Friends! I recently caught a fascinating interview with Senator Rick Santorum on the Eric Metaxas Show.
I’ve always respected Rick immensely and didn’t realize he’s currently a Senior Political Commentator on CNN. He’s on Anderson Cooper and on Chris Cuomo and one of the morning shows each week! (Which rock have I been under?)
The other wonderful discovery from Eric Metaxas’ show was learning about a book Rick and his wife, Karen, wrote called Bella’s Gift: How One Little Girl Transformed Our Family and Inspired a Nation. (Their daughter, Elizabeth, helped them write the book.)
As with many of Eric’s guests who write books, upon hearing the interview, I immediately ordered the book. Reading the book is like you’re sitting down with Rick and Karen (each of them have written several chapters) while they walk us through a whale of a storm they experienced and continue to live with each day.
Parents to eight children, one of which died soon after he was born (Gabriel—his death was their first storm they encountered prior to the current one they’re enduring. Karen wrote a book about Gabriel and their experience: Letters to Gabriel), we see how their last child, Bella, impacts the entire family which is hugely miraculous.
Bella was born with Trisomy 18. Most babies born with this condition don’t survive more than a few days. You’ll be astonished at some of the doctors Bella had who never called her by name, wrote her off as untreatable, considered her not worth their time, while calling her “incompatible with life.”
The first few days of Bella’s life were frightening to say the least, charting unknown territory. Karen says, “A strong prayer chain strengthened and sustained us. Our families and friends were the hands of Christ during her hospitalization.” And you can see how they remain strong week in and week out throughout the book.
The Mama Bear in me surfaced quickly and Karen, more than once, called this instinct we moms have her “inner Grizzly Bear.” Happy with relief over finally finding docs who were on board, compassionate, and who gave Bella wonderful care, Rick and Karen brought Bella home where she’s blossomed, has six siblings who adore her and I’m happy to report is now eleven years old!
Frightening trips to the hospital keep the Santorum family on their toes, along with multi-faceted daily care for Bella. How did they survive the early years and how do they keep putting one foot forward every day? And how in the world did Rick run for President during all of this? (You must read the book to find out!)
You will be inspired by bold faith, gut-level honesty, and pearls of wisdom both Rick and Karen generously share. Additionally, you may wonder (and marvel) at how they held their marriage together. Plus you will never look at a special-needs child the same again, that I can promise. The Santorum’s teach us, “We see that value is not determined by what society calls ‘usefulness,’ but, rather, value is measured by our capacity to love.”
While each of the eighteen chapters has the word “love” in its title, each offers a glimpse at the many ways love affects us and how we can learn to emulate this beautiful kind of God-given love toward one another.
My two favorite chapters are Chapter 13: Love Unifies (by Karen) and Chapter 14: Love Encourages Selflessness (by Rick).
In Chapter 13, Karen reveals advice she gives newlyweds based on her own marriage and experiences. She says, “It’s good to understand that marriage is never 50-50. Sometimes, whether it’s emotional, physical, or spiritual, one of you will need the encouragement and strength of the other. You will give 90 %. …Believe and love each other through the imbalances. …because there’s no room for selfishness in marriage.”
She quotes Ephesians 4:26 as their go-to verse: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Karen says when they do have a conflict, Rick always says, “I’m not going anywhere, so let’s just work it out.” I love that and Karen closes with, “Amen.”
Karen and Rick emphasize the importance of family in every chapter. Because their children were old enough to take on many chores, etc., they were a huge help to Karen managing the care for Bella. She grew up in a large family and she says,
The Santorums consider Bella a gift to their family for a lot of reasons, and Karen says, “One of the most important reasons was to revisit and strengthen my understanding of love through the fear of loss…Rick and I both understood that ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.’” (I John 4:18)
Last week I wrote about a book by Lloyd John Ogilvie called Facing the Future without Fear: Prescriptions for Courageous Living in the New Millennium. Lloyd was the Chaplain to the Senate during the time Rick was a Senator. In Rick and Karen’s book, Rick credits Lloyd, along with a priest, for transforming his faith. You will see in each chapter how strong their faith is which helps them navigate this storm they’re enduring. God’s impeccable timing is nothing short of miraculous.
Karen closes Chapter 13 with, “Our love for each other and for our Lord has unified us through all the ups and downs. The twists and turns of life have brought us even closer together.” This chapter is inspirational and filled with words of wisdom on the loss of a child, on surviving a storm, and on how to preserve your marriage. As with each of the chapters, it offers multiple Bible verses (she calls them “sacred Scripture”) you’ll want to write in your journal asap.
Regarding their storm, Karen said, “Venturing into uncharted, stormy seas, my vessel was my faith, and it separated me from the sea of madness and sorrow.”
In Chapter 14, Rick speaks about the importance of family and shows us how “Love Encourages Selflessness.” He says, “Families are the foundation of society, so when families are healthy, so is the country.” We get to learn of Rick’s childhood and how he saw what it meant for family to come first.
Rick addresses selflessness both in families and in marriage. He teaches us the acronym for FAMILY: “Forget About Me I Love You.”
Rick once had the opportunity to meet Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She said something he never forgot, “God does not call on you to do great things; He calls on you to do little things with great love.”
Chapter 15, “Love Begets Peace,” opens with a lovely quote from Madeline L’Engle:
I am certain Rick and Karen have been a beautiful visual of the light of Christ to scores of people they’ve encountered. Whether it was in the political arena, or in hospitals or doctors offices where they’ve been with Bella, their light from our Lord is causing many to want what they have.
It’s no coincidence Karen used to be a neonatal intensive care nurse. More than once, when they had to call 911 for Bella, Rick and the children chime in it was Karen who saved Bella. Any time Bella gets a simple cold, it usually goes into her chest, causing breathing to be difficult and a downward spiral to her health.
What Karen and Rick have done for Bella, not just for her as their child, but for thousands of children with special-needs, fighting for their rights and the perfect care, is above and beyond, making all of us realize afresh we are all created by the same God who loves each and every one of us, each with our own purpose to glorify God as He would orchestrate. Amen and amen and thank you, Rick and Karen Santorum for this beautiful, eye-opening book. God Bless you and your family!
‘Til next time!