Pregnancy Update – Third Trimester

Christina is officially in the third trimester! The big 3. The final stretch. The big belly. Reality knocking at our door. Theodore is quite the active baby and kicks Christina repeatedly in one spot. I actually felt him kick one time and I pretended to love the experience – in truth, it felt like I was in a Ridley Scott production of Alien. Baby clothes are starting to accumulate, and we are covering the wall of the baby room with owls. Christina has weird food cravings and is quite the picky pregnant women – the only meat she cares for now is shrimp. She was actually worried about not gaining enough weight, but I quickly looked up Filipina growth charts and reassured her that she was average weight in a petite-Asian world. Several times we thought Max was smelling her belly because of the baby; we later found some food stains were in the vicinity.

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I recently went to a friend’s wedding where everyone was either pregnant or talking about their kids. I felt left out of the conversation like a younger brother whose older brother is going through puberty. The advice that expectant parents receive is always the same:

“You aren’t going to get any sleep.”

“Say goodbye to your free time.”

“Blame all his bad genes on your wife.”

I agree with most of this advice, but I think it falls in the same category as corny advice one receives at a wedding…“A happy wife is a happy life.” Although corny, I know it is partially true, and I am mentally preparing myself for the changes in the future. One of the biggest things I need to work on is constant worrying. I find this a pathological attribute of most parents, and I am by no means immune. I worry about Teddy now, and I know it will get worse when he comes into the world. That is why my single greatest preparatory step during these last three months is stopping myself from worrying. Is this even a possibility? I am not sure at this point, but I am committed to trying. I am trying to pray more to God and giving Him my anxious thoughts – easy to type but hard to do in practice.

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What is the key to not worrying? From what wisdom I have gleaned, it is to understand what is and is not in your control. I can not control every aspect of Teddy’s life. I can do my best to help him in life, but there is always a limit. I am attempting to step back and let Jesus take the wheel. If that sounds corny or reckless, just ask yourself the outcomes of your own anxiety? Have they come to fruition? Or more than likely just ruined many precious hours of your life? My request is not corny advice that is obvious, but rather advice on controlling anxiety – without prescriptions. What works best for you? I am always open to your wisdom.

We’re All Chihuahuas – Chapter 1 and 2

For those wanting to get straight to Chapter 2 – scroll down. For all those new, please read on.

I am excited to announce the release of two books over the next month. The first book, which is free to download from Amazon starting Friday until Sunday (Click any hyperlink in this blog to reach the download), is titled We’re All Chihuahuas: A Shaky Dog on a Human Journey by yours truly. Below you can read the description.

“This is the story of Max the Chihuahua. It is the harrowing adventure of pleasure and pain – a journey that mirrors the winding road of our own life. It is a tale of interchange between the brain of a shaky 6-pound beast and the soul of an unsuspecting human. An epic with a most peculiar cast of characters and a most peculiar climax – which will leave you thinking – ‘We’re all Chihuahuas.'”

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Max the Chihuahua

The second book is Tackle the Library: Plato which is the second installment in the series. As a special perk to all my loyal readers, I am going to post the first three chapters of each book on this blog over the weekend (this weekend will be We’re all Chihuahuas with Plato coming in a couple of weeks). It would mean a great deal to me if you would download the book for free at this link and leave me a review. Writing is only worth doing if it helps others – I hope this book brings you insight, smiles, and happiness.

And without further adieu…

We’re All Chihuahuas

Chapter 1 – The Reciprocity of the pound

The concrete floor was chilly and damp. Almost like walking barefoot on a sidewalk after the first frost of the season. The coldness of the ground was, however, warmer than the barks heard echoing throughout the chambers. Howls that sounded ethereal and forced – the noise of desperation. It wasn’t a place one would want to be or for that matter smell. Smell is such a personal experience that it is almost impossible to translate the horrible odor that saturated every surface of this lost place. The effervescence was a mixture of wet hair garnished with fermented feces and pooling urine. Ammonia was the main ingredient permeating the air – a continual assault on the molecular bays of the noise.

If one could surmise, they may guess that this place was a men’s bathroom at a Cub’s game after a bad batch of $1 chili cheese dogs; or maybe a more macabre setting like a gas chamber after a quick cleaning. No, it was neither of these humanoid places. It was a place further down the evolutionary ladder. A place where man and beast come to stare at each other in a manner not akin to preservation like a zoo – but rather a sight similar to used merchandise – like a decaying thrift store. It was the dog pound. More specifically the Flint, Michigan dog pound built in 1949 on the very same day the Russian’s tested their first nuke – perhaps a sign that there would be many hardships to come. The founding of the “pound” – as we will call it – is not our primary focus. Our focus is its inhabitants, with one inhabitant in particular. This is the story of Max the Chihuahua; a story not about saving dogs from pounds or even canine adoption. It is a story of how one small Chihuahua changed forever in that scary place. It is the story of all of us. It is the story of interchange between the brain of a shaky 6-pound beast and the soul of an unsuspecting human.

Chapter 2 – Old School Swat

The infant years of Max are not entirely known. He was born somewhere in the hillbilly outskirts of Flint where poor whites make their nests in the hope that their 1 mile move no longer categorizes them as living in the ghetto. It almost goes without saying that Max was born in the white Juggalo region of Flint because no sane black Flintoid would want a 6-pound rat-dog to protect their home. In this district of America, there are two choices of a pet – guard dog or toy dog. The former is the choice of those who need to compensate for some Freudian love of the father and the latter is the choice of those who can’t decide on the taxonomy of their pet – should it be of the canine or ferret genus? We must assume that Max was born in a 1920’s cut-out GM working-class home which now has Craigslist furniture, a 500 lb plasma TV, and a kitchen pantry stocked with every variety of Hamburger Helper (not store brand of course). This little puppy begins his life in the heart of America and Americana – Faygo pop and failed dreams.

Little Max was loved with the utmost care and affection. His Flintbilly owners had little money to spare, but they nevertheless showered him with toys, food, and name brand Chihuahua accessories: a bone-shaped bed, Superman t-shirt, and elf costume for Christmas to name a few. He was spoiled like an only child – the beezneez of all the dogs in the neighborhood. As with all cute babies, however, there was a slight problem with his trachea. Max was a barker. His bark brought about a mild pain in the ear and was more infuriating than a toddler singing a catchy tune on the radio. Max barked because he was excited about the world and all that it had to offer. He wanted to explore. He wanted to learn. He wanted to play. Everything that Max saw he barked at because his brain thought it was a fellow friend. Someone is at the door – let me celebrate! Someone is walking around the room – let me celebrate! Someone is giving me food – let me celebrate! Max’s brain computed everything as a proverbial birthday party – a never-ending waterfall of stimulus that mimicked a baby’s first taste of chocolate cake. BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! All day and all night long.

As one could guess, Max’s barking got old real fast. His owners could never focus on reading the instructions on the box of Hamburger Helper or watch YouTube videos about Game of Thrones conspiracy theories. They were invariably trying to correct little Max’s birthday party brain. Max would actually think the yelling was a good thing as if his frustrated owners were exploding verbal streamers. Slowly but surely, Max’s owners lost patience and began to threaten him with punishments of all sorts. They would put Max in his cage; this led to more barks of excitement because it was a game of hide-and-seek. They would spray water at him every time he made a peep; this led to more yelps of excitement because it was a water park experience! They would call Max a “bad boy” and shake their finger at him; this led to more barks of excitement because his owners seemed to be dancing the Charlie Chaplin. Finally, all came to a head one day when Grandma visited. Grandma was old school and believed in corporeal punishment – the likes not seen since the firing squads of the Wild West. Granny quickly took a rolled up newspaper and swatted little Max on his skinny flank.

The second that hard paper hit Max he felt what it was like to be a supernova in the throes of morphing into a black hole. Pain shot through his small body as if it were a drug injected by an addict itching for a fix. He squealed and bolted for the safety of his once “hide and seek” haven. His demeanor was timid for the first time. His composure was broken. His soul was shaken. This swat was no mere swat; it was a jolt that taught Max that the world is full of pain. The cosmos was no longer an endless river of sparkling stimulus born from the stars to flow directly into his heart. The world was, in reality, like a boulder which one attempts to climb – all the time risking cuts, bruises, and fatal falls. As these thoughts were going through Max’s head, his body began to convert the neural impulses of anxiety into psychosomatic tremors of fear. These earthquakes manifested themselves into a phenotype most common among small dogs – constant shaking. Max couldn’t control the shaking and with each new shiver, Max was reminded of the scary experience of the swat – an experience that set his life on a whole new trajectory.

Stay tuned for Chapter 3 tomorrow and don’t forget to download your free copy over the weekend. Thanks again for your support. 

Want to Join a Cult?

What does it take to start a cult? What does it take to join a cult? Both of these questions are extremely interesting because they try to get at the heart of human behavior. We are social creatures who crave acceptance – sometimes this acceptance leads people to believe in bizarre things. For example, take the Mormon cult leader Warren Jeff who controls a group of fundamentalists from prison – even after being charged with sexually assaulting children and having 70 wives.

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How about one of the most famous cult leaders of all time – Jim Jones. Jones led a group of over 900 people to Guayana, South America to start their own socialist colony. This socialist experiment in Jonestown quickly turned into a horror movie after Jones convinced everyone to commit mass suicide. I am amazed at the ability of cult leaders to have total power over their followers; I barely can keep my chihuahua from peeing on the carpet. To better understand the birth, growth, and death of Jim Jones, I read The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn. This book is exceptional and really helps the reader understand the evil of Jim Jones. Jones was a charismatic leader who never backed down and desired complete control. Unfortunately, these traits were mixed with just enough moral ambiguity that followers thought they were being led to the promised land rather than their gravesite.

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Jim Jones was born on May 31, 1931, in a small Indiana town. He was raised by an eccentric mother who defied conservative social norms with her independent attitude, beliefs in reincarnation, and prickly personality. Jones’ father was a WWI vet who could not work because of his disabilities and who had no energy to raise an energetic boy. Jones was a loner and soon began to stand out from the other boys with his religiousness. On any given Sunday, he would go to several services, not to praise God, but to understand what preaching style worked best to energize congregants. By the time he finished high school, Jones was working at a hospital where he would eventually meet his future wife, Marceline Baldwin (not pictured below).

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Jones and his wife would quickly move to Indianapolis where Jones attended some college and preached at evangelical-tent events. Jones would eventually establish the Peoples Temple in the mid-1950s – a church that trumpeted racial integration, socialism, and community action. It was at the Peoples Temple that Jones discovered the power of deception by performing false healings and false prophecy; he would many times walk around the congregation with rotted chicken offal claiming it was cancer just removed from a member. Jones quickly gained followers from all walks of life who appreciated his message of social equality and marveled at his God-like abilities. Jones would eventually move this congregation to Northern California using the tool of fear – he claimed that there would be a nuclear holocaust in the Mid-West and that they were no longer safe.

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It was in Northern California that the Peoples Temple morphed from an eccentric Christian church to a full-blown cult. Jone’s began to have his members live communally and give large portions of their paychecks to the “socialist” cause. With greater wealth, Jone’s was able to expand his ministry and garner even more membership. Jone’s quickly began to stretch himself too thin and eventually, he began to take painkillers and amphetamines. His drug use made him more erratic and power-hungry – he would gradually start asking for sex from his female congregants. This sex was supposedly meant to lift up the women, and few members resisted; he would even have sex with several male members asking some if they wanted to be “fucked in the ass” after church meetings. This “uplifting” sex gave Jones greater control which eventually expanded to increased paranoia. Staged assassination attempts led his followers to believe that the FBI, CIA, and Fascists were after their happy community.

[Jim Jones, Peoples Temple Church Services]

The Peoples Temple morphed into a military compound with several members patrolling the grounds with firearms. This paranoia and the fear of nuclear holocaust led Jones to found Jonestown in Guayana. Jonestown was meant to be a sanctuary, but it actually represented the apex of Jone’s control over his members. In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan went to investigate Jonestown which led to him being attacked by a Temple member – Ryan escaped with 15 of Jone’s followers. Jones, in all his paranoia, told his members that the government would soon come to torture them and convert the children to fascism – to prevent this from happening everyone had to commit suicide. 909 people, including Jones and his wife, died from cyanide in the mass suicide – 304 were children.

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So how did Jone’s get 909 people to commit suicide? It began with his ability to twist the truth so that the majority of his followers believed he had special powers – all while an elite inner circle assisted with these deceptions. Why did the inner circle help him? Because they often believed in his message of social change and felt powerful being in the graces of such an influential leader. Most of the congregation was made up of poor-uneducated members who were entirely dependent on Jones for their jobs, housing, and food.

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It was hard to leave the cult because Jone’s would actively prevent dissenters and it was easy to rationalize that he was telling the truth – “If there are lawyers, teachers, and businessmen following him, then he must be the real deal.” Finally, Jones was an expert at fear which he used as a tool to further separate followers from leaving the Temple. All these things mixed to create a twisted peer pressure that propagated infidelity, drug use, bullying, harassment, corrupt morals, and eventually death. We need to study these things because there are cults today and leaders who use the same principles. Be wary of half-truths and always seek knowledge so that this particular past will never be repeated.

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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.

News-The Junk Food of Information

When I was a kid I never worried about scary things on the news. One reason was that I didn’t watch the news and the other is that I knew my parents would protect me from danger. I was more worried about the killer clown in my bathroom or the witch at my bedroom window. Thankfully, these fears could easily be ameliorated by a nightlight or going to Mom and Dad’s room. Today I get scared from watching the news. It seems like every week there is a terrorist attack or world disaster that makes me feel sick about the future. The news is like a real world scary movie. After I watched The Ring I had to cover my TV with a blanket because of fear that it would turn on in the middle of the night. Similarly, after watching the news over the past few days, I second guessed some of my plans because ISIS was on my mind. Both of these examples include irrational fears, but unlike in the past, I can’t run to my Mom and Dad’s room anymore.

So should I give up watching the news? Being someone who loves to read and write, I thoroughly enjoy being up-to-date on the world around me. I don’t like to be the odd man out in conversations and usually I like to know the details so I can better inform my friends and family. There is a price to pay though when using the news to be informed-a negative attitude about the world’s future. Sure, some people will say, “I watch the news and it doesn’t bother me,” but I would argue that it does affect a person subconsciously. I wrote a post on Blink by Malcolm Gladwell that states our brains respond to things in mere seconds based on preconditioning. Among non-racist individuals, studies show that regardless of personal race (black or white), we react more negatively to black faces than to white faces. This phenomenon is obviously apparent between white police and young black men but it is also present in everyday life-what makes you more uncomfortable, a plane full of Arabs or a plane full of Caucasians? This is an ingrained survival method that has helped us make life saving decisions in the past-see snake, run like hell. In today’s world it isn’t the snake but instead images of terrorists, shooters, crazy drivers, scary diseases, and masked men that precondition us. It is estimated that 10% of teens and 40% of adults suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder (Source). I would argue that the news, and its effects on one’s future outlook, is a major source of anxiety. I think we should all look at news like we look at junk food. It tastes so good right at the moment, giving us a slight rush, but afterwards it makes us feel empty and slightly upset.

So what is one to do, be depressed/informed or happy/ignorant? How do we get to the level of happy/informed with the added benefit that planes of Arabs don’t make us subconsciously queasy? First, stop watching or reading online news. If you need to be informed daily, pick up a newspaper. Newspapers give you the information without all the anxiety ridden imagery or hateful comment sections. Second, subscribe to a high quality magazine like the New Yorker, The Atlantic, Time, etc. These are great sources of current material that usually look at multiple sides of an issue. Thirdly, read books about current topics that are affecting the world. Instead of watching the news on shootings read a book like Blink to understand what leads people to shoot in the first place; this will give you added tools when conversing about current events. I fully admit that the news scares me, but I do not admit that by abstaining from it I am less informed. By taking the time to read the aforementioned material, I am able to see the big picture of an event instead of a myopic-instantaneous viewpoint. Discard that junk food news and take in some healthy information-you’ll know what you’re talking about and your stomach won’t get so upset when thinking about the future.

The Preposition of God

Question, should you live your life from God, over God, for God, or under God? Confused? Well, it was a trick question, you should live your life with God. Still confused? Don’t worry, I was to when I first started reading With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani which uses the above mentioned prepositions to explain how most of us relate to God. This book is an excellent read and I highly recommend it to religious and non-religious people alike. Alright, let’s define Mr. Jethani’s prepositions…

-Life from God: “People in this category want God’s blessings and gifts, but they are not particularly interested in God himself.” Think of the person who only seeks God out when they need something.

-Life over God: “The mystery and wonder of the world is lost as God is abandoned in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes.” Think of the person who uses the Bible as a complete resource manual for life and believes they have control as long as divine procedures are followed.

-Life for God: “This most celebrated of religious postures…The most significant life…is the one expended accomplishing great things in God’s service.” Think the uber-religous type who devote their lives to the service of God because they want to have a greater purpose and please God through their accomplishments.

-Life under God: “[this] posture sees God in simple cause-and-effect terms–we obey his commands and he blesses our lives, our families, our nation. Our primary role is to determine what he approves (or disapproves) and work vigilantly to remain within those boundaries.” Think of people who always focus of sins and think that blessings or calamities are a result of behavior.

In the real world, most people fit into all four of these categories depending on the circumstance. The correct way of relating to God is just being with Him. What the frick does “being with Him” mean? Well it means having an actual relationship with God and realizing that a relationship is the only thing He wants from us. God just wants us to hang out with Him because we are his creation and He loves us. It’s like any relationship you have with friends, family, or a loved one; you want interaction with each other because both individuals enjoy each other’s company. Sin is not something that God is tallying against us but is rather a barrier to us having a relationship with God. Sin is a punishment in of itself because it prevents us from spending time with our Creator. God doesn’t care what we accomplish in this life-all He cares about is spending time with us. God’s love for us has no strings attached and that is why all the previous prepositions fall short of a healthy relationship. We cannot control God and once we realize God cares for us then we can let go of that control and enjoy His love more completely. Of course, the idea of releasing fear is easier said then done, but it should be our ultimate goal if we desire a closer connection with God. How do we have a relationship with God? The best way is to just talk to God and try to listen. Prayer does not have to be a formal thing that happens at church or before dinner. Prayer is just the communion between you and God. Sit down and just say “What’s up God?” Personally, I combine prayer, yoga, and meditation together to help deepen my communication with God. It isn’t formal, boring, or strained. I just listen and speak to God as if He were a friend sitting next to me. This stuff isn’t easy but it can transform you into a more relaxed, loving, and peaceful person because you know that nothing is in your control but its okay because your BFF will help you through everything.