God’s Encouragement for Caregivers – Program 1

By: Joni Eareckson Tada, Ken Tada, Dr. Michael Easley, Cindy Easley; ©2013
Where can you turn for strength when a loved one is diagnosed with a chronic illness, or becomes disabled?

The Unique Role of the Caregiver

Ken Tada: There was a point where I had to sit on the edge of the bed one evening and just tell Joni, “I still love you, but I’m feeling trapped by the disability.”
How does God help and encourage those who are caring daily for loved ones who are suffering?
Joni Eareckson Tada: I saw his depression lift. I saw the fog begin to disappear. I saw a brightness in his eyes. I saw a smile that was from the heart. And I could tell that Ken thought I was that, quote, “precious gift” that God spoke to him about.
Michael Easley: As Ken cares for Joni, as Cindy cares for me, and you care for your friend or your mom or your dad or your sister or your child, that there is a ministry there that we can’t put 1, 2, 3 check marks on. But it’s a ministry God’s given you—to care for someone who cannot care for themselves. And it’s precious and powerful in His sight; and it’s influencing other people as they watch how Ken cares for Joni, how Cindy cares for me.
My guests today are Dr. Michael Easley, President Emeritus of Moody Bible Institute, and his wife, Cindy; as well as Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder of Joni & Friends, and her husband, Ken. Join us for this special edition of The John Ankerberg Show

John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’ve got a great one for you today. We have some wonderful guests that I want you to meet, Dr. Michael Easley and his wife Cindy. We’ve got Ken Tada and his wife Joni Eareckson Tada. And I’ll tell you what, this is a great topic.
Let me introduce it with two kind of frightening stories. One day my dad came home from the mission field; hadn’t been sick a day in his life, went in and his body was x-rayed. The doctor came out and told me his body is filled with cancer; tumors in his brain, every part of his body. “You need to tell him, John, in 90 days he’ll be dead.” I was, at that point became the caregiver, and they had never covered this topic in seminary and grad school. A couple of years later, after my mother watched her best friend die of Lou Gehrig’s disease, she went into the doctor’s office and the doctor told her, “You’ve got ALS.” And she had a clear picture of what the next 24 months were going to be.
We’re talking to those of you that have a mate, a wife, a husband, a parent, that has just heard the bad news. How does God help you when you have such news? And these folks have all been there. That’s why I call them the experts in pain, because they know these feelings. And I want to talk to them about it. And I want us to talk through the eyes of the care-givers. We’ve heard from those that are the ones that are suffering, but now the people that take care of the ones that are suffering, our next three programs is about them.
And, Cindy Easley, I’m so glad that you’re here. And I want you to take me back to the moment that it dawned on you, from what the doctor was saying, of what Michael was facing. Tell us what he was facing, and then how you programmed that in your head.
Cindy Easley: Well, probably his last most serious surgery was the scariest for me personally, because he did have a multilevel fusion in his neck. And, of course, with any surgery there are the possibilities of death because of complications. When the doctor first talked about those, I tend to not worry until I have to, so I kind of thought, you know what? I’ll face that if it happens. But then when he was in surgery the nurse had told me prior to surgery that she would come out within 15-30 minutes just to touch base, to tell me how things were going. And so he was wheeled away. I went into the waiting room. I knew that the surgery was supposed to begin at about 9 in the morning. So 9:15 passed and 9:30 passed and 9:45 passed and 10:00 passed.
And there was a phone there that the surgical suite would call in on occasionally to check with families. And I would hear patient’s family’s name called, and they’d go to the phone. And then there was also a TV screen that would give updates, you know, so and so is in recovery; so and so’s surgery is going well. Michael’s name never came up.
I began to panic, because I thought, “Oh Lord, in Your mercy, You have said, ‘Michael, come home, good and faithful servant,’” because I knew, the amount of pain he lived in, he would be just as happy to have gone home to heaven from that surgical table as to come back to me. And I had great fear. I began pacing. I finally asked someone to call the surgical suite. They did not answer, so, you know, I thought, “He’s crashing and they’re just trying to keep him alive.” And then I just had to throw myself on God’s mercy and say, “I don’t know what You have for me, but whatever You have for me I am willing to take. What choice do I have but to trust You?”
Ankerberg: Yeah. For the folks that have heard the bad news maybe this week or just recently, okay, what advice would you give them from having gone through that?
C. Easley: Take a deep breath and trust God. God knows exactly the situation you’re in. We have the God of compassion who has felt every single thing you’re feeling. And without a doubt He will be with you. I have no doubt that God will walk through anything I face. That’s one reason I don’t worry about things; because I think, “What is the worst that could happen in this situation?” And then my question is, I play that out in my mind, and then I ask myself, “Will God be there?” Yes, He’ll be there! And so, you know, with God I know I can walk through those things. Will I like it? No, not a bit! But with God’s support and help and reassurance and compassion and love and faithfulness, I can do it.
Ankerberg: What about the children? How did they take the news?
C. Easley: Well, you know, we have a range of children, and so I think the older ones were a little bit more aware. Our oldest daughter, who was in her 20’s at the time, she said that she woke up for a couple of weeks before the surgery crying in fear that her father would die. Our younger children, we really didn’t share as much with them; just why put them through a panic and scare? And as with most people, our children process all this information differently depending on who they are, whether they worry, whether they don’t worry. I think through the surgery itself they were a little bit more panicked. Of course, they fed off of what I felt. But, you know, we saw God bring him through, thankfully, and brought him home.
Ankerberg: How did you feel when you saw Michael suffering so much? How did you think about God?
C. Easley: You know, Michael has said that he’s never asked why. I ask why all the time. You know, “Lord, why? This man was in the pinnacle of his ministry. Why not free him to completely take Moody Bible Institute to the next level? Or even in preaching, whatever. Lord, why, why him? Why did You choose him?” There’s no answer for that. I’m not getting an answer, and that’s okay. And then it’s just trusting, “Lord, You know the tapestry of our lives. We don’t.” I don’t think we will have any comprehension how God is using Michael’s pain in his life, in our immediate family’s lives, and then on, until we’re in heaven. And at some point I’ve accepted that; that, you know, “I’m okay with that, Lord. I trust You to do what You see fit to do.”
Ankerberg: Did you think of the moment, when the nurse and the doctor were not reporting back to you, what went through your mind if you thought the Lord took him? What about you?
C. Easley: What will I do now? And not in a “how will I be provided for,” but “what will I do without my best friend?” You know, one of the things for Michael that’s been very hard is that there are so many things with that pain that he can’t do that he used to do. And I tell him all the time, I couldn’t care less about that. I mean, we can get someone to mow our lawn, but I need you. I talk to him about everything that I think, that I feel, about my business. I use him as a sounding board for everything. And what would I do without that? I want to grow old with him.
Ankerberg: Michael, James says, “Count it all joy when you encounter various trials.” Now I’m saying, come on, you know what? Paul says, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” And you’ve talked about this many times in your sermons. If you’re looking at your circumstances to get your theology, you’re in big trouble. But even so, I’m saying, count it all joy?
Dr. Michael Easley: Joni nor I would say the moment we learn our news we were, “Oh, praise Jesus. This is wonderful!” You know, John, that’s probably one of the most misinterpreted passages about suffering in the Bible. Because what James is saying there as he continues is, “Count it all joy when you encounter various trials,” a long parenthesis, “that endurance may have its perfect result.” Or to say it another way, we go through the trial and through that we learn and gain an endurance we would not have otherwise. Know that when you face a trial you’re going to go through this; you’re going to learn endurance. And that endurance will have a result so that when the next trial comes I can smile at it a little easier because I know God gave me an endurance I did not have apart from that trial.
Ankerberg: Yeah, another verse, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” But you’re the one that’s suffering.
M. Easley: That verse has been a treasure to me. It’s called a chiasm, a perfect x; and the middle of it juxtaposes glory and suffering. And as Christ repeatedly said, “I have to go to the Father to suffer before I can attain glory.” And in an infinitesimal way in the human realm, human condition, folks without caregivers, folks who are alone and struggling and suffering, there is a way; I don’t understand the fabric of that. Cindy talked about the tapestry. But there’s a way, if we face it by faith, that Christ is using that, in that it is momentary and light affliction. Once we cross that threshold to the eternal weight of glory, it’ll blow our minds what that celestial life will be like.
Ankerberg: You know, there’s a lot of evidence about Jesus’ resurrection, His claims, the historicity of the Bible, and so on, that you can use in terms of launching off to put your faith in Christ. You’ve got a solid evidential basis. Now we’re talking about the circumstances of life and the biblical position there, when you’re walking day by day, you’re doing this by faith, not by sight. And the world says, “If I can see it then I can believe it.”
M. Easley: Totally.
Ankerberg: But the fact is, the spiritual man says, “I’ll believe God’s Word whether I can see it or not. And, in fact, even if the evidence looks to be the contrary to me, I’ll believe it.” Talk about that a little bit.
M. Easley: Yeah, faith is “confident assurance of things hoped for, with the conviction of things not yet seen.” I trust something I cannot see. And that’s what He has asked of us. That’s what He esteemed Thomas, you know, “Blessed are those who see and believe, but much more those who believe without seeing.” And the life of faith is counter-cultural, it’s counter-sociology. But what’s my option, to trust in my own machinations, my own systems, my own props and medical community, one more set of medications that doesn’t do what they hope it will do? So do I trust, does Joni, does Ken, does Cindy, do we trust in Christ and Christ alone in that? And that’s the place of comfort, even when the pain is so loud.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break. When we come back we’re going to talk about Joni and Ken, An Untold Love Story. And Ken, I’m going to ask you about the details. Stick with us, we’ll be right back.

Ankerberg: Welcome back. We’re talking with Dr. Michael Easley and his wife Cindy, and we’re talking with Ken Tada and his wife Joni Eareckson Tada. And, Ken, the book, got it on the screen right now. I’ll tell you, it’s a beautiful picture of a couple in love, okay. And it’s a love story, The Untold Love Story. And it really is a terrific book. And I wish we could spend almost two hours just talking about how you wooed this girl, because she was playing hard to get, even in a wheelchair. I mean, it’s really rugged to get to her, but you did. And she gave her heart to you, and you loved her. And you thought in every possible way you knew what you were getting into. And then you’re teaching school, you’re coaching football. She’s traveling worldwide. You’re traveling with her as much as you can. And the tediousness of the schedule was starting to get to you. And you talk in the book about the testing years. Other people in our audience right now, they’re already there. Talk to them a little bit. What were you experiencing?
Ken Tada: Well, I knew I had married someone with a disability, but the reality of it came about a year into our marriage. The 24/7 was just starting to take its toll. And, you know, it’s interesting, but I didn’t think about, you know, the shopping, the other things that guys would usually allow their wives to do. But it fell on me, as far as that responsibility. And then the turning at night; it was every night. The turning, you know, turning someone with a disability isn’t, well, you can be asleep in the middle night, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, and I get the call from the other side of the bed, you know, “Ken, I’ve got to turn.” So I get out of bed, half asleep, still dark, and then I’ve got to reposition Joni. And repositioning means taking pillows, tucking them behind her on one side and then making sure her legs are in the proper position, but doing this while I’m half asleep and then trying to get back to sleep again. And then, maybe in a couple hours, it happens again. And then on top of that, I’ve got to go to school. I’ve got to go teach.
So this is the way it was for that first year. And there was a point where I had to sit on the edge of the bed one evening and just tell Joni, “Joni, I’m feeling trapped. You know, this is all just starting to take its toll. And I still love you, but I’m feeling trapped by the disability.” A few years into our marriage another thing became a trial in terms of our relationship. And that was, Joni’s always been in pain, but she became, there was a pain that we didn’t understand. It was in her back and it was getting worse. In fact, on a trip into Europe at a friend’s house in Holland, it’s the first time Joni’s ever done this. She was at the dinner table and she said, “You know what? I can’t, I can’t do this. I can’t handle this. I’ve got to go lay down.” It’s the first time that she’s done that, that I could recall. And we had to take her into a separate room and lay her down. And, you know, she said, “I’m just in pain. I just can’t handle this.” And I told her, “Then when we get back, let’s go check out the doctors. Let’s find out what’s wrong.” And when we got back to the States, you know, we went through all the examinations. Nobody could really tell us exactly what was wrong.
Ankerberg: Yeah, because you had it in you, you were going to figure this one out, Ken.
K. Tada: Oh, we were trying, yeah.
Ankerberg: But you did every test you possibly could, and yet they couldn’t tell you. But she’s got this hellish, searing pain that’s killing her on top of all else that you’re going through.
K. Tada: We thought it was the gall bladder. We thought it was a broken bone. We thought, you know, we had all these different things that we were trying to find out if that was the cause of the pain. And we never really did find out what the actual cause was. But we know the pain was still there.
Ankerberg: Why did this push you guys apart?
K. Tada: I think one of the things that happened was, you know, those turns that we were talking about?
Ankerberg: Yeah.
K. Tada: They became more. Rather than just one or two turns a night, became four and five turns a night. And I understand what sleep deprivation means. I was just getting tired. And Joni was, we were trying different types of medications. One medication was just causing her to be very, very anxious. And so that made it a little bit more tense between the two of us, because it wasn’t…
Ankerberg: Yeah. Joni, talk about that, because in the book, here you are one of the strongest Christians I know, and you talked about this anxiety that was clawing at you. And it’s almost like evil spirits were trying to get at you and it was just darkness and it was a creepy feeling.
Joni Tada: Sometimes the side effects of pain medication are worse than the pain. And it was difficult to live with the pain that Ken described, but the side effects drove me over the edge. And I said to Ken one night, “I’ve got to get off this stuff. This stuff is not good.” And so Ken took me to see a different pain doctor and he prescribed a step down program, and slowly I was able to wean myself off of that particular pain medication. And I’ve never been on serious pain medication since. I have to manage my pain other ways now. The way I sit in my wheelchair, the kind of seat cushion I have, the kind of back support, the kind of corset I wear, how much water I drink, how deeply I breathe, how often I stretch. Those are the sorts of ways I manage pain now.
Ankerberg: But you were trapped too.
J. Tada: Oh, yes!
Ankerberg: You’re both trapped. You’re trying to take care of her, and she’s trying to feel better, but she can’t. And why did this drive you apart? Just because of the routine just wore you out?
J. Tada: I think that the sleep deprivation for Ken became overwhelming, and that made me feel all the more guilty: that I was driving my husband into a bewildered depression that I saw him sink deeper into every night as nights would go on and my pain would worsen. At one point, and I think I shared this on one of the other programs, Ken sat by the edge of the bed and said, “I give up. I can’t do this. I’m trapped. I’m just trapped. I can’t stand the psychological pressure.” And I said to him, “Oh, sweetheart, if I were you I’d feel exactly the same way. So I’m not going to fault you or blame you. I’m going to hang in here with you, and let’s get closer to Jesus. Let’s just hang on to Jesus.” Because we felt like we were in the middle of a whirlpool of depression and anxiety and pain and daily routines and nonstop 24/7 cycle of disability requirements that were just driving us crazy. And we just clung to each other and decided, we’ve got to get closer to Jesus.
Ankerberg: Yeah, I love, Ken, that one night when you’re turning, turning, turning and getting up and so on, and you finally say, man, there was tension between you guys and you said, “We can’t go on with this tension,” and then you said, “We need to pray.” And Joni says, “I don’t feel like praying.” You said, “That’s why we need to pray.”
J. Tada: That’s why we need to pray.
Ankerberg: And I loved that. That was terrific.
K. Tada: And you know, John, it was Jesus. It was Jesus throughout this whole struggle that kept us together. And yeah, I told Joni we need to pray, because we knew that that was what we needed at that particular moment in time.
J. Tada: But isn’t it true, Ken, even now—and I manage my pain much better—don’t you feel the same desperate requirement of Jesus?
K. Tada: Oh, yeah!
J. Tada: We’re not going to lose that sweet tender clinging to Christ that the pain pushed us into. And although I’m managing pain better now, and although I’m only having to wake up once during the night, still,…
K. Tada: You still cling to Jesus.
Ankerberg: Yeah, let me ask it this way, Ken, because this is about people hearing the bad news and then starting to realize what they’re facing. You’ve heard bad news multiple times, okay. What’s your advice to people that maybe have heard, “I’ve got cancer,” or, you know, their mate’s got cancer, or their mate’s got Alzheimer’s, or their mate’s got name it, okay? What do you say to those folks as they start in that process?
K. Tada: I think the first thing is just take a deep breath. Realize that, well, for me, I can say that I had long conversations with God when I first heard that Joni had cancer. And all throughout this journey I think Jesus has been influential in keeping my focus. If it wasn’t for Jesus I don’t know where I’d go.
Ankerberg: Right. What we’re going to do, this is just the first part of the story where they heard the bad news basically. It isn’t the worst part. The worst part is going to be next week where we’re talking about the duration, the stuff you guys live with all the time doesn’t stop getting worse, okay. And, folks, the reason is, is some of you as caregivers, you’re taking care of somebody you love and they’re getting worse and you’re getting worn down. Where is God? And I’m telling you, God has helped these folks, and I want them to tell you that story. And I hope that you’ll join us next week.

Read Part 2


  1. […] God’s Encouragement for Caregivers – Program 1 By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Michael Easley, Joni Eareckson Tada, Ken Tada, Cindy Easley […]

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