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Lessons from Katherine

By Glenda W. Prins

Lessons from Katherine. By Glenda W. Prins. Circle Books: Spiritual Struggle Series (2013).

Book Review by Rebecca Frey

Lessons from Katherine is a memoir of the journey author Glenda Prins travels as she comes to grips with the reality that her adoptive daughter, Katherine, is severely disabled.

After years of being unable to conceive a child, Glenda Prins and husband, Tom, decide to become parents through adoption.   They are blessed with three-month old Katherine--bright blue eyes, captivating smile and a very easy baby.  Perhaps too easy, they would soon find out, as her development plateaus and Katherine fails to reach typical developmental milestones.   It isn’t long before Glenda and Tom are unexpectedly thrown into the world of parenting a child with special needs.   

As a mother of three teen children (biological and adoptive) with a smorgasbord of special health care needs, I found myself often nodding my head in complete understanding as the author shares her experiences.  I also caught myself feeling a bit uncomfortable and off guard as the author reveals some very dark thoughts and feelings as she journeys through her grief.   While there is a great deal of unconditional love and spiritual growth shared throughout Lessons from Katherine, Glenda Prins did not write a gentle story, protecting the reader from some of the more difficult realities of parenting a child with a significant life-long disability.  Instead, she writes authentically about her entire journey, good and bad, and I applaud her for that.   

“What do you do when you are faced with such difficult news?  You carry on.  You put one foot in front of the other…You take the best advice available at the moment and inch forward” (44).    Glenda Prins openly shares the struggle she experiences as she grieves her inability to conceive and carry a child.  She shares the frustration and uncertainty she feels as her adopted daughter goes through the process of receiving contradicting diagnoses and predictions about her future.  She does not hide the strain placed on her marriage to Tom and how Katherine’s disability contributes to his failed business.  

Soon after adopting their daughter, Glenda feels the call to attend seminary. Her studies open up many difficult spiritual questions and force her to grapple with the anger she feels.  How could an all-powerful God allow Katherine’s disabilities?  Was God both omnipotent and compassionate? (109).  What might it mean to live not according to law, but under grace? (120).  How could God let a beautiful, innocent child live with cerebral palsy? (149).

On a lighter note, Glenda introduces her readers to some of the professionals, relatives, and friends who show deep devotion and tender kindness through some very deep valleys.   Glenda and Tom’s fierce love and commitment are obvious as heartfelt stories of Katherine are woven throughout the book, leaving you with a sense of Katherine’s charming, tenacious personality.  A deeper understanding of God’s grace and healing become apparent as acceptance of Katherine’s disability unfolds.

Lessons from Katherine  is a mother’s very personal journey.   For those supporting families of children with disabilities, this book may be helpful and thought provoking to read.   However, I caution those readers to remember, this is one person’s journey….each journey is unique.   Parts of this book would have been difficult for me to digest ten years ago, as I was fairly new to parenting, and especially to “special needs parenting.”   However, at this point in my life, I found the book refreshingly honest. It left me wishing to hear more of Glenda’s journey.   

Reviewer Rebecca Frey is the mother of three children (biological and adopted) who live with a smorgasbord of special healthcare needs. She leads a support network for parents of children with special needs and attends Ligonier (IN) United Methodist Church.

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