Reflections from a Restaurant 

By Michael W Raley 

As I enjoy my meal, 

I stop to notice the lives of others that are in motion.

I wonder, “Are they at peace? ”

“Or is life for them perpetual commotion?”

I am connected to these people

And they are connected to me,

For we occupy the same moment 

In the same universe,

Yet we will all exit at different times. 

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Living Life without Expectation

What if we were to live life without expectation? I’m not talking about a hopeless life, where we are broken and faithless, but a life where we can be at peace no matter the circumstances.

Think about this for a moment: how many times have the events of your life matched the expectations in your mind?  These misplaced expectations lead to disappointment, which can lead to discouragement, which can develop into depression, which can make us feel hopeless and purposeless. We shut out God, our loved ones, and our friends because they let us down. We loathe our jobs because the grass wasn’t as green as was promised. We are financially strapped because we decided to take a leap of faith on a new career, a bigger house, that car we always wanted, etc.

If you feel this way or spent part of your life feeling this way, it’s okay. Just take a few deep breaths. Don’t condemn yourself, but find it in your heart to forgive yourself. Ask God to forgive you. Forgive others who hurt you. You made the best choice you could at the time with the information you had. That’s life. We have to make decisions sometimes without knowing what the results will be.

What would be a good example of living life with expectation? Let’s say you have a friend who has fallen on hard times and asks you for $100 to buy groceries for his family. Maybe your friend says he’ll pay you back or you expect the money back as soon as possible. Time goes by and your friend has not given you the money. You ask about it, the friend can’t pay it back now. More time passes and you begin to resent your friend over the money. A possible lifelong friendship could be ended over $100 all because of misplaced expectations. How could this situation be handled without expectations? Your friend, who has fallen on hard times, ask you for $100 to help buy groceries for his family. You have the money and give it to your friend. Your friend offers to pay back the money, but you say, “Don’t worry about it, consider it a gift.” This changes the dynamic of the situation because you have truly been generous with no stipulations. You also have the satisfaction that your friend’s family will have food in their home.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about how we are to give to others without expecting anything in return:

“Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:31-36, NIV).

Speaking strictly from the Christian perspective, The Bible spends a lot of verses describing how God has blessed us spiritually in Christ and the ways He will bless us when we are obedient to Him. We must tread very lightly when we read and teach these verses, because we can open up ourselves and others to disillusionment and disappointment, which can lead people to becoming soured on God and the church. There must be a balance so that unmet sky high expectations will not send believers into a soul crushing abyss.

What happens when something doesn’t work out the way it was supposed to work out? What if there is no miracle? What if the financial windfall never comes? What if our or a loved one’s suffering is never eased despite a bevy of fervent, faith-filled prayers?

As Christians and people in general, we are too prideful to say,  “I don’t know.” When it comes to matters of faith, no one wants to say, “I don’t know.” So, in order to save face or relieve the pressure of having to give an answer for why God didn’t answer a prayer, we may say such things as, “It must not have been in God’s will, plan, or timing.” “God must have something better for you” “Maybe you just need more faith.” “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” I admit that I have been on both sides of this situation- as the one with the unanswered prayer and the finite being trying to explain why the infinite and sovereign God did what He did or didn’t do. It is not comforting to be in either situation.

Is it possible for us to live a life of faith without expectation? I believe so because faith by definition is unknowable. If we knew everything coming our way (a sense of expectation), we wouldn’t need faith.  Instead of worrying about what might happen, such as What if I get cancer? What if I lose my job? What if my spouse leaves me? what if we lived life as it came to us? What if we could have peace in the midst of the unknown? I will leave you with the words of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus: “Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace.” (Enchiridion, 8).

Confidence Outside the Comfort Zone

“You have to get out of your comfort zone” is an expression we’ve heard from motivational speakers, pastors, business leaders, celebrities, and probably the people in our lives. In order to live the life we’re supposed to live, conventional wisdom says, we must break free of the monotony and hum-drum of simply existing and push ourselves beyond what we know. Easier said than done. The moment we dare stick a toe outside of the comfort zone, we can be greeted by fear, anxiety, depression, others telling us to turn back, failure, frustration, among other issues. It appears that our trip outside of the comfort zone has turned into an episode of The Twilight Zone.

I don’t tell these stories to be boastful or proud, I just want to help others in a similar situation. Three years ago I created this blog, which was a step outside of the comfort zone. I’ve always wanted to write but I was too shy to share my writing outside of my inner circle. I thought, “Do I have anything to say?” “What would I say?” “Would anyone read it?”

One Saturday morning in October 2014, I on a lark, did a search for free blogs and came across WordPress. I followed the setup process and published my first blog, which was on “The Sacrifice of Praise.” Three years and as of this post, 156 articles later, I am still humbled by every view, every follower, everyone who has commented, thank you all so much for helping me find my voice as a writer.

Nine-and-a-half months ago I took another journey, this one farther out of the comfort zone than I’ve ever been. I found myself laid off at the end of 2015 and was unemployed for three months. I took a job which paid a lot less money, but I was back to work. I later left that job for another one, which eventually paid more money.  I was thankful for the work, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I found myself nearing forty in a mid-career and a seemingly in the start of a mid-life crisis. I was also dealing with the compounded stress of my health, my wife’s health, a family tragedy, and crisis of faith. Perfect time to step out of the comfort zone, right? So after months of going back and forth, I decided to go back to school- this time for Information Technology, something for which I had no previous background.

I wish I could say it had a Hollywood ending, but it didn’t. Going to school and working six days a week presented a monumental struggle. There were times that I wanted to quit both school and the job. Living as a hermit in the woods appealed to me. I stuck with it and was able to earn several certifications and I have the opportunity to go back and retest for the ones I missed.

As of posting this, I graduated yesterday, and breathed a sigh of relief. As I received my certificate, I shook hands with school administrators and instructors. I don’t think that I will forget the words of my instructor, who said, “Way to keep working.”  I am now an Information Technology Systems Administrator. By God’s grace and the support of family and friends, I completed my journey out of the comfort zone, which involved a lot of  hard work and sacrifice, but I am thankful for the journey. I believe the most important thing I have gained during these last nine-and-a-half months is self-confidence. Self-confidence should not be confused with arrogance or pride, for we must have confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we can sail into the contrary winds. There’s always the possibility of failure, but we can’t let that stop us. We must persist. God has gifted everyone with a toolbox of talents, but we must use the tools. I proved to myself that I am able to take on new challenges and not allow age or circumstances affect my goal.

If we are going to step out of the comfort zone, we must do the work and put in the time, because we can’t be passive-minded and hope for things to work out. There will be resistance, but you must keep going forward. There will be bumps and bruises, there may even be a scar or two, but the journey will be worth it. No one can take it away from you. No one will be able to say that you couldn’t do it. God bless you all.

A Morning Musing

What happened to the fine art of the civilized conversation? When did eloquence, reason, and logic take a backseat to emotion?

Most people today seem content to stand at the fringe of their ideological extreme, with only the sole intention of either crushing or converting their opposition; No middle ground will be sought. Both sides will declare victory, though nothing will be accomplished. When an event takes place and a “national dialogue” is started, the same rhetoric is heard over and over.

How can anyone listen when everybody is screaming at each other? To quote an old movie line, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I believe that we have allowed others to control the conversations and we keep having these same conversations again and again. Rarely do we go beyond the headline, the social media post, or what gets repeated and eventually accepted as truth.

How much longer can we afford to be shamelessly pandered to and patronized by political propaganda? How many times have you heard these same generalized promises with no results? If we continue to allow the same institutions and politicians to stir up the same old prejudices and reopen closing wounds, then how can we truly make progress as men, women, and as society?

If we seek to change society, then we must first change ourselves. We must enlighten and educate ourselves, as we cannot rely on others to do it. If we allow others to be our sole source of education, then we will fall victim to their agenda. Do not simply accept what you hear, search out the truth. Do not allow negative emotions to dictate your position nor go for the low hanging fruit that is being dangled in front of you. Nothing will change the past- it’s over, that’s why it’s called the past. Make the most of the present time you have and make today the best it could be. Be wise and discerning of everything you hear and see. Search out the truth will all of your heart, mind, and soul. God bless you.

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Each Day As If It Were Our Last

By Michael W. Raley

 

If we lived each day as if it were our last,

The future wouldn’t matter, neither would the past.

Our minds would not be cluttered with this, that, and the other,

As I suppose we would try to leave a legacy of love for our sisters and brothers.

We would close our eyes and bask in the sun’s beams

And listen for the whispers of the oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams.

Maybe you would frolic and play in the fountains

Or go to see a sunrise in the mountains.

We would not be so attached to our ever-growing pile of stuff,

As we would realize what we have is more than enough,

For our stuff will go somewhere else and gather dust,

Decaying to the ages of time and rust.

In time, memories of us will also be forgotten and fade,

For the ones who knew us will also live out their last day.

No matter if one is rich or poor, small or great,

We are all destined for the exact same fate.

We are simply actors in a play whose roles will be recast.

Make the most of your time on the stage, your life in this moment, make it last.

 

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.