When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. – 1 Corinthians 13:11
I had a really weird dream two nights ago. I am still a little troubled by the vividness of it.
In my dream, I was being forced to have an arranged marriage. I entered a room full of encouraging well-wishers, all excited to present their chosen bride. I recognized the faces of the people. I knew them all. They all wore plastered smiles on their faces, the faces of people overjoyed to present a wonderful gift. One by one they shook my hand, encouraging me, telling me that I would love “her”. As the crowd parted, I saw my would-be bride. Standing before me was a rather large, slow-moving, very old nun, with gnarled and sagging skin, stooped over and supported by a cane, dressed complete with a habit, and wearing a dangling large gold crucifix around her neck.
I was stunned.
This was the bride they had been so excited about. This was the beauty they were presenting. This was the love they had promised. I was appalled and confused. Was this who they were really offering?
My confusion turned into obvious dislike. Some in the crowd gently asked, “Are you not pleased with your bride? She has much to offer. Great wealth, history, influence, and stability.” I said, “Those are wonderful. But you promised great beauty, and I see none, feel none.” Then another part of the crowd spoke up, “Oh you carnal young man. How shallow are your requirements? You find no beauty because you don’t know what beauty is. She is beautiful.” “She has respectable qualities”, I replied, not wanting to insult the crowd. “How blind are you? How lost are you? How naïve can you get?” the crowd asked. “What do you want? Perfection? You are not perfect yourself. You have nothing to offer, but she, she can offer you so much.”
The crowd, now turning into an upset mob said as one as they surrounded me and the old woman. Tighter and tighter their circle around us got, pushing us closer together. The closer I was to her, the more despicable she became. She hissed at me, saying, “Who do you think you are to not love me? Look at all these people who have loved me. Look at what I have done for them. And you, in your arrogance, won’t embrace me? You foolish boy.” I was a few steps away from her. She was holding up her arms to embrace me, with her left hand holding her crucifix necklace out to me. I could feel the push of the crowd inch by inch moving me forward.
Then I heard a baby’s cry. I could not see any baby, but I could hear it. And it seemed I was the only one in the crowd who heard it, since the others were too busy trying to execute the forced marriage. I turned to where I thought I heard the baby, and ducked under the legs of the crowd, crawling determinedly to get away from that old woman and find the helpless child instead.
I saw a door in the far wall past the growing crowd, and I stood up and made a run for it. I could hear the disappointed crowd’s accusations. “Fool! Fool! Fool!” they chanted. “Fool!” I looked back the old woman, who was now inflating herself bigger and bigger, whether she absorbed the crowd or squashed them, I do not know. I knew that if I didn’t make it out the door soon I would be crushed by her.
With much urgency, I ran to the door, only to find it locked. I asked the white man by the door for a key but he did not reply. I sought around the door frame but could find none. I tried to pull and push the door but it would not move. I could sense the old woman growing towards me quickly. In my desperation I started knocking on the door, calling for someone on the other side. When that didn’t work, I started banging on it. Harder and harder I banged on the door, desperate to escape the ugliness about to envelope me.
Then it broke. The door broke. Just in time, I was able to kick the rest of the door to give me enough space to pass. I found myself standing in a beautiful garden with three rivers, and two massive trees in the middle. And lying on the grass was a beautiful child. The most beautiful child I had ever seen, lying vulnerably with only strip of white cloth, but full of joy and life. There was no fear in the child. The crying I had heard turned out to be laughter. And he looked at me. I knelt and picked-up the child, said to him, “Hello there, beautiful one.”
Then I woke up. #db
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
I’m not a big fan of a lot of the popular feel good advice floating around cyberspace. There are three reasons why I think people should be careful before accepting everything that seems to resonate with them: different contexts, lack of credibility, and selfish cause. Let me explain:
I see a lot of people posting things about Denmark and saying, “Why can’t the Philippines be like this?” or posting things on unlimited paternity or maternity, unlimited vacations, and the all famous “work-life balance”. The problem with just reading these things without understanding is that we’ll see ideal results yet forget that these amazing stories are not “entitled rights” but “earned privileges” Denmark is the way it is because of of its leaders. Their leaders are that way because their people are a certain way. Their people are a certain way because of their history, a history that included some very trying times. When all you appreciate is the result but don’t understand the cost, you’ll be disappointed with your current situation at best and be an entitled brat at worst. When you read articles like “unlimited vacation for Virgin employees” and don’t realize it’s not for all companies within the group, nor is it for all the suppliers and contractors that work “full time” to keep their businesses running, then you realize it’s a setup that can work with highly-dedicated, reliable team members but not with just anyone, much less everyone. When you realize that balance is something an individual achieves for himself or herself, no matter what the circumstances, you’ll work hard and focus on being as effective during work hours so that you can work just as hard and focus in the gym, or while studying, or in prayer.
Let me give you another example. Some people might read that an article about how Google or Facebook is such an awesome place to work and automatically think that it’s how their own work place should be. They’ll make comments like, “I would be more productive if I worked in an office like that.” What they don’t realize is that it’s the other way around. The reason why Google and Facebook have been able to build offices like that is because they first had productive people. Giving highly productive people perks and support only makes them more productive. Giving unproductive people more perks only spoils them. Maybe, if we become as productive as the people who work in these fancy offices, we will find ourselves working in similar premises.
Here’s the first point: If you read an article but don’t understand the context you will not become wiser but more entitled. The second point is this: See beautiful circumstances as achievements not rights. If you want a certain future, figure out the cost, and pay for it.
Lack of Credibility
The second problem is that, many times, we have no idea who the author is, we have no idea the sources, or the validity of the sources, we have no idea whether the person knows anything about the subject, and we don’t know the experience level. The simple question we should ask when reading the work of someone is this:
What makes this person credible to write on this topic?
Which is why I find it quite funny when employees won’t listen to the leaders who employ them, the people who give them opportunity and pay their salaries, but will very easily buy into the position of some article with a writer they don’t know. They don’t realize that they liked the article not because it was wise but because it resonated with them. Not everything that resonates with me is wise. And many of the things that have helped me we’re not inspiring and resonating lessons but hard truths correcting me, maturing me, and strengthening me.
Don’t simply buy into an article that resonates. Question the credibility of the author. If he is credible, it will show.
My last reason for why I don’t like many popular blogs is because a lot of them have a Selfish Cause. That cause is the uplifting of ME. The problem with being selfish is that it shrinks your world. It doesn’t expand it. Then we wonder why we feel so small. Selfishness makes us see our own contributions but discounts the contributions of others to our lives. Selfishness makes us sensitive to our own needs so we miss the great opportunities around us every day. Selfishness makes us easily frustrated when our agenda or goals aren’t met but don’t think about how we enable the goals of others more. When we read articles with selfish, me, me, me articles without intelligent reflection, without asking “Will following this article make me more loving? Will it make me contribute more? Will it make me a bigger blessing to others?” we will simply reinforce our entitlements, leading to a narrow mind and a smaller impact.
My opinion is this: Pick goals bigger than yourself and your family. Pick goals bigger than your bottom line. This is very difficult. It’s a challenge for me as well.
But it’s Christian.
Do Whatever It Takes to Love God and Love Others
I like to simplify my life. And one way I simplify it is by sticking to two criteria for whether I lived well: Did I love God and others as best as I could today? Let’s say work didn’t go so well, but did I love God and others? Did people come closer to God because of me? Or did they get turned off with my self-righteous harshness? Did I make a good example of what it means to truly have faith? (Which is to believe in something so much we work hard to embrace it.) Or do I have a superstitious belief system? There’s a lot of popular advice floating around but we can really weigh our lives by this simple question: Did I love God and others as best as I could today?
We can argue or rationalize that we only did what was necessary, or that it’s important to love ourselves, or that we can’t be a doormat, but God never asked us to be ultra successful or ultra confident or ultra powerful. He did ask us to love Him.
My encouragement for us as we end this weekend to ask ourselves whether we are loving God and others more today than we did yesterday, to test the value of an article by whether it makes us more loving, and to follow advice that understands our context, is from credible sources, and is not motivated by selfish causes.