Many years ago, when I first learned to play the guitar, there were three inspirations I looked to: Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, and Jimmy Buffet. One of Buffet’s more famous songs is entitled, “A Pirate Looks at 40,” which Buffet wrote in the early 70s about a friend, a retired drug smuggler who was looking forward to a life off the seas at or around his 40th birthday.
I have completed the fourth decade of my life. This realization struck me early one morning just days from my 39th birthday as I was waiting to board a flight to Honduras, thinking about you, my children, your mother, our God, my business and professional life, friends, and what I did with my life in my 30s. So I began writing this post about a year ago. Along the way, I have paused to add more to what has become a rather long letter that captures a glance over my shoulder. I’m sure I will add more posts to this one over the course of my year between 40 and 41.
These are some of the lessons life has taught me, more so than stories (those are best in person). Things God has taught me, and stuff I’ve done and lived have all been poured across the pages below so you, my children, when you are old enough, can benefit from my mistakes and by doing so learn a little more about me, who is a sinful man in need of a Savior.
I’ll not get into what I did in my 20s, but in my 30s, I wrote two books, a screen play, several chapters and papers, and letters; I started two companies, saw one grow to a higher level of success than I’d ever imagined (which explains all the travel) and can today (on my 40th birthday) see that the second might grow higher; I married your mother, and spent a great deal of time raising the two of you, with her; and, I reconnected with God, and found a real, honest relationship with my savior, Jesus Christ.
Now, as I’ve begun to move into my second company and let others run the first, I find that I want to spend more time working for God. I’m still trying to figure out how to merge my professional life with my faith, but I get a little closer everyday. If my 20s and 30s were decades when I traveled through Latin America. I believe my 40s and 50s will be decades for other parts of the world, possibly beginning with Africa, and most likely on a mission trip.
So let me begin with Jesus. This name was little more than a name and a facade for most of the first 30 years of my life (until I was 29). There were times in my 20s when I cried out to Him – near death experiences will take you there real quick. There were moments when I felt His presence and the weight of His will on my heart, but I largely ignored Him. He was always there, present, persistent, and patient, but I didn’t choose to acknowledge Him until I re-met your mother.
There is a letter I wrote in 2005, when I was 29, which I may show you some day, that was probably the first Holy Spirit-inspired letter I had ever written. I know it was from His will through my own heart because the words just flowed, and I sent the letter to everyone on my contact list (including some people who would have rather not read my pronounced love for your mother) without re-reading it more than once.
Here is a quick excerpt, written 19 May 2005, over ten years ago:
My professional and personal lives have converged in such a perfect way that no human could have planned it. Only God could have conceived of such a complex plan. Only God could have implemented such a perfect execution. Only God could put me in the path of a woman that would bring me closer to Him. I am extremely grateful, and that is an understatement.
A short time later, a bunch of friends threw a going away party for me In Washington DC. They made fun of the above statement, but I didn’t care. I knew in my heart that He had been with me all the while, and that He would go with me forward into a new chapter in my life.
This letter was an affirmation of love and of faith, of God’s love for both of us, and His plans for our journey together to start a family, raise you two (maybe more!), and in the process learn to become a little more like Jesus while we point you to God and let him mold your hearts.
I didn’t know it at the time, as I prepared to pack up my life in Washington DC and move to be with your mother in Argentina, but God was already beginning to use me, and in doing so bring me closer to Him.
The next big affirmation of God’s love for your mom and me was on a January night in 2008 when you, Iris, were born. You were a month early, and your mom and I were very nervous. I remember the nurse in the hospital in Rio de Janeiro taking one look at me and saying, “I hope you’re not going to pass out, because if you do, we will just leave you on the floor. The momma and baby are more important than daddy right now.”
Iris, I didn’t pass out, and was on hand to watch your entrance into this world, a perfect picture of the miracle that is birth. In the moments that followed, you immediately stopped crying when the nurse placed you on your mother’s chest in the operating room; when our eyes met for the first time while you were warming up in the incubator, I felt a love never before realized in my life. It was not the same sort of love I felt then and feel now for your mother. It was something much more profound, the way a father loves a child – something approximating the way God loves all of us.
When I heard years later the phrase that God loves us more than we love our own children, I was amazed at the solidity of that truth, and the unfathomable depth of that love. In my human condition, I couldn’t have generated the love I felt for each of you kids when the two of you were born. Feeling a love this deep is supernatural, and a gift from God, as each of you are for your mother and me.
So in my 30s I realized three types of love: between man and wife, between father and child, and between God and His creation.
No matter how old you are when you read this letter, you should know that the love between God and His creation is available for you right now. The joy I have felt since realizing His love for me, and His will for me in my life is something that I wish I had not waited until my 30s to experience. I urge you not to wait as long as I did.
The other two loves will come, so be patient! There is no rush.
When you were born, Enzo, I was revitalized with a different sort of love, one reserved I guess between a father and his son. Every relationship between parent and child is different, but the love is no less profound. Enzo when you were born, I got to experience first hand the love between siblings. Not two weeks before my 39th birthday, I asked Iris what her favorite memory was, of all the things she could remember.
She said, “my favorite memory is the first time I fed Enzo with a bottle.” There you have it, Enzo, your sister loves you as much as you know you love her. Never forget that, you two. None in this world, outside your mom and I, will support you and love you like you do one another.
I have three sisters, as you know, but I hadn’t seen how one sibling can completely love another sibling until I saw you Iris hold your little brother for the first time. The look in your eyes in that moment is something I will never forget, and even today as I write this letter, when you Iris are 8 and Enzo soon to be 5, the love between you two has only grown. It is such a blessing.
Beyond our family, I have found that through my own walk with Christ, I have experienced a little His love for His creation. As I’ve said before, Joy for me is when God uses me to answer a prayer or bless someone and in that moment, He chooses to reveal to me that He is using me. It is as humbling as it is joyful.
One thing you should wait to do is start your own company. I know each of you will likely give it a shot, sooner or later. Both of your parents are entrepreneurs, so somewhere in both of you is the confidence, the determination and ambition, and just enough of crazy to see your own vision and run after it, inspiring others to follow you along the way.
There are three things now that I will tell you about running a company.
The first is this: filter for heart. People are the life breath of any start-up. Each decision to hire will bring you one step closer to success or failure. There is no middle ground. The best way to ensure that you step toward success is to hire someone who has a solid heart. If you know Jesus when you make that decision, the Holy Spirit will let you know. If you don’t, then trust this: the heart is the source of what is said and done in someone’s life. This is biblical Truth. Take the time to listen and watch. Iris, you already do! Keep it up. Your eyes and ears will not fail you, if you’re patient.
The second is this: keep your hands open. When our hands are open, we are able to give and receive. When you clinch tight your fists, you may be able to hold onto something, but you will not give or receive. I can tell you that my own company did not prosper until I let it go, keeping my hands open and trusting that God would do with my company what is in His will and what is best for me. Sometimes letting go means being willing to fail. Sometimes it means being humble enough to let God be the CEO. There is strength in both because you are willing to take a knee, bow your head, and let God’s will be done.
What’s also true is that apart from being used by God to bless others, you will find no greater joy than in giving. Both your wife and I are happy to give when we feel prompted, and when we’re not. Remember, as we have taught you, money is God’s money. When he tells you to give, don’t hesitate. You will be rewarded 100-fold in this life or in heaven.
The third is this: do not be motivated by profit. When you are in a start-up company, you will be focused on cash in, cash out; it’s hard to avoid. Your grandfather, my own dad who is an entrepreneur, called it “slaying the cash flow dragon.” This means having enough cash on hand to make sure your commitments are paid before clients pay you. But money should never be more important than relationship. Pay your employees well. I suggest you give them micro-raises along the way in their first year or two, followed by a larger raise once a year as the company grows. This also means never letting the price of one project overshadow the value of a relationship. The deeper you get into your own business world, the smaller it will get. Over time, as you focus on relationships more than money, your network will brand you, individually, as someone who is honest, genuine, and a professional. I believe that true professionals have a quiet confidence about them because they know if they do a good job, and maintain solid relationships, that the money will come.
Most importantly, if you give your company to God, and if you’ve filtered for heart, than one of two things will happen: either God will take you in a different direction, closing the door of the company you’ve worked so hard to build up, or He will bless your efforts and money will over time become less and less of a concern.
There is a reason why Jesus, during His ministry, made so many references to money. It is because the love of money is the root of all evil. Money should serve you as you serve God. If you ever find yourself serving money, you need to take a step back and think about what is most important. Think about that statement, and decide right now whether you believe it or not. If you don’t, look around you with this statement in mind. If you see evil, it will be because of two things, either pride or the love of money.
You may recall watching a movie called “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” but long before it was a movie, it was a book by C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors.
He is well known for his novels, but he was a much more prolific writer and thinker for early Christian Apologetics, which means he wrote to explain and defend his faith. His book, “Mere Christianity,” is one that you should read. In it, he describes pride as the one single sin that is at the root of all other sin.
In my 30s, I feel like I have learned to recognize pride in me. Sometimes I fail and let it control me, but by God’s grace and with His help, I feel like I’ve been able to manage it on a daily basis, keeping my pride low, and not letting it control me, my emotions, or my words. Indeed, when I have been asked in the past about the secret of the success for my company, I have said to “not be motivated by profit,” and “to recognized strength in humility.” I am 40 today, and I promise you these two quotes will remain true through to the day you read these words and well beyond.
Frustration was also a struggle for me, right up until the end of my 30s, when I realized late in 2014 that frustration was also rooted in pride. When I become frustrated, it is because something I desired, or something I wanted did not occur according to my own selfish expectations. When you two were younger, I sometimes reacted to you out of frustration and not love. This was wrong. By not letting frustration determine my actions, I feel like I have become a better father, a better husband, and a better man. You two should never let frustration determine your actions. You should not act out of anger. If ever you feel you must act without thought, then the only pure motivation for that must be love. If not, think before you speak, before you act.
And so the farther I remove myself from pride, from frustration, from the love of money, the more I recognize these things in myself and in others. More importantly, I have learned how to use scripture, God’s word, and prayer to give me the strength and to stay focused on what is most important and not back slide into the mental and emotional traps that plagued me as a young adult, traps that even to this day continue to present daily temptation.
Before Jesus came, long before, there was Moses, whose messages to his people are recorded in the Old Testament. In the book of Deuteronomy, which means “second law,” there is a verse that I have kept near my heart along the growth of my first company and beyond as God continues to bless our work. In his passage, Moses is teaching the Israelites, who are in a period of waiting between deliverance from Egypt and entrance to the promised land, through a series of sermons he presented toward the end of his long life.
In Deuteronomy: 8:17-20, it is recorded: “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.”
In all things, remember that any and all money, from the change in your pocket to whatever you have in your bank account, is not yours. It is for you to use for a time, always keeping open your hands and doing your best to not let your fists close over it.
As God has helped me keep my hands open, He has helped me keep my heart close to your mother.
Marriage is a journey two independent, complete individuals decide to take together. My relationship with your mother has ever been a blessing. It’s been hard at times, glorious at others, but in all things it has been real and fulfilling. Your mother is my companion for eternity, in this life and the next. She is my best friend, my inspiration, my hero, and my confidant. I work in a world where information is controlled, where telling the wrong person the wrong thing could get others killed, but I tell your mother everything. She is the only person on this earth that I trust completely, wholeheartedly, foolishly even. There are two things I will tell you now about marriage, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl.
The first is this: listen well. Practice listening well, be involved in your spouse’s life, and make an effort to engage them where they are, meet them well beyond the middle, and it will be reciprocated 100%. In his letter to the members of a church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul wrote that a husband should love his wife as Jesus loves the Church, a body of believers described as the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25). This love is selfless and intentional. As a husband, translating this phrase into practical life can be hard. Enzo, I would tell you that the most important aspect of this phrase in practice is to submit to God in front of your wife. Let her see you stand under authority. The best way to do this is to pray with her. When you are ready, we’ll talk about it. And then again, and again. As often as you’d like.
Paul also said that a wife should submit themselves to their husbands as they do to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22), which again is a love that is selfless and intentional. Iris, for you, as someone’s wife in the future, this might be hard. Especially if your husband acts like a jerk, which he will at times. I’ll let your mother tell you more about how to deal with it; I’m sure she’s got some stories about me! But the same for Enzo is true for you: find the path toward prayer with your husband. There is no better tool for you two to keep your marriage strong and unified.
Marriage is a two way street, and if either one of the two sides is not fully committed to the other, it will not work. But when they do, marriage is a beautiful thing.
The second is this: pray together. Read these words again when you are married. If you are both Christians, and I realize that you may not be, but if you are make every attempt to pray together. It may seem awkward at first, but it will become a habit over time. As the head of our household, I pray over your mom on a regular basis. Together, we pray for you, for each other, for friends and family, for our circumstances, for health and healing, to understand God’s will in our lives, for peace, patience, strength, and focus. The days we pray together, we submit ourselves to God in the same moment, together; we are unified as one for that day, and it is a good day. We are in synch, we do not quarrel or bicker, we are more patient with you, with others, and with each other. We ask for and receive God’s grace in that moment and for the rest of the day. The days we do not pray together are harder days…Indeed prayer is one of the most important habits you will ever form in your life. If, when you read these words, you find them foreign, remember that your mother and I are always available to talk to you about prayer.
This letter has grown long enough. I will leave it here for now, with intention to add to it with other posts through the year. I love you two!