When you hear that your child has a disability, your heart and hope may be broken, and your faith may be struggling to reconcile how God can be good even though your situation is devastating. Parents ask, “Will my child still have a full life?” “Can I do this?” “Where is God in all this?”
Bible Gateway interviewed Diane Dokko Kim (@DianeDokkoKim) about her book, Unbroken Faith: Spiritual Recovery for the Special Needs Parent (Worthy Inspired, 2018).
How did you come to write Unbroken Faith?
Diane Dokko Kim: Unbroken Faith is a book I never intended to write. In 2004, my husband and I returned from missions, and committed to full-time ministry. We looked forward to fruitfulness, blessings, and favor from God. They came in the unexpected packaging of our 18-month old being diagnosed with autism.
Stunned and feeling trapped by our spiritual résumé, I poured my grief into a password-protected document, a journal that grew into my own book of Psalms: How could God let this happen to us? Was he going to fix this? Does he care? How could I trust him again?
After five years of wrestling with God, he brought healing: perhaps not in my son’s cognitive disability, but in my own spiritual disability. What the enemy intended for harm, God used to draw me into a deeper understanding to his heart, and prove the transformative power of his Word, now exquisitely relevant to the modern-day realities of special-needs parenting. Having redeemed the pain that wrecked me, he re-purposed it into a passion to comfort others with the comfort I received from Christ.
Why is this book needed?
Diane Dokko Kim: Unbroken Faith is the book I wish had existed for that critical season of struggle. Our child had been diagnosed with disability. But I had been crippled, too. Suddenly, we were thrust into a 40-hour week of intensive therapy and various interventions. But no therapists came for me.
Like most special-needs parents, I Googled desperately for solutions. I found a wealth of resources for my son’s disability and practical needs. But precious few Christian resources existed that addressed the hidden impairments of a grieving and disillusioned parent.
The book also seeks to serve as a translator or “tour guide” for those outside the world of disability. Families affected by disability can be complex, delicate, and challenging to understand. We often don’t have the bandwidth to explain our needs or situations, leaving friends and extended family mystified and apprehensive on how to help.
Unbroken Faith seeks to educate “first responders,” (for example, extended family, friends, and church community) on our unseen wounds: the spiritual and practical needs faced by families living with disability. It preemptively seeks to answer, “What can we do to help?” by empowering the supporting community with understanding, and enable them to respond with compassion and meaningful support. With 20% of the US population affected by disability, everyone is statistically certain to know someone.
What are specific hurdles that Christian special needs parents face?
Diane Dokko Kim: Christian parents struggle to reconcile faith in a good God with devastating loss and grief. There is a pervasive misconception in the church: that faith and grief are mutually exclusive. We feel as if we can’t be honest about our conflicted emotions, and feel obligated to put on a mask, lest we look unspiritual or unfaithful. But an all-knowing and all-loving God already knows how we feel, and extends compassion for our sufferings.
There’s also significant blame, guilt, and shame associated with disability. This is reflected in John 9:2, when the disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Some parents have even been directly questioned if they harbor secret sin or did something wrong to cause their child’s condition—as if disability was a cosmic retribution. But there’s no karma or condemnation in Christ. Jesus squarely overturned this false notion when he answered, “Neither this man sinned…but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Also, 90% of families affected by disability are unable to attend church, because only 10-15% of US churches are equipped to receive them. When faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17), where does our help come from? In a world that devalues those who are different, who else needs to hear the Good News that God esteems our children as wonderfully and fearfully made? Who hungers more to hear that God has a purpose, “plans to prosper you and not to harm, plans to give you hope and a future”?
Scripture is heavily incorporated throughout the book. Share a few passages that you’ve found particularly relevant or comforting on your journey with disability.
Diane Dokko Kim: In Genesis 1, the first and most perfect parent in the universe did everything right to guarantee the health and success of his firstborn children. What more could he have done? But only a few chapters in, by the account of Noah, those beloved children didn’t turn out as he expected, and his heart was filled with pain.
At the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus experienced oppression by a burden no one could understand. He cried out desperate prayers that appeared to be meet with silence. His closest friends failed to understand or support him in his deepest pain and sorrow.
And on the cross, Jesus cried out the same words I’ve screamed at the skies in my moments of utter frustration and despair, “My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
Special-needs parenting can feel like an isolated and lonely journey. But God understands every heartache and sorrow common to man, even the uncommon stresses of parenting children with disabilities. He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, and gives us grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16)
You emphasize the importance of parents taking the time to grieve the dreams and plans they had for their child prior to a special needs diagnosis. Why is this process important?
Diane Dokko Kim: We grieve the loss of our idealized child; and our grief matters to God. The book of Psalms is our precedent, where God is magnanimous in devoting significant real estate to honor and validate human angst and doubt. He gives us permission to grieve, doubt, and ask hard questions. For true healing and restoration of our faith to occur, we must first authentically acknowledge and process our grief.
God desires truth in our innermost being. He knows that if we short-change this process, we cannot fully heal. Unresolved bitterness and resentment will leak sideways, impairing our relationship with God, and poisoning our relationships with those closest to us. If we can’t heal and surrender our dashed expectations, our hearts will be closed to the new, unexpected blessings God desires to reveal in and through our children.
What words of hope do you give to parents that have just been given a disability diagnosis for their child and are entering into that grief?
Diane Dokko Kim: Give yourself permission and time to grieve the loss of unmet expectations. God understands and grieves with us. He, too, had paradise and perfection in mind for his children. He has a plan to redeem and re-purpose our perceived losses. Find safe people and places to be real with and to lean on. But ultimately, our hearts must heave heavenward. Only he can fully understand carrying a burden no one can understand, and provide divine hope for the journey.
What do you want your readers to take away from Unbroken Faith?
Diane Dokko Kim: My greatest wish is for readers to experience the power, timelessness, and relevance of the Bible, applied to even the most messy life circumstances. The Word of God is truly living and active (Heb. 4:12), and has everything to do with the gritty realities of special needs parenting. My hope is for readers to discover the same relevance in their own unique contexts. My prayer is for them to discover the God of compassion, who suffers with us and for us; who rescues us from despair, redeems our disasters, and re-purposes them into unimaginable blessings. Our God is a redeeming God—the only kind he knows how to be.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway?
Diane Dokko Kim: I’d like to thank Bible Gateway for being a tremendous ministry partner! My objective has been to offer personal, modern-day life experiences that illustrate the timeless relevance of the Bible. Everything I’ve written on my blog is intentionally infused with Scripture, hyperlinked from Bible Gateway. An effective tool to undergird my work with biblical richness, Bible Gateway has been my go-to resource.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Diane Dokko Kim: Not everyone is affected by disability. But everyone gets “crippled” by something. No one is exempt from the jagged edges of a broken planet. At some point, all believers must contend with, “How could God let this happen? Is He going to fix this? If not, how will I get through it? How will I trust God again?”
Unbroken Faith is not just for special-needs parents. It’s for anyone “crippled” by anything. Whether it’s a diagnosis, disorder, divorce, death—or the death of a dream—everyone has to reconcile our faith with disappointment. The greatest gifts can come wrapped in suffering. Brokenness may steal, kill, and destroy indiscriminately. But God is an equal opportunity healer and Redeemer. No matter what our spiritual diagnosis, we can all have the same solution. His name is Jesus.
Bio: A San Francisco Bay Area native, Diane has been serving for over 25 years in bi-vocational church leadership, serving the disabled community. Diane’s first son was diagnosed with autism and ADHD/ADD in 2004, at age two which triggered profound personal, professional, and spiritual crises. In 2008, she began serving as a special needs ministry consultant and in 2012 launched an online ministry to reach out to special needs families. Diane and her husband, Eddie, live in the heart of Silicon Valley with their two young sons, Jeremy and Justin.
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