Receiving David: The Gift of a Son who Taught Us How to Live and Love, by Faye Knol. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2010. 173 pages. $15.00. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-8028-6543-4. Reviewed by Douglas J. Kuiper.
Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability, by Stephanie O. Hubach. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006. 234 pages. $14.99. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-59638-051-6. Reviewed by Douglas J. Kuiper.
I’ve read two books recently written by mothers of special needs children. Both mothers are Christians of Reformed and Presbyterian background. Both have insights in the area of special needs individuals in the church, insights that will make us benefit from the books. Both books make the reader laugh at times and weep at others.
Yet the books are different—different circumstances, different “special needs,” and different purposes.
Receiving David educates the members of the church regarding the joys and sorrows of caring for special needs children. The reader will learn to empathize with fellow saints whom God has blessed with special needs children (or adults).
Same Lake, Different Boat does the same, but also addresses the matter of what the church as a body and an institute can do for such members. Pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers—such should read this book with a view to learning how better to minister to special needs individuals.
Receiving David is the story of the life of David Knol, born 14 weeks premature, and afflicted for the rest of his 22years with physical and intellectual disabilities. The word “disabilities” certainly is not out of place: David was blind, prone to seizures, small of stature, and attended Lincoln School in Grand Rapids, a school devoted to special needs children. But the book speaks also of David’s physical and intellectual abilities: he could walk and talk; he enjoyed “high energy play” (typical boy!); and he confessed his faith in a Christian church that, although the book does not say explicitly, seems to have been in the Reformed tradition. Of these abilities, his mother writes: “David’s memory for people, events, and facts (including trivia) soared, amazing and baffling us” (43). “With his keen ear, David was great at doing imitations. Dogs were his specialty. It was hilarious to watch dogs respond by darting back and forth, looking for the source of the barking” (52).
The book is primarily biographical. The reader will learn of the challenges that not only David, but also his parents, faced as he grew up. The author, David’s mother, opens up her own home and life to the reader, for all to see.
The book is valuable for several reasons.
It demonstrates that the daily life of families with special needs members differs greatly from the daily life of others. The challenges that such parents face and the multitude of decisions they must make are set forth: “We were aware that many of our peers did not grasp the extra strength and effort it took for us to care for David” (22). “We’d all had to come to terms with the difficulties of taking David out in public…as he grew older, the stares, pointing, and questions became more common” (39). And, in David’s last months on earth (he died from kidney failure), the question: do we arrange for a kidney transplant? Put him in dialysis? Or see this as God’s way of delivering him from this life? “Friends and family began to protect us from people who would find it difficult to comprehend the extensive deliberations and agony involved in our decision” (86).
The book reminds us that, when such a child dies, the parents experience grief. Some who imagine that a special needs child is only a “burden” do not understand this point: “Some thought that after arranging our lives around David’s needs for twenty-two years, we would now have a sense of relief…. But we had loved him. And now there is always someone—and a piece of our own life—missing” (150).
The book provides nuggets of wisdom, which families of such children do well to remember. “Harry [David’s father]…resolved that David should be treated as a part of the family, not the center of it” (9). And: “Harry began a daily routine of praying for David to become happy” (21). God answered this prayer!
The book reminds those who do not have personal experience with special needs individuals that our responses to the burden God has given others are often unhelpful: “We often heard comments about others’ not being able to handle a child such as David. These clichÃ©s weren’t necessarily helpful and often fell flat” (21).
The book reminds us that parents or caregivers of special needs children need a break from time to time. Fellow saints—not just anyone, but those who truly care and make an effort at understanding the needs of the child—can help give that break: “Harry’s parents…learned to manage all aspects of David’s care” (34). Also, Knol’s friends formed a “Friends of David” team, from which team three families were designated every month as those who could be called on to watch David for a few hours (57).
The book has its value. But it also has its price. At $15, I think it a bit steep, considering the content. Few will read the book more than once. If your church library includes books of this sort, encourage your librarian to buy it; or get it from your local library.
And read it, not to conclude what you would have done in a similar situation, or to criticize the decisions the parents made, but to learn to empathize with brothers and sisters in Christ who are in different circumstances.
Same Lake, Different Boat is a story, too—the story of Timmy Hubach, who has Down’s syndrome, and his family. But it is much more than a story. Timmy’s mother analyzes the place special needs people have in the church, puts the struggles of families with special needs children in proper, biblical perspective, and helps the church understand how, in a practical way, to include such members in their own congregation.
I’m not going to try to summarize this book at length. Suffice it to say that part one (the first five chapters) helps the reader come to a right perspective on the fact that God gives some mental and physical disabilities. These are “a normal part of life in an abnormal world” (27). It is not accurate to think of those with disabilities as being “in the same boat” with others who do not have disabilities; and yet they are on the “same lake,” being members of the same body of Christ. These children are to be received with respect, in recognition of the fact that they are God’s gifts to His church.
Chapter four, which is in part one, and all of part two, are meant to show the reader the many facets of the trial, the ways in which it takes its toll, and the spiritual temptations that beset the caregiver of special needs children. Those on whom God has placed this burden must not view themselves as victims, nor think their trial will soon be over, but rather take up their cross cheerfully every day, by putting their focus on God.
And part three is “about facilitation in the church.” The church must avoid being like the innkeeper who had no room in the inn for Joseph and Mary. The church must actively include these special needs members in Christian education, church life, worship, and other ways. This requires great wisdom on the church’s part, and hard questions must be asked and answered. The book ends with an encouragement to churches to make the inclusion of special needs children a goal.
Mrs. Hubach writes well, and in an interesting manner. She not only tells a story; she teaches, and requires the individual reader as well as the entire congregation to practice the painful exercise of self-examination.
This book, too, belongs in church libraries that permit books of this sort in it; but pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and the like might also find their own personal copy helpful.