God’s Encouragement for Caregivers – Program 2

By: Joni Eareckson Tada, Ken Tada, Dr. Michael Easley, Cindy Easley; ©2013
How can you cope with the stress of 24/7/365 care of a loved one living with a chronic condition? What do you do when it just gets to be too much?

Enduring as a 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

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’re talking about, are you taking care of somebody that you love, maybe your mom, your dad, maybe it’s your husband, your wife, or maybe it’s a child with disability or something else. And you’ve been doing it awhile, and you’re into the routine and you’re into the grind, and you wonder what happened to your life. And it’s starting to affect you, and you might be getting depressed. We’re going to talk about that. We’ve got the caregivers here to people that are suffering right now, and they’ve been taking care of them for quite a long time. And I want them to talk to you about what they’ve gone through and what they’ve learned about the Lord and how the Lord has helped them so the Lord can help you. And my guests are, as I said, Dr. Michael Easley, Cindy Easley his wife; and Ken Tada, Joni Eareckson Tada. And I’m going to come to your book, Cindy. It’s a great book, Dancing with the One You Love. I asked if that was a picture of you and Michael.
C. Easley: No, it is not.
Ankerberg: But in the preface of the book I found these words, fantastic words, “To Michael. Thank you for your sacrificial love and for encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone. I will follow you anywhere.” Now, where you have followed him is interesting. He’s the president of Moody Bible Institute; he is speaking in conferences across the country; he is on the radio; he is counseling students at the school; he’s got the Moody Radio Network that he’s watching over. All of this, okay. And then his pain, you noticed that his pain’s getting worse. Alright, let’s stop right there. When you saw the pain when he was the president at Moody Bible Institute, he’s traveling. How did it build up here?
C. Easley: Well, he came to Moody with back pain to start with. But his commute, his constant travel exacerbated that pain, and eventually; you know, all through these years, for 10 or 12 years before that, he had been chasing different ways to alleviate his pain, both through surgery and non-surgical methods, some of which were incredibly painful in and of themselves. And every time he did something, whether it was a medical procedure or surgery or a new drug he’d try, you know, I always thought, “Lord, let this be it. Let this remove his pain.” It wasn’t really until his last surgery when that did not remove his pain, and this was after Moody, that I realized, you know what? This is it. This is our new normal. He will be in pain the rest of his life.
Ankerberg: Okay, Michael, for the people that don’t know what you have, describe it briefly. I’m coming right back to you here.
M. Easley: It’s under a big umbrella called degenerative disc disease. And so basically your vertebrae, your discs, the nerve transmissions in your back, for a lot of reasons are being compressed, irritated. So there’s a lot of pain that they can’t really address. Not unlike Joni, there are just some pain they can’t address. So you deal with shooting, searing, dull, aching pain pretty much 24/7.
Ankerberg: Yeah, on a scale of 1-10 you’re usually cruising at what?
M. Easley: A six or a seven. If I get, Joni and I were saying if we get below a five it’s a banner day.
J. Tada: Great day.
M. Easley: But you have to learn not to bite people’s heads off, to be civil. And so that’s why you’re always looking for some way to manage it and sort of get it under control a little bit.
Ankerberg: Alright, so he’s president of Moody, and I can remember having lunch with him when the pain was just flowing out, okay. I said, “Michael, you can’t stay there. You can’t keep doing it. You can’t keep this schedule. I don’t know how you’re doing it.” What were you saying at home?
C. Easley: Well, his surgeon was saying the same thing. “You can’t do this anymore. It’s killing you.” It took me a little bit to get to that, because we had, you know, in moving from northern Virginia, from the DC area, to Chicago, was a really big deal for our family. And I just was, it took me a while to go, “You know what, you can’t do this.” I kept thinking, well something is going to fix this. Certainly God is not going to bring us here to have you leave so quickly, when you have so many things you would like to achieve for Moody. Not personally, but ways that he had ideas that would impact Moody to vault it on to the next level. And after a while it became apparent to me, you know what, that is selfish.
Ankerberg: When did it turn the corner?
C. Easley: I think probably after surgery. He had his second surgery. In fact, every place we’ve lived we’ve had surgery. And so I’ve told him we can’t ever move again, because it seems he has to try out the new medical facilities. But it was after the second surgery, or the first surgery in Chicago, that I thought, this will fix it. And when I realized it didn’t, I thought, yeah, he cannot manage this pain level and be president of this institution.
Ankerberg: Describe how your life changed, quickly.
C. Easley: Well, you know, one of the things was that Michael and I made the decision that I should go into a full time work. I had been writing and speaking and developing that ministry. And so I switched to a new ministry in real estate—which is every bit a ministry—because our concern is that there’s going to come a point in time that he cannot work, and I need to be able to provide our income. So at that point that’s one thing that changed. The other thing is that I have to be very careful to watch his pain level. When Michael comes up the stairs at night I know just looking at him. Two things, his eyes and his limp; if he’s limping, then I know that I need to back off and give him space. I kind of tell our kids, “Dad’s not having a good day. This is not the time to tell him all your problems. Let him have space to deal with his pain.” Because there’s nothing we can do, and that is probably my hardest thing. I feel so helpless.
Ankerberg: Yeah, there are times when his pain level does go up there, eight or nine, and what does he do?
C. Easley: He removes himself. He either goes to the basement or will turn on a news channel and just watch news. And I can tell by his focus that he’s trying everything in his being just to be in the moment.
Ankerberg: How do you feel when he does that?
C. Easley: Frightened, honestly; because there’s nothing I can do. You know, I just so badly; I’ve told him, “I wish I could take your pain for a day or a week or a month.”
M. Easley: I’d give it to you. I’d trade!
C. Easley: I know you would! And I would gladly take it to give him relief. He never can get relief. And the thing that’s so hard for our children and for many people is, unless you know him and can see it in his eyes and his body, you know, he looks whole and fine and gorgeous, so people don’t get that he’s in pain. I know it because he tells me, and I see it when other people can’t. And I’d give anything to take it from him for a day.
Ankerberg: Alright, he’s sitting on the couch with you one day, and tears are coming down. You tell the story. Get me up to the point where she talked.
M. Easley: It was before the first surgery, and I’m crying like a child, in more pain than I had ever been in before, and on all the major drugs. And the side effects, as Joni has alluded to, are horrendous. And I didn’t know if I could go on. I did not see how I could function in life. And I asked her the question: “How in the world do we go on?” And she doesn’t remember this, but she said to me, and I’ve got it burned in my mind, she goes, “All I know is that I look back and God has been faithful to this day. Why would He not be faithful in the future?”
Ankerberg: Yeah, and the reason you don’t remember that is because that’s just part of the way you think. Isn’t that true?
C. Easley: Yeah. That’s right.
Ankerberg: In other words, that’s how you think all the time.
C. Easley: That’s right. Whenever I have doubts I sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” to myself. You know, what beautiful words, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Your compassions they fail not.” God’s compassions are always there for me. “As Thou hast been Thou forever will be. Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see.” And isn’t it so true, or at least for me? My greatest fear, my greatest anxiety, is always at night. “Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.” That is so true in our life. We have never needed anything that God has not come through in. “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God to me.”
Ankerberg: What do you say to folks that are in this duration period where it’s not getting better? He’s not getting better. You’re just glad he’s walking.
C. Easley: Yeah, that’s true.
Ankerberg: Okay, but he had to cut back. He had to resign from Moody. He’s preaching at a fantastic church a certain amount of Sundays every year. He’s taken a few excursions like this and to some conferences. He’s better today, I think, than he’s ever been in terms of his speaking abilities. And yet, you’re seeing the fact of, what did you say? Your backbone the doctor said is what?
M. Easley: Your spine is 80 years old.
Ankerberg: So he’s living with an 80-year-old spinal column here, fused, in pain. What’s your advice to people that are feeling the same thing? How do they go on? How do you guys have joy every day?
C. Easley: Some days, honestly, we don’t have joy. When we have joy it’s because we are walking intimately with Jesus. That’s the only way you get it in this. And for me it was accepting. It wasn’t looking for the next thing to fix him; it was knowing that this was our new normal, and that was okay. You know what? You don’t have to feel okay to be okay. Because of the Lord God’s compassion; because He is with me every step of the way; because He is faithful to me, to Michael; we’re okay. We’re okay. I have God’s peace. I have His presence. What more do I need?
Ankerberg: One final thing, Michael. When you do go down to the basement, what do you do down there?
M. Easley: Read, hole up. There’s no TV down there. It’s my cave, my office. And I have my books and my Bible software and my texts, and I just sort of monk down. And I’ve found lingering long in the Word is the best place for me. I don’t want to necessarily; I don’t have a super-spiritual, “I’m going to go do this.” But I’ve found that’s the one place where the intimacy grows, a long time in the Word.
Ankerberg: We’re going to take a break. When we come back we’re going to talk to the love birds over here, Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada. And, Ken, I’m going to come back and I want to talk about the routine. If anybody’s got a routine, you’ve been in this routine. And, folks out there, they want to know, how do you get through taking care of Joni day after day after day. And, Joni, how can you keep your spirits up when you are having this searing pain? And we’re going to talk about the series of blows that come to you guys. Stick with us. We’ll be right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re 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 we’re talking about this love story that you guys have, fabulous love story. But you are dealing with problems that very few people have to deal with. And yet, your love for each other; your love for the Lord; this thing was pounding you right in the ground. It was killing you off, both of you. You were both at a spot becoming depressed. Tell me why, because a lot of folks in our audience want to know why.
K. Tada: Well, John, I think the routines finally started to settle in, that 24/7: there was the washing and drying the clothes, the getting ready for dinners, all the things that I would have thought at one point that my wife would do. Now, I realize that Joni’s disabled, but still I had that in the back of my mind. Buying medical supplies, making sure that Joni was equipped properly that way. And then there was always that nighttime routine. We had personal care routines. There were actually toileting routines, to be honest. But also then we had the turning at night. And at first, that first year, the turning was, okay, I could get used to this. But it became more and more wearing. I mean, there was a lot to wake up in the middle of the night, turn Joni once. You know, reset the pillows, make sure her legs are in the proper position. But then to do it twice, that was okay. You know, I had to go to school in a couple hours and I had to get back to sleep. So it was waking up and trying to get back to sleep again. And then finally, you know, with Joni developing this pain issue that came about in our marriage, I was doing this four, five, six times a night. And at one point I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.” This is just getting to be too wearing on me, and it was straining our relationship.
Ankerberg: So what did you do?
K. Tada: Well, I took some time, asking for help, you know. I have to tell you, I couldn’t do this on my own. I had to ask others for help and not feel bad about that. I had to take time for myself, just to go out and exercise, just to have some time apart from the daily routines. I spent some time with some very close friends who called me every day to check on me, a couple guys that I know, and dear brothers in Christ. And the biggest thing was getting closer to Christ. Jesus became so much more real to me.
Ankerberg: In your devotions, along somewhere in that time period, God started talking to you. What did He tell you?
K. Tada: He did. You know, I’ve never been one to understand what it meant by when other guys would say, “Well, I heard God’s voice.” I’ve never heard an audible voice. But I remember on a fishing trip once, I went out and a gentleman challenged us. He said, “Go out and hear God’s voice.” And I went out, and I could tell you exactly where I was. And I heard God say, for the first time, “Joni’s the most precious gift I’ve given you. You take care of her.”
Ankerberg: What’d you think? I mean, you were already taking care of her.
K. Tada: Well, at that point I didn’t understand what it meant. I mean, exactly, “I’m taking care of her, God. What else do You want me to do?” It wasn’t until a few years later that it finally came together and I understood.
Ankerberg: What happened?
K. Tada: Well, that’s when Joni was diagnosed with cancer. And, you know, there was this moment where I realized, I may lose my best friend. And then at the same time I realized at that point, “God, this is what You were talking about, you know. ‘Joni’s the most precious gift I’ve given you. You take care of her.’”
Ankerberg: And you punched in, Ken. I mean, you, all of a sudden you changed in a big time way. What was the change that everybody saw?
K. Tada: Well, the change was I was going to fight for my wife. If we’re going to go down this road of cancer together, this journey, I was going to be her advocate. You know, I was going to be the guy that was going to be there for all of her appointments, be able to, you know, to talk to the doctors, the nurses, the staff, whoever it was. I was going to be there and make sure that the decisions that were made were made in the best interest of my wife. And I think for us at that point, it brought us closer together, for Joni and I. She realized for the first time that I really was going to fight for her.
Ankerberg: When did you realize something was happening here?
J. 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. I saw it in his demeanor. He just, even through my chronic pain, because my pain persisted even through cancer, he was able somehow to manage all that. And I look at Ken, and I think what happened, from my perspective, I think the utter helplessness, the bewilderment of what Cindy was just saying—not being able to do anything, not being able to help, not being able to take the burden—I saw that that was what drove him to Jesus Christ. And that’s not a bad thing. When we come to Jesus saying, “I can’t do this. I can’t do the care-giving. Oh, my goodness, I can’t do the quadriplegia.” But don’t be ashamed of it. It can be the very thing that’ll drive you into the Savior’s arms. I saw that in Ken.
Ankerberg: I love this one story you told in the book, okay. You’re taking her to the airport. This is after the Lord told you, you know, take care of her. So you’re going to take care of her, okay. She wants to go on this trip and you’re on the freeway in Los Angeles, and you stop and the suitcases fell and tipped her chair over and her leg was at an odd angle and you thought, oh man, something’s got to be wrong. Maybe something’s broken. What did you do then?
K. Tada: Well, first of all, John, Joni never sits forward and back in the van. We always have her sitting sideways, just because of something like this might happen. And this time she said, “Oh, Ken, I want to be able to sit forward and back so I can look out.” I said, “Joni, that’s not such a great idea.” And I didn’t say it that nicely. And so I thought I’ve got to back off a little bit here; I said okay. So I more or less, you know, gave in. And so we set her forward and back in the van. And we got into some traffic and I had to jam on those brakes. And when I jammed on the brakes the luggage, as you just mentioned, John, caught Joni from the back and it tipped her wheelchair forward, and her leg got trapped underneath the wheelchair.
And our friend that was in the van with us said, “Oh, Ken, you know, Joni’s….” Well, I said at that point, I can’t do anything right now. So we moved over to the side of the freeway. We readjusted Joni. Joni has a way of showing that she’s in pain. She sweats on half of her face. And so we got her back upright and we asked, “Joni, are you getting any sweats?” And she said no, so I said, “Joni, I think we should go home.” And, you know, her responsibilities on this particular trip were such that she said, “No, I think I need to go on this trip.” So we kept on going to the airport. And by the time we got to the airport, you know, basically I asked her again. She said she didn’t have any sweats. She got on the plane, and that’s when she started reacting.
Ankerberg: You get all the way to Baltimore. You’re flying across the country and all of a sudden you’re up there and you realize you are breaking out in the sweats, and your leg is swelling up, and you’re saying you’re in big trouble. They put ice on your leg. You get to Baltimore, and where do they take you?
J. Tada: Well, I want our friends to understand who are watching that Ken was not on that trip with me. He dropped me off at the airport, so I’m on the plane by myself with my friend. And they called ahead to BWI Emergency, Anne Arundel County General Hospital sent an ambulance, and they whisked me off to the hospital and x-rayed my leg. And sure enough, it was broken. And it was about 2:00 in the morning by the time they got the x-ray results. And I remember the nurse dialing the cell phone so I could speak to Ken. I wanted to give him this report. And the first thing he said to me was, “I’m on the next plane. I’m out of here. I’m coming, Joni, to be with you tomorrow.” I said, “Oh no, Ken. That’s okay, you don’t have to.” But inside, those were the sweetest words to hear, that my husband wanted to be with me. So I’m protesting, saying, “Oh no, you don’t have to go to all that effort.” But inside I’m saying, “Come, come.” And it was the most wonderful feeling to see that he wanted to be with me.
Ankerberg: And you came all the way across the country. But that event, and your willingness to do that and to be there, it kind of started melting both of your hearts again, and God started to work. But we’ve still got more bad news to come, okay. And that’s where we’re going to go next week. Michael, for folks that are living in the duration, I need about a 45 second word of advice from scripture to those folks that are living, the caregivers that are really hurting right now. They’re taking care of people they love, but they’re at their wits’ end.
M. Easley: In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 Paul does this marvelous exposition of affliction and comfort. And he goes back and forth, that the affliction we’re experiencing is for your comfort. And I think in the big picture, whether you’re a single person dealing with pain, or someone is helping you, or the caregiver, that’s a great passage for your harbor: that somehow the afflictions of life minister to others in a way we do not understand. And 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.
Ankerberg: Folks, you won’t want to miss next week. We’re going to talk about coming toward the finish. These guys have almost died a couple times already, okay. If you’re the caregiver, what’s the caregiver thinking? “I’m going to lose my best friend;” “I don’t know if I can live without this guy,” okay. We’re going to talk about, where does God help you at that spot? And we’re going to talk to those of you that are in that situation right now. So I hope you’ll join us next week.

Read Part 3


Leave a Comment