Never Again

By Michael W. Raley

Never again will I underestimate my inner strength and abilities

To face the hard times, the trials, and the calamities.

For during the times of inner torment and violence,

I sought outside of me, only to hear thunderous silence.

The coming conflicts were charging at me, I could feel  it in the air,

Yet I was left alone, straddled with having to prepare

With no grand plan in place

The obstacles still needed to be faced.

There were times my resolve went into remission

As I sank further into an already deep depression.

Deep down I was determined to stand my ground,

Despite the onslaught of incoming rounds.

There were many times when my body and soul cried into the night,

Yet, I reached down and somehow fought the fight.

We never know what fate holds in its hand,

But I have overcome and for that, I’m a better man.

Examining Our Foundations

For anything, whether it be a house, building, relationship, belief system, or a civilization, a solid and structurally sound foundation must be in place. If a foundation is broken or weak at any point, further stress and strain will create more damage in the future if the foundation is not fixed. If the foundation goes, then the entire building, relationship, belief system, or society is in danger of collapse.

Throughout the course of human history, our response to faulty foundations has been to simply build something new on top of the previous structure. One civilization falls, simply build another one.  The house falling apart? One option compared to costly repairs is to simply move. Instead of constantly rebuilding or moving, what if we were to exercise due diligence and from time to time examine the foundation before it becomes a problem?

I believe in the importance of having a firm set of beliefs. I believe it is important for everyone to have guiding principles and truths in their life, as these truths and principles will serve as a foundation in everything we do, say, and think.  However, life is about continuous growth, which can come via circumstances or exploring new information. Once we are presented with information, we have the choice to accept it or reject it. We must also understand the importance of self-examination concerning our beliefs. It is perfectly fine for a seven-year-old child to spend Christmas Eve eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. However, if that same child grows up to the age of fifty-seven expecting Santa Claus, then that would be an issue.

If we could travel back in time and listen to ourselves five, ten, twenty, maybe thirty years ago, we would probably ask our past selves, “What were you thinking? That’s not how any of this works.” From time to time, we must do a foundational audit of what we believe because what we believed as children or in our youth may not make much sense as an adult.

There is one great obstacle that holds us back from challenging our beliefs and rebuilding the foundations: fear. We fear change. We fear being wrong. We don’t like it when others challenge our core beliefs. When faced with an opposing viewpoint, we often retreat into our mental bunkers or we demonize the opposition as a threat to our way of life. This type of discourse is evident in politics and religion.  Why not simply listen to what someone else says?  Maybe we will learn something new, maybe it will affirm or enhance what we believe. Why not agree to disagree? If we are basing our lives on certain beliefs, don’t you want to be sure you have the right foundation? Think for yourself. Challenge yourself. Stretch yourself beyond the comfort zone. Don’t simply go along with the crowd, but have the courage to ask, Where are we going and Why? 

 

 

Make the Best of It

By Michael W. Raley

No one wants to see a dream go unfulfilled.

However, we quickly learn this possibility is real.

Sometimes taking solace knowing you did your best

Doesn’t always stop your heart and spirit from sinking into your chest.

You look around at this disaster zone of a mess

And you go further down the bottomless pit, the hopeless abyss.

You hold onto the hope that everything will be made right

When you cross over into eternity’s light.

As you live out the rest of your days,

How do you find the strength to give thanks, to hope, or pray?

You feel used and burned.

You set the course, yet the winds and the ship turned.

You learned the steps, you took the chance,

Only to find out the conductor changed the song and dance.

We must continue in faith, but we must learn to adapt.

We don’t get all of the information, sometimes we must read and react.

If life is a game, we are the quarterback.

With each play, we may complete a touchdown pass or find ourselves sacked.

Sometimes a play will be broken and go haywire,

Which can get the adrenaline pumping, and turn a spark into a fire.

Life is a matter of timing and circumstance,

And we may have 60, 70, 80, or 90 years to live through.

Make the best of it, no matter what you decide to do.

Enjoy the journey, make up your own steps, dance your own dance.

Close Your Eyes and Breathe

By Michael W. Raley

Before the coffee begins to brew,

The thoughts come rushing in:

“You need to do this today.”

“You have to do this too.”

“Don’t forget about this.”

“You have to do this on Friday.”

“You’ve been putting this off.”

“You’re out of this, you need to get it today.”

“You should have started the day earlier.”

The list grows well beyond what I planned.

Stop!

Close your eyes and breathe.

Come back to this moment.

Close the mental browsers that don’t need to be open.

Step back and reason through this.

Focus on one and only one task,

Then move on to the next task.

Gradual momentum and gradual goals,

Just as you would read a book:

Words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, then pages, then chapters,

Then the book will be finished and will be on the shelf with the other finished books.

 

 

 

 

Embracing Our Experiences

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” – Eleanor Roosevelt[1]

Experience is rarely gained in a comfortable temperature-controlled environment. A simulation can give a soldier an idea of what to expect during combat, but it is the actual battlefield where the soldier applies his or her training. It is the same with our lives- our trials are opportunities to apply the wisdom we have learned.

 “The only source of knowledge is experience.” -Albert Einstein[2]

Another Christmas season has come and gone and the focus turns to 2017. I know for myself and the people I know and love, 2016 has been a traumatic year- full of pain, grief, loss, sorrow, despair, depression, and heartache. Sometimes in war there are no victors, only survivors. The dark storm clouds gathered around you, but by the grace of God you have made it this far. You will find your way back.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius[3]

In matters of faith and philosophy, it is our experience that truly shapes us. How we apply our spiritual and philosophical wisdom is influenced more by our trials and tribulations than any sermon, book, or essay. Our experiences serve as a mirror reflection of not only who we are, but of the world around us. There are people out there who are hurting just like we are and they are looking for something authentic. If we are to share our faith and experience with someone, it is okay to admit you do not have the answers. The last thing people want to hear is common tropes, clichés, and talking points.

Our experiences give us that unique personal testimony about how we walked through our personal hell and back. Our life is a culmination of all of our experiences- good and bad. We cannot change what happened. We must also face the possibility of not getting answers as to why something did or did not happen. Life gives us no choice but to soldier on, not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones. We must embrace all of this life we live and the experiences which shape us into who we are.

Experience is an opportunity for us to examine what we believe and why we believe it. Our belief system must be able to stand up to our scrutiny. It is okay to question the nature of God, the Bible, life, death, and faith. Our beliefs serve as a foundation for our lives and we must examine the foundation for cracks. If there is a weakness, we can fix the damage or rebuild the foundation, which will require deep digging and a lot of labor. The reward of confidence comes after we have done the hard, soul-searching work.

“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12, NKJV).

 

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who ask you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15, NKJV).

I pray that the Lord will comfort each of your hearts in this coming year. I pray that 2017 will be a year of joy and rejoicing for each of you. God bless you.

 

 

[1] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/eleanorroo121157.html Accessed 26 December 2016.

[2] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins148778.html Accessed 26 December 2016.

[3] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/confucius131984.html Accessed 26 December 2016.

Navigating through the Detours

Have you ever taken a trip using the global positioning system (GPS) in your car or on your phone? If your trip requires you to be on one stretch of road for a long period of time, the voice on the GPS will be silent until you get to the next stage of the trip. That “radio silence” can be a time of great peace as we can enjoy the trip or we can allow doubt and distrust to come in and make us wonder if the GPS is working. If we decide to take a different route, the GPS will reconfigure our trip based on our current location. We will eventually arrive at our destination, but it may take longer than anticipated. What about the “trip” we are taking with God? Has God been silent for a long time? Have you encountered detours? Is your life “under construction”?

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world and all of us have been hurt by someone’s words or actions. Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is to place our faith and trust in another person or even God. Have you ever been in a car with someone whose driving scared you a bit? Do you always insist on driving? It is human nature for us to feel like we are in control. While there are some things we can control- our actions, our diets, our attitudes, who we have in our lives, etc., there are large parts of our lives that are beyond our control. During these times, we must simply have faith that everything will work out for the best. Although the GPS or even a handheld map are far from infallible, we can take our trip knowing that someone went before us and mapped out the trip.

The Bible teaches that God sees the end from the beginning and that He has a plan for our lives before we are even born. We serve a God who cared so much about our “final destination” that He came to earth, lived as a man, paid the price for our sins, died, and rose from the grave. We serve a God who can relate to our suffering and the painful directions our lives can take.

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NKJV).

We may not understand the trip we are on, but we must keep faith in God that He is guiding and directing us.

“The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.” (Psalm 25:9-10, NKJV).

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with my eye.” (Psalm 32:8, KNJV).

“They shall neither hunger nor thirst, neither heat nor sun shall strike them; For He who has mercy on them will lead them, even by the springs of water He will guide them. I will make each of My mountains a road, and My highways shall be elevated.” (Isaiah 49:10-11, NKJV).

As for New Testament believers, we have a much better covenant because we have accepted the finished work of Christ on the cross and we have not only the Word, but the Holy Spirit as well.

[Speaking of Christ] “To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:77-79, KJV).

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16:13, NKJV).

Over the course of this last year, my journey has taken me to places I never thought I would be in life. It seems like more than once God’s GPS has reconfigured my trip. I have at times found the trip to be difficult, but I know I am not alone. I have resolved to try and enjoy the ride because these matters are out of my control. I serve a God who loved me and cared for me to take care of eternity, how can I not trust Him to guide me through a brief detour?