As a father of children with special needs, I confess that I typically do not read books by parents with similar experiences. Such books often focus on the parents’ distress, and while they might help me feel less alone, few leave me encouraged. I’m happy to say that Karen and Rick Santorum’s new book, Bella’s Gift, was the exception.

The Santorums’ story of their daughter Bella, born with Trisomy 18, is both painfully honest and incredibly hopeful. Told Bella would likely die before her first birthday, the Santorums openly share their struggles, but also how they have clung to their faith and to each other. They honestly share private and painful moments, but they also share the hope and strength they gain from their Creator.

Their story teaches us much about what love really is. We tend to think of love as a feeling, but the Santorums’ experiences with Bella explore the unconditional agape love we read about in the Bible. I confess that I read this book through tears. It brought back painful memories of the death of my daughter and my failings as a husband and father. I recalled times I had sold my own kids short, forgetting what they are truly capable of.

The Santorums are genuinely pro-life, not just politically, but personally. I appreciate so much their understanding that being pro-life is not just about unborn babies, but also about children with special needs, adults with disabilities and the elderly.  They also share my tremendous concern about the Affordable Care Act and its potential impact on the most vulnerable.

Closely tied to this is their understanding of how truly vulnerable children with special needs are. This is not just due to their physical and mental challenges, but also because of large segments of the medical community that should be there to help them. Using President George W. Bush’s phrase about education, Santorum says, “The soft bigotry of low expectations for the disabled is often deadly” (p. 53). I have seen this with my own eyes, and it is frightening.

I believe this book is a must read for everyone. Whether you have a child with special needs, are caring for an aging parent or are just dealing with the day to day realities of relationships, you will walk away from this book with a much deeper understanding and appreciation of love.