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The Past has Passed Away

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By Michael W. Raley

The past has passed away

And the Lord blesses us with a new day.

The past, whether it’s been five minutes, months or years,

Is not coming back no matter the dwelling thoughts or shed tears.

While we have the gift of God’s grace,

Let us repent and run a new race.

The past is dead and gone

And life will go on,

With or without us.

All we can do is place our trust

In the One who holds us in His hands,

The One who has numbered our hairs and the grains of sand.

My friend do not fritter away the gift of today

Wondering and speculating about the events of yesterday.

Walking the Ancient Path

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“The Road Not Taken” is perhaps the most famous poem written by the American poet Robert Frost. In the poem,a traveler in the woods comes across two paths- one path was well worn from frequent travel and the other looked much newer, less traveled. The traveler chose the road less traveled and it made all the difference in his life.

It’s human nature to do things our way- we want make our own path in life. The younger generations will always discount the wisdom of the older generations. However, if we were to take the time to listen to our elders, there is much wisdom to be gained. No matter what we have gone through in life,the older generations have gone through the same things we have and possibly harder times. So why would we spend a lifetime making our own mistakes when we can learn from the lessons and mistakes of others?

What if we were to take the road well travelled? I believe we would probably encounter less obstacles because of the witness of those who have gone before. I see the same issues occuring in the modern American church.

I set foot inside of a Baptist church this past Sunday, the first time I’ve set foot in one since college. This church was in a non-descript building, off of a major road. There was no fancy band- just the pastor on an acoustic guitar and another gentleman playing a stand-up bass. The lyrics to the songs were not on a large projection screen, but in the hymn book located on the wooden pews. The message was not part of a four part series with four points, but a fiery sermon preached out of the King James Bible. There were not hundreds or thousands of people in the services, but possibly 75 people. Just a simple country church with the pure Gospel and a warning of hell for those who didn’t believe. Of course not the most seeker-friendly message, but a powerful word the Church needs to preach in the U.S. and around the world.

I had to look up the exact verse, but Jeremiah came to mind- Jeremiah 6:16 from the King James says, “Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, we will not walk therein.”

If the church is to survive, we must get back to the old paths- we must preach the true Gospel,no matter how offensive it may be to modern oversensitive ears. Your church might have plenty of seats filled, but how many of them are getting saved?

Scripture gives us plenty of examples of what happened when the Israelites wandered off the path. I’m just going to list a few examples, but I encourage you to study this further. All verses are from the King James version.

Jeremiah 7:23-24: “But this thing commanded I them, saying, obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.”

Isaiah 59:7-8: “ Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are the thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.”

I believe God is warning our current generation about the evil,death, and destruction in our current day. It’s time for the church to quit being a self-help center and preach the word in this season!

Jesus has paved the way for us and He will guide us along the path, as God has promised in Scripture

Isaiah 42:16: “And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and make crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

Just as the wisdom of the elders is avaliable to everyone who has an older parent, grandparent, or family member, so is God’s wisdom and direction to walk the ancient paths available to us. It’s in His word. All we have to do is ask and seek. As David put so wonderfully in the Psalms.

Psalm 25:4-5: Show me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me:for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”

Psalm 23:3: “He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

We will see God’s guidance along our path as Proverbs states.

Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” Some other translations may say “make your paths straight.

Proverbs 4:10-11: Hear, O my son,and receivemy sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in the right paths.

In order for us to get back on the ancient paths, we have to start lifting and walking.I’m not talking about joining a gym, but strengthening our spirits,as the writer of Hebrews puts it:

Hebrews 12:12-13: “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; butlet it rather be healed.”

In these last days, we must work out our salvation, because the time is short. If you have wandered off the path, get back on it. Take the well worn path and you will find the Lord. If you don’t know the Lord, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, believe you’re a sinner,confess your sins to God and allow Christ in your life. You will be on the greatest path of all- the path to heaven.

The Path

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By Michael W. Raley

I thought by now the path would be made clear

And the course would be set.

Yet, I remain aimless and adrift

On a self-made ocean of obscurity.

I have progressed too slowly;

My patience has worn thin.

I have reached a point

Where I don’t see the purpose of this journey,

As my most desired dreams have not been fulfilled.

Time is of the essence;

My window of opportunity closes a little more each day.

Should I stay on the present course?

Shall I embark on the new and unfamiliar path?

Do I just need to settle on the safe path of unassuming mediocrity?

I try to move forward,

Yet I am being dragged down by the baggage of fear and regret.

I am heart sick, yet remain somewhat hopeful.

As long as I have the day,

As long as I have breath,

I cannot accept defeat.

I must rise up and walk.

Another Obstacle

By Michael W. Raley

Another obstacle lies in my path

And there’s no way around it.

There lies before me another battle

I must wage,

Yet, I don’t have the strength to fight.

For all of the fortitude and resolve I must muster,

I might as well be enduring the trials of Hercules.

I am battle hardened,

But my mental, spiritual, and physical reserves are depleted

And I don’t see reinforcements on the horizon.

I pray for a sign and await the arrival of the Deliverer.

Please, please, Savior, do not delay,

For my strength is almost gone.

Saturday Morning Coffee

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By Michael W. Raley

Saturday morning coffee tastes the best

Because there are no agendas,

No deadlines to meet,

And no rush to do anything.

The cup provides a sort of  sanctuary,

Where you can be alone with your thoughts

And decompress from the week’s noise.

Saturday morning coffee reminds me

Of seasons of growth in faith and spirit.

I’ve also observed the beauty and wonder

Of nature as I enjoyed my favorite drink.

Some people search the world over for peace,

But sometimes you can find a moment’s bliss in a cup.

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.

The Holidays and Mental Health

2019 has flown by and Thanksgiving is approaching quickly. In the United States, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season. While it’s easy to get caught up in shopping, gift giving, holiday parties,and decorations, the holidays may not be festive for everyone.

For those who struggle mental illness and/or grief, the holidays can be a stressful time.

When I was married, Christmas was difficult for me because of the infertility my ex-wife and I experienced. Though I love my nieces, nephews, and little cousins, it grew increasingly difficult to watch them open presents year after year while there were no children at our home Christmas morning.

The holidays can also serve of reminders of grief and loss. Maybe you lost a loved one around the holidays as you remember past family gatherings. I personally have lost three grandparents around the holidays. Going to the homes of my grandparents was always what made the holidays special, as the entire family would gather together. However, loved ones pass away and family dynamics can change due to divorce or other circumstances, leaving us with grief and loss.

The 2018 holidays were tough for me. My Grandma passed away the day after Thanksgiving. My Grandma’s funeral was on Tuesday and I received notification on Friday the same week that my divorce was finalized- a holiday double whammy.

In the coming weeks, I hope to share tips for dealing with mental health during the holidays. I just wanted to bring awareness that the holidays aren’t fun for everyone. Before you accuse your spouse, family member, friend, or co-worker of being a “Scrooge” or a “Grinch,” be mindful the holidays may be a difficult time of year for them.

Also, another aspect of holiday stress for some is the costs of gift giving. If someone bought you a gift that wasn’t as extravagant or costly as what you gave them, don’t belittle them, show appreciation. Maybe that gift is all they could afford. Maybe your gift giver didn’t have as good of a year as you. I personally dislike the commercial and financial aspects of the holidays as it becomes more about comparing checkbooks than celebrating the precious few moments we have to share together in this life.

I know this is a Christian blog, but I believe the words of the Dalai Lama ring true:  “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

 

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.