You’re a Work in Progress


Did you know China’s Great Wall was built over a period of 200 years? The Second Jewish Temple was built over a period of forty-six years. Michelangelo spent four years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

I’m not merely spouting off trivia, but I am showing that great work takes time. From conception to completion, ideas can take months, years, decades, or even centuries to come to fruition. Think of the time authors, composers, and artist spent drawing, writing and revising before they completed their most famous works. I’m sure these famous men and women spent many dejected days and nights frustrated with the creative process or perhaps the sting of rejection dealt them a blow to the heart. Yet, these men and women persisted until they broke through their walls.

I believe each and every person has value and the potential to be a work of art. You are an individual masterpiece. All of us are in the process- we are works in progress. Achievement takes time. Life is a series of lessons which are built on top of each other, the vast majority of which are learned outside the halls of academia.

We should live our lives in a constant state of refinement, always trying to improve ourselves. You may have not hit the goal to be a millionaire at twenty-five, but keep working. We must keep challenging ourselves, because complacency is always a temptation. We should work to live now and not look forward for some government mandated retirement age because we will miss out on a lot.

As we realize that our lives are works in progress, we will learn that there are no shortcuts, magic prayers, or “get rich quick schemes.”  The ground is full of worms for the birds, but the birds must stop flying or get out of the nest to get them. We must continue to do the work, seek out wisdom, and strive to be better today than we were yesterday. Be patient with yourself because you are in a construction zone.


What are You going to do about it?


I’ve spent a lot of my life being angry- at myself, the condition of the world, unanswered prayers, disappointment, poor stress management, and seemingly hopeless situations. Anger is also a by-product and symptom of such things as depression, grief, illness, trauma, and the everyday frustrations of being an adult.

Anger is viewed as a destructive force which will eat away at us and rob us of any joy, as these quotes testifty:

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”-Buddha.

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“When anger arises, think of the consequences.” -Confucius.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” -Mark Twain.

When our anger becomes apparent to those around us, the question becomes Why are you so angry?

Sometimes we’ll spout off some surface answer, such as:

“I hate my job.”

“My boss is a jerk.”

“My kids won’t act right.”

“Politician X or party Y are ruining this country.”

“I don’t know how I’m going to pay these bills.”

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

However, what if in our attempt to figure out the cause of our anger, we are asking the wrong question? What if instead of asking, “Why am I angry?” we should ask ourselves, “You’re angry, now, what are you going to do about it?

***Disclaimer- this question does not imply that you bring harm to yourself or someone else. If that’s the conclusion you come to, then please seek qualified professional help.***

If we can ask ourselves about what we are going to do about the situation, we can reason through the situation. This reasoning can take time, as it depends on how much work someone is willing to go through to resolve the issue.

After asking yourself what are you going to do, ask yourself this question:

Is any part of this situation in my control? If yes, then implent change. If not, then realize the only things you can control are your responses, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perceptions.

Let’s use the example of the fact you dislike your job and your boss. How can we better handle the situation better and  not be so angry?

-We could be thankful to have a job because some people don’t have jobs.

-We can be emphathetic to our boss because maybe he or she is under a lot of stress.

-If the situation becomes unbearable, we can speak to our boss about the issue. If talking doesn’t resolve it, then we can go to a higher corporate authority.

-We can ask our boss or coworkers if they need help with anything to ease their stress.

-We go to work and focus on our job and not worry about the stress around us.

-We can always search for another job or try to transfer to a different department.

-We could pursue a more fulfilling career.

-We could be in a state of prayerfulness or mindfulness concerning our attitude and responses.

This is just one simplified example, but I believe that any stressful situation is not worth our peace of mind and we must step back to get back on track. If you want to pursue a lifestyle change, then you must put in the time to change. Seek wisdom and find the inspiration within yourself. God bless.

Never Again

By Michael W. Raley

Never again will I underestimate my inner strength and abilities

To face the hard times, the trials, and the calamities.

For during the times of inner torment and violence,

I sought outside of me, only to hear thunderous silence.

The coming conflicts were charging at me, I could feel  it in the air,

Yet I was left alone, straddled with having to prepare

With no grand plan in place

The obstacles still needed to be faced.

There were times my resolve went into remission

As I sank further into an already deep depression.

Deep down I was determined to stand my ground,

Despite the onslaught of incoming rounds.

There were many times when my body and soul cried into the night,

Yet, I reached down and somehow fought the fight.

We never know what fate holds in its hand,

But I have overcome and for that, I’m a better man.

Enduring Hardships with Strength

bruce lee 2

A common literary device rooted in human existence is the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey has been part of mythology, fairy tales, epic poems, plays, legends, even to our modern day equivalent of novels and movies. All of these stories follow an similar three act structure. Act 1-Introduce the hero. Act 2- Put the hero in the most adverse/perilous situation. Act 3- the hero overcomes the situation, gets the girl, fulfills his destiny and lives happily ever after.

If our lives were only that simple.

If you have lived for any length of time, you know that “happily ever after” is often reserved for stories and not our lives. Life is a constant struggle, an ebb and flow, the highest of highs and the lowest of the heart-breaking lows.

Just when we think we have slayed the dragon, turned Darth Vader back to the light side of the Force, found our purpose, peace, or forgiveness from God, we find ourselves facing a new or recurring difficulty. After years of struggle and sacrifice to get a hold on the family finances, a lay off, a forced retirement, or sickness occurs. You believe that you have overcome depression and anxiety, only for circumstances to throw you back down to the pit. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you do the best you can to be compliant with your care plan, only to suffer a flare-up or relapse. It feels as if all progress is lost.

We say and think such things as It isn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t fair. I’ve already been through this. Why is God allowing this?

One of the things we must change when we go through difficulties is our perceptions, or judgments. We work under the assumption that life is fair. Do good, get rewarded. Do bad, get punished. We expect instant blessing for ourselves because we all perceive ourselves as good, while we expect the perceived evildoers to receive instant punishment.  Unfortunately, the innocent suffer and the wicked are rewarded. We live in an imperfect world that doesn’t always make sense.

Neither Jesus nor anyone else said it was going to be easy. Jesus told us that we have to “take up our cross.” That cross at times will get heavy as we walk through this life.

Numerous times throughout his epistles, the Apostle Paul compares being a follower of Christ to the life of a soldier. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3). A casual reading of the New Testament and its emphasis on suffering and persecution certainly deals a resounding defeat to the claims of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” where God grants all of our desires like a genie freed from a lamp, and life will be free from difficulty. Faith doesn’t free you from difficult times, it helps you get through them by creating within you a resilience, a persistence, the strength to fight no matter the circumstances.

Difficulties serve as a mirror as to our true reflection, our true strength, and whether we get tough when the tough gets going.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus parallels the Apostle Paul’s statement to Timothy, but uses the analogy of being a wrestler.

“The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material. But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition.”1

In another discouse, Epictetus discusses an how to develop an acceptance of what God brings our way, a way to develop a sort of indifference to circumstances, or “going with the flow.”

“Lift up your head, like a person finally released from slavery. Dare to face God and say, ‘From now on, use me as you like. I am of one mind with you, I am your peer.’ Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it. You may put me where you like, in any role regardless: officer or citizen, rich man or pauper, here or overseas. They are all just so many opportunities to justify your ways to man,by showing just how little circumstances amount to.”

Though it does seem counter-intuitive, the Apostle Paul, Epictetus, and Bruce Lee all concur- don’t  pray for difficult circumstances to flee, but ask God for the strength to get through the hard times. You will be a stronger and better person for it. God bless you all.


1Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings, Translated and edited by Robert Dobbin. London: Penguin Books (2008):56.

2Ibid, 116.


The Pursuit of Progress

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes is credited with the statement, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” While Archimedes’ statement applies to the world of math, getting from point A to point B in life is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

One step forward, two steps back. Previous generations pave the way only for the next generation to fight their own battles. The rules change, but no one communicates that to you; well-deserved and earned freedoms and rights can be hindered on the whims of those in power. That is why you must keep going. Wake up every day and put on your battle armor because you will be in for a fight.

In our pursuit of personal progress, whatever that may be, we must manage our perceptions and our perspectives. “There is nothing new under the sun,” as the Bible tells us. Life is cyclical. The trials and tribulations we face have been faced by previous generations. When problems arise, remember that flowing through your veins is the blood and DNA of survivors. Your ancestors lived through threats to their survival, poverty, heartache, disaster, war, famine, and disease- they passed those survival genes onto you.

Though you may not be at the finish line, have you started running? What steps are you taking to make progress? Are you passively waiting for the right circumstances? Are you swimming against the tide of the conventional wisdom of the naysayers? As children, we do not allow dozens of falls deter us from learning how to walk, we go forward despite circumstances. So why as able-bodied and able-minded adults do we shirk back in defeat when we stumble?

If you are progressing closer to your goal, no matter how small, keep going. You must build energy and momentum to overtake your current circumstances and to prepare you for the next circumstances. There will be struggle, rejection, struggle, pain, it will seem as if the universe has conspired against you, but keep moving. If you have to conquer your mountain inch by inch, continue to do so. God bless you all.

The Hero

By Michael W. Raley

This is not how the story was supposed to go.

Happily ever after must be reserved for the fairy tales,

Because it doesn’t appear to be in sight.

Our hero endures great obstacles,

But does not have that defining, triumphant moment.

Instead, he simply endures until the next battle,

Which is coming from all directions.

It appears the hero has been cut off from all help

And he must use his own strength and his own reason

To break through the formidable walls of Jericho,

Which become more and more reinforced as the days pass.

The hero must find a way to go on,

Though the guiding voice is silent,

Though the reinforcements are not coming,

Though his body and spirit are scarred and broken,

The hero must fight, alone if he must.



The Stockdale Paradox

Admiral James Stockdale (1923-2006) was an American Navy fighter pilot, speaker, and a one-time Vice-Presidential candidate. On September 9, 1965, Stockdale was leading a bombing mission over North Vietnam when his plane was shot down. What happened next is an extraordinary tale of courage, imprisonment, suffering, and the strength of the human spirit.

In that harrowing situation of being shot down behind enemy lines, Stockdale’s presence of mind determined how he would deal with what he knew was coming.

“After ejection, I had about thirty seconds to make my last statement in freedom before I landed in the main street of a little village right ahead. And so help me, I whispered to myself: ‘Five years down there, at least. I’m leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.'”1

Thirty seconds. Thirty seconds while parachuting into hostile territory, bullets piercing the canvas of his parachute was all it took for Stockdale to assess the situation. In his mind, Stockdale accepted the fact that he was going to be imprisoned for at least five years!

This decision making process has become known as “The Stockdale Paradox.” This is when you accept the reality of the situation and that you are going to be in for a long fight. The doctor’s given you or a loved one the diagnosis or maybe the layoffs going around the office are coming your way. This is the punch you see coming. Brace yourself.

In his mind, Stockdale relied on the Stoic philosophy he learned three years before while a graduate student at Stanford. Although his impending circumstances were out of his control, Stockdale knew his response was well within his control. How are you going to respond?

After parachuting down and landing in a tree line, Stockdale disconnected his chute and was summarily beaten by a local gang, who broke his leg. After a crude prison surgery, Stockdale limped the rest of his life. However, Stockdale’s five-year thought was off by two-and-a-half years. Stockdale spent seven-and-a-half -years in what was called, “The Hanoi Hilton.” Seven-and-a-half -years of imprisonment, suffering, torture, and solitary confinement.

When we are facing a crisis, we must be realistic about our expectations and our situation. In another speech, Stockdale commented that the most optimistic soldiers were the ones who had the hardest time with imprisonment. These soldiers would think, “We’ll be home be Easter.” Easter comes and goes. “We’ll be home by Christmas.” Christmas comes and goes. And so on until their spirit became broken.

Admiral Stockdale was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary life. Stockdale and those other men endured hardships I would not want to imagine. This story also illustrates the importance of what we have stored away in our minds and spirits  will guide us through our crisis. Do you have a reserve of faith to draw on? Will the love of your family keep you going? Will it be philosophic teachings? Will the lessons of previous triumphs and/or perceived failures be your guide? While we have today, let us use the day to build up reserves for when the inevitable crisis comes. Do not live in fear of what may come, but accept the fact it may not leave willingly or any time soon.  God bless you all.



1James Stockdale, “Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior,” from the book Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot. Hoover Institution Press (Stanford University): 189.