Although remnants of the hurricane of the same name are breaking up in the mid-Atlantic, Hurricane Julia Paige Cook hit William Beaumont Hospital at 6:06pm last night as a Category 5 baby. And the day started so… normally.

We had had a relatively quiet weekend (well, Jocelyn was on her modified bed rest, and I was running my bag off keeping her quiet and fed and knocking a few things off the ‘to do’ list). By Monday, I was back to going from meeting to meeting and got a call from Jocelyn, who was about to go to into a regularly scheduled Non-stress Test (NST). These had become pretty routine and boring, as Julia always passed them with flying colors; but there was always the spectre of the blood pressure reading that had put Jocelyn on the bed rest regimen in the first place.

Jocelyn needed prayer and she asked for it. So we took a moment over the phone, held out our hands, and gave the entire situation to our Creator. Both she and I are activist by nature and have a tough time letting go of things that we have in our heads as “our responsibility”. It was good – felt different somehow.

I wish I could have said the same for Julia’s NST. She just didn’t seem to be as responsive, according to the squiggly lines that the monitoring machine makes. And this was after days of the baby kicking and Jocelyn called me later with the news, seeming more annoyed than afraid. Back to Beaumont for a Biophysical Profile – “just a precaution,” they said. Our emotions had been beaten to death with “just a precaution” for over a month. Even one of our obstetrics team sent Jocelyn home the week before, saying it was their over-reaction that was stressing her out and spiking her blood pressure.

But the BPP was showing the same problems that the NST was – and worse. Somehow, most of the amniotic fluid was gone, making it that much tougher for Julia to move around. A check of the umbilical cord showed that the blood was flowing in the wrong direction. Vital nutrients were not getting to Julia, further investigation showed that she had stopped growing. In a matter of 72 hours, she had overstayed her welcome in my wife’s womb. It was time to get her out of there.

I was at the hospital by 4:30pm and was amazed at the calm that both of us had through the whole thing. The decision was made that there was no time to induce; Caesarean Section (a procedure we had fought hard to avoid) was clearly the only way forward.

Things moved very quickly after that. Lots of questions from staff, packing of belongings, coaching on how the anesthesia works. My cell phone felt hot in my hand as I madly texted and called as many family and friends as I could before I was put in gowns and brought to the doors outside the surgical suite. There were several tense minutes of nervous goofing around with the Labor & Delivery staff as they prepared Jocelyn. That’s normal. They get everything ready, get the mother good and numb, bring the dad in and get started. The anesthesiologist stepped out an motioned me over.

“Your wife’s heart rate is double what it should be. You need to go in and calm her down.”

So okay. No pressure.

I go in, and our capable OB is already at work and the place is really, really tense. I don’t pretend to have a lot of experience with surgery, but something had changed in the minutes preceding my arrival. I sat down at Jocelyn’s head with a drape between us and the surgery. I saw the stress on my wife’s face; and summoning everything I had, I took her back to a beach on an island in the Aegean Sea where we took our summer vacation (before you ask how we got there, let’s just say I got people). I painted a picture of the warm sand and languid waves lapping up on the shore, azure blue skies and utter relaxation in the shade.

It worked! Jocelyn’s heart rate stabilized, and I started writing my proposal in my head of how I could contract my services to the anesthesia staff. And then came the scariest 90 seconds of my life.

The obstetrician’s voice broke into the din of beeps and routine alarms from the monitors: “I need the attending in here RIGHT NOW. I need assistance RIGHT NOW.”

Jocelyn had heard the voice as well – I saw the stress in her face again.

And for just a few moments, I forgot what language I speak. The words of comfort simply wouldn’t come. Somewhere in that horrific 90 seconds, I’m quite sure I said something, but for all I know I could have been reading from the Oakland County Yellow Pages.

And then three of the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard came from the other side of the drape: “Okay. Got it.” The energy and anxiety in the room dropped, and the squeal of my child filled my ears. I simply wanted to collapse on the inside, but I was so curious on how this little life was doing.

I felt like an idiot with my beleaguered questions from the other side of the drape while so much reality was happening just outside my field of view. Is she moving? Is she getting pink? I was embarrassed to break their concentration on the task at hand. It was several minutes before they wheeled our Julia for a look as they took her up to Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU – you’ll be hearing that one a lot).

Are you ready for the grand reveal? Okay – here goes:

Reminiscent of an old guy in a stocking cap? I thought so too. But give her a chance to get cleaned up.

So here’s the rest of the story: Jocelyn and Julia came through the whole thing very well. The next couple hours (for me) were spent running between the NICU and Post-Op where Jocelyn was recovering from the surgery. Joce is doing great, although tomorrow will be a little tougher, pain-wise. She has been an absolute lioness through this – even posting her insightful opinion on a recent National Public Radio focus earlier in the day on the choices parents make to test or not to test for Down Syndrome.

We’ve had several visitors and Julia’s had some tests to see how her heart is doing (freaky pic, I know, but it was a simple electrocardiogram).

Many from our tribe have come in to pray for her and our family – what a blessing.

Here’s the latest on Julia: With God’s mercy, she’s doing simply fantastic! We are focused mostly on her physical well being at the moment. An echocardiogram confirmed what we already knew: an uncomplicated Atrioventricular Septal Defect (aka AV Canal Defect. Google it – you’ll find lots of information) of about 12 mm that experts tell us can be fixed with one surgical procedure. But the size and symmetry of the heart are, in the words of Julia’s cardiologist, “beautiful”.

She’s breathing on her own and the NICU team has weaned her off of the oxygen that they were giving her. She’s tolerating room air and doing a great job keeping the oxygen saturation in her blood at a healthy level. We’ve begun the process of teaching her how to breastfeed, and things are looking promising.

For those of you who have been following the story for a while, we really don’t know the extent of the Down Syndrome. A lot of that is going to be revealed as she develops. But I gotta tell ya, part of me wants to leave the dark of this hospital room as my wife sleeps to be with my daughter, Julia Paige. My heart is already fit to break for the love I have for her.

I think you’ll like her when you meet her. Jocelyn and I look forward to introducing you soon.

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Now We Are 3

On September 21, 2010, in Julia's Journey, by Chris

Hey everyone –

Sorry if you thought you were going to see the first pictures, but I had to get you here somehow! A lot has happened in a very short time, and I’m barely awake to post this. Our Julia came early and first drew breath at 6:06pm on September 20th – Jocelyn’s and my second anniversary. You’ll get much more in a later post (yes, along with pictures!) of how the story unfolded and the way God showed up to sustain us through this surprise. Just know that mother and baby are doing very well, under the circumstances. Be well and stay tuned!

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She Picked Me!

On September 19, 2010, in Life, by Chris

Two years ago, right around this time of night, I was sitting in my living-room with my Best Man enjoying my last glass of wine as a bachelor. The next day would be my wedding day and so begin one of the greatest adventures of my life. Earlier in the day, we had had some of the lads together for a bachelor party of Lipuma’s hot dogs and several laps at Race Rochester’s unlimited Kart track. We showed up at the wedding rehearsal smelling of gasoline and exhaust, but had a great time.

Later on that night, after the out-of-towners’ party, David came by to help clean up so the girls could go off to their bridesmaids’ nest at a friend’s house. Once all the dishes and platters were put away, we sat down and popped the cork on a vintage cabernet and took in the glow of how truly good life can be.

I still remember our glasses of wine in our bachelor days after a good meal, over which we would ponder everything from practical theology for regular dudes to our careers and (especially) what good women God had planned for us. Despite our moving into and through our thirties, we continued to hold out hope (for each other, at least) that they were out there – even if we hadn’t met them yet.

David found and married his in 2006, and I watched them grow together and face some real challenges – not the least of which was the premature birth of their son, Christian David. At every turn, through every challenge, David and Dana have been the picture of strength, yet remained vulnerable to God and his purposes.

And I still walked in solitude. But fortunately, that would not be forever. Nearly two years after I stood as a groomsman in David’s wedding, he stood up in mine.

As you might have read before, I had almost given up (I’ll spend some time unpacking that later). But I am so glad that I remained open. I’m so glad that God brought this woman into my life. She’s carrying our child now – a thing that couldn’t have crossed our mind on that great day – and the adventure begins anew.

The Cook household has been in preparation for our baby for months, now made more challenging with Jocelyn’s doctor-prescribed modified bed rest. Half of my energy of late is spent getting the cooking and laundry done and the other half is spent keeping my normally activist wifey from doing too much. I’m honestly beginning to wonder if the new spiritual discipline that God is calling her into is the very act of being served instead of serving.

Another day of baby preparation and normal house operations are done; and to tell the truth, I haven’t felt this tired or this satisfied in a long, long time. The cat is still slinking around in the darkness of the kitchen, quietly reminding me that my day is not done until I give her the customary nighttime treat.

I’m hearing the Vivaldi that Jocelyn plays for our little girl, still in her womb, as she prepares for bed. I am reminded that this is a woman of rare strength and quality. And I still marvel at the reality that, two years minus one day ago, she picked me.

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Scare & Selah

On September 14, 2010, in Life, by Chris

Okay – Important Safety Tip: Make sure you are buckled in when you tell God, “Bring it”. It’s more than likely you are going on a heck of a ride.

Let me tell you about the last 36 hours. Monday AM was looking good as the members of the Prayer Task Force for the EACH Initiative came together at Landmark Church in Hazel Park. We got a lot done and I jetted off in full blown “production mode” to the next meeting, cell phone smoking along as I drove (ed. note: always use hands-free mode and don’t dial out when you’re driving kiddies!). The beginning of the ministry season is most often like this, with lots of communication to make sure programs and initiatives are launched for maximum impact.

So I was burning along from meeting to meeting, building momentum from one to another; and only dimly recognizing that the day had me in its grip. I was about to meet with a couple going through a difficult situation and my phone rang.

It was Jocelyn.

She had gone to the OB for a routine exam and they were concerned about her blood pressure – 150/100…

…and the baby didn’t seem to be moving very well.

They told her to go immediately to the hospital for extended monitoring.

Ten minutes later I’m in the car wondering what we were in for when she got there; and in my moments of panic, whether my kid was going to survive the night.

The triage team assessed the situation, gave Julia a clean diagnosis (my kid is scaring me to death and she’s not even a teenager yet!), but admitted Jocelyn to the ante-partum ward for monitoring over 24 hours. “Rest here, and let’s see if that blood pressure will come down,” they said.

I got Jocelyn settled in and put the list together of what she will need for the overnight stay. I got to the house (totally breaking the no cell phone rule) and find three shingles from my roof sitting in the driveway. I went down to the basement to switch the laundry and the dryer is malfunctioning and making funny blue sparks. Great.

And in the end, the most confounding thing was that there was no one I could reasonably get mad at. I hate that.

But now, 24 hours later, my girl is home – relegated to a modified bed-rest regimen for the rest of the pregnancy. Her blood pressure slowly crept into a more healthy range through the hours of uncertainty; and the baby still in her womb, according to the docs, “is doing beautifully.” There were even moments of lightness and fun as we spent the time together between visits from the medical assistant to get another reading. And tonight, as she sleeps next to me again, I have time for a little reflection.

There’s an old piece of Hebrew poetry that calls out across some three thousand years right into my crazy 36 hours. They were the words that Jocelyn rested upon yesterday as she stepped into the doctor’s office:

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Selah

And there it is – Selah. It’s exact meaning is lost in antiquity, but as near as the scholars can figure, it was a word that meant “pause here”. My theory is that the words were so heavy and meaning-full that took the human brain time to apprehend their weight; so the psalmist gave folks a little interlude to think them through.

As the computer keys give way to the weight of my fingers, right this moment, I have an opportunity to once more wrestle with those words. To read them again and then just sit with the scandalous promise of a God who never changes – even when everything else seems to.

Find rest – not in a favorable blood pressure reading, but – in God alone.

I will not be shaken – even though my stuff and the house that contains it might be once in a while.

Pour out your hearts to him – if you dare – for God is our refuge.

God didn’t change – I did. In the face of circumstance and misfortune, I let myself get a little faked out. Coming back to him and sitting in those promises is a chance re-attach (or perhaps more fully attach) to the larger reality at work redeeming, reshaping, re-forming and reconciling this seriously warped situation and billions of others far weightier than mine.

Selah – yeah. Feels good.

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Bring It.

On September 12, 2010, in Life, by Chris

I launched this site some five months ago and have had an itch in my head ever since. I had always promised myself, having been an avid peruser of writings by authors far smarter and more articulate, that I would not add to the noise – in print or online – unless I had something truly unique to say.

Fact of the matter is, I’m still waiting. I’ve always been something of a perfectionist, never wanting to do anything unless it measured up to my narcissistic standard of “world class”. But sometimes, you just have to start and cut yourself a little slack as you push ahead.

There was a bigger reason for my delay in beginning this blog, however: I didn’t want to begin while my world felt like it was imploding. Let me give you a little of the backstory.

Almost two years ago (722 days, to be exact), I married a woman that I was convinced did not exist. Jocelyn was the wife that God had planned for me, and I still marvel at the fact that she chose me! Only a year before our wedding, we had not met and I was in the process of making peace with the possibility that, at forty-one years old, God’s plan for me was a life of singleness.

Jocelyn and I spent the next eighteen months in relative wedded bliss, even beating the prevailing attitude that the first year of marriage is the toughest. We were so well matched on so many different levels that our worst disagreement wouldn’t have made it out of the bottom tenth percentile of many couples. We were even navigating through the first trimester of her pregnancy and the attendant waves of nausea that were more often the rule than the exception in Jocelyn’s case.

And then there was the day that it all went sideways. March 24th of this year, we went in for a routine ultrasound meant to eliminate the possibility of a problem with the pregnancy. We came away with something that we frankly hadn’t signed up for. There was an anomaly in the thickness of the Nuchal Fold (called a “soft marker”) that points to a statistically higher possibility of Down Syndrome. The doctors suggested more testing to confirm or refute the results; and after a lot of prayer and soul searching, we agreed to an amniocentesis a few weeks later.

The word from the medical community quickly went from “there is an elevated possibility of a problem” to “we’re pretty darned sure there’s a problem”. During the ultrasound for the amnio, the imaging specialist found a heart defect and the genetic test results eventually confirmed Trisome 21 – a third DNA strand attached to the more typical 21st pair of 23 chromosomes.

I have had only a few screaming matches in my walk with God. They are done in solitude and usually leave my vocal cords pretty raw, but I figure that God wants it all – the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. My only pointed question to him that sunny spring day when we got the preliminary (and normally pretty darned accurate) results was:

What.          Are.          You.          Doing?

I got no (audible) answer that day, but my mind has since been wrestling with the brief words I’ve caught in my moments of reflection and from those prophetic oracles that come from my tribe of trusted friends and confidants. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

For over five years, I’ve overseen the Care initiatives at a church of over ten thousand people. I sit on the board of an organization in India that reaches out to the poorest of the poor and currently feeds, houses and educates over two hundred kids who would otherwise have to survive a life of petty crime and prostitution. I’ve seen my share of sad stories. My message to people in pain is hopefully not overly simplistic, and hopefully delivered humbly:

The world needs you.

We need you to move into this challenge and experience the full spectrum of emotion that God has for you in it. We need you to approach this season with the attitude of a student and not a victim. We need you to surround yourself with a trusted community who can encourage and sustain you through the discomfort that will undoubtedly come. This season may be a short one or may last a lifetime; but we will need you to plumb the depths of it, find beauty even in the midst of the struggle and add your stories to the narrative of the One who redeems the world’s brokenness. And in so doing, speak with a credibility that can only be had through suffering a broken world well, knowing that this is only the beginning of a much greater adventure.

That, or something very much like it, is what I tell people in crisis. I wonder if God is leading Jocelyn and I into this wanting me to start putting my money where my mouth is.

So here I sit in the rocking chair of my daughter Julia’s room as my wife takes a much needed nap from the fatigue of the ninth month of pregnancy. We are only a few weeks away from truly knowing the results of God’s craftsmanship. Even now, we still sit in the tension between knowing that God could re-knit our daughter right down to her DNA, or he could choose to do something even greater in us (and in the world) through a little girl with Down Syndrome. In the end, my deepest conviction is that this kid is going to have a massive impact for good.

Worries of the “ninth-month-of-pregnancy” roller coaster and the financial, medical and emotional implications of Julia’s heart defect still catch me by surprise sometimes. But here in the cool of this September afternoon, I can be thankful that Ultimate Good has captured my heart and continues to change the questions I ask of eternity. Today, with still a little fear, but with growing confidence in the God who pursues me, I say:

Bring it.

And I thank you for joining our little family on the new adventure that God has for us.

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