Saturday, December 26, 2015

New Year's Resolution....RESOLVED!!!!!

Last December I discovered the goodreads annual reading challenge.  You set the number of books you want to read throughout the new year and the counter keeps track of your progress, as you enter in the books you've read.  It makes it a sort of game, and it became addicting.  I set my goal to be 36 books for the year, 3 books a month, thinking it was an ambitious but doable goal.  I ended up completely exceeding that goal and read 55 books this year!

This is the first time I've ever read so many books and it's been the best year of my life.  I hardly ever get bored since I always have something to do, and I hardly ever feel lonely since the authors and characters keep me company.  I have always felt that reading is really a conversation, with the author so eagerly and eloquently sharing their thoughts with me.  Remembering the person behind the book, I am always amazed and honored that words on a page allow me to defy place and time, to sit and have a conversation with great minds.

Tricks that helped me read more:

  1. Ebooks are really my savior.  I think people who still prefer paper books are crazy.  I really don't think I could have read so much without the use of ebooks.
  2. I ALWAYS have books on hand, and some to spare.  I always have an audiobook and ebook on my phone, and an ebook on my iPad, sometimes extra ebooks in case I finish one and want to start the next one right away.  It is also always safe to have a paper book on hand in case your phone or tablet dies or you just can't use them to read for some reason.
  3. Audiobooks.  Having an audiobook on hand makes walking, driving, or commuting with public transportation so much easier.  I'd say if you have to do any commuting or menial labor regularly for at least 15-20 minutes at a time, then audiobooks are right for you.  I have an hour commute to work everyday, and I love it.  Traffic doesn't even bother me because that just gives me more time to listen and finish up the audiobook.
  4. Good fiction.  I actually had to put a cap on how much fiction I allowed myself to read, since I began to neglect the more weighty books and just breeze through fiction.  I think reading fiction is really the best thing to turn a non-reader into a reader.
  5. Shorter books.  If I ever fell behind on my monthly goal, or was reading a really long book, I'd pick up shorter books to help me along.
  6. BUILD YOUR LIBRARY FROM THE START! I already had a million ebooks and audiobooks downloaded and already had an idea of what I wanted to read.  I never had to waste time trying to figure out what to read next.  And because I have such a huge selection which I'm constantly adding to, I always feel the urgency to keep reading.
Almost every single one of the 55 books I read in 2015 I would highly recommend.  In particular, once I enjoy a book by a certain author, I tend to try to read all of the works of that author.  I guess you could say I fall in love with that person's mind.  In my next few posts, I will give author/book recommendations for various different topics.

I HIGHLY recommend everyone to check out the reading challenge and set a goal for yourself this coming new year!!!  (And add me as a friend so we can encourage each other!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Contemplation on Children

C.S. Lewis named G.K. Chesterton as one of the writers that deeply influenced him, particularly his book The Everlasting Man. Reading him, I can see why. Chesterton is definitely one of the most original and ingenious authors I've ever read. I'm in the process of working my way through all his writings. Recently I've been reading The Wit and Wisdom of Chesterton, and one chapter is entitled, "In Defense of Baby-Worship." In this little reflection Chesterton explains how we would greatly benefit from looking at adults in the same way we look at children.  This chapter very much spoke to me since my sister recently had a baby, and since it brought me to reminisce on times watching my other nieces and nephews grow.

A good narration of the chapter is on Librivox (just 8 minutes long):

Here is the text:

The two facts which attract almost every normal person to children are, first, that they are very serious, and, secondly, that they are in consequence very happy. They are jolly with the completeness which is possible only in the absence of humour. The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common-sense. The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea. 
There is always in the healthy mind an obscure prompting that religion teaches us rather to dig than to climb; that if we could once understand the common clay of earth we should understand everything. Similarly, we have the sentiment that if we could destroy custom at a blow and see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse. This is the great truth which has always lain at the back of baby-worship, and which will support it to the end. Maturity, with its endless energies and aspirations, may easily be convinced that it will find new things to appreciate; but it will never be convinced, at bottom, that it has properly appreciated what it has got. We may scale the heavens and find new stars innumerable, but there is still the new star we have not found--that on which we were born. 
But the influence of children goes further than its first trifling effort of remaking heaven and earth. It forces us actually to remodel our conduct in accordance with this revolutionary theory of the marvellousness of all things. We do (even when we are perfectly simple or ignorant)--we do actually treat talking in children as marvellous, walking in children as marvellous, common intelligence in children as marvellous. The cynical philosopher fancies he has a victory in this matter--that he can laugh when he shows that the words or antics of the child, so much admired by its worshippers, are common enough. The fact is that this is precisely where baby-worship is so profoundly right. Any words and any antics in a lump of clay are wonderful, the child's words and antics are wonderful, and it is only fair to say that the philosopher's words and antics are equally wonderful. 
The truth is that it is our attitude towards children that is right, and our attitude towards grown-up people that is wrong. Our attitude towards our equals in age consists in a servile solemnity, overlying a considerable degree of indifference or disdain. Our attitude towards children consists in a condescending indulgence, overlying an unfathomable respect. We bow to grown people, take off our hats to them, refrain from contradicting them flatly, but we do not appreciate them properly. We make puppets of children, lecture them, pull their hair, and reverence, love, and fear them. When we reverence anything in the mature, it is their virtues or their wisdom, and this is an easy matter. But we reverence the faults and follies of children. 
We should probably come considerably nearer to the true conception of things if we treated all grown-up persons, of all titles and types, with precisely that dark affection and dazed respect with which we treat the infantile limitations. A child has a difficulty in achieving the miracle of speech, consequently we find his blunders almost as marvellous as his accuracy. If we only adopted the same attitude towards Premiers and Chancellors of the Exchequer, if we genially encouraged their stammering and delightful attempts at human speech, we should be in a far more wise and tolerant temper. A child has a knack of making experiments in life, generally healthy in motive, but often intolerable in a domestic commonwealth. If we only treated all commercial buccaneers and bumptious tyrants on the same terms, if we gently chided their brutalities as rather quaint mistakes in the conduct of life, if we simply told them that they would 'understand when they were older,' we should probably be adopting the best and most crushing attitude towards the weaknesses of humanity. In our relations to children we prove that the paradox is entirely true, that it is possible to combine an amnesty that verges on contempt with a worship that verges upon terror. We forgive children with the same kind of blasphemous gentleness with which Omar Khayyam forgave the Omnipotent. 
The essential rectitude of our view of children lies in the fact that we feel them and their ways to be supernatural while, for some mysterious reason, we do not feel ourselves or our own ways to be supernatural. The very smallness of children makes it possible to regard them as marvels; we seem to be dealing with a new race, only to be seen through a microscope. I doubt if anyone of any tenderness or imagination can see the hand of a child and not be a little frightened of it. It is awful to think of the essential human energy moving so tiny a thing; it is like imagining that human nature could live in the wing of a butterfly or the leaf of a tree. When we look upon lives so human and yet so small, we feel as if we ourselves were enlarged to an embarrassing bigness of stature. We feel the same kind of obligation to these creatures that a deity might feel if he had created something that he could not understand. 
But the humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of all the bonds that hold the Cosmos together. Their top-heavy dignity is more touching than any humility; their solemnity gives us more hope for all things than a thousand carnivals of optimism; their large and lustrous eyes seem to hold all the stars in their astonishment; their fascinating absence of nose seems to give to us the most perfect hint of the humour that awaits us in the kingdom of heaven.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Beautiful Words from a Female Lifter

This is taken from a post on the Starting Strength website forum:

To be 100% clear, her point is that it's not about the weight loss.  The point is not the vanity.  The point is to stop being afraid of finding out what you're capable of.  The point is developing a skill, and tapping into your athletic potential.  Yes, the author is a woman who was once overweight and now weighs less than me, but this is about her strength journey, not her weight loss journey.

"Lost 13 inches of bellyfat, 67 lbs and learned to meditate."
Things at the gym have changed quite a bit in a little over a year. When I began the Starting Strength program I couldn’t perform an un-weighted squat, and when my coach wasn’t there I would all but get run off of the equipment. It’s been a while now since anyone has tried to give me unwanted advice or interfered with my workouts, even when training alone. Now, in between sets, I get asked about my program and lift technique. 
After I answered a couple of her questions, a younger and overweight woman replied that what I was doing would not work for her. It would, of course, make her bigger and bulkier, and I could not possibly understand because I didn’t know what it was like to have a weight problem. She is smaller than I was when I first started training and her trying to skinny shame me was hard to wrap my head around. It is beginning to sink in; I am no longer the fat chick trying to do squats. 
I used to meditate in a quiet room with candles and incense searching for calm and discipline. That was fine, and l cherish my quiet candled room. However calm focus is needed every day in life and life is seldom quiet. I meditate now when I am under the bar. 
The harnessing of the mind and the body, breath held and all the noise in your head stops and the only thing that exists is you and the weight. In all my years working in the “Alternative Health Field” I have sought the mind body connection, the grounding, the centeredness, with only slight success. Now I am beginning to understand, beginning to understand why I lift, how simple life really is. All the candles in the world aren’t going to teach you that type of focus and discipline. 
I have noticed in my business dealings I am viewed differently, approached differently, and their opinion is much less important than before. I navigate there the same way I do in the weight room. 
Several of my friends train with me now, all women. Others interest in what I simply saw as me getting healthy is humbling. 210lbs girls don’t think people are interested in them working to lose their ‘fish bowl’ as my friend so lovingly calls hers. 
62 weeks of strength training have flown by. My most recent program was the Texas Method and it saw me through my Great Grandmother’s fast decline, her death, and a car wreck. It also pushed me to my 1 rep squat PR of 225. 
This is not where I saw this trip taking me. And why I decided to listen to that strong old guy is most days beyond me. I do know that now I am stronger than I have ever been. I dropped 13 inches off my waist and close to 5 inches off each thigh. I weigh 143 lbs., lighter than I have been since I was 12 years old. 
Rarely am I asked how I got stronger. Much more often I am asked how I lost so much weight and kept it off. It doesn’t matter, the advice is the same. Buy the book and do what it says.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


I recently finished a little book entitled Humility by Andrew Murray. It was a great read which emphasized the root of all evil as pride and the root of all holiness as humility.

It is only 100 pages, but the chapters cover the fundamentals of humility. It has chapters about Christ's examples and teaching of humility in the Gospels, and examples of the disciples' humility (and lack-thereof).

Murray also explains how humility/pride is manifested in one's daily life and extremely relevant to one's every thought and interaction with others.

He also explains how humility is central to faith in God (only if you are humble can you completely put your trust in God) and how humility fundamentally means "death to self" and a deep recognition and understanding of yourself as nothing.

Murray ends with how humility leads to true human happiness and exaltation in God.

I highly recommend this eloquent book if one wants to understand why humility should be the sole focus of one's Christian life.

Below are a few amazing excerpts from this book:
I cannot too earnestly plead with my reader, if possibly his attention has never yet been specially directed to the want there is of humility within him or around him, to pause and ask whether he sees much of the spirit of the meek and lowly Lamb of God in those who are called by His name. Let him consider how all want of love, all indifference to the needs, the feelings, the weakness of others; all sharp and hasty judgments and utterances, so often excused under the plea of being outright and honest; all manifestations of temper and touchiness and irritation; all feelings of bitterness and estrangement, have their root in nothing but pride 
Listen to the words in which our Lord speaks of His relation to the Father, and how unceasingly He uses the words not, and nothing, of Himself. The not I, in which Paul expresses his relation to Christ, is the very spirit of what Christ says of His relation the Father. "The Son can do nothing of Himself" (John 5: 19) "I can of My own self do nothing; My judgment is just, because I seek not Mine own will" (John 5: 30) "I receive not glory from men" (John 5: 41) "I am come not to do Mine own will" (John 6:38) "My teaching is not Mine" (John 7:16) "I am not come of Myself" (John 7:28) "I do nothing of Myself" (John 8:28) "I have not come of Myself, but He sent Me" (John 8: 42). "I seek not Mine own glory" (John 8:50) "The words that I say, I speak not from Myself" (John 14: 10). "The word which ye hear is not Mine" (John 14: 24). 
It was because this humility was not only a temporary sentiment, wakened up and brought into exercise when He thought of God, but the very spirit of His whole life, that Jesus was just as humble in His intercourse with men as with God. He felt Himself the Servant of God for the men whom God made and loved; as a natural consequence, He counted Himself the Servant of men, that through Him God might do His work of love. He never for a moment thought of seeking His honor, or asserting His power to vindicate Himself. His whole spirit was that of a life yielded to God to work in. 
Brethren, here is the path to the higher life. Down, lower down! This was what Jesus ever said to the disciples who were thinking of being great in the kingdom, and of sitting on His right hand and His left. Seek not, ask not for exaltation; that is God's work. Look to it that you abase and humble yourselves, and take no place before God or man but that of servant; that is your work; let that be your one purpose and prayer. God is faithful. Just as water ever seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds the creature abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless. He that humbleth himself -- that must be our one care -- shall be exalted; that is God's care; by His mighty power and in His great love He will do it. 
In striving after the higher experiences of the Christian life, the believer is often in danger of aiming at and rejoicing in what one might call the more human, the manly, virtues, such as boldness, joy, contempt of the world, zeal, self-sacrifice,--even the old Stoics taught and practiced these,--while the deeper and gentler, the diviner and more heavenly graces, those which Jesus first taught upon earth, because He brought them from heaven; those which are more distinctly connected with His cross and the death of self,--poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, lowliness,-are scarcely thought of or valued
In the creature, humility is the one thing needed to allow God's holiness to dwell in him and shine through him. In Jesus, the Holy One of God who makes us holy, a divine humility was the secret of His life and His death and His exaltation; the one infallible test of our holiness will be the humility before God and men which marks us. Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness. 
Humility and faith are more nearly allied in Scripture than many know. See it in the life of Christ. There are two cases in which He spoke of a great faith. Had not the centurion, at whose faith He marveled, saying, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel!" spoken, "I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof"? And had not the mother to whom He spoke, "O woman, great is thy faith!" accepted the name of dog, and said, "Yea, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs'? It is the humility that brings a soul to be nothing before God, that also removes every hindrance to faith, and makes it only fear lest it should dishonor Him by not trusting Him wholly. 
Look not at pride only as an unbecoming temper, nor at humility only as a decent virtue: for the one is death, and the other is life; the one is all hell, the other is all heaven.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Physical Strength

I just finished reading Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, an incredible strength training author and coach.  Though the rest of the book goes into meticulous detail concerning the proper form and biomechanics of barbell training, the first chapter begins with an eloquent passage concerning the necessity of physical strength even in this day and age.  After reading it, you will see why I fell in love with him immediately.  Emphasis is my own:
Physical strength is the most important thing in life. This is true whether we want it to be or not. As humanity has developed throughout history, physical strength has become less critical to our daily existence, but no less important to our lives. Our strength, more than any other thing we possess, still determines the quality and the quantity of our time here in these bodies. Whereas previously our physical strength determined how much food we ate and how warm and dry we stayed, it now merely determines how well we function in these new surroundings we have crafted for ourselves as our culture has accumulated. But we are still animals - our physical existence is, in the final analysis, the only one that actually matters. A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence. It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.

As the nature of our culture has changed, our relationship with physical activity has changed along with it. We previously were physically strong as a function of our continued existence in a simple physical world. We were adapted to this existence well, since we had no other choice. Those whose strength was adequate to the task of staying alive continued doing so. This shaped our basic physiology, and that of all our vertebrate associates on the bushy little tree of life. It remains with us today. The relatively recent innovation known as the Division of Labor is not so remote that our genetic composition has had time to adapt again. Since most of us now have been freed from the necessity of personally obtaining our subsistence, physical activity is regarded as optional. Indeed it is, from the standpoint of immediate necessity, but the reality of millions of years of adaptation to a ruggedly physical existence will not just go away because desks were invented.

Like it or not, we remain the possessors of potentially strong muscle, bone, sinew, and nerve, and these hard-won commodities demand our attention. They were too long in the making to just be ignored, and we do so at our peril. They are the very components of our existence, the quality of which now depends on our conscious, directed effort at giving them the stimulus they need to stay in the condition that is normal to them. Exercise is that stimulus.

Over and above any considerations of performance for sports, exercise is the stimulus that returns our bodies to the conditions for which they were designed. Humans are not physically normal in the absence of hard physical effort. Exercise is not a thing we do to fix a problem - it is a thing we must do anyway, a thing without which there will always be problems. Exercise is the thing we must do to replicate the conditions under which our physiology was - and still is - adapted, the conditions under which we are physically normal. In other words, exercise is substitute caveman activity, the thing we need to make our bodies, and in fact our minds, normal in the 21st century. And merely normal, for most worthwhile humans, is not good enough.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Rare Speech by MLK

A friend of mine recently brought to my attention one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s lesser known speeches, "Beyond Vietnam." His critique of the government's actions and how it affects people at home, as well as the state of America into the far future, is still extremely relevant and applicable. It is a very powerful speech and extremely quotable, so I decided to share a few amazing passages.

"There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."

"Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor."

"Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition."

"We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible."

"It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”"

"we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

"This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man."

"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation."

"If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."

The full text and audio can be found here:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

An Ode to Friends

This life is a tunnel with no light at the end, only Someone assuring us that if we keep walking, we will get out of it. This tunnel is a maze that we can only hope we are getting better at solving and closer to exiting.

Friends are little candles along the way. Some last longer than others before they go out, and sometimes we ourselves are candles that last for different periods of time for others. It feels wonderful to have a candle, and it feels wonderful to be a candle.

Sometimes we can be candles for one another, and therefore have a flame and light that burns twice as strong.

These candles do not always lead us along this maze in the best possible way, but they always help us understand this maze a little better. And they are often better to have than wandering on our own in the dark.

Sometimes, these candles are so helpful, that we actually begin to enjoy the maze, even when we mess up.

Sometimes the candle burns all the way to the end.  Sometimes a candle goes out but can reignite at a different time, and perhaps many times over.

These little flickers of light, while not themselves the light that we hope is at the end, comfort us, remind us, and give us a little taste of that overwhelming, beautiful, radiant light that we faithfully anticipate together.  We must remind each other of that light.  We must revel together in the thought of that light.  But we must not settle for the current, tiny, albeit immediate light that is one another, and lose sight of that light that we cannot see, but which has been promised to us.

This tunnel is dark, damp, confusing, with scary sounds resounding against the walls, with dangers and obstacles to overcome.  But how much joy a little candle in the hand, with wax dripping, warming and hardening all over it, can bring.