JULIE AND JESSIE
My daughter Jessie was never supposed to live more than a week. Roger and I knew something was wrong when she stopped growing in my third trimester. When I went into labor, her fragile heart began to fail. Dr. Raphael performed an emergency C-section and shook his head when he held her in his arms. She was blue and limp, three pounds at best. All of a sudden, Jessie drew a breath, coughed, and her heart began to beat. You could see the heart muscle pumping through her tiny skeleton. I was still under sedation when my husband Roger heard the grim news. “God,” he prayed, “I am your servant. Why us? Why is there a nursery full of healthy babies, some that were even unwanted, and mine is born to die?”
When I awoke, Dr. Raphael clasped my hand and told me of Jessie’s fate. “Most trisome 18 babies live a week, so be prepared.” This fatal condition meant that everything on her eighteenth chromosome was malformed. Her heart muscle was weak, her lungs were damaged, her little arms and legs were limp from lack of circulation. Roger placed her tiny form in my lap and we sobbed as we cradled her. Finally, we had to return her to Dr. Raphael and she was whisked away to intensive care. Jessica had to be fed with a gavage tube placed down her tiny throat because she was too weak to suck on a bottle. She lived in her “oxygen box” to make it easier to breathe.
I went home, devastated, and we waited. And waited. And waited. Every day Rog and I made the long trek to the hospital -- terrified we were seeing Jessie for the last time. But every day she rallied. After two weeks, doctors and medical students came to study her. No trisome infant had ever survived this long. But we have a big God. As the poet David penned these words in Psalm 139:
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
God knew Jessie’s future. No doctor could predict the impact her life would have. Christmas morning came, one month after her birth, and we visited her in her little “hospital house.” Naomi, our favorite nurse, had crocheted a beautiful red Christmas dress for our miracle baby. Answers to our prayers just kept coming. Jessie lived nine months -- longer than 99% of trisome babies.
At the end of December, we were able to take Jessie home. She was now a whopping five pounds. She never grew past that weight. I dressed her in ruffled doll clothes because baby PJs were to big for her delicate frame. She was too weak to cry, so she’d raise her tiny hand when she was hungry. We fed Jessie through the gavage tube every two hours. Roger and I surveyed the colorful nursery where she slept, shell-shocked that our tiny girl was still with us.
As the days dragged on, we became more and more worn out. Roger kept up his pastoral duties and preached his socks off Sunday after Sunday. I taught piano to make ends meet. I kept Jessie in a bassinette next to my piano bench. One cold Saturday night, Roger and I laid exhausted in each other’s arms. The constant feedings left us sleep-deprived, and the stress of never knowing if she would be alive when we peered over her cradle left us frazzled and depressed. We prayed earnestly for strength.
Roger said “amen,” and we immediately heard a knock at the front door. Fourteen smiling church ladies filled our porch. Were they here to sing carols or bring us goodies? No. They gave us the most unbelievable gift we could ever imagine. Joy Artus grinned and said, “Roger and Julie, we are the Mom Squad. Every night at ten o’clock, one of us will be at your door to stay up all night with Jessie so you can sleep.” We were speechless! Our families lived a thousand miles away, so we had no help with our ailing child.
Mom Squad ladies were doctors, nurses, university administrators, grandmothers, teachers … and in the nine months of Jessica’s life, they NEVER missed a night. When church members love you like that, they become your FAMILY. God had sent us our very own angels to comfort us in the darkness of our desperation.
Jessica Lynn Barrier went to be with Jesus in July. We kissed her cold little forehead and said, “Hello, Jessie. We’re your Mommy and Daddy. We can finally tell you how much we love you as you smile down on us from Jesus’ lap.” We wept at her homegoing. I still cry when I remember that first Christmas.
Thirty years later, with holiday lights twinkling, I tearfully put my pen to paper to write what I would say to Jessie today.
My precious little girl with Jesus, I can hardly remember how it felt to hold your tiny frame in my arms. I thought I would forget you, but you're still with me every day. There are so many questions I want to ask you as I look heavenward. Do you miss me? I wish I'd known you as a grown-up girl -- my dearest confidant and friend.
The longer I live, the grayer the line between here and hereafter. There's my indomitable father -- full of faith and cheating death at least twice every year. Just when he thinks he's headed toward Home, God turns him around, marches him back to us and tells him he still has more to do. No matter what disaster or physical challenge he faces, he simply finds another more creative way to express his love for you. The consummate artist, he finds beauty where others fail to look.
And then there's your Daddy. His earthly heart may not be strong, but it beats with a passion and power that few men have. He always sees heaven before him, and he's never been afraid to go there. But like the Good Shepherd, I think he is still here because he's so good at taking care of everybody else.
Your sister Brianna has seemed to walk so precariously through this world, touching heaven and fighting for breath day in and day out. She spends her waking moments serving God tirelessly, but the more God uses her, the more she seems to suffer. But that doesn't surprise you, does it, Jessie?
Earth-dwellers live in a fierce battleground, and those who don't see it are simply looking the other way. Suffering must look so differently to you from heaven's parapet. Hannah Hurnard in Hind's Feet on High Places wrote that her protagonist, little Much Afraid, could only reach the high places by grasping the hands of Sorrow and Suffering.
You see the glory side, don't you, Jessie? I wish you could have shared some face time with your baby sister Bronwyn while you were here. Although I know you watch her, her antics must make you laugh. The pain she has suffered is the deepest and cruelest of all. Yet of both my girls, she sees the world most clearly and loves so honestly and deeply. Her pain has made her real. Her pain has made her strong.
As I ponder life and death and love and such, I long to see through your eyes. What must it be like to look upon Jesus’ face every day? How wonderful must it be to never have unanswered questions, to fear nothing and no one?
At times, brief moments during my day, I catch a glimpse of that shining place where you live and feel oddly homesick. Save me a place by your side. I'll see you soon. Merry Christmas.”
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About Julie Barrier
For over 25 years, Dr. Julie Barrier, along with her pastor-husband, Dr. Roger Barrier, has been in demand as a national and international conference speaker, addressing topics such as marriage, ministry, Biblical study, and women’s issues in 32 countries. The Barriers are founders and directors of the Preach It, Teach It website, www.preachitteachit.org, providing sermons, devotionals, blogs, and videos by 100 internationally renowned teachers and authors such as Francis Chan, Josh McDowell, Max Lucado, and Beth Moore in 212 countries. Julie also taught Biblical Foundations of Worship, Conducting, and Arranging as an adjunct Professor at the Dixon School of Church Music at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. In their 35-year ministry at Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona, Julie has served as a minister of worship, orchestra conductor, and arranger. Julie is also a concert artist and radio talk show host. Dr. Barrier is the author or composer of over 100 published works: books, articles, devotionals, dramas, choral and orchestral pieces. Her latest book is Bored in Big Church: Recollections of a Church Brat and Tattletale (Xulon Press, 2011).
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