The Two-Headed Dragon

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https://www.unsealed.org/2018/06/in-moment.html

By Michael W. Raley

I am a modern day knight on a quest

To eradicate this two-headed dragon of depression and anxiety.

This dragon at times seems formidable,

As I have been unable to vanquish it completely.

My armor and my mind have been pierced;

I feel exposed every time I go out to battle.

When my heart sinks before the dawn,

I know that day’s battle has been lost.

However, I will rise again tomorrow,

Armor on, sword by my side, and shield in my hand,

Determined to slay this beast.

The Wave of Depression

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By Michael W. Raley

The wave of depression overwhelms me,

Casting me down to the ground.

I know today’s not going to be my day.

I’ll put on the brave face

And go through the day

Like an ox plowing a field,

Except I won’t break any new ground.

This wave is not an everyday occurrence,

But it has tendency to stick around

Longer than it needs to stay.

I know deep down that I choose my response,

Yet, snapping out of it is not easy.

As I live my life day to day,

I learn the lessons of defeat

Along side the sweet savor of the victories.

The wave may be at high tide today,

But even the strongest forces of nature subside in time.

Love’s Regret

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By Michael W. Raley

How could I have missed the signs

When they were in front of me the whole time?

Was I in denial and refused

To believe the real truth about you?

My heart has ached over this pain

And my body’s energy has been drained

Because this decision has cost me years,

Many restless nights, anxiety, and tears.

I wanted to believe that I made the right choice

As I drowned out the doubts of my inner voice.

This one time I ignored reason and went with emotion

While ignoring the red flags and commotion

Has cost me dearly,

For my soul is broken and weary.

You are gone and life has been turned upside down,

As you are on the other side of town.

I will fall in love again,

I just don’t know when.

Nevertheless, the work begins on rebuilding my spirit,

The inner me, who will escape from this pit.

Hitting Life’s Reset Button

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Electronic devices have changed the way we live, work, communicate, entertain and inform ourselves. However, a tiny glitch, freeze, crash, or virus in our laptop, TV, phone, tablet, or gaming console can temporarily disrupt our lives and cause us frustration. When these issues arise, we can always reboot the device and hope that takes care of the  problem. The manufacturer, knowing the fragility of the devices, provide us a way to reset when problems come up.

Wouldn’t be great if life had a reset button?

No matter what you are facing in life- the death of a love one, a divorce, a chronic sickness, job loss, depression, anxiety, or anything else life throws at us, we have a chance everyday to reset. Though we can’t change what has happened, we are able to change our perspective and response to the problem.

Instead of asking, “Why is this happening to me?” we ask, “What can I learn from this?” What if we were able to look at our difficulties as opportunities for growth? I’ve spent a lot of time in my life bemoaning “woe is me,” and wondering why events happened the way they did. If you are going through that, let me save you some time- that thinking is a dead end street. We always want to look for reasons or try to figure out where our situation fits in with a divine plan, but we are better off moving forward.

Changing our perspective and growing though life’s difficulties involves a lot of work- dirty, sweaty, grimy, yucky work. When we come to that point, we have to examine ourselves and work towards making today better than yesterday. You will have to face some truths about yourself, but you will also discover an inner strength and resolve to face the world.

The work doesn’t have to take years. If you are willing to work at it, you can get through it in a matter of months. You set the pace. In the months since my wife filed for divorce, I have spoken to a therapist, began the process of dealing with my depression and anxiety, I find time to meditate, and I have gone back to church.  I don’t say that to brag, I know I have a long way to go. I am also dealing with chronic health problems as well, which affect my energy and mindset on a daily basis. Every morning I hear the alarm or the dogs whining to go out, I attempt to see the day as a chance to improve upon yesterday.

Thanks and God bless.

The Distance and The Resistance

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By Michael W. Raley

Continue to go the distance

In spite of the resistance.

You will encounter your share of pain

Along with equal days of sunshine and rain.

There will be body pains and heartaches

To go along with the negativity and the fakes.

Remain the captain of your ship

And do not allow anyone to recalculate the trip.

Why voluntarily surrender your time

To that which does not rhyme

With your life goals and story,

That which will only bring regret and no glory?

Do not allow your time and power be given away

Like a neatly wrapped present on Christmas day.

This life and this time have been allotted to you,

As the Bard wrote,”To thine own self be true.”

Above all with yourself, be patient, employ perseverance and persistence;

No matter what happens, remain unbroken and resilient.

Don’t Feed the Trolls

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*https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/heres-happens-confront-internet-troll-face-face/*

First impressions are critical in life and in business.

A good or bad first impression can decide whether or not that date will turn into a relationship, you get the job, join a particular church, or vote for a certain political candidate.

All of us are guilty from time to time of making snap judgments about people and situations. We judge someone’s character just by looking at them. We tune out a song or speech after the first verses or sentences. We don’t like something new because it’s not as good as the original. We overuse such phrases as “It’s the best/worst ever.” After making the determination about someone or something’s value, we look for confirmation bias:

“I got stuck in traffic this morning. I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

After the news is announced that a particular actor was cast in a movie yet to go into production and be released, “That’s going to be terrible. Worst casting choice ever!”

“This country is going to hell in a hand basket. I miss the good ol’ days.”

What if I told you that you can manage your impressions and starve your inner troll at the same time? You can. Everyone of us has the ability to control our responses to any situation. As individuals, we have the right to think for ourselves, thus we can move away from doctrine, party, and the same talking points which will never convert your opponent anyway.

I am a firm believer that life is fraught with difficulties and we should anticipate problems, but we should not live in fear of them. What if we were to take a few moments to step aside and assess the situation? You received a bad diagnosis from the doctor? You can always seek a second opinion. You can examine your life and make changes concerning your health. In the case of a terminal issue, you can even make the most of the time you have left.

In Epictetus’ The Art of Living, the Stoic philosopher discusses how our view of situations, including death, can be more damaging than the situation itself:

“Things themselves don’t hurt or hinder us. Nor do other people. How we view these things is another matter. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. Therefore even death is no big deal in and of itself. It is our notion of death, our idea that it is terrible, that terrifies us. There are so many different ways to think about death. Scrutinize your notions about death- and everything else. Are they really true? Are they doing you any good? Don’t dread death or pain; dread the fear of death or pain. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” (italics mine).*

When the alarm goes off to signal a new day, don’t sigh or allow yourself to be filled with dread, because you’ve been given a second chance. Take the time to talk to the person you dismissed and maybe you’ll find some common ground or become friends. In order to manage our impressions, we must be fluid and adaptable to whatever comes our way. Don’t expect to have the same beliefs at forty that you did at twenty. As we experience more of life, the more knowledge and wisdom we attain in order to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We must also realize that life is not all bad and it’s not all good, as there will be difficulty. Change your perception of the situation and you will chance your response to said situation. And please, stop feeding the trolls. God bless.

*Epictetus, The Art of Living, interpreted by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 10.

Jesus Crosses Social Barriers

“Now he had to go through Samaria,” John 4:4 (NIV).

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Have you ever tried to avoid driving on a certain stretch of road or try to bypass traffic in a particular city? What if going through said stretch of road or city was the shortest, most direct route to your destination? Would you still avoid it? Is there some long-standing bias or bad memory associated with the road or city?

During biblical times, the average person walked everywhere or they may have rode a donkey, camel, or perhaps a horse. When there are great distances involved, especially while traveling on foot, you would want to walk the shortest route possible. In one instance, Jesus took the shortest route and crossed a major social barrier.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and went through Samaria, which was the shortest route. “Now he had to go through Samaria,” seems like a pretty innocuous statement for a 21st Century reader, but in Jesus’ time, Samaria was controversial among the Jews of Israel. In fact, many Jews tried to go places by avoiding Samaria all together.

The controversy dates back to the Old Testament. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judea.  The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC and deported many of the Jews. The Assyrians brought in Gentiles (non-Jews) to settle the land. These Gentiles intermarried with the remaining Jews, which created a “mixed race,” which the Jews of Judea did not recognize the Samaritan as “authentic Jews” for lack of a better term. The Samaritan Jews also believed Mount Gerizim was the holy site for sacrifice, not the Temple in Jerusalem, and recognized only the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as Scripture.

Understanding the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans gives a different context to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which probably would have angered many in his Jewish audience that a Samaritan would be hero of the story.

I will not go through the entire story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), but I want to discuss some of the highlights. We live in such a divisive time, where people only read and listen to what confirms their confirmation bias, from which they do not budge. Let us take a look at the barriers Jesus crosses in this story:

-Jesus goes directly into what many consider “hostile territory.”

-Jesus, a Jew, speaks with people who are Samaritans.

-Jesus, a man, ministers to a woman.

-Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan woman for her past.

-Jesus does not debate doctrine, cast judgment, or threaten anyone with hell.

-Jesus brings a message of hope for all people, regardless of their background.

-Jesus breaks down the barriers of  institutional racism.

After Jesus ministers to the woman, she goes back and brings people of the town to see Jesus. Jesus and the disciples end up staying in Samaria for two days and many Samaritans come to faith in Christ.

I recognize that during my more fundamentalist days, I was a very divisive Christian. I have seen the error of my ways and I am now trying to break down these man made barriers. I believe the church and all of society can benefit from this example of Christ. Just because someone isn’t the same skin color as you, believes a different political philosophy, goes to a different church, or lives a lifestyle you don’t agree with, that doesn’t make them bad people. Everybody is just like you, in search of love and acceptance, which we need to provide. There is no need to condemn anyone for their past, because we all have a past. Let’s quit treating each other like dogs and rubbing our noses in each other’s mess. If we as Christians want to be more like Jesus, we need to be tearing down these superficial barriers instead of building  higher and higher walls.

 

 

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.

My Word is Resilient- What’s Yours?

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If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

Would you pick this word based on events you’ve been through or would it be an ideal with which you identify?

Are you a survivor? A warrior? Thankful? Stoic? Outgoing? The choice is yours. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, because deep down you know who you are, where you’ve been, and where your going.

My word is resilient because that is who and what I am.

According to the dictionary, resilience is defined by the ability to rebound, bounce back, or recover quickly from adversity or a setback. I chose resilience not to be boastful or because I overestimate my abilities, but it is based on the culmination of my experiences and being able to come back stronger than before.

Resilience, like faith, training, persistence, education, or anything else in takes a lifetime of practice and learning. Life and circumstances do not play fair, as we may face multiple obstacles at once. Many times in my life I have felt like Job in The Bible, hit with bad news on top of bad news. Although Job was never given reasons for his trials, he persisted and stayed true to his character to the end. The experiences are never pleasant, but one must soldier on and fight each day.

Being resilient is not a matter of genetics, like having brown hair or green eyes, but is a character trait that can be learned and developed over time. How does one develop resilience?

Recognize each day as its own opportunity

Over the last two years or so, I have studied Stoic philosophy, which has helped supplement my faith. Like Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, the Stoics emphasize the importance of living for today, for the present moment is all we have. Every day you are given is a day to get it right. You didn’t handle things so well yesterday, start over. Apply your new knowledge to the issue at hand. Make today an opportunity for growth and stretching beyond your capabilities.

Give yourself some time

It is very easy to get ourselves in dire circumstances- financial problems, sickness, relationship issues, to name a few. Just as you didn’t get into these situations overnight, you will not get out of them overnight. Set realistic, gradual goals, and count the victorious battles along the way. To give an example from my own life: At the end of 2015, I was laid off from my job. I knew it was going to take some time to find a new job. However, when I was laid off, I gave myself two years to get back on my feet into something better. I was unemployed for three months, but took a lower paying job to get back to work, which led to me taking a different job. In between his time, I considered starting a new career and going back to school. At the age forty, I decided to start a new career, while working 50 hour weeks. The road was arduous, but I achieved my goal one month a head of schedule. One year and eleven months later, I was on the road to something better, albeit for less money, but I found my peace of mind.

Be Adaptable

Sometimes in life, our strategies to solve problems are not “one size fits all,” as we may have to fine tune our game plan when the situation changes. Just as in sports, the coach/manager sometimes has to adapt to the other teams’s strategy, an injury, or throw out a play that’s not working. If it’s a mindset, a coping mechanism, a habit, a false belief, or something else holding you back from being resilient and achieving your goal, throw it out. Start where you are at with what you have and make the necessary adjustments to help you succeed. When I went back to school, I had to change my study habits which helped me through high school and college, because they were not helping me. I had to adapt- while fighting false beliefs about my abilities, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. As I began to adapt, I did perform better and I showed resilience through it all.

As always, the comment section is open for anyone who wants to share their word.  Thank you and God bless.