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.

A Hard Look in the Mirror

Everything is going great in the Oldham household. Christina and I are getting into a better sleep cycle after a lot of trial and error – we discovered that Teddy only enjoys resting on top of luxurious pillows. It feels weird being a dad but I am slowly figuring out my role; every morning I rock Teddy and listen to audiobooks – probably the best way to put a person to sleep. I thought that my reading goals would be threatened with a new baby, but I am getting back to my normal pace. My most recent book was What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan. This is a different book for me, but it was recommended by one of my favorite philosophers as one of the few non-charlatanic finance books. Essentially, those who are wealthy become wealthy through some combination of luck and skill. Some work harder than others while some get luckier than others. In all scenarios, there is a degree of egotism that impacts risk-taking. For example, take a trader who is having the year of his life. His trades never go wrong and he begins to feel more confident with his “patented strategies.” These strategies lead him to the deal of the century and he puts all his resources into one basket. Unsurprisingly, when the deal goes south, the trader convinces himself that he is right and everyone else is wrong – the final result is ruin and humility.

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I want to extrapolate this scenario to all walks of life. Have you ever continued in a bad situation because of blind rationalization? Have you ever disregarded sound advice? Have you ever been too stubborn to admit defeat? I can say yes to all three. We are very good at subjectivism. Subjectivism is a flawed philosophy that argues that the “good life” is whatever an individual perceives as “good.” Put in another way, if I believe the best life is one of hoarding cat poop, then that is the best life, and no one can tell me otherwise. Subjectivism makes it very difficult for us to see that we are in a bad situation and we need to redirect. How can we fight this mental entrapment? I believe the quickest way to redirection is through prayer and advice. Seek out wisdom and you will find wisdom – if the advice is hard to hear then you are in the right spot; true loved ones will not enable you and they will help you see alternative perspectives. Don’t surround yourself by “Yes Men” – agreeance is only reasonable to a certain extent. The most successful people in the world are successful because of their luck, their hard work, and their ability to take criticism. There are much worse things to lose than a million dollars – a subjective life can lead to abusive relationships, anxiety, and a sense of isolation. Pray to God for truth, call that friend up who tells it how it is, and give yourself a long look in the mirror.

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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.

Would you Like More Tranquility?

Would you like more peace and tranquility in your life? Would you like to gain contentment and step away from the endless cycle of desire? Would you like to get a  handle on your negative emotions? I for one want all of these things and I am willing to make a bet that you would also. The word “tranquil,” is an oxymoron in our crazy world of nonstop meetings, errands, social media updates, and version 2.0 technology purchases. How can we obtain the “good” life? Philosophers and religious leaders have been searching for this answer for millennia. I picked up a book that focused on this question through the ancient practice of Stoicism – A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine. This is an excellent book that introduces the main principles of a frequently misunderstood way of life. Before reading this book, I always viewed a “stoical” person as someone who had no emotion – like a robotic-British-guard who can’t respond to pestering tourists. This view was completely off track…

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Stoicism began in Greece and was an amalgamation of several philosophical schools. The three main principles of Stoicism are as follows:

  1. A Stoic’s highest values are virtue and tranquility.
  2. A Stoic desires contentment with what they have – not what they would like to have
  3. A Stoic accepts what is outside of their control and accepts whatever their external environment throws at them.

Virtue in a Stoic sense means living a life that’s aligned with the ultimate purpose of a human – that is to be rational. This rationality leads ultimately to the pillars of virtue: temperance, courage, wisdom, goodness, honesty, righteousness, dignity, integrity, trustworthiness, decency and merit. To be entirely rational, one must be in a tranquil state. A tranquil state is one in which no negative emotions exist. To be completely tranquil, one must not let their external environment control their feelings. For example, a Stoic person in an argument would not become angry from insults and would maintain their tranquility – leading to preservation of their rational base of virtues.

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A significant enemy of tranquility is desire. This is especially true when the desire leads to discontentment. Stoics aim to rid themselves of this “desire loop” by appreciating what they already have. This goal is obtained by the practice of “negative visualization.”  To practice negative visualization, just imagine the people and things you love as suddenly vanishing. For example, imagine if you woke up today and there was no roof over your head; rain was pouring on your head, and you were shivering with cold from the dampness of the room. Thinking this makes you immediately appreciate your warm blanket and strong roof – two things that you normally take for granted. Another example is imagining that your wife or husband has died. This thought is deliberate but temporary – it doesn’t make you depressed – but instead makes you joyous with your current possessions. This practice is commonly performed among religious individuals who regularly pray – thanking God for His blessings because those blessings are very transitory.

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Finally, to achieve complete tranquility, we must understand what things are outside of our control. This is a challenging concept to practice, but it is a life-changing concept when implemented. We cannot control what other people say or do. We cannot control what is going on in the news. We cannot control the millions of variables which bombard us on a daily basis. When things upset us that are outside our control, we must push it out of our mind immediately. This doesn’t mean that we give up helping people but rather it requires us to make better goals. We can only go about our day doing our “best” to help make the world a better place. That is much different than the goal of “making the world a better place.” Trying your best is in your control. Changing the world for the better, unfortunately, is not in your control. This subtle change in mindset leads to considerable changes in anxiety, depression, and discontentment. Stoicism complements well with Christianity, and I feel that these two philosophies combined make for the best possible life. I know a lot of religious people who are very anxious and discontented with their day-to-day existence. Ancient philosophy doesn’t have to be relegated to the dusty shelves of a library – there is wisdom all around us.

Stoicism is so important that I am going to make it the next installment in The Tackle the Library Series. Release date June 2019.

Worry Wart-Remover

Have you ever been called a “Worry Wart?” I have on several occasions and throughout my life my worries have grown. As an adult there are a million things to contend with which can induce worries: paying the bills, keeping up with health, climbing the social ladder, maintenance of relationships, etc. Then there are the irrational worries that are usually propagated from movies or news: flesh eating diseases, serial rapists hiding in the bushes, razor blades in candy, movie theater shootings, sex-slave kidnappings etc. And to my luck, I live in Flint, so now I get to worry about consuming toxic water whenever I turn the tap on. So suffice to say, we must grapple with our worrisome thoughts everyday. How can we let go of our worries? To be truthful I don’t completely know but there are a few key things that help me get through storms of mental despair.

  1. Prayer: Release your worries to God because He has your back. Talking to the big man upstairs is not only therapeutic but strengthens your spiritual relationship. I know this the Sunday School answer but it really will lift a weight off your chest. You don’t have to formally pray or say anything at all-just clear your head and notice God’s presence. You’re not alone. We didn’t worry nearly as much when we were children; be a child in God’s presence and know He understands the big picture.
  2. Yoga: I’m a huge fan of Yoga because it forces you to be mindful of the present. Yoga is not meant to be some ab-shaping-calorie-scorching workout, it’s meant to bring you more in tune with your inner self. My favorite instructor is Tommy Rosen and he focuses on breathing throughout all the movements. When you learn how to breath you learn how to listen to yourself. Your true self is constantly being bombarded by outside influences that many times create negativity and anxiety. That may sound like a bunch of hippy crap but I promise if you practice mindful meditation/yoga you will make it priority in your daily life.
  3. Watch a TV series: I love well made TV shows: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, The Wire, Mr. Robot, etc. There are so many great series on TV right now that you can find the perfect show that fits your personality. Why would a TV series reduce worries? One word-Flow. When you get into a show you forget your worries and enter into the emotions of the characters. For a short moment you aren’t focused on your worries but rather the story unfolding in front of you. Of course, any flow experience is good but I like series for reducing worries because my problems are nominal compared to my beloved fictional characters. Walter White’s worries of selling meth to pay for his cancer treatment trumps my worries of not having pooped in the last two days.

These are three tangible things that you can practice in your life that will help reduce your worries. I love this quote…

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Let us let go of our worries by seeking God, being more mindful of the present, and realizing that our worries really aren’t that big of a deal in respects to the big picture. Your thoughts can make your life like heaven or hell. It’s all up to you, your thoughts are your own-what will you choose?

Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.

Psalm 50:15 NLT

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.

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.