I Highly Recommend It

I’m going to make this quick. I need to be home in a few minutes. I just picked up some ciabatta to add to tonight’s dinner that Yasmin is preparing. She is probably exhausted by now, having had to watch Elijah all day. We don’t have any fulltime maids or nannies. It’s a lot of work but we like it that way.  I’m exhausted too, not to mention sick with a bad throat and a slight fever. It’s from the terrible naps that add up to only 3-4 hours a day that now makes up my “sleep”. But I’m taking this time to write this before I forget. I literally sat down from my walk back home to share one simple message:

Marriage and parenthood are highly tiring, expensive, and testing experiences, and I highly recommend them.

I highly recommend committing yourself to loving another more than yourself.

I highly recommend learning how to be selfless. 

I highly recommend spending the bulk of what you earn on others. 

I highly recommend undergoing the fire of early marriage, the paranoia of new parenthood, and the soul-altering process that one undergoes through with both.

I highly recommend the tightening of belts.

I highly recommend the loss of personal freedom for the gain of family unity.

I highly recommend pursuing internal scores more than externally impressive achievements.

I highly recommend the early mornings and late nights, the sleepless days, and the no-choice moments of calling out to God.

I highly recommend going to work exhausted, willing yourself to be excellent, and finding you have more capacity than you knew. 

I highly recommend saying yes to difficult commitments that force you to become mature and wise. 

I highly recommend them because through these experiences we undergo a wondeful metamorphosis. In the process of seeming breaking down, we find that we are actually being reshaped into something far more glorious than what we were originally.  In a world that seeks comfort and security most, choose ripening. It is not comfortable nor secure, but it is beautiful. Beauty is worth it. I highly recommend it. #db

Unintentional Fools

I was listening to a man talk about how legalizing gay marriage would lead to the degradation of marriage. I asked him what he considered a “degraded marriage”, and he asked me back, “What do you mean?” I was confused by his question because he had just stated that “gay marriage would lead to the degradation of marriage”. Surely, he had some objective rationale for his belief or at least a definition for what he considered a “degraded marriage”. Yet when asked to explain what exactly this “degradation of marriage” is, he couldn’t answer. This is sad, not only because he will lose the opportunity to explain his position intelligently, but also because he will lose credibility (at least in my opinion) for having such strongly held yet baseless beliefs. I am not saying his position is wrong. It may or may not be right. What I am saying is, when we are not able to reason, either through ignorance, pride, laziness, or fear, we fail to become reason-able, and someone who is not reasonable will rely on default knowledge and default feelings to address life instead of understanding deeply what is and then doing what one ought. There is another term for a person who doesn’t understand what is and does not do what one ought, it is FOOL. It is possible to hold, almost out of luck, a morally correct position but still be foolish how we apply that position.

We like to think a FOOL is some court-jester like character making a “fool” of himself. This is a caricature. A more common example is every time we, ourselves, do not, again, out of ignorance, pride, laziness, or fear, understand what is and fail to do what one ought. The FOOLS of today do not look like silly guys with funny hats. The FOOLS of today look like husbands and wives who won’t understand the principles of marriage, and think relationships are simply about sustaining feelings. They look like fathers and mothers who won’t raise independent adults, who are more concerned about their kids not crying or not suffering instead of preparing them to thrive despite life’s pain and adversity. The FOOLS of today look like bosses who won’t develop their people, employees who won’t strive for excellent performance, leaders who won’t be accountable to results, and followers who are impressed by the so-called wisdom of such leaders despite the lack of measurable results.

The FOOLS of today look like me and you.

And it is so natural to be a FOOL. It’s more natural to be a FOOL than it is to be wise. It is more natural and much easier to do whatever we feel like doing, to believe whatever resonates with us, and to surround ourselves with like-minded people, and because they are like-minded, they are probably deciding similarly, choosing the natural, the comfortable, and the easy without beginning with a very simple, more important question: WHAT IS THE RIGHT THING? If we have so many people holding positions and making decisions FOOLISHLY, then don’t be surprised when there’s so much brokenness in the world. We like to think the ills of this world are due to powerful evil men, and yes they have a role, but we all, as a whole, contribute way more. Most of our problems are caused by our own regular foolishness. In fact, it is very possible to be well-meaning AND foolish at the same time. Being well-meaning does not negate the consequences of foolishness. Let me give you an example:

I was talking to someone about the problems in places like Smokey Mountain and Payatas, which are large trash mountains that people live on. The person said, “Why doesn’t the government do anything about this?” I asked the person, “Why is all of that trash there to begin with?” He looked at me puzzled, “What do you mean?” I clarified, “There a whole mountain of trash that you want the government to fix. Did the government put that trash there?” “Yes”, he said, “They collected the trash and put it there. “There’s truth to that.” I responded. “Now why do they have to collect so much trash?” Unsure of where I was going, he said, “Of course they have to collect the trash. That’s their job.” Again, I partially agreed with him, but explained, “They are collecting a lot of trash because we as a people produce a lot of trash. Even if they got their trash collections in order, is it really logical to expect the government’s trash collection ability to outpace our highly materialistic lives?” I continued, “I use maybe 6-8 diapers a day for my baby. The Philippines adds 2-3 million new babies a year. Let’s say only 1% of them use diapers. That is 240,000 diapers a day. That is 87,600,000 diapers a year. Now let’s say there’s 2% who use diapers, so double the results. Let’s say 3% user diapers, so triple the results. Now let’s add all the grocery bags, the wrappers,  Being Being Being a 11 paper documents, the cooking oils, the sanitary napkins, the old toys, the plastic bottles, and the rest, and you’ll see that the problem of trash heaps is more than a collection issue. It is the unintended consequence of consumerism and materialism.” I hope he got the launch launch launch , which is simply this: If you really care about that issue, understand the underlying principles of the issue, so that you act wisely. In the case I gave above about trash, the underlying principle is that good collection will never catchup to boundless consumerism and materialism. Anyone who is serious about solving the problem should begin with a lifestyle check and find ways to simplify their consumption and material use. Before completing the conversation, I asked him, “Do you recycle? Because I currently don’t but need to.” He was quiet. “Imagine” I told him again, “How long it takes for something to decompose, and different things decompose differently. Now imagine adding the very major step of segregating all the different kinds of trash so that decomposing can be optimized. These trash heaps are not simply symbols of government inefficiencies, they are symbols of society’s consumerism, materialism, and lazy environmentalism. We are the problem.” Unlike what many people today think, tweeting (or not tweeting) in protest, discussing problems, status messages, are not acts of empathy but expressions, which will be no better than a fart if not followed with truly meaningful action that moves the needle.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a problem that didn’t end up with me being responsible after careful and honest reflection. Some problems, like the one above, I can address by learning how to recycle and, more importantly, consuming less. Other problems I can address by cutting people out of my life, limiting the effect of their foolishness, and instead building with wiser people, but again, it is my responsibility to do the pruning of unwise relationships.

Let’s move from the trash example back to the “degradation of marriage”. Why would some other couple’s situation degrade the quality of yours? Let’s break this down. What is the underlying root of the degradation of marriage? Is it because divorce is legal? Is it because there are homosexual relationships? Is it because there are all these evil adulterers lurking in the sidelines? What causes relationships to unravel anyway? Is it not the lack of shared purpose, the absence of defined principles, and the failure to perform wisely? There will be more divorces, annulments, separations, and whatever else you want to call them, and it’s not because there are evil people out there wanting to hurt our relationships, or because a certain law is available, but because there are people in our relationships (us) who no longer (or never) really shared life purposes, never really agreed on principles to live by, and never improved how they performed life-laying love. This is why the verse “Do not be yoked with unbelievers” in 2 Corinthians 6:14 is more than just about not marrying someone from a different church. Look at how the verse continues, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?” It goes beyond affiliation into simply this: If you want to live right don’t yoke yourself with someone who is living wrong. If you want to live wise don’t yoke yourself with someone who is living foolishly. A couple can take all the communications, strengths finders, love language, and compatibility tests, but two people who want different things, live by different principles, and perform at different levels will not last. Falling in love with someone who holds fundamentally different beliefs about life from you will have the unintended consequence of future strife.

Note on Performance:
I talk a lot about the importance of performance because without it we are what the Bible calls a “resounding gong” and “clanging cymbals”, which is what someone is who spiritual but does not translate that spirituality, knowledge, insight, or gifting, into loving action. To Perform means to “carry into effect, fulfill, discharge”. To perform means to keep your commitments even if they’re difficult. To perform means to prove those who rely on you right for doing so. To perform means to finish what you start. A lot of people have dichotomized “performance orientation” and “people orientation” and this is tragic because it has the unintended consequence of making performance orientation heartless and people orientation ineffective. Everyone needs to be both. If someone was truly people oriented (and not feelings oriented) that person would inevitably be performance oriented because he is concerned about making tangible contributions to people. I would argue the so-called “People Person” who is not able to provide tangible contributions is actually a “One Person Person” or selfish, more concerned about his own feelings than his actual impact. Finally, Performance, how someone performs, is the fruit, the evidence, the proof, of someone’s true purpose and principles. People who think they have a purpose and have principles but don’t perform are deluded. It’s like thinking a mango tree is healthy and strong even if it does not bear any fruit.

The major point of this post is to guard against unintentional foolishness that comes from, as I said twice above, ignorance, pride, laziness, and fear. And the single best way to do this is to track your Performance and see if it is consistent with what you say (or think) is your life purpose and life principles. We are not merely judged by our intentions but also by our outcomes. Those outcomes require more than good or pure intentions. They require clarity of objectives (purpose), defined values (principles) , competent action (performance), and the investment of time, money, and energy. By making our performance, not our stated objectives, the indicator, we can more honestly check ourselves. Who is wiser, the man who thinks he is going to be healthy because he intends it or the man who thinks he is going to be healthy because he checked his Body Fat%, blood pressure, caloric intake? Who is wiser, the couple who made a vow to stay faithful or the couple who deliberately addressed their different issues? Every year millions of people set goals and make commitments they won’t keep. This should be proof enough that intention is not enough, in fact, it means very little in the long term. Principled performance is what matters. Results and fruit from principled living is the proof. If your life has little or no real results this is a sign you need to humble yourself and get help. 

This is a heavy truth I have decided to embrace. I can’t look at people and say, “Hey, sorry I’m such a drain on your potential, but I really mean well.” I can’t look at my son and say, “Sorry I’ve been a bad dad. But I really could not take you feeling bad.” I can’t look at my wife and say, “Sorry our marriage is purposeless. But I really just wanted you to be happy.” I can’t look at my shareholders and say, “Sorry our business sucks. I really wanted to make you all money.” I can’t look at my leaders and say, “Sorry you had to sacrifice your loved ones for our success. I never meant for that. I really just wanted us to win.” I want to be able to look at them and say, “I meant well, I did well, so now you ARE well”.

Objectively connecting the burden of results to our actions, keeps us honest and humble, two traits that are necessary for continuous learning and growth. Constantly checking whether our actions, not just our intentions, are beneficial keeps us from thinking we are doing good just because we intend good, when intentions without actions mean nothing. In fact, and this point scares me, when we refuse to be objective, when we refuse to face the truth about our performance, what we will be left with are the unintended consequences of unintentional foolish living.  On that moment, our marriages will break. On that moment, our kids will crash. On that day, our society will fail. On that day, our businesses will suffer. On the day we won’t be able to deny our failure. We will be left with the empty excuse of “Sorry, it turned out this way. I meant for something better.” Like I wrote earlier, it is very possible to be well-meaning and foolish at the same time, which will lead painful consequences no matter our intentions. #db

A note on intelligence:
Just like Performance, a lot of “people oriented” types have failed to grasp the importance and value of Intelligence. I think it is every single person’s responsibility to become as intelligent as possible. By intelligent, I don’t simply mean math or science, as there are multiple intelligences. I love this definition of intelligence: “the highest faculty of the mind, capacity for comprehending general truths”. What an amazing way to explain it. Who wouldn’t want to be so good at comprehending truths??? But many times, at least in the culture I find myself in, there is a bias against people who are rational, objective, and who posses the critical thinking skills necessary to discern truth. We say things like, “You’re too intellectual.” or “You’re too smart.” I actually had one former pastor condescendingly tell me, “You’re too brilliant but you can’t throw shade on relationships.” I have no idea what he meant, which doesn’t matter because I don’t think highly of him anyway. Instead of comparing intelligence to other traits as if it were a negative, we should be engaging intelligence. I think the accusation of “you’re too smart” is a cop-out thrown by people who don’t place importance on having “the highest faculty of the mind, capacity for comprehending general truths”. If a culture doesn’t value that, don’t be surprised if fake news, mob rule, and superstition abounds. Don’t be surprised if people are not living by principles. Why? How can a person who is not developing their ability to understand truths know truths? If a person does not know truths, how can someone live by what he does not know? This is why we are called to love God with our minds as well. God isn’t as dumb as many of the feel-good populist preachers and writers who downplay the need for being very very very wise because “what matters is the heart”.

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