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.

 

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

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 Countdown has Begun

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The house has been sold.  This house represents seventeen-and-a-half years of memories, but it is now symbolic of a broken home. My ex-wife and I built this house together and that is why staying here was taking a toll on my mental health.

After speaking with family and a few close friends, I decided the best thing to do would be to put the house on the market. The real estate market is hot in my area and my house sold in three days. While cause for celebration, the quick sell accelerated my timeline for finding a new place.

I am happy to be moving and beginning this new journey of my life. I’ll be moving into an apartment for the next year so I can figure out the next steps. I have no problem in living in a smaller space or downsizing my stuff because I’ve learned not to measure my value or success by the things I own.

I never thought I would be starting over at this stage of my life, but here I am. If you think about it, each day gives us a chance to start afresh. While the thought of the additional packing and cleaning wears me out, I am balanced with the expectation of a clean slate. Yes, selling the house does not change the personal circumstances- the divorce, the toll on my mental health, or what the future holds, but this is for the best. I had to do what was best for me.

 

Needless Reminders of the Past

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By Michael W. Raley

I try to move onto a hopeful future,

Only to find others continuously reminding me of the past.

Every failure, every misstep, and every mistake,

Is recalled  with ultra high definition memory.

I’ve had to battle my own thoughts and anxieties on the subject

And I don’t need to be piled on like this.

I know what happened was traumatic and sudden,

But I can’t do anything about it.

We must adapt and accept the new reality,

My current scene in the great cosmic play of life.

Those old wounds will never heal

If you keep messing with the scabs.

Let us learn to dwell in the present

Because I don’t live in the past anymore.

 

Change is Coming

“Change is the only constant in life.” -Heraclitus

The time has come for me to make a change in my life. After seventeen-and-a-half years, it’s time to move. I don’t like moving. The only thing I dislike just as much as moving is looking for a job. My dislike of moving might be the reason I stayed here so long.  However, as I write this, the house will be on the market within the next day.

I have good memories of living in this house, but it has become a painful reminder of loss and struggle. This is the house I built with my ex-wife. I have to make a change for my mental health’s sake. Now begins the transition process. The upcoming weeks are going to be filled with looking at new places, deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, planning a new budget, you know, all the fun adulting stuff.

Believe it or not, I welcome the change. This is the start of a new adventure. I am writing a new chapter in my  life. The decision to sell was an easy one. I’ve overstayed my welcome in a bad situation, but I finally realize that I have the power to change it. I was so bound up with depression and grief that I could not see my way out of the situation.

Change is going to come in life, no doubt about it. When change comes, we have to ability to embrace it, and “go with the flow,” or we can be dragged kicking and screaming. I’m tired from the kicking and screaming. I’m ready to follow the stream to see where it goes.

 

A Delightful Spring Day

By Michael W. Raley

The curtains open,

The sun, at my back,

Beaming through the windows,

Dissolving my stress.

I take comfort

In the familiar bed

That helps ease the tension

Of the every day life.

This simple, seemingly monotonous act

Of a delightful spring day

Restores my soul

And reinvigorates my spirit.

Mountain Therapy

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By Michael W. Raley

I am in desperate need of some mountain therapy

To cleanse my soul,

Clear my mind,

And to reconnect my spirit to God’s creation.

To view the majesty and beauty of the snow-capped Rockies

Or to go above the treeline and see the mist

Rising from the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee

Is what my heart so desperately wants to see.

I yearn to return to the simplicity and the peaceful,

Away from the brokenness and the shattered dreams.

I seek to meditate on the voice of nature

And to turn off the everyday noise of our technological world.

When I’m in the mountains,

My burdens lift off of me and evaporate

Like dew on the morning grass.

I often think that maybe Thoreau was right

When he chose to live by that pond.

During my time in the mountains

I have learned that all someone needs

Is a faithful companion, a stack of great books, and a good cup of coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

The Introverted Christian

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I am an introvert and I am okay with it. I am by nature a shy, quiet, and reserved person until I become comfortable with a person, a group, or a social situation. I prefer a quiet Friday night at home or the solitude of a bookstore as opposed to some loud bar or club. However, the “extroverted world” has tried to make it out like there’s something wrong with me or the millions, possibly billions out there like me.

“You have to look out for the quiet ones.”

“Why are you so quiet?”

“You need to come out of your shell.”

“You don’t talk much.”

My introversion not only comes in conflict with everyday life, but also in the business and the fundamental evangelical church worlds. I have been a manager, I have preached sermons, I’ve volunteered to coach a church league basketball team, I went on a mission trip and fulfilled The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), but people were still standoffish and not accepting of me.

The place where I struggled the most with my introversion was the church. In my early twenties up to my mid-thirties, my now ex-wife and I attended what is known as a Charismatic church, which believes that the gifts of the New Testament (healing, speaking in tongues,casting out demons, etc.) are still in effect today. If you are unfamiliar with the Charismatic church, it’s along the lines of the Pentecostal/Assemblies of God denominations.

Worship in these “Full Gospel” type of churches can get rowdy, as people jump up and down, wave flags, run around the sanctuary, raise their hands, and so on and so forth. However, I was always very reserved in my demeanor, choosing to worship God on my own terms. I’m not a hooting and hollering person, it’s not who I am. With my old church being around 300 people, others took notice of my demeanor and I received “churchified” statements concerning my introverted nature:

“You got a spirit of fear.”

“You need to be bold.”

“Quit resisting the Spirit.”

Now that I have the advantage of looking back and perspective, I know what I should have said: “If God knew me before He created me (Jeremiah 1:5), wouldn’t He know that I was going to be this way?”Or maybe I should’ve pointed out that Jesus, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, and others in Scripture sought out God in solitude and in their own ways. If they didn’t follow the crowd in seeking God, why do I have to? Also, if God accepts you as you are, wouldn’t that include a quiet nature as well?

Please don’t misinterpret, I am not speaking out of bitterness or putting anyone down. I am simply sharing my struggle with who I am. I spent a lot of years worried that there was something wrong with me, like I would not be fully accepted by God or anyone else. I don’t want you to face that same struggle.

As of this post, I am forty-two, divorced, starting over with God in a much larger church, and I am coming to a place of accepting myself. I am who I am. I prefer to share my faith by embodying my faith; I seek to build relationships as opposed to threatening with hell fire. It took me a long, long, time, but I have finally accepted myself just as I am. It may be a contradiction in terms, but I am an introverted Christian. God bless you.