Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Dr. Charles Stewart's Book Review of Parenting Your Complex Child

This blog is not about selling my book but this review sent to me by Dr. Stewart does have good spiritual insight into special needs children and I wanted to share it with you today:

by Peggy Lou Morgan

This review of Peggy’s book is from the standpoint of a pastor, and as a friend of Peggy and her family. Her world and that of Billy Ray includes that of her church and her faith.

Her story is one of great value to any caregiver, especially to pastors who could read what it is like to live with one such as Billy Ray. What I have to write is from this viewpoint.

Peggy Lou Morgan’s story reminds me of the story of Sisyphus of Greek mythology. Sisyphus was condemned in Hades to roll a stone up a hill until he nearly achieved the peak, only to have the stone roll back again, and the action to be repeated with the same failure forever. One might ask, "Will she never learn that there is no cure for Billy Ray?" This is not a story for those who want a "magic wand" to solve their problems or who wish for a happy ending to every story. Or for those who glibly sing of a silver lining in every dark cloud. However, this is the story of the power of faith, hope and love. Although Peggy never mentions the name of Jesus, it is not because she doesn’t live by His power. Her story reminds me of the story of Esther, the only book in the Bible in which the name of God does not appear, but in which the power of faith in Him shines brightly.

Peggy lays bare her life with Billy Ray and her husband Larry with the utmost candor. It is not a candor that parades itself with a false humility seeking attention to herself nor does she seek victimhood by her vivid descriptions of what she endures in trying to find solutions. In this day when abortion, euthanasia, and incarceration are on the tip of our tongue as solutions to the problems of the sort the Billy Rays of the world pose for us, it is refreshing to see that someone refuses the easy way out. Her perplexity and pain are laid bare, but so is the love that ties her to her son.

The questions that Peggy raises here about the ability of society (that’s us) to deal with the Billy Rays of the world may seem unfair. However, Peggy never descends into the easy criticism that destroys all who failed to help Billy Ray. Her experience with the world of professionals was both good and bad. The good was very good and the bad... well? Who wants to be treated as a "dumb parent"?

Does Peggy expect too much of the world of professionals? She knows that we exalt these people onto the heights of Mt. Olympus. She went to Mt. Olympus many times and found the gods not at home. Then what? With the true insight of a scientist she begins to document every thing. It reminds me of a trend in the world of religion. It is called "journaling." It is taught in colleges and seminaries under the heading of "Spiritual Formation" ( a new phrase for the devotional life). Peggy got a handle on her problems when she began to document what was going on in her life with Billy Ray. This proved helpful when she goes to her doctor.

There is a lesson for living that shines bright in the chapter telling us to "communicate and adapt" (Chapter 9). It reminds me of Rabbi Kushner’s book about "all he learned for life he learned in kindergarten." We are all "telling it like it is" people, but we often fail to adapt, to get over it and get on with life. "Telling it like it is" is description; knowing what to do with the "like it is" is prescription, and she is not short in that respect.

What do you do when the thing that you do to help turns out to be tragic? Peggy details this dilemma on page 72. She blamed herself for giving Billy Ray the medicine that would change his life "dramatically." Wouldn’t it be grand if everything we did to help others turned out well? This is life in the raw. There are no failsafe ways to live and love. Peggy let her failures turn her to her faith. "Crisis has a way of turning us to our personal faith." (p. 73).

Support groups are essential for overcoming the obstacles of life. Peggy is not jousting with mice in her effort to find peace for herself and her home, and especially for finding the way to help Billy Ray. She comes to the place where one must acknowledge what can be changed and what cannot. From this cul-de-sac in life she arises to devise plans, in consultation with others, to help Billy Ray. The importance of formulating plans and goals to make a difference is a start. Carrying them out requires resolution.

Perhaps the central thing about her struggle, and one could say, a turning point, is when she allowed Billy Ray to teach her (Chapter 8) It reminds me of an observation made by Professor Stanley Hauerwas in his book Sanctify Them in the Truth, Holiness Exemplified. In Chapter 8, "Timeless Friends: Living with the Handicapped," Hauerwas writes . "People who really care about the mentally handicapped never run out of things to say, since they do not write ‘about’ the mentally handicapped precisely because they do not view the mentally handicapped as just another ‘subject.’ They write for and in some sense with the mentally handicapped." (p. 144). He goes on to show how our approach to caring for these people "exposes the pretensions of the humanism that shapes the practices of modernity." (145) To give an example of what he is talking about, Hauerwas refers to Michael Berube’s book, Life As We know It: A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child, the story of two college professors and their Down’s syndrome child. Hauerwas does not allow the Berubes, who believe in abortion to get off the hook. There is no acceptable future for Jaimie, the handicapped son of the Berubes, in the world of modernity that knows no God. "As Christians," Hauerwas writes, "we should not be embarrassed to discover that the mentally handicapped among us help us better understand the narrative that constitutes the very purpose of our existence." (p. 151). The handicapped expose our own sense of weakness and helplessness (153). Peggy experienced what those who use the methods of "therapies based on mechanistic presumptions...rather than community" experience (p. 152). She, however, had a community of faith, as ignorant as we are at times of ourselves and our weakness, that together, with God, all things seem possible.

Peggy did not write this book to do what I think would be an appropriate use of this narrative. If this book could stimulate a new discussion of the church and its care of the "complex child", it would more than prove its value to the larger community from which it has arisen.

Dr. Charles W. Stewart, D. Min.
Until next time,
Peggy Lou Morgan

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