My Health Problems – Bugs and God

Many of my close friends know this, but I have been struggling with tingling in my hands, face, and legs for the past three years. The tingling feels like bugs are crawling inside my skin – it is constant and never completely goes away. I am not in pain and do not feel any weakness or numbness – just a continuous tingling sensation day in and day out. What caused this to happen? I have two theories. First, three years ago, I went to a Piston’s game with a friend, and I drank too many Budweiser Selects. I was drunk the entire match and upon going home, I looked down at my feet and saw they were beet red. Along with the redness, I felt a mild tingling sensation – I was also up the entire night because of nausea. An important note is that I was never a big drinker in my 20’s and alcohol always impacted me more than my industrious friends. The day after the episode, I felt somewhat normal and the tingling had ceased. Midweek came and all of a sudden I woke up with tingling in my feet and a new phenomenon of tingling in my hands.

The first theory is that my three-year-long tingling is from a bad reaction to alcohol that somehow damaged my nervous system. I have not had a drop of alcohol since that Piston’s game and I now notice that my tingling gets worse when I am anxious or stressed. Here is the second theory: The month before the Piston’s game, I began an aggressive treatment to fix sciatic pain in my back through stretching and chiropractic manipulation. My back pain originated from a fall five and half years ago when I walked down an icy step of stairs and fell right on my lower spine – I laid on the cold ground for 10 minutes in excruciating pain. My 24-year-old self was not smart enough to seek treatment and instead, I went to the gym that day and squatted 250 pounds. For a year after the injury, I had to sit lopsided because there was too much pain on my right side to put any pressure. At this point, you can call me all the foul names you want – I agree with them wholeheartedly.

So back to the month of the Piston’s game when I was trying to aggressively treat my back injury. The chiropractor decided to treat my back with traction – a table that essentially pulls your back to extend it and relieve pressure. I felt no tingling while on the table but there was slight discomfort. Once my tingling began after the Piston’s game, many of my friends and family claimed it was caused by the traction. Today, when I do planks or specific exercises, my tingling gets worse. In respects to my facial tingling, that came about a year later when my wife had a miscarriage – my Mom gets facial tingling and I suspect that my facial tingling is unrelated to the tingling in my hands and legs. In the first year of tingling, I went to three doctors, had two MRIs, had 6 months of physical therapy, and still received no relief or answers.  So what is wrong with me?

To better answer that question, I recently went to another family doctor and a Neurologist. The family doctor didn’t think the tingling was from my back and prescribed me Cymbalta for anxiety – the Cymbalta made the tingling worse and destroyed my sex life. The Neurologist sent me to get an MRI of the brain to check for MS. The results showed that I have three lesions on my cerebellum, but I do not have MS. The Neurologist said the lesions didn’t look serious, but they could be benign brain tumors – in the end, they wouldn’t explain the tingling, and I have to go back in six months for another MRI. I’m not worried about the lesions because I have no symptoms that match a malfunction of the cerebellum. So I am back to square one.

At this point, I believe my leg tingling is from my back problems, my hand tingling is from back problems/anxiety/blood sugar changes, and my facial tingling is from pure anxiety.  I am not an overly anxious person, but I believe my anxiety manifests itself through tingling – other people may have headaches or stomach problems. Overall, my tingling has gotten significantly better since three years ago but my back pain is stubbornly persistent. I am still on a journey of discovery but I wanted to tell you all these things for one reason. God has helped me through all these trials and I am here today because of my faith. When it feels like bugs are crawling under your skin 24 hours a day, your mindset can go to dark places. I had the resolve to fight on because I knew people were praying for me and that in the end, everything would work out. I am a Christian for the very fact that I have seen God transform me over the past three years – wisdom truly comes through adversity. If you are feeling down, you are not alone. Google, social media, and even modern medicine will never be able to give you the strength to completely move forward. We are designed for a deep connection with our Creator – don’t push aside life’s greatest resource. I’ll keep you updated on about my lesions and tingling but, please keep me in your prayers.

If you have a struggle and need a sincere prayer, please email me at jonathan.oldham1@gmail.com.

Is God Dead?

Today is the holiest day on the Christian calendar – Easter. It is a holiday that celebrates the resurrection of life; Jesus Christ, the son of God, died on the cross for the sins of the world. The secular version of Easter involves bunnies and Easter egg hunts which in Michigan is complicated by the presence of snow. Easter is also the symbolic beginning of spring which makes everyone optimistic about the weather and life in general. I always had mixed feelings about Easter while growing up. I loved the chocolate and the ham, but the church services just didn’t pique my interests. Sure, the flowers and the choir were a magnificent sight to behold, but I didn’t really understand why the pews were filled to the brim. The philosophy of Easter was complicated for me because I didn’t have a good grasp of what it meant to suffer. My parents did an excellent job of sheltering me and protecting me from the horrors of the world. It wasn’t until I went to college that I reexamined the importance of this holiday. My eyes were opened during my Senior Seminar class which focused on the three days of Easter.

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Good Friday is a misnomer because it was the darkest day in the history of the world. Jesus died by excruciating crucifixion on Good Friday and for all intents and purposes – God was dead. People don’t like to think of Good Friday like this, but it is entirely accurate – Jesus was both man and God – His death was the death of both God and the Son. This was the ultimate sacrifice, and for two days, the disciples of Jesus were in a complete state of darkness. All their hopes for the future were gone, and the man they had thought was their savior was gone. We are fortunate to know the end of the story; Jesus rose from the dead, and the world was changed forever – God is not only alive but interconnected to us through that sacrifice.

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To truly appreciate Easter I believe we must understand suffering. We must enter the skin of the disciples on that Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, we enter that skin way too often even after knowing about the resurrection on Sunday. We live our lives many times as if God were dead – trying to be masters of our own universe; hope and faith are absent more times than we would like to admit. It is for this reason that pews on Easter are filled. People understand suffering and want to feel the mighty power of the resurrection – in their hearts, they know God is alive. So this Easter you need to make a decision whether God is dead or alive. Do you want to live your life trying to be your own god? Do you want to live your life as if there is no one looking out for you? I am tired of trying to control my little universe – I want to give my worries to the Creator of the actual universe. So it’s your decision, Friday or Sunday, dead or alive. I have a postcard on my desk that says “God is here with you Jon!” If you are reading this, know that God is with you right now

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“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. …” Mathew 6:25-34

So this Easter really contemplate the beginning, middle, and end of the story; the end, in this case, is a happy one with an essential sequel. So is God dead? For me, I know God is alive, and I hope you feel the same way in your heart. Happy Easter.

Buddhism for a Christian

As a Christian, I think it is important to have a working knowledge of world religions. Studying a different religion not only expands your understanding of varying beliefs but also helps you appreciate your own spirituality to a greater extent. Some people are wary of studying different religions because they believe it will tarnish their devoutness or lead them astray. In reality, the opposite almost always happens – for example, learning about Buddhism made me appreciate Jesus Christ to a far higher degree. Thanks to my physical therapist, I was recommended an excellent book on Buddhism called Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hand is a Buddhist monk, and a proliferate author – he wrote this book as a factual biography of the Buddha – heavy on doctrine and light on myths.

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It follows the life of Siddhartha, a wealthy prince who seeks the path of enlightenment and eventually becomes known as the Buddha. The word Buddha actually means “the enlightened one” and this book explains how Buddhism was initially spread throughout eastern India around 450 BC. At that time, many religions believed in various gods and degrees of asceticism – how much humans should avoid or indulge in pleasure. Siddhartha followed the greatest spiritual leaders but was never able to reach enlightenment until he understood the actual source of human suffering.

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What is the central root of human suffering? Ignorance. Not knowing the truth is the cause of all the pain in the world. Well, what then is the truth? The Buddha believed that…

“People were caught in endless suffering because of their erroneous perceptions; they believed that which is impermanent is permanent, that which is without self contains self, that which has no birth and death has birth and death, and they divided that which is inseparable into parts.”

Put in another way, people have the wrong perceptions of the world and hence inaccurate realities of truth. So the next question then is how can one fix their reality? Again the Buddha believed that…

“…the key to liberation would be to break through ignorance and to enter deeply into the heart of reality and attain a direct experience of it. Such knowledge would not be the knowledge of the intellect, but of direct experience.”

This “direct experience” is achieved through mindfulness of the present moment. Complete mindfulness requires one to understand that there is no “self” and that there is no permanence – all things depend on each other in a cyclical-eternal fashion. Understanding this interdependence of life – the Buddha was able to shed all the sources of suffering: fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance. The Buddha taught his followers to meditate to reach this awareness and connectedness. In a way, Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion – there is no soul, higher power, or afterlife; the goal is to reach Nirvana which is complete enlightenment and the extinction of self.

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Buddhism is complex – especially with reincarnation – and what I have described are the main tenets; there are many different schools of thought just like those in Christianity. So how did I apply these Buddhist teachings as a Christian? First off, Christianity teaches that you can not earn your way into heaven and that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. In Buddhism, the individual is responsible for their enlightenment, and the path to salvation is earned rather than gifted. Just that fact makes me want to shout “Praise the Lord for Jesus!” I did, however, find several parallels between Buddhism and Christianity in respects to suffering.

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Jesus, just like the Buddha, teaches that we need to love one another and that we are all interconnected – we fall apart because of fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance. I also took away the important message of impermanence and mindfulness. Nothing on this earth is forever, and this life is just a blip on the map of eternity; we shouldn’t be sad about death because it is transient. We must be mindful of the present because it not only makes us more aware of our blessings but it gives us a glimpse of what eternity will actually feel like – no past or future. I actually have been meditating more, and it helps me with gratitude, calms my mind, and rids me of thoughts that cause suffering. No matter what you believe, learning about different religions will always give you a greater sense of the world and the human condition.

When Prayer Kills

Guess the context…”They found a two-year-old boy whose treatable kidney tumor weighed six pounds and a twelve-year-old girl whose bone cancer was the size of a watermelon. They found a two-year-old girl who had accidentally inhaled a small piece of a banana…turned blue and died…They found a twenty-three-year-old woman who had come to an emergency room after fifty-six hours of active labor because her baby’s head was stuck at the vaginal opening. The dead baby, delivered by caesarian section, ‘was in an advanced stage of decomposition.’ The mother died within hours from puerperal sepsis: a bloodstream infection. The coroner noted that ‘the corpse of the infant was so foul smelling that is was inconceivable that anyone attending the delivery could not have noticed…Swan and Asser also found children who had died from treatable bacterial infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis. A one-year-old girl named Eva Swanson died of sepsis after she had accidentally spilled a pot of scalding tea on herself. A fifteen-month-old boy named Dustin Gilmore ‘was deafened, blinded and killed’ by meningitis…” Is this list of atrocious medical outcomes from a third-world country? Maybe it is from an isolated area where there are no medical treatments available? Sadly, all of these examples occurred in the United States within the last 20 years and are only a few instances of hundreds that occur every year. How could this happen in a country where there is relatively easy access to vaccines, antibiotics, and children’s hospitals? Paradoxically, the cause of all these unfortunate stories was religion and more specifically certain Christian denominations which do not believe in modern medicine.

I learned about these unfortunate truths in the book Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine by Paul A. Offit, M.D. In total, there are 23 Christian denominations that practice faith healing with 5 sects accounting for most adult and child deaths due to avoidance of medical treatments: Christian Science, Church of the First Born, End Time Ministries, Faith Assemble, and Faith Tabernacle. In general, these sects reject medicine because it is a product of man and believe that having illnesses is a test of faith. These denominations literally interpret verses like Mark 11:24: Whatever things you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them. These ardent beliefs come from the common stand of many Christian denominations that their interpretations of the Holy Bible are correct and subsequently God looks favorably on them now and in Heaven. These literal interpretations lead to using prayer as the only treatment for a medical illness. For example, imagine my son had diabetes and needed insulin to survive. Instead of getting a vial of insulin and giving it to my son I would hold a prayer group over him while he threw up and suffered until eventually dying. I would rationalize that God wanted my son to die, that God is punishing me for my sins, and/or I didn’t have enough faith in God’s healing powers.

How the heck could a parent let their child die when they call themselves a Christian? First off, Jesus loved children and said in Mark 9:27:”Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” As a Christian, the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the zeitgeist of Christianity! If there is a way to save an individual within reasonable means then every effort should be taken to provide that help. Modern medicine is not the work of the devil or an avenue taken by unbelievers-modern medicine is the result of great thinkers throughout time. God created those great-thinking brains and thus gave us the ability to invent and the resources to better help people. The other side of this unbelievable coin is the government allowing it to happen. 45 states permit the medical neglect of children if the parents have justifiable religious reasons. Religious freedom cannot trump the inalienable right to life which is taken away from children by these laws. Children are protected by the 14th amendment which says that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This medical neglect is outlawed in many countries and it is time for the US to actually follow the constitution when it comes to protecting children’s lives. In the end, Christians please remember the greatest commandment, recognize the dangers of myopic religious beliefs, and don’t use prayer as a complete substitute for medical care.