Ken had gone on to work, and I pulled over on the side of the road and just sobbed great heaving sobs that I would never be able to have children. And I said to Ken that night, if he would please help me understand that maybe we could have a different kind of family. Maybe we could have spiritual children, and now it's so much fun to find joy, even in our nephews.
Bob: Well, I'm guessing every time you get to one of the family retreats that you do, you feel like those are all your kids, don't you?
Joni: Exactly, exactly, and the parents, too. It's great being with the couples and counseling them and talking about things that – different ways we can lift each other up.
Dennis: And, Joni, tell the truth – not that you wouldn't, anyway, but in your heart of hearts, the loss of not being able to have children in addition to the accident, wasn't there a moment when you just said, "Oh, Lord, another loss?"
Joni: Oh, yes, but …
Dennis: Why me?
Joni: Well, yes, I did say, "Why me?" I mean, isn't quadriplegia enough? But then when I signed up in the Army of Christ, there was no fine print in the contract. It was laid out there right in front – anyone who seeks to hold onto his life is going to lose it, but if you lose your life for Christ's sake, you're going to find it.
And every day is a series of little deaths. We die to self. I live a cross-filled life, but basically that means a bunch of cross-filled days, and I have learned the obedience of dying to self but living for Christ, and I sometimes, Dennis and Bob, I sometimes think I'm the most happiest and blessed quadriplegic in the world. I know that for a fact.
Dennis: And, Joni, I want to give people the address of what you were just quoting – Luke 14:25-27 gives to prerequisites for being a follower of Christ. It talks about a man denying himself and hating his own life to follow Christ and, secondly, picking up his cross and coming after Christ for a lifetime.
As I listening to your love story, I think what a great model you guys are for so many couples who are starting out their marriages today. I would encourage those who are listening to our broadcast to pray for Ken and Joni and their ministry – these family retreats – but also pray for the next generation of young people that they'll get a chance to hear this story. Maybe you need to buy this CD that contains their story and pass it on to a young cultural who are starting out their marriage because, all of a sudden, their problems are going to be put in proper perspective.
Bob: Well, and, all of a sudden, they're going to realize that the solution to whatever the issue is is the same solution that the two of you have found, which is drawing from the spiritual center, the spiritual core, of your relationship. Your relationship with one another is founded on your relationship with Jesus Christ.
And if that's not there, in those moments when you need to draw from a strength beyond yourself, you find that you're on empty, and then you don't know what to do.
I was thinking, Dennis, about a book that you and Barbara wrote a number of years ago called "Starting Your Marriage Right," and in that book you and Barbara tried to help young couples who were in the first months of their marriage wrestle with the issues, the practical and spiritual issues, that couples have to wrestle with to build a spiritually centered core for their marriage, to build their marriage relationship on the foundation of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
We've got copies of that book in our FamilyLife Resource Center. In fact, we've got that book and another book the two of you have written called "Growing a Spiritually Strong Family," and if any of our listeners are interested in getting both of those books together, we'll send them, at no additional cost, the CD that you mentioned that has our conversation with Ken and Joni. You can either listen to it again or pass it along to someone who would benefit from hearing it, and I'm thinking again about those newly married couples.
But to have both of those books and the CD, that would be a great gift to give them as a shower gift or as a wedding gift or just as a getting-your-marriage-started gift.
Go to our website, FamilyLife.com. If you click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen, it will take you to an area of the site where you can get more information about those resources and other resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife Today.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com, and you click the red button that says "Go," that you see near the middle of the screen or call 1-800-FLTODAY – that's 1-800-358-6329, and someone on our team will make the necessary arrangements to make sure that the resources you need are sent out to you.
We've had a number of our listeners, Dennis, who have contacted us this month and have made a donation to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today and, by the way, we appreciate hearing from those of you who do contribute to our financial needs. We are listener-supported, and so donations to this ministry are very important for the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today. It helps keep us on the air in this city and in other cities all across the country.
And in the summer months, it is particularly helpful when we hear from listeners because during the summer months donations tend to decline a little bit. So we appreciate those of you who have gotten in touch with us this month, and we have been sending out a thank you gift to those folks who have made a donation this month. It's the new book, "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date," that is written by our host, Dennis Rainey.
This is a very helpful book for dads, especially if you have a daughter who is teenager or about to be a teenager or will someday be a teenager, and you want to understand the role you can play as her father in preparing her for those teen years and her interaction with members of the opposite sex and what you can do during those years to engage with the young men who may come expressing some interest in spending time with your daughter.
Again, we have copies of the book, "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date," that we're sending out this month as a thank you gift to those of you who can help with a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
If you're making your donation online at FamilyLife.com, just type the word "date" into the keycode box that you see on the donation form, or if you call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone just mention you'd like Dennis's new book, "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date," and we'll be happy to send you a copy. Again, it's our way of saying thanks for your support of this ministry. We appreciate your financial partnership with us.
Well, that is going to wrap things up for us this week. I hope you have a great weekend, and I hope you and your family can worship together this weekend. I want to invite you back on Monday when Mrs. Vonette Bright is going to be joining us. She is the widow of the late Dr. Bill Bright, who is the founder and former president of Campus Crusade for Christ. It has been four years since he went home to be with the Lord. We're going to talk about what life has been like for her in the last four years, and I hope you can join us for that conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend, and we'll see you on Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
We are so happy to provide these transcripts for you. However, there is a cost to transcribe, create, and produce them for our website. If you've benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs?
Copyright © FamilyLife. All rights reserved.