Mother’s Day Perspective

On May 8, 2011, in Julia's Journey, Life, Personal, by Chris

(editor’s note: Hey everyone – I am very happy to tell you that we have a guest writer today. I have wanted to get Jocelyn on here for so long to offer her insight on our family’s journey (and the fact that she’s a much better writer than she gives herself credit for!). What better day than Mother’s Day for her debut. Enjoy!)

I know it’s surprising to hear from me since Chris is the writer in our family & the blog is, after all, But when I told him I was considering writing something for Mother’s Day, he was all for it!

Recently I’ve been thinking back to what we were going through this time last year. May 1, 2010 we received the news that our baby was a girl, that she had Down syndrome & they found a heart defect that would require open heart surgery.

My reaction was shock, despair and fear. I don’t think I had ever experienced such intense grief. There was a lot of crying out to God, “What are You doing? I can’t handle this!” It was that night we named our daughter Julia Paige, wanting to bond with her right away in the midst of the fear of what the future may hold for her, and us.

That week was a roller coaster of emotions to say the least. We were not only having to deal with this scary news, but also the medical community assuming and implying that we would want to abort our child because of her diagnosis!

That next Sunday I sat alone in the Mother’s Day service at Kensington, while Chris was in the lobby photographing Moms with their families. Music was playing and I think pictures were scrolling across the screen. Tears welled up and I felt overwhelmed with fear, uncertainty and sadness as I contemplated being a first time Mom, and on top of that a Mother of a special needs child! I felt so inadequate and grieved the loss of having a healthy, “typical” child. I felt as if my emotions would overtake me right there in the service, so out of desperation I cried out to God, asking for help, admitting my fear and feelings of inadequacy.

Now, I’m not one who is very expressive regarding my faith and am not much of a “feeler” when it comes to my relationship with God. So, that morning, as I cried out to Him, I was surprised when I immediately sensed Jesus’ comfort come over me. My breathing slowed, my tears lessened and I felt an incredible sense of peace, all happening in a matter of seconds. It was amazing to experience the presence of the Lord so personally. In that moment, I knew God was with us in this journey and that He had a plan for our little girl.

There were still emotional times over the coming months as we prepared for Julia’s arrival. But, at the core of those feelings was a certainty of God’s hand on our daughter and with us. I connected online with other Moms who either had children or were expecting a child with Down syndrome. I held on to the words from one Mom who said her only regret was that she cried so many tears before her son was born. I kept hearing over and over how blessed these families felt and how much joy their children brought them. I hoped I would feel that way some day.

And now, a year later, our sweet girl is 7 months old, has survived her open heart surgery and is truly a blessing in our lives. I am so happy that the sadness and grief that were so present a year ago have been overtaken by joy and hope.

Walking through those dark days of Julia’s diagnosis, as well as the stressful days after her birth and her open heart surgery, have made these days so much sweeter. I experience such joy in watching Julia’s face light up when she sees her Daddy, or peaking in on her sleeping peacefully, or watching how strangers are drawn to her and she makes them smile.

So, as I think about my first Mother’s Day, I’m naturally inclined to appreciate my own Mom so much more. Being a Mom is hard, but so rewarding and I’m thankful for all my Mom has done for me.

I also think of so many friends who want to be Moms and have had trouble conceiving, endured the heartache of miscarriage, waited many long years hoping to adopt a child of their own, or walked a similar path as my own receiving some scary news about the child growing inside them. I don’t have answers as to why these things happen, but I can speak from my own experience that you are not alone. In addition to so many women who have experienced similar pain and uncertain times, I know there is a God who is near, willing to shower you with love and peace when you cry out to Him.

Happy Mothers Day!

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Easter Joy

On April 30, 2011, in Julia's Journey, Life, Personal, by Chris

We took some time last weekend enjoying the still-coming spring here in Michigan and puttin’ on the dawg for Easter. My dad came out from the farm and shared a marvelous brunch at a local restaurant with us and we all had a great time (I got the banana stuffed french toast!).

Our new friend, Jerry, finally got a chance to meet Julia face to face. This guy has one of the biggest hearts I’ve seen in a long time. Let me back up a little bit: The Friday before her surgery, Julia passed her pre-surgical assessment and we wanted to celebrate. Taking her out in public for dinner wasn’t an option since we were still on cootie patrol and trying to keep her safe from infection; so we opted for some upscale takeout. Jerry was the guy who took my order, and by the time he heard our story while I was picking up the food (and showed him a picture of Julia), I got a hearty handshake and a promise for drinks on him when Julia got through the surgery.

We have since kept in touch with Jerry. I took Jocelyn to the same restaurant to celebrate Valentine’s day and his affection literally bubbled over as he saw Julia’s post-surgery pictures. It still amazes me how her story continues to touch people, even months later.

Brunch was followed by a little walk around Birmingham and the unbridled glee of our little girl and her first Easter Basket. I’m pretty sure she had no idea what she had her hands on, but it was still fun to see the holiday through her eyes.

Happy Easter everybody!

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We Have A Dream

On January 16, 2011, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

I suppose I’ll never understand on this side of eternity why one is given a certain burden and another gets something totally different. Fortunately, there are plenty of blessings and encouragements mixed in – if you’re watchful – to take some of the edge off. Nonetheless, no one would have convinced me or Jocelyn five years ago that we would be gutting it up to hand our child over for something so traumatic. Fortunately, no one has had the temerity to tell me that this procedure is routine – that would have illicited a harsh response from me. Routine schmoutine. This is my kid you’re talking about.

The whole thing seems at its face so nonlinear and even arbitrary that at times it makes my head hurt trying to connect the dots. Three years ago, I was just getting to know the woman who would eventually be my wife. Eleven months ago, the prospect of fatherhood jumped above the horizon, with the scary news of Julla’s Down Syndrome and the heart defect coming quickly on its heels. It’s been at turns rewarding and exhilarating and terrifying; and never in my life have I felt so responsible and so helpless at the same time.

But we honestly haven’t had to look very far for the blessings and encouragement. We have been utterly enveloped on all sides with text messages, Facebook posts and e-mails. The encouragement from all over the world has been absolutely humbling. Before we left, our teenage neighbor brought Julia a teddy bear that consoled her years before when she was in the hospital. Even as I write this, Jocelyn’s sister, Jennifer, is heating up a homemade lasagna and providing the extra pair of hands that is absolutely invaluable at times like this.

So on the eve of the day celebrating Martin Luther King, that most marvelous of dreamers, Jocelyn and I are adding a humble little dream of our own. More than anything, we want our daughter to live and thrive and be a small reflection of the love that God has for us and the world. But in order for her to thrive, we have to do the hardest thing a parent can be asked to do: we need to entrust her to God and to the skills of people we barely know. It’s a little earlier in the game than most parents have to deal with, but in our moments of clarity, we know that it’s ultimately a good thing.

It is our deepest conviction that this little girl is going to make a massive impact on the world for Love. We don’t yet know the shape of that impact; but as we weave our prayers with the hundreds of others that are being lifted up for our Julia, we anticipate only good things – even when they come in improbable and often uncomfortable packages.

I’m not sure how often I will be posting over the next few days, but keep an eye on the righthand side of the blog for the latest updates. You can also follow me on my Twitter feed. I’ll be shooting text messages to it regularly.

On behalf of the entire Cook family (all three of us!), please accept my most heartfelt thanks for your prayers and concern.

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On the Knees of the Matriarchs

On January 5, 2011, in Life, Personal, by Chris

My mom died almost three years ago now, and it is with a pang of regret when I remember her and the reality that she never got the chance to meet Julia. That special kind of love that only comes from a grandma has to come (at least on my side of the family) from the women of my mom’s generation.

Something amazing happens when I set my daughter in the lap of one of my aunts. All are well into retirement now and Julia is the last of her generation, coming quite late in the life of our family – kind of in that space between grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So I couldn’t resist capturing the interaction that Julia had with my Aunt Sally at her visit to the farm last week.

I’m reminded of the old Hebrew story of King David’s ancestor lying in the lap of his grandmother (Ruth 4:16 if you’re curious) and how great legacies are launched from the knees of the matriarchs.

Meanwhile, Julia continues to feed well and has finally grown out of the newborn clothes that were gifts from our community and moving on to the next bigger size. The next visit and weigh-in with the cardiologist is set for Friday morning, so I’ll be posting the official weekly weight gain then. Stay tuned!

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Christmas Greetings from the Farm

On December 25, 2010, in Life, Personal, by Chris

It’s Christmas Eve at the farm on Willow Road, and the house is at rest after a busy day of visits, celebration meals, and a lot of calls on Skype to our loved ones as far flung as the U.K.

We also had the annual stream of neighbors – some of whom you’ve been introduced to in years past – bearing the Christmas gifts that will put us in a sugar coma for weeks. But this year, I detected that their motivations were somehow different. It was as if they came bearing these gifts as the cover charge to visit with my three-month-old daughter. I guess I have to face it: the process has begun transforming my wife and I from “Chris and Jocelyn” to “Julia’s parents.”

Nonetheless, I love our time here on the farm. It’s a quiet, simple reminder amid frenetic pace of normal life that the things that really matter are family, friends, … oh yeah, and peanut brittle.

In the afternoon calm between visits, I took a walk down the eastern lane that borders the property. The snow has covered the fields, allowing only a bit of corn stubble to peek through the blanket of white.

There’s a special quality to the air in midwinter, especially when it’s moist and calm like this afternoon. It has almost a dampening effect that covers the land in silence. All I could hear was the snow under my footfalls. As the land dipped, the barns and the rooftops slipped from view; and for that moment, all I saw around me were fields and fencerows, frozen marsh and the russet gray of the trees.

I quietly topped the crest of a hill in the waning light of the afternoon and stopped to see deer striding cautiously out from the woodlot to dig for the shoots of the tilling radishes planted in the fallow of Grandma’s Field. A buck and four doe had braved the cold (and the hunters) to tenaciously hunt for the life that they instinctively knew lay beneath the veneer of cold. I watched, almost hypnotized, as they moved through their cycle of survival – dig, feed, pause, watch for danger – until the cold forced me to turn back for the warmth of the house.

It has long been a tradition for me to sit in the dark of the farmhouse, look back on the year and offer some personal perspective. Well, the year has forced me to exercise some emotional muscles that have never been tapped before. With our daughter Julia’s birth and scary diagnoses of Down Syndrome and a heart defect, Jocelyn and I have seen extremes of excitement, despair, and utter terror that have left us pretty exhausted.

Our family will soon gather to mourn the loss of my Uncle Jim, who died suddenly this Tuesday. I prayed with a friend in the U.K. who has watched his father languish in hospital for three months, only now seeing a glimmer of vitality that brings small hope for recovery. The danger and sadness of this world – in all of its fragility – is real.

But as I sit here with my laptop open and the entire house sleeping, I honestly can’t get those silly deer out of my mind. Despite the danger and any visible sign of anything life-giving, it is their desperation for life that coaxes them to take the risk, step out of the safety of the trees and scratch at the cold ground in search of it.

Death and decay and suffering try to crush anything beautiful and redeeming from this world; but life and the Love that spoke it into being stubbornly push back, awaiting discovery by those who are looking for it.

Somehow (and for reasons that still leave me dumbfounded), God pushed past all of our profound shortcomings, our icy veneer of deceit and self-protection, and found something beautiful and valuable – something worth rescuing. A risk was taken and an Envoy was dispatched to begin and seal the rescue that we – I – so desperately needed. Those whose lives have been transformed by that beauty are called to do the same. Take the risk. Find the Life amid life’s pain.

I find it every day in the beauty of my wife comforting my daughter through her heart-wrenching bouts of colic and steels her heart for the coming surgery. I find it in how our family is drawn together in the sadness of loss to celebrate the life that was well lived. I am humbled as I see friends work tirelessly to leverage their talents for the good of others – from giving Indian orphans a meal and an education to those brave souls still searching out a way forward for the disenfranchised in Detroit.

Whether or not you believe in this whole Jesus thing, rest well in the love that abounds this season – whether or not you see it at first glance. Let that love invade and change your heart, and out of an overflow of that changed heart, represent it well to others.

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

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