Stepping off the Littered Path

By Michael W. Raley

He looks down at his feet and sees the path before him.

This path is paved with self-pity,

Littered with dashed hopes, broken dreams, and loss.

He looks behind him and realizes that he just came from there.

Convention and tradition tell him the road is bound to get better,

“If you have more faith, work harder, and have the best of intentions,

Things will work out for the best.”

However, years of honed instinct and wisdom tell him to expect much of the same.

“Who says that I have to stay on this road?” He thinks to himself.

Deep down he knows to stay on this current path

Is a one way trip into a soul crushing abyss

From which he may never recover.

He decides to step off the littered path for his own trail,

Not to be rebellious, but for his own peace of mind.

No matter which path he chooses,

He knows there will be a price to pay.

“I must temper my expectations,” He thinks to himself,

“And be realistic and pragmatic, as the path to peace is fraught with conflict.”

The only question left to answer is “Which way? Right or left?”

Let’s go….left.

 

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Don’t Let Your Spirit Be Diminished

By Michael W. Raley

Given that hindsight is 20/20,

There is room for speculation and regret aplenty.

However, you had only the one chance

Under the given circumstances.

You made the choice and did your best,

Quit hounding yourself with grief

And put it to rest;

Don’t allow this to eat away at your belief.

You danced your dance,

But the music changed.

You thought you found your place,

But the chairs were rearranged.

You don’t have the time to dwell

On this perceived defeat,

As it will only result in a personal hell-

A cycle of regret and torment, which will only repeat.

Focus and finish.

Don’t let your spirit be diminished.

Take a breather, give yourself some space

Because you have a long way to go in this race.

Make the Best of It

By Michael W. Raley

No one wants to see a dream go unfulfilled.

However, we quickly learn this possibility is real.

Sometimes taking solace knowing you did your best

Doesn’t always stop your heart and spirit from sinking into your chest.

You look around at this disaster zone of a mess

And you go further down the bottomless pit, the hopeless abyss.

You hold onto the hope that everything will be made right

When you cross over into eternity’s light.

As you live out the rest of your days,

How do you find the strength to give thanks, to hope, or pray?

You feel used and burned.

You set the course, yet the winds and the ship turned.

You learned the steps, you took the chance,

Only to find out the conductor changed the song and dance.

We must continue in faith, but we must learn to adapt.

We don’t get all of the information, sometimes we must read and react.

If life is a game, we are the quarterback.

With each play, we may complete a touchdown pass or find ourselves sacked.

Sometimes a play will be broken and go haywire,

Which can get the adrenaline pumping, and turn a spark into a fire.

Life is a matter of timing and circumstance,

And we may have 60, 70, 80, or 90 years to live through.

Make the best of it, no matter what you decide to do.

Enjoy the journey, make up your own steps, dance your own dance.

 

 

 

 

 

Unplug from the Noise

The everyday noises of life are often a shrill cacophony of discord rather than the harmonious and beautiful sounds of a symphony. From the moment we wake up, we are seemingly bombarded by the alarm clock, relationship or health problems, arguing children, barking dogs, honking horns stuck in traffic, bombastic talking heads on the news, the boss coming down on you- all of which equally frustrating. Our minds are overstimulated, but our souls and spirits are malnourished. How can we push aside the external demands and feed what the Apostle Paul referred to as “the inner man”?

I love to travel and go on vacation. I also read to relax. However, if you manage to get away from it all, whether via trip or prose, you do eventually have to come back. Problems could arise on the trip or be the first one to welcome you back. What if we could be selfish with just a little bit of our time- ten, fifteen, or thirty minutes and unplug? No demands. No phone. No social media. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Even the Lord Jesus Christ had to get away from time to time. Christ is God in the flesh, but He was also man. As a man, His body was subject to fatigue from the demands on His life and time. Not only did Jesus carry the burden of having to surrender His life for the sins of humanity, He also dealt with a hostile religious establishment, Rome, the political implications of being the Messiah, leading a group of disciples who were infighting for the best seat in the kingdom, healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons-even confronting Satan himself. Jesus would often escape the fighting disciples, the demanding crowds, the religious teachers, and pray on mountain.

“And when He had sent them [the disciples] away, He departed into a mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46, KJV, brackets mine).

“And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12, KJV).

All four Gospels record instances of Jesus spending time alone on a mountain, which either proceeded or followed a big decision or miracle (choosing the disciples, walking on the water, feeding a multitude, etc).

It is not necessary to travel to a far away land to accomplish this. Start where you are and make it a practice. Pray, read a chapter of the Bible, enjoy beautiful worship music, or just sit in a dark and quiet room, drown out the crowd and reconnect with God.  So if the Lord Jesus took the time to renew His body, mind, and spirit, shouldn’t we do the same?

 

 

Love Yourself Through It

I love dogs. In fact, I there have been very few times either growing up or being an adult that I don’t remember having a dog in the house. Dogs are some of the most social, self-less, and loving creatures on the planet. Dogs, though long domesticated, still to see themselves as pack animals, like wolves, and long to please the perceived “pack leader.” Depending on the dog’s personality, you’ll know when they messed up-chewing on the furniture or having an “accident” on the rug as he or she will hang their head in shame. It’s obvious the dog knows what he or she did, they just need to be loved and reassured that they are still an accepted member of the pack.

I also find dogs to be very intuitive animals, as they can discern people, situations, or even coming environmental changes, such as thunderstorms. Dogs have been used in medical studies to sniff out tumors in people. Though dogs show outward affection to their family members and other people, they are often hard on themselves when they make a mistake. Sound familiar?

When it comes to matters of faith, our greatest enemy is often not the devil, people, or even a specific group of people, but we are often our greatest enemy. When we approach God from a hyper-religious mindset, we will be weighed down with guilt and shame because we failed do to points A, B, and C properly. We begin to loathe ourselves and see ourselves as unworthy to be loved- whether by God or anyone else. This lack of self-love and self-acceptance often creates a void in our lives which can lead us into addiction, anxiety, depression, or feeling worthless. In essence, we approach God as that dog who chewed up a family member’s shoes; We know what we did, we’re waiting for the hammer to drop.

While the Bible teaches that we are sinners, our sins separate us from God, and the only way to find forgiveness is to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and repent of our sins, the Bible also teaches us the value of loving ourselves. We are commanded not only to love God, our spouses and family, our neighbors, and our enemies, but to love ourselves as well.

“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18, NKJV, emphasis mine).

The Hebrew word used for love, Ahab or Aheb (Strong’s #157), refers to love in a general  sense, like our English word.  Strong’s defines Ahab as “having strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or be in the presence of the object.”

In the New Testament, Jesus takes this concept one step further as He sums up following God’s word in two commandments:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV, emphasis mine).

The Greek language had multiple terms for love, and the word used here is Agapao (Strong’s #25), which signifies an unconditional love, as God loves us unconditionally. (See also Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8 for an introductory study).

From just this brief study of Scripture, it is a given that we are to love ourselves. Of course, we put God and others before us, but we must accept ourselves as we are. We should neither hate ourselves nor harm ourselves. We must stop spiritually, physically, and emotionally beating ourselves up over the past. You’ve made your mistakes, nothing can change that, go forward. God knows you made your mistakes and He still loves you.  Anyone in your life who truly loves you will love you through your struggles. You must love yourself through it.  If you have asked God to forgive you, your slate is wiped clean. You must make peace within yourself. As strange as it sounds, forgive yourself. If you haven’t sought God’s forgiveness, don’t wait until you “get your act together,” because God loves you as you are, for the Bible tells us that “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Seek all of the resources that are before you. How can you truly give your heart and soul to God or open your heart to another if you refuse to accept yourself?  Life is a struggle, but you can make it. You will make it. The God of the universe believes in you, you can believe in Him and yourself. God bless you all.

 

 

 

 

A Man Out of Time

By Michael W. Raley

I am a man out of time,

Ill-fitted in the current scheme of events.

To have sat under the great teachers, thinkers, and philosophers,

To have heard the romantic notions and the dreams of the poets,

That is where I should have been.

 

I am a misfit of sorts,

As I do not have a place in the current order.

I am fully aware of the times I live in,

But I long for the days of the rational and the ideal,

Long before this dark and brooding fog smothered our world.

 

We live in an age in which there is an ocean

Of information and potential enlightenment.

Yet, many refuse to even dip a toe in it,

Thereby remaining further entrenched in blind rage, hopelessness, and hypocrisy-

Only further justifying what they believe and preach.

 

Where are the idealists of this age? Arise!

Where are the pragmatists who can make it work? Come together!

We have been blessed with the gift of reason, let us use it.

Be the calm and steady voice in a room full of shouting and petty bickering

And give true purpose, meaning, and purpose to this time.

 

Change the Perception of Failure

The word failure elicits harsh and judgmental responses in our collective hearts and minds. Failure is often seen as a scarlet letter which unfairly negates all of a person’s accomplishments and deems others unworthy of success. “Failure is not an option” and “Second place is the first loser” are examples of how failure is perceived by some.

The very thought of failure to some can bring about great pressure and anxiety, whether from inside or outside influence. If the person does fail, then they may slide into a deep depression, maybe into hopeless despair. However, what if we could change our view of failure by changing our perception of success?

As a society, we have come to believe that successful people have “the Midas touch,” where everything they do turns to gold. However, that’s not the case, as many successful people have failed at some point in their lives. Some famous examples include Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team. Abraham Lincoln lost multiple elections before becoming U.S. President. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he co-founded, only to come back and build it back to what it is today. It is said that Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime.

If you have ever failed, consider yourself in good company. The world’s most celebrated singers, writers, actors, preachers, salespeople, leaders, inventors-among others have failed. What if we were view failure as part of life, like getting older or even death? There will be times in life when relationships, careers and opportunities won’t go according to plan and we are forced to reassess, maybe even rebuild. Don’t be afraid to start over. Don’t worry about what others think because you can’t control that. You will face critics no matter if you succeed or fail. As long as breath and blood are flowing through your body, it’s not too late. I will share with you some of my favorite quotes on failure.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” -Winston Churchill.

“He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.” -James Allen.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” -Colin Powell.

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”- Michael Jordan.

“A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.” – B.F. Skinner.

“Without failure there is no achievement.” -John Maxwell.

“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”- Napoleon Hill.

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”-Bill Gates.

“Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret, and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.”- Swami Sivananda.