Oppression is Dead; Embracing Peace This Christmas

Tragedies unfold each year pausing for nothing. Heartless shootings that result in lives lost with no cause. The Las Vegas Massacre. The Texas Chruch shooting.Those left behind consumed with grief which feels as if their hearts are being ripped out, no words can describe its depth.

Natural disasters devasting countless people. Leaving communities once thriving fighting to stay alive. Desperately trying to rebuild. Each natural disaster claiming lives. Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma. Wildfires in California.

Then the issue of human sin within the truth of Hashtag Me Too. Ugly, heartless sin which begs to be hidden. Revealing the horror humans are capable of. 

Of course, these few things are only the surface of the devastation surrounding us. Financial difficulties, abuse, and relationship issues add to the impact. Additionally, much devastation consumes us. Heartbreak, depression, anxiety, panic attack, grief, and personality disorders. Physical pain with relentless symptoms. Chronic illness which seems to never let up dictating life. 

The hardships are unending. The news reminds us of this often. Is there meaning in life? Any purpose in all the pain? One can even question if there is anywhere safe anymore. It is draining; sucking the joy from us. At times, we feel dead inside, nearly falling apart as the world caves in burying us. 

Where is the peace in all of this devasting chaos? 

The Christmas story is rooted in hardship and in devastating pain. It is not the simple nativity we see so often in our childrens Bible. None of it was easy emotionally or physically for the family of Jesus. It was a difficult journey of fear, anxiety, sadness, and confusion. God came as a helpless baby turning the world upside down. Ultimately, He overcame death by the work of the cross. We celebrate Christmas because of Easter. “Christmas is more than a story about sleigh bells jing-jing-jingling — Christmas is the beginning of the story where death itself gets killed.” God desperately wanted us to encounter true peace rooted in His love. 

_Merry Christmas in it_s original language means all oppression is dead._1

Christmas is the perfect reminder that we are all equal no matter the background, color, or education level we all have a sinful nature in desperate of a Savior. There is peace in the midst of the Christmas season, but it is not found in the lights or getting everything just right. Joy is not found in the decorations or the gifts. 

“God is so moved by our being entangled in suffering — that He moved Himself into our world and entangled Himself in the suffering with us. God with us”.  Peace begins with Christ in the middle of the devastation. It begins with pouring out your heart to Him in a lament. 

It’s not about reciting movie lines but being intertwined with the lines within the Holy Word. Being immersed and consumed by those living Words. “His glory in the highest runs down to meet us who are at our lowest, those left out in the field, those who’ve lost our flock, lost our way, lost our hope, His glory in the highest always runs down to meet us who are at our lowest.”

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We have peace in the anticipation of the work Christ is doing in our hearts this Advent season. Furthermore, it is rooted in the anticipation of Christ return. This peace consumes us when we intently make space for Christ in the midst of the hurry and allows us to put to death our worry. In doing so we cherish each moment and live an abundant life.

Living out peace this Christmas season requires us to extend compassion and grace to one another. “Let us listen to one another in the depths of our suffering and sadness — and  only speak words that make souls stronger.” Living each moment with a thankful heart. Living loved and loving others. 

 

*All Quotes By Ann Voskamp 

 

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Hope

The pain intensifies as the minute’s drag by. There is an indescribable ache and stabbing pain nearly with each breath.  A sickening feeling overwhelms my body along with waves of nausea from the pain. As quick as possible I unsteadily get up as the urgency increases to get to the bathroom and on my way, I partly dislocate a knee.  Weakness consumes my body from lack of nutrition and hydration. Anxiety plagues the mind as I come up with theories of what is occurring.

Moments like these it is impossible to read or to focus for more than five seconds to pray. Moments like these are when I need hope instinctively. “Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has His ear to our hearts, a God who transfigures the ugly into beauty.” He promises no matter how dark, painful, and hopeless things feel that joy comes in the morning.

There are times when all looks hopeless to others that Christ fills me with His hope beyond explanation. On the contrary, I am sad to admit, there are too many times that my heart aches with sorrow and hopeless tears spill out.

There have been times friends feel so hopeless they have walked out of my life never to return. Countless times, doctors tell me things are hopeless that they are stumped. Thankfully, my Savior has never felt that my health is hopeless.

What are the things which leave you feeling hopeless?

Look! The days are coming when I will fulfill the promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days, when the time is right, I will cause a righteous Branch to sprout from the old stump of David’s linea.png

 

Hopelessness seems to fill this fallen world. Maintaining the hope that Christ calls us to have can seem like an impossible task. Hope is not a feeling. It is so much more to the believer. It is an anchor to our soul that connects us to Christ.

Advent is a time to rekindle our hope. The story of the birth of Jesus bursts with hope.  Jesus is the source of hope and furthermore our ultimate example of remaining hopeful.  The Lord is renewing our hope today through the first Sunday of Advent.

 

Look! The days are coming when I will fulfill the promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days, when the time is right, I will cause a righteous Branch to sprout from the old stump of David’s linea (1).png

Lord,

I am amazed at the way the whole Bible is connected to the birth of Jesus. I am amazed at the way that you are always at work mighty ways. Thank you for providing hope when all seems lost. Thank You for the joy You provide. Thank You for who You are. Thank You for the grace You provide.

I praise You for the hope found in Your Son, Jesus, Christ. Thank you for the renewed hope of Advent. Allow me to read the Advent story with an open heart and new eyes. I surrender this Christmas season to You knowing that You will do a new awe-inspiring work in me. Fill me up with You, Lord Jesus. Allow me to be a blessing to others.

Amen

For When I Am Weak, I Am Powerful: Finding Peace With My Disease

I am honored to introduce to you a beautiful Lupus warrior. Aliccia is sharing an amazing post with us in honor of Lupus awareness month. Please share to help us raise awareness! Who better to tell you more about this courageous warrior than Aliccia herself. A huge thank you to Aliccia for sharing some of her story with us.

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Hi! I’m Aliccia and I’m 24 years old. I love tea, Japanese cars, Netflix, good books and cold weather. I’m a Californian currently living in Texas with one fur baby named Takata. I like smiling, and I am proudly one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m obsessed with galaxies and I like to write on occasion.

 

For When I Am Weak, I Am Powerful: Finding Peace With My Disease

By: Aliccia Rico

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My quest started in late 2015, on a cold November morning. I couldn’t take the pain and discomfort of being in my own body anymore. Selena Gomez had been all over the media talking about how she had a disease called Lupus, and I’d been battling some sort of illness that oddly sounded just like the one she’d been interviewed about. It seemed as though I’d been dropped off in the wilderness and told to make the best of the situation… Even though the joint pain and my hair falling out drove me crazy, almost to the point of a nervous breakdown. I’d joke about being a pro napper, but fourteen-hour stretches wouldn’t even aid the fatigue I felt on a daily basis… Let alone be normal hours of sleep. This wilderness I was in felt isolated from everything I thought I knew about myself, and those around me. Who could I trust with telling about this thing that has been plaguing me? Am I crazy?

I had been seeing a rheumatologist that never took my symptoms seriously. He had me on a Remicade infusion therapy that made me worse than I was before. It took me three infusion sessions and hundreds of dollars out of my own pocket to leave this office… He even laughed in my face when I was diagnosed with pleurisy at an urgent care. I’d fallen into a depression, even when I started seeing my current rheumatologist who diagnosed me as having “Lupus-Like Syndrome”, she doesn’t want to diagnose me with Lupus officially yet. The light at the end of the wilderness I was in got dimmer and dimmer. It felt as though the life was being slowly drained out of me, and I started giving up all hope that I had.

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I found myself months later standing in my restroom, my face wet with tears and red from inflammation. The frustration finally hit its peak the moment I got out of bed. My hands couldn’t open all the way, my hair lay in the sink in chunks. I couldn’t recognize who was staring back at me, the breath gone from my lungs. How did this happen? Why did this happen? I threw all the items on the counter onto the floor, screaming at the top of my lungs. I fell to the floor and started sobbing, trembling from confusion, sadness, and anger. I was angry at my body, angry at how much more my hands and arms hurt from my moment of insanity. All I wanted was for all of this to be over. I looked up to the ceiling, my breath catching in my throat as I try to clear my head. My phone had been ringing for the past five minutes, and I didn’t care.

 

Finally, I grabbed my phone as best as I could, seeing a familiar name across the screen. I unlock the phone, my breathing slowly getting back to a normal pattern. I fixated on the words on the screen, making me cry even more.

I don’t know how it feels,
but we’re in this together.
You’re not alone… I love you.

 

I closed my eyes and started praying. The light at the end of this wilderness had been in front of me all along! Years of frustration, agony, and depression began pouring out of me. I thanked my God, Jehovah, for giving me such an amazing person to help me through this hardship, and for never abandoning me. The more and more I poured my heart out, the more I felt the strength building in my bones. The thing about faith is that it’s based on trust, and trust is what I had to give to my God to endure the obstacles put in front of me. That day, my whole outlook on my disease changed in various ways. I put away the makeup that I would use to hide my skin, I chose to smile and not dwell on the pain or weaknesses that I had now become accustomed to.

 

I refused to stay complacent, depressed and have a “woe is me” attitude. I’d read stories online for support with this disease, but none of them were even remotely positive. The whole goal with living with any type of autoimmune disease is to find positive support and know that you’re not alone. I didn’t and don’t want special treatment, nor do I want to be a walking billboard of the typical “but I don’t look sick” movement. I want people to see me for who I am, not the unfortunate disease I have. Facing each day with a prayer, relying on the support of my spiritual family and friends and telling myself I could face the day helped me personally so much.

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In one of my favorite scriptures in the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote, “So I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in times of need, in persecutions and difficulties, for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am powerful.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) I take those words to heart because in my weaknesses, I have been the most powerful. While in a flare up, getting out of bed is an accomplishment, making tea is a milestone, getting dressed is a feat. My faith is stronger than my weaknesses and my illness, stronger than the anxiety and depression that I face, my faith gives me the strength to walk when I am so physically tired that I want to collapse, it gets me through each day.

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That day I had my breakdown, I was at my lowest point in the wilderness called Lupus. My faith brought me out of the wilderness to a brighter, clear road that showed me that yes, I do have an autoimmune disease, but I can get through these challenges I face (even as simple as opening a jar) no matter how hard they are. Everyone’s autoimmune disease quest is different, everyone copes with things differently and fights their battles in their own way. I admire those who are enduring chemotherapy, those who are mothers and fathers while having a form of autoimmune disease, those ones who need canes and wheelchairs. Your strength is admirable, and in no way could I ever make light of what others go through. We’re in this together, and we will get through it… Day by day.

 

Remember, when you are weak, you are powerful.

 

Dogs!

This took much longer than I expected to write. Many people on the Chronically Hopeful Facebook page were interested when a service dog post went up about a month ago. Please understand that I have done research to the best to my ability. This is just a general overview. There will be additional service dog posts in the next few months.

There is a substantial difference between a service dog and a pet dog in the eyes of the law and social norms. Let’s begin with the basics. A service dog is for an individual with a physical disability.  These dogs are allowed to go anywhere and everywhere their human goes.Assistance Dogs International elaborates on this, “Service Dogs assist people with disabilities other than vision or hearing impairment. With special training, these dogs can help mitigate many different types of disabilities. They can be trained to work with people who use power or manual wheelchairs, have balance issues, have various types of autism, need seizure alert or response, need to be alerted to other medical issues like low blood sugar, or have psychiatric disabilities. These specially trained dogs can help by retrieving objects that are out of their person’s reach, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking to indicate that help is needed, finding another person and leading the person to the handler, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance, providing deep pressure, and many other individual tasks as needed by a person with a disability.” There are many tasks a service dog can be trained to do. Additionally, service dogs can be paired with humans for autism and hearing.

Your pet dog is not allowed to accompany you in public without a specific reason. Many view a service dog as medical assistance or even medical equipment.

Service Dog Central provides some clarification on the differences between psychiatric service dogs and therapy dogs. “A therapy dog is an individual’s pet which has been trained, tested, registered and insured to work in a hospital, nursing home, school, or other institutional settings. The therapy dog and his partner visit to cheer patients, to educate the community, to counter grief and stress, and generally be good canine ambassadors within the community. Most therapy dog partners are volunteers, but some states recognize professional therapy dogs partnered with therapists and other mental health professionals.”

Psychiatric Service Dogs are generally for people with a mental impairment (these words are chosen to line up with the laws that are in place). A mental impairment in the case would include mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. Anxiety, depression, and PTSD would fit under emotional/mental illness. They can be granted access in public places.

A partial listing of therapy dog organizations:
The Delta Society http://deltasociety.org
Therapy Dogs International http://tdi-dog.org
Therapy Dogs Incorporated http://therapydogs.com

On the other hand, emotional support dogs have very limited public access.

On the other hand, emotional support dogs have very limited public access. Emotional support animals provide compassion, support, and friendship to his or her owner. These animals have an irreplaceable role in their human life. Not only do these animals assist their humans emotionally but also improve physical health. Many studies support that animals lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride, reduced stress levels, reduced feelings of loneliness, and increased activity. Currently, my cats are emotional support animals. I have a special bond with each. Furthermore, they can sense when I am going to pass out, fall, or shake. Even so, they are not allowed in public. I wouldn’t bring them out in public either because that would provoke anxiety.

A multitude of agencies is out there. My first recommendation is to speak with your vet if you have one. Each agency is different. However, most share that the waiting list is long. Comparing agencies is vital. Furthermore, get as much information as possible on each one. Due to this reason, some people also find training agencies. Either your current pet dog (if he or she is qualified) or adopting a dog than the trained works with you both.

Some additional agencies include but are not limited to:

NEADS

NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services, also known as Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans), is a non-profit organization and is based in Princeton, Massachusetts. Our Service Dogs become an extension of their handlers and bring freedom, physical autonomy, and relief from social isolation to their human partners who are deaf or have a disability.

Accredited by Assistance Dogs International, the internationally recognized governing body that establishes industry standards and practices, NEADS offers a wide spectrum of Assistance Dog services, including: Deaf & Hearing Loss, Combat Veterans, Physical Disability Classroom, Therapy & Ministry, Children with a Disability Children on the Autism Spectrum, Deaf & Hearing Loss, Veterans, Physical Disability and more.

Assistance Dog’s International can help you find a program closer to you. They have a variety of resources.

Service Dog Trainers A list of trainers across America.

I hope this information is helpful. Please share your pet’s name in the comments!

 

Holiday Season Encouragement

It should be the most wonderful time of year filled with cheer. Carefree. Merry and bright everything just right. Nine times out of ten that is not the reality. We put so much pressure on ourselves. Anxiety or depression (sometimes both) find their way into the holiday mix. The season becomes dreaded instead of cherished. It is tempting to push too much- to overcommit and over do it.

Try to not become consumed with all the things you want to get done. Focus on being in the moment.  Most importantly breathe. Additionally, focus on lowering stress levels. Don’t feel guilty asking for help or simply saying no. Take your time with the things you can do. Enjoy each moment. Don’t rush. You don’t need the extra stress.

Little victories and accomplishments are just as important as the big ones so remember to take note of them. Do not beat yourself up if things don’t seem to be just right or if you can’t do something you planned. You, my friend, are doing the absolute best that you can. Each day you put so much effort into various activities. You are a warrior who fights with grace. You have victory over this season and in every aspect of life. I am of you. You should be proud of all you do too.

Take a few moments each day to recharge. To simply breathe. Let’s kick depression and anxiety to the side (the best we can) and reclaim our holiday season with a joyful and thankful heart. I hope each day from here until Christmas is consumed with joy, laughter, love, and encouragement. I hope you are able to cherish the time with those you love. Sending many Christmas spoons and hugs. Though it might seem lonely, you are not truly alone, daily you are in my thoughts and prayers. My hope is that this post encourages you just a little bit.

 

Joy of Advent

All is merry and bright with absolutely no rest in sight. The to-do list has doubled, in oh so much trouble. Going through the motions as frustrated tears construct an ocean.

“I know You’re good, but this don’t feel good right now,” can you relate to that phrase this advent season? Daily adversisty sets questions into motion. Why is this happening? God where are you in this? The heartbreaks you are working through weigh you down. And yet it is time to transpose our focus to joy despite the emotions pulling the opposite direction. Regardless of the gut instinct to curl up and compose a pity party (Though at times a short one is needed). On this side of heaven there will be trouble, but that is not a stop rejoicing card. “Even if the fig tree does not blossom and there are no grapes on the vines, If the olive trees fail to give fruit and the fields produce no food, If the flocks die far from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls; Then I will still rejoice in the Eternal! I will rejoice in the God who saves me!” Habakkuk 3:17-18

Thankfully delighting in the Lord is not dependent on our emotions or the events unfolding in our lives. The joy of Jesus entering the world is at the heart of Christmas.  Indulging in Jesus’ presence will flood your heart with Him. He will renew your mind, direction, emotions, and spirit. Furthermore, we find true joy simple in His character- in His righteousness.

The breastplate of righteousness protects our spiritual heart, espically during the advent season. There are numerous fun things to engage in such as movies or holiday parities both laced with temptations. “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Proverbs 4:23 HCSB). In order to grow closer to Christ and experience His full joy this advent season we must guard our hearts.

By the precious blood of Jesus Christ you are made righteous. Salvation is secured. We can celebrate this. “The third candle on the Advent wreath is called the Shepherds’ candle. It remembers the first in a long line of people who joyfully shared the good news of the Savior’s birth” ( George H. Vander Weit). Furthermore, we hold on to the truth that Christ will return someday soon. Our candle this week in the advent wreath is pink, which is to remind us that our wait is half over for the return of our beloved Savior.

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How can you put on the breastplate of righteous this advent?

Soverign God,

We rejoice in the birth of Your Son, Jesus Christ. In all He has freely given to us. Consume our hearts with your joy this advent season. We praise You for Your Word. Help us to put on the breast plate of righteousness daily. Equpit us. Provide all that is needed. We find joy in who You are. In Your faithfulness. In Your righteousness. In Your love. We rejoice in all the blessing You have poured into our lives and continue to do. May we remain focused on the heart of Christmas. We delight that our wait will soon be over and that we will spend eternity with You. Draw us closer to your heart this advent season.

Amen.

This Is Chronic Illness

How the melody began of the symphony “the Spoonie Life” is unique to each of us. However, like a ton of bricks, the news crushed us emotionally, which no preparation could brace us for the sudden shift in song. Lumped into a group of over 125 million American’s who are in daily combat with their bodies due to chronic illness. After all, these are Invisible Illnesses.

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Adjusting to the new role. A list of things we can no longer do. Harsh comments as well as the stairs, seem to greet us everywhere. Friendships fade away. Symptoms and pain consume each day. Functioning seems nearly impossible. Daily medications. Frequent breaks. This is chronic illness.

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Well-meaning doctors increase anxiety levels. Medical testing is never ending.  No one seems to know what to do. At times our health is out of control and all we can do is ride the roller coaster and pray. Help seems just out of reach. This is chronic illness.

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Yet we cling to hope because our lives depend on it. Dreaming. We find that reason to keep fighting. This is chronic illness.

This week is Invisible Illness Awareness Week. A week to honor you and to give you a voice. To equip you to fight your battle a little better. Making the invisible visible. Making those around us more aware. Hopefully, others will understand the reality of chronic illness.

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My friend with an invisible illness, you are brave, diligent, and compassionate. You overcome  negativity.  You have battled your invisible illness gracefully. You are an inspiration. Don’t give up! You are beautiful. You have an amazing purpose and you are making a difference.