My Need To Improve

I started writing this just before the last few days of last year. I might as well title this as “New Year’s Resolution” but that would be too obvious. Days passed by, I still could not figure out how to organize my thoughts but I kept on coming back and editing and finally, four weeks later…

We all need to improve, right? What do we need to improve on? There’s many facets of our lifestyle and behavior that immediately comes to mind. However, it’s only us that can honestly say which ones are subject to improvement. Without an honest assessment, it would be regression on a slow slope to mediocrity and below.

Let me start by patting myself of the back for improving on a few aspects of my life last year: namely, going to bed early and getting up early. I also got rid of watching sports on TV (I don’t watch sports in person either because it is an expensive undertaking). We got rid of cable TV also which gave us hours of productivity.

It took me years to really get into the changes stated above. I always had it in the back of my mind that to do those changes but it still took me approximately 2-4 years before I changed each habit. The intent was there, all I needed was the proper timing to make it work. It finally happened after we moved to a new place because I got so tired from moving that I chose sleep over activity.

For this year’s improvement, I had to figure out what I really wanted in life:  Time, Health, Relationships, Financial Independence (in no particular order).

From those values, I picked a few things that will enhance it.

Here’s my short list. Short so it’s doable, yet has significant positive impact.

Bible Reading

I need to read the bible more because this is one of best ways to get closer to God. I used to go cover to cover every year. Did I think I will be able to fully understand it after the first two years? No, I thought that it would give me a little familiarity for future intensive reading. The last few years I handpick the books (mostly New Testament) I want to read each year. Problem is I give myself too little to read. Goal:  One Chapter of 3-5 Books per night.

Exercise Consistency

We started a comprehensive exercise program a few months ago by joining a gym. This is just a matter of maintaining our physical fitness by going a few times a week. We do mostly 30 minutes sessions – any longer takes too much time and any lesser does not do much. Bottom line: one year at a time – consistent physical exercise by gym workouts and bicycling.

Austerity

I have discussed how we managed our finances and given advice on how to save on things and to spend wisely. I want to dive deeper. Why austerity? Because we really don’t have control on our income. But we definitely have control on income received. We become financially better off by strictly controlling our expenses. Target:  Concentrate on saving and cutting expenses daily.

There, I laid it out in the line for all to read. That makes me accountable for those goals. I’ll give you an update just before the year ends.

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Praying How

In the past few months, my family and I have prayed almost relentlessly for my granddaughter Addy who was born prematurely. It was a hard experience and I can tell you that many hard experiences is what my life seemed to specialize in.  Only this time it was harder.  Almost everyday was a harrowing experience and it took a toll on our health.

Thank God that she’s now better. There are still issues that a normal baby goes through but I believe the scary phase was over. In the last few months I did the most intensive praying ever in my whole existence. Dozens of people did the same thing (some of them unsolicited). Thank you to all who prayed!

How did I do the praying? There is a pattern which is outlined in the Book of Matthew. It is also known as the Lord’s Prayer, or simply “Our Father”.  I have prayed it dozens (hundreds?) of times in the past yet I only learned the pattern not too long ago from Pastor Doug’s sermon.

I only copy the pattern but I don’t repeatedly pray the Lord’s prayer itself. I try to vary my vocabulary as if I’m composing a love letter to my wife (but I still have ways to go in this area).

The first thing is praising and thanking God for the major things. Anyone’s list will be significantly different from mine but one common thing to be praiseful/thankful for is Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name, Thy Kingdom Come – These phrases emphasize that we are praying to the only true God who resides in Heaven; Hallowed means Holy; His Kingdom will someday be here on Earth.

Thy Will Be Done – God’s will is to give us eternal life – His enemies have the opposite objective. But He gave us free will so we’re free to love Him back (or love His enemies).

Ask for forgiveness. For what? There’s quite a few things we do that offends God.  We can start with the Ten Commandments. Which ones did we break? Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t need another person to ask God for us to forgive our sins. We go straight to God for forgiveness, with a contrite heart. And yes, we must forgive our offenders too.

More gratitude for things that went right – for the day starting and ending productively with minor glitches. Also, gratitude for the things that went wrong – at least we now know how to fix those mistakes and avoid it in the future.  More thankfulness for life events, accomplishments, ideas, materials things – there’s literally hundreds of things to be thankful for.

I ask for strength, wisdom, guidance, protection and endurance. I even pray for my daily subsistence even though I know that He will provide – because I want Him to know that I’m totally dependent on His grace.

The prayer list next: Pray for spouse, children and grandkids (if you’re blessed with one or a dozen already). Your Family first before everyone else. Then your parents, siblings and their families. Then more families and friends and whoever else requested you to pray for them. I ask for them the same thing that I asked above: wisdom, guidance, protection, endurance. I also add enlightenment and a softening of the heart to accept the Truth.

Prayer lifts us up closer to God. Like I told my wife, my granddaughter drew me closer and made me love God even more.

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With Great Gratitude

This year was the most hectic year in our lives.

We started the year with my wife and I getting sick at the same time. It lasted about a week. It’s bad enough to get bedridden. It’s worse when your spouse is also bedridden and not able to take care of you. We passed that one, thank God!

Plentiful blessings went our way. The amount of blessings we receive year after year are unbelievable sometimes. Not in a materialistic sort of way but rather in amazement that were getting blessed with so much.

We’re thankful (with credit to my sister in law M.A. who texted this last night) for the things that we didn’t receive. It is a truly a blessing.  For example, if I won a $100M lottery – I consider it more of a curse than a blessing. Of course, I might change my mind if I actually win. I don’t buy lottery tickets so there’s zero chance it will happen!

We are thankful for having a rather pleasant life. I mean many things can go wrong yet they don’t. The other day I had a flat tire while driving at fast freeway speed. I still drove for another 7 miles before deciding that it’s time to pull over because there was a “blap-blap-blap” noise coming from the tire.  Eight years ago was my last flat tire before this one. The 2008 flat tire event happened within 50 feet of a tire shop. How cool is that?

Among the many highlights of this year was the birth of my granddaughter who was born prematurely. Premature babies need an immense amount of care and love just for them to survive. Everyday we experienced peaks and valleys of emotion. By God’s grace and through the prayers of numerous prayer groups, churches, friends and families, our miracle baby got through those trials and is ever improving.

We’re grateful for the trials that God allowed to happen in our lives. Without it, we won’t have patience, perseverance, wisdom and an understanding of how God operates. It helped (and is still helping) us to optimize and prioritize our time and resources. It allowed us to be completely dependent on the Lord

Trials give us character. Prayers lift us up to God. Every good thing comes from Him. We have nothing but Praise!

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

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Don’t Buy

Just recently I have been thinking hard about finances. It involved short term and long term planning, mostly a general picture for the future. I know even the best laid plans don’t amount to success but it’s still better to have a plan and then adjust as obstacles show up. It’s always good to look five, ten years into the future and make a financial plan.

During my deep thought process – I came across something that’s been the common denominator of any personal finance – beginning with mine. It’s spending in general, spending wisely in particular. I’ve seen many people with very high incomes yet can’t maintain their lifestyles for more than a year if their income stop. So the expenditure portion is equally important to the income and investment part of finance planning.

Here’s a few instances where spending (or not) is highlighted:

Case #1 – After preaching about minimalism, I ended up owning three bikes.  I bought the first of the three bikes in 1999. The three bicycles do different things – trail riding, cruising and fast road bike – I think I won’t be riding enough each one to justify the cost.  What’s the common denominator? I bought them. Things would have been simpler if I stayed with one bicycle. Now I would have to get rid of two…

Case #2 – I pick only a few colors for clothes so I don’t have to think much what I’m going to wear next. However, I always end up getting a new one unplanned. Common factor:  I bought a few every time I see a sale price. My justification? Buying before I need one ensures I get the best price on things.  Justified? This one is and does not require much cash outlay so it’s OK.

Case #3 – I almost bought a new car just a few days ago. It was the estimated cost of the repairs that prompted me to look at a new car. I agonized over the decision – should I buy it? I prayed for guidance (especially for major purchases). In the end I was still in doubt so I decided to cancel it and just do repairs on my 8-year old car.  My conclusion: Repairs are still much cheaper than the monthly principal and interest payments. I patted myself on the back after.

Case #4 – When choosing produce or groceries, we opt for organic food instead of the regular ones. It is more expensive but in the end it’s cheaper because it will save us from unnecessary medical costs.

For major and minor stuff, I made a list of things that I really need (and want) like tools, clothes, equipment and just purchase them whenever there’s a sale (after rethinking it a few times). Of course not all of them will be on sale. I also know from experience that some of them will be discontinued in the future so buying them today would be prudent (See Case #2 above).

For the things I consider superfluous stuff (Cable TV, Watching Live Sports, Zip Lining, TV in backseats of cars, electric skateboards, lottery tickets, chips for casino slot machines) I practice what I preach at least 95% of the time:  I don’t buy them.

How about not spending on personal items for the next six months? Hmmmm.

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A Fresh Start

It’s been a few days now after the national election – and we have a new President. Mixed emotions are all over the news – from joy to shock and anything in between and beyond. That’s the beauty of a democratic society – we all agree to disagree in our choices but in the end the guy we elected will run the show and we either love or despise him or her for the next four years. Then it’s time to pick another one hoping our candidates will be elected.

When I first arrived in the U.S. I was happy that the President was Reagan. He started the process to build a 600-ship navy.  That means I’ll have plenty of choices for duty stations.  I think Reagan was a good president especially because I compared him to the President of the country that I just left. We’ll call him President X for reference. He was proven to be corrupt and gathered so much wealth even though his official pay was less than my pay while in boot camp.

I was super happy to have left my old country because the President X’s government was corrupt and there’s no checks and balances. If you’re poor you can be a victim anytime. If you’re rich and you’re not in their inner circle, they take away your possessions. Armed military ran the show and there’s no freedom for regular folks.

Before I came to the U.S. I already had this intense desire to live here someday (just like millions of people around the world). I read up about a thousand magazines/books/publications about the U.S., excelled in my U.S. History and U.S. Government classes, and (you’ll love this one) I watched only U.S. made movies for years just before my feet touched the LAX tarmac.

When I arrived, I felt like I was part of the culture already. Of course, since English was not my first language – I had to think what I have to say first in my old language, do a quick translation in my head and then talk. After a few years, it’s the other way around.

Now back to this election – I have an unwritten rule of not saying who I voted for so I won’t. To me it is a fresh start again. I personally prefer that every four years, we have a new President, as well as members of congress, mayors, etc. – I think it’s more dynamic that way and better for the nation.

In my humble opinion, the U.S. government is the best government in this flawed world. Is it perfect? No!  Is it the best form of government? No!  Is it less corrupt than most government? Probably. However, the U.S. will not be the most powerful nation on earth if its government is just average.

The local and national news are full of people with different reactions to the newly elected officials, especially the President.  I don’t control other people’s opinion but I had to be accountable for my action. In short, what should I do?   Let’s refer to the Bible’s teaching on how to deal with leaders:  Treat them with proper respect and pray for them. I would do that regardless of any country I’m in because that’s what my Maker wants me to do.

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The Hardest Goals

Some people have very lofty goals (climb mount Everest or be the first to go to Mars. Others have really daring ones (riding fences on a bicycles or paddle solo across the Pacific ocean). Then there’s the ultimates: climb 10 of highest mountain ranges in the world do 50 marathons in 50 days. You may read about those feats later in duckduckgo.com (a search engine).

I personally don’t want to go the Mt Everest (I hate being cold) or go on even a single marathon (not really good for the heart as others think), or paddle across an ocean solo (despite being an introvert, I like to hang out with the right people).

I’ve had some good goals in the past that I’ve achieved, such as quitting smoking and riding 100 kilometers in the bicycle in one ride, among others. I’ve been complacent recently hoping to ride out the rest of my life just cruising along. But then one day I realized that it is the first day of the rest of my life, and I need to put some more victories along the way. I wrote some goals that are, in essence hard enough for me.

They’re simple at first glance, but like I said always – ‘do not compare yourself to anyone’ (nobody has heard me say it – just me). If we keep comparing ourselves to others, we’ll all lose hope (or feel very superior) – but our challenges are walk in the park for others and our cakewalks are insurmountable hardships to other individuals. So I’ll keep to my goals:

* Wake up EARLY (5:00 am) every morning again!

* Improve my diet with veggies, fruits, fish and fowl.  Translation: Red meat’s out!

* Exercise regularly (three times a week).

This of course coincided with my recent visit to my cardiologist. I was told to fix my diet and exercise regularly. Except for the wake up early goal which I’ve been planning to do for years.

Was my diet bad? I mean the food I like to eat are the tastiest, so we all know it’s not healthy if eaten everyday. After all, who craves for broccoli?

Did I accomplish it?  Since my wife and I can’t find time to work out in our busy work life and suddenly overwhelming personal lives, we decided to join a gym. It was rather inexpensive – $10 a month for each of us.

In the morning we wake up at 5:30am to go hit the treadmill or the spinning stationary bike.

So far we averaged just over 3 days a week of 20+ minutes of exercise. Then I really watched my food. Now the really delectable food are eaten only a couple of times a week instead of maybe 15 times a week.

These are hard goals – especially because it has to be done consistently, and we had done it so far!

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The Mirror

The other day I was watching a movie that features a mirror on the wall that talks back to one of the characters.  I think you all know what that movie is about and as you know, my unwritten rule is, don’t name names. It got me thinking about a different type of mirror (the mirror in the movie turned out to be evil).

In the morning after our showers, we face the mirror in our homes. This is to make sure that we present our very best appearance at our work places, meetings, playing field, gym, breakfast places – just to name a few. We want to be appealing to the public so we present an excellent public image.

I wish we would do the same degree of preparation of our physical appearance to our moral compass. Character is more important than our public image. Character is doing the right thing even when no one is present.

I usually read the comments section in the major news websites. There are some news items that bring about the worst in people. For every 2-3 people that write a clearly stated, logical comment, there’s dozens of comments with the intention to hurt someone else’s feelings – so the commenter can feel good about themselves. Imagine a world without the correct mirror (standard)- most people would want to rule the world according to their own rules. I wouldn’t want to live in that kind of world.

I grew up with plenty of reprimands and I’m sure you guys have the same experience. I was a youth who tried to deviate and do bad things and had to be corrected to learn accountability. I now appreciate the discipline given to me while I was young, because it got me ready for the military and the life after the military.

While in the navy I seldom got reprimanded. It’s not because I was great but because we were all told in detail in advance what was expected of us. The rules and regulations were the mirror (or the standard). As long as we did what we’re expected to do – life is smooth. I knew that if I challenge the rules (for example: late for five minutes), the consequence is immediate.

Our life mirror should be a good point of reference. It should be rock steady, so it doesn’t change with the trends and traditions of society. It should not be affected by the majority rule (imagine if you’re in a life boat with four cannibals and they’re voting whether they should eat you – majority rules, right?). It should be flexible enough to account for common sense approach to life (should I help someone who needs help now even though I’m late for church?). But it shouldn’t be bendable to adapt it to our own personal agendas.

What’s that mirror? I would leave this unanswered. I would to request your participation on this post. If you really look for it, you’ll find it too. That would be your best research ever.

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