When I first met with Linda about the December issue of TOGETHER, we reflected, not surprisingly, on the season of Advent. We pondered the theme of expectation, waiting for the birth of Jesus. Linda shared that she had, some years before, heard a talk at her parish, St. Mark’s, by Rory and Tedi Rowland. She had never forgotten it. They had spoken about their son JP and the experience of waiting for his birth. So, we reached out to them, and we are deeply grateful that they agreed to be interviewed for FAITH JOURNEY. Rep. Rory Rowland represents parts of Jackson County and Kansas City (District 29) in the Missouri House of Representatives. Tedi Rowland is a member of the Board of Directors for Eitas, an organization that supports individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. They are both published authors. We are so grateful for their words, as we await Christmas in the midst of this unprecedented time.
Advent Peace, Lisa
Lisa- On the fourth Sunday of Advent, we reflect on the annunciation when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and foretold the birth of Jesus. What are your first memories- when you discovered you were expecting JP?
Tedi and Rory – Joseph Patrick (“JP”) is the youngest of our four children. I (Tedi) have often told the story that during my pregnancy I had a feeling something was not quite right. We did not have most of the common prenatal tests, so we did not know that JP had Down syndrome until the day he was born. When reflecting upon the angel Gabriel coming to Mary, I think of the night my water broke and we were heading out to the hospital. We did not know what to expect or what the future might have in store for us. I said a silent prayer to help us be prepared to face whatever challenges were coming. My instincts were correct, and we were told shortly after JP was born that he might have problems. At birth, JP struggled to breathe and had a heart murmur. We were scared, but our fear reinforced for us just how much we wanted him.
L -Could you please tell us about your family?
T – Rory and I married in 1981, just two weeks out of college. We have four kids: Eliot, Josh, Michaela, and JP. JP was born in 1995. I was a stay-at-home mom. Eliot was in the fourth grade, Josh was in second, and Michaela was about to turn five. JP is now 25. His siblings are all married with families of their own. JP and Michaela are particularly close and her choice to pursue a degree in special education was influenced by her little brother.
L- How has your family life been challenged? What gifts have you received?
T- We are a normal family that have had life’s challenges that are sure to come over the 40 years we have been together. When we were expecting JP, Rory experienced a job loss, and we made the decision to have him start his own business. JP needed heart surgery and health insurance presented its own issues. We have been fortunate that God has provided, even when it seemed there would be no way forward. JP had successful surgery at six-months old. We have benefited from supportive teachers, family, and friends. Our children have received the gifts of empathy because of their relationship with their brother. He has brought much fullness to our lives. We cannot imagine life without him. JP is funny and smart. He is a jokester. To know JP is to love JP.
L- What advice would you give to other parents who are expecting a child living with Down syndrome?
T and R- No one’s story is written. The future is unknown, but that is true for all of us. Having a child with Down Syndrome just diverts your path. You may have a set plan for how you envision your life but that may not be God’s plan for you and your family. It has been said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Take it one day at a time. Savor the moments. All of your kids will be grown up in a blink of an eye.
L-What advice would you give for nurturing a marriage when you have a special needs child?
T and R- Kids in general can challenge any marriage, and kids with special needs present unique tests to a relationship. Talk with each other about your feelings. Share your fears. There will be good times and rough times. Relish in the good times. Try not to place too much focus on the challenges. Acknowledge that life can be hard. Do not compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy. Appreciate and recognize the strengths within yourselves and your child with special needs.
L- Is there anything in particular you’d like to say about your faith life and this journey?
T- Many years ago, Rory and I were involved with the Catholic Marriage Encounter program. One of our biggest takeaways from our involvement is the idea that life is a journey, not a destination. We must take things a day at a time. The crisis of the moment will pass. It is important to focus on the good rather than dwell on the bad.
R-Remember your child did not ask for this either, so they need someone that will be there for them no matter what. Rather than ask, “why did this happen to us or to me,” maybe a better question is “why were you chosen?” Did Mary and Joseph struggle with the news of Jesus’s birth? Joseph needed a message from an angel to continue his journey. Struggle is okay. Where will your journey take you? Will you be proud of how you acted along the way?
L- Is there anything you’d like to add?
T and R- No family is the same. We all have our crosses to bear. So, be kind to yourself, your children, spouse, and others. Have faith. You are stronger than you think. This too shall pass and all too quickly. Be thankful for the struggles, it gives your story flavor.