Hold The Line

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By Michael W. Raley

The armies of darkness and despair have waged war in my life

For what seems an eternity.

I have paid a heavy price and suffered tremendous loss.

Yet, I remain steadfast in the midst of this battle.

“Hold the line!”

By the grace of God, I have come too far to waive the white flag.

Now is the time to regroup and to strengthen what remains,

For victory is imminent, so judgment will be executed on the darkness and despair.

As long as I have breath, I have hope.

“Hold the line!”

My spirit and my resolve are battle-hardened,

My strategy is coming together,

As I plan to launch an offensive

That will scatter the enemy and break their spirits.

“Hold the line!”

 

 

The Spread of Fear

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic. Travel has been restricted, public gatherings, including church services have been cancelled, major sporting events and leagues have been cancelled/suspended. Countries and major cities have gone on lock down, which have led to colleges, universities, and  schools being shut down. Not to mention that world economic markets are in a nosedive.

Of course this is not the first outbreak of a virus- as there have been outbreaks of the Swine flu, Bird flu, Ebola, the Zika virus along with the seasonal flu. Why has this outbreak of Coronavirus caused the world to go into such a panic?

I believe the Coronavirus is a serious threat- especially to the most vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with other chronic illnesses. However, I do not believe I have seen this level of panic and fear being spread at the same time. I remember the panic of Y2K and the heightened anxiety of 9/11, but life went on in a matter of time.

The news media, of course, will hype up any story to increase their ratings and revenue, so these stories create anxiety. Social Media and the hyper-political culture we live in also contributes to the growing fear and panic. “Self-quarantine” has now become part of our lexicon. How long will this be “the new normal?” Time will tell.

The best advice for anyone dealing with the possibility of getting Coronavirus is simply to exercise common sense. Protect yourself- wash your hands, be mindful of your surroundings, maintain a clean work area or home, don’t delay medical treatment if you’re sick. Above all, don’t fall victim to fear and please don’t panic.

I cannot stress the importance of not giving into fear. Please do not hoard groceries and other necessities. Please think of those less fortunate, who cannot stockpile, and may not be able to purchase what they need if hoarding is taking place. Even in the midst of this unprecedented and overwhelming crisis, please do not fall victim to fear. If you are a Christian, we can still take comfort in God’s words.

The Coronavirus outbreak may be out of our control, but we can control our response to it.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV).

 

 

 

Semblance of Peace

By Michael W. Raley

I wasted a lot of years being angry.

Triggered by the mere thought of an event

Or the mention of someone’s name.

The hurt, the pain, and the unanswered prayers

Twisting inside of me, like a thorn in my flesh.

I believe that I’m entitled to answers,

But I know the answers won’t change anything

As what is passed cannot be undone.

The only remedy for this long incubating illness

Is to go forward with today

And work on some semblance of peace.

 

Embrace and Adapt to the Circumstances

“Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”1 -Epictetus

I don’t deserve this. I try to do everything right. I show up and do my job. I’m a dedicated spouse and an even more dedicated parent. Why am I suffering? Why is God silent? Why is He allowing this to happen?

Does that train of thought sound familiar? I have gone through that script so many times, I should’ve been nominated for a major acting award.

(Before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer: No one, under any circumstances deserves to be abused, mistreated, harassed, or tormented by anyone else. If you find yourself in that situation, please seek help).

Deserve. A word which signifies an entitlement or something that is owed to us. We often think of deserve as a reward for doing the right thing, for not acting like everyone else around us. Deserve means we should be spared from a life of pain and suffering. However, all of us, deep inside know that is not the case.

Life is unfair. Legal or social justice does not always prevail. A husband or wife can decide they want out after decades of marriage. You can be fired or laid off from that job for which you earned while climbing the corporate ladder. A retirement fund or savings account can be wiped out with one swift downturn in the market or a major illness. You may have reached middle aged or older only to find yourself starting over. Life is unfair.

To paraphrase the above Epictetus quote: It’s not about what we deserve, it’s about what we get. We must manage our expectations of love, marriage, career, health, and everything else we deal with in this life.

I never thought my health and career would take a turn for the worse at thirty-eight. I never conceived that I would be divorced three years later. I didn’t expect to start over in a one bedroom apartment. Life will take you places you don’t want to go. Life will drag you kicking and screaming if it must. However, it’s not all bad and you are tougher than you think you are.

I agree with Epictetus that we must temper our expectations as we go through life. I’m not saying to prepare for catastrophic failure, but we must train ourselves to adapt to changing circumstances. Jesus said that in this world, we will have tribulation, but we can take solace in knowing He has overcome the world. The Buddha said existence is suffering. Yoda said that we must let go of everything we fear to lose. Basically, bad times are going to come, we must find peace and contentment in the worst of circumstances. To use a sports analogy, if our game plan is not working, we must be able to make adjustments on the fly. Embrace where you are and God bless you.

1Epictetus The Art of Living: A New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 7.

God’s Unending Grace

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By Michael W. Raley

My life’s path is littered with regret,

Where I had the best of intentions,

Yet things did not work out for the best.

I look back on those days with equal amounts of frustration and lamentation.

In the midst of this darkness, I try to hold onto the Light,

Though I can’t make any of this right.

My hope and strength are gone,

Sorrowful, seemingly unable to carry on.

The failed experiences have left me feeling jarred

And left me to play a hand of worthless cards.

In my mind I am broken and defeated,

Paralyzed with indecision,

For fear that the past will be repeated.

I once again fall back into a depression.

Then my spirit comes into a revelation

That there is hope, there is salvation.

I remember that God’s grace

Is bigger than any mistake I can make.

The past, of course, can’t be erased,

But I can go forward in grace,

If you will, a heavenly clean slate

Which gives me the opportunity to get back in the race,

Without the feelings of failure, self-loathing and hate.

As long as I have breath, it’s not too late

Thanks to God’s unending grace.

 

 

 

 

The Danger of “ist” Words

According to the website Lots of Words.com, 5,262 words in the English language end in “ist.” Although I won’t go through every word on the list for time and space constraints (not to mention the ensuing boredom), but I do find word studies interesting.

A good portion of “ist” words describe an occupation or a set of beliefs. We have such occupations as typist, oncologist, therapist, or someone can be a specialist in a chosen field. A person can also be a Buddhist, Taoist, or if you are a fan of Ancient Aliens, an “ancient astronaut theorist.”

However, in today’s hyper-political American culture, there are some “ist” words which have become pejoratives, a verbal grenade to destroy the other person’s worldview. It seems gone are the days of rational discussion, whereas the new goal is to crush your opposition. The use of these words have become so common, many people don’t understand the gravity of calling someone the said word.

Words such as racist, atheist, Socialist, Communist, fundamentalist, feminist, misogynist, elitist, globalist, capitalist, fascist, ageist, etc, are often lobbied at people we simply disagree with as an effort to dismiss or belittle what someone has to say. If someone disagrees with you, that doesn’t automatically make them a bad person. I believe we should make an effort to go beyond the talking points espoused on Social Media, cable and network news, talk radio and the like. Make an effort to have a civilized conversation with someone, even you disagree with them. I consider myself to be politically independent, yet I can have political discussions with conservatives and liberals and not resort to name calling.

I am against all forms of discrimination and oppression. We must call out discrimination and oppression when we see it. We must speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. I believe we must follow the example of Jesus, who “reached across the aisle” in His day. He spoke with Samaritans and Gentiles, elevated the status of women, fed the hungry, cared for the sick, and called out hypocrisy and injustice when He saw it. Above all, we must get back to the place where we can show Christian love and kindness to everyone around us. If everybody stays in their echo chambers, nothing will be done, and we will be driven further apart.

The Lawless Times

“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”

Matthew 24:12, NASB

It is so easy to turn a deaf ear and form a cynical heart towards community decay. Newscasts are filled with stories of people being shot, crime, rape, child abuse, political bickering, and an overall disregard for established law and order. If the incidents take place blocks or miles from our comfortable existence, we can become insulated and isolated in our thinking about our community’s pain.

Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) discusses what the times will be like before His return- wars, natural disasters, persecution of believers, false prophets, and rebellion to name a few signs. (Jesus also speaks of these events  in Mark 13 and Luke 21).

God knows our limitations as people and He knows how overwhelming bad news and events can weigh on our minds. Just the major events in our own lives- the death of a loved one, addiction, divorce, job loss, and financial problems can trigger anxiety and depression, causing us misery upon misery.

As overwhelming these events seem in Matthew 24:12, that people’s love for each other and God will grow cold, Jesus us offers us hope.

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13, NASB).

Verse thirteen is not dealing with eternal salvation, it is dealing with a sense of protection or deliverance in the midst of suffering.

Now that we have a reason to hope, Jesus gives us an assignment.

“The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then, the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, NASB).

We live in lawless times, but there is a way not to become overwhelmed and unloving regarding people and their suffering. We must reconnect with the love of God by repentance, prayer, study, and being community with other believers. As we grow in our love for God, our love for people will be a natural offspring and a platform for sharing the gospel with them. God bless you.

I Found Peace

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I am at peace. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with my circumstances. I am at peace with the past and with God.

I didn’t have a mountain top experience nor was it a sudden revelation, I just came to be. A coworker this week mentioned that I have a different look on my face than I had in recent months. I believe my period of mourning has lifted and new life has sprung forth.

I have to say the last six years of my life have been the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I have detailed these struggles on this blog and I believe this period of darkness inspired some of my best work. If you’re new to the blog, I briefly recap what the last six years has been like- I left a church I had been apart of for fourteen years and the changing spiritual dynamics left me wandering and questioning God. I was hospitalized with anemia,which I found out a year later was caused by Celiac disease. I was laid off from a job, which sent my career in a tailspin. Recurring flare-ups of my Ulcerative Colitis, my nephew’s suicide, my battles with anxiety and depression, and being blindsided by a divorce after eighteen years of marriage.

I was a broken man. My mind, body, and spirit were broken. I felt so hopeless and alone. I know that I wasn’t alone because I had the support of my family and my family of coworkers. I went back to church and joined a men’s group and heard the stories of men who were in my same situation. I sold the house my ex-wife and I built together, which was a burden off of my shoulders and a boost to my mental and financial health.

When I think about my struggles, I’m reminded of two Bible verses, Philippians 4:7 and Romans 8:28. To summarize, Philippians 4:7 discusses a peace that transcends all understanding, while Romans 8:28 talks about how God uses all things to work together for our good. These Scriptures don’t say that everything that happens to us will be good, but we can have a peaceful heart in the worst of times. I memorized Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:7 when I first became a Christian, but the truth of those verses have really sank into my heart.

At the beginning of the year, I posted about this year being a year of restoration, and it has become that, a period of restoration. Being at peace doesn’t mean that everything has worked out and is resolved like a sitcom, drama or movie. Finding peace means that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. You’ve made it through previous hard times and you’re going to get through this.

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.

I’ll never be successful.

How can anybody love me?

I’m a failure.

How could she do that to me?

I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.

The list goes on and on.

Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.

The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.

As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes.  My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?

Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”

As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.

Focus on what you can control

We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.

Temper your expectations

There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.

This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday’s Choices

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By Michael W. Raley

“If I had only known then what I know now.”

Oh how this statement keeps us tied down

To regret and our perceived failures of the past.

We go through life lamenting our choices-

Relationships, finances, and spiritual matters to name a few.

However, we fail to realize that we made our decisions

With the information we had at the time,

As hindsight was not available to us.

Even if we knew that we were making a bad choice,

It was still a lesson learned.

A hard lesson,

But we are wiser nonetheless.

As you go forward on this new day,

Realize that today is all you have

And it should not be wasted on yesterday’s choices.

Learn from it, seek forgiveness if needed,

And learn to forgive yourself