The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities, by Kathleen Deyer Bolduc (Judson Press, 2014). Foreword by Ginny Thornburgh. Afterword by Bill Gaventa.
Book review by Tracey Lehman.
The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities is a rarity in the world of disabilities literature. While there are a variety of books that are informative, personal and important—parents’ stories and memoirs, the disability rights movement, social justice, feel-good stories, disability theology, and instructive guides on how to include those with disabilities—there may not be another book that addresses the spiritual nature of raising a child with disabilities. Bolduc knows what it is to parent a child with many challenges, and she gently invites her readers to contemplate and meditate on the difficulties and joys of their journeys.
Bolduc’s decades of spiritual seeking, writing, meditation, and parenting a son with disabilities uniquely qualifies her to write this book. She writes that her greatest desire is to help her readers pay attention to God’s presence in their lives and to accompany them as they seek answers to questions. True to her spiritual-director training, she does not promise to provide answers. Instead, she explores the brokenness and beauty of our lives with her own and others’ personal stories, scriptures, quotes from spiritual teachers, and reflective exercises. The result is more than one writer’s opinions—it is a mosaic of human and divine inspiration.
The author uses the metaphor of a mosaic—fragmented pieces that become a work of art—to explore the task of making sense of life. She quotes Terry Tempest Williams as saying, “Beauty is not an option, but a strategy for survival.” Bolduc writes, “If we allow it, God, the master artist, will…work alongside us, helping us to rearrange the pieces into an exquisite work that surpasses the beauty of what our lives were before.”
In the first four sections of the book, the author asks us to contemplate how we can gather up the pieces, embrace the brokenness, rearrange the pieces, and see the bigger picture. Each section includes a personal story from a parent who has encountered joy and wholeness in the midst of what is perceived by most as brokenness, but these are not uncomplicated testimonies. The parents openly acknowledge the difficulties they have encountered, and they admit to struggling deeply with God. One mother eloquently expresses the conflicting and ambivalent emotions of loving and caring for her child yet sometimes wanting to escape her life. As the parent of three boys, two of whom have Down syndrome, I rejoiced to find a book that acknowledges the painful realities many of us encounter and that encourages us to tap into our spiritual selves.
Bolduc asks her readers life-changing questions, such as how can we live the difficult questions and learn to let go, what does it mean to become a wounded healer, and how can we cultivate gratitude and mindfulness in the midst of our often-chaotic lives? In the fifth section, she introduces spiritual disciplines to help her readers contemplate and explore the life-changing questions and experience the gift of renewal.
While the title suggests that the book might be appropriate for people of diverse beliefs, the book was clearly written for a Christian audience. I find it lamentable that those who are not Christians may miss out on this book of spiritual wisdom and exploration.
I appreciate Bolduc’s straightforward yet contemplative prose. I took the book to therapy sessions and activities and was able to read much of one section at a time. The spiritual exercises were different than most I had encountered. I practice meditation and truly appreciated that the exercises were creative and personal and did not involve “canned” prayers. I found it to be a valuable resource that is easily readable yet deeply spiritual and satisfying.
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Reviewer Tracey Lehman is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Galena, Ohio, with her husband and three sons. They have two sons with Down syndrome, one recently adopted from another country. She is Disabilities Advocate for Columbus Mennonite Church.