A Little Wisdom from Dogs

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“The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.”

– Charles de Gaulle

I love dogs, as my wife and I refer to our dogs, Maggie, Henry, and P.J. (who passed away in 2013), as our “fur babies.” I’ve often looked at my dogs and wondered how awesome it would be if they could talk and converse with us. What would they say? “Hey, we’ve been through this-I don’t like the brown triangles in my food.” “You gonna let me out or can I just go on  the rug?” Or maybe they would vent their frustration by saying,  “That little yapping dog next door gets on my nerves.”

If I may engage in a bit of whimsy, dogs already teach us a lot without saying a word. As evolved from their wolf ancestors, dogs, even as domesticated as they are, consider themselves as part of a pack. Besides the protection that comes from being a pack or family offers a place of acceptance and unconditional love. For me, the unconditional love is what is best about having a dog.

-Dogs don’t care what you do for a living or how much money you make.

-Dogs don’t care who you voted for or get upset when there’s political disagreement.

-Dogs don’t discriminate because of your skin color, age, background, religion, orientation or anything else we use to divide each other.

-Dogs teach us not to take things so seriously- just throw the ball, tug on the rope, go take a walk.

-Dogs are grateful for life’s little pleasures-some good food, clean water, a warm bed, and good company.

-Dogs teach us to stay alert to our surroundings.

-Dogs teach us the importance of frequent naps.

-Dogs use their limited years to get the most out of this life.

Maybe, just maybe it was the dog who domesticated us and not the other way around.

The Power of Acceptance

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Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” – William James1

It is what it is,” is a popular American saying, which means “accept it because there’s nothing you can do about it.” While in the moment the expression sounds like a cop out of resignation, but within this cliché is a nugget of wisdom.
There is power in acceptance. Acceptance helps you come to terms with what happens in life, no matter if it is death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, or our own looming mortality. Acceptance allows us to grow. For example, I am perfectly fine with the man I am at forty-one and I do not grieve about not being the man I was at twenty-one. I have come to embrace who I am and what I have been through in this life. However, this does not mean that I have liked everything that has happened,but I have used these building blocks of character to form the foundation of who I am today.
Acceptance can also help bring us peace of mind and process life’s events, as my favorite philosopher, Epictetus, put it succinctly: “Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible.”2
In fact, Epictetus put down a good foundation for us to follow concerning the power of acceptance.

Manage your expectations

Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”3

Be weary of attachments

Open your eyes: Seeing things for what they really are, thereby sparing yourself the pain of false attachments and avoidable devastation. Think about what delights you- the tools on which you depend, the people whom you cherish. But remember that they have their own distinct character, which is quite a separate matter from how we happen to regard them.”4

Attitude goes a long way

When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.”5

Manage your perceptions and judgments

What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance. Stop scaring yourself with impetuous notions, with your reactive impressions of the way things are! Things and people are not what we wish them to be nor what they seem to be. They are what they are.”6

Life will never be perfect and as Epictetus pointed out, will turn out according to our expectations. One of the most important lessons I have learned is to be happy with who I am. Don’t waste your time trying to make everyone happy, because you won’t. You are the one who lives this life with your mind, your perceptions, your experiences, your genetic makeup, and the consequences of your choices.Therefore, embrace this life because it is the only life we get. God bless you.

2Epictetus, The Art of Living, A new interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1994): 15.

3Ibid, 7.

4Ibid, 7.

5Ibid, 7.

6Ibid, 7-8.

You’re a Work in Progress

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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.

Everyday is an Opportunity for a New Life

By Michael W. Raley

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It is often the fear of the unknown

Which confines us to the Land of Me, Mine, and Our Own.

O the beauty and enormity of this world we miss

When we choose to remain in ignorant bliss!

It is to the detriment of humanity

When generations fail to embrace the rationality

Of reason, instead opting to say,

“We’ve always done it this way.”

Once you open your eyes and see the world for yourself,

Pandora’s box cannot go back on the shelf

Because you remember the sounds, the smells, and the taste,

To which nothing should go to waste.

Everyday is an opportunity for a new life,

So don’t fill it up with the same old prejudices and strife.

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
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/search_results?q=tonydungy

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.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Do Your Best and Let it Be

Maybe it’s a by-product of being anxiously driven, but when I have a day or weekend off, my thoughts shift to a different type of work. As soon as the work day is done, my mind shifts into “to do list” mode and I give myself a list of projects- minor home repair, car maintenance, yard work, and other projects that I haven’t had time to get around to doing. I try to squeeze so much into the day that I am just as tired when I get back to work. Though I am well aware of this, I find it to be a hard habit to break.

I suspect that is a problem for many of us- we spend more time living as “human doings” instead of human beings.

For many people with anxiety, planning a social event such as a wedding, dinner party, or even a simple family cookout can be a daunting chore. Is the house clean enough? Do I have enough food? Are there enough chairs for everyone? Oh, it looks like rain. I hope everyone’s on their best behavior. What if Uncle Louie and Cousin Fred get into politics again?

As thoughts such as these may race into someone’s mind, these are all easily fixable. More than likely, the house is fine. I’m sure your guest aren’t going to give you “the white glove treatment.” You can always ask guest to bring food or extra seating. If it rains, move the party inside. You can’t control other people’s behavior. If Uncle Louie and Cousin Fred get into politics, kindly change the subject. You have done the best you could, let it be.

Luke’s Gospel (10:38-42) records a situation similar to what I just described.

Jesus and His disciples were invited for dinner by a woman named Martha. Martha had a sister named Mary and a brother named Lazarus, whom Jesus would later raise from the dead.

Martha was in the kitchen preparing the meal and called for Mary to help her out. However, the Bible states that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His teaching.

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She [Martha] came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40, NIV).

Notice what Jesus replied to Martha: “‘Martha, Martha’, the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed-or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:41-42).

Jesus knew that Martha was speaking from anxiety and even pointed that out to her. Jesus essentially told Martha, “the amount of food you made will be enough.” While Martha was worried about a temporal things such as food, Mary was focused on being in Jesus’ presence and learning about the spiritual and eternal things that would sustain her long after the meal would was finished.

In previous blogs, I have detailed my battles with Celiac disease and anemia. A little over two years ago, I spent three days in the hospital receiving blood transfusions and iron supplements because I was so anemic. Three doctors independently told my wife that I could of had a fatal heart attack. God told me to slow down. With the overall business of life, anxiety and bouts of depression, I still find it difficult to slow down, but I am making progress.

I know what lies before me for the day, but I try to make it a priority to feed my spiritual man before I begin my day-through prayer, reading, writing, focusing only on the present moment, or listening to some quiet instrumental music. At the end of the day, I try, though I am not always successful, to let things be. If you did the best you could at the time with the information you had, you couldn’t have done anything else given the circumstances. If you know that you could have done better, don’t beat yourself up, just make a mental note, ask God for forgiveness, and do better. Focus only on today. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow isn’t here. Tomorrow may not even come. Problems will always be here, but don’t let them steal your joy of living this one life you have. God bless you all.

Managing Our Anger

Growing up, I was a fan of The Incredible Hulk TV show which starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. In every episode, David Banner (Bill Bixby) would warn somebody, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” However, the time would come when David Banner would reach the point of getting angry and his eyes would change color. The Hulk was going to show up on screen any minute. (As a side note, in the comics, movies, and cartoons, The Incredible Hulk’s alter ego is Bruce Banner. A network executive did not like the name Bruce, thus Bruce Banner became David Banner for the TV show). The Incredible Hulk is essentially a Dr. Jekyll/Mr.Hyde story, where one person has two distinct personalities. Dr. Banner does his best to control the monster inside of him, but he still morphs into The Hulk. The question becomes how well do you control the angry monster inside of you?

Anger, if not kept in check, can be a destructive force. Anger has been the cause of countless wars, acts of violence, broken homes, broken lives, and suffering. If you’ve ever lost your temper, it does not mean you’re a bad person, you’re human. Even the Lord Jesus Christ lost His temper when he overturned the money changer tables in the Temple.

I don’t like who I am when I get angry because I become a totally different person. I lose control and my thoughts race along with my blood pressure. The rational, collected side of me steps away and the reactive emotional side takes over. One of my personality flaws is that I don’t speak out at first and I choose to bottle up the anger. However, when the stress becomes too much, I erupt like a long dormant volcano and my hulking green monster emerges. My wife refers to these episodes as my “Three-to -six month meltdowns.” After these episodes, I am fine for a while.

The Bible does not say “don’t get angry,” it says “In your anger, do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, NIV). Anger is like a guest who long overstays their welcome in your home. Anger will eat away at you and could turn into bitterness, wrath, and may even make you vengeful towards another person, where you would want to cause them harm.

When you feel the tension rising up, take a step back and examine why you’re angry. Is this situation within your control? Did you just make a poor choice? Are you mad at something someone else did to you or a loved one? Is your anger a result of depression or anxiety? Is this a temporary or long-term situation? Please don’t act on impulse when faced with these situations, but consider that your reaction is perfectly within your control.

I am relying on my faith in Christ and study of Stoic philosophy to help guide me through the depression and anxiety, which are some of the main causes of my getting upset when unfavorable circumstances arise. If we can discover the triggers for our anger, we will be better equipped to deal with those situations.

Even in our technologically advanced modern age, I believe we can still rely on the wisdom of the ancients to guide us on how to manage our anger.

“Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rest in the bosom of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9, NKJV).

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32, NKJV).

“The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11, NKJV).

In this short video, the Stoic Philosopher Seneca’s viewpoint on anger is examined: Seneca on Anger.

Anger seems to be an expected emotion in our society. Anger is everywhere. In this age of social media, the “angry mob” mentality can quickly to take over when someone does or says something out of line. There is no doubt that people and situations will make us angry, but we don’t have to stay there. Who really wants to be angry all the time? I don’t believe that’s any way to live.

The biggest obstacle to overcoming our anger doesn’t lie within society, but in the space six inches between our ears: our minds. Emotions lie within our will and our will is within our control. Are you listening to or watching a program that causes you to get angry? Don’t listen to it or watch it. Is job-related stress getting to you? You can always change jobs or even careers. Is there someone who stresses you out? You can always change your reaction to that person. Thoughts rushing through your mind? Take the time to journal, relax, pray, meditate, exercise, or maybe enjoy some classical music. You can walk out of the prison of your mind any time you want. God bless you all.

 

 

 

Arise

Arise

By Michael W. Raley

Arise out of the darkness,

Though it be familiar and convenient.

Fight and flee from what holds you down.

Mute the increasing clamor

And listen for that quiet inner voice.

Arise and re-focus your mind.

Filter everything as if this was your last day,

Ask yourself, “At the end, will this matter?”

Your time and energy are limited,

Make the most of them.

Arise, manage your judgments and perceptions

To find that tranquility and contentment

You so desperately desire.

Do not stumble on what is behind;

Look and walk ahead with clarity.

Arise, be the change you want to see.

Though the tide be against you, keep swimming.

Seek the love and faith that lies outside of yourself,

For it is there you will find the love, acceptance, and grace

You have denied yourself. Arise! Arise! Arise!