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FBC North Mobile education pastor, wife see Godís love through Down syndrome childcomment (0)

February 3, 2011

By John Evans

Heather Messick stood in the hospital shower crying.

“The only thing I could pray over and over was, ‘God, help me,’ because I didn’t know how I was going to live life after that point,” Messick said. “There was nothing familiar to me.”

She was scheduled to bring her new daughter, Victoria, home from the hospital the next day. But as the frightening unknown of raising a child with Down syndrome washed over her, Messick was overwhelmed.

“When I was raised, I had a very sheltered home life,” she said. “I didn’t have anything really hard ever happen to me. Nothing that took me to the brink.”

When Messick, already the mother of Elyssa and Natalie, had the first ultrasound done at 11 weeks with Victoria, the doctors knew something wasn’t normal. A battery of long ultrasounds followed that took an emotional toll on the expectant mother.

“I didn’t get to go to the doctor and see an ultrasound (just) to see my baby,” Messick said. “It was going to see what was wrong with my baby every time I went.”

As the weeks went by, she clung to Psalm 139, in which David spoke of how the Lord formed him in the womb.

“I thought, ‘I just have to believe in my head that God knows what He’s doing, that He didn’t make a mistake when He made Victoria,’” Messick said.

When Victoria was born, the doctors confirmed she had Down syndrome, a genetic defect that causes serious developmental, physical and mental problems. It was new territory for Messick and her husband, Mark, adult education pastor of First Baptist Church, North Mobile, in Saraland.

“I didn’t grow up having a lot of contact with special needs children,” Heather Messick said. “I felt like this was foreign to me. I thought, ‘How can I be a good mother to this baby?’”

Mark Messick grieved over the difficulties Victoria would face in the future.

“You always want your child to be accepted, to flourish, prosper and do well,” he said. “That’s gone in just a matter of seconds with a diagnosis. It grieves you to the bottom of your soul.”

Heather Messick admits she also struggled with how Victoria looked; children with Down syndrome have visibly different facial features than others. But when her oldest daughter, Elyssa, first came to see her new sister in the hospital, she remarked over and over how beautiful she thought Victoria was.

“God has used my oldest girl to really bring conviction to my heart, to say, ‘You need to get over that and accept [Victoria] how she looks, how she is,’” Heather Messick said.

A major turning point came when, at 7 weeks old, Victoria had surgery for several heart defects, which occur in about half of Down syndrome babies.

“As I began taking care of her, I think God created a bond between us I didn’t initially feel,” Heather Messick said.

Mark Messick also remembers his and his wife’s perspectives changing after the initial waves of fear and uncertainty passed.

“A couple months after [Victoria] was born, we wondered, ‘What were we so upset about? [God] has blessed us with this incredible little girl who is joyful and happy, and God has a plan for her life,’” he said.

In the almost three years that have passed since Victoria’s birth, the Messicks have experienced the challenges and blessings that come with raising a special needs child.

Since Victoria develops slower than other children, she has needed a number of therapists to aid her progress. Heather Messick had to teach her how to roll over, crawl and walk — things babies usually learn themselves. She isn’t speaking many intelligible words yet, but she’s learned signs to indicate things like when she’s hungry. Each mark of progress is precious.

“I think that God just has shown me over the past almost three years I need to be thankful for every little phase she goes through, every victory she has,” Heather Messick said.

With the challenges of raising Victoria come joys as well from watching her take her first steps to seeing her perform hand motions to songs. Heather Messick describes her as a very loving child who delights in showing affection and sees in her an example of God’s love.

“We tell people we feel like we’ve been given a gift,” she said. “We get to live life a little differently from other people, but I think we’re going to be able to experience living life with a person who probably will always love us unconditionally, and I think God is going to use her to teach us a lot about Him and how we ought to be.

“I don’t know what Victoria is going to grow up to be or what she’s going to be like, but God has good things for her,” she said.

Victoria’s life also has opened doors of ministry to others. Heather Messick, an accomplished vocalist who has recorded two Christian albums (“Wonder” in 2000 and “Meet Us Here” in 2010), is frequently invited to speak or sing at churches and events. She wrote one of her songs, “She Is God’s Child,” about Victoria.  

“It reminded me that God did not make a mistake when He made Victoria,” she said. “He gave me a gift when He gave me her.”

For more information, contact Heather Messick at hcmessick@yahoo.com or 251-591-3191. To read her blog, visit www.messickmom.blogspot.com.

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