New Book Emphasizes Worth of Each Individual

Post a Comment » Written on July 11th, 2007     
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WASILLA, AK (July 11, 2007) – Dena Luchsinger’s new bilingual, illustrated children’s book, Sometimes Smart Is Good (A Veces Es Bueno Ser Listo), was born of her love for children with disabilities. She wanted to let kids know that even children with disabilities – such as her son Andrew – are loved by God.

Luchsinger worked extensively with handicapped children and their families while she was on the mission field. The book grew out of that experience, which almost never happened.

Andrew was born with Down Syndrome in 1997 just weeks after Luchsinger and her husband, Tom, were approved by the Board of World Mission to be career missionaries to Mexico. “We thought we had the next 20 or so years of our lives pretty well figured out when Andrew was born in March,” she observes.

BookShortly after Andrew’s birth, the Luchsingers learned the challenging news, which threatened their plans. The couple thought that having a Down Syndrome child would disqualify them from the mission field. The couple did continue, however, traveling to Costa Rica for a year of language school. While living in Costa Rica, they became close friends with Paula and Agosto, a couple who had a severely handicapped daughter, Daniela.

“Agosto applauded Andrew’s every minor achievement so wholeheartedly it touched my heart, especially as all the subtle advances Andrew made I’m sure were all the more evident to him because Daniela had never made any progress at all,” Luchsinger says. “We weren’t even sure if she could see or hear. She simply did not respond to anything at all.”

Luchsinger adds, “The difficulties of raising a delayed child hadn’t really hit me back then, but Paula’s and Agosto’s selfless and tender dedication to Daniela’s 24-7 care amazed me.  I pondered it over the next year and a half, even after we’d left Costa Rica and moved on to our new home in Monterrey, Mexico.”

Together with missionaries John and Letha Kerl, the Luchsingers started The Foundation for Family Development, a nonprofit set up to serve families holistically, including spiritually. Luchsinger already had started a support group for families of children with Down Syndrome, which had grown to include some 30 families. Over 18 months at the foundation, she developed Project Down and its mission, “Blessed to Bless Others.”

In the fall of 2000, with the help of several Mexican advisors and therapists, the foundation launched a number of programs including trans-disciplinary play-based assessments, a didactic toy and book lending library, and a 10-week parent course on play-based therapy. The final session of the course was an evangelistic sermon in which Luchsinger told parents that God gave them children with Down Syndrome to show that their kids were valuable and loved by God – contrary to what the rest of society may think.

The text of Sometimes Smart Is Good reflects those same ideas – and draws on an earlier friendship. A picture of a physically and mentally handicapped girl is accompanied by text that reads, “This is my friend Daniela. She reminds me that all people are important just because God made them. Sometimes smart is good. Loving other people just because God made them is always good.”

Luchsinger wrote the book in 1999 while living in Monterrey. “I was in the midst of figuring out Project Down at the time, and Paula and Agosto’s family were still often in my thoughts and prayers,” she says. “It just came to me that Daniela wasn’t worthless, in spite of not being able to do literally anything. Psalm 46 says, ‘Be still and know I am God.’ Daniela is, if nothing else, still.  It occurred to me that that’s enough. In fact, it’s prophetic.”

Inspired, Luchsinger wrote the book in only 20 minutes while waiting for a carpet-cleaning crew that was late. Luchsinger mailed the manuscript to six publishers and quickly received five rejection letters.

“I was too busy to worry about it and figured it wasn’t God’s plan,” Luchsinger says. Six months later, Judy Zylstra of Eerdmans called to say the company wanted to publish it.  Only one word in the original text was ever edited, but Zylstra proposed a major change: The book should be bilingual, which excited Luchsinger.

Five years passed, however, before Karen Jerome was found to illustrate the story. “The illustrations were all Karen,” Luchsinger says. “My input was limited to just some suggestions about realistically portraying the disabled characters in the text. It amazed me how Karen captured my dreams for the illustrations, including multi-cultural characters and the animals that make it so tender.”

Luchsinger now lives in Wasilla, where Tom is pastor of Mat-Su Covenant Church. The book helped her re-connect with Daniela’s parents, with whom she had lost contact for several years. “With the help of a friend in Costa Rica I was able to track them down, re-kindle our friendship, and forward them a copy of the book,” Luchsinger says. “They were delighted with the memorial of their “little angel.”  Daniela died last year.  She was 10.

Editor’s note: In a 2004 Covenant Companion article, Luchsinger reflected on how Andrew’s disabilities have helped shape her spiritual life. See Lessons from an Unplugged Life. To purchase the book, please visit the online Covenant Bookstore.

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