The Nothing Days

This post is dedicated to Yasmin, the most beautiful woman in the world. Happy Birthday sweetie. I love you very much.

There were no more romantic lights, no more marches or strings, no more suits and dresses. Just Yasmin and I very close together on a small mattress in a small almost empty room, with piles of my books on one side and her clothes on the other. It had been a little over a week since our wedding, and we were back from a mini-vacation with Yasmin’s family while they were in the Philippines. Our place was both empty and a mess at the same time. It’s possible for a place to have nothing yet still feel disaster. We had not yet furnished our place because I was pretty-tapped out from paying for a wedding. We had also not fixed-up our combined stuff. We’re still fixing until now. I don’t think we’ll ever finish. But I remember the feeling of her warmth, the smell of her hair, and brushing her smooth long arms, and I remember feeling complete contentedness. In that moment it was truly enough to have nothing more. Yasmin likes to sleep-in and I like waking-up early. This gives me the benefit of being able to watch my own private sleeping beauty every morning, with her long brown hair resting on her pillows, and her soft breathing causing her chest to rise and fall slowly. I love tracing the outlines of her face, her neck, and her breasts, and follow them to wherever they may lead. Someday, I’ll need much more powerful glasses to do my tracing. But to even get to that point will be wonderful in itself. I think we’ll realize then what we should already know by now but don’t, that we have everything already, despite the Nothing Days. Maybe we do know and simply forget a lot.

This morning, Yasmin woke up very early to feed Elijah. She’s been incredibly dutiful with taking care of our son. Despite having to recover from a Cesarean and all the changes of giving birth, she has selflessly put him first. Maybe it’s the motherly instinct. I like to joke, “Hey. You still have a husband, you know?” After feeding, I took Elijah and she went to get some much needed sleep. I changed him, strapped him to my chest, and went for a walk. We have a simple surprise for his mom, so we went out to get it done. I also wanted to get a cup of coffee from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf nearby. (Shameless plug!) As we walked through the freshly-rained Bonifacio Global City streets, I would look at my sleeping son, to watch him peacefully riding his pouch, content to be bobbing up and down following the rhythm of my steps. Just a month and a day old, not a single accomplishment beyond peeing on his dad’s face, with very meagre possessions of mostly bibs, outgrown clothes, and disposable diapers, and already completely content. It doesn’t take much to be content. It only takes rest. I really need to learn how to rest more, just like the pure sleep my son enjoys now during his Nothing Days.

I got home and walked to our bedroom to lay Elijah on the sleeper we placed on our now much bigger bed, which is no longer just a mattress. Yasmin likes to sleep outstretched, and it’s possible for her to stretch and for us to still not touch. Personally, I preferred the touching. When your wife’s skin smells as good as mine, you’ll prefer the closeness. It’s funny how much better women smell than men. When my wife tells me, “You stink. You need to shower.” I smell myself and think, “Yeah she’s right!”, and go shower. When she says, “I can’t wait to shower. I really stink.”, like after being out all day or coming from the gym, I smell her and think, “That’s stinky?” You smell better than me on my best day!” It’s a good thing Yasmin likes me dirty. Just kidding. Actually, I’m not. She’ll kill for that comment. Or maybe she won’t. Who really knows what a wife will do? I don’t think they know themselves. The discovery is all part of the fun, no matter how frustrating it can be. To discover your wife is to realize you know nothing, only to find you are more and more privy to the infinite layers of love. To know nothing but have everything is an amazing paradox. I can’t say I’ve done it justice trying to describe it. It’s like trying describe chocolate. I highly recommend tasting and seeing true love. I highly recommend getting a small bed.

Now, 7:42am, I’ve already been up nearly four hours, and I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done. I catch myself and realize that’s not true at all. I’ve done a lot. What made me think that I threw away my morning? The number 281 in white font sitting in the middle of a red oval on the right hand corner of my email app. “Have I really fallen that far?” I thought to myself, “where the quality of my mornings are now determined by the amount of messages I’ve dealt with?” I remember as a young man, when the only messages that counted were the ones that came from whoever I liked at the time, and how, just a few years ago, I would block all notifications other than Yasmin’s texts. In many ways I was much dumber back then, but intuitively I understood that Yasmin’s texts were more important anyway. I think I got that right. Well, she did marry me, so, I did get that right. Or maybe she got it wrong by marrying me. Too late. Haha! I don’t mind getting the better end of the deal. Why she married an obsessive, grouchy, workaholic, tactless, dense me, whose current favorite line is, “that’s not in our budget”, I will never understand. But I’m glad she did anyway. I have complete confidence in the fulfilment of our grand dreams, but I also know that there is a journey to great heights. Part of it is to build the character of the travellers, but another reason, I’ve realized, is to reveal who really loves. To be loved when you have nothing, are nothing, is a wonderful feeling. This is why I do not rehire anyone who has left our companies for “cooler” places or recommend reconsidering someone you’ve already broken up with. If someone won’t journey with you during the difficulties, then they are not fellow travellers but passers by. I think many couples have forgotten the beauty of the nothing days, when the journey was simply about love. Young spouses should not miss this temporary window of planting the profound message of “I love our Nothing Days because I love you.” because someday you won’t have nothing. You’ll have greater responsibilities, greater expectations, kids, bills, challenges, fights, offences, baggage, relatives, opinions, blog posts, tweets, and more, and life will feel like a never ending cycle of trying to catch-up, of trying to meet another’s needs and expectations. But to be able to have journeyed together through the nothing days, is a powerful memory to return to. Yasmin and I like to remember our times on the mattress, many of which I can’t share with you (not that you would want the details anyway). Young spouses, young parents, young professionals, do not be in a rush to leave the nothing days. Don’t be in a rush to have everything figured out, to have a respectable title, to get credit, or be seen as successful. These are vain pursuits. Focus on loving your fellow travellers, make their lives more beautiful, and you will find you’ve enriched yours in the process, and even more, you’ll know who really loves you.

This is why I know God really loves me. As a child I knew it intellectually, because I was told it was so. Now, after journeying with Him through the Nothing Days, I simply know it is so. I felt the peace beyond understanding when I had no understanding. I felt His forgiveness despite my moral trench. I felt His faithfulness when I had no faith. I experienced His provision when I was poorer than poor and in great debt. I felt His love in my shame. He was with me during my Nothing Days, and I gratefully recall them now, as I remind myself to be still. The Bible reminds us that “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young” and to “not despite the day of humble beginnings”. The older I get, the more I realize how elegant the insights of the Bible are. The Nothing Days are the humble days, the times when we have very little, or even, nothing, or even more, like me, have had less than nothing, and in debt. The Bible says very simply, “Do not despite it”, don’t resent it, don’t be in a rush to escape it. It reminds me of this book on fatherhood I’m reading written by a Navy Seal where he says something about how the successful Navy Seals are not simply the ones who can endure suffering of training but can actually turn suffering off and even enjoy what should have been suffering, not because they’re masochists, but because they are able to focus their minds on the greater purpose of their suffering. This is what the Bible was saying. It was telling us what the Navy Seals would centuries later validate: the Nothing Days are good for you. It’s good for you to experience it while you’re young.

After this post, I will open the Excel sheet where I track my expenses and personal cash flow. I find that Excel is simply the best tool for this, and I’ve tried a bunch of apps. Contrary to what some may think, I’m not “rich”, at least not financially, and at least compared to my goals. While I may have more assets than the average person, that doesn’t say much given that the average person doesn’t even save. It’s like a 6’7” NBA player feeling really tall in the Philippines, because the average height is probably 6’2”, only to go back to the NBA where the average is now 6’7”. There he’s no longer really tall. He’s average. So while in terms of assets I may have a bit more, and not much more, from a cash-flow perspective, I would say I’m pretty average. Given that cash is king because liquidity, even personal liquidity is very important, I would even say I’m barely average given all my obligations. There’s really not a lot of margin at the moment and not much room for luxury. I share this say that just like most people, I did not have family money to start with or a trust fund to inherit. I cannot say my days are worry-free. They are worry-full actually. Haha! But they are not ugly bad days. And they are never wasted days. I don’t believe in wasting a moment. I have learned to embrace the Nothing Days and to enjoy the pain or difficulty it comes with, knowing full well that it’s not merely suffering to be endured but character building to be enjoyed. And it is a temporary window I don’t want to miss, because someday we won’t have nothing. Like I said I am completely convinced in the fruition of our grandness dreams, and the chance to experience nothing will be difficult, if not impossible. But more than the lessons, and there are many, I want to know that special kind of love that only comes to those who have found that they can love and are loved even during the Nothing Days. #db

Grow Up & Get a Life

I’m embarrassed to be writing this.

I’m embarrassed for our generation. 

While I think there’s so much energy to be found in the millennial generation, I would argue that much of that energy is wasted on really bad choices stemming from wrong ideas of the world. Why would anyone embrace a wrong idea? The answer is, no one really knowingly embraces a wrong idea. We embrace wrong ideas we think are right. Why? Because we don’t filter ideas based on rational principles but on resonance, which is how the idea feels to us. We take our thoughts in like a good drink: Did it go down smooth? But the most important ideas we will ever have won’t start smooth. On the contrary, they will be the ones that require wresting, doubting, questioning, criticizing, and honest reflection. It will require the very humble admission that I can be and many times am wrong,  that how I feel about a topic doesn’t make it true, and it’s very possible that many things I feel to be true are actually not. 

An example of how I reveal our weird thinking is with a few simple questions I like to ask in workshops: Does everyone deserve success? Does everyone deserve a house? Does everyone deserve security? Very quickly the answer of the crowd is always a loud “Yes!” I follow this up with explaining the definition of success, which is, the fulfillment of one’s goals. Then I ask, “If everyone deserves success, let’s say it is the goal of a man to have abs, does he deserve those abs?” I always see looks of confusion. “When we say someone ‘deserves’ something, we mean they have the right to have it. It means they should be able to claim this right from society, from the government, or from God or some higher power. Can this man claim his abs?” Of course the answer is no. Six packs are not deserved rights. They are earned muscles. There are body fat% conditions that have to be met in order for a person to have abs. That’s not unfair. That’s how bodies work. “Do people deserve to have a house?” I ask again, and once again I hear yes a lot. “Ok, what kind of house does everyone deserve? What kind of house do you deserve? A big house? A small house? A house with a pool? With air conditioning? With fiber internet? What house does your seat mate deserve?” This always causes some inner conflict because we like to believe that people deserve good things. That idea goes down smooth. But the rough reality is that we don’t deserve good things, we enjoy the good things we earned or were gifted. While I wish everyone had a decent place to live (why do you think I’ve been active with Habitat for Humanity), the truth is these structures don’t just magically sprout from nowhere because someone, or even millions of people, believed they deserved one. They are resourced, planned, built. Finally, does everyone deserve security? Again the answer is a resounding yes. Then I ask, “Does someone who abuses his or her body with sugar and bad habits deserve the same the same peace of mind and healthy disposition as someone who practices health principles? Of course not. Does someone who chooses to do reckless things and do risky things deserve the same security as someone who shows more prudence? Of course not. If they did, wouldn’t it be unfair that deserving and undeserving got the same thing?” In all examples, I prove one thing: What we think are rights or things we deserve are actually earned achievements. Security, a house, and success are all achievements that are enjoyed when the principles that lead to these achievements are fulfilled. They are not rights we deserve automatically.  

To believe otherwise is to believe that people should receive what they don’t deserve. To believe that is not to believe in a just and fair world.  

Entitlement is believing something is deserved without paying the necessary cost. This is the fundamental flaw in our generations thinking that reveals a very prevalent immaturity. 

This is why we whine and opine online, why we cry at the office when we fail or feel bad, and why our mothers scold our teachers for giving us low grades.

This is why we are weak.

We have so much energy but we are weak, unable to make anything more of our lives than the social media pa-cute even as we continue to mooch of our well-meanjng co-dependent parents.

How do we know we are weak?

When we are so easily stressed, we are too weak to handle responsibility. When we easily breakdown during tough situations, we are too weak to build. When we easily complain, we are too weak to address things ourselves. When we gossip or backstab, we are too weak to confront others. When we don’t stick to deliverables , we are too weak to handle commitments. When we follow the crowd, we are too weak to stand alone. When we don’t move out of home, and we are already old enough, we are too weak to fend for ourselves, and in many cases, stand independent of our parents’ decision making and resources. I can go on.

And weakness is not a virtue. It is useless. It is unattractive (at least should be). Crying in the office is not just unprofessional, it is selfish, distracting from the success of the team to deal with an individual’s feelings. You dont like your company, be part of the change or quit. Dont be the little boy crying for something better when you’re an adult with the responsibility to do something better. Complaining about your partner to your friends is weak and sows the seeds for future unfaithfulness. You are better off improving things or leaving than whining and nagging. No one wants to be with a whiner. Even the Bible says its bettee to live in the corner of a roof then be with a nagging wife. Whatever it is you don’t like you either be the change or you move away. Don’t waste  a moment acting like a brat. The world isn’t perfect so don’t expect it to be. It can be better or worse depending on how we face it.

When I was being updated by the latest drama from some of our “millennials” in our company, I very quickly remembered my 3 week old son crying in his cot. My baby cries when it needs or wants something. It cries unintelligently, unable to speak or communicate effectively what it is he requires. So he cries and cries and cries. He wails (which is like a shout and a cry combined). At this stage it’s still bearable, even cute. But someday, he will be 13 (a man in my book) and learning how to communicate effectively should be a given and whining stamped out. To see an adult crying and whining or even wailing like a baby is embarrassing. Some of you are in your 20s and 30s and you still address life like my baby.

Babies cry because they’re helpless. You are not. You have a mind. Use it. How can anyone with a college degree have graduated without knowing how to interact in uncomfortable relationships? What are we teaching? What are we learning? Unless you are a helpless baby, stop whining and help yourself. If you’re a parent stop raising brats thinking you’re being supportive. You’re raising a weak person who responds to life like my 3 week old. I would be so worried to work for or with someone who acts like my 3 week old. I would be dumb to do so. Same for marriage or any other partnership. I would be very stupid to connect my success to an adult who acts like my 3 week old.

Conclusion:

In one of my talks, some people  asked if I was open to being their life coach. I told them, “I don’t think most people need a life coach. I think most people need a life.” While some may take offense at such an answer (it does not go down smooth), I maintain that coaching only works for people with a life purpose (something to coach towards) and life skills (basic attitudes and abilities to navigate life). It is impossible to improve the performance of anyone who does not have clear goals or lacks basic adult skills. In a world that seems to have growing up and #adulting issues, be different. To grow up doesn’t mean boring and stern. That’s being boring and stern. To grow up, to mature, means to commit to your responsibilities and purpose, to develop the attitudes and abilities needed to meet the requirements of your responsibilities and purpose, and achieve the results you desire, not because you think you deserve them, but because you fulfilled the principles they require.  That is not just not boring, it is incredibly necessary.

To all the brats of my generation (I describe you above), grow up and get a life. This may not go down smooth but this is much more than whisky. It is wisdom. #db

The Freedom and Beauty of Worship Through Self-Control

A notification went off on my phone telling me I slept only 66% of my sleep goal of 6 hours a day. The same alarm pings my Apple Watch, iPad, and MacBook. (Am I really this dense that I need so many reminders?) None of these notifications are needed to inform me that I am tired. Exhausted is probably a better word. I would like nothing more than to be snoring loudly on this warm Sunday morning.

But I am awake and typing this. Why? Am I really some sort of blogging addict? Nope. It’s because I scheduled to post an article today, meaning, I committed to myself that I would sit down, process my thoughts, and share them with others, hoping that they may encourage and empower others. The ability to do things not because it feels good, or feels right, or is popular, fun, or respectable, and despite being opposite all those things,but following through simply because you made an invisible commitment to yourself, is what is known as self-control. Self-Control, the ability to respond to life, not merely react like little babies do, is a key indicator of maturity. What about ourselves should we control? This often-shared quote encapsulates things nicely:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Self-Control means controlling our thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, and ultimately our destiny (our destination, where our lives go).

When we don’t control our thoughts, when we let circumstances, the opinions of others, our worries and fears, our lusts, our anger, our impatience, our unprocessed thoughts, and unrefined ideas dictate what we think, we exhibit a lack of self-control. We are reacting to things outside of us, instead of doing what the Bible says:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things

– Philippians 4:8

This is not so easy during a stressful situation, like trying to make your finances work while calming a wailing baby at 3am. But it is possible and very beneficial. For this specific example, a true example from my own life, I CHOOSE to go beyond the surface suffering and look at the profound privilege of the activity. I am not merely struggling to pay the bills and calm my son. I am participating in the amazing process of raising a godly man. If being up at this time is part of it, it’s worth it. If having to tighten our belts and move funds around is part of it, it’s worth it. If feeling very tired is part of it, it’s worth it. And it’s extra worth it because I know that not only am I part of such a meaningful activity, but that if I set my eyes on Jesus, if I trust Him and obey Him in all circumstances, not only will things work out, but I’ll be transformed to be more like Him. Sometimes, I forget that God’s main goal is not to give me the life I want or a life with no struggles, but to make me more like Christ, which means, that my thoughts words, actions, habits, and character reflect those of Christs because the spiritual virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and, here it comes again, self-control, are so evident in my life. I have born fruit. The pleasure of having a son, and the privilege to be able to become more like my Jesus, makes everything worth it. Of course I find it worth it because I have activated the self-control required to reject society’s values of success and the good life but determined for myself that I want to please God and love my family. My success is based on how well I do the latter two. I think most people simply live by recommendation and convention, not by conviction, so actually live others-controlled and wonder why they don’t feel free. Is it not logical to understand that to be others-controlled means you’re not truly choosing for yourself?

Cultivate self-control. Be free.

Last Friday morning, my son, Elijah, was circumcised. While I won’t go through the reasoning of why we chose to have him circumcised, I want to share a simple story from it. Inside the operating room, after preparing Elijah for the procedure, the doctor warned me that the babies usually cry when they’re injected but that after that they’d be fine. Right before they injected him, the doctor said, “Ok, here we go. 1-2-3…” And proceeded to inject him, only to marvel, “Oh. He didn’t cry.” Elijah had only made a slight grunt and went back to sleep. Throughout the whole procedure, he did not cry at all. He’d whine a bit, but then relax again. The anaesthesia must have taken over at some point. I was so proud to watch how my 3-week old son handled what is a painful situation. He took it, winced, and let it go. “That’s my son.” I thought to myself. The nurses told me that he was very brave. I don’t know how much of that is true or them being nice, but I’ll take it. Haha!

Anyway, the next day, I was still so proud of how tough my son was when I had a thought: Maybe this is how God the Father feels when He sees me win over my anger, surrender my pride, defeat lust, or choose kindness and godliness under pressure. Maybe this is how He felt watching Job take hit after hit yet remain faithful. Maybe this is how He felt when the disciples worshipped until death. Maybe this is how He felt when His Son chose the Father’s will. More than enjoying freedom as we become self-determining when we are self-controlled, the beauty of self-control is that we are able to worship God in our own special way, responding to our own individual circumstances in our own unique acts of worship. For me and Yasmin, one of the songs we sing to God looks more like ass-wiping with a smile at 2am. For me, the melody I send to Heaven, is the sincere gratefulness in my heart at working in Bridge on such an awesome mission, even though I haven’t slept. The chorus I repeat is my recurring repentance of my many sins and constant trusting in His goodness, even as I face consequences.

This, I believe, is true worship as Romans 12:1 explains it:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.“

Just as there is good singing and bad singing, there is beautiful and pointless worship. Pointless worship is lip service. Beautiful worship comes from our self-controlled choosing to please God in all that we do, knowing that He is pleased when we walk in faith, obey His word, and love others as ourselves.

#db