By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff – September 28, 2017
ORLANDO | October is Respect Life Month and in keeping with God’s message to the Israelites, The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops chose the theme “Be not afraid” to encourage Christians to defend life fearlessly, understanding that this is often a difficult task.
The scenarios are all too familiar: a young girl finds herself pregnant; an elderly person faces a long and painful illness; a man counts down the last hours before the state inflicts the death penalty. While society sends the message that people are disposable when life becomes inconvenient, it can be difficult to remember that God is with each individual, walking with them in their hour of need. In a reflection offered by the USCCB, the bishops said, “Reflecting on the healed wounds of the Risen Christ, we see that even our most difficult trials can be the place where God manifests his victory.”
Connie is a witness to that victory and the joy that it brings. As she awaited her second daughter, Connie was excited. She was 31 and had no reason to expect anything other than a healthy child. Then, Caitlin was born with Down syndrome.
“My greatest fear was the unknown,” said Connie. “I just didn’t know what her life was going to bring. But I had this little baby in my arms so I just loved her and brought her up the way I would any other child. I realized that God made every single one of us and he made us all different with many different talents and he smiled when he made us.”
That reality gave her peace and strength for the days that lay ahead. Although Caitlin went through years of physical, speech and occupational therapy, Connie said, “It wasn’t a chore. It was love and fun and we met so many wonderful people. That is a part of my life I would have never known if it wasn’t for Caitlin.” And she would do it all over again. In fact, she even considered adopting another child with Down syndrome. “I think they are all beautiful,” she added joyfully.
“It opened up many doors in my life that I would have otherwise never faced. She’s been such a blessing and I’ve learned so much from her,” said Connie. “One thing that she is very good at, that I strive for, is that she totally lives in the moment. I think that’s really important in life, where you can just enjoy who you’re with without being distracted. She loves who she is and I really love that about her.”
The fears however resurfaced as Caitlin neared graduation from Morning Star School in Orlando. The reality that Caitlin needed to be independent and her future secured confronted her. Around that time, Connie lost both of her parents within three weeks of one another. Although the event was excruciating for the family, once things settled, Connie realized she could afford for Caitlin to live at Bishop Grady Villas in St. Cloud, a residence for those with disabilities.
Eleven years later, Caitlin works at Bahama Breeze rolling silverware and helping in whatever way she can. She loves her independence, coaching track and field for her Bishop Grady team and visiting her family. Recently, on a visit home, Connie said Caitlin was posing in the mirror. “I heard her say, ‘I’m just a cutie patootie.’ She just has this high self-esteem and I love that about her,” said Connie. “I wouldn’t change a thing about Caitlin. I think she’s just perfect the way she is.”
Connie’s experience is a reminder that all life is precious. The Catholic Church teaches that God is found in suffering as He himself experienced great pain and many challenges. As the bishops state, “the very wounds (of Christ) that bear witness to his suffering indicate the essence of our identity and worth: we are loved by God.”
Bishop Grady Villas will hold its annual Harvest Ball to raise funds for its continued growth and residence support for individuals like Caitlin with special needs, Oct. 21 at the Rosen Shingle Creek, Orlando. For more information contact Laurel Hayward at 407-892-6078, ext. 201 or firstname.lastname@example.org.