Christmas Greetings from the Farm

On December 24, 2011, in Life, Personal, by Chris

It’s Christmas Eve at the farm on Willow Road. Another crystal clear and cold night and we are all nestled around the fire after a day of visits with family and friends, two great meals (masterfully prepared by Jocelyn) and an evening service at St. Paul Church. My dad is starting to nod his head in fatigue as he finishes out his night’s reading, and I’m occasionally looking up with some amusement as Jocelyn discovers the joy and frustration of assembling an educational toy for our daughter. The education, apparently, is mostly for the parent and comes from just getting the product out of its packaging.

It’s been a great retreat so far from the pace and noise of the city. I’m always struck by the comparative silence that greets us when we arrive. The days here are quieter – especially in winter when most of the farm implements have been stowed for the season. But the nights are exquisitely so, the silence broken only by the occasional bay of a barking dog off in the distance. I’ll always try to talk Jocelyn into cracking open a bedroom window on the off chance that we hear the chilling cries of the coyotes that have made their way back into the township over the past few years.

I’ve come into this writing with two thoughts in my head. The first is how important it is to remember. I will forever look back on this Christmas as the holiday when I remembered how to breathe. A year ago, right around this time, we were weeks away from Julia’s open-heart surgery. If you’ve followed the story for that long, I had a countdown clock set for the minute we were to report to the surgical staff at Children’s Hospital. We were recording Julia’s food intake down to the milliliter and guarding against any possible infection for fear of its potentially devastating effect on her health. It was a major undertaking (and not a small risk) to even come out to the farm for a few days.

Now, as the ache in my back eases after standing at the back of the church holding a wiggly toddler for an hour, I am struck by how… normal… it all feels – and how long, long ago that whole ordeal seems. I get far more agitated at the fact that Julia is misbehaving in church than I can ever remember during her recovery from surgery. I guess that’s the mercy and the curse. It would be so easy to simply forget what we had gone through and the sustenance we received from God through so many. So tonight, I am going to remember – and say, “Thank you.”

I’ve also been reminded in the last week or so by how something beautiful and lasting and redeeming can come in such small packages and under the most adverse conditions. I am still amazed at God’s willingness to take us through a tomb of horrors in order to give us the “street cred” we need to speak into the lives of others and bring a level of encouragement that we couldn’t have before. Even more amazing is the posture we have when we are doing it well – not overbearing, but offered with the quiet humility of one whose self-image doesn’t rise or fall on the person taking the advice.

Jocelyn and I have had so many opportunities over the last year to encourage other families going through what we did. And it’s been awe inspiring to see their countenance change over the months from one of fear and uncertainty to the quiet knowing of a parent who has gone to the wall for their kid.

I’ve been reading the entire Bible over the last year with some friends and recently came upon a verse in an often-overlooked book of Hebrew scripture:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” ~ Micah 5:2

Some seven centuries before its realization, a promise was made that a backwater town (in the shadow of the capital of the religious establishment) was going to be the cradle of a new movement. It would start with a child born under circumstances that some would deem rustic and even scandalous, but its message of a love that was (and is) as overpowering as it is humble would silently weave its way through the ages.

Political and religious powers would try to appropriate its message for selfish gain, and would seem to succeed for a time. To their eventual frustration, though, Love has a life of its own and quietly demands to be met on its own terms: gratitude, selflessness, and service. The swords that people would take up to defend it are useless. The organizations raised to promote it will eventually crumble to dust. But Love will remain, beginning again in a willing heart that simply chooses it. And out of the smallest of packages, beauty continuously unfolds.

It is that Love we celebrate tonight. It is that Love that will not let me forget – even when the crush of life’s demands push in even harder. My prayer for you is that you bind yourself ever closer to the God of that love and let Him push back on the expectations laid before you; and for this time find the rest and comfort that Love so generously provides.

I give God thanks for all that you do, and wish you all the best for Christmas.

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Autumn in the Midwest and Elsewhere

On November 18, 2011, in Julia's Journey, Life, Personal, by Chris

Hey – been quite a while. For those of you who have been following our story, I want to apologize. After a year of pounding out these posts in reasonably quick succession, I’ve found myself in kind of a winter of my motivation. I came back from India and honestly wanted to spend some time with my family that was as undistracted as possible. Anyone who knows me knows that’s quite a trick, considering how many things I like diving into.

Blogs – especially if they’re done well – take a lot of discipline to maintain and create an itch similar to when the lawn goes un-mowed for a couple of weeks. You look out the window and there it is, and there’s a tipping point of motivation that comes into play: “Should I get out the lawn mower and get it done or does the couch and the remote look more enticing?” I could wind this metaphor out even further and talk about the neighbors complaining, but you get the idea. (And thanks to my brother-in-law Jonathan for the image!)

So now I’m hanging out at Costco getting some new tires for the Camry, and I thought I’d get you up to speed on the goings on over the last month.

Being away from the family in India for ten days wasn’t as gut-wrenching as I thought it was going to be. There were certainly pangs of it when I sat and thought for too long, but the pace of activity and the crush of the in-country experience thankfully kept my mind off of it. Most of my time was spent behind a camera telling the story of CEM. I came home with 2400+ images and my perspective realigned for a while. I’ll have more about that later.

Not long after my return, we took advantage of a trade show that Jocelyn was attending to visit her brother and his family in Fort Worth. It had been almost a year since we had seen Jonathan and Deirdre last Thanksgiving and their son Oliver has grown up! Julia was really excited to meet him and he showed amazing patience with her even though he is not even a year her senior.

We also had time for breakfast with the Gilmartins, our dear friends transplanted from Detroit. And in Grapevine, Texas, we visited the Torian Cottage, a log cabin bought by one of Jocelyn’s ancestors back in the mid-nineteenth century and occupied by the family until just after the Second World War.

Oh, yeah – and we celebrated Halloween in Texas as well! Miss Julia was styling in her University of Michigan cheerleader outfit at her cousin’s costume birthday party (okay all you Ohio peeps – no hatin’! We are equal opportunity – send us some OSU stuff and we’ll put it on her). She then tore up the trick or treat circuit on the mean streets of Fort Worth in a pink skeleton outfit courtesy of Old Navy – accessories and hair by Mommy.

The family visits didn’t end after we got back. The following weekend, we visited with my sister, Lisa, who was spending some time out at the farm. While we were there, we did a quick photo shoot of Julia for our Christmas card. No previews until after we send them out!

We also met some new friends last week. Babycenter.com was a real godsend to Jocelyn as she was processing and preparing for Julia’s birth and all through the challenges of the months before the surgery. As much as she gained from the deep base of knowledge on the site (there are forums literally for every issued out there from Down Syndrome to the best ideas on effective potty training), Jocelyn is starting to give back with the experience she has gained. Jennifer is a local found us through Jocelyn’s avid activity on Babycenter and read the blog to hear more about our story. She and her husband, Dave, are the parents of twins – one of which has Down Syndrome.

It wasn’t too long before we set a date for the zoo. Truth be told, our hearts have knitted together in a surprisingly short time and I think we may have some lifelong friends!

You’ll be hearing more stories very soon, but we’re going on the road again tomorrow. We’re going out to the farm, transferring all of our baby crap into my Dad’s big “grandpa cruiser” and shooting down to Washington D.C. to spend a long holiday weekend with my sister and her family.

Good to be back!

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Bring It + 365

On September 12, 2011, in Commentary, Life, Personal, by Chris

It was a warm Sunday afternoon a year ago that I settled into the comfortable chair in my daughter’s as yet unoccupied nursery to begin the adventure in words and pictures that you see before you.

After recounting the challenges we had seen in the months before and those in the future that seemed to be lining up against us, I began this blog with a simple, scary request of God:

Bring it.

That request was not made lightly or flippantly – but it wasn’t without more than a little trepidation. In fact, it was nearly an act of desperation as Jocelyn and I clung to the possibility that amid the cloud of Julia’s frightening diagnoses of Down Syndrome and heart defect, God was there with us. If he wasn’t, we were going to be in deep, deep weeds.

I hesitate to use such a trite metaphor, but the only way I can describe the last year is that it was a roller coaster. But I will add that it was a roller coaster after your fifth corn dog.

So where are we now? Well, the fact is that I’m writing this at the end of the day with my wife crashed beside me after the bottles have been washed and sterilized and the baby’s in bed. Julia’s had a few fitful nights (teething, we think) and we are all feeling the ache of fatigue that comes from a couple hours less sleep.

But if you’ve been following this little narrative, you’ll know that Julia got through the surgery successfully and the scar on her chest is fading even as the memories of the long days at the hospital fade a bit from our minds.

Honestly, a year after “Bring it” finds me wrestling with a lot of the same questions as before, although their shape and texture have become a touch more conventional as I settle more comfortably into being the dad of a delightful little girl with a mended heart and a tad extra on Chromosome 21. What kind of cruelty will Julia face from others because of her condition? How will she live once we are gone and she is on her own?

A lot of the time, I can push those uncomfortable questions down with a household project or the hum of activity in the office, but it came to the forefront of my mind last Sunday at church as we commemorated the somber tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Since that ugly day, our pastor observed, we as a country have become consumed with security in a very dangerous world. And it was in the middle of the message I got that horrible feeling that I’m really no different.

I am wondering if the crush of the last year has caused me to hang on just a little more tightly to my life, my family and my stuff.

There it is. It’s true that adversity can draw you close to God. But the pernicious flip side is that it can just as easily make you run in the opposite direction. Even when I’ve experienced the Life that is God, I still often find myself clinging dumbly to things that will eventually end up in a landfill, expecting them to give me life.

I hear him asking me, “You’ve trusted me with your life. Will you trust me with Julia’s?” I’m ashamed to tell you that far too often, if I were really honest, the answer would be no.

But here is where I have to go back and do the gut check. Do I still believe that God’s dream for Julia is better than anything I could ever conceive of? And if my faith says that God spoke the universe entire into being, who is more equipped to unlock the best from her (and from me, for that matter)?

Yeah, this “Bring it” thing is hard, hard work sometimes. But all I have to do is listen to the satisfied coos of my daughter and watch my wife as she sleeps beside me, exhausted from the day (“But a good tired,” she says). These are the little reminders that something deeper and more wonderful awaits those who press into life’s occassional discomfort and abandon themselves to the adventure that God has for them.

Here’s to another year.

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An Eleven Month Dream Cruise

On August 20, 2011, in Julia's Journey, Life, Personal, by Chris

It’s been eleven months to the day since this little bundle came into our lives, and what better way to celebrate than the Woodward Dream Cruise!

Now I know that most of you want the picture of Julia. Don’t worry, it’s coming. But you need to understand what cars are to the Motor City. Nearly a million people come out every year to see the largest one-day automotive event in the world. This is a big…

BIG DEAL!

But the biggest deal in my life is the two girls behind the wheel of this vintage Camaro. The owner was kind enough to let us get Julia’s eleven month old photo in grand style (by the way, the guy is selling it, so if you’re in the market…). The past eleven months has been a roller coaster, but a great adventure. And we’re looking forward to what comes next!


Oh, my! We are only a month away from her first birthday!

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July

On July 31, 2011, in Julia's Journey, Life, Personal, by Chris

It’s been a hot, dry July, but a few inches of rain over the last several days has greened up our lawns and saved the corn crop out at the farm. We’ve spent most of the month trying to keep cool, but there have been a few highlights.

After our long-awaited visit with friends in Washington D.C., they sent us the gift of a cookbook for making baby food at home. It wasn’t too many pages in before Jocelyn started acting on a longtime ambition. A few weeks before, she had met one of her favorite Food Network chefs, Tyler Florence, on a tour promoting his new baby food cookbook. Since then, our kitchen has turned into a veritable assembly line cranking out all kinds of great recipes.

I really admire my wife and have realized how uniquely gifted she is as a mom. She had wanted to transition away from jarred baby food for a while – primarily for the control over the food’s texture and what that does for Julia’s oral-motor development as she eats (can you tell she’s done her research?). Not only that, it’s cheaper and we know exactly what’s going into our girl.

With all of the new food adventures at hand, we needed to get down to Eastern Market for a food buy. It caters to commercial buyers during the week; but on the weekend, farmers and growers from all over converge and make their wares available to anyone. If you haven’t experienced it, you need to check it out. It’s one of Detroit’s gems.

Julia is doing great at ten months old. She got a glowing report from the pediatrician last month saying that despite the heart surgery (which normally sets a typical kid back a month from a developmental standpoint) and the Down Syndrome, the doctor figures she’s only six to eight weeks behind.

She has mastered sitting up and, with mom and dad’s help, is working getting from the sitting to prone position without doing a face plant. She still has her marvelous eye contact when she engages with people. I’m not sure why that excites me so, but there it is. And she still has her fans on the church staff who steal down to the daycare to get their regular “Julia Fix”.

Another highlight of the month was a visit from my sister – Julia’s aunt Lisa. She often flies in from Colorado and stays out at the farm with my dad. She last saw Julia a month after the surgery, so she was obviously happy to see her almost double her size from last time. Lisa and Jocelyn also got some time together as they explored the Ann Arbor Art Fair. Lisa is quite a veteran of the Art Fair and a great guide to the city.

There was also a new addition to our larger tribe. Olivia Renee was born on July 14th to our dear friends, Chris and Lisa. We stopped by on our way out to the farm to drop off a meal and I took the opportunity to do a quick photo session with them.

All in all, a great summer so far!

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