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Emerson’s Self-Reliance and Coffee

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Socrates said “Know thyself,” and after reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Self-Reliance, we could paraphrase Emerson’s main point as “Trust thyself.”

What if we trusted ourselves- our inner most thoughts, our actions, our perceptions, our wills? What if we were to strive for a more meaningful independent life and not settle for the sullen mediocrity encouraged by society’s institutions? Self-Reliance was first published in 1841, but Emerson’s words still ring with an awakening truth 177 years later. In this post, I hope to bring across some of the key points Emerson made which spoke to me personally.

Emerson states that we should look more to our thoughts and not be so dependent on the words of the past:

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.”1

This work we must do ourselves:

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that lot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”2

We must believe in ourselves:

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine Providence has found for you; the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.”3

Emerson warns us that society will push back against those who seek to go their own way:

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members. Society is a joint stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity.”4

Emerson states that we must shun conformity in order to find our truth:

“Self-reliance is its [conformity’s] aversion. It [conformity] loves not realities and creators, but names and customs. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind.”5

As we venture out on this new self-reliant life, people will question us, and may even misunderstand our intentions. Emerson states that if we are misunderstood, then we are in good company:

“Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”6

Emerson makes many more wonderful points, but for the sake of time and space, I would encourage you to seek them out on your own. The last points I will make concerning Self-Reliance is that I find some of Emerson’s points parallel that of the Stoic philosphers, especially when he discusses the spark of divinity each of us possess, the importance of living in the present moment, and that our happiness is solely up to us, principles I have learned and have tried to implement along the recentstops of my life’s journey. God bless.

1Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Introduction and notes by Peter Norberg. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics. 2004: 113-114.

2Ibid, 114.

3Ibid, 114.

4Ibid, 116.

5Ibid, 116, brackets mine.

6 Ibid, 120.

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Leaning In

quote-chalk-think-words.jpgWhen I first became a Christian, one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding ; In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (NIV). However, as I have aged and faced various trials, I find that the road is still crooked in places, along with being bumpy, forked, and hilly. Man’s religion has taught us not to question anything concerning God, His wisdom, or His Word “You’re overthinking it,” religion says.

Why such opposition to thinking on our own? We seek God individually, yet we try to find a community of other like-minded individuals to try and make sense of it all. One of the dangers of this “groupthink” is that logic, reason, and common sense can be shunned in favor of a misplaced faith or even superstition. If you were taking a trip and you knew the path was wrong or knew you were lost, wouldn’t you stop and try to figure out a new route? Recalculating the journey would not only be for our safety, but our sanity as well. During my life I have found myself at both of these extremes- the “faith-minded,” and the “logical seeker.”

I’ll admit in the last four to five years I have drifted in my faith, going from one church to another, to no church affiliation, seeking answers in familiar places, only to be left with even more bewildered thoughts. I have been a Christian since my early twenties (as of now, I’m in my forties), I have a seminary degree, and have done missions work. I say that not to boast, I just want to give you perspective on my struggle with faith. I believe part of my struggle was not doing my due diligence of what was taught. “The Bible says it and that settles it,” would be a typical retort when faced with opposition either from my mind or someone else.

How many of us, if we were to be honest with ourselves have struggled in faith? How many of us have come down from the Sunday morning emotional high only to be slapped in the face with the Monday morning reality? Why are we so scared to seek our own wisdom? Do we fear that we will be ostracized from our comfortable group? Are we scared of the accusation of “not having enough faith?” How many of us have sat by being passively-minded waiting for the miraculous to happen and watched things get worse? I’m not saying that miracles don’t happen, but we shouldn’t always expect the supernatural, sometimes we need access the resources and means at our disposal.

I’ll admit there is still at lot I don’t understand, even as I put more weight on my critical thinking and learning. For instance, as Christians we seek to “be in God’s will,” or speak of “God’s plan,” yet we seldom have a clear understanding of these terms. How can God straighten out a crooked road if we don’t know which road to take? If feels an awful lot like guess work. In these situations, I can relate to the quote from the baseball player Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I know the theological arguments and cliches for this next point, but why does God’s plan and will involve so much suffering, even for those who can’t defend themselves? Babies born addicted to drugs, born with birth defects, children who battle cancer, face poverty, children are verbally, physically, and sexually abused by parents and others, face starvation, and other horrendous struggles, which turns them into broken adults.  It breaks my heart to see such things and at the same time hear that “God has a great plan for your life.” I’ve reached a point where it is difficult to reconcile such things.

Please keep in mind that I am not attacking God, the church, or anyone else, I just have a lot of questions on my mind that need definitive answers in this life and not the next one.

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My Vessel, My Life

By Michael W. Raley

I lie adrift in the Ocean of Perpetual Darkness.

Overcast clouds cover the moon.

The North Star has long since burned out.

This compass no longer gives me direction.

The waves bounce me back and forth,

As I try to hold it all down.

All I see is water,

No rescue ships,

No land,

No horizon.

This cannot and will not be my life’s voyage!

I then decide to stage a mutiny

Against the oppression, the passivity, and circumstance.

I am now the Captain.

This is my vessel,

This is my life.

I will set the course.

I will follow my map.

Load the cannons

Because I’m bringing the fight!

This One Life

By Michael W. Raley

I have this one life,

Interconnected to the world around me.

I am learning to seek balance and harmony,

Putting away the nonsensical bickering and petty strife.

I can choose to be a drone caught up in the grind

Or I can seize this single, fleeting moment in time

To empower myself into action

And ignore the useless noises of distraction.

I refuse to be placated or pacified;

I cannot allow my true self to become calcified,

A fossil, a lost relic from another age

Who never seized the moment on life’s stage.

I cannot worry about what may never come,

Nor can I lament over what has been.

Today is my chance to begin again

And live in this moment, this life, my only one.

 

 

 

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The Stream of Tranquility

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By Michael W. Raley

There is a stream of tranquility

Trickling down from the jagged stones of remembrance,

In the space once occupied by the raging rapids.

My senses are sharpened,

The colors are more vivid

And the sounds more boisterous

Than I can ever recall.

I realize that this moment is all I have.

So, better take it all in,

Because it won’t come back around.

I am coming to terms with who I am,

Which brings a slight grin to my face.

I’ve fought my way over, through, and back

More than I care to remember,

But I’m still here.

As the warm spring breeze blows across my face,

I savor this euphoric feeling of freedom.

Our Private Pain

National Infertility Awareness Week is April 22-28, 2018

According to Resolve.org, 1 in 8 couples have difficulty getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy.1 As painful as it is to talk about, my wife and I are that one couple. As I write this, my wife and I have been married for 17 years (it’ll be 18 in September), and despite our best efforts, we were never able to have children. Both of us are now in our early 40s and have accepted that fact that it’s not going to happen.

Disclaimer: My opinions and thoughts on this subject are very raw and I won’t hold back.

Just like any marriage or relationship, my wife and I have had our share of ups and downs- the occasional argument, financial problems, health issues, deaths in the family, career frustrations, and the like, from which we always recover. However, our infertility represented a fundamental shift in our relationship with each other and with God. Through this experience, my wife and I have drawn even closer to each other, while our faith has been radically altered,which I’ll explain in a bit.

Now, I’m not the most socially outgoing person, but our struggles with infertility give me anxiety concerning small talk. I know people are trying to be friendly, but I always have to have an answer ready when the conversation turns to kids, it usually goes something like this:

“Are you married?”

“Yes.”

“How long have you been married?”

“We’ve been married for X number of years?”

“Do you have any kids?”

“No.”

At this point, I have several fall back responses,which may include:

“Not right now, but we’re hoping in the next year or two.”

“Just the four-legged furry kind.” (As of now, we do have two dogs, a guinea pig, and a turtle, so that gives me a chance to change the subject to talk about the pets. It’s my “Hey, look over there” tactic).

If talking about the pets doesn’t work, there seems to follow what I consider to be a hurtful and insensitive question:

“Do you want kids?”

This is where I battle my silent mental rage, because in my mind I’m saying, Of course we want children, more than anything in the world. You don’t know how many years we’ve been trying, everything we’ve gone through, the unanswered prayers, the pain we feel at Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, so please don’t ask that question.

Kids come so easy for certain couples that many people may not think or understand that some couples have great difficulty. For the record, yes, my wife and I have considered adoption- it’s very expensive. We have also considered IVF, but we never had health insurance that would help pay for such treatments. Even with IVF treatments, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, there’s not a 100 percent guarantee it will take and we could be out the equivalent of a college education with no results.

However, both of us did undergo surgeries in order to help fix the problem. In my case, I had varicocele surgery, which removed a varicose vein in my reproductive area. I also had to change the medication to treat my Ulcerative Colitis because the sulfasalizine I was on drastically affected my sperm count. A few years after that, my wife underwent an ovarian diathermy to help alleviate the symptoms of her Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). During my wife’s surgery, the doctor discovered and corrected a deviated uterine septum, which was a congenital defect and would have possibly led to miscarriage had my wife became pregnant. We did everything we could do from our standpoint, it was time to “let go and God” as they say.

For 14 years, we attended what is called a “Full Gospel” church. For those unfamiliar with the term, a Full Gospel church is a church that beliefs the spiritual gifts- healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc, are just as alive and available to us as they were in the days of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. We came to believe in the doctrine of the gifts, as we took it on faith that God was going to give us a miracle. While we were engaged, we received a “prophetic” word that we would have a child. Over the years, several more of these “prophetic” words or prayers came forth claiming we were going to have children.

Nothing. God must have been out of the office on those days.

During this time, we did everything we knew to do- we spoke in faith,we prayed, we asked forgiveness for any sins that would have stopped God, we talked about children as if they were on their way,we encouraged each other when we doubted. We even attended an infertility support group. Still nothing.

What’s going on?

Month after month, year after year, no response from God, no babies. We would smile and be happy for relatives, coworkers and other church members as they received their blessing of children. During this same time, we were blessed with our nieces and nephews, whom we love dearly, yet, we still longed for our own.

When you want to believe in something with every fiber of your being, you hold on for so long and it doesn’t come to pass, you naturally question what you believe and what you’ve been told. During this time, I sought out deep spiritual answers, but found only platitudes and cliches.

“We’re praying for you.”

“Maybe you just need more faith.”

“God’s always on time.”

“God has a plan.”

“Prayer works.”

“If God did it for so-and-so, He’ll do it for you.”

We are well familiar with the biblical stories of Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth, all women who had difficulty having children,but eventually conceived, some even against medically impossible odds, such as being 90 years old or post-menopausal. We felt such guilt and shame during this time and questioned everything about ourselves and why were we deemed so unworthy. This was and still is a deep, private pain, that we have tried to push away, but it always comes back.

Besides the shame, I feel cheated and deceived. We will never know the joys of holding our own newborn baby, watching that child take his or her first steps, the first day of school, prom, graduation, marriage, and becoming grandparents. My heart also breaks for my parents, as they too have been robbed of grandchildren. It is not fair. It is not right. I have doubted my abilities many times during my life, but I know I would have been an excellent father and my wife an excellent mother. We would have done everything I could to love and care for a child, but we didn’t get our chance.

For 20 years, my wife worked as a social worker, where she saw countless cases of child abuse and neglect, and it broke her heart everyday. If God is all-good, all-powerful and all-knowing, why would He give a child to someone to who had no interest in loving that child? Why would God allow that innocent child to suffer such things as sexual and physical abuse, trauma, being born addicted to drugs, falling through the cracks of a broken system, their innocence being taking from them so their drug addicted parents can get another fix? Unfortunately, these same children will grow up and relive the sins of their parents and perpetuate the cycle of brokenness. Sounds like a great plan to me! Why would God allow the most vulnerable and innocent to suffer when there is a loving Christian couple who desperately wants a child of their own to love? Once again, faith offers no answers.

“God’s ways are above our ways.”

“We live in a fallen world.”

“God must have something special for those children or He wouldn’t allow what they’re going through.”

“We’ll get our answers in heaven.”

What kind of sick and twisted logic is that? That’s the grand and glorious plan? I call BS.

As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I have grown closer to each other because of this situation, but we are estranged from God because of these failed so-called prophesies. After several years of wrestling with the decision, we left our church, and have yet to join another one. I don’t doubt the sincerity of everyone who “spoke over us” or prayed for us, but after so long, it just becomes a noise you get used to hearing. We’ve attended several different churches, but it’s not the same, our relationship with God is broken. My wife and I have done our best to live fulfilling lives by focusing on each other, while enhancing our education and careers. We have also sought to be additional parental figures to our nieces and nephews.

Our infertility has left a scar on my heart that will never heal. I know my wife has been deeply hurt by the whole experience. I only wrote this post with her permission because I know this is a still sensitive subject. Our faith has been shaken and it will never be the same. On the day I stand before God, He should give an account to me as to why my wife and I never had the chance to have children. I know we are not alone in our struggles, that’s I just wanted to share my story. I’ve accepted the fact I will never have children, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it worth a damn.

Time Well Spent

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I have a music streaming app on my smartphone which keeps track of the time I spent the previous month listening to music. When I receive this notification, it gives me pause as I think about the amount of time I spent listening to the music I enjoy. What if our lives had an app that could keep track of all of our habits? What if this app could keep track of everything we do in life? This app could keep track of such things as:

-The amount of time we spend complaining about the current presidential administration.

-The amount of time we spend arguing with friends and strangers on social media.

-The amount of time we spend putting off important tasks.

-The amount of time we spend in anxiety, fear, or depression concerning the past, present, or future.

Believe me, I have my days when I’m not the most productive person. I know the struggles you face- you work a full-time job, there’s family obligations, bills to pay, the car broke down, you’re trying to get in shape, and you have to go to sleep at some point. You’re just as fatigued when you wake up as you were when you went to bed. Rest and lesiure are important, as I too spend some down time trying to relax and drown out the noise of the world.

Henry David Thoreau spent two years living in a cabin on Walden Pond in an effort to live a better, simpler life:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…”1

Walden was first published in 1854, I wonder what would Thoreau say about life in 2018? Thoreau also discussed the need to simplify our lives:

“Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”2

When it comes to how we spend our time, Thoreau echoes the sentiment of Stoic philosopher Lucius Seneca, who lived 1800 years before. Seneca challenged the general notion that “Life is short.”

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. Life is long enough and our alloted portion generous enough for our most ambitious projects if we invest it all carefully. But when it is squandered through luxury and indifference, and spent for no good end, we realize it has gone, under the pressure of the ultimate necessity, before we were aware it was going. So it is: the life we receive is not short,but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”3

One of the tenants of Stoicism I admire is the thought of living each day like it was your last. This doesn’t mean living in debauchery and unbridled hedonism, but giving careful thought to everything you do. We do not understand that we are given a certain amount of time to live, yet we plan as if we will live forever, a point Seneca makes so eloquently:

“It is because you live as if you would live forever; the thought of human frailty never enters your head, you never notice how much of your time is already spent. You squander it as though your store were full to overflowing, when in fact the very day of which you make a present to someone or something may be your last.”4

The life of Jesus Christ overlaps that of Seneca, and Jesus in Luke 12:16-21 told the Parable of the Rich Fool. In this parable, there was a rich man who was satisfied with the fruits of his labors and decided to tear down his barns and build bigger barns for his crops. The rich man then decided to rest on his ambition and “eat,drink, and be merry.” However, the rich man was unaware that he was going to die that night, not getting the chance of basking in his accomplishments.

James also warns us about presumptive conduct: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15, NKJV).

Thus, we must be mindful of how we spend this life, for it is the only one we get. Give consideration to all that you do and say, simplify, and focus your energy to what will build up yourself and others. You do not have time to dwell on toxic thoughts, relationships, and people. Don’t spent the next twenty,thirty, or forty years on trying to build for a future life, live the life you have now. God bless you.

1Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience, Introduction and notes by Jonathan Levin. New York: Barnes & Noble (2003): 74.

2 Ibid, 75.

3 Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca. New York: W.W.Norton & Company (1958): 48.

4Ibid, 50-51.

My Word is Resilient- What’s Yours?

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If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

Would you pick this word based on events you’ve been through or would it be an ideal with which you identify?

Are you a survivor? A warrior? Thankful? Stoic? Outgoing? The choice is yours. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, because deep down you know who you are, where you’ve been, and where your going.

My word is resilient because that is who and what I am.

According to the dictionary, resilience is defined by the ability to rebound, bounce back, or recover quickly from adversity or a setback. I chose resilience not to be boastful or because I overestimate my abilities, but it is based on the culmination of my experiences and being able to come back stronger than before.

Resilience, like faith, training, persistence, education, or anything else in takes a lifetime of practice and learning. Life and circumstances do not play fair, as we may face multiple obstacles at once. Many times in my life I have felt like Job in The Bible, hit with bad news on top of bad news. Although Job was never given reasons for his trials, he persisted and stayed true to his character to the end. The experiences are never pleasant, but one must soldier on and fight each day.

Being resilient is not a matter of genetics, like having brown hair or green eyes, but is a character trait that can be learned and developed over time. How does one develop resilience?

Recognize each day as its own opportunity

Over the last two years or so, I have studied Stoic philosophy, which has helped supplement my faith. Like Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, the Stoics emphasize the importance of living for today, for the present moment is all we have. Every day you are given is a day to get it right. You didn’t handle things so well yesterday, start over. Apply your new knowledge to the issue at hand. Make today an opportunity for growth and stretching beyond your capabilities.

Give yourself some time

It is very easy to get ourselves in dire circumstances- financial problems, sickness, relationship issues, to name a few. Just as you didn’t get into these situations overnight, you will not get out of them overnight. Set realistic, gradual goals, and count the victorious battles along the way. To give an example from my own life: At the end of 2015, I was laid off from my job. I knew it was going to take some time to find a new job. However, when I was laid off, I gave myself two years to get back on my feet into something better. I was unemployed for three months, but took a lower paying job to get back to work, which led to me taking a different job. In between his time, I considered starting a new career and going back to school. At the age forty, I decided to start a new career, while working 50 hour weeks. The road was arduous, but I achieved my goal one month a head of schedule. One year and eleven months later, I was on the road to something better, albeit for less money, but I found my peace of mind.

Be Adaptable

Sometimes in life, our strategies to solve problems are not “one size fits all,” as we may have to fine tune our game plan when the situation changes. Just as in sports, the coach/manager sometimes has to adapt to the other teams’s strategy, an injury, or throw out a play that’s not working. If it’s a mindset, a coping mechanism, a habit, a false belief, or something else holding you back from being resilient and achieving your goal, throw it out. Start where you are at with what you have and make the necessary adjustments to help you succeed. When I went back to school, I had to change my study habits which helped me through high school and college, because they were not helping me. I had to adapt- while fighting false beliefs about my abilities, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. As I began to adapt, I did perform better and I showed resilience through it all.

As always, the comment section is open for anyone who wants to share their word.  Thank you and God bless.

 

 

The Office and Celiac Disease — Geeky and Gluten-Free

No matter the place of employment, there’s always a chance there will be food in the break or conference rooms. In the United States, this free food often involves, pizza, donuts, bagels, birthday cake, other baked goods, catered food such as fried chicken or sandwiches- all of which are off limits for someone with […]

via The Office and Celiac Disease — Geeky and Gluten-Free

More of the Same

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By Michael W. Raley

Unless someone has walked your same path,

They can never fully understand

What you’re going through

And the struggles you face.

The fatigue you fought just to get out of bed.

The pep talk you gave your anxious self just to leave the house.

The chronic sickness that fights you every step of the way.

The inflammation that reminds you of the pain.

The thoughts that you suppress and fight

As you try to live life as a fully-functional person.

You try to enjoy the present moment,

Only to be haunted by the past

Or receive a harbinger from the future.

You have faith, you hope, and pray,

But the silence lingers day after day.

You know you need to make a change,

Yet remain in the quicksand of malaise.

You seek to make today a better day,

However, the forecast looks like more of the same.