Spring is Here!

On April 17, 2011, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

Spring has come to Michigan and the crocuses and forsythia have started to make their appearance along Humphrey Avenue. And, like a houseguest who has overstayed his welcome, Old Man Winter is poised for one last whack at us with a forecasted snow storm expected to dump four or five inches in some spots overnight.

A lot has happened in the last month for our little girl and life has a way of stealing the time that I would have normally spent updating everyone. But all it takes is a gentle nudge from a family member that they need their “Julia Fix” and here I am, jumping back in. Fortunately, we had already done a little impromptu photo session this morning before church.

As you can see, our little girl is thriving and happy; although I wonder whether someone came in overnight a couple weeks ago and replaced her brain with one giant drool gland. Julia has begun teething in earnest and she sees just about anything we put in front of her as an opportunity to gnaw.

Julia has made the successful transition into daycare (two and a half days a week) and the ladies there love her. Fortunately, it’s right at my office and it’s great to be able to take a break from my day and stop down to see her. In the meantime, Jocelyn has started back part time with her company running their marketing and social media.

We are especially excited that Julia’s progressing so well in her development AND that we have the expertise of the folks at Early On, the special education department at Birmingham Schools to guide us. They have given us a lot of great pointers and techniques to get her caught up. Julia’s now rolling over from her back to her belly with ease and can roll off her belly with a little bit of coaching. We’re still working to strengthen her core so she can sit up on her own; but the staff has been so encouraging, I’m half expecting her to be doing long division by the end of the summer.

There’s a lot to celebrate. It was a year ago that we were getting the scary news about Julia’s heart condition and Down Syndrome. We’re coming up on her seven month birthday later this week and are planning something as normal as a summer vacation in June. We have pretty typical dreams and fears for our kid now and it’s feeling very good. Thanks for all of your love and encouragement!

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Six Months

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

It’s 6:22pm as I write this; and six months ago at this moment, I was only minutes away from witnessing the birth of my daughter. That was six months. And two weeks in the NICU. And some sleepless nights as we awaited surgery. And ten days at Children’s Hospital. Ago.

whew.

Things are a little different now. We got a six month old little girl!

The day came and went quietly. I almost had to remind myself, the day was so normal. We woke up, we ate, went to church, had lunch, went shopping for some new walking shoes for Jocelyn. I took in a disappointing loss by U of M to Duke in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Normal… I’m still taking it in.

So I couldn’t let the day go by without celebrating the one hundred eighty-two days that our daughter has drawn breath. Thanks.

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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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Let me just admit at the outset that this post isn’t going to turn out like anything I had planned. Most of you who have been following this story know Dr. Weinhouse and what a caring, marvelous man he is. (ed. note: for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, you can get caught up here and here.) All I was going to do was share his kind words of intercession and call it a night. Apparently Julia and God had other ideas.

First, the pragmatics: Julia is continuing to feed astonishingly well – so much so that she’s starting to get a little cranky when we aren’t there with the warmed bottle in hand and a burp cloth draped over our arm. Even this evening, Jocelyn was upstairs and I was consoling our ravenous little girl, even though there should have been at least thirty minutes before we would have expected her to be hungry.

So there I sat with a howling Julia on my knee trying to figure out if it was her hiccups or actual hunger that was the source of her ire. You get pretty inventive after a while trying to find ways of distracting a fussy child. Start with one position, shift to another. Jiggle her on your knees, then change to the football hold or throw in a light stroke under the chin. In moments of desperation, I’ve even gotten up and swayed with her (a sight that only my wife will ever witness – it’s not pretty).

Her diatribe was at a peak when, in a moment of inspiration, I slipped a finger between the buttons of her sleeper and traced the line of her breastbone. Her perfect… scarless… breastbone. Ugh. Blindsided by feelings that I don’t want to deal with right now. Push it down. Push it down…

I got up and fixed her a bottle – partially to distract my thoughts of fear and anticipation, but mostly because the hiccups had subsided and a process of elimination concluded that she was hungry. Julia continued to find new expression for her fussiness, but her frustration ended completely when I was finally able to sit and let her feed.

And as I looked upon that satisfied, angelic face, the ache of a father’s uncertainty came back.

This isn’t fair. No child deserves to have her chest cracked open…

but thank God that they can fix the ailing heart it contains.

How can this little mind process the trauma that is going to be visited upon her?

Will she come out of this with her innocence intact?

I took it all in and breathed it all out with a watery-eyed prayer of desperation. Lord, please help us.

I offer you this prayer of a heart doctor with a big, big heart. And whether you believe that we are knitted together intentionally or are simply a random collection of very well-ordered organic molecules, I ask that you be in agreement with the spirit of his prayer…

Elliot’s words are our words…

Anna Adonai, Hoshiana – Dear God, help us

No truer, more heartfelt words have been uttered in this whole adventure. I pray it as I consider the unknown of the next couple of weeks. I pray it as I run out of ways to distract a fussy infant. I pray it as I move through my day, trying to stay coherent on four hours’ sleep.

Anna Adonai, Hoshiana – Dear God, help us

Jocelyn and I would love for you to join us in that prayer over the next couple of weeks. There will be more news forthcoming on what can be expected and how I’m going to be modifying the website so that you can get real-time updates during the days of surgery and hospitalization. But none of that matters but for the providence and power of the Infinite Love who is mindful of us even when it doesn’t feel like it. None of that matters but for the love and support we have felt from you.

Thanks again.

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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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