Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story

joni-and-ken-love-story[1]Sometime in elementary school I became captivated with Joni Eareckson.  My parents had a little cassette tape of her songs, and I would play it over and over, singing along.  When the rewind function on our tape player broke, I’d rewind the cassette tape on my finger, and then play it again.  I thought she was beautiful and strong and inspiring, every bit the sort of woman I wanted to be one day.

I had read a children’s book about her life, complete with color illustrations of her standing in her swimsuit, getting ready to take the fateful 1967 dive that would break her neck and render her a quadriplegic for life.  But what always remained a mystery was her relationship with her husband, Ken Tada.  He was never mentioned in the children’s books, and the older I got, the more I wondered about their relationship.  What sort of man marries a quadriplegic?  What sort of marriage can thrive under the constant burden of quadriplegia?   But nothing was ever said about it.  Until now.

Last month Joni and Ken released their first book on marriage–not a book about marriage principles and guidlelines–a book about their marriage.  Their story.  I’m not an avid non-fiction reader, but I read it in two days!  There were two things that made it so fascinating–the raw vulnerability, and the intense degree to which they suffered.  Most couples have gone through tough times, but how many of us can say we’ve woken up multiple times every night for thirty years to shift our spouse in bed?  How many of us have battled chronic pain, cancer, depression, and multiple brushes with death?  Or lived with scarcely any privacy because it required a small team of people just to keep our spouse alive and functioning?  How many of us have had to hire someone to “put our spouse to bed” every night because it required such extensive effort?

And yet, amazingly, this is a book every married couple can relate to.  Not in the quadriplegia sense, of course, but in the Tada’s honest portrayal of the excruciatingly difficult yet glorious gift of marriage.  I could relate to Joni’s longing for love but fearful insecurity.  Her desire to be near Ken, but not to stifle him, especially with the exhausting extent of her daily needs.  (At a particularly fragile time in their relationship, she went so far as limiting her fluid intake on the weekends so she wouldn’t burden him with the chore of changing her leg bag so frequently.)  I could relate to the frustration and despair that led to hopeless indifference when Ken discovered nothing could be found to cure Joni’s chronic pain.  I understood his need to get away and to find his own masculine identity apart from his “famous wife.”  The struggles are common to all of us–the strain, the insecurity, the poor communication, the gradual drifting from intimacy with God.  I, for one, am just glad they said it!  I’m glad they admitted that marriage is hard.  To be honest, it shocked my “Joni-Eareckson-fan-club” heart to learn that she let her marriage grow so distant.  That in the midst of great ministry, she had a weak relationship with her husband.  This is the kind of honesty that imparts hope!  Because we, the reader, get to watch God grow and strengthen their marriage.  And contrary to Hollywood chick-flicks, everything wasn’t solved in a week-end.  That was one of my favorite aspects of the book.  I got to see the Tada’s journey toward a stronger marriage over the course of many, many years.

But best of all, this book gives us a glimpse of God-honoring, Christ-exalting suffering.  This is the number one lesson I learned: when you can see Christ in the midst of your hell and faithfully cling to Him despite the worst suffering imaginable–you just may discover that the suffering becomes the greatest blessing of your life.  This was the case for the Tada’s–God used their worst nightmare as His instrument for healing their marriage.

On a side note, I was not crazy about the style in which the book is written.  I learned in a post-script that Joni’s editor suggested the book be written from the third person point-of-view.  Personally, I would’ve preferred to read the story from Joni and Ken’s own perspective.  It was a little strange to have an outside narrator telling the story, almost like it was a work of fiction.  There were also complaints that the book was hard to follow since it jumps back and forth between past and present events.  Honestly, neither of these stylistic details is a huge deal–you get used to the point-of-view, and there are bold-faced dates throughout the novel that make the sequence easy to follow.

Overall, this is a great read–endorsed by Francis Chan, R.C. Sproul, Franklin Graham, Max Lucado, Joshua Harris, Ravi Zacharias, Kay Arthur and many, many more.  I know I’m no Tim Challies, but for what it’s worth, I give it two thumbs up!  🙂

Is There Such a Thing as Calling?


A friend asked me this question several months ago.  In context, I knew she wasn’t referring to a “general” or “primary” calling to live for Christ.  She was asking me if I believe there is such a thing as a “specific” or “secondary” calling, like the calling to become a doctor or a missionary.

I understood the question because people talk about this sort of “calling” all the time.  They say things like, “I just felt called to do it.”  Called to marry him.  Called to plant a church.  Called to adopt.  Called to give.  Some people love to talk about calling…so much so that you wonder if they go to the grocery store and feel “called” to buy Crest toothpaste instead of Colgate.  These sort of people used to frustrate me.  It felt like they had a private line with God, and He just told them everything to do, say, think, eat, and moisturize with.  To be honest, I was jealous.  Many times it felt like I begged God for discernment and heard crickets in the background.  I always wanted to exclaim, But how do you know you’re called?  

Suffice to say, I’ve pondered my friend’s question long before she asked it.  I usually find myself thinking about calling in one of two life scenarios–either before making a major decision, or in a season of difficulty and discouragement.  In the former scenario, I’m hoping not to make a mistake.  In the latter, I’m wondering if I already did.

The funny thing about “calling” is it’s deeply tied to our view of God.  The person who is wondering about calling is the person who is secretly hoping God actually has a plan for her life.  Secretly hoping she hasn’t somehow fallen out of His hands.  Secretly hoping He loves her enough to be intimately involved in the details of her life.  I should know, I am that person.  So instead of rambling on inconclusively with my friend, this is how I wish I would’ve answered her question:

Yes.  I believe God has a specific calling for every single person, including you and your husband.  I believe this because the God of the Bible is vastly personal, with the power to bestow wisdom (James 1:5), to direct your steps (Pro 16:9), and to equip you to do His will (Heb 13:21).  The God of the Bible is so completely sovereign that even the sparrows don’t fall to the ground apart from His will (Matt 10:29).  He most surely has a sovereign will for you and your husband–people created in His image, whom He rescued at tremendous cost.

BUT, the tricky thing is, He may not reveal it to you right now.  If there is one thing I have learned from this year’s BSF study on Genesis, it’s that callings from God are revealed and fulfilled in His timing.  Abraham waited twenty-five years for God to give him Isaac.  Joseph was seventeen years old when He had a vision of his brothers bowing before him, and he was thirty-nine years old when the vision came to pass.  Clearly the presence of waiting is not the absence of calling.  In fact, it might be the hallmark of it!  I cannot think of a single instance in the Bible where God revealed a calling in its entirety, and then fulfilled it immediately.  Which brings me to the second thing I’ve learned from our Genesis study: Callings from God are not free of suffering.  Look back at Joseph again.  It amazes me to think that while he sat in prison, he was in the very center of God’s will for his life.  I would’ve been begging, “Surely there is a plan B!  This cannot be Your plan for my life!”  But it was.  It just wasn’t the plan in its entirety–it was a piece of the plan.  It was a dark and painful season that transformed a cocky 17 year-old boy into the God-fearing governor of Egypt.  In other words, there is a purpose for the suffering!  There is a purpose for all the waiting, and all the painful growth.  It’s not a deviation from the plan; it’s part of it.  In the meantime, you can plant your hope firmly in the fact that callings from God are for His glory and our good.  All along, God loved Joseph.  All along, the plan was intended to glorify God and to bless Joseph, something Joseph himself understood when he told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20).

Dear sister (or brother), if you belong to God, you will never fall out of His hand.  You will never be big enough to thwart His will, or ruin His ability to use your life for His glory.  There is always a plan.  Even in the silence.

While you wait for God’s specific calling for your life to come together, the Bible overflows with His clearly revealed general calling for all people.  He has called us to holiness (I Thess 4:7), to share the gospel of Christ (Matt 28:18-20), to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), to love and forgive like Christ (Jn 13:34, Eph 4:32) to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances (I Thess 5:15-18).  God has called us to Himself.  To a relationship with Him, in which we become like Him by His own power and grace.  He has called us to surrender, to be at peace with the things we do not know because we are at peace with the One who controls them.

Lest you think I am writing this from a position of great comfort and security, I am not.  I am writing it from Joseph’s cell–from that place of quiet and painful patience.  But the more I do what Joseph did–embracing the season, serving the cupbearer and the baker and working with all my heart as unto the Lord–the more I see that this is a place of great freedom.  This is the place where fear runs and hides, because it is the place where you finally believe that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ.  It is the place where character deepens, faith blossoms, and hope overcomes.  It is the very center of God’s will.

10 Reasons You and Your Man Ought to Get Out of Town

10. So you can remember there’s more to the world than the happenings within your house.
more to world

9. So you can eat somewhere that doesn’t have a playground attached.
8. So you can be inspired.


7. So you can pretend you’re dating all over again.
dating collage 2

6. So you can sleep without interruption.

5. So you can get out of your house and see somebody else’s.
white house collage 2
4. So you can talk like grown-ups.


3. So you can hang out with people you love, even if they’re far away.

2. So you can re-connect with yourself, celebrating your own story as God has written it.
ww2 collage
1. So you can return to the routine refreshed, energized, and grateful, knowing that one of the best things you can do for them…

last collage…is to spend time with him.

Washington DC, 2013

What’s for Lunch?


I don’t know about you, but I think lunch is the most boring meal of the day.  I am always looking for a little inspiration beyond “deli meat or peanut butter?”  So let me share one of my favorite go-to lunches.  It’s easy to make, loaded with vegetables, and my kids love it.  Best of all, it can be made ahead of time and chilled, so when you walk through the door at 12:30 and everyone’s cranky and starving you can say, “There’s pasta salad in the fridge!”


Here is the super-simple method:

1. Choose your ingredients.  My family likes:

  • grilled chicken
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • red bell pepper
  • carrots
  • kidney beans
  • avocado
  • asparagus spears
  • grape or cherry tomatoes
    (sometimes I put all of this in, and sometimes I just use what I’ve got)

These are some other things you might like:

  • mushrooms
  • olives
  • artichokes
  • black beans

2. While you boil the noodles (I use tri-color rotini), set a steam tray over the pot and lightly steam the crunchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, asparagas, and carrots.)

3. Once you’ve drained the noodles, return them to the large pot and throw in the steamed vegetables.  Add the beans, grilled chicken, avocado, and any other uncooked vegetables (bell pepper, olives, mushrooms, tomatoes…etc.)

4. Toss with your favorite Italian dressing.  I either use Olive Garden dressing (bought from Sam’s Club), or Good Seasons Italian Salad Dressing & Recipe Mix, which you can buy at any local grocery store.  It comes with a glass jar that tells you how much water, vinegar, and oil to add.  Very delicious.

5. Chill and serve.
photo-8Bon appétit!

Secrets of a Sinful Mom

Today is Mother’s Day and I am thankful for many things.  The way my baby sticks her cutest-feet-in-the-universe right in my face whenever she sees nail polish.  The adoration of a toddler who’s seen me at my worst and for some reason still wants to be just like me.  My own mother, who makes me brave.  The fact that I married a man who’s sensitive enough to show me his heart, but strong enough to take care of mine.

I am thankful for Nutella, and the moms in the grocery store who don’t stare when my kids throw a tantrum, and the miracle of instant streaming.  I’m thankful for this blog, and the inventor of sweat pants, and frozen yogurt you can pretend is good for you.  For older women who don’t panic when I tell them my problems, and young moms who walk alongside me, and single girlfriends who still like to talk about boys.

But of all the things I am grateful for this Mother’s Day, most of all, I am grateful for grace.  Sometimes I think about “high school Jeanne”–who had a heart full of passion, a head full of idealism, and seldom lost her temper–and I wonder where on earth she’s gone.  I wonder how I went from daydreaming about impacting the world for Christ, to fantasizing about toys that pick themselves up, and espresso that can be directly injected into your veins.  The truth is, I have never seen the depth of my own sinfulness and unworthiness with as painful clarity as I’ve seen it in the last few years.  Of course it’s always been there, I’ve just never been “squeezed” enough to let it spew out quite so badly.  Let’s be honest, “high school Jeanne” did not have children who loved to crawl all over her, and test the boundaries, and stick tiny objects into the DVD player.  Instead, she had oodles of free time, and a mom who did her laundry.

But here’s the amazing thing about seeing how incredibly awful you actually are.  It makes grace look BIGGER than it’s ever looked before.  When you have a dirt-high view of your own righteousness, somehow it finally sinks in that you didn’t reach past this tiny gap, up into the presence of God.  Instead, He reached down, down, down, down, down to you.  The gap was gigantic–infinite.  Which means the grace is gigantic.  Infinite.  Now that is a reason to rejoice!  That is cause to smile, and celebrate, and throw your hands up high in worship!

The more I decrease in my own eyes, the more my Savior increases (John 3:30).  And the more I put my hope in Him, the less I have to prove.  I am a weak and sinful mother.  But I have a GREAT and MIGHTY God, who loves me with all His heart.  Today, more than anything, that is what I’m grateful for.  Until I am old and gray, that will be the joy of my heart and the song of my life.

May Favorites

BOOK: Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver
mary-heart[1]This is the kind of book I could (and probably should) read every year.  Rather than give you my synopsis, listen to this excerpt: “The life of a woman today isn’t really all that different from that of Mary and Martha in the New Testament.  Like Mary, you long to sit at the Lord’s feet…but the daily demands of a busy world just won’t leave you alone.  Like Martha, you love Jesus and really want to serve him…yet you struggle with weariness, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy.  Then comes Jesus, into the midst of your busy life, to extend the same invitation he issued long ago to the two sisters from Bethany.  Tenderly, he invites you to choose ‘the better part’–a joyful life of intimacy with him that flows naturally into loving service.”

I first read this book as a newlywed, struggling to see Jesus in the midst of all the tasks before me.  Now, as a mother, the challenge is even greater.  This book is eye-opening, encouraging, and well worth your precious time!

MOVIE: Life of Pi

Life-of-Pi-Ending-Explained[1]At least when Tom Hanks was shipwrecked and floating around on a raft, he had a volleyball for a companion…not an adult Bengal tiger.  Based on the best-selling novel, Life of Pi is the story of Piscine Patel–his embarrassing name, his quest for God, and his heroing fight for survival at sea in the company of Richard Parker.  Beneath the fascinating plot and breathtaking cinematography, this movie poses deep theological questions about skeptism versus faith.  While I don’t agree with all of Pi’s conclusions, I like that this movie asks the questions.

PRODUCT: See & Spell Letter Board by Melissa & Doug
This toy was a cousin hand-me-down and we love it!  It’s perfect for 3-4 year olds learning about letters, phonics, and forming words, not to mention a great quiet time activity.  Buy it on Amazon for $17.

ACTIVITY: Host a Homemade Pizza Party
This is an easy, inexpensive way to feed a lot of people, and have a lot of laughs and make a big mess doing it!  All you have to do is buy the ingredients and set up a few pizza making stations.  I bought the dough from the Publix bakery, but you could also make it from scratch.  This is an especially fun idea for a kid’s party since toddlers love to “cook”!
031044See you in June with more favorites!

Decorating Kids’ Rooms on a Budget

I’m no Martha Stewart, but there’s something really fun about decorating a kid’s room.  I still remember the first bedspread I picked out for my own room.  I remember decorating my first college dorm room, and I remember ordering my first baby quilt when I was pregnant with Aubrey.

Decorating seals memories into paper and fabric, pictures and paint.  It turns a house into a home, and a room into a haven.  And thankfully, it doesn’t have to break the budget!  Below are five easy ideas I’ve enjoyed in decorating my kids’ rooms, all of them budget-friendly!

1. Storybook Lanterns


I saw this Pottery Barn original idea at a friend’s baby shower, and LOVED it!  The lanterns are charming, whimsical, and a celebration of reading!  You can use baby books if you’re decorating a nursery, or brighter Dr. Seuss-style books for a kid’s room.  I also used several free Chick-fila kids’ meal books to cut back on cost.  I got the lanterns at Michaels–6 for $14.99 (use the weekly 40% off coupon, and they’ll be under $10).

2. Canvas Paintings
In both my kids’ rooms I started with a favorite quilt and coordinated everything around it.  When it came to buying the pricey owl artwork to match Heidi’s owl quilt, my artsy mother-in-law took one look at it and said, “You can paint that yourself!”  (gulp!)  Turns out I loved it!  Not only was it cheaper, I got to choose the size and shape of my canvases to fit my wall space.  I will definitely use this idea again!  (See the final product below!)

3. Personalized Letters
For some reason, I just love seeing my kids’ names on their bedroom walls.  (Maybe it’s because we took so ridiculously long to choose them!)   You can design your own adorable letters, or you can pay my talented friend Jaclyn Anderson to do it for you!


Another budget-friendly perk is that the letters can change with the room.  When Aubrey transitioned into a bed, we got a new quilt and I scraped off her letters then repainted and redecorated them.


4. Framed Artwork


P1060037Decorating with kids’ artwork is cheap, easy, and an extra-special compliment to the artist!  To make the Bible verse, we started by making Eric Carle prints, following directions from the imagination tree blog.  I cut the words out of the finished prints.

5.  Chalkboard Paint
This is a picture of our garage-turned-playroom.  It cost $9 to turn the entire lower portion of that wall into a chalkboard, and boy has it been worth it!  When kids come over, everybody can find a spot and go to town.  I’ve also seen people paint their kids’ closet doors with chalkboard paint, a really cute idea.  Just remember, chalk dust runs rampant, so it’s best if the room is not carpeted.