by Elizabeth Garcia
It was in the moment that I heard the words “Down Syndrome” that I decided that God was not good in my life.
We had been through so much since the moment we were married… it finally felt like I was catching my breath and then...Down Syndrome.
My story of Joy began when my husband and I tied the knot in 2010, though it wasn’t until I looked back, through the years of grief and disappointment, that I could see the journey the Lord was bringing me on.
As newlyweds, Andrew was gone 75% of the time as Active Duty Coast Guard. The dream of living debt free inspired us to make some sacrificial decisions to pay off our debt…one of which was building and living in a 400 square foot house on the back end of my family’s land.
We hiked through the woods to get there, burned wood for heat, took sponge baths, and brought our business to the outhouse.
Within nine months I was pregnant with our first baby. I wish I could say I was one of those glowing pregnant women, but I wasn’t. I had a hard pregnancy and I was an emotional basket case! Eden came into this world screaming and didn’t stop screaming for almost 9 months. And I mean 24/7 screaming in a 400 square foot house.
With no bathroom. In the woods.
In those first nine months I struggled with severe isolation and depression. Andrew struggled with depression and addiction. We battled through, doing our very best to lean on the Lord; He lead us through a lot of forgiveness and healing in that time.
After Eden was born we decided that the Coast Guard was not the lifestyle we wanted for our children. We also decided it would be good for Eden to have a sibling and got pregnant again quickly.
My second pregnancy was a dream!
At our 19 week ultrasound we found out that we were having a boy; we left feeling excited, dreaming about our son and all that we wanted for him. On a summer day we welcomed Gideon into our lives. Shortly after his arrival our hospital room swarmed with nurses, doctors, and specialists, and we were given a surprise diagnosis of Down Syndrome.
We spent the next year grieving, desperately wanting to believe that God was good…but maybe not to us.
I felt so much guilt about grieving because I was so in love with Gideon, but still… I grieved the son I had dreamt that I was pregnant with. I told myself that I could have a year, and then I needed to let go of what I couldn’t change and start trying to find joy again. Gideon turned one, I had one last cry on his birthday, and put it all in the Lord’s hands.
A few weeks later I found out that I was pregnant… again! Only this time I wasn’t happy. I was angry. I hadn’t slept in over a year. My days were consumed with physical therapy and keeping my now CRAZY three-year-old daughter alive.
I didn’t want the new baby. I felt so much shame for feeling that way.
I had already lost all of myself. I had nothing left. I didn’t even have sleep! I spent my entire pregnancy depressed, with chronic acid reflux, in excruciating pain from a weakened pelvic floor, and up most of the nights with Gideon. But somehow I pumped myself up to believe I was a super woman who could rock having three kids under the age of four.
Upon the arrival of our son, Abram, I found myself feeling a little less than super, trying to mother my spirited 4-year-old, a special needs 2-year-old, and a newborn who screamed 24/7 like a friggin’ pterodactyl!
The more exhausted I got, the more anxiety and depression set in. I became resentful and bitter that I wasn’t able to enjoy my babies like other moms were.
I began to notice that I was no longer able to feel Joy.
I would say the scripture “The joy of the Lord is my strength” a million times a day, but I had no idea how to access joy—let alone harbor it! I knew that without joy I was missing out on life, and the joy of motherhood, so I began to cry out to the Lord. I wanted more! I wanted to find anew the girl who, before marriage and kids, had joyfully trusted the Lord with her future.
Somewhere along the way I had stopped pursuing joy and started on an earthly pursuit of happiness.
Pursuing happiness is a counterfeit of a supernatural phenomenon that comes from aligning one’s heart with God to partake in a supernatural entity—JOY.
Happiness is completely circumstantial; pursuit of it is a lie that, “once you have this, once you get here, once you are this person, you will be happy.” This lie left me blind and miserable!
But Joy allows me to see that, when all hell is breaking loose in my life, God is still on His throne, and He is good! By aligning myself with these truths I can access, harbor, and cultivate joy—no matter the circumstances that surround me.
Joy says that when I haven’t slept in three years, when I want to leave my husband, when my kids might literally be KILLING me, when I don’t recognize the person I’ve become, I can still walk in the fullness of the goodness of God through JOY.
As the Lord brought me this revelation, He also began to remind me of scripture that He had given me in my first few months of marriage. I remember so clearly clinging to Philipians 4:11-12 as Andrew and I walked through challenge after challenge, knowing that He wanted me to learn contentment in all seasons.
Through this scripture I was able to find contentment when we didn’t have money for groceries, as we were struggling with our marriage, spirited children, special needs, and crammed in a tight apartment for years on end. When the Lord brought me back to the scripture I was amazed to read it with a new perspective. A perspective of JOY! Listen to what Paul says in Philippians 11-12:
“I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have and with everything that happens. I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty. I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough.”
I had clung to those words when we had nothing left.
The best part was that when I started to not be content with the lack of joy that I had, the Lord lead me to verse 13: “I can do all things through Christ because He gives me strength.”
It was right there that the Lord gave me a key to accessing joy. Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ because He gives me strength.” The JOY of the Lord is my STRENGTH. The key to accessing Joy—the strength that Paul is talking about—is CONTENTMENT! Part of positioning my heart to be able to access joy and, in turn, access strength, is in the act of being content with what God has given me, who He made me to be, and where He has me!
Really, it’s recognizing that no matter what’s going on in my life, God is still on His throne, and He is battling with me and for me!
When I begin to access joy—no matter how much I hate life in the moment—I begin to access God. When I begin to access God, I begin to access Grace, Mercy, Love, Strength, Healing, and Forgiveness.
These things brought on a Christ-like identity and began to bring healing in my relationship with God, and in my marriage.
My story, over the last 7 years, has been filled with plenty of grief, disappointment, discouragement, and exhaustion. I was always waiting for my circumstances to change so that I could finally feel happy. But the great news is this: though I might have to wait for circumstances to change to feel “happy”, I don’t have to wait to access joy or experience joy. Because all of these hard places—that cause a lump in my throat just thinking about — are also perfect places to practice accessing and harboring the Joy of the Lord in my life. They are places that happiness cannot exist easily, but joy can flourish.
Elizabeth Garcia is a wife, mother, small business owner and blogger. Through unexpected pain and suffering, mothering special needs, and living a sacrificial life of little means, Elizabeth has clung to the goodness of God and the redemption He is unfolding in her life. She shares her journey at herkindredlife.com and @her_kindred_life on IG