Joni and Ken An Untold Love Story unfolds the love story that confuses generations.
Why would an able-bodied (Ken) fall for a severely disabled (Joni)? It would be one thing to continue loving someone through disabilities, but to choose such a lifestyle is another.
Through Joni’s books and messages, we see a glimpse of her honest struggles. Ken makes a cameo appearance in her talks, but not usually the focus. This is not a wife’s negligence towards her husband. Only, none of the books have held his name on the title to permit such a spotlight. Until now. We not only see Joni’s elation and struggles through their less than typical marriage, we also see Ken’s. He’s the caregiver and lover who has been by Jon’s side thirty years when many would flee. He’s also imperfectly human and prone to depression and burn-out.
We see the two begin the seeds of love at John Macarthur’s Church, then travel to their first date where they have to face an embarrassing obstacle of emptying Joni’s leg bag. We see their romance solidify to love and their young excursions oversees Behind the Iron Curtain. We see them transition into married life where love is put to the test with daily routines most of us will never face (save for the few final years on earth). Love is present, yes, but so is the daily grinds of disability and the agony of chronic pain.
Part way through the book, we see Ken experience a radical transformation as he implements Jon Eldredge’s Wild at Heart in his own life (a top selling book for men who desire to search for the meaning of true manliness- which doesn’t mean rolling around in pine needles, guys). We see his heart grow tender towards Joni through her first broken bone and stage three cancer diagnosis. It is in these pivotal moments where Ken realizes the truth in the Wild at Heart movement: men are desired to save their damsel, and women desire to be rescued by their leading man. Ken finds that even his strong-willed wife desires to be rescued.
The story is told from a third-person point of view. It initially felt unusual to deviate away from the traditional first person POV, but after the pages peeled back, I gained a new appreciation of the shift in perspective. That is why this is titled a story and not a biography/autobiography. It truly reads like a story of two beloved protagonists.
There were a number of readers who complained about the inconsistent time line in the book: jumping from 2010 to the 80’s then back to the 70’s, etc. To me, this wasn’t an issue. It read seamlessly. Whenever there was a jump to or from a certain time, it was purposeful- to explain something essential in the story.
This is another one of those books I will revisit- for the truths found in their challenges still relate to the able-bodied.
I had my husband read the last few pages of the book written by Joni herself entailing such sweet edification and encouragement for marriages. I will leave you with two quotes:
“For many people, maybe most people, I think all of our lives are spent looking for and wanting to go home. But what if it were as close as the hand of your spouse? That would make for a contented and happy marriage.”
“Take a deep breath and let it- whatever that irksome it is in marriage and let it go. Make a covenant. Renew vows. Get out the candles and the china. Order roses. Dim the lights. Walk under the stars. Quit resisting and start affirming. After all, loving that one to whom you said yes, well…it’s another way, maybe the best way, of loving and serving God.”
I wrote this review last fall, before I thought I would even need the support of a caregiver. This caregiver was providentially provided in the form of my loving husband who I once confused as superman, but I forgot that even superman has his kryptonite. He has been worn out, spinning with emotions that still have not been processed, and still more to add to the list. Perhaps God prepared me for what was next in this crazy journey of life last fall. My husband read the book and totally related to Ken’s struggles- feeling the needed validation.
Our situation is one completely different than Joni and Ken’s, but their love story painted amidst the landscape of struggle is nothing short of inspiring. I would recommend this book not only to the ailing/caregiver or the married, but also to those looking for an exceptional biography that unfolds like a story: a complicated, authentic, but nonetheless beautiful story.