The Ruins

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By Michael W. Raley

Life of late has been contentious,

As the weight upon my soul has been strenuous.

I search for peace of mind

Across my own lot of space and time.

However, the ocean of memory has washed away

The promise of a renewed, hopeful day.

The ocean’s salt has eroded

And the bitter acid rain has corroded

The temple’s once impenetrable foundation,

That now stands as a relic from a past civilization.

This monument long past its glory is ready to crumble

With the slightest pressure or rumble.

What once symbolized the bliss and joy of salvation

Is now littered among the ruins and dilapidation.

 

 

 

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The Long Road through Hell

“Long is the way and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” 

-John Milton, Paradise Lost

The search for relief and answers often leaves us with more frustration and questions, as we can come up to another dead end in the maze.

The suffering, whether physical or mental changes you in ways more profound than you ever anticipated. In the beginning, you may “Let go and let God,” or you may offer up incessant prayers, hoping God will hear and move on your behalf. However, the pain continues or worsens and you begin to doubt. You begin to take your “spiritual inventory” to see if you are hindering God’s work- confessing sins, speaking scripture, and doing everything you can do be a good believer. All of these things- confession, reading scripture, and good deeds- are perfectly good things to do, but there should be a balanced approach to our life’s problems.

I have spent the last fifteen years seeking the balance between reason and faith. I have learned through my own experience that sometimes you have to be the one in control. You must realize that you have the tools and resources at your disposal to face your problem. Like most life lessons, I learned the importance of balance the hard way through trial and error.

On my blog, I have shared stories about my health struggles with Celiac disease and other issues, but it was my Ulcerative Colitis that served as the catalyst for this balance. Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disease,  is inflammation in the colon, which can cause frequent diarrhea, stomach cramps, bleeding, anemia, weight loss, and other things that disrupt a perfectly normal life.

I was diagnosed with UC in 2000, and it went into remission until 2002, when it came back with a vengeance. I was young and naive in my faith, thus I underestimated my opponent. I believed that this would pass like it did the first time, but it didn’t. I prayed everyday, asking God for healing, claiming healing, standing on the word, confessing sins, every cliche you can think of, I did. No results.

Accepting the fact that maybe divine healing  wasn’t “God’s will,” I sought medical treatment in 2004- after I lost thirty-four pounds and became anemic. After blood transfusions, a colonoscopy, new medications, and a lifestyle change, I was on the road to recovery and things were fine, as long as I continued the medication and watched my diet.

From time to time, however, the UC escapes and reeks havoc like the Joker breaking out of Arkham Asylum and tormenting Batman. I became anemic again in 2015 with mild inflammation of UC, though I had no outward symptoms. I started with a new doctor and a new medication that worked fine until late 2017. The newest medication has stopped working and I have been on four rounds of steroids since December. Of course, like all medications, steroids have side effects, which include weight gain, mood changes, and in some cases, cause long-term bone damage.

I have now started another medication-a biologic injection to get my UC under control. As of this writing, I am in the beginning process, waiting for the medication to build-up into my system. I am hopeful the new treatment will work and I can get back to living life. I do my best to live a full life, despite the UC and other health issues.

My battle with UC has been my own long and hard way out of hell. Living with this disease for almost twenty years has changed the way I look at my faith. I’ve accepted the reality and gravity of my health and it’s not something to take lightly. Just because a book written thousands of years ago says that Jesus or God healed this person or that person, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen for every one. We read, teach, and preach about the healed and delivered, but what about the people who did not have their prayers answered? Why are their stories not in the Bible? If I were a gambling man, I would wager that for many of us, our stories would mirror those not found in the Bible more often than those that are in the Bible.

If you are battling a chronic disease and struggling with your faith, I understand. If you’re searching for a spiritual reason for the sickness, you probably won’t find it. I would encourage you to be discerning of everything you hear and read.  You must use good judgment and seek out medical treatment. I would encourage you to take care of all aspects of your life- the physical, mental, and the spiritual. You have to do what is best for you and your loved ones. If you have to change your diet or take medication, you can still enjoy life to the fullest and get the most out of every day.

The Wall

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By Michael W. Raley

I stare at the wall and wonder,

“What does it all mean?”

Have I spent my time on the right causes

Or have I just blindly followed the crowd?

I moved forward to only get knocked back down;

I wonder how many more times I can get back up.

What I’ve known no longer works

And my journey begins anew.

I’m older, wiser, and more discerning;

Armed with equal amounts of skepticism and reason.

At this point, there is no turning back,

There will be no retreat, no surrender.

I will get around this wall,

Whether it be over, under, around, or through,

I’m coming, on my way to a breakthrough.

 

 

I Never Knew My Own Strength

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By Michael W. Raley

I never knew my own strength

Until I came across my greatest foe.

Not a person or cosmic entity,

But my own body.

I live with the chronic sickness and pain

While I strive to live a full life.

I do my best not to complain

And I don’t want to be a burden,

But there are times when it’s too much,

Yet I persevere.

The prayers have stopped

And God remains silent.

I guess it up to me

To gear up and face this enemy,

Which I will, no matter the obstacle,

No matter how I feel.

“Vivere est militare.”

To live is to fight

And fight on I will.

 

Don’t Feed the Trolls

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*https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/heres-happens-confront-internet-troll-face-face/*

First impressions are critical in life and in business.

A good or bad first impression can decide whether or not that date will turn into a relationship, you get the job, join a particular church, or vote for a certain political candidate.

All of us are guilty from time to time of making snap judgments about people and situations. We judge someone’s character just by looking at them. We tune out a song or speech after the first verses or sentences. We don’t like something new because it’s not as good as the original. We overuse such phrases as “It’s the best/worst ever.” After making the determination about someone or something’s value, we look for confirmation bias:

“I got stuck in traffic this morning. I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

After the news is announced that a particular actor was cast in a movie yet to go into production and be released, “That’s going to be terrible. Worst casting choice ever!”

“This country is going to hell in a hand basket. I miss the good ol’ days.”

What if I told you that you can manage your impressions and starve your inner troll at the same time? You can. Everyone of us has the ability to control our responses to any situation. As individuals, we have the right to think for ourselves, thus we can move away from doctrine, party, and the same talking points which are never convert your opponent anyway.

I am a firm believer that life is fraught with difficulties and we should anticipate problems, but we should not live in fear of them. What if we were to take a few moments to step aside and assess the situation? You received a bad diagnosis from the doctor? You can always seek a second opinion. You can examine your life and make changes concerning your health. In the case of a terminal issue, you can even make the most of the time you have left.

In Epictetus’ The Art of Living, the Stoic philosopher discusses how our view of situations, including death, can be more damaging than the situation itself:

“Things themselves don’t hurt or hinder us. Nor do other people. How we view these things is another matter. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. Therefore even death is no big deal in and of itself. It is our notion of death, our idea that it is terrible, that terrifies us. There are so many different ways to think about death. Scrutinize your notions about death- and everything else. Are they really true? Are they doing you any good? Don’t dread death or pain; dread the fear of death or pain. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” (italics mine).*

When the alarm goes off to signal a new day, don’t sigh or allow yourself to be filled with dread, because you’ve been given a second chance. Take the time to talk to the person you dismissed and maybe you’ll find some common ground or become friends. In order to manage our impressions, we must be fluid and adaptable to whatever comes our way. Don’t expect to have the same beliefs at forty that you did at twenty. As we experience more of life, the more knowledge and wisdom we attain in order to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We must also realize that life is not all bad and it’s not all good, as there will be difficulty. Change your perception of the situation and you will chance your response to said situation. And please, stop feeding the trolls. God bless.

*Epictetus, The Art of Living, interpreted by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 10.

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.

I Move On

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By Michael W. Raley

There’s a fire going through my bones

To go along with the sharp daggers stabbing me.

No matter how much I try to rest,

I am still puffy- eyed and fatigued.

The aches, the pains, and the occasional twitch

Is not for the faint of heart.

I move on, determined to live life.

Some days I’m simply maintaining

And other days I’m striving beyond my limits,

Knowing either way there will be a price to pay.

If something is going to cost me,

Then I am going to squeeze out every ounce of value,

For I only get one chance.

I am too stubborn to give up

And I refuse to hide in the comfortable shadows.