I’ve Accepted the Fact

By Michael W. Raley

I’ve accepted the fact that you’re not coming.

As to the reality of unanswered prayers and crushed hopes, I am succumbing.

I know you would have brought out the best in me,

I would have provided for your every need.

As I try to go on living my life,

I do my best to push these thoughts aside,

Trying not to mourn over the loss and torment.

Instead, I try to be grateful for what I have in the moment.

Perhaps just as tragic as the life struck down before its prime

Is the life of one who never had his or her time.

There will always be a black hole in my portion of time and space

That  I will never understand nor will I ever be able to erase.

 

The Stockdale Paradox

Admiral James Stockdale (1923-2006) was an American Navy fighter pilot, speaker, and a one-time Vice-Presidential candidate. On September 9, 1965, Stockdale was leading a bombing mission over North Vietnam when his plane was shot down. What happened next is an extraordinary tale of courage, imprisonment, suffering, and the strength of the human spirit.

In that harrowing situation of being shot down behind enemy lines, Stockdale’s presence of mind determined how he would deal with what he knew was coming.

“After ejection, I had about thirty seconds to make my last statement in freedom before I landed in the main street of a little village right ahead. And so help me, I whispered to myself: ‘Five years down there, at least. I’m leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.'”1

Thirty seconds. Thirty seconds while parachuting into hostile territory, bullets piercing the canvas of his parachute was all it took for Stockdale to assess the situation. In his mind, Stockdale accepted the fact that he was going to be imprisoned for at least five years!

This decision making process has become known as “The Stockdale Paradox.” This is when you accept the reality of the situation and that you are going to be in for a long fight. The doctor’s given you or a loved one the diagnosis or maybe the layoffs going around the office are coming your way. This is the punch you see coming. Brace yourself.

In his mind, Stockdale relied on the Stoic philosophy he learned three years before while a graduate student at Stanford. Although his impending circumstances were out of his control, Stockdale knew his response was well within his control. How are you going to respond?

After parachuting down and landing in a tree line, Stockdale disconnected his chute and was summarily beaten by a local gang, who broke his leg. After a crude prison surgery, Stockdale limped the rest of his life. However, Stockdale’s five-year thought was off by two-and-a-half years. Stockdale spent seven-and-a-half -years in what was called, “The Hanoi Hilton.” Seven-and-a-half -years of imprisonment, suffering, torture, and solitary confinement.

When we are facing a crisis, we must be realistic about our expectations and our situation. In another speech, Stockdale commented that the most optimistic soldiers were the ones who had the hardest time with imprisonment. These soldiers would think, “We’ll be home be Easter.” Easter comes and goes. “We’ll be home by Christmas.” Christmas comes and goes. And so on until their spirit became broken.

Admiral Stockdale was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary life. Stockdale and those other men endured hardships I would not want to imagine. This story also illustrates the importance of what we have stored away in our minds and spirits  will guide us through our crisis. Do you have a reserve of faith to draw on? Will the love of your family keep you going? Will it be philosophic teachings? Will the lessons of previous triumphs and/or perceived failures be your guide? While we have today, let us use the day to build up reserves for when the inevitable crisis comes. Do not live in fear of what may come, but accept the fact it may not leave willingly or any time soon.  God bless you all.

 

 

1James Stockdale, “Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior,” from the book Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot. Hoover Institution Press (Stanford University): 189.

Embrace Today’s Second Chance

By Michael W. Raley

O how the body aches,

O how the heart breaks,

When you realize

That the dream has died.

All of the work, love, faith, and hope you planted as seeds

Has become a harvest of drought and weeds.

We shrug it off as not meant to be or not part of a plan,

Neither of which bring us comfort nor understanding.

Time will go on and somehow so will we,

Keeping our distance and remaining skeptical and leery.

The sacrifice and pain came at such a high cost

That it will take time to get over this loss.

However, some wounds will never heal

As we may become bitter about our raw deal.

Some things we will never get over, with the burden on our shoulders.

We perceive ourselves to be destined like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder,

Only to have it roll down the hill again.

Or consider Job, who sought an audience with God and an explanation,

Only to be pelted with unanswerable question after unanswerable question.

Yes, Job’s family and fortunes were restored,

But why did he have to go through all of that before?

We must hold on to the loved ones and days which remain,

In spite of the sorrow and pain.

We must embrace today’s second chance,

For as Aurelius said, we are meant to wrestle with this life and not dance.

Psalm 13: How Long, Lord?

Albert Einstein theorized that time is a relative concept. Whether time moves fast or slow is a matter of perception. Children cannot wait to become adults in order to achieve independence.  The eighteen years in between our birth and adulthood may as well be a 1000 years for as slow as time moves. However, as we age, time seems to speed up. You hear a classic song or re-watch a favorite movie and you remember how old you were when you first heard it or watched it. You shake your head in disbelief at how fast time has come and gone.

Perhaps nothing slows down time like a severe trial or test of our faith. No matter the trial- the unexpected death of a loved one, a broken relationship, sickness, job loss, an avalanche of debt- life can sneak up on us or just walk up to us and punch us in the stomach. Once we are in the trial, we in essence become frozen in time, as the trial and pain slowly consume our lives and thoughts. The discouragement gives way to the depression; the depression makes way for the despair; the despair evicts the last tenants of hope and faith.

HOW LONG, LORD?

How long, Lord? If you have ever asked God this question, did you get a response? Probably not. Believe it or not, you are not alone in asking this question. David was many things in his life- giant killer, warrior, king, prophet, shepherd, poet, musician, and a man like us who had his character flaws.

Although Psalm 13 gives us no context of the trial David was facing, it is clear David begins the Psalm in utter despair and is accepting defeat:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

And my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.”

(Psalm 13:1-4, NIV).

David’s words are of a desperate man in a desperate situation. David is essentially saying, “God, if you don’t do something, I might as well lay down and die.” It seems that God is silent in the midst of our trials. When we seek God for answers and He does not respond, we are left alone in our thoughts. Our thoughts will run wild like a caged animal who has escaped its pen. We begin to question everything we believe about God and we begin to feel as if our flaws are beyond redemption and we sink into the depths of despair.

However, between verses 4 and 5, David experiences a turning point and the Psalm pivots back to hope and praise.

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5-6, NIV).

It is difficult for us to see past the pain of our current situation. We look at the immediate failures and forget the past victories. We forget that we have the proper tools to demolish our obstacle and rebuild the foundations stronger than ever.

Faith, like our bodies, must be exercised to reach our full potential. When we lift weights, our muscles become sore because we have broken them down. However, our bodies are designed to rebuild itself after injury. When we go back to the weight room, our muscles will be better equipped to handle more weight than before. Trials, in the same way, can strengthen our spirits and make us stronger.

Psalm 13 does not give us an indication of how long it took David to come back to himself, but it probably took time. How long will it take you? Are you willing to allow this giant trial to mock you night and day as Goliath taunted the Israelite army? Are you willing to look back at what worked and what you have overcame to get to this point? Are you willing to accept the fact that the length of your trial is completely out of your control? Are you willing to look at your faith and trial in a realistic and pragmatic manner? Remember, David took down a giant with a slingshot and a well-placed rock. You got this.God bless you all.

 

 

 

 

The Hand You’re Dealt

The Hand You’re Dealt By Michael W. Raley

Swimming under a bridge that I’ve already burned;

It’s amazing how quickly your life can turn.

One small misstep or stumble

And down the mountain you go to be humbled.

The deck is stacked against me,

But, I’ll break even when I get to eternity.

 

These times have no rhyme or reason,

No winter, spring, summer, or fall,

It’s just one long and confusing season.

It’s high time to steady the weary knees and stand tall.

 

Trying to keep aflame the Divine Spark

Is a tall and mighty task

When you’re enveloped by the dark.

I seek the true way, in the Light I want to bask.

 

When the cards of fate were dealt,

I wasn’t asked what I thought or felt.

I’m learning not to complain,

Because it won’t change the circumstances or take away the pain.

Though this path I didn’t choose,

I will have to accept times of victory and a loss or two.

 

This is all part of a Divine Plan

That after ages still remains a mystery to every woman and man.

The only constant is change.

Thus, we must learn to adapt and rearrange.

Time is our most valuable resource,

So, take what you have left and plot a new course.

 

The Biblical Significance of 40

Numbers. Data. Statistics. The Bottom Line. Whatever you want to call it, information plays a significant role in our lives. From this information, trends can be identified and used in an attempt to predict patterns, spending habits, the state of the global economy and so on and so forth. However, when we delve deeper into a biblical study of numbers, there are interesting patterns which develop as the same numbers emerge in different texts.

A well-known biblical number to believers and non-believers alike is 666. Jesus had twelve disciples. There were twelve tribes of Israel. The Gospel of John records seven “I am” statements of Jesus, which confirm His divinity. God rested on the seventh day. Bible prophecy discusses seven-headed beasts, and numerous other creatures. Another interesting biblical number is the number forty.

As of this posting, I am celebrating my fortieth birthday. I took a look earlier this week at the significance of forty in the Bible.

*The rain of the Flood lasted forty days and forty nights.

*Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah.

*Israel had forty years of peace after Gideon conquered the Midianites.

*Eli judged Israel for forty years.

*Goliath challenged the Israelites for forty days until he was defeated by David.

*David and Solomon each ruled Israel for forty years.

*Elijah spent forty days traveling and fasting before encountering God on Mount Horeb.

*The twelve spies sent out by Moses returned after forty days.

*Jesus fasted and was tempted by Satan for forty days.

*Jesus appeared with His disciples for forty days after His resurrection.

Moses

The life of Moses serves as an interesting side note to our study of the number forty. The Bible tells us that Moses lived to be 120 years old. In fact, we can break down Moses’ story into three distinct forty-year increments.

*Moses spent his first forty years as a Prince of Egypt.

*Moses lived the next forty years in Midian, where he married, had children, and was a shepherd.

*Moses was 80 when he encountered God at the burning bush and led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

*Moses spent forty days and nights on Mount Sinai, where he received the Ten Commandments.

*Moses led the Israelites forty years in the wilderness, where they ate manna the whole time.

From this brief study, we can see that forty typically represents a number of trial and breakthrough. Moses emerged as a deliverer forty years of exile. David was victorious over the giant who taunted Israel’s army. The corruption of Eli and his sons led to God speaking to the young Samuel, who would become the last Judge of Israel. Jesus overcame temptation, Satan, and death. We will certainly have our rough stretches during our forty day and forty year periods, but we must not lose heart. In one form of another, victory will come. Whenever a trial comes, it is an opportunity to learn. Just as one meal from an angel gave Elijah the strength to go on for forty days, so to can our wisdom and strength carry us through whatever we are facing. You can be delivered. You can overcome. You defeat your giant. God bless you all.

Negative Visualization and Faith

What’s the worst that can happen?” If you ever asked this question, you have been greeted more than likely with being shushed, glares, or heard, “Don’t say that.”

As humans, we do not like to contemplate the worst-case scenario. In fact, we develop a kind of superstition about such questions as “What’s the worst that could happen?” because we have tendency to think that asking such a question is going to invite some heartache or tragedy into our lives.

Although we do not like to mention it, we do take precautions against the worst-case scenario. If we are worried someone would break into our home, we lock our doors and windows, we install a security system, or we may purchase a weapon to protect ourselves in the event of a home invasion. We also purchase homeowner’s or renter’s insurance in the event our home is burglarized or damaged by a fire or disaster. We have health insurance in the event we get sick. We have car insurance in the event our car is wrecked or stolen. We buy life insurance to make sure our family is taken care of in the event of our death.

It is only right and commendable that we take precautions to protect our families and everything we have worked for in our lives. However, what if we were able to contemplate the worst case scenario without living a life crippled by fear and anxiety?

The Stoics practiced what is called negative visualization.

Negative visualization does not mean that we live as a “Gloomy Gus” or “Debbie Downer,” finding the negative in everything, but it teaches us to have peace of mind in the midst of challenging circumstances. Thus, negative visualization can mentally prepare us and lessen the impact of the worst case scenario. This in turn will increase the joy in our lives as we embrace our loved ones and this present moment even more.

According to William B. Irvine, “Negative visualization, in other words, teaches us to embrace whatever life we happen to be living and to extract every bit of delight we can from it. But it simultaneously teaches us to prepare ourselves for changes that will deprive us of the things that delight us. It teaches us, in other words, to enjoy what we have without clinging to it. This in turn means that by practicing negative visualization, we can not only increase our chances of experiencing joy but increase the chance that the joy we experience will be durable, that it will survive changes in our circumstances.”[1]

Someone right now may be raising the objection, “Aren’t we as Christians supposed to have faith that God will protect us?” Yes, we are supposed to have faith, but our faith does not prevent us from experiencing hardships in this life.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b, NIV).

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3, NIV).

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).

Thus, by practicing negative visualization, we can still have faith and joy in the midst of circumstances.

Going back to the example of protecting our homes. Let us imagine someone breaks-in to your house and steals your new TV. Naturally, we would be upset about our TV being stolen, but we can take stock of what’s around us. If we were to step back, we could be thankful that we were not physically harmed, our family is safe, our pets are safe, the house is still standing, and the insurance will replace the TV. We have reason to praise God although our TV was stolen.

We can examine terrible situations and still find a reason to rejoice. I have discussed in several posts about my battles with anemia and celiac disease. I was very ill and could have had a fatal heart attack due to the strain the anemia placed on my body. While going through the anemia was difficult, the doctors found out that I have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Patients with celiac disease also experience anemia. I had to make sudden dietary changes, but it worked out for the best because I am no longer anemic. I have my energy back and was blessed with a second chance at life.

I came close to death, but I did not die. I know that one day I will die, but I do not let that stop me from living life. In fact, going through this trial with my health has given the opportunity to be more mindful of the life that is all around me. My faith has been deepened through my experiences because I know that God has allowed me to endure and to overcome these obstacles. If I were to contemplate what would come next, I know I would be able to handle that as well. Maybe you have already experienced a worst-case scenario- whatever that is. You are still standing. You are still here. You have lived through that experience, even though it may be the lowest point of your life. You have the training and strength to get through the next trial. We must not take anyone or anything for granted. Let us be grateful for the present moment. God bless you all.

[1] William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009:83.