Lay your crosses down at the cross

I like to share stories. Particularly, those in which I’m the center of attention. Some may call it egoistic, but I tend to consider it incredibly honest: I mean, who can tell my own story better than ME? If anyone else tells it, others might consider it to be hear-say. My life has a story, and I’m the one who will tell it. Call it an autobiography. Call it an epic novel. I call it my testimony.

I also tend to carry crosses. Those crosses are hewn from my story. They are the weight of my tears. The sorrow of my heart. When I carry my crosses, I am reminded of where Jesus brought me from.

This was the way I justified my crosses for a long time. But no matter what I believe, I have always known that the scriptures are the defining truth. These are the scriptures that reflect my tears and my sorrow:

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. (Psalm 56:8)

Here are some other wonderful scriptures about my pain:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. (Psalm 30:10-11)

I have accumulated a lot of crosses over the years. I make sure that I remember each and every time the Lord has pulled me through a great problem, and I build a cross in memory of the victory. I hold onto these crosses and they give me faith through my current problems. I define myself by them. I judge myself by them.

Can I be honest? Carrying crosses makes me tired. The problem with carrying all these crosses is that they obscure my site of the empty tomb that Jesus walked out of to give me freedom. My hands are so occupied with embracing my crosses that I’m not free to lift them up to Him in praise. I’m too busy gazing at my crosses to gaze into His eyes. I’m so preoccupied by my memories of where these crosses came from that I miss His Spirit when He moves by me.

With every trial He brings me through, every battle He fights for me, every sorrow that turns to joy, I take up another cross for the sake of my faith in Jesus Christ and what He has done for me… and I lose sight of HIM.

I talk about my crosses. I discuss what I was saved from. I show off the scars that my crosses made, the stains of my blood that poured down the wooden stakes, the splinters that testify to the sweat of my struggle to get back up every time I fell under the weight of my cross. For me, my crosses define my relationship with my Savior, and I am defined by my crosses.

Today, while driving down the road in a small country town in Georgia, I turned on my Pandora music to the song “Ven, Espiritu, Ven” by Marcos Barrientos and began to talk with Jesus. In English, the melody is simple:

Come, Holy Spirit, come

Come anoint me Lord with your precious touch

Purify my heart and cleanse my mind, renew my strength, restore my hope, Oh Lord, with Your power… I want to know you more.

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My soul wept within me. It has been some time since I felt renewed. My strength is gone. My hope is weak. My mind and heart struggle to remember the peace of God’s presence and anointing.

In a still, small whisper, God said quietly as only He can, “You were never meant to carry these. You were only meant to carry one cross, and the burden of that cross is light.”

I’ve meditated on that fact all day today. I’m not meant to carry any other cross, but one.

Tonight, being a Wednesday, I searched out a church where I could worship and study the Word wfellow Christians. I chose a Church of God not far fromtmy location. I snuggled into a table in the women’s Bible Study as the leader was introducing a video, and nearly leaped for joy when Lisa Harper, a favorite author and speaker of mine, appeared to introduce another speaker. I listened contentedly, and then froze at a phrase that I had to jot down quickly:

“God’s providence will never take us to a place where God’s grace cannot sustain us.”

Lisa was introducing Priscilla Shrirer, and among the many points she spoke about, one stuck with me:

“Your situation is arranged or allowed by God, but be sure He will use it!”

The providence of God. The will of God. The plan of God.

I began to realize that I was not at this Bible Study by accident. God was speaking to me, and I was receptive. I examined the crosses surrounding me. My crosses did not represent the Providence of God to me. They represented time when I felt that God was out of control, and then swept in and took control. They represented my hopelessness-turned-salvation. They represented my fear-turned-peace. They represented a point in my life when I believed that God was NOT PRESENT and then later showed up to save the day (and to save me).

My crosses represented the pain I suffered; the tears I cried; the sorrow I endured. I began to struggle within myself as I thought harder about this concept of the PROVIDENCE OF GOD. Surely those difficult moments couldn’t have been of His divine providence! Surely He didn’t permit them to happen!

Yet, if I believe that the omnipresent God is not always in control, then I inadvertantly admit that Satan can take control without God’s knowledge or permission, which makes Him non-omnipresent (finite) and not in control (absent). And, we know by the truth of the scriptures that this is far from who God is.

So, if God is in control of EVERYTHING; and if He is omniscient, omnipresent, and all-powerful… then who prepared all my crosses for me?

I did.

I prepared the wood. I gathered the nails. I provided the hammer. I crucified myself to my crosses, one by one. I, and I alone, was responsible for the crosses that I carried.

So, tonight, I identified them, and I laid them down, one by one.

I do not know God’s ways. I do not understand His divine providence. I do not understand why He delivers some people, but does not deliver others. I do not understand why he heals some people, but does not heal others. However, this I DO know: there is only one cross I am called to carry and it is the Cross of Christ. All other crosses are burdens of my past that I willingly carry, and those burdens belong at the foot of the cross.

Don’t allow any other cross to define you, or your faith, other than the Cross of Jesus Christ. Lay your crosses down at the cross. Take up the cross of Jesus Christ and follow Him, and be defined by His truth. You are free.

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There Is Only One God

1 Corinthians 8:1-11

IDOLS ARE NOTHING… THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD!

This year, in our tiny studio apartment, we have designed our own unique Christmas tree.  It’s not really a “tree”, but rather, a vine of garlands decorating a lamp that has established its place in a cozy corner.   Adorned with lights and tiny ornaments, our little Christmas “tree” lights up our couch and dining table.  It’s a lovely reminder of God’s gift of life, His call for us to be the light of the world, and the many faceted gifts that he bestows upon His children to fulfill His purpose through them in this world.

xmas treeI didn’t always see the Christmas tree in this way.  In fact, this year is the first time in over 12 years that I have had a Christmas tree in my home.  I knew a great deal about the origins of the Christmas tree, the garlands, the lights, and the ornaments.  For me, they were representations of a life that I gladly left behind the day that I turned my soul over to Jesus Christ and trusted Him as my Savior.

I have never been bothered by seeing others participate in Christmas trees.  I always figured that if they were not convicted by it, then it was not my responsibility to be the Holy Spirit over their consciences.  However, in my own home, I decorated with fun wintry themes, but strayed away from boughs, lights, ornaments, and greenery.

The origins of nature worship are as vast and diverse as religion itself.  From Chinese to Egyptians, from Scandinavians to Native Americans, the worship of creation is evidence of the original fall of man.  Even in Biblical scripture, the Israelites are recorded has falling into the worship of trees, animals, and the spirits of nature again and again.  Faithfully, God called them back to Him through prophets, judges, and leaders.  In the area where I grew up in the United States, the worship of nature was pretty common among young people, and I was drawn to it, first out of curiosity, and later, out of fear.

When God rescued me from the life I was living, He also rescued me from a penetrating terror of the spirits that tormented me.  I had no desire to ever bring those demons back into my life in any way, shape, or form.  Not in a flower, or a tree, or any representation of them.  So, I vowed to myself to never have another Christmas tree again.

It’s easy to make these kind of resolutions, when no one else is affected by them.  This is especially true when you are single.  Your decisions are intimate and private.  You can hold deep-seated convictions without impressing them on anyone else outside your front door.  You can develop settled thoughts about certain subjects and never face the need to justify them.

In our heart, we truly believe that we are living righteously by building forts; but many times, it is a futile effort to right the wrongs that we committed in our past – a task that can only be fulfilled by the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

When I married, someone else was very much affected by the decisions that I had held onto for so long.  Not only was I challenged by a fellow believer and brother in Christ, but I was urged to let go of my past and look forward to the future.  My convictions, my beliefs, and my traditions were all exposed when I decided to weave my life into the tapestry of another, and create a family.

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My husband is my exact opposite when it comes to Christmas.  I can barely bring myself to decorate before New Years; he loves the lights, wreaths, garland, tinsel, and Christmas trees.  He enjoys shopping for ornaments and decorations, and he wants me to enjoy it all with him.  He looks forward to decorating our home together.  He waits anxiously for the first of November to come so he can hang out the lights (yes, we are THAT place that has their lights up before Thanksgiving).

At first, this stark contrast really bothered me.  I wanted to participate in my husband’s joy, but I was disturbed by memories from my past.  So I prayed about it, and in my searching, I read through 1 Corinthians 8:1-11.  I’ve read it many times (and if you haven’t read it, you should read it too, to understand this post); but this time, the words jumped off the page at me.

IDOLS ARE NOTHING.

They are nothing!  Satan, his demons, his lies and tricks and cunning distortions of the truth are NOTHING in the light of God’s Glory.  Jesus has the ultimate word over His Creation, and He says that even the rocks will cry out if we do not praise Him!  The rocks, the trees, the plants, the animals – they all belong to the Creator and they all praise the Creator.  If nature praises its creator, then so will I!

THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD!

This great revelation freed me to finally let go of my past.  I cannot right the wrongs of my past decisions.  I can, however, look forward to the future with a renewed mind.

God gave us creation to enjoy; never to fear, and never to worship.  As Christians, we celebrate the eternal life that we have through Jesus Christ, the light that He shines through us upon the world, and the magnificent way that he adorns us with good and perfect gifts.  Like a shining Christmas tree, like a brightly-lit front yard or twinkling window lights, we show forth God’s glory into the darkness.

Any lies that I once believed, are now revealed, and irrelevant.  They have no hold or power over me.  I. AM. FREE.

And you are also free.

We all have wrongs we wish we could right.  Some of us spend our entire lives building fortresses around ourselves and our families to protect us from the past that we left behind.  Of course, there are times and places for walls and boundaries; but the past was never meant to follow us and torment our future. In Christ, we are free.  Whatever it is that holds you back in fear, ask the Holy Spirit to help you distinguish Satan’s lies from God’s truth.  It is so much better to walk in the freedom of truth than in the bondage of shame.

I hope that this Christmas, you are able to SHINE BRIGHT in the freedom that is found in Christ!

I can’t do it all… but Jesus already did.

13 months ago, I learned, via a 5-minute international phone call, that my husband of one year had been diagnosed with a progressively debilitating disease.

And just like that, I became a caregiver.

Today, we are embarking on the path toward his second disease-modifying-therapy drug.  He officially ended the first therapy, a daily pill, and will “washout” his body for a month, undergo some organ tests, and then start monthly infusions on a new drug therapy.

Washout.  Infusion.  Dis-ease-Mod-i-f-y-ing-Ther-ap-y Drug.  These are terms that, 13 months ago, I had no idea what they meant.  Now they roll off my tongue.

I stepped into this roll of caregiver without having a clue what I was doing.  I became an advocate without an instruction manual.  I learned to tell the difference between good days and bad days, and plan our lives around them.  I became eloquent in inconspicuously requesting accommodations in public spaces, like elevators, pathways, private entrances, escorts, and close parking spaces.  At home, I make lists, monitor time, arrange plans, and assist with decisions.

One of the most difficult roles of a caregiver is to learn the art of not doing it all.  This disease affects my husband in an intimate, personal way that I will never fully grasp.  I have my own unique burdens to bear, but one of them (I hope and pray) will never be to choose his treatment plan.  He alone must bear this burden, and it is my job to guide him without leading him.

I explain medical terms.  I translate and reiterate the medical professionals.  I clarify and verify data.  But I never make the final decision.  He asks his questions, we talk it through with our medical team, and he makes the best conclusion that he can based on the information that is provided.

I am also a full-time business professional, working between 45-55 hours a week.

I am emotionally and mentally exhausted.  I shoulder the cares of the world, and then lean forward so my husband can lean on my shoulder when his legs aren’t strong enough.

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October 2017

I know that our story is not unique.  Caregivers are often the breadwinners and homemakers, and the human body and mind can only take so much.   Countless times, I evaluate and reevaluate my life, reminding myself that some things must take priority over others; but sometimes, I get those priorities confused.  An unbalanced life is a dangerous path.

I feel powerless, weak, and foolish during those losses of equilibrium.  In those moments, I turn to the only source of strength, wisdom, and power that I know: the Word of God.
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“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. ”
Isaiah 40:28-31

My legs are not weak, nor are my hands.  My heart is weak.  My emotions are weak.  My patience is thin, and my self control is unstable.  I am a weak sinner, but I am the child of a strong Father whose promises are forever faithful.

So, heart, take heart.  Emotions, you have your time and place.  Patience, you are being perfected.  Self control, learn from these mistakes.

Because the Shepherd who left the 99 to find me, still loves me.

And even though I can’t do it all, I can have peace in knowing that Jesus already did.

The Idol of Dreams

Someone recently commented that marriage and motherhood are idolized in America. I cannot agree more.

8 years ago, I walked away from an abusive marriage of 6 years. I had lost two unborn children to physical abuse, and had suffered sexual and emotional abuse. The last straw was finding that, after enduring and praying for my first husband, he was pouring his heart into someone else. We were serving in ministry at the time, and my separation devastated the churches we had planted. The divorce occurred 5 months later, and while he moved forward with engagement plans, I spent my time mourning over my failure.

Yes, I said it. Failure. Ask any woman who didn’t want a divorce but walked through it anyway, and if she is truthful, she will admit that she felt like a failure at some point.

That’s because women in America idolize marriage. As children, we play with baby dolls that walk down the aisle together. We throw bath towels over our hair and imagine a beautiful white veil. We even dream of our wedding before it happens. And then there’s the first date, the first kiss, and the anticipated “down-on-one-knee” ring presentation. This idolization is reinforced by media, magazines, fashion, and society. It’s unhealthy, but it’s our life.

When I stepped back into single life as a divorcee, I felt like a failure. Every dream crushed. Every fantasy destroyed. I couldn’t play with baby dolls anymore. I couldn’t pretend to walk around in a wedding dress. I was single, and I had failed at marriage.

Of course, that was not the case. But I felt like it.

6 years passed, and I healed. I poured myself into ministry. I dated, I had my heart broken, I learned how to love again. I met my second husband, who is an absolute charm. We have been together for two years, and our life is wonderful. It’s lovely. And it’s completely different from anything I had ever dreamed.

Last year, my husband was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS). He hadn’t been able to hold down a job for some time, wasn’t making good decisions, and was losing control of his extremities. The breaking point was the big relapse: he became paralyzed on his right side. We all believed he had had a stroke. After a stroke specialist, two neurologists, an MRI, lab work, and lots of prayer, he started his first MS drug therapy and started regaining control of his life. Still, the disease has disabled him from certain activities: his judgement gets clouded when he is tired or stressed, he tires easily when standing, and the strength in his hands has been permanently affected.

What does marriage look like when uninvited guests like disability or childlessness or sickness creep in uninvited? When I married the second time, I dreamed of fresh baked apple pies every weekend, walks on the Greenway watching the sun set, and having our very own fixer-upper. Now, as the main breadwinner, chauffeur, repair woman, and financial planner of our home, I have had to reevaluate my expectations of marriage, family, and the future.

In the beginning, I was a nervous wreck. I was exhausted, broken, stressed, anxious. My wounds were all self-inflicted, but they were real, and I was nothing short of having a nervous breakdown. I had a dream, and life was crushing my dream. It wasn’t until I reached out to a counselor for emotional help that I found peace. His advice: stop trying to control the future; stop trying to control event; it’s OK for things not to go the way you planned; it’s OK for people and situations and life to act differently than what you expected. When I internalized this counsel, I remembered the great truth of all time: no one and nothing is steady, unchanging, and unshakeable, except GOD. I turned to Jesus and threw my burdens at the foot of His cross. I grabbed onto his tunic and found healing. I fell into His arms and found peace.

What is it about us that makes us idolize dreams? Even more so, why do we judge others who reject our idols. The single woman who has no prospects. The childless woman who seems content without children. The divorcee who chooses not to remarry. These scenarios make us uneasy because they challenge the future that we have planned for our own children. We spend so much time mourning over our own losses that we desire to see someone else fulfill them.

I became weary of controlling my life. Neither my husband nor I can have children, and we married with the mutual knowledge and firm conviction that God would have us to adopt. With MS in the picture, we often wonder how that will look, but we aren’t obsessed. Our only ambition is Jesus. Everything else is under His authority and plan. Isn’t that a great peace?

To the single woman: you are enough. To the childless wife: you are enough. To the divorcee: you are enough. And Jesus is enough for you. You don’t need more to fulfill your life apart from him. No man, no child, no career, no perfect body can fulfill your need to be enough.

I challenge you today to confront idols that others have built for you. Tear them down. Burn them into ashes. Jesus is all you need.

Amor, Inmigración, y EM

Filipenses 3:17‭-‬21Velazquez-Biggers Family

Hermanos, sigan todos mi ejemplo, y fíjense en los que se comportan conforme al modelo que les hemos dado… nosotros somos ciudadanos del cielo, de donde anhelamos recibir al Salvador, el Señor Jesucristo. Él transformará nuestro cuerpo miserable para que sea como su cuerpo glorioso, mediante el poder con que somete a sí mismo todas las cosas.

Mi esposo es residente permanente de los Estados Unidos de América. PERMANENTE. No caduca. RESIDENTE. Vive aquí, pero es ciudadano de otro país.

El proceso incluyó un abogado, miles de dólares (un fuerte préstamo bancario) y un año y medio de documentos, fotos, formularios y espera. Sentado en la entrevista de inmigración destruyó los nervios. Ver el verde sello de “aprobado” en su archivo era emocionante.

Los residentes permanentes viven libremente en los Estados Unidos y pueden hacer prácticamente cualquier cosa. Pueden ser dueños de propiedades, invertir en bienes raíces, tener cuentas financieras, adoptar niños, trabajar sin limitaciones y tener negocios. No pueden ocupar cargos gubernamentales, y no pueden solicitar ayuda gubernamental.

Asistencia gubernamental, como la discapacidad.

Eso realmente no significó mucho para nosotros, hasta un mes después de su victoriosa reunión de inmigración, cuando tuvo las múltiples caídas, y la momentánea perdida del uso de su brazo derecho, y cedeó su pierna desde debajo de él una y otravés vez. El día en que el neurólogo pronunció las dos letras que nunca esperábamos escuchar, “EM”, fue el comienzo de nuestra profunda comprensión de la diferencia entre un residente permanente y un ciudadano.

La mayoría de los ciudadanos estadounidenses solicitaría la discapacidad inmediatamente después de recibir el diagnóstico de una enfermedad crónica para cubrir todo lo que inevitablemente sigue: terapia, médicos, asistencia de salud en el hogar, defensores vocacionales, etc. Para los residentes permanentes en los Estados Unidos, nada de eso existe fu era de su país natal.

Tuvimos la opción de regresar a México y a su familia cuando recibimos el diagnóstico, y solicitar discapacudad a través de su seguro social para que pudiera recibir tratamiento en su propio país e idioma, pero el neurólogo en México lo desaconsejó. El EM de mi marido ha estado activo por los últimos 12 años, apareciendo inesperadamente y disfrazándose detrás de varios otro diagnósticos. Aun que Mexico es muy avanzado en algunos areas medicos, el EM de mi esposo es demasiado avanzado para el tratamiento médico básico que México tiene para ofrecer para este trastorno en particular.

Creemos que Dios planeó nuestros pasos y nos llevó por este camino: así que decidimos aprovechar su residencia permanente y hacer un hogar en el país que es líder de investigación médica en terapias para EM.

Suena prometedor, pero no es nada fácil. La atención médica cuesta dinero y el dinero no crece en los árboles. Del neurólogo al oftalmólogo, desde las terapias físicas hasta las terapias con fármacos, cada cita desea un copago, y cada departamento de contabilidad envía una factura.

Mi esposo es un hombre de Dios, y un hombre que ama a su familia. Le encanta trabajar, pero no puede encontrar trabajo. Si tuviera ayuda financiera del gobierno, un defensor vocacional podría luchar en su parte para que pudiera trabajar con adaptaciones a sus limitaciones; sin embargo, sin un defensor, los empleadores son más propensos a cambiar su vista hacia un candidato más adecuado que pasar tiempo y esfuerzo en acomodar a alguien que aún lucha para mantener una conversación en Inglés.

A veces por la noche, veo a mi esposo dormir, y lloro por él. Hicimos nuestro hogar aquí, pero a veces se siente más como una prisión: las diferencias culturales y la barrera del idioma, junto con sus limitaciones personales, se han convertidos en trampas. Los meses de desempleo son lo suficientemente estresantes, y el juego de espera para iniciar la terapia con fármacos no es fácil, ya sea exámenes preliminares, preautorización y aprobación de la compañía de seguros, y otros factores están agregando a la superación del estrés.

En todo esto, nuestra única esperanza está en Jesús. Oro por mi esposo todos los días. Él cree que Dios le da la fuerza que requiere, y provee la curación que se necesita. Él está corriendo, caminando y levantando pesas en el gimnasio, y hemos ajustado nuestra dieta y estilo de vida para vivir vidas más saludables. Hemos decidido elegir nuestras batallas sabiamente, y vivir en paz el uno con la otra y con los que nos rodean.

Caminar con mi esposo a través de su residencia permanente y confrontar su diagnóstico juntos me ha enseñado mucho acerca de cómo los cristianos debemos caminar a través de esta vida. Somos residentes permanentes de este mundo, pero somos ciudadanos de un hogar celestial. Estamos en este mundo, pero no pertenecemos a él, lo que significa que nos destacamos como un pulgar dolorido cuando todo el mundo está tomando el camino fácil y elegimos el camino estrecho. A veces, se siente como si Dios nos haya llevado a un muro infranqueable; ¡Y algunas veces lo hace! No es porque se haya olvidado de nosotros, o que hemos dejado de escuchar su voz; a veces Dios nos guia a los muros en nuestra vida para que podamos verlos desmoronarse al suelo mientras oramos y lo buscamos. Nuestra fe se fortalece cuando vemos las paredes caer.

Recién, el padre de un joven inmigrante se acercó a mí y me preguntó cómo su hijo podría obtener un trabajo de $ 100.000 por año en los EE.UU. Me encogí adentro, no porque no creo que esos tipos de puestos de trabajo existen o porque creo que este tipo de aspiración es inútil, pero porque siento pena por la gente que cree que el dinero es la respuesta a una vida feliz. Aquí, en nuestro pequeño apartamento del tamaño estudio en el sureste de Tennessee, con un solo ingreso y un modesto pero humilde estilo de vida, hemos encontrado la felicidad en la renovación cotidiana de nuestra fe y en nuestro amor el uno por el otro. Algunos de mis amigos nos han descrito incluso como una pareja que es “asquerosamente” en el amor. Tal vez sea así. Tal vez somos esa pareja molesta que siempre esté encadenado por las manos, o se acurruca cuando estamos juntos, o pasamos guiñas desde la distancia de un salón lleno de otras personas; Pero hemos aprendido el significado de nuestros votos en el último año. “En enfermedad o en salud.” “Para más rico o para más pobre.” “Para bien o para mal.”

El matrimonio no pretende ser una unión de conveniencia. Se supone que es una promesa, un voto, un pacto de amor eterno “hasta que la muerte” separe la unión. A través del amor de mi esposo, veo el amor de Cristo, y través de nuestra unión, he captado una idea de lo que es el amor incondicional y piadoso. Por lo tanto, ya sea enfermedad, o desempleo, o cualquier otra montaña que nos enfrenta, hemos decidido aferrarnos fuertemente a la mano de Jesús, y cada vez que Él lucha nuestras batallas y triunfos, nos enamoramos más y más de Él; Y amarle a Jesús nos hace enamorarnos de nosotros aún más.

Tómete unos mo menos diarios para tomar café junto con tu cónyuge. Compartan un pedazo de chocolate. Lean la Biblia juntos durante al menos 10 minutos. Recuérdele a tu cónyuge que lo/la amas, y elijan sus palabras sabiamente. Algunas batallas se pueden escoger, y otras nos alcanzarán sin previo aviso, pero cuando ambos están aferrados a Jesús, serán aún más unidos y fuertes, y menos propensos de estar atacados a solas.

De nuestra familia a la tuya, disfruten de su chocolate y café, y ¡enamóranse más y más de Jesús!

Love, Immigration, and MS

Philippians 3:17-21 (NKJV)

Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern… For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even tosubdue all things to Himself.

My husband is a permanent resident of the United States of America.  PERMANENT.  It doesn’t expire.  RESIDENT.  He lives here but is a citizen of another country.

The process included a lawyer, thousands of dollars (a hefty bank loan), and a year and a half of documents, photos, forms, and waiting.  Sitting in the immigration interview was nerve-wrecking.  Seeing the green “approved” stamp on his file was exhilarating.

Permanent residents live freely in the US and can do pretty much anything.  They can own property, invest in real estate, hold financial accounts, adopt children, work without limitations, and own businesses.  They can’t hold government offices, and they can’t apply for government assistance.

Government assistance, like disability.

That really didn’t mean much to us, until a month after his victorious immigration meeting, when he had the multiple falls, and lost use of his right arm, and his leg kept giving from under him.  The day the neurologist uttered the two letters we never expected to hear, “MS”, was the beginning of our deep realization of the difference between a permanent resident, and a citizen.

Most U.S. citizens would apply for disability immediately upon receiving diagnosis of a chronic illness to cover all that inevitably follows: therapy, doctors, home health assistance, vocational advocates, etc.  For permanent residents in the United States, nothing like that exists in America.

We had the choice to return to Mexico to his family when we received the diagnosis, and apply for disability so that he could get treatment in his own country, but the neurologist in Mexico advised against it.  My husband’s MS has been around for the last 12 years, showing up unexpectedly and disguising itself behind various diagnoses.  It’s too advanced for the basic medical treatment that Mexico has to offer.  We believe that God planned our steps and led us down this road: so we decided to take advantage of his permanent residency and make a home in the country that has the leading medical research in MS therapies.

It sounds promising, but it’s not at all easy.  Medical care costs money, and money doesn’t grow on trees.  From the neurologist to the ophthalmologist, from the physical therapies to the drug therapies, every appointment wants a copay, and every accounting department sends a bill.

My husband is a man of God, and a good man who loves his family.  He loves to work, but can’t find work.  If he had government assistance, a vocational advocate could fight for his ability to work with accommodations to his limitations; however, without an advocate, employers are more likely to turn their heads and move on to a more suitable candidate than to spend time and effort on accommodating someone who struggles to hold a conversation in English.

Sometimes at night, I watch my husband sleep, and I cry for him.  We made our home here, but at times it feels more like a prison: the cultural differences and the language barrier, along with his personal limitations, have become traps.  Months of unemployment is stressful enough, and the waiting game to start the drug therapy isn’t easy, either: preliminary exams, preauthorization and approval from the insurance company, and other factors are all adding to the surmounting stress.

In all of this, our only hope is in Jesus.  I pray over my husband every day.  He believes that God gives him the strength that he requires, and provides the healing that is needed.  He is running, walking, and lifting weights at the gym, and we’ve adjusted our diet and lifestyle to live more healthy lives.  We’ve decided to choose our battles wisely, and live in peace with one another and with those around us.

Walking with my husband through his permanent residency and confronting his diagnosis together has taught me a lot about how Christians should walk through this life.  We are permanent residents of this world, but we are citizens of a celestial home. We are in this world, but we don’t belong to it, which means we stand out like a sore thumb when everyone else is taking the easy road and we choose the narrow way.  At times, it feels like God has led us to an impassable wall; and sometimes, He does!  It’s not because He’s forgotten us, or that we’ve stopped listening to His voice; sometimes God brings us to walls in our life so that we can watch them crumble to the ground as we pray and seek Him.  Our faith is strengthened when we see walls fall.

Recently, the father of a young immigrant approached me and asked how his son could get a $100,000/year job in the U.S.  I cringed, not because I don’t believe those types of jobs exist or because I think that this type of aspiration is futile, but because I feel sorry for people who believe that money is the answer to a happy life.  Here in our tiny studio apartment in southeastern Tennessee, with one income and a modest but humble lifestyle, we have found happiness in the daily renewal of our faith, and in our love for one another.  Some of my friends have even described us as a couple that is “disgustingly” in-love.  Maybe so.  Maybe we are that annoying couple that always holds hands, and snuggles when we are together, and winks at each other from a distance; but we’ve learned the meaning of our vows in this past year.  “In sickness or in health.”  “For richer or for poorer.”  “For better or for worse.”

Marriage isn’t meant to be a union of convenience.  It’s meant to be a promise, a vow, a covenant of everlasting love “until death” separates the union.  Through my husband’s love, I see Christ’s love; and through our union, I have caught a glimpse of what unconditional, Godly love really looks like.

So, be it illness, or unemployment, or whatever other mountain comes in front of us, we’ve decided to hold on tight to Jesus’ hand, and every time He fights our battles and wins, we fall in love with Him; and loving Him makes us love each other even more.

Take a few minutes to drink coffee together.  Share a piece of chocolate.  Read the bible together for 10 minutes, at least.  Remind your spouse that you love them, and choose your words wisely.  Some battles you can pick, and others just overtake you without warning, but when you are both holding tight to Jesus, you will be closer to each other.

From our family to yours, enjoy your chocolate and coffee, and love Jesus!

Buy a Pair of Pants and Celebrate With Ice Cream!

If you have the natural God given talent to notice minor details, like fashion, then you’ve noticed that in the last two months, I’ve bloated out of my size 12 clothes. Hypothyroidism is VERY unfriendly to weight, and just one change in a routine can set off a series of bodily changes that quickly spin out of control. So when two of my lumbar vertebrae slipped out of place in February of this year, I became a couch potato (I still struggle to walk long distances even after 3 months), and my daily exercise came to a screeching halt.

My bean-pole husband has a philosophy: if I love myself, then that love will spill over into my marriage. Whether a size 20 or a size 2, he loves me unconditionally, and only asks that I love him back.

I was raised in a home where beauty was taught to be first inward, then outward, and in a family where both of my parents have both dealt with weight gain over the years. Our family philosophy has been: stay healthy, enjoy food, and buy clothes that fit. PERIOD.

This weekend while visiting home, my mom blessed me with a shopping spree, and hubby joined along for the ride! I convinced mom to go to the thrift store rather than a department store, since I’m pretty sure that by next year my weight will change again, if I know my own body well enough.

As I was trying on the mountain of clothes that I found, searching for a perfect size, a young boy walked in with his grandmother and pursued his own fashion crusade.  At one point he stated, “they’re long enough, but they’re 34’s. I need a 36.” The grandmother shouted back, “That’s ridiculous! You’re 11 years old. You won’t wear a 36. 36 is what your grandpa wears!”

The boy began to beg for a 36 until his grandmother, obviously disgusted with him, forcefully pulled him back into the store and through the aisles, making no small deal about his weight gain.

Mom, hubby, and I were all disgusted with the entire scene.

Yes, the boy was 11. Yes, he was a bit chubby. But he was built to be tall, that was obvious, and puberty was upon him; in just a few years, he was going to shoot up like a tree and his metabolism would kick in. Obviously, this grandmother had never watched boys grow up. Furthermore, grandma wasn’t exactly a size 4 model either. It broke my heart to see this woman projecting her own insecurities on such a young innocence. I wondered, “How bad does her own grown daughter battle with her weight after living with these sort of comments all her life?” And then I wondered, “Will that young man ever survive the self loathing that comes from an adult figure teaching him to hate his own body?”

Parents and guardians, I beg you, and plead with you: STOP BUILDING A BRIDGE TOWARD A FUTURE OF LOW SELF ESTEEM.

Practice good eating habits. Teach self discipline in all areas. Encourage exercise and participate in it. Limit media (TV, Radio, Telephone, Computer, and Games). Give kids a love for the outdoors. Be active with them.

But for the love of your child’s future, stop projecting your own self image onto him, or her. Buy clothes that fit for both of you, clothes that make you feel good, and then go celebrate and get an ice cream cone together.

Because no harassment is worth the future of your child, and no amount of self loathing is going to change what you see in the mirror.