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The Goodness of God

“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forebearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”

Romans 2:4, KJV.

God’s goodness can overwhelm the hardest of souls. Once we find ourselves in the grip of God’s unyielding grace, He will never let go of us. No matter our circumstances or the current state of the world, God is there to lead us home. Even if we were to stray from God, He will welcome us back as the father welcomed back the prodigal. God never leaves us or forsakes us, even if we were to turn our backs on Him. God is good all the time.

I accepted Christ in 1999 and it hasn’t been all puppies and kittens. The Christian life is not supposed to be easy, as Paul told Timothy to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” (2 Timothy 2:3, KJV). God is our greatest teacher, a teacher who repeatedly tests His students. Life at times seems to be a pop quiz we’re not prepared to take, but God has the lesson plan in place.

I’ve blogged on this site about life’s ups and downs- my faith struggles, the battles of my physical and mental health, and the dissolution of my marriage to name a few topics. I was for the longest time hardened by these experiences. I was bitter at God and the world. There were times I simply refuse to pray because I thought that God wasn’t listening. I went months when the only time I opened my Bible was in church. My faith was beginning to mutate into a ritual, simply doing something because that’s what I always did. However, deep down, I missed God.

God, the sculptor that He is, began to chisel away at the head and heart of stone. God’s grace overwhelmed me as I received a reminder of His goodness. Even with my failures, my pain, my dysfunction, and my torment, God was still there. God still loves me, as He does any wayward child. In the midst of what I call my “five year stretch,” God was still faithful to me.

After Job went through his trials, God blessed him at the end of it. However, I was too stubborn to realize how God blessed me during the course of my trials. God truly had an answer for every problem I had. I was laid off at the end of 2015, God provided jobs for me to work my way back financially. My health declined, but God placed me with wise doctors and the proper diet and medication to treat me. My marriage ended in divorce, but God has blessed me with a wonderful godly fiancée. I wandered the spiritual desert, but God lead me home.

No matter what we face, we can always count on God being there. We must admit our shortsightedness and our ignorance and allow God to work. If we want to hear from God, we have to stop talking and listen. God speaks volumes in silence. God gave us His holy word to guide us and that is where He does most of the talking. Don’t give up hope. Keep close to God. Everyone in your life may walk away from you, but God will never leave you. God is that friend who sticks closer than a brother, stick with Him. The answer to your problems is not found in the arms of someone, a needle, a bottle, or even a plate- God is the answer. We must realize that He is good and turn our hearts back to Him. God bless you.

The Path

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By Michael W. Raley

I thought by now the path would be made clear

And the course would be set.

Yet, I remain aimless and adrift

On a self-made ocean of obscurity.

I have progressed too slowly;

My patience has worn thin.

I have reached a point

Where I don’t see the purpose of this journey,

As my most desired dreams have not been fulfilled.

Time is of the essence;

My window of opportunity closes a little more each day.

Should I stay on the present course?

Shall I embark on the new and unfamiliar path?

Do I just need to settle on the safe path of unassuming mediocrity?

I try to move forward,

Yet I am being dragged down by the baggage of fear and regret.

I am heart sick, yet remain somewhat hopeful.

As long as I have the day,

As long as I have breath,

I cannot accept defeat.

I must rise up and walk.

Never Allow Love to Leave

By Michael W. Raley

Never allow love to leave your heart-

No matter who hurt you,

No matter what is happening in the world,

No matter if hatred surrounds you,

Allow yourself to love and allow others to love you.

God is love and love is our connection to God.

Love connects us as a common humanity,

Which knows no bounds and trancends

The barriers erected by society,

Which divide us and provide the tinder box

For the fires of hatred and rage.

As we begin a new day,

Let us reset our hearts

To love God, ourselves, and each other.

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I Look Out into the World

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By Michael W. Raley

I look out into the world

And I see the rage,

The violence,

The hatred,

The deception,

The fiery rhetoric,

And my soul is overwhelmed.

I pray and I hope

For a better tomorrow,

Yet I wonder if the time for reasoning,

Accountability, and deep soul searching has past.

For the longest time,

When I looked out into the world, I felt a detachment,

Not realizing maybe I should be the one to change.

When I looked inside of me and my spirit,

I realized much work still needed to be done.

If I focused on changing myself,

The world would change as well.

I can’t change world events,

But I can change myself and my responses,

Thus, changing my perspective

When I look out into the world.

Days of Trouble and Pain

By Michael W. Raley

Our days are filled with trouble and pain.

What do we get in exchange for our sorrows?

More tears?

Anxiety?

Depression?

A tired and worn out body?

A weary soul?

Every accomplishment is met with a devastating setback.

All gifts, such as life, relationships, joy, peace of mind, and health

Are slowly taken away from us,

Whereas others never get the opportunity to experience the finer things of life.

Maybe there is no grand purpose.

Maybe our lot is simply to make the best of what we’re given,

No matter how little it is.

What good does it do to wait for an afterlife

When what we receive then could be better used for the here and now?

You may argue about original sin or that existence is suffering,

Yet, I long for a time, no matter how brief,

Where we can all find happiness in this life.

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.

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.

 

The Brown Triangles

 

I’m convinced my dog is a whiz at recognizing her shapes and colors.

Maggie, my eleven-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, does not eat the brown triangles in her food. She’ll pick out her favorite parts, usually the chunks of turkey or chicken, and the brown triangles are scattered all over the floor. Some days there is a long trail, while other days it looks like brown triangle subdivisions have popped up on the kitchen and hallway floors.

Occasionally Henry, my soon to be five-year-old Labradoodle-Beagle mix will help by eating some triangles off the floor, but mostly they remain on the floor until I pick them up. What goes uneaten during the day gets thrown back into the food bin and dished out the next day. With a new day, the cycle starts once again. I try to remedy this problem by buying different food made into other shapes, but I occasionally slip up at the store.

For anyone who has been blessed with a Miniature Schnauzer, you know they are the perfect combination of sassy and sweet. They love to cuddle and give you a piece of their mind when they deem necessary (which can be a lot). Maggie also loves to play and chase after the rabbits and cats who dare come into her tri-county territory.

When I first noticed the brown triangle issue, I tried to reason with Maggie, unsuccessfully of course. I was reminded of the scene in Turner & Hooch when Tom Hanks’ character made Hooch hamburgers with buns. Hooch was barking in the middle of the night, which woke Hanks up and he told Hooch to “eat the buns” if he was still hungry. I sympathized with Hanks’ character.

I have learned with dogs to go with the flow. Dogs, like people are who they are at a certain point, and they’re not going to change. Maggie is set in her ways and I embrace the brown triangles. I cherish everyday I have with my dogs because I know their lives are always too short. I also think about how blessed I am to be able to provide for my dogs in that Maggie is able to pick and choose what she wants to eat. A lot of dogs have to eat what they find and can’t be choosy (like a lot of people too, unfortunately). My advice to my fellow fur parents is to embrace your dog’s quirks because it makes for an interesting life.

 

 

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

close up portrait photo of woman sitting by window looking outside
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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