Depression is a Storm Cloud

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By Michael W. Raley

Depression is a storm cloud lingering over you,

Waiting to ruin a beautiful sunny day.

Depression is a predator stalking its prey.

You see the predator coming, but you are too paralyzed to move.

Before you know it, you are in the grips of depression,

Struggling to fight,

Struggling to breathe,

Struggling to live.

Depression goes beyond feeling sad,

As it is a battle for the mind, body, and soul.

I have become adept at hiding depression,

But I cannot snap out of it,

I just adapt my day and work around it.

Depression becomes a natural part of the landscape,

Like a tree with deep roots that are intertwined and difficult to remove.

Depression also serves as a highway marker,

Letting you know where you’re at and how far you have come,

While also reminding you that you have many more miles to travel

And many more battles to fight.

We must continue to fight, even on our darkest days,

For we must fight for ourselves, our loved ones, and for our suffering brethren.

 

 

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Someone Else’s Bible

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Whenever I go to someone’s home, especially for the first time, I tend to look at their book, music, and film collection. I don’t judge them, I’m looking to understand who they are while trying to find common ground. If the conversation gets slow, I can always interject, “Hey, I noticed you’re a big Spielberg fan.”

I decided in recent weeks to find a new Bible translation. I’ve alternated between the King James and New International Version for twenty years, I just wanted something different. I’ve read some of the New American Standard Bible and I thought I would give that a try.

I contacted a large chain of used book stores in my area to save a few bucks and the Bible was shipped from one store to my local store. I picked up the book, paid for it, and walked out of the store. As I took the book home, I began to look through it and saw the Bible was given as a gift to someone. However, it doesn’t appear to have been used.

When it comes to my Bibles, I write in them, I underline, and make side notes. I’ve always tried to use the Bible as a study tool, something to combat the harsh reality of life. I enjoy studying Scripture and these notes serve as good reference.

I don’t know anything about the lady who received the Bible, and I don’t presume to judge. However, I couldn’t but help wonder about her Bible that I bought. Did she not believe? Did she not like the translations? Did she not believe in writing in books? Did she no longer have a relationship with the person who gave her the Bible and it was a reminder of said relationship?

I’m just reminded of how we attach memories to objects. No matter what it is- a Bible, a dish, a painting, we tend to attribute sentimental value to these objects, almost making them sacred idols in the process. In this case though, this Bible is a sacred object because it is God’s Word, but it was treated like it was just a common book- a previous bestseller sold of for a fraction of what was paid for it.

In my case, the Bible someone else didn’t want has become a blessing to me. To the person who owned the Bible before me, I hope you find happiness and fulfillment.

Abiding in Christ

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I was reading 1 John recently when the word “abide” caught my attention. Abide is a word we don’t use much anymore. The word abide started me down a biblical concordance rabbit hole.

The Greek word for abide is Meno (Strong’s 3306), which means “to stay in a given place, state, relation, or expectancy.” Meno is also used for the word dwell. Upon further study, I came upon some interesting tidbits about the word abide:

Abide is used 31 times throughout The Gospel of John, 1 John, and 2 John and only 18 times throughout the rest of the New Testament.

The same word for dwell is used 11 times throughout John’s writings, but only once in the rest of the New Testament.

Bonus fact: For you King James readers, Meno is also translated as “continue” 5 times in John’s writings and 6 times in the New Testament.

Now that we have established the meaning and usage of the word abide, what is its context? John’s writings use abide to indicate a continuous relationship with Christ. Thus, we are staying in a given place with Christ, similar to staying in a marriage or friendship. For the believer and the non-believer alike, what does abiding in Christ entail? This is not a comprehensive list, but I would encourage you to study this on your own as well.

The Holy Spirit comes to abide in us when we receive Christ

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever-the Spirit of truth…”                  (John 14:15-17a, NKJV).

*See also 1 John 2:27.

We will have joy and we will perfect our love for others

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you , that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:9-12, NKJV).

We will be fruitful in our walk with God

“Abide in Me,and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine,neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”(John 15:4-5, NKJV).

We will not live in spiritual darkness

“I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46, NKJV).

“He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”              (1 John 2:9-10, NKJV).

We will be able to separate truth from error

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:31-32, 36, NKJV).

As with any relationship, whether it’s spiritual, romantic, or friendship, the more time you spent with someone, the better you get to know them. The more you get to know them, the more you will be able to separate the real person from an impostor. This same principle applies to our relationship with Christ. The more time we spent with Jesus, whether its through prayer, fasting, or personal study, the more we come to know the authentic Jesus. In this day and time, we need more discernment than ever. God bless.

Drained and Fatigued

By Michael W. Raley

I was going to be productive today,

But my body made other plans.

After a night of rest,

I awoke drained and fatigued,

Only to realize an entire day lies ahead.

Every time I begin to emerge from the pit,

I am thrown back down into the darkness.

I try to stay active and move,

But my joints do not want to cooperate.

I get one of life’s wildfires under control

Only to notice two more are starting.

My deepest, most inner spiritual man cries for help,

Only to be silenced by the oppression of my mind.

I try to remain hopeful and move forward,

Only to have my progress stifled.

However, I will saddle up like a hardened cowboy

And get through this day,

Riding toward the horizon,

Hoping tomorrow will be better.

 

 

Finding Your Balance

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By Michael W. Raley

Life isn’t always fair

And there are times when equal opportunities are rare.

There are those who are born into wealth and privilege,

But since they didn’t earn it, a king’s fortune is squandered.

For those who struggle to exist, this is pure sacrilege.

There are those with obvious talent and skill who waste it,

While there are those who spent their lives wandering,

Searching in the wrong places for fulfillment and meaning.

There are those who spend their lives in a self-imposed cage,

While others seethe with self-righteous indignation and rage.

There are those who walk the well-worn path,

While others seek to blaze a trail.

There are those who will not take a risk unless they do the math,

While others will make a plan only for it to go off the rails.

Somewhere in the midst of these dichotomies

Lies the individual answers, the balance,

For which we seek, knowing that it won’t be easy.

All of us travel with burdens on our backs,

Fighting the night, the cold, and our fear of lack.

However, we must continue our journeys through the dark nights

To find the harmony within our spiritual lights.

 

The Danger of the “One More Day” Mentality

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There are days and dates we all look forward to-birthdays, holidays, vacations, weekends, etc. In our minds and with our actions, we begin a countdown in anticipation for the day and/or event. However, what if we are doing ourselves a disservice in counting down the days? I’m not saying that we should not be joyful about an upcoming event, but we must be careful not to lose the joy of the present moment in the process.

I work a typical Monday through Friday job. I don’t have to work on the weekends unless I volunteer (a change from some other jobs I’ve had). I enjoy my downtime as it is an opportunity to rest, work on projects, and spend time with family. “One more day” is the mantra that I hear repeated on Thursday morning. In other words, let’s look past today to get to tomorrow.

One more day.What would you do with one more day? We get one more day every morning we wake-up. Twenty-four hours, 1,440 minutes, and 86,400 seconds make up a day. With each day we live, we have one less day to live. After midnight, today is never coming back. Why waste today for a tomorrow that may never come?

It is our human nature to delay our pleasure of the present moment for a far off day in the future. We think we will enjoy life when we retire after a lifetime of working or we wait for the “timing to be right” to start a business, start a family, to start following God, or any other long-term goal we have in mind. There may never be a right time in the future because today may be our last day. I don’t say that to be morose or to bring on fear, I’m just being realistic. We never know when our “one more days” will run out, we must live wisely.

As I write this, I am forty-two years old. I can give you a list off the top of my head of people I know who never lived to see my age. No matter how old you are, I’m sure you can do the same thing. Now multiply that by every person on the planet. Enjoy today. Let go of grudges. Hug your family and tell them you love them. Make sure your spiritual affairs are in order because we never know when we will meet God. I will end with this Scripture from the Book of James.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life” You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15, NIV).

Dogs are just Four-Legged Toddlers

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At this stage of my life, I have no children- except for the four-legged, furry kind. Yes, I am part of the community who identify themselves as “fur parents.” I don’t call us a family, because we are a pack. Being a fur parent for me is just a natural outgrowth of how my family viewed dogs. Our dogs were never pets, but part of the family. The dogs lived in the house with us, they watched TV with us, and played outside with us. Having a dog in the house was like having an incredibly hairy little brother or sister. I never understood how people could keep their dog chained up outside or in a kennel 24/7. Dogs, like people, need companionship and the need to be part of a family.

I am neither a child expert nor am I an animal behavior expert, however I have made several unscientific observations between toddlers and dogs. I have a younger sister, younger cousins, and nieces and nephews, so I’ve watched children grow and develop into adults. I’ve also had a dogs from puppies to the end of their lives. For those with children, imagine if your child was a toddler for ten to fifteen years and that’s life with a dog. Scary, huh? Drum roll please! Here are some of the reasons dogs are four-legged toddlers:

Privacy? What privacy?

I’ve heard complaints from many mothers about how they can’t even go to the bathroom without being bombarded by their children. It’s the same way with dogs. If I don’t close the bathroom door all the way, I receive numerous visits while attending to the call of nature or trying to bathe.

Mine! Mine!

If a child can pick up an item, put it in their mouth,or run off with it, it’s theirs. Mine! Mine! The encounter between grown parent and toddler becomes a wrestling match more fierce than any main event at a Wrestlemania. The difference: dogs try to be sneaky about it, but give themselves away. Once you see that sneaky look from your dog, the race is on! In trying to pry open a dog’s mouth to get the object, I feel I missed my calling as a lion tamer or alligator wrestler. Some of the things I’ve taken out of my dogs’ mouths over the years: nylon knee highs, socks, used tissues, cotton swabs (a particular favoirte of dogs), clumps of grass, squeakers from destoyed dog toys, and random bits of trash when we take walks.

They like to fight when you’re on the phone.

I know my sister and I probably argued when my mom was on the phone. I’m sure all of us have at one point. That’s why I believe we pay our penance when we become parents/fur parents. All it takes is for the phone to ring and the chaos ensues. I don’t know how many phone conversations I’ve had when my dogs decide to play tug-of-war or the youngest dog wants to pester the older dog. When this starts, so does the finger snapping and the muted “shut up,” “quiet,” or “knock it off.” I try to go to another room and they follow me (see Privacy? What Privacy?).

They act up when you have company.

Dogs, much like people, are creatures of habit. Although they can’t tell time, dogs just have instincts, they know when it’s time to eat, when you’re coming home from work or school, and when it’s time for bed. However, a knock on the door can upset that routine and it’s time to go into “protect the pack mode.” Even if the dog is familiar with the guest, there could be several minutes of noise, which can and will disrupt conversations with your visitors.

Sibling Rivalry

If you grew up an only child, your parents dedicated their time and attention solely to you. However, what happens when you have brothers and sisters? You have to share your parents’ time, attention, and affection. We humans by nature are selfish and greedy- we want what we want when we want it. Sibling rivalry develops when it becomes a competition for a parent’s acceptance.

“Mommy, look at the picture I drew.”

“Hey, mom, look at me instead because I made the honor roll.”

“Mom, look at me I climbed Mount Everest.”

“Mom, look at me, I’m going to Mars.”

This principle works in dogs as well, because of the pack mentality. When you’re petting one dog, the other one nudges in between. You’re playing with one dog, the other brings their toy for you to play with them instead. Just like with rival kids, there will be growling and barking.

You wouldn’t trade them for the world.

All joking aside, I love my dogs. I would do anything to protect them and to provide for their needs. When your dog looks at you, you have entered a judgment free zone. All I see in those eyes are unconditional love and acceptance. Yes, there are days when they wake me up too early, days they embarrass me, and days when they make me mad, but deep down I know I will love them until their dying day and they know that. I will happily endure the water trails and brown triangles on the floor, the cold noses on the face, and the scattered toys throughout the house because with those things come hugs, cuddles, and kisses. Be thankful for your two-legged and your four-legged children because they are a gift from God. The next time you’re trying to install a new garbage disposal and your dog sticks his head under the sink, remember, he just wants to be where you are.