Review of The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities, by Kathleen Deyer Bolduc, Judson Press, 2014.
As my wife Bev and I came to grips with the reality that our oldest child Nicole would live with various disabilities, we went through a grieving process. We had to grieve the child we had dreamed Nicole would be. In that process, we came to embrace who Nicole is, and we now celebrate who God created her to be. As we came to realize that she would live with multiple disabilities, we searched for guidance on raising a child with disabilities. The book I remember best is the now out-of-print Parenting Your Disabled Child, by Bernard Ikeler. We found it helpful to receive guidance in what for us was unmapped territory. I wish we also had a book like Bolduc's to help us in our spiritual journey.
A whole new generation of parenting books have been produced in recent years including Different Dream Parenting by Jolene Philo and Parents of Children with Disabilities by Pres and Gena Barnhill. While not specifically parenting books, others are written by parents and draw deeply from the wells of their parenting experiences such as Receiving David by Faye Knol, Same Lake Different Boat by Stephanie Hubach, and Good and Perfect Gift by Amy Julia Becker.
Kathleen Deyer Bolduc’s latest book, The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities, is addressed to parents, but does not give parenting advice. Instead, Bolduc invites readers to join her on a spiritual journey that begins with the shattering pain of asking questions that cannot be answered and continues toward new creation and new community. She and her husband Wally have three children, including Joel who has autism, anxiety, and has manic episodes.
Bolduc pictures the art of parenting as the creation of a mosaic. The work of art begins with broken fragments. “Everything I valued in my life before Joel’s birth had to be rethought and revalued—intelligence, efficiency, logic, self-control. . . . I came to understand that Jesus turns the cultural belief—that brokenness is to be avoided at all costs—upside down. Christ challenged me to face and embrace my brokenness, as well as Joel’s brokenness, so that God’s power might be released within both of us.” (pp. 2,3)
She encourages readers to embrace their brokenness and look for ways that God is making a new creation. Her own journey led her to search for connection with God in a world that frequently brought difficulty, struggle, pain, and frustration. Along that journey she discovered spiritual disciplines and practices including meditation, lectio divina, and being guided by a spiritual director. In the process, Bolduc became a spiritual director herself.
In that journey, she discovered a much deeper relationship with God. “I don’t know about you, but I often go to prayer because I want to make sense out of something senseless (a beautiful boy with a damaged brain). Because I can’t handle the situation on my own (I don’t know how to mother this son, Lord. You are going to have to show me how). Because I crave peace in the midst of chaos (the roller coaster ride with autism, anxiety, and manic phases is often overwhelming). And the more I spend time with God, the more the garden of my heart blooms with an unquenchable love for the things of the Spirit. I need God’s presence just as my garden needs the rain.” (P. 119)
Humbly recognizing the limitations of her own experience, many of her chapters include interviews with other parents of children with disabilities which are arranged into topics including “Mindfulness,” Feeding Your marriage,” “The Spiritual Litany of Routine”, and “The Upside Down Nature of the Kingdom.” These interviews open up a world of additional perspectives on parenting in a very short book (160 pages).
Fully aware that much of parenting must be done on the fly, chapters are brief enough to be read in a few minutes and include “Reflection Exercises” that can be done in less than one half hour. She wants, “to walk alongside you as you seek answers to the questions that are rising up in your heart, and to help you pay attention to God’s presence in your life.” (p. xiii)
Along the way, she uncovers some gems. In an interview with Bonnie, this mother of a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome described the trials of raising a son, Teddy, who was at times violent, verbally abusive, and in trouble at school. At age 18, Teddy was diagnosed with cancer and received chemo for months. Upon recovery, he moved into a group home and shortly after was accused of murdering his roommate. In her interview with Bonnie, Bolduc asked, “How can a parent survive a blow like this?” Bonnie replied, “An elderly woman at our church asked me how I was doing not long after. I told her I couldn’t even pray. You know what she said to me? . . . She said, ‘That’s why the rest of us are here. So we can pray for you when you can’t pray.’” (P. 54)
What a glorious picture of what the church can be!
If you are the parent of a child with disabilities and you don’t know where to go with your faith or wonder whether you even have faith in God anymore, I highly recommend The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities.