FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Facing a Painful Reality

with Joe and Cindi Ferrini | June 29, 2009
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You can’t always see what’s around the corner. That was certainly true for Joe and Cindi Ferrini as they prayed for God’s direction for their lives and marriage. Today Joe and Cindi recall the happiness that the birth of their first child, Joey, brought them, and the despair they felt later when their precious baby was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and mental retardation.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • You can’t always see what’s around the corner. That was certainly true for Joe and Cindi Ferrini as they prayed for God’s direction for their lives and marriage. Today Joe and Cindi recall the happiness that the birth of their first child, Joey, brought them, and the despair they felt later when their precious baby was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and mental retardation.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

You can’t always see what’s around the corner.

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Facing a Painful Reality

With Joe and Cindi Ferrini
June 29, 2009
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Bob: (laughter)

Dennis:  Container, that we host down at a car wash that’s not far from here, and then we pour Clorox in it once a year.

Bob:  Now, we need to stop, because we talked at one-time about the fact that I bring my mug with diet coke into the studio, and I started getting books from listeners about why I shouldn’t be drinking diet coke.


Dennis:  Save your books!  Bob has them already! Let me introduce our friends Joe and Cindi Ferrini – welcome to broadcast you guys.


Joe and Cindi:  Thank You so much!


Joe:  It’s great to be here.

Dennis:  Joe and Cindi are great friends for a number of reasons, but they’ve been speaking at our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences for eight years, they have three children, they live in the Cleveland area, and Joe is by trade a dentist.  It’s a great illustration of how someone with high professional skills can use that like a tent making.

Bob:  You’re a tent maker dentist, aren’t you?

Joe:  I really am! I use it as a platform.


Dennis:  Yes, and has been in ministry since really 1989 with Campus Crusade for Christ as Associate Staff.  You and Cindi have been speaking obviously at all kinds of events, but at our conferences as I mentioned earlier.

You’ve written a book called Unexpected Journey. It’s the story – well, I like the cover on your book because there’s a picture of a road, and it is cut through kind of a little bit of fog, and some sunlight coming in, and you can’t see what’s around the corner.  Now, when you married, you had some dreams about what was around the corner, right Joe?

Joe:  Absolutely!  We had some blueprints there that we were kind of going down that path.


Dennis:  How did you meet Cindi?

Cindi:  Well, actually we met in high school, but we each were engaged after college to our high school sweethearts, and so we re-met after breaking off those engagements, after Joe was finished with dental school.  A year later we were married. That’s the short version.

Dennis:  What were some of those dreams you had Cindi?

Cindi:  Well, when we first got married, we were so excited about the future, and one of the things that we talked about very early in our marriage was the plan that we would have even down the road when we retired.

But, even before marriage, we prayed, and it was our prayer that we would not get married, unless God wanted for us to marry. So, we prayed that if he could use us better together, that would be our desire, but if not then we would part our separate ways and be either single, or whatever God’s plan was for us. He clearly showed us that we were to be married, and so as we embarked on our future, we talked about how we wanted our life to be, of course if we could have our way.

One of the things that we talked about was how in doing ministry, which we both loved to do, how we would do that?  Not just at the early stages of our marriage, but throughout our marriage, and then even into retirement?

We talked about how because he was self –employed, we knew that we wanted to at a certain point be able to stop there, and start taking more time off.  Over the years, many times we went before the Lord to ask the Lord if we could be in ministry full-time.

Although, I think we always were in ministry full-time even though we were employed full-time too. We really had some plans in that way, and what would retirement look like when the children were gone, and life looked different than it did at the beginning.

Bob:  So, you are saying doing ministry together was really your heartbeat?

Cindi:  Yes!

Joe:  That’s right!

Bob:  You were looking at the phases of your life then, going we’ll have this phase where we have a family, and we’ll do ministry together, but it will be restricted at some level by job, and family. But then there will come a time, when the family will be grown and gone, and we’ll be freed up to do a lot more ministry. That was really the long-term goal for your family, right?

Joe and Cindi:  Exactly, yes! Exactly, right!

Bob:  So, what happened?

Joe:  We had some detours along the way! For me personally, part of my background – I was always rapped up in sports. I love sports! I played football, baseball, basketball, I did some golden gloves boxing, and that was my life growing up. So, for me, I knew even as a teenager, that someday I looked forward to coaching my children’s teams, or playing catch with my children. So, that was part of my dream as well. So, you can imagine, I was pretty excited when I found out my first child was going to be a boy!

Dennis: You were writing a journal at the time when you found out you were pregnant…

Cindi:  Yes!

Dennis: Wrote down some of your thoughts, hopes, for this child?

Cindi:  Well, I really wanted to have a journal for the children, so, that they could even be understanding the things I was thinking, when I was carrying them. So, I started a journal when I knew that I was pregnant.

Of course that was back in 1981 before they really were doing ultrasounds or anything like that, which they do so routinely today. I just kept track of who I thought this young person was going to be, and yet there was a time early in that pregnancy, that as I was teaching (I taught high school Home Economics) that I had a student say to me “Mrs. Ferrini – if you knew there was something wrong with this baby you would have an abortion wouldn’t you?”

I heard a still small voice really in my heart I think is where I heard it, that said, “Be careful how you answer, because there is.”  I would love to meet up with this young gal someday and maybe ask her, “What were you thinking when you asked that question”!

Bob: You mean, what you heard was be careful how you answer, because there is something wrong?

Cindi:  Something wrong! Yes!


Bob:  Wow!

Cindi:  Because there is something wrong! I really dismissed it as just my thinking.  You know, we think those things, and we really hope they are not going to be true. So, when he was born, I had a very difficult labor and delivery, but nothing seemed to be under the kind of stress or crisis that would make you think that something might be wrong.

Actually, our son Joey was born c-section after many hours of labor, and he had scored a ten on the Apgar score. We won’t go into all of that, but scoring a ten you know we thought of course we have a genius!

Bob:  I always wanted my kids to get a ten on the Apgar score.

Cindi:  (laughter)

Bob:  I tried to bribe a nurse to give one of our kids a ten on the Apgar score.

Dennis:  (laughter) It didn’t matter that it was their capability or not!

Bob:  I just wanted a ten!

Dennis:  You just wanted a ten!

Bob:  And they said, “We never give tens”! I can’t believe Joey got a ten on the Apgar score.

Joe:  Joey got a ten!

Bob:  Did you know, Joe that your son was a son until that moment when the doctor said…

Joe:  I was right there in the operation c-section, and I was first to notice that it was a boy, and

Bob:  (laughter)

Joe:  Yeah! That’s where I was pretty excited about that.

Bob:  So, you’ve got a baby boy, and he has a ten on the Apgar score and as parents, you couldn’t be more thrilled.

Cindi: Well, it’s just like everybody has a dream. You have your dreams for your children, and Joey looked very perfect. He had no blemishes, and his coloring was very good. The only thing was, when you would look at him sideways, his head had a misshaped look to it.

Bob: Hmm! You noticed it right away, as a mom?

Cindi: Right!

Joe and Cindi: Hmm! Right – yes! It was pretty obvious!

Dennis: And then one night, you were caring for him in the middle of the night, and he opened his eyes?

Joe: Yes! When I was in dental school at Ohio State, I had finished my requirements for graduation pretty early on, and I was given a menu of options as to where I could spend my discretionary free time. I chose to work at University Hospital at Ohio State in Columbus working doing dentistry for handicapped kids.

As you know, when you go to the dentist, the dentist always looks in your eyes, just to make sure there is no discomfort. Okay, pain! I say that right there.

Anyway, but when I looked in their eyes, I mean, their eyes were absolutely beautiful, and they just mesmerized, and once you see that look, you don’t forget that look!  About five months into Joey’s life, he got up in the middle of the night, and I said to Cindi “Just stay in bed, I’ll get Joey tonight.”

So, I just scooped him up, and I thought I’m just going to kind of play with Joey for a little bit, so we took him in the family room, it’s 3 o clock in the morning, flicked the lights on. His eyes are closed at this point of course, and I was just kind of rolling him back and forth.

At one point, he opened his eyes, and there was that look. I just thought about, and I held him in my arms. I said, “Oh God, not my son”! I didn’t tell Cindi anything actually for a couple months. I think she’s going to find out soon enough, and indeed about a few months later the diagnosis came down that Joey indeed had cerebral palsy.

I knew enough kids with CP to know that you can still go on to have a pretty productive life. I would rationalize to myself, and say “At least Joey wasn’t mentally retarded”!

Well, that diagnosis came down about a year later that Joey was indeed mentally retarded.  That was the tough one for me – that was the tough one! If there was any arrogance or pride left in my life it was pretty much gone at that point. 

I thought well, could it get much worse than this? Actually things did get tougher for us. We found out the hard way that Joey also had epilepsy. There were many times his seizure activity had gotten so bad we had to call 911 on him. This one particular night I go into his room, and I don’t hear anything. He’s a snorer; he’s a heavy breather. I flick the light on, and Joey’s just as blue as can be.

I yell to Cindi “Call 911”! I start doing resuscitation on my son. He came back from the seizure, he recovered from that, but obviously my son never has become an athlete, and to this day I’ve never been able to play catch with my son. You know where Joey and I do connect is when we do a lot of Play Station together.

Dennis:  If you were speaking to someone right now who has just entered into the journey…

Joe:  Yeah.

Dennis:   And they’ve just received a diagnosis on a child, or freshly have started this valley we’re talking about.

Joe: Right!

Dennis:  What would you say about those early days, those early weeks of dealing with that crisis?

Joe:  Without our walk with God, I don’t know what would have happened in our lives.  It’s in Him that we find strength!

I don’t want to over spiritualize this at all with anybody, but the reality is that you can get self-help books, and I guess you can walk yourself through this thing, but the reality is that in the quiet of the night when you are laying in bed and realizing that your child has had his third seizure of the hour, and this is now going on for twenty four hours that you can not find strength anywhere else that is sustainable without being in Christ.

That’s the reality, and there are a lot of people out there that have this every day of their lives. So, if I had that opportunity Dennis, I would just hold those people, and just say, “You’re not alone.”

Dennis:  You know, Cindi, I want to ask you, how you found out, and how you processed

but, I just want to make a comment Joe, about what you’re talking about here. Sometime back, as you know we had a granddaughter who lived for seven days and died, and part of being a grandparent in that moment is grieving the loss of your granddaughter, but another part was of looking at your daughter and your son-in-law, and knowing to some degree they are about to enter into an incredible experience where if they don’t connect with God they most likely won’t make it. To just validate what you are saying, your advice and your counsel to that person of clinging to Jesus Christ, and getting in the Bible, and of not allowing the circumstances to dwarf God,

Joe: Amen!

Dennis:  But of seeing Him for who He is, and letting Him meet you in your crisis! That is our hope! There is no other hope. I can tell you from having watched my daughter, and my son-in-law Jake walk through this it’s not the same as yours. Not at all, but their hope has been their faith in Christ! Cindi, Joe knew this, he said, He didn’t tell you. How many weeks, months, before you found out?

Cindi:  I don’t remember the exact time, except that I remember watching other children doing things more quickly than Joey was. So, I went to the library and got a book out probably around  six or nine months of  Joey’s age.

It actually was a book from the 1950’s, on special needs basically handicaps, and it was so out-dated, but I could read in those pages my son twenty years down the road, and that all was happening simultaneous to other things with my friends. 

I remember a first birthday party that we had for Joey. Really it was just a bunch of my friends getting together with their babies and we happened to go to my Mom’s house. All the kids were about the same age, and they were all running, and coming up to their Mom’s, and some making words and gestures, and communicating in some way.  Joey couldn’t even hold his food, he had to be propped up in the highchair, and I think for the first time, it really occurred to me we are really behind here.

Joey was just such a cute little kid, and as a parent you just want everything to be right, so you just look at this cute little kid and think well, they are telling me that he’s going to catch up. He’ll eventually catch up, he just has a few developmental delays, and that for me when I hear people say developmental delays, if someone were listening right now, I would say, Start doing your homework because it may just be a minor thing, but if it isn’t start getting the help now.

When I was pregnant with our second child Christina, I went to the pediatrician, and I think I probably was very emotional and hormonal, and just really was starting to wonder what was happening with our son.  I went to him and I said, No one is telling us anything.  I don’t want to hold you to anything, tell me what you think?  What do you think is wrong with Joey?  He looked me square in the face, and he said, “I think he has cerebral palsy, and I think he’s mentally retarded.” I actually felt somewhat of a relief just to know, now can we get some help.

Dennis: Right!

Cindi: Now, can we move forward,and get this kid into some therapies and things that will help him along the way. I’m simplifying it, because it was very difficult.

Of course in our book we go through the whole journey, and it’s a happier ending, because God is faithful, and He has gotten us through all the different things that we’ve had to adjust to. That’s what it is – every stage is an adjustment.

The thing that makes it different from the rest of our family or the other children we have is they don’t go away and leave you, because they go to college, or they don’t go out with their friends, because they’re in high school, or junior high school, and there’s something fun for them. This responsibility is with Joe and me, 24/7.


Dennis: Yes.

Cindi:  It doesn’t go away. We in the book don’t just speak to parents with special children, because on the other end of our lives’ journey, we’ve cared for parents with Alzheimer’s, cancer, dementia, and other illnesses.

Many of the things that happen with brain injury, or brain disease; they manifest themselves very similarly even though they are very different things. So, there are a lot of people out there, in fact there is fifty million people that are caring for people over the age of eighteen as a caregiver. There are another ten million caring for people under the age of eighteen.

Cindi:  That’s a lot of people!

Bob:  Dennis, there are some times on a life journey when you see a detour sign. What that means is you’re going to be off the main road for a mile or two. Then, you’re going to get back on the main road and keep going.

Dennis: Right!

Bob:  There are other times when you see a detour sign, and what that means is you are not on the same road you thought you were on. You’re going to a different destination than you had planned to go, because the bridge is out, and you can’t get where you thought you were going. When that happens, life is changed forever!

Dennis:  It is, and at that point, it reveals where your faith is, and where your hope is! I know from my daughter last summer, and I go back to this, because a friend quoted what is an oft quoted verse that is said I think maybe a little too tritely in most circumstances, but I know the couple that I’m talking to here, and I know that the story that they are about to unveil is going to confirm this.

The verse is Romans 8:28—“And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”  Now, that verse is either true or it’s not true! There is no middle of the ground on that verse.  Either all things do work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes, or they don’t!  The reason that verse is true is we have God’s word on it, and he does work in people’s lives.

The story you are going to hear us unpack this week is going to show us how things did work together for good. If you are facing a crisis like this, the ultimate issue is: Do you know the God who is the God who rules in all circumstances that befall us?  If you don’t, you do need to get to know Him!

Bob: That’s how the two of you conclude the book that you’ve written, called Unexpected Journey, when special needs change our course.  It’s all about that detour that God has taken you on, and what you found along the path. 

We have copies of the book. In fact this is a great book to pass along to someone you know who is parenting a special needs child. This will provide not just encouragement, but provide practical help for those parents who find themselves on this same detour that the two of you have found yourselves on.

If you’d like to get a copy of the book Unexpected Journey, go to our website, and there is information available there on how you can order from us online. Again, the book is called, Unexpected Journey by Joe and Cindi Ferrini.   It is available from us at You can also call toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY to request a copy of the Ferrini’s book.

 Let me also mention, we’ve had a lot of folks who have contacted us to get a copy Dennis, of the book that your wife Barbara and your daughter Rebecca have written recently, which deals with the death of your grandchild Molly a year ago. The book is called A Symphony in the Dark, and it is still available from us here at FamilyLifeToday as well.

You will find information on the website, or you can call toll-free 1-800-FLTODAY, get a copy of Joe and Cindi’s book, and you should also get a copy of Barbara and Rebecca’s book A Symphony in the Dark. Again, the website is, and the toll-free number 1-800-FLTODAY.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a number of listeners who have contacted us and have requested a copy of your message about trials from Psalm 34. It’s a message that you shared with our staff awhile back. We have it on CD. We’ve been making it available this month to listeners who help support the ministry of FamilyLifeToday with a donation of any amount.

The summer months are particularly challenging for ministries like ours! There’s often a decline in donations during the summer, and you tie that in with the current economic environment we are in.  This is a particularly challenging summer for us!

If you are able to help with a donation of any amount this month, we would appreciate your financial support. When you do donate, you can request a copy of Dennis’s message called Trials and Tribulations, Encouragement, Hope and Help Found in Psalm 34. If you’re making your donation on-line at, type the word “trials” in the key code box in the on-line donation form, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that’s 1-800-358-6329. Make your donation over the phone, and you can request a copy of this CD. We are happy to send it to you; it’s our way of saying Thanks for your partnership with us, and for your financial support of this ministry.

Let me encourage you to join us back tomorrow when Joe and Cindi Ferrini will be back with us as well. We are going to talk more about the challenges they have faced in raising a son who is special needs. I hope you can tune in for that, and if you know somebody who is a special needs’ mom or dad, call them and invite them to listen tomorrow as well.

I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Help for today.  Hope for tomorrow.

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