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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Finding Her Smile

On December 18, 2010, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

Julia has made some great strides and had an adventure or two this week. It seems like she has learned to do so much in the last couple of weeks that we need to take a moment and celebrate. One of the big ones is that she has found her smile and is using it more and more often. It began with a small lift in the corners of her mouth and would flash a quick smile at her mom. But in the last week or so, she’s been smiling a lot! I gotta tell you, eye contact and a grin from this kid and I’m glowing like the moon!

Another win is her head control and the muscle tone in her neck. It usually happens when she’s resting after a good feed. She gets her arms underneath and pushes off for a look around! She’s still working on her landing (sometimes her noggin comes down with a crash!), but she’s really starting to interact with her surroundings.

Julia also got a grand introduction to the staff at Kensington when she visited the office on Thursday. The toughest thing was having to be so vigilant on cootie patrol. I wanted to pass her around and let folks hold her and give her kisses, but we need to be so careful about her exposure to germs that we had to seriously limit her direct contact with people. There was no way we were going to keep Steve Andrews (Kensington’s Lead Pastor) away from her. We still have fond memories of him kicking down our hospital room door some sixteen hours after the delivery hollering, “Where’s my kid??”

Now the challenges that we would like your prayers on:

One part of the day that we least look forward to is the almost nightly meltdown she goes through at around 9pm. It begins with a little fussiness and escalates into a full-blown holler that is absolutely heartbreaking to witness and can last up to thirty minutes. Our theory is that she’s either working through colic or digested mucous, but it always happens around the same time of night. She’s tired afterwards, but otherwise none the worse for wear. Any experience or encouragement you can offer in the comments would be greatly appreciated.

In addition, Julia’s feeding is still an issue; and she gained only two ounces by her weekly weight check at the cardiologist. She’s still breathing very comfortably at this writing, and her spitting up pretty well under control; but it’s the first time I heard a subtle shift in Dr. Weinhouse’s optimistic tone. “She just needs the surgery.” It was stating the obvious, I know; but this may be the first time we got the clear reminder that the medications will only go so far.

Despite the challenges, we’re still watching her one month from the surgery, and we are still in awe of how she is growing. Thanks so much for your prayers. It seems the legion of angels I asked for are still doing their work!

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

The heavy rains of the day have subsided and I’m curled up by the fireplace in a rented house up on Cass Lake for the holiday. Epic sessions of Yatzee and Mexican Dominoes are in progress among the generations. Jocelyn’s entire family has gathered here from as far away as Texas to be together for Thanksgiving – and also to meet Julia. There was no way we could fit them all in our 900 square feet in Birmingham; so instead of holing up in hotels, we decided it made more sense to rent something we could all be together in.

I’m one belt hole bigger after a dinner, masterfully prepared by Deirdre, my sister-in-law. She has an uncommon passion for food, having brought many of the ingredients for the stuffing up from Ft. Worth in her luggage. If you get invited along on a restaurant crawl with her, clear your schedule!

The carbs and tryptophan are starting to take their toll, but I couldn’t let the moment go by without sharing a few of the things I’m thankful for – just in the past week:

It had been a tough week of feeding for our girl. Very often, the routine has been (1) Feed (2) Burp (3) Cough (4) Hurl. And far too often, we saw all of our care and feeding come splashing on the floor, followed closely by a frustrated howl from Julia. The pediatrician has diagnosed her with acid reflux (pretty common with kids this age) and has put her on yet another medicine to make her more comfortable.

Despite the challenges, Julia still gained four ounces and is on a fantastic growth curve. The meds continue to work as intended; and Dr. Weinhouse, the specialist overseeing her heart condition, is very pleased. We gathered in his office after the consult to pray together in thanksgiving for Julia’s progress.

We got a bulletin from a church we have never heard of in the mail. There was a note written on it from a friend of a friend that they had heard about Julia and put her on the church’s prayer list. We often hear about people praying for Julia, but the note brought into focus the kind of love and concern that folks can have for someone they have never met. By my last count, I know of people gathering to pray for Julia in the U.S., Mexico, Greece, the U.K., and India. Humbling.

We have received countless casseroles and pot pies from well wishers that have allowed us to not think that much about preparing meals over the past two months. It has laid waste to my weight loss regimen, but it has taken so much stress off of Jocelyn and I as we focus on preparing Julia for the upcoming surgery.

And as a confirmation of the richness of the community that God has blessed us with, in the time it has taken me to write this post, I’ve received three text messages from friends wishing us a happy Thanksgiving.

A wise friend of mine has suggested that the first step toward a life well lived is to take an intentional step toward gratitude – be thankful for what you have and not angry about what you do not have. Today, we all have the chance to do that (before the carnage of Black Friday) and step more fully into the stream of beauty that awaits. Sometimes in the pursuit of happiness, we just need to stop and be happy.

Thanks everyone from the Cook family!

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A New Milestone

On November 21, 2010, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

We celebrated Julia’s two month birthday (minus a day) with a visit to her pediatrician on Friday. She got a clean bill of health (AVSD notwithstanding) and began her immunizations. One was the same Diptheria-Tetanus-Pertussus vaccine that every other kid in America gets (please, no comments on the merits or risks of immunization – that horse has left the barn). The other was a $1000-per-dose vaccination against a common cold virus that could kill her if she contracted it. It’s amazing how just a touch of crazy is mixed into the routine of this little family’s life. At any rate, Julia let out a howl that felt like it was going to shake the walls; and I think Dad and Mom took the pokes almost as hard as Julia did.

Saturday, we did a quick photo session of our two-month-old. Not sure if the frilly dress is her style – I’ll let you decide – but she’s going to grow out of it soon enough. It was a gift from some friends and a nice change from the sleepers we’re used to dressing her in.

We took the afternoon to stroll through an open-air mall and take in a bit of normalcy (and give Jocelyn a much-needed moment out of the house!). I still marvel at the thought that this little girl wasn’t born and our lives were so different only two months ago. And we still look forward to the day that we won’t have to be so careful about Julia’s health so we can just pack up and go!

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