A Shopping Guide for Life

“But you can never go wrong with the priceless things. They’ll always be a steal.”

The start of a new year is always a good time to step back and take deep look at the state of our lives. It’s a good time to evaluate ourselves, our desires and dreams, goals and accomplishments, our challenges and concerns, as well as our actions and decisions.

I actually think we should be doing this regularly – as in all-year regularly.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions simply because, based on my experience and casual observance of others, we rarely sustain these grand decisions. Instead, I like to follow the Japanese practice of Kaizen – continuously growing through small improvements each day. So every evening, right before reading a self-imposed number of chapters before bed, I like to evaluate my day, what went right, what went wrong, what should I work on tomorrow or the next few days, what goes on my to-do list, what are the challenges, and after considering them I lift them to God to bless, to redeem, sometimes to forgive. I try to apply this practice of incremental growth powered by God’s grace to the things I do, whether it be business, social work, study, my creative pursuits, or whatever.

Despite this I can still be a jerk (a capital JERK to some), still be selfish, or unkind, or lustful (Yes, you women can be incredibly beautiful – and irritatingly illogical so don’t let your head get too big.). I can still be arrogant sometimes (Ok, more than sometimes.), still insecure (Which is why I’m arrogant.), still fearful (Which is why I’m insecure.), and incredibly limited in my goodness and capabilities (Which is why I’m fearful.).

All these shortcomings are products of wrong decisions, which in turn are products of a skewed value-system. Somewhere along the way, whether consciously or unconsciously, I learned to value the wrong things. Not everything of course, I do have right values, but enough mistaken valuations to leave a mark.

When my brothers and I were kids my parents read us a story from the book No Wonder They Call Him Savior by Max Lucado. It tells the story of an unusual kind of robbery where some thieves broke into a store, and instead of taking items all they did was switch the price tags around. Some expensive things became cheap, and the cheap things became expensive.

The funny thing was that no one noticed the price change at first. So people shopped as usual, buying things at unusually huge discounts and unusually huge markups.

And sometimes our world is like that. We shop around through life sometimes making decisions that cost us more than what we get for it and sometimes taking other things of value for granted. And just like walking through a superstore, walking through life can be overwhelming with all the options calling out to you.

And so to help me remember (because I can be immensely forgetful) I have brought out a shopping list – a shopping list for life that I thought about when I was a teenager, detailing the things I would pursuit. I’ve changed some of the words and ordering but the treasures have stayed the same. Proof that, despite my lack of experience and knowledge at the time, an open heart can see with amazing clarity.

I use the article “a” instead of “the” because I don’t want to suggest that my list is the only list possible list or even the best. This is merely MY reminder for MYSELF that I hope will cause you to evaluate your situation, to see what it is you’re purchasing with your life decisions, and to weigh the cost that you’re paying.

My simple shopping list for life:

1. A real relationship with God
Where I’ll find it: In time spent with Him
Where I won’t find it: Religion

2. A family with a lot of kids
Where I’ll find it: With the birds and the bees, and a ball and chain – Kidding. I’m still trying to figure this one out.
Where I won’t find it: In my chauvinism, E-Harmony (Not that there’s anything wrong with E-Harmony. How do I say it? It’s just not me?)

3. The means to help the poor and unjustly treated
Where I’ll find it: Proper valuation
Where I won’t find it: In my selfishness that only focuses on what I want and what I need

4. The ability to steward the resources that are entrusted to me
Where I’ll find it: In humility – I don’t have it. I don’t know. Father, give me grace.
Where I won’t find it: In my arrogance and self sufficiency

Every now and then I get lost, while driving, while looking for a restaurant, or a shop, or just inside my head. Sometimes I get distracted, by a looming concern, a pretty face, a smart conversation. And even sometimes I lose my way, forgetting what’s really important, purchasing baggage at crazy prices. So I have to keep reminding myself of what I really want, of what’s really important to me. Because you’ll always go wrong by buying something you don’t really want, no matter how seemingly cheap. But you can never go wrong with the priceless things. They’ll always be a steal.

Whose Fault Is It?

After running around the past few days, I have a lot of thoughts on the recent typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy for the Filipinos) but I haven’t had the time to synthesize everything. I’ll write about the events some other time. One thing that has been bothering me though is the blame passing going on. It’s the government’s fault. It’s our mayor’s fault. It’s the barangay captain’s fault. It’s the NGO’s fault or the fault of the NGO’s boss. It’s our fault – for our sins as one lady put it. Even to some it’s God’s fault.

So many different opinions on who’s at fault. So much blame going around. But who really is at fault?

I really don’t know. And I really don’t care.

The word FAULT means a DEFECT or a SHORTCOMING. Many times, when someone’s at fault, when someone has a defect or a shortcoming, that person won’t be able to fix things, even if we identify him, because usually that defect or shortcoming that caused the failing is still present. So wasting our time figuring out whom to blame only gives us scapegoats. It doesn’t give us solutions.

And it is SOLUTIONS not SCAPEGOATS that we need.

I think we’re asking the wrong question. Instead we should be asking, “Who will be responsible?”

Who Will Be Responsible?
When I was younger, whenever my parents would put me in charge of certain tasks, I would give excuses and say, “Why should I do that? It doesn’t affect me?” or “Why should I fix that? It’s not my fault that’s broken.” They would give me the same simple answer, “I’m not asking you if you’re affected. I’m not asking you whose fault it is. I’m asking you to be responsible.”

Later on I would understand that being responsible has nothing to do with whose fault it is. It has everything to do with how you RESPOND, which is where the word responsibility comes from. It is not a REACTIVE response that says, “You’re at fault. You messed up. You’re evil. Fix it.” Instead, it is a PROACTIVE one that says, “I may not be at fault, this may not be my problem, but I will make myself accountable and I will fix this. I will find a SOLUTION.”

I like to define SOLUTIONS as ANSWERS with ACTIONS. It’s not just an idea or a thought or a plan, it’s the right idea, the right thought, and the right plan, executed the right way. And we will not get everything right until we have the right person.

And how do we know if a person is the right one?

The right person is simply the one who is willing and able to be responsible.

Watching the response of many of the Victory, Habitat for Humanity, and Real LIFE people, along with many other selfless Filipinos, was so encouraging. A lot of these people have never done anything like this before. No one was ready for how bad the storm turned out to be. Very few, if any, had training in disaster response or Wading in Mud 101, but to see the pastors mobilize, the volunteers form assembly lines, Doc, Lynn, Ariel and scholars wade the flood (For those of you who want a reference it’s worse than stepping inside a used toilet bowl.), being in the Habitat board meeting (Missing the very important contributions of our president, Bert Jugo, who had to have an emergency bypass. Please pray for him.), all of these helped emphasize that it’s more about taking responsibility than readiness. Because when someone decides to be responsible, whether or not he or she is ready, then solutions start forming, and even more powerful is when groups of people who have decided to be responsible work together, combining their strengths and covering for each other’s deficiencies.

Don’t think about who is at fault. Don’t think about whether you’re doing someone else’s job or whether someone is getting off easy. Don’t think about whether you’re ready. Decide in your heart to be responsible, think about how you can respond correctly, and respond accordingly.

HE Who Goes Before You
My father once asked me to take over an ailing business bogged down by large debts, destroyed distribution, falling sales, and almost every problem you could think of. His instructions were simple, “David, you’re responsible now.” I remember walking into my new office, closing the door behind me, and with my hands resting on my U-shaped desk, I bowed my head and prayed, “Father, here we go. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what to do. Help me. Help me. Help me.”

And He did come through. He continues to.

Let’s take this past Ketsana and apply this to the rest of our lives. At some point we will all be called to respond to a situation, to a call, to a need, and many times, if not all the time, we won’t be ready. But we can draw strength from Deuteronomy 31:8 that says:

The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

He goes before you – before the floods and storms, before needs and concerns, before politicians and crocodiles, before sickness and pain – He goes before you. So rise up and be responsible. Do not be afraid. He goes before you.

A Blind Man Helped Me See

“The cold wind brings me back to the terrace, and somewhere I can hear singing, like the lady at the restaurant earlier that sang the saddest sounding amore’ I have ever heard in my life. That was the only word I understood, and that was enough. In a way, that describes very well what this trip has been for me. Come to think of it, it describes life very well. Despite not understanding, or misunderstanding, the little we do know is many times all we need”
– From Last Night in Lisbon

Life is full of wonderful evenings. Moonlit strolls, with a sketchbook in hand, a stack of books to get lost in, accompanied by a bowl of muesli and a bar of very dark chocolate, times of prayer and reflection, beautiful company, and moments of inspiration on the piano have filled my nights. I have so much to be grateful for.

And then there are times like tonight, when concerns threaten the peace of my heart and restlessness weighs my soul. These evenings seem darker than others and sometimes, I have to admit even lonely, as I bear the cup allotted to me.

But there is wonderful consolation in the darkness. Here we appreciate whatever glow there is, and are reminded to allow even the smallest hope to illuminate our way.

I remember a blind man, led by a boy, who knocked on my window, as I drove to dinner one Sunday evening. I don’t normally like giving money to beggars because I know it encourages all the wrong values, but there was something about this man’s face, his hollow sockets seemed to smile with his lips. There was no pity, or bitterness, or worry, or despair. It was genuinely expectant. It was genuinely hopeful. I found myself questioning God, “Father. How could you deprive him of sight? How could you give someone such a life?” Then I felt a gentle impression – “Renew your mind, David. Renew your mind.”

Then I had a thought: Maybe the man’s blindness, a conventional handicap, was his ticket to an unconventional life. That maybe in the darkness he sees something else, maybe something simpler, maybe something deeper. He will never see what I see. But neither will I see what he does. Though he may never appreciate the tense emotions of Millais’ A Huguenot On St. Bartholomew’s Day, or the vast blue sky from an airplane, or any sky for that matter, maybe, in the absence of the distractions of physical sight, he sees clearer than us all, because maybe he has a better view into the heart.

Renew your mind.

Renew your mind so you can trust. Renew your mind and find purpose in all things, and hope in every situation. Renew your mind so that you will remember that the one who sees a part will never understand as completely as the one who sees all.

So tonight, I am grateful for the darkness. Hoping that in my darkness, I may help someone understand, just as the blind man in his, helped me see.