Isaiah 26:20, the Coronavirus,and That Day

As the Coronavirus (Covid 19) continues to spread around the world, many local, state, federal, and world governments have issued “stay at home” orders and have encouraged people to self-quarantine or keep their social distance. As with any crisis, many are taking the orders seriously and others continue to go out or have to go out because their job is considered essential.

Of course, the Coronavirus continues to be the main story in the media and on Social Media. It appears for a time the Coronavirus will change the way we live and interact with each other.

However, I have noticed a certain passage of Scripture continuously in my Facebook feed- Isaiah 26:20, which reads:

“Come, my people, enter into your rooms and close your doors behind you; Hide for a little while until indignation has run its course.” (NASB).

While Isaiah 26:20 speaks to our current times and deals with the topics of self-isolation and God’s judgment, what is the larger context?

I’m a firm believer in studying the whole of Scripture to understand the deeper meanings. I’ve never been a believer in taking a single verse and turning it into a doctrine. I began to read Isaiah 26 in its entirety.

Isaiah 26 deals with trusting God in the midst of impending judgment on the wicked. In fact Isaiah 26:1 contains a crucial phrase:

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: ‘We have a strong city; He sets up walls and ramparts for security.” (NASB, emphasis mine).

According to Bible Gateway.com, the phrase “In that day” appears 114 times, scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Book of Isaiah, the phrase “In that day” appears 43 times, or in 38% of the Scriptures listed.

Isaiah was a prophet whose ministry took place from 740 BC to at least 681 BC. Like many other Old Testament prophets , Isaiah spoke of current day judgments and events far off into the future or “the last days.” The judgments were directed toward Israel, Judah, Assyria, Tyre, Egypt, and others, but they can be important to our study.

I encourage you to study these on your own, but I would like to highlight a handful of verses which seem relevant to the current situation.

Economic collapse:

“In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship.” (Isaiah 2:20, NASB).

The desolation of cities:

“And it will growl over it in that day like the roaring of the sea. If one looks to the land, behold, there is darkness and distress; Even the light is darkened by its clouds.” (Isaiah 5:30, NASB).

Judgment on world leaders:

“So it will happen in that day, that the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high, and the kings of the earth on earth, they will be gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon, and will be confined in prison; And after many days they will be punished.” (Isaiah 24:21-22, NASB).

Though it is easy to get caught up in the gloom and doom of judgment, especially if you are a student of the End Times, God is merciful. Even in the midst of His judgments, God gives us the chance to turn to Him in repentance through faith in Jesus Christ.  Isaiah also gives his listeners and readers the chance to turn to God.

“In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel.” (Isaiah 4:2, NASB).

“Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse [Jesus], who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10, NASB).

“Then you will say on that day: ‘I will give thanks to You, O Lord; For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song.” (Isaiah 12:1-2, NASB).

Brothers and Sisters, we are certainly living in unprecedented times. There probably been a virus spread this quickly since the influenza epidemic of 1918. We must live cautiously, but do not give into fear. Take care of yourselves and your families. If at all possible, try to help those who are hurting from the fallout of this illness. Show the love of Christ and kindness to those you encounter. God bless.

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.”

 

My Struggles with Anxiety and Depression

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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million people over the age of 18.1

I am one of those 40 million people. As far back as I can remember, anxiety has dominated my life. Being anxious is part of the human condition- it’s the nerves before a presentation or a big game, a first date, or a job interview. However, anxiety becomes an issue when it hinders decision making and holds you back from living the life you want to live. I can’t tell you the number of times my anxiety has talked me out of potential opportunities because deep down, I didn’t feel worthy of said opportunities or the imagined potential disaster. As the saying goes, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Anxiety is a bully, taunting and mocking you constantly. If anxiety brings along his buddy, depression, then you’re in for a really bad, no good, awful day. In my experience with anxiety, I for many years did not label it as anxiety. I and others thought of me as “quiet,” or “shy,” or my personal favorite, “socially awkward.” Though great strides have been made in the medical and psychiatric fields concerning the awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. For those with anxiety, depression, or any other illness, having to fight our inner battle with the outside perceptions of others can delay our healing process as it did with mine. Mental illness is a serious issue, it should never be joked about or dismissed. Just because someone doesn’t “look sick” doesn’t mean their issues should be swept aside with flippant comments such as “What do you have to be depressed about?” “It’s all in your head.” “You need to do more of this (pray, give it to God, etc),or “Get over it.” If a friend or family member had cancer would you tell them, “Turn that frown upside down and suck it up”? I would hope not. People with mental illness are not weak or lazy, as they are some of the strongest people out there because they fight every day to get up and try to live a “normal” and highly functional life. Compound a mental illness with any number of autoimmune diseases, and life becomes even more difficult.

Since I have done my own research into my anxiety, I can truly see how much it has controlled my life. When my anxiety was triggered, physical symptoms would follow: deep breathing, shaking hands, a racing heartbeat, the “fight or flight” response, becoming agitated, stuttering and stammering over my words, all of which made want to dig a hole and hide. These attacks would come on during social situations such as job interviews, leaving the house to go to work, or simply going to family gatherings. However, people often comment about how calm I am and never appear to be rattled, which in all honesty is my learned ability not to show the outside world what’s going on inside of my mind. The next time you watch ducks swimming on a lake or pond, just remember those calm, peaceful birds are peddling their legs in the water as fast as they can; I believe that is a fitting analogy for how I have managed to hide my anxiety.

I tried different techniques over the years to deal with my anxiety and depression. The first is that sheer will power “put your nose to the grindstone” mentality. That only wore me out and wore down my nose. I came to faith in Jesus Christ back in 1999, which I hoped my faith, studying the Bible, praying, and “Let go and let God” would free me from this darkness. After all, Jesus said not to worry (Matthew 6:25) and the Apostle Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing,”(Philippians 4:6), plus there are 365 verses in the entire Bible that tell us to “fear not,” so why be anxious? However, I began to learn that my depression and anxiety were not going to go away by saying prayers or shouting out Scripture. I came to the rational, logical, conclusion that my battle was not with demons or doubt, nor was it because a talking snake convinced two people in a garden to eat a piece of fruit, but there was something wrong with me mentally, biologically, and chemically, which could be treated.

I tried to deal first with the depression and made the decision in 2008 to talk to my family doctor and he prescribed me Prozac, which I took until 2010, when I felt good enough to try to conquer depression on my own. Things were good for a couple of years, then life began to pile up on me: my health declined, my wife had problems with her health, grief and loss, family issues, infertility, a crisis of faith, and being laid off from my middle management job and starting over at the bottom, to changing careers at mid-life. I could not cope and went back on the Prozac from 2016 until mid-2018, when the Prozac stopped being effective. My doctor then prescribed me Celexa, which is also used to treat anxiety. I do feel better mentally, though I am not completely free from depression and anxiety, I do have more good days than bad ones.

Though my faith is not what it used to be, I have found comfort in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, listening to classical/instrumental music, and trying to implement Stoic philosophy into my life. Stoicism is a practical philosophy, which in a nutshell is managing your responses to what happens to you and determining if the event is within or without of your control. Stoicism is incidentally one of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Though I know that my war with anxiety and depression are far from over, I have won many recent battles and that gives me hope. My hope for you is that if you are struggling with your mental health, please seek treatment and determine what is best for you. You don’t have to live life as a prisoner of your mind. The keys are within reach, grab them and work on freeing yourself. Stay encouraged, there is hope, there is healing. You can’t erase what has been written,but you can change the narrative. Be the hero of your own story.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

This One Life

By Michael W. Raley

I have this one life,

Interconnected to the world around me.

I am learning to seek balance and harmony,

Putting away the nonsensical bickering and petty strife.

I can choose to be a drone caught up in the grind

Or I can seize this single, fleeting moment in time

To empower myself into action

And ignore the useless noises of distraction.

I refuse to be placated or pacified;

I cannot allow my true self to become calcified,

A fossil, a lost relic from another age

Who never seized the moment on life’s stage.

I cannot worry about what may never come,

Nor can I lament over what has been.

Today is my chance to begin again

And live in this moment, this life, my only one.

 

 

 

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.

 

The Odd Duck

 

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By Michael W. Raley

There is a man who’s a bit of an odd duck.

Long ago he dispelled the myths of meritocracy and luck.

When the man turned forty,

He began to question the official agreed upon story.

He went in search for peace of mind,

As he wanted to make the best use of his time.

In spite of the obstacles, he set a new course,

Charging ahead and seemingly uphill with will, determination, and force.

There were days he wanted to quit,

But deep down his spirit wouldn’t dare hear of it.

The man didn’t seek fame, fortune, or glory,

He simply wanted to rewrite the chapters of his story.

 

Enduring Hardships with Strength

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https://motivationgrid.com/11-powerful-bruce-lee-quotes-need-know/

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.