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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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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Meeting Abigail

On June 29, 2011, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

One of the real highlights of our vacation was a long anticipated meeting. Not long into our adventure with Julia (and my writing about it), we were contacted by a longtime friend of Jocelyn. He had a friend, Kate, whose daughter was diagnosed in utero with Down Syndrome and the same heart condition as Julia. After introducing her to the blog, he contacted Jocelyn and arranged an introduction.

What followed was some of the most amazing interactions I’ve ever witnessed. Abigail was due right around the time that Julia was supposed to go in for her heart surgery, and Kate had all sorts of questions for Jocelyn on what to expect for the rest of her pregnancy and how to prepare for the birth. Having just experienced what Kate was about to go through, Jocelyn obviously had a lot to share. Through e-mail and text message (the first time they spoke on the phone was setting up our meeting!), she coached and encouraged Kate with all she had learned in the months leading up to Julia’s birth.

But the encouragement didn’t end with the birth of Abigail on that marvelous day in January. Kate and her husband, John, prayed for Julia as she faced her surgery and the hard days following. Jocelyn kept the information going with feeding tips, medication expectations, and the questions to ask the medical staff as the new family navigated through their daughter’s condition.

Knowing the crushing stress that Kate and John were under, we prayed for the family in March as Abigail went in for her procedure. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook may remember that I asked you to join us in those prayers.

I’m happy to tell you that Abigail’s on the other side of it now and doing great. Our breakfast together last week was the realization of a dream for two families – and the continuation of a lifelong friendship!

So cool to see these kindred souls meeting face to face!

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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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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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