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.


A Place at the Table

By Michael W. Raley

If we are to live in a new Age of Enlightenment,

We must not look to dividing religions or morally insolvent governments.

Each and every woman, child, and man

Must do the work with their own hands.

Each of us must realize that we are free

To choose how to live and what we shall be.

The hurts of the past we cannot change,

Yet we allow them to eat away at us like a mange.

As long as we have today, it is not too late

To turn away from this deep-seated, barbaric, and tribal hate,

Which has hindered and encapsulated our kindred spirits,

For the time has come to do away with it.

We must hold ourselves to the highest accountability,

Question the institutional authority and use our own rationality.

Do not be afraid to question long held beliefs,

Because learning a new truth can bring you joy, peace, and relief.

Do away with the prejudices and the fables

Because everyone deserves a seat at the table.

The Scars of Abandonment

By Michael W. Raley

I prayed for miracles, but they never came

While singing songs praising your name.

The greater lesson I tried learning,

Only to feel the blade of agony twisting and turning.

I believed for me you had a great and glorious plan,

But all I see is a trail of heartache and a broken man.

These scars of abandonment I can no longer hide,

For they go deep and wide.

They say your ways we can’t understand,

Yet, how is that a comfort to every hurting child,woman, and man?

I often wonder if you are there

And if you are,do you really care?

Yes? No? Maybe?

Have we’ve been left defenseless as a newborn baby?

It is your will, they say, for all of the pain and misery we go through,

Yet, we’re the ones who will have to give account to you?

Balance Out the Extremes

As a music lover, I believe that few things can stir the soul like the sound of an orchestra. All of the musicians and instruments can stand out while at the same time achieve a harmonious sound. There are no words needed to convey the emotions because they come across in the music. We must not allow ourselves to focus solely on the violins or cellos, for we will not hear the majesty of the horns or the whimsy of the woodwinds. The beauty of the orchestra is in the balance of everything coming together. I believe that in life, we too must find this harmonious balance.

I believe on important way to find our balance is to cut out the extremes in our thoughts, faith, actions, and interactions with others. As science and technology has progressed, there is something still in humans that keeps us in this territorial mindset, where we believe our group and our group alone is right. Though we are individuals, we seek community, often with like-minded people, because it makes us feel safe and comfortable. However, if we seek only people and groups who look like us, think like us, and talk like us, we will lose the chance to become part of the larger community.

When we insulate ourselves in this fundamentalist or extremist  “group thinking,” we will become ignorant and fearful of the world around us. People who don’t live like “us” are often perceived as a threat to our way of life, and a persecuted mindset takes hold. This line of thinking, unfortunately, leads only to more hate, suffering, and outright discrimination, which only sends us back as a society.

Have you ever stopped to realize that the person or group of people you distrust or fear- often based on superficial reasons such as skin color, orientation, religion, political affiliation, age, income, or anything else- simply wants the same thing you do? These people seek to live their lives in freedom, without having to face fear, bigotry, judgment, or persecution. What if we focused our time on being the best person we could be and not worry about trying to mold our neighbor into who we want them to be? What if we would be deliberate and pragmatic in solving the problems we face? What if we would shed all of these labels and see each other for who we are? That would be a start to finding the balance in the middle of the extremes.

The Place Beyond Exhaustion

If there is a place beyond exhaustion, I think I have discovered it. For the time being, I can probably have my mail forwarded here.

Have you ever reached a point in life where no matter how much sleep you get, no matter the amount of caffeine you consume, or the amount of pleasurable activities you engage in, you are just tired? You’re spent. You’ve had it. I’m there. I find myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually burned out.

Any one situation or a combination of factors can trigger such events, but what can you do when the constant bombardment finally breaches your defenses? You find yourself trying to rebuild the stronghold while simultaneously fighting off a never ending horde. The physicality of the fight consumes you and everything you do is done through a sheer act of will power. The simplest tasks-getting out of bed, going to work, and the rest of your daily activities are chores of epic proportions. You become like a slower version of the Energizer Bunny- you keep going, but the battery finally runs flat.

It would be great if life had a mercy rule, where a referee stops the fight and says, “He’s had enough. No more trials.” Speaking of mercy, I often ask where is God in all this? I try to connect with Him through His word, prayer, and try to live the best life I can-nothing. As a Christian, I have heard frequently of God’s will and God’s plan, but He doesn’t seem forthcoming with how everything fits into His will and plan. Life seems like a jigsaw puzzle with critical pieces gone or other pieces belonging to an unrelated puzzle.

I know it could be worse. I know there are people out there, maybe some of you, that have been through worse situations, but for my fight, this is exhausting! I have spoken about this in other blogs, but I believe this is one continuous narrative of how the last two years have been one setback after another. Just when I think I know the opponent’s plan, something changes. Anemia; Laid off and unemployed for four months; Starting back to work for less money;Celiac disease; The suicide of my nephew and the family turmoil that followed; Start another job; Go back to school while working six days a week at forty-years-old; A complication of Celiac disease- osteopenia, or loss of bone density; My parents are experiencing health problems in their early retirement years;My wife’s health and our infertility struggles; Frequent relapses into depression and anxiety- no wonder I’m exhausted!

Christians say that God’s working it out. The Stoics say to control what you can control and to be content with your lot. “God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.” However, I’m starting to think that me and God have a difference of opinion on how much I can handle. In boxing, they call it “a puncher’s chance,” all it takes is the right punch at the right time can knock out the most formidable foe. I have survived darker days and I know that I will get through this. I might come out a little more jaded or more pragmatic, but I will get through this. There are positives to focus on, as I have graduated and I am working a new job related to my field for better pay, so I can start there.

Whatever it is that you are facing, keep swinging, keep punching. Thank you for taking the time to read my rant. I normally don’t write this way, but I felt the need to get this off of my chest. God bless you.

Book Review- Meditations

marcus aurelius
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Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) is considered to be both one of the last great emperors of Rome and along with Seneca and Epictetus, one of the pillars of Roman Stoicism. Aurelius’ book Meditations serves as a great insight into the mind of Aurelius and provides a framework of Stoic philosophy. However, Meditations is not a book written for the public, but was Marcus Aurelius’ personal journal, written on the war front and during his quiet time at the palace.

Book One of Meditations details the list of people who have influenced Aurelius on his life’s journey and what he received from each of them. For example: “From my grandfather Verus: decency and a mild temper. From what they say and I remember of my natural father: integrity and manliness. From my mother: piety, generosity, the avoidance of wrong doing and even the thought of it; also simplicity of living, well clear of the habits of the rich.”1

Aurelius’ note on Appolonius really embodies Stoic aspects: “…to be always the same man, unchanged in sudden pain, in the loss of a child, in lingering sickness…”2

Stoicism as a philosphy is about focusing on improving our inner character, controlling the things within our control (thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions) and not worrying about what’s not in our control (our reputation, whether or not we’ll be famous, the weather, to give a few examples). Aurelius is what we could call a reluctant politician, but he recognized that we cannot control how people act, we can only control our response to them. Book two starts off with this applicable nugget of wisdom:

“Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling,ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own- not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong.”3

Other major themes throughout Meditations:

*Live each day as if it was your last, not with reckless abandonment, but careful thought given to your ways andwords, doing all with excellence.

*Look for the beauty in everything.

*Minding our own business,working on improving ourselves, not worrying about what others are doing or being judgmental.

*Being adaptable to whatever circumstances come our way.

*No matter how long we live, the same fate, death, awaits us all, as it did the generations before us and the generations after us.

*Manage our perceptions, thereby, we manage our judgments of events.

*What happens to you as an individual affects the whole of humanity.

The Stoics have often been characterized as being emotionless, which is far from the truth. The Stoics were people of great inner reflection and who were able to manage their emotions, thereby keeping their perspective of circumstances. As Aurelius wrote:

“Reflect often on the speed with which all things in being, or coming into being,are carried past and swept away. Existence is like a river in ceaseless flow, its actions a constant succession of change, its causes innumerable in their variety: scarcely anything stands still, even what is most immediate. Reflect too on the yawning gulf of past and future time, in which all things vanish. So in all this it must be folly for anyone to be puffed with ambition, racked in struggle, or indignant at his lot-as if this was anything lasting likely to trouble him for long.”4

Where do we fit into this scheme?

“Think of the whole of existence, of which you are the tiniest part; think of the whole of time, in which you have been assigned a brief and fleeting moment; think of destiny-what fraction of that are you?”5

Stoicism began to decline after Aurelius’ death, which coincided with the rise of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Stoicism, however is making a comeback of sorts, as there are business leaders, athletes, and everyday people who are putting its principles to practice. I also find that Stoicism is compatible with my Christian faith, as some of Aurelius’ passage echo themes found in Solomon’s Ecclesiastes and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

You don’t need to have any extensive background in philosophy or religion to read Meditations, as Aurelius brings forth his points that are still relevant almost 2,000 years later. What if we were to focus our limited time on improving ourselves and not pointing the finger or bickering with each other? What if we could see that others are like us, they too are on their own journey, trying to find their place in the world? I will leave you with the perspective of Aurelius- we are all in this together, let’s make the best of it.

“All things are meshed together, and a sacred bond unites them.Hardly a single thing is alien to the rest: ordered together in their places they together make up the one order of the universe. There is one universe out of all things, one God pervading all things, one substance, one law, one common reason in all intelligent beings, and one truth- if indeed there is also one perfection of all cognate beings sharing in the same reason.”6

1Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, translation and notes by Martin Hammond. London: Penguin Books (2006): 3.

2Ibid, 4.

3Ibid, 10.

4Ibid, 42.

5Ibid, 42.

6Ibid, 59.

Perfect the Ordinary Things

“Everything’s not going to go perfect. You’re going to have some losses that you’re going to have to bounce back from and some things that are a little unforeseen that you’re going to have to deal with.” Tony Dungy
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Why are there constant obstacles in our paths?

You run late for work and get caught at every stop light; There’s construction on the highway; People are driving slow to get you upset, so you think.

You decide to escape the hustle and bustle by taking a well-deserved and long overdue vacation. Your flight gets delayed or cancelled due to inclement weather; the screener pulls you out of line to ask you questions; You’re on your way to Denver, but your luggage is going to Miami. Maybe you try to pray, curse, mutter under your breath, or reach for a pill bottle because you have a headache or anxiety, maybe both. UGGGGH!

More than likely, there isn’t a global or cosmic conspiracy against you- God’s not after you, neither is the devil. It’s not the Republicans, Democrats, or a secret cabal- it’s just life. There will always be obstacles, but we must do our best to deal with them.

Of course, these events are trivial matters of the course of our lives, but little aggravations can add to bigger aggravations and pretty soon we can become bitter, hardened, or cynical about life. What if we were take a rational and logical approach to these situations, which can give us an understanding of what’s happening:

The stoplights– In order to keep traffic going smoothly, stoplights are timed as to when they turn red and green, so you’re caught in that time.

Construction- Construction is done in order to keep the roads in working order and drivers safe.

Slow Drivers- Some people are more cautious drivers, or maybe you’re going too fast.

The delayed or cancelled flight- Although you had control over which airline and the day you wanted to leave, you cannot and could not have controlled the weather. Plus, there are thousands and thousands of planes in the air all over the world, one of them is going to encounter a problem. Plus, you could be one of those people stranded on that plane.

The Screener- the screener is there to keep everyone safe and from time to time they will pull people aside just to make sure everything’s okay- it’s nothing personal.

The Lost Luggage- think of the thousands of bags that go through the airport, all of the flights, and only a handful of people handle the luggage-there’s bound to be an issue.

These are oversimplified examples of how to handle obstacles, but they can help us achieve gradual goals in handling adversity in life. If you are not a runner, but set a goal to run a marathon, would it be wise to start with 26.2 miles? No, you want to build up your body to accomplish that goal- run to the end of the street, the block, run one or two miles a day and increase from there. Perfect the ordinary things then work your way up to the extraordinary things. God bless.