I sat on an old bench in an even older bank building as I waited for my turn to talk to my credit officer. I was there to tell him the same embarrassing news: we still didn’t have money to pay our loans. I thought about how I got to this spot, just a year prior I was part of the Real LIFE startup team and had just joined Habitat for Humanity. I was on my way, I thought, to building a fulfilling early career in the nonprofit world before jumping into, I thought again, my “amazing innovative exciting business” business.
I was so wrong.
At least that’s how I felt for the first few years of taking over a distressed company. In a few months, not only was I not achieving my “big dreams”, I was living my nightmare. As a young man, when asked at a talk I gave, what I feared most, I had one answer: failure. And I was a big failure by many objective metrics. Financially I was not just not good. I was in terrible shape. My company was in terrible shape. Physically I was in terrible shape, skipping meals and drinking too much alcohol – and doing a couple of 1 am runs or early morning swims when my anxiousness would keep me awake. I had tax issues, sales issues, investor issues, supplier issues, and staff issues. I stupidly mixed that with girl issues. Spiritually, I was not in good shape as seen in my never-ending feeling of impending doom, that I was one more mistake away from utter failure. Truly spiritual people have a sense of calm, peace, and rest. I felt like I would burst at any time. I’ve written about this period in my life before, but I want to share a thought I had on that bench, a very understandable but evil idea that went:
“Why am I going through this? Why do I have to fix this while my brothers get to move on? Why do I get debt when my classmates got capital? Why do I have to struggle so much when I’m a good guy (so I thought)? Why do so many evil people, truly sick, corrupt, and despicable people, become so prosperous?” All these thoughts led to this one evil idea: “It is unfair.”
I’ve had many versions of this thought in my life.
When I was younger, “Why am I so short? It is unfair”.
“Why do I have bad skin? (I have atopic dermatitis) It is unfair.”
“Why am I so slow to learn? Why do I need to have extra tutoring when others learn so fast? It’s unfair.”
“Why others have so much money and there are so many decent poor people? It is unfair.”
“Why are there incompetent people who earn more than me? It is unfair.”
“Why do people who are close to the leaders, to the pastors, to the officials, get away with so much, have so much influence, even if they are clearly without credit? It’s unfair.”
I can go on forever.
The number of times I have called something unfair is embarrassing. Many of you probably have had similar thoughts as me. I still get those thoughts a lot. But I think I have a better perspective now. Two days ago, I was having lunch with Nels, a very respectable friend who I’ve connected with very quickly, and he was telling me about how his life has a non-financial score despite having had a highly successful banking career. He used the example of when Jesus told Peter he would be crucified, which Peter followed by asking Jesus, “What about John?” Nels said, similar to Peter, he has learned not to compare his life with others but to trust God. After our lunch, I went to a meeting to discuss exciting developments with Bridge, but after work, I kept thinking about the story of Jesus and Peter. Jesus told Peter he was going to die and when asked about John, replied: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is an extra stinging response when we remember that Jesus was just reinstating Peter, asking Peter to reaffirm his love and to “feed my sheep”. It kinda goes like this:
Jesus: Do you love me?
Jesus: Then feed my sheep.
Repeat 3x, then:
Jesus: You are also going to suffer and die a gruesome death.
Peter: What about John?
Jesus: None of your business. That’s mine.
Thinking about that, I thought that evil idea I know so well, “That’s really unfair.”
Then I remembered a question my dad had just asked me to think about: “Why did Noah, who walked with God, have to suffer through the ridicule of building the ark, and suffer through an actual cataclysmic flood while Enoch, who also walked with God, skipped death and went straight to heaven?”
Then one by one the different unfair stories of the Bible jumped at me. “Why did God like Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? Why did God favor Jacob over Esau? Why did God rebuke the law-keeping Pharisees and welcome the adulteress Samaritan?” I am sure there is more unfairness in the pages of the Bible.
Until I went back to the story of Peter in the book of John:
(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:19 ESV http://bible.com/59/jhn.21.19.ESV
The words glorify God stood out, I thought, ”What a selfish God this makes Him when I’m some plaything, whose only worth is to used by God any way He wants.” Which is basically what they teach you in Sunday school. But me being the challenger, I couldn’t settle on that. This idea is so counter to the loving nature of the God of the Bible. The explanation that God will do whatever He wants simply because He is God, even screw with your life because it is His anyway, which I’ve heard so many times from preachers does not reconcile with love. While I believe that is His prerogative (He is God after all), I don’t believe He will contradict His nature. Maybe that’s why much of the world, especially the objective world, does not believe in the Bible. We preach a God of love, then when someone’s life gets screwed we have two default messages: 1. “What sin did you break?” Or 2. “God is sovereign. Who knows His plans?” (which basically means “just take it”). But as I thought about this more, as I studied glory, I remembered a verse in Colossians 1:27:
“God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Christ in you, in me, the hope of glory. Glory comes when Christ is in us. I parked that thought.
Then I remembered another verse in Romans 5:3:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; We glory in our sufferings…
There’s that word again. Glory.
I read up more on glory and came upon this on gotquestions.org:
The hope of glory is the fulfillment of God’s promise to restore us and all creation (see Romans 8:19–21 and 1 Peter 5:10). This hope is not a wishful thought, but the confident, expectant, joyful knowledge that we are being changed by God and will one day see Christ face to face, having been conformed to His image (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2).
Then it hit me. It is not about fair or unfair. It is about glory.
It is not about everyone receiving an equal outcome, like everyone being blessed or having a nice car (which is impossible anyway), but everyone has equal opportunity to experience glory.
How do we experience glory? Through Christ in us. –> How do we grow closer to Christ? By becoming more like Him. –> What does it mean to be like someone? It means to share the same values, the same purpose, and the same practices. –> How do learn how to be more like Christ? By allowing all our own diverse life experiences to result in greater virtue.
To be Christlike is to exhibit Christ’s virtues, love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest. Our life experiences good and bad are meant to grow us in virtue. And if the experience, the good and the bad, do not result in greater virtue, then we will miss the glory of God. This is why we can have wealth but not have peace. We have money but not virtue. We can have networks but feel lonely because we have not grown in love. We can have all the different success metrics of the world and not have joy because joy is a virtue. We don’t earn peace. We grow in peace or any other virtue. We grow in virtue the way we grow in muscle. We experience stress, we rest, and we heal, then we do it again.
That’s what I was doing on that bank bench without knowing it. I was growing in virtue. I was being put in a situation where I had to exercise faith, exercise peace, exercise commitment, exercise perseverance, and as I did God’s amazing pattern of growth worked within me. He wasn’t merely punishing me like a vengeful God (how petty is that?) nor was He playing with me because He is sovereign and I’m too dumb to know His intentions (again, how petty is that?). I now know that I do know His intentions, and it was, and is, to use my life’s unique experiences as different opportunities to grow in virtue, to be more like Christ, that I may draw closer to Christ. His intention is a loving relationship.
This is why God kept speaking to Cain despite his bad offering and kept warning Him. He was offering the chance to grow in the virtues of humility and forgiveness. Those were his missing virtues. Sadly, he didn’t see it that way. He was blocked by envy. Envy is the devil’s way of making us focus on someone else’s lack of virtue when we should be focusing on the virtues we should be exercising ourselves. When we make material and earthly things our goal, we will inevitably feel envy. Some people do have more materials than others. But when you realize that the virtue of love can be exercised in any situation by anybody, you realize we all have fair opportunity to grow in virtue. And what enables this opportunity? God’s glorious unfairness to Himself in order that we may have a way to Him, a glorious unfairness exemplified by the death of Christ.
Jesus was not simply telling Peter, “None of your business.” Jesus was telling Peter, “Your lives are incomparable. You and John are different. Now follow me. Don’t follow the lives of others. Follow me. The life I am taking you through is the life that will lead to more of me in you. It is the life that leads to more glory.” I guess the headstrong Peter needed the extreme experiences he had. We know he was headstrong as he was still being rebuked by Paul down the road. Even this rebuke was not meant to prove superiority but an opportunity for Peter to grow in virtue. Just as my own father treated my brothers and I differently depending on what engaged us most effectively, God does not apply one style with all of us because He acknowledges our individuality, in fact, He designed our individuality.
Now, I’m sitting on a couch in Singapore. In my inbox are some very happy investor and some very unhappy ones. There are great challenges waiting for me in Manila and great opportunities as well. I’m exhausted but am pushed by a very real anxiousness to be a good provider, especially now that I have a son. I have a little bit more today than I did back on that bank bench, but the worry, envious thoughts, and accusations are the same. They just have more zeroes now. But God’s plan is also the same, and His process for me stays, “Exercise virtue, David.”
Earlier I thought, “I can’t wait to be done with all of this character building. Where i am so good at handling my challenges with virtue.” Then I realized, in the fitness world, you call that plateauing, when your improvement flattens out and there are no more gains. I guess this is why God always challenges us to step out. But the good news is this challenge comes with instructions, to step out in faith, which is the confidence that He is with us and will never forsake us.
For someone with a dark heart like mine, to be welcomed over and over, and to be given an opportunity to experience Christ more and more is a gift I do not deserve. My stained offerings to Christ is so little compared to His great gifts. What a wonderful thing to be treated with glorious unfairness. #db
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.
Dedicated to three people:
My superwoman, Yasmin. Thank you for our son.
My Papa Joey and Mama Marie. Thank you for all that you have done for me. I cannot thank you enough.
I didn’t realize it until one of the nurses asked me to stand to cut the umbilical cord, that I was already passing out. Sitting in that operating room, watching them operate a cesarean on my wife, had hijacked my system. I felt like fainting, throwing up, and taking a crap all at the same time. As I grabbed the scissor-like instrument, I was so worried I would lose control and drop it into my wife’s open belly. Somehow I was able to muster what little control I had left to cut our child’s cord, complete with a photo of me looking like I didn’t know where to look – and that’s because I didn’t know where the camera was. As soon as I cut it, I excused myself from the room, and sat on a stretcher outside. A nurse who saw me very concernedly told me to take deep breaths and gave me a cup of water. It was around then that I realized I was soaking with sweat, as if I had run half a kilometer. It was not my most Instagrammable moment.
But it was one of the best moments of my life, probably the single best moment of my life.
“I’m a father.” I thought to myself. Followed by a “I want to see my son.” and “I’m sure glad I’m not a woman.” in that order.
I walked-back in, held our son, and went to my wife, “You did well, Yasmin. Look at Elijah.” “He’s perfect.” she said. Of course he’s not “perfect”, no one really is, but he is to us.
After 15 months of having given up my much beloved bachelorhood, I have learned three priceless lessons:
1. Marriage taught me the beauty of true love, that the more I chose the satisfaction of another, the more that other satisfied me.
2. Having a son taught me there exists a pure love that has nothing to do with my son’s achievements and everything to do with him being mine.
3. And we (the community of Christ’s followers) are both Christ’s bride and God the Father’s children, and we have access to the satisfaction of choosing to satisfy Christ and the pure love of knowing we are loved, not because of our accomplishments, of which we have nothing to be proud of, but simply because we are His.
In this social-media soaked society, where so much effort is placed on projecting a “likable” life, we must remain sensitive to the important lessons from the simple and mundane, difficult and painful, and unposed and embarrassing.
In my very close fainting-vommiting-crapping-combo moment, I fell in love with my wife in a special way, appreciated my parents in a greater way, and worshipped my God in a deeper way. In my emotional and physical, weakness, when my normally very calm and clear mind just wanted to shut down, His power to communicate His love to me was perfect. There was nothing to capture, no lights, no takes, no slow-motion, no OOTD, no brand to hashtag. Just a very sweaty, anxious, light-headed man needing a puke bag and a diaper, overjoyed at having a son and being a son.
Then my mind drifted for a moment, “Are there nine people operating? Am I paying for all of them?? How am I paying for all of them???” How quickly the cares of the world steal our joy.
Then I heard my wife’s voice ask worriedly about the sutures, and our baby’s soft cry as they observed him, and out went the worry, replaced with just simple unadulterated care. How quickly loving others brings our joy back.
The next day, I walked to the billing center of the hospital. St. Luke’s has been an incredible hospital. The facilities are amazing, the nurses were very helpful, and we’re extremely grateful for our OB Gynecologist Dr. Sapaula and Pediatrician Dr. Saulog, as well as our anesthesiologists Dr. Gary and Dr. Inciong, who was very reassuring towards Yasmin during the operation. Seeing what my wife went through made me appreciate my mother so much. Seeing the bill made me appreciate my father! ”Woah!” I thought. “And it’s only Day 2!!! Another 18 years of this! Another…” my negative thoughts were arrested. “Another collection of moments with my son.” For a second I felt I could afford anything. The idea only lasted for exactly one second. But it is what it is.
As parents know, pregnanacy and having children can be expensive. It is a range of more expensive and less expensive, depending on one’s means, but always expensive. When my wife was pregnant, she purchased just one pair of maternity jeans (which she washed every day!) partly because she couldn’t find ones that fit her height, and mostly because I had given her a very tight budget. But our budget is what it is. The available choices are what they are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. She was happy, we were happy, and 38 weeks later, we have a healthy son. With faith in God and grateful hearts, it is well.
We were asked if we wanted to store the umbilical cord for future stem cells, and we said it’s out of our budget, it’s not something I prepared for, and not a priority. We have some friends who did it, we have some friends who did not, and there are also those who know nothing of stem cells, and there’s no right or wrong here. What one can afford at the moment is what one can afford. What one knows is what one knows. It is what it is. With faith in God and grateful hearts, it is well.
After just about 3 days, my wife has started to see some success with her breastfeeding. It wasn’t easy. We tried many times, had so many nurses help us, and amazedly watched YouTube videos of babies finding boobs on their own. Some mothers take days, some take weeks, some are instant milk farms, and some are never able to produce. I’ve learned that there’s a whole range of nipples, and not all lend well to breastfeeding. Some have access to breastmilk banks, some can afford nipple shields, some can’t afford these supplements, and some don’t need them. Whatever the case, it is what it is. With faith in God and grateful hearts, it is well.
While my wife was recuperating, we read an article of kids being kidnapped in refugee areas and being found killed, and were told of some serious medical conditions that have happened to other babies. The next day, my wife told me, “I cannot stop thinking of those babies. Why does God allow that?” I answered her simply, “The truth is, I don’t know. Some of life is because we or others use our freedom in ways that lead to bad consequences. But there’s also so much we don’t know. There’s so much I don’t know about what is already known, of what has already been discovered, and there’s still so much more to discover. Who can say they fully understand life?” I thought about this more through the evening, and I never found any answers. I did remember that God asks us, the living, to be grateful in all circumstances, to love by serving others (especially those who have less than us), and to have faith in God’s goodness. And while this may seem like the simple-minded belief of those too weak to handle life’s painful truth, I’ve come to realize that whether one believes this is truth or superstition in this situation is irrelevant. Being grateful in all circumstances will bullet-proof your soul and make you more able to face life. From an evolutionary perspective, developing gratefulness is good for you. Continuing to love despite our own personal doubts, personal suffering, and personal loss is good for the world in general. It flicks the finger at the cycle of violence and hurt caused, when people use their own hurt, their own doubt, their own suffering, and their own loss to justify unkind or even inhumane actions. From a social perspective, it’s beneficial to be like a human desalinization plant, taking our salty doubts, suffering, and loss, and releasing a purified love. Finally, believing that there is divine goodness, makes people hope, and hope is a balm for the soul. With faith in God and grateful hearts, we face what is as it is, and know that it is well.
And it is well not simply because we have everything figured out, or can afford everything we want or need, or because everything is wonderful, colorful, and great. It is well not simply because we’re laughing, content, and succeeding in our goals. It is well not simply because pain, doubt, and suffering are absent. Neither is it because we experience something relatively better than what someone else is suffering. (I hate it when people try to comfort you by pointing out how someone has it worse.) Just like I learned that I could love my son not because of any perfection but simply because he is mine, you need to love your own gift of life simply because it is yours. Don’t compare it to someone else’s, as any parent would be a fool to compare their own with someone else’s. But realize that it is special because it is yours. Without getting political or controversial, this is why I am so against any thought process that makes killing a solution. Life, your life, every life, is special in itself, not comparatively or relatively special, but special and amazing, a true miracle. A life that travels the world and one that stays put are equally special. A life celebrated by the world on social media and tbe one no one knew existed are equally special as well. We need to move away from valuing our lives and the lives of others comparatively, based on man-made metrics that are really mostly focused on utility: how useful this person is in satisfying society’s needs and wants. We value good looking people and celebrities because they fill our need for beauty. We value rich people or successful people to fill our aspirations. We value powerful people because we look for security and order. We value the intelligent child because he will discover things and get a good job. We value ourselves and people by how good we are at meeting society’s needs and wants. This is why we think it is smart, advanced, even humane to abort children and kill crooks. Why maintain a life that does not fulfill society’s needs and wants? Why maintain a life that drains society from meeting its needs and wants? The answer is because it is a life. Even if one doesn’t believe in God, each life is owned by a corresponding person. Is it not more sophisticated to be able to go beyond utilitarianism into the metaphysical understanding that this life is the private property of someone, and to snuff it out means breaking that person’s rights, and showing we value utility over honoring individual lives? And if utility is the best score for a person’s right to live, never expect a peaceful world. Expect a highly competitive world, expect a divided world, expect a highly insecure world, and expect a highly unequal world as we all prioritize that which maximizes our own individual utility. This is a world I know I can thrive in given my personality, skills, and relational advantages.
But it is not the world I want to live in nor want to raise our son in.
Instead, we decide to live by the simplicity and elegance of remembering that every life is God’s, and it is only for Him to decide on whether it lives or dies, and our role is to love; to care; to cultivate; to improve, to take our 1, 2, or 5 “talents” and multiply them, not compare them, but expand them; and to hope for the day that we share in our Father’s happiness. Walking with faith in God and gratefulness in our hearts, knowing that no matter what happens, it is well. #db