Pastor Brad Hoefs

Pastor | Author | Speaker | Hope Coach | Mental Health Advocate

Choosing Hope in the Face of Hopelessness

Choosing Hope in the Face of Hopelessness

Hopelessness is serious. Every day people fall into the hopeless hole of hopelessness due to their struggle with a mental health issue. Hopelessness begins to knock at the door of one’s heart when you feel and believe that you have no future. It happens so easily, and it can take root all too fast. Each time we face one of life’s interruptions which change our perceived future hopelessness can settle in and live rent free in our hearts and minds.

Over 20 years ago I faced a life-altering interruption due to having bipolar disorder. At that time I was pastoring one of the fastest growing churches in my denomination. However, following that painful manic episode, which had interrupted my life, I was asked to resign. It was earth-shattering. My position and the church had become my identity. I was devastated to the point of complete hopelessness. I had lost my future. Hopelessness had set in. And the deep dark hole of depression became a shameful guilt place of familiarity for me; months and months of severe depression followed.

For years prior to this interruption I had felt as though I had a monster inside of me that I had to manage.

The more stress I experienced with pastoring a growing church, the more impossible it was to control the monster within me. More times than not, the monster was controlling me. So, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I found out that the monster had a name. And strangely enough, a small ray of hope began to break through the hopelessness what had swallowed me whole.

Why would there be a small ray of hope following my diagnosis?   After all, usually people see the diagnosis of bipolar disorder as the difficult thing to accept. Well, it was because of the people around me who helped me to see that the diagnosis and treatment of my bipolar disorder were a way back to having a future. It was the idea that the bipolar could be treated and I could have a future poked a small pinhole of hope into the darkness of hopelessness. It was not an easy journey, but it was more than worth it. With that small pinhole of hope, I could see a way forward. I began to grieve what I had lost and began to embrace a new and different future; believing that I could live well in spite of having bipolar disorder.

Dr. Sean Lopez, the author of Making Hope Happen, has done extensive research on hope for over 14 years. His research supports what I experienced. When I thought I had no future, hopelessness set in and took over. And when I could see the way to a future, hope began to start. And the clearer the future became for me, the more hope I felt.

Interestingly enough, hope can be borrowed, shared and it can be caught! Think about it, if you hang around a lot of hopeless friends, you will begin to feel hopeless. And if you hang out with people who are filled with hope you will begin to feel hopeful.

So, I have a question for you: How is your hope tank doing? Do you feel like you can see a way forward? If not, do you potentially need to let go of the future that as you thought it would be, grieve it and let it go? Do you need to embrace the new potential future? There’s no doubt that doing this is a process. It is not like switching a light switch on. But, it is a choice.

Hope is truly a choice. For me as a Christian, hope is not only a choice, but it is sure and certain. Paul reminds us that no matter what our circumstances might be there is a future because the Lord will work all things out together for our good. (Romans 8:28) So, I certainly may not “feel” hopeful, but I choose to believe Romans 8:28 and that means that there is a future. It may not have been the future as I thought it would be, but it is a future.

So, again, my question is: how is your hope tank? Is your hope tank empty? Is being a caregiver sucking the hope right out of you? Do you see a way forward into the future?

Are you strong enough to make the choice of hope? If not, I have some hope you can borrow.See, I know because of the storms I’ve been through in my life that God is at work in all things. He is with you. He has not left you. He won’t leave you. And He is FOR you and your entire family! He has a plan. It may not be the life you and I planned prior to bipolar showing up, but in spite of us having bipolar disorder He has a plan!

Everything may not be “good” right now, but all is well because of Him. He has heard every single one of your tears as a liquid prayer.   Look for that little tiny bit of light coming through the “pin” hole poking through the hopelessness you might be feeling. Choose hope. Choose it minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day and your feelings will begin to catch up. There is a future and joy is included in it.

Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.

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Bipolar and The Lack of Motivation By: Rick Qualls

Bipolar and The Lack of Motivation By: Rick Qualls

By: Rick Qualls 

I just don’t want to.

There I said it.

Maybe you know the feeling. One symptom for many with bipolar is a lack of motivation. For some it is the result of anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure.

Finding pleasure in activities turns our “motivation” on. But when everything seems like a gray fog it is difficult to motivate. 

The lack of motivation and fatigue is one of the most debilitating symptoms of bipolar. Fatigue can be severe, perhaps being unable to motivate to get out of bed in the morning.

Often in our bipolar lack of energy and motivation is frustrated by what is a co-diagnosis of ADDHD or Anxiety.

What can we do to manage debilitating pleasure/ lack of motivation?

First, check your meds. Let your psychiatrist and psychologist be aware of any further decrease in your motivation. Sometimes a med change will help increase motivation/pleasure.

Second, watch your sleep schedule.  Go to bed at the same time every night and awake at a similar time each morning. Know what is your optimal sleep time. It may be longer than what you may realize. Changing your sleep schedule can trigger a depressive or manic episode.

Rituals such as a warm bath, use of relaxing essential oils, and practicing deep breathing exercises before bed can help reduce anxiety.

Probably the last thing you want to do is exercise. However, this is a third thing that can make a difference in increasing motivation. Exercise creates and releases “feel good” brain chemicals. These chemicals can increase motivation. Movement creates movement.

A fourth thing to do is to make small goals. For example: Today I will walk around the block. Or today I will attend my personal hygiene. Or today I will accomplish this first part of a work assignment. 

When you accomplish these things reward yourself, make sure it is a healthy behavior.

Be careful of your amount of caffeine consumption during the day. Coffee or energy drinks can cause a “crash” that can lead you to decrease in energy making fatigue and lack of motivation worse.

Sometimes we use negative emotions to push ourselves to accomplish a task, only to have that emotion leaving you more exhausted and drained.. For example, when I was in school I would feed my anxiety to push projects to get done. Worry and racing thoughts would help temporary but would lead to a a depressive or manic episode. It was some years before I realized that accelerating my anxiety was causing mood problems.

Shame may be a negative emotion we use to try to amp up motivation. The problem with “shame” based momentum is that it feeds the already self-loathing of a depressive episode.

Be careful using a negative emotion to try and increase your motivation because it will leave you in a worse place than before.

The Bible gives us some healthy places for motivation and advice on reframing negative emotions.

Philippians 4:6 RSV: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Ephesians 2:10 NLT: For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

James 1:19 NIV: My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry….

Finally, feed your hope.

Galatians 5:5 NIV: For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.

What techniques do you use to increase your motivation?

Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.

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5 Insights on Forgiving Yourself

5 Insights on Forgiving Yourself

By Brad Hoefs:

When your brain is not functioning properly, it certainly affects your behavior, which then affects your relationship with others. Those of us with a mental health issue can end up hurting a lot of people that we love. Whether it’s through our words or because of something we have done, those closest to us are left wounded.

Those who have been hurt will either forgive us and give us another chance, forgive us but no longer be in the relationship or choose not to forgive us and leave us. And we end up feeling the deep pain our behavior(s) have caused for them and ourselves. It is at this point that we have a critical choice to make; whether we will forgive ourselves or not.

Even if others will not forgive us, it is important for us to take responsibility for any of our hurtful behaviors; asking for forgiveness and then choosing to forgive ourselves. If we do not, we end up getting stuck and unable to move forward in living well. Everyone gets stuck at times. But, staying stuck is not okay. Thus, being able to forgive yourself is an essential component of living well in spite of having a mood disorder.

These are some of the insights I offer to you about “how” to forgive yourself so that you can move forward in living well:

1. Come to this realization: no matter how hard you try, you cannot change what has happened. You can only learn from it, grow from it and move forward. Accept what happened.

2. Take responsibility for what you did and the pain it caused others, asking them for forgiveness. Even if they choose not to forgive you; you must forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself cannot be contingent upon them forgiving you. Remember, them forgiving you is going to be a process, it’s not like switching on or off a light switch, just as forgiving yourself is going to be a process.

3. If you are a person of faith, then ask God, your higher power, for forgiveness. If it is within your faith tradition to go to the clergy and confess to him or her what has happened, then I would encourage you to consider doing that. Sometimes we need to hear out loud from someone in spiritual authority that God has forgiven us.

If God forgives us (and He does), who are we to refuse to forgive ourselves? God sets the example for us. So be kind to yourself, just as you would be to a close friend.

4. Decide to stop rehearsing over and over in your head what has happened. Rehearsing it will not change it. Rehearsing over and over is a way abusing yourself for what you did or didn’t do. Decide that you will stop allowing the rehearsal of it in your head. Yes, it’s tough to do. But, it is possible. You and I can be in charge of what we think about in our thought life. At first, it will feel as though it is next to impossible to do. With time, it will get a bit easier.

To stop rehearsing over and over what I had done that had hurt so many people in my life, I disciplined myself to have two times a day where I would think about it and grieve it. I promised myself that I would only spend 20 minutes each time. During this period, I wrote what I was thinking down in a journal. At the end of that time, I always spent time in prayer and reading some carefully selected scriptures from the Bible.

Wallowing in what happened will get you nowhere. Allow those few times a day to do this and then get on with your day. Don’t sit around letting your mind “wander around” on its own. Take charge. As you do this, it will get easier.

5. With my therapist, I began to work through any emotional issues that I had that were being exacerbated by my mood disorder, that I could work through in the hopes that it would give me a breakthrough in any of my dysfunctional behaviors that were harmful to my relationships with others. Too often you and I think we behave a “certain way” because of our mood disorder. However, more times than not, much of our behaviors happen due to emotional issues that we have yet to resolve, and the mood disorder merely intensifies those issues. Plus, if you and I are not stable, we can have great difficulties with impulse control. So, in my thinking, it is imperative for you and me to be working through as many emotional issues and any of the dysfunctional ways of being in relationships as possible.

One of the emotional issues that I had to work through was not to hate myself. I did not like myself at all. I had a very critical parent tape playing over and over in my head. I had to erase that tape. And create a new healthy adult tape. It took time. It was a process. And even yet today, some 20 years later, that critical parent tape plays just a bit here and there, but I stop listening to it rather quickly.

These things helped me to forgive myself. I hope that some of them might be helpful to you. It is a day- by-day process, but you can do it. Remember, if you tell yourself, “I can’t forgive myself for that,” then you won’t forgive yourself, and you will stay stuck at that point. If you choose not to forgive yourself, then you will not move forward in living well. Without forgiving one another, where would we all be? We live in a broken world that necessitates forgiving one another and forgiving ourselves.

How about you? Do you need to forgive yourself? Have you forgiven yourself? If so, how did you go about it?  (We encourage you to leave a comment or question!)

Check out Brad’s podcast: Fresh Hope for Mental Health

For more information about Fresh Hope go to: FreshHope.us

 

Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.

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When Choosing Joy Is Not That Easy By: Katie Dale

When Choosing Joy Is Not That Easy By: Katie Dale

By: Katie Dale

Understanding the Phrase, “Choose Joy”

Let’s be real for a second. When I hear “choose joy” I think of denying my current emotions.

I also think it’s a blanket statement that could confuse people, especially Christians with mental illness. We could easily start thinking we must feel happy and choose to think positively all the time, despite our chemical imbalances and episodes of severe depression.

I don’t want to get rid of the phrase, but I’d like to provide what I feel is some much-needed context, much like when we consider the Lord’s command that “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, ESV) The Lord knows we can’t simply be perfect, otherwise we wouldn’t have needed Jesus’ sacrifice; but He does command us to strive for perfection, and just as we are commanded to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4, ESV), the Lord want us to consistently rely on and choose His joy as our strength, especially during tough times, when we don’t have joy inside ourselves.

What Is Joy?

So let’s define “joy”:

(According to Merriam Webster Dictionary)

“a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : DELIGHT
b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : GAIETY
c : a state of happiness or felicity : BLISS
d: a source or cause of delight”

In the context of the Christian life, joy is when our saved souls rejoice and take comfort in knowing we’re given the promises of God. It’s also a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), a quality of contentment, preceded by love, followed by peace. It’s liberating. It gives us strength when we come to the tough times in life.

You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, joy is great, and I want the joy of the Lord. But, come on, it’s not that easy!”  And you’d be right. But while it may seem incredibly difficult during our darkest moments, joy is always there for the taking.

However, it’s not a light switch we can just turn on and off.

When Feeling Joyful Isn’t An Option

In clinical depression, our joy can be stolen. We can lose our confidence. We can forget the contented feelings and state of peace. As our brains become more chemically imbalanced, and we’re drowning in an almost debilitating excess of sadness, “choosing joy” can become what feels impossible. I’m not saying that there is a point of no return, or that once you lose your joy it’s gone forever…on the contrary, it is up to us to seek out help for our condition that impairs our livelihood and wellbeing.

Feeling the emotion of joy may be all that a clinically depressed person wants. When we focus instead on the source of joy – namely, Jesus – things are put into perspective.

We can, we should, look to Jesus for healing and rejoice in the sense of “I’m standing on His promises to redeem my mind and restore my joy.” Though, there is a distinct difference between “choosing” to believe God’s promises, and recognizing our feelings when they are influenced by an illness of the mind. In mental illness, the feeling of joy can be stolen and its presence forgotten. It’s at these times we have to focus less on the feeling we can’t attain, and re-focus on the source of true Joy.

Sometimes, the feeling of joy is not an option because severe depression has beaten our minds to a pulp.

Often we simply resign ourselves to letting depression take its course, i.e. believing the enemy’s lies about ourselves (“you’re worthless”), choosing to live unwisely and making foolish choices in life (reaping behaviors and feelings sown by negative thoughts). In these cases, we forfeit joy.

How To Tap Into The Source Of Joy

It can be impossible to choose the feeling of joy in severe depression, but that’s when we need to focus less on the feeling aspect of joy, and focus on the source aspect of joy.

Philippians 4:4-7 ESV, tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

How Paul continues this passage hints at how to rejoice, and find that peace:

 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8, ESV) 

The key to rejoicing is to think on those virtues.

Notice how in John 16:24 (ESV), Jesus said, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Again, God is encouraging an inquiring, a petitioning stance from His children.

A Process, Not A Light Switch

In the darkest times we need to focus not on feeling joy, but on the Lord. Through focusing on the promises of God, the blessings of God, the victory of God, that peace and joy will be sown back into your heart.  But it will still be striving, as the verses above say, “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving” and “ask”…it’s not a light switch, it’s a process in the hard times, but the Lord promises He’ll bring you through it and restore your joy.

So instead of telling yourself or others to “choose joy,” consider the implications of this message, and reconsider. As with any feelings of happiness or contentment, these don’t originate from the pursuit of them in and of themselves. Rather, feelings of joy and happiness follow a thought life that dwells on the richness of the goodness of God. Feelings follow thoughts, so redirect “choose joy” to, may I suggest, “think Jesus.” May that be your path to finding joy. That’s certainly our choice to make: we do or don’t dwell on Jesus.

 

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

-Helen Howarth Lemmel

Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.

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How to Support Our Children with Depression

How to Support Our Children with Depression

Every child experiences “the blues” every once in a while, but when the sadness becomes relentless, it could manifest into depression. Depression can affect a child’s personal life, school work, and social or family life. Children, versus adults, can develop depression based on additional factors like peer pressure and changing hormone levels. It’s important to be alert and supportive of our children in order to help them.

Symptoms

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recognizes the following symptoms as warning signs of depression in children:

  • Feelings of sadness, irritability, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • A decrease in interest in activities once found enjoyable
  • Decrease in energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Talk of suicide
  • Poor school performance

 If you recognize any of these symptoms in your child there are ways you can help:

 Support

After an initial diagnosis of depression, the best thing you can do is become informed, for you and your child. Jumo Health, a digital health resource for families, offers a depression discussion guide which provides questions to help foster conversation with a doctor after a diagnosis.

Moreover, there are productive ways to create a dialogue between you and your child. Start by letting your child know why you care about how they are feeling. Ask your child about their feelings, but don’t expect them to completely understand or have all the answers. Follow up with connections and examples of some of your own feelings so that they feel relatable. It’s important for children to know that they are not alone.

 If you want to help your child even further, we previously suggested the “Three L’s”:

  • Logging thoughts in a journal
  • Laughter
  • Long walks

Have your child interpret thoughts through writing. They can use a journal to keep track of moods, visualize patterns, and even write down inspirational thoughts. Journaling is a great way for your child to get their thoughts down on paper to clarify and reflect on their feelings.

Better yet, help your child combat sadness with its opposite: laughter. Activities such as watching a funny movie or show can use humor to play an important role in depression management.

Lastly, utilize the curative effects of exercise. Physical activity has healing benefits that release endorphins in order to relieve stress.

Connect with God

It’s important to remind your child that if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Managing Your Fears With The Help Of God by Stan Popovich

Managing Your Fears With The Help Of God by Stan Popovich

 

By

Dealing with fear and anxiety can be very difficult. As a result, using the help of God can be very effective in managing your fears. With this in mind, here are some suggestions on how a person can use the help of God in his or her own struggles.

The first step a person should do is to start talking and praying to God. A person can go to church or to a quiet place during the day to tell God that they are having a problem. They should tell God how they feel and ask God for some of his help. A person could also review the Bible and read some articles on trusting in God and then apply these concepts in their life. Each and every day, a person should make it up a habit to talk to God and ask for His help.

Remember that the one source that a person should use as a basis in managing their fears and anxieties is using God as a basis in dealing with their fears. Why? The power of God is the one power that is stronger than your fears and anxieties. Also, God loves each one of us and he is the one person who has the power to solve all of our problems. He will help you if you ask him to.

When using the help of God to manage your fears, a person needs to be aware of how God is working in their life. Most of the time God works in mysterious ways and the answers he provides might not be that obvious. A person must be aware of God being in their life even when they are dealing with their fears and anxieties.

A person must also be sensitive to the answers God gives them. Some people think that the answers that God provides must be religious in nature. That is not always the case. God may provide the answers in a way that might not be religious in nature. These answers could involve basic psychology and cognitive techniques that deals with how to manage fear and anxiety. The point to remember is that although a person may use these psychology methods, its important to use God as the center of everything in your life and in your struggle.

If you have trouble, talk to a member of the clergy or a professional counselor to help deal with your fears and anxieties. They will be able to provide you with additional advice and insights on how to deal with your current problem. By talking to a professional a person will be helping themselves in the long run because they will become better able to deal with their problems in the future. Remember that it never hurts to ask for help.

Finally, the most important thing is to continue praying and talking to God. Talk to God as if you were talking to a friend. Read the Bible and pray hard. Be persistent and be open in the avenues that God may provide to you in solving your problem. It is not always easy, however God is in control and he will help you if you ask Him.

 

Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.

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Ditching the Shame Game By: Jamie Meyer

Ditching the Shame Game By: Jamie Meyer

By Jamie Meyer

The most dreaded question anyone with a difficult mental health disorder wants to hear is:  What do you do for a living?  In that moment it feels like the wind is sucking right out of you.  Every possible answer that courses through your mind is laden with shame:  Shame that I live on disability. Shame that I was let go for missing work too many times.  Shame that I couldn’t finish college. Shame that I had a great job that I loved but then illness took it away.

So why do we feel this sense of shame about having a mental health disorder?  For one, we live in a society that values achievement, acquiring possessions and living independently.  The shame creeps in when we evaluate ourselves as being less than those around us. We make comparisons and then draw the conclusion that we hold little value in our community.

We also live in a culture where busyness is expected.  If we don’t have anything on our calendar, if we even have one, we may accuse ourselves of being lazy or that we don’t care to be with people.  I can’t tell you how many years it took to stop calling myself “lazy” as I struggled through days with no energy or motivation. Instead of adding things to my calendar I mostly cancelled what was already there.  

While we know that good self-care is critical to our mental and emotional stability, people shame us as being selfish.  I was working nearly full-time when depression overwhelmed me. I was allowed to adjust my schedule to work just three days a week instead of five, but I paid a hefty price for those long days: complete exhaustion.  

I also learned that people we work with can be jealous and resentful when we take care of ourselves.  One morning my co-worker casually asked me what I did on my day off and I told her I went for a massage.  She later told others in the office that I was bragging, rubbing it in that I only had to work three days a week and got to do fun things on my days off.  If she only knew.

So how do we go about ditching the shame we feel about ourselves and begin to accept that we have value and worth?  We do that by using a different measuring stick. The true measure of our worth is the word of God and not the words and impressions we receive from the world around us.  Could we dare to see ourselves in terms of who we are and not what we do? 

I find it significant that when Jesus walked this earth he spent a great deal of time reaching out to and healing the broken and rejected.  He drew close to those who were shunned due to a physical illness like leprosy or for being blind or lame. Mental illnesses were often attributed to demon possession.  Many in that culture believed sin was the cause of many illnesses (see John 9:1-3).

So whether it’s a mental or physical illness that causes you to feel inferior to others, Jesus considers you worthy of his love and care.  When thoughts of shame or worthlessness creep in, take a moment to look at yourself through His eyes: 

  • You are my beloved child.  I chose you! (John 1:12, 15:16)
  • You are my workmanship, my beautiful creation  (Ps. 139:13-16)
  • You are free of all condemnation and shame  (Romans 8:1-2)

 

  • Your life has purpose and meaning  (Eph. 2:10)

 

  • I have good plans for your life and I work all things together for your good  (Jeremiah 29:11, Rom. 8:28)

The next time you’re tempted to belittle yourself and feel ashamed, be reminded that God’s word, his Truth, is your true measure.

 

Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.

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