God’s Encouragement for Caregivers – Program 3

By: Joni Eareckson Tada, Ken Tada, Dr. Michael Easley, Cindy Easley; ©2013
What can you do when it sinks in your loved one is nearing the point of death? How do you prepare to let them go?

Facing Uncertainty and Grief 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’ve got a great one for you today. We’ve got Dr. Michael Easley and his wife Cindy, and we’ve Ken Tada and his wife Joni Eareckson Tada. And I want to start with Ken and Joni today. Look at that cover. Boy, you talk about a good looking couple. Man, oh man. And in love; and that’s the way they are. I’ll tell you, they are in love, but it’s been tough sledding. You guys have been married what, 31 years? Somewhere in….
K. Tada: 31 years.
Ankerberg: 31 years. She’s been in that wheelchair 46. She’s had searing pain for last 12. In 2010 she came down with cancer. Last week we left the folks where she had flown across the country with a broken leg. You didn’t want her to go; she went, because you didn’t know if she had it or not. It started swelling up on the plane and you called from Los Angeles to Baltimore, and what did you tell this woman, because you melted her heart just by what you said?
K. Tada: Well, first of all, I mean, I said, “Joni, I’m coming over there now.” And she was protesting at the time, but I could tell in the way that she said it that that was just exactly the right thing to do. And so I ended up flying the next day. And it set the table for us. I mean, you know, Joni, for the first time saw that I really meant what I said, that I wanted to be there so that I could help her. And I was so sorry for the fact that she did break her leg. And I think it also set the table for when we got the diagnosis for cancer.
Ankerberg: Yeah, we’re talking to folks who are approaching the finish, and you guys have thought you have hit the finish a couple times. And let’s talk a little bit about this. When she found out that she had this breast cancer. Here’s another blow. In other words, it gets worse, it gets worse, it gets worse, it gets worse. But somewhere in the middle of those “worses,” okay, the fact is, God starts speaking to you. And He, in your devotions, says, Ken, what?
K. Tada: I think what happened, John, and if I could go back for a second and just mention that God had spoken to me years before saying that “Joni is the most precious gift I’ve given you; you take care of her.” Now, it wasn’t an audible voice, but it was a voice nonetheless that I heard in my heart. And I didn’t understand it at the time. But in 2010 when Joni was diagnosed with cancer, I finally got it. This is what Jesus was getting me ready for. I remember very clearly going in. A friend of ours, there was some disfiguration in one of Joni’s breast, and I went in and looked at it. We didn’t know what it was. But we knew there was something there, so we made a mammogram appointment the next day. And when we went in for the mammogram, you know, one thing we learned in all this journey was that it’s a hurry up and wait. So they couldn’t tell us if it was cancer, but they wanted to do an ultrasound. So they said at the time that we think that you should go ahead and contact an oncological surgeon. The surgeon couldn’t tell us, but he said we need to probably have an operation here, because it looks suspicious. We had the operation.
And in this whole process Joni and I learned that God was working in our hearts, that everything slowed down, everything stopped; no more traveling, no more…, it was just she and I. And we had some of the sweetest moments just in conversation and just being able to talk in the backyard, and realizing that there is a bigger picture out there. And, you know, all those little squabbles that we had, all the little arguments that we might have had, they became meaningless because there was this bigger picture.
Ankerberg: Talk about when you heard the news that you had breast cancer. You had a different reaction than anybody I know. You thought, “Yippee, I’m out of here!”
J. Tada: Well, I mean, John, being a quadriplegic, after 46 years you’re looking forward to the new glorified body in heaven. This is something that’s pretty cool. Plus, dealing with chronic pain, all those things were pushing my heart home to heaven. And dealing with the daily pain made it extremely difficult just to wake up in the morning and find the energy to go through the day. So when I got the diagnosis that I had cancer, stage 3 breast cancer, I thought, wow, “Jesus, this is my ticket to heaven.” And any depression I may have had beforehand just vanished overnight, absolutely overnight with a snap of the finger.
But then when I saw Ken’s increasing devotion toward me; because it’s one thing to give care out of a sense of duty or obligation. You know, if you’re a paid nurse you’re required to do it. It’s one thing to give care because you’ve got to honor your vows. Yes, all those are good reasons to give care, but it’s quite something else when you see the caregiver reach out to you, not out of a sense of duty and obligation, but because he wants to be with you; he wants you to be comfortable; he wants you to have the best medical treatment; he wants your pain to be relieved. And he wants the right surgeon for your mastectomy. I mean, all these things. I could see in Ken’s eyes his devotion to me mainly because of his increasing devotion to Jesus Christ. That was huge.
Ankerberg: Yeah. The thing that you feared the most, you start the chemo. And usually when you get chemo it breaks down the immune system even further. You’re already weak. You pick up pneumonia, your greatest fear. You’re claustrophobic and you can’t breathe.
J. Tada: Absolutely. I was,…
Ankerberg: Tell me about the night, and I want to talk about how he’s turning you over, he’s turning you over, because you can’t breathe. You can’t get the phlegm up. And then I want to talk about what you prayed and then what happened.
J. Tada: Well, it’s one thing to be a quadriplegic and lying flat on your back trying to get to sleep. But when you have to deal with phlegm and liquid in your lungs gurgling up in your throat, it’s such a horrifying feeling that you’re drowning. And you can’t sit up, you can’t raise your head, you’re just flat on the bed. And I remember, I was just one night, so weary. The chemotherapy had exhausted me. I was so tired of being nauseous and dealing with the quadriplegia and the pain. And I said, “Oh, Jesus, tonight I just need a touch from You. I need to feel You, see You. I need to know that You’re near.” And the next moment, I must have dozed off, and then when I awoke from the gurgling in my throat, I had to call Ken to come help me sit up in bed and expel the phlegm. And as he stands over my bed in this dim bedside lamp, I looked straight up into his eyes and, “Oh my, oh my goodness. You’re Him.” And he said, “I’m what?” I said, “You’re Him, you’re Jesus.” And it was the most wonderful revelation, that my husband would be my savior for that moment. He was my rescuer, my deliverer; he was Christ’s ambassador in the best sense of the word. And it was a glorious feeling.
Ankerberg: She told you this afterwards. What’d you think?
K. Tada: Humbling. It’s very humbling when your wife thinks that you’re representative of Jesus. But, you know, that was one of those opportunities that I had to demonstrate my love for Christ through my love for Joni.
Ankerberg: You were really afraid you were going to lose her that night.
K. Tada: Well, we weren’t sure still how much this cancer was going to affect Joni and where she was going to,… I mean, there’s no sense at that point that the chemotherapy treatments were going to get rid of the stage 3 cancer that she was diagnosed with. And so we already knew that pneumonia is one of the biggest killers for quadriplegics. And, as Joni said, you know, it gets to be a point where you feel claustrophobic. So getting her to breathe or to continuing helping her to breathe was a very important part of this whole process. And so, you know, I heard Jesus before this, and I remember this afterwards, saying to me personally, you know, “Whatever she asks, you can just go ahead and do it.” So I was determined when she called me to help her to turn that particular moment, that whatever she asked, I was going to do it. And it was just a sweet moment for both of us. For her, for Joni, she saw me as Jesus. For me, being able to feel like I was doing what Jesus would want me to do.
Ankerberg: Let me pause here. And, Joni, I want you to say a word to those who are sick, that have somebody like Ken or somebody that’s taking care of them, why they need to thank them often along the way.
J. Tada: Well, God loves a grateful spirit. He loves to see His people give thanks and to acknowledge all the many investments that others make in their lives. And I think one of the most important things I need to do to Ken every day is thank him. Thank him, not with sweet talk or words of flattery; not empty flattery. I’m talking about sincere appreciation, recognizing the sacrifices he makes, thanking him. He does dinner; and, I mean, these are great looking dinners my husband makes, and, by golly, I’m going to make certain that I applaud him for, “Look at the color on this plate. Ken, you are amazing. How did you do this?” I mean, just simple things, small ways of constantly affirming the investments that your partner makes in your life is a wonderful way to strengthen those ties that bind.
Ankerberg: Talk about when you guys started reading the Bible together.
J. Tada: Well, when we began feeling the depression lift, and we began experiencing the intimacy, this was around 2003 or 2004; I don’t know when Ken had that word from God, “Joni is the most precious gift in your life.” Jesus became so much more precious to us and we wanted to nurture that, grow that, foster that, coddle that, just do everything we could to water that and till the soil of that. And so we started reading through the Bible together in a year. Now it’s our eighth year, I think, of doing this. But it’s drawn us so much more close, closer together, and drawn us closer to the Lord Jesus. I must say there was one time toward the end of my chemotherapy, Ken was driving me down the 101 freeway, and I’m sitting in the back, tied down in my wheelchair, looking at him in the rearview mirror. And we started talking about how suffering is like little splash-overs of hell; splash-overs of hell that kind of wake you up and get you thinking about Christ, what Christ has ultimately rescued you from. And I remember we pulled up into the driveway, remember? And you turned off the ignition and what’d you say, looking at me in the rearview mirror?
K. Tada: Well, I said, “Joni, if suffering is splash-overs of hell, what are splash-overs of heaven?”
J. Tada: And we started talking about that. And we decided that splash-overs of heaven were not days when there’s no cancer, when all the medical supplies are paid for, when it’s easy and breezy and there’s no chronic pain. Splash-overs of heaven is finding Jesus in your hell; to find Jesus in the midst of hellish circumstances is so sweet. He reveals Himself in such a tender way because it’s a crucifixion of your own pride, wants, wishes, desires, and a casting of yourself upon Him. And it’s heavenly.
Ankerberg: As you think about, you are approaching the end, okay. You’re over the limit in terms of quadriplegics.
J. Tada: I know.
Ankerberg: You’re still going strong. You look beautiful. But how do you calm your mind for this next event, going home to be with the Lord?
J. Tada: Ken and I often talk about, quote, “keeping the big picture.” Sometimes with the day-to-day routines you become so ghettoized, and so suffocated with looking inward, and everything becomes small and tight and tiny, and your perspective shrinks, and your world get infinitesimally small. And, as Cindy said earlier, you’ve just got to take a deep breath and throw open the shutters and let in the light of heaven and get the big perspective. Where is all this going? Where are we ending? What is it all for? Why so much hardship? There’s a reason, there’s a purpose. It’s not all for naught. God never intended us to suffer for nothing. And so keeping the big picture, Ken and I in the middle of these horrible routines, ordering medical supplies, going to Gelson’s Market, picking up this, picking up that, fixing my flat tire on my wheelchair, charging my batteries; I mean, we’ve got to stop and think that our godly response to every trial, every hardship, is winning for us an eternal reward that far outweighs the inconvenience of the day-to-day routines and the disability. And that’s worth living for.
Ankerberg: Terrific. We’re going to take a break. When we come back I’m going to ask Cindy, Cindy, some mates have lost the one they’ve been caring for, and they’re really lonely. They’re in the dumps. And they can’t replace the guy; they can’t replace the wife. Nobody’s going to match up to what they had and they’re just lonely. I need a word for those folks. And we’ll get it when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with four marvelous people, Dr. Michael Easley, his wife Cindy; Ken Tada and his dear wife Joni Eareckson Tada. And we’re talking to those of you that have lost a mate and you’re sad. You can’t replace that person. They were so valuable. They were so in love with you and you with them. And yet God took them home. And, Cindy, they’re lonely, and they don’t know what to do. And they can’t get over it. What’s your advice to those folks?
C. Easley: Well, the first thing I would say is to feel your grief. It’s a process you have to go through. And I think when we try to push grief away we do ourselves more harm than good. Two of the stages of grief are depression and anger. And I would say feel the depression, feel the anger. I love to go to the psalms. I love to look at what David has written, because David, boy, that guy, he was full of emotion. He felt everything keenly, and he gave it all back to God. And sometimes I think we’re afraid to tell God that we’re angry or that we’re depressed or that we’re lonely. He knows. I mean, it’s not like we’re hiding something from Him. But here’s what I love, in every psalm that David is sometimes railing against God, seeing Him as unfair, every single one he ends in “But You, O Lord, will I trust. You, O Lord, will I pray.” And, you know, Philippians 4 tells us that we can have the peace that passes comprehension, but only when we go to God with our prayers and supplication. And so I think that’s the first thing. We need to just go to God and tell Him this is how I feel, and let Him work the process with us.
And the second thing is, as hard as it is, you have to get out of your house. Make an appointment with a girlfriend to have lunch and force yourself to go. You won’t want to go. You want to live in your pain. Move out of it. Move out of your grief. Become involved in someone else’s life. Find a place to volunteer. Look for somebody in your neighborhood or your church who needs help, and help them. Do something that moves you beyond yourself and looking at the needs of others.
Ankerberg: Yeah, I remember reading death psychologists and they said when you grieve this is not an IQ problem. This, when you lose a mate, it’s at least 24 months before you start to feel coming back toward normal. Maybe longer.
C. Easley: That’s right. And it affects you physically as well. You know, you may be sick more often. It encompasses your whole being.
Ankerberg: Yeah, and I like this idea of getting involved, you know, at the church, your friends, Bible study, something.
C. Easley: Absolutely.
Ankerberg: Get out of the house…
C. Easley: Get out of the house.
Ankerberg: …and start doing. See other people’s pain. Help them and God seems to help you help them. Michael, we’re talking about coming to the finish okay, a lot of suffering and pain. But now you’ve finally come to the end, and you’re coming to death, alright. Let’s go back to the room where the person who’s sick is there. They’re dying, maybe this week, it may be within a couple months, it may be within two years. We’re talking close. And for some reason you’ve got the family there now, and they’re all together, and you’re going to say something to them. And the person wants to know, how can I know for sure this Jesus? How can I know that He’s forgiven my sins? How can I know that when I die, when I close my eyes in this life, I’m going to open them up in heaven?
M. Easley: Paul tells us, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.” And, John, we see the crosses so often on the side of the road, one big cross and two crosses on each side. Growing up Catholic I was very familiar with that scene. And I find it striking that one man is saying to Christ as he’s dying, “If You’re the Son of Man, do something.” Paraphrase: “Get Yourself and us off this cross.” The other man rebukes him and says, “Leave Him alone; He on His part has done nothing wrong. We deserve our punishment.” And then he speaks to Christ, “Will You remember me when You come into Your kingdom?” And those two sides of the cross represent all of humanity. Either we’re shaking our fists and saying, “God where are You? Why am I a quadriplegic? Why am I living with chronic pain? Why have I buried my friend, my husband, my wife, my child?” We’re demanding of God. And the other one says, “Will You remember me?” And Christ’s words to him are, “Today, today you’ll be with Me in paradise.” What did he do? He trusted in Christ. He trusted in His word.
And what we’re given is the opportunity to say, which person will I be? Demanding of God, life is unfair? Or appealing to God’s mercy? And the offer is universal. Whoever believes in Him—He lived, He died, He was buried, He comes back from the dead—and any and all who put their trust in Christ and Christ alone are granted eternal life with Him in His kingdom forever. No more quadriplegic, no more back pain, no more cancer, no more mesothelioma, no more ALS, no more Alzheimer’s, no more dementia, no more loneliness. And it’s eternal, not this fog on a mere life that we existed.
Ankerberg: I want you to lead the folks in prayer, okay, because they’ve got to pray and talk to the Lord, but a lot of them say, Michael, I’ve never prayed.
M. Easley: Love to.
Ankerberg: Okay, lead them in a prayer.
M. Easley: You know prayer never, it’s not a magic wand we’re rubbing or waving. This is you speaking to God, something along these words: “Father, in heaven, I realize I’m a sinful person. I realize nothing I can do can gain Your attention or Your favor. But now for the first time perhaps I have understood what You have done for me, that Christ loved me, He lived, He died, He was buried to confirm His death, and He came back from the dead. And any and all who put their trust in Christ and Christ alone for salvation are guaranteed eternal life. So, Father, as best I can right now, I put my trust in Jesus Christ; not what I have done, but what You have done. I believe, I put my faith in, and I accept a free gift called eternal life. Thank You for forgiving my sins and granting me rights to be an heir in the kingdom of God forever. Amen.”
Ankerberg: And, folks, if you prayed that prayer, remember, the Bible promises in Romans 10:13: “Whosoever [that means you] shall call upon the name of the Lord [with all your heart; if you sincerely prayed that prayer God looked down, heard that prayer, and it says] shall be saved.” That’s what He did for you. That’s what He did for me.
I want to say thank you to all of you for coming. Guys, you that are watching, if you were to ask somebody to fly from California who’s quadriplegic and in serious pain all the time; she’s very special to me, that she would come. And, Ken, that you would come, and open yourself up like this to all of us. I really love you guys. And, Michael, same thing; to be sitting there in pain and you’re talking to us so brilliantly; and, Cindy, for you to come and let me ask you these questions and to let us tap into your experiences. Thank you so much.
Folks, their books: Joni and Ken, An Untold Love Story; and Dancing with the One You Love, by Cindy Easley. I hope that you’ll get these books.



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