The Hero

By Michael W. Raley

This is not how the story was supposed to go.

Happily ever after must be reserved for the fairy tales,

Because it doesn’t appear to be in sight.

Our hero endures great obstacles,

But does not have that defining, triumphant moment.

Instead, he simply endures until the next battle,

Which is coming from all directions.

It appears the hero has been cut off from all help

And he must use his own strength and his own reason

To break through the formidable walls of Jericho,

Which become more and more reinforced as the days pass.

The hero must find a way to go on,

Though the guiding voice is silent,

Though the reinforcements are not coming,

Though his body and spirit are scarred and broken,

The hero must fight, alone if he must.

 

 

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.

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!

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.

 

Seek Happiness from Within

Happiness is an inside job. In order to find our happiness, we must shut the door on the clamor that is modern life and seek the peace within ourselves.

Your happiness is squarely on your shoulders. Our happiness is the result of our internal response to external circumstances. Yes, there will be horrible, soul-crushing, darkness which will at times, mask our landscape, but you do not have to stay there. The ancient Greeks had a word, Euthymia, to describe a pleasant, peaceful state of mind. The Stoics, Seneca in particular, preferred the word Tranquility.  The Bible speaks of the peace that transcends all understanding.

In order to bring change to our world, we must do the work ourselves. Don’t look to people, governments, or stuff to make you happy or change your circumstances. Start with you. Seek God’s forgiveness, then make peace with yourself. You can’t change yesterday’s decisions and you can’t worry about tomorrow’s choices. It’s only you and this moment.

Epictetus said, “Regardless of what is going on around you, make the best of what is in your power, and take the rest as it occurs.”

God has equipped all of us, albeit with different talents and skills, but we are all equipped nonetheless. Take the tools you have and build the life you want.