{Turning Tragedy in Thanksgiving} Julia’s story.

Written by: Jenni Colwell

Turning tragedy into thanksgiving is often a difficult practice. Sometimes tragedy turns so quickly into a miracle and you can rejoice immediately and other times it takes waiting on God and seeing His hand in the midst of a very difficult time. It is allowing the joy of the Lord to be your strength.

In July 2003 my fourth child Julia was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect at 20 days old. I went to the doctor’s office, as my two older children had an eye infection and I walked out with a VSD, a condition that was bound to end in open heart surgery. The doctor was more concerned with how baby Julia looked then the obvious pink eye that Sam and Abigail had. I remembered feeling panic, but then that turned to denial as my husband tried to calm me down with, “lots of people have heart murmurs.” But over the weeks and months that passed her condition worsened, she had difficulty gaining weight, she slept a lot, feeding was difficult, as she was too weak to eat, her breathing became laboured and she was sweating a lot. Her colour was terrible, often grey and even sometimes blue around the nail beds and lips. She was in congestive heart failure. Endless doctor’s appointments, sleepless nights and constant force feedings were part of my everyday life. I was in stress overload.

The pediatric cardiologist booked her surgery for January 2004 but by the beginning of December she was failing so badly that I decided to call Sick Kids myself and she ended up being bumped an entire month. On surgery day Mark and I handed over our tiny ten pound baby who was almost 6 months old to a nurse named Natasha. As I watched her little face fade in the distance down a cold long hospital hallway an overwhelmingly terrifying helpless feeling came over me. After I sobbed the ugly cry we sat in a waiting room full of other parents who were facing their own tragedy. It was tough to watch the pain on their faces.

Three hours later the doctor came to report that the patch went well but she was bleeding out and they were having trouble getting her blood to clot. After 24 hours of touch and go, Julia stabilized and was extubated and breathing on her own. A difficult day awaited her as she was hooked up to so many things and was in a great deal of pain and couldn’t really be held. She cried all day long. It was a tough week, with very little sleep but we made it through and brought her home five days later.

When I look back on that journey, many people believed she was going to be healed before surgery and of course I was praying that way too. But that is not the way God chose to heal her. I had to come to grips with that and I did. So as I reflect on that journey I am thankful for many things. I am thankful that God spared her life and I know He has a great plan and purpose for her life. I am thankful for my husband who was my rock and our marriage was only strengthened through this trial. I am thankful for the prayers of the people, for I never felt so supported by the body of Christ than in those months surrounding her illness. I also felt supported practically through meals, babysitting and many even helped us financially during that time with gifts of money for our additional incurred expenses. I felt the love of God through people, because God most often cares for people through people. So I have learned to be there for other people through their tradegy. I have learned that a note, or a meal or really praying for people when you say you will, really helps ~it got me through.

Many weeks after the surgery when Julia was on the mend, I remember coming home from the grocery story with vitamin D cream for her scar. As I was unpacking the cream out of the grocery bag I was overcome with sadness that my beautiful little baby now donned this huge zipper scar down her chest. One that would grow with her and never fade away. I asked God why? Why her? Why did she have to go through this? I learned that God is okay with the tough questions. God is okay when we lament to Him about our struggles. He knows. His only son bears stripes on His body. His son Jesus bears those stripes because we all needed to be healed from a heart condition. All of our hearts were sick, and Jesus came to heal our hearts from sin.

So when I look at Julia’s scar I am reminded that Jesus healed her heart, her physical heart and her spiritual heart. It is no longer a source of sadness for me; it is a constant reminder that Jesus spared her life for such a time as this. I am thankful as I write this little blog, thankful to be reminded of what God has brought us through almost 11 years ago. And I look through her little baby album there is a scripture on the very last page that reads…

“You made all the delicate inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex~
it is amazing to think about ~
your workmanship is marvelous~
and how well I know it~
you were there while I was being formed in utter seclusion~
you saw me before I was born and scheduled every day of my life before I began to breathe~everyday was recorded in your book.
Psalm 139:13-16

I can imagine how excited God was to record the day of her healing in His book. I know I was and at the bottom of the scrapbook page is the cutest picture of a tiny little baby with a long red scar down her chest, who’s cheeks have pinked up and her tiny frame has started to put on some weight. Underneath the picture are the words “Prayer changes things”. I am thankful today that prayer does change things. So if you are in the midst of a difficult journey remember that we have confidence in approaching God; that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us. 1 John 5:14.


Jenni Colwell has been married to her amazing husband Mark Colwell for 20 years and is the proud mother of four exceptional children, Samuel, Abigail, Moriah and Julia.
She serves as the Family Life Pastor at Glad Tidings Pentecostal Church in Burlington, Ontario.


One comment

  1. Jenni I remember this time in your life well. Jim and I prayed for you, Mark, Julia and for the rest of the family. So thankful for Father’s faithfulness and His healing touch on Julia’s life. He works all things together for His Glory and for our good. Blessings and much love,


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