Goodbye, D.C.

On June 22, 2011, in Life, Personal, by Chris

We had a great time hanging with my sister and her family, but we gotta say goodbye and hit the road tomorrow morning. This is such an incredible town with all of its history and marvelous people. We leave our family and friends here with the promise that we’ll be back soon.

Julia had a great time as well!

Dayton – here we come!

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Father

On June 19, 2011, in Commentary, Personal, by Chris

The family and I are in the middle of a much-needed and anticipated getaway to Washington D.C. to spend some time with my sister and her family. It’s always great to see them and we all have a way of moving into a wonderful rhythm together – even with the chaos of two college-age boys at home and the new twist of Julia in the mix.

It is the end of our fourth day here, and I just put my father on a plane home after a great time together. The heat of the June day has settled into every corner and crack of the house and the air is thick and heavy laden with moisture and the smells of magnolia and sweet bell pepper on the grill. Jocelyn and the family are in the kitchen being entertained by Julia’s post-nap antics, and I have a full spirit from the restful pace of my first Father’s Day.

Father. It’s a name I still accept rather gingerly – even after trying it on repeatedly since we found out about Jocelyn’s pregnancy last February. Much of that time has been managing the ebb and flow of emotion during the remediation of Julia’s heart issues (now thankfully in the rearview mirror). Father schmather – I was just trying to gut up the energy to serve my wife as we served our child. There were no deep philosophical values I was acting out of; it was pure survival mode.

With last month’s marvelous news from Julia’s cardiologist and the slow realization that I can take a step away from the survival mode I had become so accustomed to, I’m beginning to take in the stirring and humbling reality of the new adventure I am on.

Never more than now have I become more aware of the length, breadth and depth of my own selfishness. Its realization came to light when Julia and I flew solo for a few days in May while Jocelyn was away at a trade show. “Nothing to it,” I thought. “Just a normal day.” We came home from dropping Mommy off, I fed her, changed her, put her down for a nap, fed her, changed her; and as the afternoon wore on, I set her down on a blanket with a few toys while I caught up on some e-mail. Julia was fine, I was fine. Nothing to it.

It wasn’t long before I began to hear a change in her satisfied coos – even though I was trying to stay on task and be productive. The coos turned to whines. “It’s okay,” I thought, “I can bang out a couple more.” The whines became more persistent. I tried another toy on her and returned to my work; and moments later her frustration melted into a doleful wail and sobs that finally pierced my heart with the conviction that I had totally blown it. And for just a moment, I started to wonder whether Jocelyn’s leaving was such a good idea. I wondered if Julia had given up on me and was crying for her mother.

In the best way she could, with the only personal resources she had, my daughter was trying to tell me something:

I need more than food and sleep. Engage with me.

The quiet voice inside me was trying to tell me something as well:

I want to show you a new kind of productivity.

It was a moment where I realized I had to decide to let go of everything I felt I was owed so that Julia could thrive. There have been other reminders as well – believe me. I have realized that if there was friction in any other relationship in my life (short of my wife), I could either negotiate through that friction or opt out of it and pursue more “life-giving” relationships. I can do neither with Julia; and it also makes me wonder how many past friendships did I pursue with the attitude of a consumer instead of the attitude of a student and servant.

In the end, if Julia is going to know the love and care of her father, I have to set down my computer or whatever else is occupying my attention at the moment and engage. I also need discernment as to when to hang back and let her work something out on her own. Whew.

It isn’t all downside, though. In addition to my selfishness, I’m awakening to the amazing potential that lies just under the surface of my little girl’s life. I knew it subconsciously, but it didn’t come to light until yesterday’s visit with my friend Doug. He told me about his realization years ago at his first son’s birth that, as a father, he had been entrusted to raise someone’s future best friend or favorite teacher. The boy he cradled could live to someday save another’s life.

I admire my friend because he fathers his two sons with that vision in mind. Doug is a catalyst for his sons’ future greatness. He cannot make life’s choices for them, but he can engage with them and help form them into men that ask great questions of themselves. Despite the limitations that have yet to unfold with Julia’s Down Syndrome, I have realized that the same potential of friend, teacher and rescuer lies within the little girl that I love to hold in my arms and lull to sleep at the end of the day.

It is now hours later; and in the cool of the evening, this rookie father is trying to find succinct words to celebrate with the fathers before him and with the fathers yet to come. The investment is massive. The rewards, I am beginning to realize, are incalculable.

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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, jchriscook.com. 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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