Making a Marriage Grow: An Interview with Joni Eareckson Tada

This post is adapted from a conversation I had with Joni at True Woman ’12.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Your relationship got off on an interesting start on your first date. Tell us what happened.

Joni Eareckson Tada (laughing): We’re at the restaurant and Ken is cutting up my shrimp, placing the napkin on my lap, putting the special spoon in my arm splint. I’m so nervous and thirsty, so I ask him to keep giving me drinks. After the second glass of water, I realized, Hello. Duh. Joni, where was your head? (I wear an indwelling catheter, and my bladder empties into a bag attached to the side of my leg.)

I look down, and I know I’m going to spring a leak on this nice carpet. So I had to ask Ken to empty my leg bag. He was game. He thought it was a bit awkward, but he was game. He pushes me to the restroom alcoves, and I said, “I’m not going into the men’s room.” He said, “You think I’m going to go into the ladies’ room?”

So we went outside and found a tree. As Ken was emptying my bag on that tree, he started humming this little ditty: “Where Joni goes, nothing grows.”

Right away, I thought, Here is a man I could like. Here was a guy who loved Christ and who had a real sense of humor about my disability.

I could tell so many stories about him. Actually, we just finished writing a book that came out this month called Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story. It’s really his story.
Nancy: I had a chance to read a pre-release version. I think it is going to be a great encouragement and blessing, especially to those who may be facing some challenges in their marriage. Can you remember one of the first disappointments in your marriage?

Joni: Well, yes. We married in July; the honeymoon ended the first Monday night in September. Ken promised me that afternoon that he would serve as my hands to help me with my Kay Arthur Precept Bible study.

So there I am after dinner, all set up at the table. I’ve got Kay Arthur’s Bible study, my Bible, a pink pen, yellow pen, green pen, and purple pen. And there is Ken over at the refrigerator loading up his arms with Ortega chili and salsa, chips, and Coke. And he heads into the living room to spend the night with Al Michaels and Dan Dierdorf and Monday Night Football.

I’m sitting there thinking, Oh, God, I’ve married the wrong man. Oh, he is not a man of Your Word. He doesn’t care about Your Word.

I nagged, cajoled, whined, and complained. I even I skinned his shins with the foot pedals of my wheelchair! Now that’s embarrassing.

Those were the bad old days. We laugh about them now, but it was not pleasant then. We would argue, he would shut the door, and I was stuck. I couldn’t go anywhere. After a couple of those arguments, I thought, This isn’t going to work.

So I came across Philippians 2:4 where the Holy Spirit was telling me not to do anything out of vain conceit (“I’m better than my husband”) or selfish ambition (“I’m going to make it my goal to change my husband”)—but in humility of mind, I should consider Ken better than myself. So I decided that for the rest of the football season, I would pray for my husband. Every Monday night for about three hours ’til the fourth quarter, I prayed for my husband. And a miracle happened.

The last week of January, Super Bowl Sunday, I became a football fan. Honestly, where did that come from? I was so amazed. You know, we always pray for other people, and God ends up changing our own heart.

Nancy: And God certainly has used the differences and difficulties in your marriage to make both you and Ken more like Jesus. I love the way you and Ken are so open in sharing that journey in your new book. After thirty years of marriage, how do you keep the relationship fresh?

Joni: I let my husband keep his best buddies. I used to be jealous of his friends. He would be doing a Bible study on the phone with Pete Lubisich, and I would hear him say in really friendly tones, “Oh, Pete, you’ve got such a great heart.” He’d hang up the phone saying, “I love ya, man.”

I’m thinking, I never hear that. Why don’t you say I’ve got a great heart?

I used to be so jealous of Pete Lubisich. But where was my head? This man was getting my husband deeper into the Word. Why was I envious of that? I thank God for Pete Lubisich now. I love Pete Lubisich.

I also let Ken keep his dreams. I think it’s important that my husband go fly-fishing. In fact, I encourage him to. Sometimes when things get a little testy, I ask, “Isn’t it time for you to go fly-fishing?”

I’m his best cheerleader. I may not be able to whip him up an omelet, fold his underwear, iron his shirts, or make his bed. But you know what? I can cheer him on. I can applaud him. I can praise him. I can pray for him. I can bless him. I can love him. I can defend his reputation. I can affirm him.

For instance, we have a neighbor who is dealing with cancer. Ken went over and gave some wonderful words of encouragement to him. When he came back, I said, “Ken, bless your heart. That was thoughtful, considerate, and Christ-like. I respect you for that. That really speaks to me. Thank you for that example.”

That’s practicing godly affirmation.

So find that tiny Christ-like characteristic that’s barely in your husband’s heart. Start nurturing it, praying over it, affirming it. When your husband does something that’s worth commendation, give him words of affirmation. Tell him how much you respect and admire him for that. And then let his example speak to you.

I think that’s a good way to make a marriage grow.

About the Author

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through two nationally syndicated radio programs heard each day—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him. Her books have sold more than five million copies. Through her writing, podcasts, … read more …

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