Growing up, my mom always told us, “Happiness comes from happenings but joy comes from the Lord.” Happiness comes and goes and is based on how well life is going at the moment. I am really happy when my four kids are behaving and getting along, but as soon as that stops and the fighting begins, I become frustrated and just like that, my happiness is gone. But joy, according to the Bible, is supposed to be different. It transcends our circumstances and is deeper than happiness. I did not see it coming, but in October 2021 I began a difficult journey where the Lord would teach me the real meaning of joy.
After having my fourth kid in August, I was having trouble breastfeeding on my right side. I was sent to a lactation specialist who sent me to a breast surgeon who had me get a mammogram. I will never forget that day when the radiologist sat me down and told me he was concerned I might have breast cancer. I felt like I had gotten punched in the stomach and the only thing I wanted to do was get out of there – FAST! After many tests and scans, they officially diagnosed me with Stage 3 breast cancer. I was 31 years old with a husband and four small kids, and had no idea how I was going to get through this.
Initially I was getting advice that left me feeling confused. On one side people were telling me to grieve and let myself feel all my feelings. On the other hand, I was being told to be optimistic - to make sure I was laughing and trying my best to be happy. I know both pieces of advice were well meaning, but the reality was that I could not fake happiness. I could not manufacture it on my own. My situation was anything but happy – it was scary and hard, dark and lonely. I knew I could not put a fake smile on my face, but I also did not want to wallow in despair. I longed to experience the joy of the Lord. So, I began to ask Him to show me what true joy looks like, even right now in the midst of my suffering.
take a walk...
At my initial chemo meeting, the nurse suggested going for walks everyday regardless of the weather. I am not normally a fan of the cold, but these walks became a sacred time for me. I vividly remember one of these walks in early October. I was feeling increasingly anxious about the different treatment options and the decisions we needed to make. What if an alternative treatment is best for me? What if it doesn’t work and I regret it later, when it’s too late? What if I do chemo and it destroys my body? Each question felt heavier and heavier. And then I remembered a pivotal question the Lord asked me, “Is your hope in a treatment or is your hope in Me?” I needed to settle this in my soul - my hope was not in a certain treatment, a doctor or anything else. My hope was in the Lord.
I came back from that walk feeling different. My circumstances did not change, and I still had decisions to make, but I had a deep confidence that my God could be trusted. He would continue to show up like this and meet me in the days ahead, reminding me of His truth. He did not bring a light, fluffy happiness that put a smile on my face. But in the middle of the night when my “what-ifs” were swirling, when I was getting ready for yet another chemo treatment or when I was anxiously awaiting another test result, He continued to produce in me a deep soul satisfaction. It did not matter what chaos was swirling around me, He was filling me with a contentment in His presence, a deep trust in His goodness and a hope in who He is, what He has done and what He will do. He was giving me an unwavering faith that, although I may be sobbing with four kids running around me, I am not alone - will never be alone. I could be in the ugliest situation and still see the beauty of Jesus.
i could not fake it...
Joy. This was not something I could produce in myself. I could not fake it. This deep seeded joy needed to be sown and grown by the Holy Spirit. I can rejoice in this trial, because the Lord has shown Himself to me. He has shown me that He is enough and that He can be trusted. I am telling you this in the middle of my mess when there are still many unknowns. I am not on the other side where life is comfortable again and I can say, “Look at what God has done!” Instead, I am in the thick of it and telling you, “Look at what God is doing! Look, He is here! Look, He is good!” Friend, I do not know what you are facing right now. I do not know if you are just coming out of suffering, if you are in it right now or if it is down the road for you. But I want you to know that you can experience deep joy in the midst of it. Look to Christ and rest in His presence. God is with you until the very end and then at the end, you will be with Him forever. When that day comes, all things will be made new, our suffering will be no more, and we will only experience ever-increasing joy.
help support elizabeth...
This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 Issue of By Design Journal, just months after Elizabeth was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Over the last year, Elizabeth has undergone traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as a mastectomy, but recent labs showed the cancer to still be present in her body. Elizabeth is now facing Stage 4 breast cancer, and her family is seeking alternative treatment options to fight for Elizabeth's health. These treatment options are costly, and if you'd like to help financially support the Elizabeth, her husband, and her four sons, you can do so at this link: Elizabeth's Cancer Treatment.
Elizabeth is a walking example of Christ's joy. Despite being faced with the diagnosis of Stage 4 breast cancer, Elizabeth continues to radiate a beautiful faith in God. She and her husband are raising four young men, and are very active in the Jackson, Michigan community where they own and operate Fortress Coffee. If you'd like to follow Elizabeth's journey as she fights her battle with cancer, the family has a blog, Elizabeth's Journey.
Photos by Carly Kristin Photography. Headshot provided by Elizabeth.