Sandra Peoples is not asking you to feel sorry for her. Neither is she asking you to be impressed with how well she’s dealing. Although his book is a personal testimony about the challenges and joys of raising her non-verbal son, she actually wrote this book for you. Every page of Unexpected Blessings is written to offer hope and comfort to a family facing the disruption of a diagnosis for one of their children that they didn’t expect. Since it is such a short book it absolutely could and should also be read by churches who want to know how best to support one of the unreached people groups in America: children with special needs and their families.
With gentle encouragement, Peoples comes alongside parents who are reeling in the wake of a difficult diagnosis to offer them hope. She corrects poor theology and points back to stories from scripture that feature “unexpected” events that were ordained by God.
Peoples knows parents don’t want cliches like “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” In fact, she reminds us that God gave Abraham and Moses and Daniel more than they could handle on their own, but God was also with them. Sprinkled throughout the book are reminders that God loves all of his children, that this diagnosis is not a punishment or a lesson but an opportunity for God to display his works (John 9:3).
She reminds the hurting parent that “Jesus doesn’t condemn us for feeling a full range of emotions, and we shouldn’t condemn each other. It’s ok to not be ok. There is grace to meet you there.” Her hope is “to make sure no parent feels alone, no matter what emotions he or she is experiencing” and her words do just that. She includes several chapters filled with practical suggestions for caring for your own mind, body, and soul. Because she grew up with an older sister who has Down’s Syndrome, Peoples is also able to offer helpful insight on what it is like to be the sibling of a child with special needs.
Unexpected Blessings also offers a vision for the church that is very much needed. If our politics are pro-life, then our pews must be welcoming for all types of families. Sandra Peoples offers some ideas for churches that don’t want to only “love and serve people who can best serve them back” but are willing to “love and serve people–period.”