Embrace and Adapt to the Circumstances

“Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”1 -Epictetus

I don’t deserve this. I try to do everything right. I show up and do my job. I’m a dedicated spouse and an even more dedicated parent. Why am I suffering? Why is God silent? Why is He allowing this to happen?

Does that train of thought sound familiar? I have gone through that script so many times, I should’ve been nominated for a major acting award.

(Before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer: No one, under any circumstances deserves to be abused, mistreated, harassed, or tormented by anyone else. If you find yourself in that situation, please seek help).

Deserve. A word which signifies an entitlement or something that is owed to us. We often think of deserve as a reward for doing the right thing, for not acting like everyone else around us. Deserve means we should be spared from a life of pain and suffering. However, all of us, deep inside know that is not the case.

Life is unfair. Legal or social justice does not always prevail. A husband or wife can decide they want out after decades of marriage. You can be fired or laid off from that job for which you earned while climbing the corporate ladder. A retirement fund or savings account can be wiped out with one swift downturn in the market or a major illness. You may have reached middle aged or older only to find yourself starting over. Life is unfair.

To paraphrase the above Epictetus quote: It’s not about what we deserve, it’s about what we get. We must manage our expectations of love, marriage, career, health, and everything else we deal with in this life.

I never thought my health and career would take a turn for the worse at thirty-eight. I never conceived that I would be divorced three years later. I didn’t expect to start over in a one bedroom apartment. Life will take you places you don’t want to go. Life will drag you kicking and screaming if it must. However, it’s not all bad and you are tougher than you think you are.

I agree with Epictetus that we must temper our expectations as we go through life. I’m not saying to prepare for catastrophic failure, but we must train ourselves to adapt to changing circumstances. Jesus said that in this world, we will have tribulation, but we can take solace in knowing He has overcome the world. The Buddha said existence is suffering. Yoda said that we must let go of everything we fear to lose. Basically, bad times are going to come, we must find peace and contentment in the worst of circumstances. To use a sports analogy, if our game plan is not working, we must be able to make adjustments on the fly. Embrace where you are and God bless you.

1Epictetus The Art of Living: A New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 7.

I Found Peace

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I am at peace. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with my circumstances. I am at peace with the past and with God.

I didn’t have a mountain top experience nor was it a sudden revelation, I just came to be. A coworker this week mentioned that I have a different look on my face than I had in recent months. I believe my period of mourning has lifted and new life has sprung forth.

I have to say the last six years of my life have been the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I have detailed these struggles on this blog and I believe this period of darkness inspired some of my best work. If you’re new to the blog, I briefly recap what the last six years has been like- I left a church I had been apart of for fourteen years and the changing spiritual dynamics left me wandering and questioning God. I was hospitalized with anemia,which I found out a year later was caused by Celiac disease. I was laid off from a job, which sent my career in a tailspin. Recurring flare-ups of my Ulcerative Colitis, my nephew’s suicide, my battles with anxiety and depression, and being blindsided by a divorce after eighteen years of marriage.

I was a broken man. My mind, body, and spirit were broken. I felt so hopeless and alone. I know that I wasn’t alone because I had the support of my family and my family of coworkers. I went back to church and joined a men’s group and heard the stories of men who were in my same situation. I sold the house my ex-wife and I built together, which was a burden off of my shoulders and a boost to my mental and financial health.

When I think about my struggles, I’m reminded of two Bible verses, Philippians 4:7 and Romans 8:28. To summarize, Philippians 4:7 discusses a peace that transcends all understanding, while Romans 8:28 talks about how God uses all things to work together for our good. These Scriptures don’t say that everything that happens to us will be good, but we can have a peaceful heart in the worst of times. I memorized Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:7 when I first became a Christian, but the truth of those verses have really sank into my heart.

At the beginning of the year, I posted about this year being a year of restoration, and it has become that, a period of restoration. Being at peace doesn’t mean that everything has worked out and is resolved like a sitcom, drama or movie. Finding peace means that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. You’ve made it through previous hard times and you’re going to get through this.

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.

I’ll never be successful.

How can anybody love me?

I’m a failure.

How could she do that to me?

I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.

The list goes on and on.

Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.

The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.

As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes.  My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?

Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”

As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.

Focus on what you can control

We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.

Temper your expectations

There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.

This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review- Dark Nights of the Soul

All of us go through periods of suffering. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss, an illness, a crisis of faith, all of which can crush our spirits and cover our lives in darkness. It’s not only these unpleasant times that will come to define us, it’s also how we respond when these times come. Thomas Moore’s book, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals. The book title inspired by the 16th Century Spanish mystic and poet John of the Cross’ poem “Dark Night of the Soul.”

At the very beginning, Moore informs us that getting through a dark night of the soul is not for those looking for a quick fix:

“If your main interest in life is health, you may quickly try to overcome the darkness. But if you are looking for meaning, character, and personal substance, you may discover that a dark night has many important gifts for you.”1

Moore adds that we can sense a time of growth and preparation during difficult times:

“Sometimes in your darkness you may sense that something is incubating in you or that you are being prepared for life. You are going somewhere, even though there are no external signs of progress.”2

Moore brilliantly draws upon the struggles of patients in his years of therapy practice and how they navigated through their dark nights. Moore also weaves in the tale of Jonah from the Bible, tales from mythology, and the real life struggles of writers Oscar Wilde, Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, and others, who found meaning in the midst of their suffering.

Moore’s theme throughout the book is to guide us in how to properly frame our dark nights, embrace them, and seek to growth from the darkness.

“Think of a dark night as part of organic living. To avoid it would be like choosing only artificial food that never spoils. As a natural person, you are going to feel a wide range of emotions and go through many different kinds of experiences. Over the course of your lifetime, parts of you will grow and blossom, some will rot. To be sad, grieving, struggling, lost, or hopeless is part of natural human life. By riding the wave of your dark night, you are more yourself, moving toward who you are meant to be.”3

Moore touches upon the dark nights that can occur in life, relationships, spirituality, creativity, health, and aging, often using non-clinical methods, to help the reader understand how to get through the dark times. One way to navigate the dark nights, according to Moore, is to develop a philosophy of life, which he defines as:

“A philosophy of life is a bundle of wisdom you have gathered from your reading and experience. It is not a rigid ideology that allows no development and complexity. It’s a living thing, a developing idea about life that belongs to you alone.”4

I know on a personal level that whenever I find myself going through a period of suffering, I question the purpose of said suffering. I contemplate the purpose of my existence and my lot in life. However, Moore puts it succinctly, while drawing upon a them of Stoic philosophy:

“Where you fit in the scheme of things is not your choice. Your job is to deal honestly and generously with the fate given to you. It may be a brief life of sickness. You may be the most ordinary of people. On the other hand, you may be called sometime in your life to make an extraordinary act. Your task is to be prepared for the invitation offered, the chance to define yourself by an important choice.”5

I find Dark Nights of the Soul to be an excellent read and I recommend it to anyone facing a difficult time in your life.

1Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals.New York: Gotham Books (2004): xiii.

2Ibid, 4.

3Ibid, 7.

4Ibid, 32.

5Ibid, 298.

The Introverted Christian

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I am an introvert and I am okay with it. I am by nature a shy, quiet, and reserved person until I become comfortable with a person, a group, or a social situation. I prefer a quiet Friday night at home or the solitude of a bookstore as opposed to some loud bar or club. However, the “extroverted world” has tried to make it out like there’s something wrong with me or the millions, possibly billions out there like me.

“You have to look out for the quiet ones.”

“Why are you so quiet?”

“You need to come out of your shell.”

“You don’t talk much.”

My introversion not only comes in conflict with everyday life, but also in the business and the fundamental evangelical church worlds. I have been a manager, I have preached sermons, I’ve volunteered to coach a church league basketball team, I went on a mission trip and fulfilled The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), but people were still standoffish and not accepting of me.

The place where I struggled the most with my introversion was the church. In my early twenties up to my mid-thirties, my now ex-wife and I attended what is known as a Charismatic church, which believes that the gifts of the New Testament (healing, speaking in tongues,casting out demons, etc.) are still in effect today. If you are unfamiliar with the Charismatic church, it’s along the lines of the Pentecostal/Assemblies of God denominations.

Worship in these “Full Gospel” type of churches can get rowdy, as people jump up and down, wave flags, run around the sanctuary, raise their hands, and so on and so forth. However, I was always very reserved in my demeanor, choosing to worship God on my own terms. I’m not a hooting and hollering person, it’s not who I am. With my old church being around 300 people, others took notice of my demeanor and I received “churchified” statements concerning my introverted nature:

“You got a spirit of fear.”

“You need to be bold.”

“Quit resisting the Spirit.”

Now that I have the advantage of looking back and perspective, I know what I should have said: “If God knew me before He created me (Jeremiah 1:5), wouldn’t He know that I was going to be this way?”Or maybe I should’ve pointed out that Jesus, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, and others in Scripture sought out God in solitude and in their own ways. If they didn’t follow the crowd in seeking God, why do I have to? Also, if God accepts you as you are, wouldn’t that include a quiet nature as well?

Please don’t misinterpret, I am not speaking out of bitterness or putting anyone down. I am simply sharing my struggle with who I am. I spent a lot of years worried that there was something wrong with me, like I would not be fully accepted by God or anyone else. I don’t want you to face that same struggle.

As of this post, I am forty-two, divorced, starting over with God in a much larger church, and I am coming to a place of accepting myself. I am who I am. I prefer to share my faith by embodying my faith; I seek to build relationships as opposed to threatening with hell fire. It took me a long, long, time, but I have finally accepted myself just as I am. It may be a contradiction in terms, but I am an introverted Christian. God bless you.

Possibilities and Processes

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By Michael W. Raley

What if we revived dreams

We once deemed dead and gone?

What if we were to  re-open our minds

To the possibilities we so easily dismissed?

Opportunities come in so many different ways,

Through good circumstances and bad,

We often fail to recognize them.

While we have this present moment,

Let us open our hearts to love again.

Though the cities of our minds

May have been raided and destroyed

By events and people,

We can rebuild like Nehemiah and the walls of Jerusalem.

This process will have its ups and downs,

But the results will be well worth the effort.

Living Life with UC

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Living with Ulcerative colitis is a lot like trying not to disturb a bear- the consequences can and will be painful. I have lived with UC for almost twenty years and I have managed to build a life in spite of the disease. I was twenty-two years old and a senior in college when the symptoms first appeared.

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease which affects over 900,000 Americans of all genders and races.1 Ulcerative colitis is inflammation of the colon, which can cause the following symptoms:

-Diarrhea (with blood or pus in the stool)

-Stomach cramps

-Bloating

-Joint pain

-Fatigue

-Anemia due to the loss of blood

-Weight loss

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please seek medical treatment as soon as possible. If you are referred to a specialist, the specialist will want to perform a colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis. As of now, there is no cure for Ulcerative colitis or any other inflammatory bowel disease, it can only be controlled through diet, medication, exercise, and managing stress levels.

UC is a lifelong diagnosis and a lifelong adversary, due to the flare-ups you may experience. In my particular situation, my UC went into remission for years, and I was able for a period of time not take any medication. However, my symptoms came back and I currently take two medications to control it- one a biologic I have to inject and new pills I am waiting to take effect. My last medication stopped working after three years.

Concerning the treatment of flare ups, your doctor will more than likely provide you with a steroid to help get the inflammation under control. Always make sure you study up on the medicine your prescribed, because all medicines have side effects, as do steroids.

Another way to help control the flares is to manage your diet. Test to see if certain foods trigger your symptoms- foods such as dairy products, caffeine, carbonated drinks, alcohol, high fiber foods, fried and fatty foods, breads, etc can affect UC.

Taking care of your mental health is also essential in dealing with UC. The constant sickness and pain can make you fatigued, which can lead to depression. The fear of having a flare up can cause anxiety about going out in public or even going to work. If you must, talk to a spiritual or mental health counselor concerning your situation.

UC has changed my life and it has changed the lives of my family. My UC recovery is also complicated by other autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism, Celiac disease, and osteopenia. However, in spite of these circumstances, I am determined to live my life to the fullest and to try and help others who are facing this problem. It is possible to live a satisfying life, even with UC.

The Toolbox of Problem Solving

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Christmas 2000 my mom and dad bought me a large red Craftsman toolbox, complete with sets of wrenches, ratchets, hex wrenches, and sockets. (I’m doing my Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor grunt from Home Improvement as I think about it). At the time my wife and I lived in our second floor apartment, where I kept the toolbox in the living room (which is a great conversation starter if you have company). Soon we bought a house and moved out of the apartment where the tool box till this day sits in my disorganized garage.

I still have and use all of those original tools, along with others that have been added over the years. My parents gave me those tool knowing that I would need them and they equipped me for any job that may arise. I have confidence that I have “the right tool for the job,” which started with a generous gift.

Tools are great when you have to change your car’s oil, replace a garbage disposal, or put a new heating element in the dryer, but not all of life’s problems can be fixed with a 7/16 wrench. Relationship issues, health problems, finances, school, spirituality, and whatever else life throws at you require a different set of tools. There are times though, when I wanted to take a metaphorical sledgehammer to life and do a demolition and rebuild.

When it comes to life’s problems, all of us have the tools to get the job done. I believe we are equipped by God and through our own experiences to work on the problem at hand. What if we realized how empowered we truly are to face our problems? We have to take the initiative to open the toolbox. Grabbed the wrong socket? Just get the next size larger or smaller. Maybe the bolt takes a metric socket instead of a standard, you just have to see what works and what doesn’t. If the problem comes up again, you’ll remember the exact tool you need.

Have you ever prayed and prayed, and prayed some more, but nothing happened? We all have. Have you ever sat by passively waiting on God or someone else to fix a problem? Meanwhile days, weeks, months, or even years may go by with no results and we are left wondering what is wrong. We’ll shrug our shoulders and say, “It wasn’t meant to be.” or “I guess it wasn’t God’s will.” But, what if our unanswered prayers are God’s way of telling us that we have the tools and we can take care of the problem ourselves? For example, I have three hammers, it would be silly of me to call my dad and ask to borrow a hammer because I have what I need.

Tools and resources are available and we must seek them out. Miracles just don’t fall out of the sky, as we have to live in the real world. The real world is a messy place, where we will get greasy and sweaty doing the hard work. We live in a time if great resources and information, thus there is no excuse for us to wallow in ignorance or portray a helpless victim.  Open up your toolbox and start with what you have, where you’re at. You have the tools you need for now and you’ll keep adding to them as you go. Work on being the master craftsman of your life.