I Never Knew My Own Strength

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By Michael W. Raley

I never knew my own strength

Until I came across my greatest foe.

Not a person or cosmic entity,

But my own body.

I live with the chronic sickness and pain

While I strive to live a full life.

I do my best not to complain

And I don’t want to be a burden,

But there are times when it’s too much,

Yet I persevere.

The prayers have stopped

And God remains silent.

I guess it up to me

To gear up and face this enemy,

Which I will, no matter the obstacle,

No matter how I feel.

“Vivere est militare.”

To live is to fight

And fight on I will.

 

The Irrational Prison

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By Michael W. Raley

 

I feel it coming on,

That sinking feeling of dread.

I do what I can to procrastinate,

Trying to make the feeling go away.

It’s not working.

My breathing becomes faster and more intense.

I don’t want to leave my safe space.

I become fully aware in the moment

And begin to reason with myself.

It isn’t logical for me to feel this way

And I know that.

There’s nothing out there that’s going to get me,

But my heart races more and more.

Nothing has happened to make me fear leaving,

This just happens and I can’t explain it.

Just go and do what you have to do,

I say to push myself out the door.

I finally muster up the courage to leave

And accomplish an attempt at a productive life.

This is no way to live,

But it is the way I live,

Behind the bars of an irrational prison.

 

More of the Same

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By Michael W. Raley

Unless someone has walked your same path,

They can never fully understand

What you’re going through

And the struggles you face.

The fatigue you fought just to get out of bed.

The pep talk you gave your anxious self just to leave the house.

The chronic sickness that fights you every step of the way.

The inflammation that reminds you of the pain.

The thoughts that you suppress and fight

As you try to live life as a fully-functional person.

You try to enjoy the present moment,

Only to be haunted by the past

Or receive a harbinger from the future.

You have faith, you hope, and pray,

But the silence lingers day after day.

You know you need to make a change,

Yet remain in the quicksand of malaise.

You seek to make today a better day,

However, the forecast looks like more of the same.

The Roller Coaster of Anxiety

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It was the summer of 2006 and my wife’s employer at the time charted a bus for employees and their families to go to Holiday World, an amusement park in Santa Claus, Indiana (that is the name of the town). My wife, being the carefree daredevil she is, wanted to start off with the biggest roller coaster in the park (oh boy). As I looked at that wooden roller coaster, I felt a twinge of anxiety.

At this point of my life, I had not been on a roller coaster since I was twelve, as I developed a fear of them. We waited through the long line and sat down in one of the ride’s cars. The foam padded steel lap bars came down to secure us while the ride is in motion.

Click.

My thoughts and my heart began to race.

“I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out of here,” I kept repeating out loud.

I tried pushing up that foam padded steel lap bar, which would have been a job better suited for Superman or The Incredible Hulk. My wife reassured me that it was going to be fine.

Click.

The roller coaster started to move. Too late now. Time to man up.

Clickity clack up to the top of the track.

As our part of the coaster reached the summit of the first hill,the pressure built up in my head and I screamed to release it. The ride couldn’t have been three or four minutes, but it felt like an eternity.

Finally, it was over. I was back on Terra Firma. I was shaken, but I had conquered my fear. That day I went on to ride all of the roller coasters at Holiday world. A few years ago, I rode bigger roller coasters at King’s Island.

The story I just told was a sample of an anxiety-filled life. For anyone who has ever dealt with anxiety, it doesn’t have to be a large, fast, wooden roller coaster to trigger a response, it can be something as mundane as leaving the house for work, a test, or any other seemingly harmless situation.

I’m not a mental health expert, but I know how crippling anxiety can be. I know the frustration when it seems you have tried everything you know to get rid of anxiety, but it’s still there, taunting you like a bully.  Of course, some feelings of anxiety are good for survival, as we perceive threats to the safety of ourselves and loved ones. However, when anxiety clouds your judgment, freezes you, and becomes the norm of your life, it’s time to do something.

My life has been a battle with anxiety, as it my arch nemesis, like a Joker to by Batman or Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker. Very few people know of my struggle, but I am determined to take my life back. I am sharing my story on this blog (possibly with the world), to let you know it’s okay. You don’t have to be ashamed. You must be honest with yourself and admit that there’s a problem. Reach out and seek help any way you can.  Today is the start of a new journey for me. I’m taking back my life. God bless.

 

 

 

Monday Morning Rambles

Another week is here whether or not I’m ready for it. I’ve been very uninspired and angry while trying to get through this maze we call life. “Now what?” is the operative question floating around in my head. You ever reached a point of mental exhaustion where all the faith, philosophy, and self-help motivation isn’t going to help? I’m there.

I try to take care of myself concerning my celiac disease and my overall health, but I keep hitting walls and having setbacks. I’m emotionally spent, as my discouragement has sank me back into depression. It’s hard to find the bright side when it’s a dark and cloudy night. Everything I try is another dead end. I’m trapped like a rat on a sinking ship.

As I stated at the beginning, I’ve been angry about the way things have turned out. I know my reaction is under my control, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when you have to watch yourself and the ones you love struggle through undeserved trials. Deserve- I’ve been dwelling a lot on that word. Maybe life isn’t about what you deserve, it’s just dealing with what you get and you get through it the best you can. My faith teaches me that there is a plan for my life and everything will work out, but who knows what this plan is? None of us seems to know and we just go through life attributing events to “God’s will.” I just wonder why doesn’t the Almighty make it easier for us mere mortals to figure out this plan?

Maybe I’m jaded because I have suffered loss in the spirituality department or maybe I’m more discerning and deliberate in my forties, but I’ve reached a point where I’m not falling for the vague promises of someone on the campaign trail:

“It’s a great plan. I can’t get into specifics, but it’s going to be good.”

Wouldn’t God be better served, both literally and figuratively, if He was more forthright as to what we are supposed to do? Why do I have to die to find out how it all fits together? I have to live this life now. I cannot sacrifice enjoying the present for some vague promise of what’s to come. I know some Christians would question and abhor  my skepticism, but I need facts, I need data. I am a man of reason, this must be reasonable if I am to make an informed choice. I have neither the time nor the inclination to play the spiritual equivalent of  the game “Guess Who?”

I must be intellectually honest with myself or I’m going nowhere. My faith is a struggle and I have a hard time believing. To use a human analogy: If you were in a relationship with someone- a significant other, friend, or family member, and they repeatedly allowed you to be hurt or disappointed, how would you feel about trying to start over? If you’ve read this far, thank you for allowing me to get this off of my chest.

The Power of Acceptance

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Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” – William James1

It is what it is,” is a popular American saying, which means “accept it because there’s nothing you can do about it.” While in the moment the expression sounds like a cop out of resignation, but within this cliché is a nugget of wisdom.
There is power in acceptance. Acceptance helps you come to terms with what happens in life, no matter if it is death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, or our own looming mortality. Acceptance allows us to grow. For example, I am perfectly fine with the man I am at forty-one and I do not grieve about not being the man I was at twenty-one. I have come to embrace who I am and what I have been through in this life. However, this does not mean that I have liked everything that has happened,but I have used these building blocks of character to form the foundation of who I am today.
Acceptance can also help bring us peace of mind and process life’s events, as my favorite philosopher, Epictetus, put it succinctly: “Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible.”2
In fact, Epictetus put down a good foundation for us to follow concerning the power of acceptance.

Manage your expectations

Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”3

Be weary of attachments

Open your eyes: Seeing things for what they really are, thereby sparing yourself the pain of false attachments and avoidable devastation. Think about what delights you- the tools on which you depend, the people whom you cherish. But remember that they have their own distinct character, which is quite a separate matter from how we happen to regard them.”4

Attitude goes a long way

When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.”5

Manage your perceptions and judgments

What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance. Stop scaring yourself with impetuous notions, with your reactive impressions of the way things are! Things and people are not what we wish them to be nor what they seem to be. They are what they are.”6

Life will never be perfect and as Epictetus pointed out, will turn out according to our expectations. One of the most important lessons I have learned is to be happy with who I am. Don’t waste your time trying to make everyone happy, because you won’t. You are the one who lives this life with your mind, your perceptions, your experiences, your genetic makeup, and the consequences of your choices.Therefore, embrace this life because it is the only life we get. God bless you.

2Epictetus, The Art of Living, A new interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1994): 15.

3Ibid, 7.

4Ibid, 7.

5Ibid, 7.

6Ibid, 7-8.

Live for the Present, not the End

I used to be fascinated by the end of the world, the apocalypse, the end of days, whatever name you want to call it. I’ve poured over Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 (which is also found in Luke 21 and Mark 13); the Book of Revelation, and scoured the prophets as well. I read the first twelve books of the left behind series, anticipated the four blood moons of 2014-2015, sneered at the date setting, and I was an avid watcher of end times teachers. For good measure, I tried to see how current events such as 9/11, the War on Terror, the rise of ISIS and certain world leaders fit into the prophetic timeline.

What I’ve learned: waiting for the end only hampers living in the present. As a Christian I know Jesus and other New Testament writers told us to watch for the signs, but I believe we should be more diligent in teaching and showing God’s grace to the world around us. Don’t let this present moment pass you by as you wait for a heaven that’s a lifetime away.

Apocalyptic teaching, of course is not unique to Christianity, as many religions, cults, sects, and cultures modern and ancient have anticipated some cosmic cataclysm to generate rebirth or to rewrite the wrongs and social ills of their respective societies. In an age of scientific understanding we know that eclipses, meteors, planetary alignments, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on are all naturally occurring phenomena. In the past ages that had little or no scientific understanding, such events were attributed to the judgment of God or the gods upon society. Since many of our religions are based on these ancient texts and modes of thinking, we as a society still have these thoughts in a technologically advanced Twenty-First Century.

I believe we must take a more reasoned and logical approach in understanding the world around us. I’m not putting down anyone’s beliefs or discounting any sacred teaching, I’m just advocating that while we are “waiting for the end,” we make our current world the best it can be. A prime example is that we cannot trash our planet in the hopes of living on Mars or Jupiter, as those ideas may remain the dreams of science fiction.

As a church, we cannot find ourselves again on the wrong side of history when it comes to such things as civil rights, taking care of the less fortunate, the environment, and being the light of the world as Jesus said we should be. We have real issues that we must address. I have said in many blog posts before, I have no particular political affiliation-I’m not a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or anything like that. However, within the last forty years or so, many American Evangelical Christians have aligned themselves with political parties  who are against many of Jesus’ teachings- taking care of the sick, giving to the poor, elevating the status of women, recognizing those who have a different perceived social status, and just simply showing compassion to your fellow man, woman, and child. Many oppose how their tax dollars are spent, especially when it comes to social programs such as welfare, Obamacare, and other programs, yet fail to realize that the government has simply stepped in to fill the leadership void because a large majority of the church has been waiting for the imminent end of the world.

Let’s put aside the religious and political hostility and examine what is in our own hearts, casting the judgment on ourselves and not on our neighbors. To paraphrase Jesus, we have to stop picking the sawdust out of everyone’s eyes while we walk around with a two-by-four stuck  in our eyes. Let us love those who are different than us and step outside of our comfort zone. Two thousand years or more have passed since the end time discourses. I know the counter arguments about how the world had to catch up to God’s vision or  God’s measurement of time is different than ours, but we can find reason to rejoice in the present. We still have time to show love to our neighbors and try to have a little heaven on earth.

What are You going to do about it?

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I’ve spent a lot of my life being angry- at myself, the condition of the world, unanswered prayers, disappointment, poor stress management, and seemingly hopeless situations. Anger is also a by-product and symptom of such things as depression, grief, illness, trauma, and the everyday frustrations of being an adult.

Anger is viewed as a destructive force which will eat away at us and rob us of any joy, as these quotes testifty:

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”-Buddha.

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“When anger arises, think of the consequences.” -Confucius.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” -Mark Twain.

When our anger becomes apparent to those around us, the question becomes Why are you so angry?

Sometimes we’ll spout off some surface answer, such as:

“I hate my job.”

“My boss is a jerk.”

“My kids won’t act right.”

“Politician X or party Y are ruining this country.”

“I don’t know how I’m going to pay these bills.”

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

However, what if in our attempt to figure out the cause of our anger, we are asking the wrong question? What if instead of asking, “Why am I angry?” we should ask ourselves, “You’re angry, now, what are you going to do about it?

***Disclaimer- this question does not imply that you bring harm to yourself or someone else. If that’s the conclusion you come to, then please seek qualified professional help.***

If we can ask ourselves about what we are going to do about the situation, we can reason through the situation. This reasoning can take time, as it depends on how much work someone is willing to go through to resolve the issue.

After asking yourself what are you going to do, ask yourself this question:

Is any part of this situation in my control? If yes, then implent change. If not, then realize the only things you can control are your responses, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perceptions.

Let’s use the example of the fact you dislike your job and your boss. How can we better handle the situation better and  not be so angry?

-We could be thankful to have a job because some people don’t have jobs.

-We can be emphathetic to our boss because maybe he or she is under a lot of stress.

-If the situation becomes unbearable, we can speak to our boss about the issue. If talking doesn’t resolve it, then we can go to a higher corporate authority.

-We can ask our boss or coworkers if they need help with anything to ease their stress.

-We go to work and focus on our job and not worry about the stress around us.

-We can always search for another job or try to transfer to a different department.

-We could pursue a more fulfilling career.

-We could be in a state of prayerfulness or mindfulness concerning our attitude and responses.

This is just one simplified example, but I believe that any stressful situation is not worth our peace of mind and we must step back to get back on track. If you want to pursue a lifestyle change, then you must put in the time to change. Seek wisdom and find the inspiration within yourself. God bless.

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.

The Place Beyond Exhaustion

If there is a place beyond exhaustion, I think I have discovered it. For the time being, I can probably have my mail forwarded here.

Have you ever reached a point in life where no matter how much sleep you get, no matter the amount of caffeine you consume, or the amount of pleasurable activities you engage in, you are just tired? You’re spent. You’ve had it. I’m there. I find myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually burned out.

Any one situation or a combination of factors can trigger such events, but what can you do when the constant bombardment finally breaches your defenses? You find yourself trying to rebuild the stronghold while simultaneously fighting off a never ending horde. The physicality of the fight consumes you and everything you do is done through a sheer act of will power. The simplest tasks-getting out of bed, going to work, and the rest of your daily activities are chores of epic proportions. You become like a slower version of the Energizer Bunny- you keep going, but the battery finally runs flat.

It would be great if life had a mercy rule, where a referee stops the fight and says, “He’s had enough. No more trials.” Speaking of mercy, I often ask where is God in all this? I try to connect with Him through His word, prayer, and try to live the best life I can-nothing. As a Christian, I have heard frequently of God’s will and God’s plan, but He doesn’t seem forthcoming with how everything fits into His will and plan. Life seems like a jigsaw puzzle with critical pieces gone or other pieces belonging to an unrelated puzzle.

I know it could be worse. I know there are people out there, maybe some of you, that have been through worse situations, but for my fight, this is exhausting! I have spoken about this in other blogs, but I believe this is one continuous narrative of how the last two years have been one setback after another. Just when I think I know the opponent’s plan, something changes. Anemia; Laid off and unemployed for four months; Starting back to work for less money;Celiac disease; The suicide of my nephew and the family turmoil that followed; Start another job; Go back to school while working six days a week at forty-years-old; A complication of Celiac disease- osteopenia, or loss of bone density; My parents are experiencing health problems in their early retirement years;My wife’s health and our infertility struggles; Frequent relapses into depression and anxiety- no wonder I’m exhausted!

Christians say that God’s working it out. The Stoics say to control what you can control and to be content with your lot. “God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.” However, I’m starting to think that me and God have a difference of opinion on how much I can handle. In boxing, they call it “a puncher’s chance,” all it takes is the right punch at the right time can knock out the most formidable foe. I have survived darker days and I know that I will get through this. I might come out a little more jaded or more pragmatic, but I will get through this. There are positives to focus on, as I have graduated and I am working a new job related to my field for better pay, so I can start there.

Whatever it is that you are facing, keep swinging, keep punching. Thank you for taking the time to read my rant. I normally don’t write this way, but I felt the need to get this off of my chest. God bless you.