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Book Review: “Unexpected Blessings: The Joys & Possibilities of a Life in a Special-Needs Family” by Sandra Peoples
If we went for a coffee today, maybe we could talk about this book I read recently.
Where did I get it?
From Twitter. And that Barnes & Noble gift card. A few months ago I started posting more on Twitter and one particular day was posting about our special-needs daughter. Somebody responded and strongly recommended that I read this book.
The title grabbed me. We are always looking for more resources and how things worked out with other families. The dad in this family is also a pastor.
What is it about?
Sandra Peoples follows two stories simultaneously through the book. One is the Apostle Paul and his shipwreck on the island of Malta. The other is the story of her family with their son on the autism spectrum.
The stories alternate back and forth as she weaves in quotes, insights, lessons learned along the way. She has a great insight into how everyone is living “Plan B.” No one is actually living “Plan A.” She talks extensively about the theology around disability. She describes how her sister with Down syndrome affected her birth family. She gives some very helpful and practical suggestions for mindsets, expectations and routines.
She also continually references other resources. Early on, she talks about how her husband struggled to get on board with the changes they needed to make in order to adjust to her son’s condition. The breakthrough came by leaving a copy of “Not My Boy!” by Rodney Peete on the coffee table. Her husband met them at the airport after her trip with tears in his eyes and got fully on board.
What did I think?
Sadly, her theological framework is Calvinistic. It works for her, at least, she’s made it work. It’s given her strength and hope to go through very difficult challenges. The chapter where she described being put in pads so the behavioural analysts could discern why her son was hitting her serves as a good example. She’s got a stiff upper lip, a cheery disposition and has obviously found solace, encouragement and community through writing. So far, it’s working. But, it’s all Calvinistic.
Years ago, I had a conversation with a Christian mom. All four of her children were on the autism spectrum. She told me that she believed that this is what God intended for their lives and He would glorify Himself through it. It gave her hope and purpose in the face of incredible hardship. It’s Calvinistic.
I really don’t want to disagree. It’s such a delicately personal and precarious situation. But, I don’t believe that this way of viewing the situation is true. I don’t believe Calvinism or neo-Calvinism is true. It’s much more reasonable to believe that when Adam sinned in a free choice, sin entered creation, it brought with it death, and we, as humans, have been contending with that ever since. Our blessed hope is in Jesus and his soon return. I don’t believe God wanted this for humanity. He’s allowed it. Why? Because love is the most valuable thing. And, love requires a free choice. Love freely given is valuable. Love’s value is measured by the size of the obstacle it has to overcome to love. We know that God loves us because while we were still sinners (the obstacle), Christ died for us. The measure of God’s love for you and me is his free choice demonstrated on the cross. He wants relationship with us. He wants to bless. He wants to be united to us, our life in His, His life in us. The question is, will we reciprocate? That is the greatest commandment after all.
So, when it comes to disability, deformity and so forth, I don’t see this as God’s design or intention. This is better understood as just the reality of a world corrupted by sin. But, that doesn’t leave us hopeless! Joseph at the end of his ordeal exclaimed: “What you intended for evil, God has turned to good for the saving of many lives.” God didn’t intend for all that to happen to Joseph. But, as Joseph maintained his love for God as evidenced by his surrendered will, the Lord turned the situation around, spectacularly. Paul declares: “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” There’s something more powerful than sin in the world. It’s grace. And, we have exclusive access to grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We can expect his grace to be sufficient in every situation.
It’s through that theological framework that the story of the man born blind should be interpreted. God is not the great puppet master. He’s the great chess master.
So, here’s how that fleshes out. We pray for healing. 100%. Everyday. We also get on our knees everyday and from love, submit ourselves to Christ, the King of all creation. We ask for help, for insight, for understanding into how to parent this child, bless this child, become more like the Lord, be His hands, His feet, His voice, His presence in the world in all our relationships. He becomes our source of comfort and solace. He becomes our Counsellor, our Helper. Through all of that, we are expecting that somehow, someway, “all things work together for the good of those that love God and are called according to His purpose.”
I believe this is better footing. It also allows our heart to be fully open and engaged. It removes callouses, provides for a daily release of emotional energy, and taps us into direction, providence and the miraculous. It makes us psychologically resilient and emotionally mature. It’s a spiritual answer.
That’s what I think.
This is a helpful book. Parents of special-needs kids need any and all encouragement. We are always helped hearing someone else’s story. We pick up resources and ideas and motivation. And, Sandra is a good mom. She’s also a caring person and it’s obvious that she has a heart for parents that have landed in Holland and been given a real orange.
Hopefully, she won’t be offended that I disagreed with her theological convictions.