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REVIEW: Books explore ministry to the disabled, suffering

Larry J. Waters and Roy B. Zuck, eds. Why, O God? Suffering and Disability in the Bible and the Church. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2011. 336 pages. $22.
Jolene Philo. Different Dream Parenting: A Practical Guide to Raising A Child With Special Needs. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Discovery House Publishers, 2011. 224 pages. $12.95.
Mike Cope. Megan’s Secrets: What My Mentally Disabled Daughter Taught Me About Life. Abilene, Texas: Leafwood Press, 2011. 222 pages. $14.99.
How can the church help families who are dealing with disabilities? That question harkens back to an ages-old quandary — reconciling our understanding of an all-powerful, loving God with the seemingly endless suffering we see around us.
Three new books present a biblical view of suffering, offer practical advice to parents, counselors and church leaders, and help answer the question, “Why should the church be the leader in reaching out to the disabled and the suffering?”
In “Why, O God? Suffering and Disability in the Bible and the Church,” religious and medical professionals offer practical suggestions about how to minister to the disabled and those suffering. Biblical and theological knowledge is integrated with moving personal stories, providing extremely practical ministry guidance.
The book should be read by all church leaders. It will make the church aware of its need to minister to and involve the disabled in their ministries.
The diversity of the topics in the 22 chapters allows for a varied appeal to readers. “Why, O God?” gives a biblical foundation for understanding the existence of suffering, how suffering is used by God and how we can respond biblically — both individually and collectively — to the problems of pain and suffering of those around us.
Suffering and disability often leave its victims and their loved ones feeling helpless, and this is especially true of parents whose children struggle with special needs. These parents’ deepest desire is to take away the hurt, yet they feel inadequate.
As an educator of children with special needs, I have read many books written to help parents be advocates for their children with disabilities.
“Different Dream Parenting: A Practical Guide to Raising A Child With Special Needs” is perhaps the most practical book I have read for parents of children with disabilities.
Jolene Philo, a parent of a child with special needs, offers practical help, extensive advice about resources and encouraging spiritual guidance.
Philo, a speaker, writer and blogger, encourages parents of critically and chronically ill children. Helping them grieve their lost dreams for their children and then create new ones is her passion.
The author wants to help parents “start where they are, move beyond the challenges and experience the joy of being your child’s advocate,” she writes. She encourages parents to ask their faith questions as she shares what she and other parents have learned about “asking, listening and waiting for spiritual answers or encouragement.” She offers suggestions about how to find comfort and courage in God’s Word.
“Different Dream Parenting” contains six sections: Diagnosis, Hospital Life, Juggling Two Worlds, Long-Term Care Conditions, Losing a Child and Raising a Survivor. Each section addresses practical issues and spiritual concerns.
At the end of each chapter, Philo includes reflections, resources, prayers and practical tips to increase parental awareness of services and to assure them they are not alone.
For most parents, the problem may not be a lack of resources but a lack of awareness of them or inability to access them. “Different Dream Parenting” brings advice from professionals and provides information about national organizations and resources. It also gives tips about where to start searching for state and local resources.
Another writer with some valuable insights into parenting a disabled child is Abilene Christian University instructor and Church of Christ preacher Mike Cope.
In “Megan’s Secrets: What My Mentally Disabled Daughter Taught Me About Life,” he says his best teacher was his intellectually disabled daughter, Megan, who in her brief life taught her father life-giving secrets. In his moving remembrance, Cope lovingly shares those secrets in a way that will make readers laugh, cry and find hope. Megan, whose favorite song was “I’m in the Lord’s Army,” taught lessons the best scholars in the world could not.
The first half of this book focuses on the power of Megan’s frail life. In the second half, Cope pushes further into themes of loss, joy, doubt, faith, grief and hope.
Megan’s life exposed some of the insanities of this world’s messages about being successful. Megan reminds us “that what really matters has to do with the internal qualities of the heart: keeping promises, seeking justice in a brutal world, learning to see those in greatest need and living with courage, joy and unconditional love,” Cope writes. The author and his daughter remind us that God uses our brokenness to his glory.
This heart-touching book wraps these secrets and more into stories that will restore hope to those grieving. 

In addition to anecdotes and stories from Megan’s life are stories of other young heroes faced with similar challenges. Cope uses their circumstances to introduce lessons from Scripture and biblical characters. 
Comprehensive chapter notes and credits offer material for future reading. A discussion guide included at the end of the book makes it suitable for small-group use.
All three of these timely books uniquely address the problems of suffering, disabilities and the church through the testimonies of those who have suffered and the lessons God has taught them.
The wisdom of personal testimonies is buttressed with biblical studies in “Why, O God?” giving needed insight into the question, “Why?”
“Different Dream Parenting” offers an abundance of practical resources to help parents trust God as they find hope and strength for the task of raising a child with special needs.
Finally, “Megan’s Secrets” teaches us that in our losses, we may cry, groan and question, but we don’t despair, for we live in hope.
MARIE JOHNSON is assistant professor of special education at Freed-Hardeman University and a member of the Estes Church of Christ in Henderson, Tenn.  

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

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