Passing on the faith to our children is an awesome responsibility, and one that can seem overwhelming when one's child is disabled, or learns in different ways. Author Allison Gingras shares the story of how she taught her deaf daughter about her Catholic faith through the use of the Church's tangible treasures and traditions in her new book Encountering Signs of Faith; My Unexpected Journey with Sacramentals, the Saints, and the Abundant Grace of God.
"I believe as a Church in general, we forget these tangible encounters with God exist," Gingras shared recently. "We don't make the connection between the devotions, traditions, and blessings of our faith and catechesis. These treasures of the Catholic faith help bring the faith alive to children and adults, and each one prepares our hearts to receive the grace of the sacraments, comes with a prayer and a blessing, and connects us in a unique and very real way to Heaven."
When Gingras and her husband decided to adopt a deaf girl from China, Gingras leaned into her devotion to St. Theresa the Little Flower, the promises of the Divine Mercy, and several other devotions to help her navigate the stress and anxiety of the adoption process. When her daughter was finally a part of her family, Gingras learned how to use those same devotions to instruct her daughter in the faith. Throughout her book, Gingras gives examples of how she modified prayers and sacramentals to make the faith a hands-on experience for her daughter, and each chapter ends with several reflection questions and activity ideas for other parents to do the same.
Special needs parents will enjoy reading about Gingras and her daughter learning together and be inspired on how they too can use the rosary, candles, prayer cards, crucifixes, and so much more to bring their Catholic faith to life for their child. When asked where parents could start, Gingras recommended, "Definitely, the rosary, adapted to match your child's attention and cognitive abilities. We began with using crocheted roses to help us count the prayers since we needed our hands free for ASL. However, I did not do more than the Our Father and a couple of Hail Marys to begin with. There are a variety of tactile Rosary counters available in the Catholic creative market including dry erase, using tokens (or markers), even books and coloring pages to help families find what works best for their children." She continued, "Other very tactile (some even interactive) sacramentals I would recommend starting with include holy water, lighting candles, incense, stained-glass windows (these can even be a fun craft), sacred art, and statuary—all with proper supervision, of course."
Sacramentals have a long history in the Church, but may be new to some Catholics. Even Gingras, a cradle Catholic, came to her love of these devotions later in her life during a reversion process which eventually led to her family's adoption process. She writes, "Each saint showed me a tangible way to connect to an invisible God I longed to know but struggled to believe in. Adoption can be challenging, but nothing in my life has been more rewarding. The unmistakable parallel between my burgeoning faith and adjustment into my Christian family and our familiy's journey of adoption was impossible to ignore."
As Gingras began the lengthly adoption process, she always felt that her family was called to adopt a deaf child, and so she and her two sons began learning American Sign Language (ASL). At this point, she also started journaling. She shared, "Seeing the Lord's hand immediately at work in this journey, I began journaling about our experiences even as we discerned her adoption. As I watched God's hand touch every aspect of this remarkable adventure, I knew the story needed to be shared. I knew we weren't the only ones God wants to bless by entering our lives and guiding us along pathways we never expected to trod but are so very grateful we do!"
Gingras' book is available from Ave Maria Press and all major book retail websites. You can hear her on her podcast, A Seeking Heart, and she is the co-host of the Catholic Momcast podcast. You can learn more at her website https://reconciledtoyou.com.