The unheralded in our lives

I was listening to a podcast this morning from Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA. It was delivered by their Senior Pastor, Louie Giglio and I am giving him credit for the general idea and also a warning; if reading about the Christian faith is abhorrent to you, I really wish you would keep going, but…

My thinking went back over my almost 57 years and all of the people God has placed in my path. I can remember elementary school friends who I have kept some contact with and teachers from the same period. “It was The War Between The States”, because there was nothing civil about it. That came from my fifth grade teacher and has stuck in my consciousness all these years. I imagine most of us have similar poignant memories that may be much more consequential. The thing that stands out more for me as a person of faith are the people who God knew I would need to be in my life long before I knew.

Most of these people were friends with special skills, but more importantly, very big hearts. I became ill 11 years ago at the age of 45 and was past my working days by the age of 50. My family would go through some very different financial twists and turns and those were painful and eye-opening. The most painful was being a fifty year old man who could not adequately provide for his family and had to be cared for instead of caring for others. When you read stories about the chronically unemployed and the psychological impact that it has on men and women throughout the US and the world, it is more real than you could ever imagine. We were never poor, homeless, unfed, or unsupported, just not used to receiving assistance or telling a child there was something that they could not have and I fully understand the difference between that and truly poor.

God had placed certain people in my path who were able to do things I could not, even if healthy. I had an amazing friend who builds houses that did so much to just help keep mine livable. I had a neighbor who wanted to teach his son the value of doing for others even when pay was minimal or none at all. A friend who had many contacts within the building industry who sent me people who worked for way below market fees because they knew my friend, not me. My parents were both able physically to be of tremendous help and became my legs, arms, chauffeurs, cooks, and many other things you don’t ever imagine not being able to do. I believe God kept them healthy, in part, because he knew how much I would need them. My Dad has been gone for about 15 months now and I know from my Mom that he spent hours on his knees, in tears, asking God to make me well and even when he started to lose some cognitive ability, would do anything I asked even when he was not really able. I had a pastor who would come up with funds to cover things that were just costs of living and those giving never knew exactly where it was going. He also made sure that I had a visitor from time to time who didn’t come to console, but to try to learn things I was learning from reading and watching the financial markets because that was my last career. He made me feel I was imparting something he could use or just wanted to know.

I could go on, but I think I have made my point, probably nauseatingly. I can tell you what I have learned over the past decade plus. Everyone you meet  is important to the God I believe in and should be to you. Not for what they can do for you, but because their life has no less value in the eyes of God than you. Never be too proud, or stubborn, to accept help from others; it will likely mean more to them than you. You can trust God to supply your needs; maybe not your wants or the way you would do it, but trust is an amazing value between Him, us and others. Share what you have with others, even if that is only a smile, encouraging word and God’s love. I learned that many of my assumptions about the less fortunate were born of arrogance, hate, ignorance, appearance, etc… I was wrong about every single one!

Finally, I would be remiss to mention the incredible lady who is my wife. I have to stop there because I can’t read through tears and the space taken up would make this a novel.

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A Birthday Gathering

My family is one of those that celebrates birthdays until they cease to occur. Yesterday we had a lunch to celebrate my son’s 34th and my wife’s next one. I may not have learned everything I should have in 58+ years, but revealing a lady’s age just is not done. Even those who are not prickly about their age, and I would consider my wife one of those, would prefer that people not share their age without purpose. Chris’ wife, three children (my beautiful grands) and my mother were also present along with Chris’ little brother.

The first sight I see is Chris working to assemble a Lego replica Cindarella’s castle. When complete, it will be almost 2 1/2 feet tall and contain 4080 legos. This may sound extreme to the uninitiated Lego observer, but to Chris it is, literally and figuratively, child’s play. When Chris was at Clemson and his brother, Brooks, still living at home they continued to have Lego days. At the height of their play, they probably shared some 200,000 tiny bricks, bases, characters, etc… Chris was being assisted by his oldest child and supervised by the two year old. His middle child is usually involved at different stages of building and the “blueprints” for this monstrosity comprise a book so thick, there will be many stages. It is truly a family endeavor and is the most normal thing in the world to me after watching both my sons and their friends spend hours putting their imaginations to work.

One of the gifts we had for Chris was a combo Xbox game with Monopoly, Risk, Battleship, and Scrabble. The first two are games that I watched, and participated in, games that lasted weeks going back to my adolescent years with my brother. Tim, my brother, and me would have to make additional money and houses and hotels for our extended life struggles of Monopoly. It is truly remarkable how some games are multi-generational and video games require regular updates and revisions. Chris’ first comment when seeing this gift, after thanking his Mom and me, was to tell his wife and mother that “William is gonna love playing Battleship!”. Again, 3rd generation in our family.

I guess my takeaway is that kids, of all ages, fall in love with things that engage their imagination, calculations, competitiveness, and childlike wonder. The idea that most of these traits remain with us long after we are considered adults is not news to me. I have maintained my childlike curiosity for almost 60 years now and can still enjoy a 2-3 day long game of monopoly. I know that is why I so enjoy reading, surfing news, and writing.

The best part of the day though, after enjoying my Mom’s chocolate eclair cake? The two year old being held by Bess (my wife to the grands and her siblings) pointing to G (me to the little ones) and being passed off for some snuggle time. Her big sis and bru still enjoy the snuggling in small quantities and I hope none of them outgrow that or their love for games and all things Lego!

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My camel’s back is broken

I hate politics because they produce nothing, accomplish very little good, and waste an awful lot of time and money in the process. Add on to that it makes us hateful when nothing else in our ecosystem would cause us to say such blatantly inappropriate things to friends and people we don’t know. We have got to get some adults in Washington before we are everyone else’s North Korea. Our POTUS is not going to recertify the Iran nuclear deal because he is an expert on nuclear energy, uranium enrichment, or some other solid factual scientific basis? No, because his ego tells him he can make a better deal than our last president who had some of the best scientific and diplomatic minds around working on this deal with most of the rest of the world. I am not arguing that it is a good or bad deal, but how are we going to have any impact when the rest of the world, including our allies are going to, likely, stick to the terms of the deal. This means any sanction we impose can be undone through dealings with multiple other countries. So we have Iran in a deal for the time being and we are taking our eye off the NK ball.

The same is true of the EO’s he signed yesterday to partially dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It (ACA) is one of the worst pieces of legislation we have ever been party to and is causing more hardship for many families than it is solving and is only going to get worse next year. I don’t know the answer, but that is what we elect congress people for. What will work the best for all Americans and with all of the money they spend on capitol hill, they can not reach an agreement that even comes close to doing so.

Am I the only person who wonders why Facebook’s, along with instagram, whats app, etc… stock and monthly users continue to rise, but our President’s favorite source of communication is stuck on the same level of avg. monthly users? If he started using instagram instead, I would really like to see what would happen to those figures. He just said, and I am watching, that the Iran deal was the worst deal ever made by our country. Hasn’t he claimed the same about NAFTA, The United Nations, NATO, and others fall into that same qualification? I am surprised he has not attempted to undo our deal for Manhattan and the Louisiana Purchase; surely he could have extracted more for the US under these deals. Congress could put an end to this, but they are too indebted to special interest groups and political party. Many of the changes being made by executive order, including those under the last administration, could have been headed off and avoided if congress would do what is right as opposed to what is expedient or “kicking the can down the road”. If our current president continues to stoke the fires of international conflict, they can and should remove him from the process.

As I said, I hate politics and what it has wrought to a country where after our recent spate of regional disasters the people of this country jump in to help their neighbor. That is who we are and there is nothing that comes out of DC that would make someone from another planet, and probably our own world, think we are at constant conflict with our neighbors. I am not a very smart person, but I could choose a group of reasonable people from medicine, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, nurses (especially) and if everyone were only interested in the final outcome being positive for the US, no lobbyists involved, no democrats or republicans involved put together a plan far superior to what we are living with today. And I don’t mean me specifically, but any of several people who have had a lot of interaction with the current system and are just reasonably educated, but mostly open minded.

Well, I got that out of the way for a while.

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Financial Education 1

When those who determine school curriculums were/are making those decision, why did FINANCE get brushed aside? It is left out until at least post secondary education and not even then if you decide mot to major in a College of Business area. I firmly believe that money does not make anyone happy once it has been used to meet some basic needs. People may use it to keep score, buy more toys, have bigger houses, etc…, but I don’t think more actually makes people happy. It is a very simple fact of life that you can not live without having an understanding of how money affects our lives and society in general. We have to understand money to buy food, cars, clothes, houses, etc… and for those largest expenditures, we have to understand financing, amortization, interest rates, and a number of other more complicated issues. Surveys generally find that respondents do not believe money, in and of itself, will make them happy, but a lack of enough to meet basic needs can cause great stress. I believe that if surveys asked how much of your mental free time is spent thinking about monetary issues, it would be well half or more. The best available study found that each doubling of your income correlated with a life satisfaction 0.5 points higher on a scale of 1 to 10. One study found that in the US, there is no discernible difference in happiness once income reaches $40,000.

graph of happiness and income

I believe this graph is a good representation of money on our happiness; it has diminishing returns the more wealth you have. So, I think it can be established that money is important in our lives to the point that it helps us meet our basic needs. Meeting those needs allow us to be happier than not having them and the better we understand money or finance then the more likely we are able to use our money to meet those needs. BUT, we fail to educate our average citizens on any part of personal finance unless we say that learning math counts; I don’t!

With whatever I have learned, I am going to educate anyone interested some small amount of knowledge that will allow them to, minimally, understand what is needed to survive your personal financial needs. The one basic tenet of finance for the least productive individual to the largest government or company in the world is that expenditures should be lower than income. The vast majority of governments have abandoned this tenet because reducing spending would cost the politicians in power votes the next time they need them. Everyone wants the budget balanced on the back of someone else. This phenomenon exists in families and companies, but those entity’s are generally constrained by their lack of liquidity or ability to borrow money. I think a basic rule for anyone with any income should be to set aside 10% of their paycheck for emergency purposes or the “rainy day”. We then must realize that a new driver for us golfer’s or a Kate Spade bag for the fashionista do not constitute emergency’s. Every individual, family, company and government should have a budget with this emergency fund included. If you can not live without that driver or bag, you need a budget line that sets aside enough to purchase those items without borrowing in the form of a credit card, preferably.

I will delve into credit, interest, delayed gratification, and that part of way too much of our budget for a lot of people, but being uneducated about these issues contribute to the misuse of credit by many people in our society. I would really like for as many 16-20 year olds read this series as have read Khan Academy lessons, but I know that is not going to happen. One, because I am not going to promote it to that extent and then, because there is no class that anyone needs tutoring help for, they would have no real need to read this material. But, I will leave it all for my grandchildren who won’t need it for 8-10 years.

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The tune of my life

I am a lover of music as I think most people are. Some are obsessive about it and if one has to be obsessive about anything, that seems like an OK topic. I was born and raised in a Baptist church, went to an Associate Presbyterian college, roomed with an Episcopal minister’s son as my roommate for most of my undergrad and married a Methodist young lady who spent much of her life going to a “Christian Church” (The Disciples of Christ); that is a denomination. So, there are not many types of hymns I have not sung and brutalized. I learned when trying to perform the “shag” (that is a dance folks) with my current bride, who was a music major, that I was a beat off musically and based on the fact that I was off by several mentally, I don’t really think I was surprised. Now that we have my musical ability established; I am reasonably certain I am the only male who was asked to “unjoin” a reasonably small protestant church choir, I am going back to hymns.

I heard a young lady in a Houston shelter for those displaced by Harvey leading whoever wanted to participate in some christian hymns and her joy at just being alive was inspiring. I also saw clips of Harry Connick Jr. playing and singing some hymns in a church gathering and also at a shelter. He has a good heart and showed it after Katrina and has not forgotten what the people of Houston did for New Orleans. Now I am going to give you some facts about the one song that I likely know more of the lyrics than any other; Amazing Grace!

  • John Newton
  • 1773
  • 20-30
  • 1885
  • 10,000,000

John Newton was an atheist who was converted to Christianity, became an Anglican Priest and a poet. He penned Amazing Grace to accompany a New Years Day sermon in 1773. It is possible the verses were chanted as opposed to being sung in that original unveiling. Over the following 100+ years it was likely sung to 20 or 30 different tunes, which was not unusual for songs during this time period that had similarly measured verses. The biographer of Mr. Newton, Jonathan Aiken estimates that the hymn is performed about 10 million times annually. This all has a meaning to me that may be difficult for anyone else to understand in the same way, but remember I am at least a beat off.

My oldest son was not a very good sleeper, at least not when the rest of the world realized it was time for sleep. This led to many nights of rocking for many hours for both my wife and me (probably a lot more for her, but I don’t remember it that way since she is not looking over my shoulder). When rocking Chris, I would attempt to sing, you know soothing the savage beast and all that. Now I have always been a big Jimmy Buffett fan, or parrothead, but could never remember more than a few words to a lot of songs. As previously stated, I grew up a Baptist and you could not reach a certain age without knowing all six verses of Amazing Grace. So, to wrap up this story that was not supposed to be this long, between Chris’ birth and third birthday (at least) he song was more likely performed 10 million + about 2,000 more by me. This is just one of the amazing hymns that really became folk hymns in the early history of the US; I would love to hear people’s recollections of the tunes of their lives.

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The Seasons of our Lives

The time of year for my Saturday hibernation has arrived once again. That means I am a college football junkie. and unapologetically so. That does not mean I miss the games that are sometimes scheduled on the odd weeknight and every Thursday. Of course this opening weekend there are also Sunday and Monday night games. This season is not really any different from many of the other sports as I am really a sports junkie. So I live my life from baseball opening day until the Red Sox and Braves are eliminated, to football season (college and pro), the NBA season and NCAA basketball and around and around it goes. With golf lasting approximately 11 months of the year, I never have to get off the merry go round. And I watch all golf; PGA, LPGA, Euro PGA, PGA Tour Champions and many of the minor league tours around the world now. I realize I watch too much TV, but I multi-task a lot and reasonably well. Much of the time it is simply white noise in the background and I watch the replays when he announcers are even more excited than their general level of overly-enthused.

I am sure there are people who just rely on the four seasons of the year, but I think we are short changing ourselves if we only recognize four. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Valentines, Birthdays, Anniversaries, etc…also take us from event to event of our wonderful lives if we will let them. As someone who constantly battles depression, it is important to me to have things on the calendar that have the potential to raise my interest level besides the number on the day. It was such a huge, wonderful, amazing, happy time when my boys were born, how could I not get excited every year when those two dates come around. They probably have no idea I am as excited and reflective as I am on those days and I should probably make it more apparent, but they are big days to me. The day my bride said I do 34 1/2 years ago was the biggest single blessing God has given me with the exception of the day that I agreed to receive his greatest gift of salvation, so how could that not be a huge deal on my calendar and in my heart. Again, I should make her even more aware of my joy, although I try to make a pretty big deal about it.

So, yesterday was a very fun day for me as the first Saturday of a new college football season and my defending National Champion Clemson Tigers got off to a very pleasing start. You also now know as much about me as it would take to carry on a very long conversation. Yes, I enjoy sports with their wins and losses, but they are not the most important dates on my calendar, nor should they be. Those days that we remember our greatest blessings are, and should be the most memorable days in my year and they are. I need to do a better job of letting the people who are a part of those days knowing how much the day and they mean to me and I need to always remember to be thankful to God for the blessings he has given and continues to give with each day of life.

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The Human Spirit

I have had a confluence of events and readings make me feel a lot better about the people I share the US and the globe with. I read that during the period that the eclipse was making its trek from Oregon to SC that there was no mass fighting, road rage, looting, etc… The reason this is surprising is that there were huge groups of people gathered together and it got dark. More than a half million people entered the state of Wyoming alone and none of the things we often see with large gatherings took place. I read in Time that the same was true on a global scale when the first moon landing occurred and in our country when the US won the Gold Medal in hockey at the 1980 Olympics. I am certainly not a trained psychologist and most acquaintances would probably suggest that I am closer to a “psycho” and most days I would agree. But, I think that just maybe these events have a few characteristics that make us less volatile or warrior like for a period of time.

First, they are free. Almost anyone could find a pair of eclipse viewing glasses being given away so safe viewing was available for the wealthy or poor, have’s or have not’s, urban or rural dwellers, or any other divisions we may associate with other happenings. I think the same has been true to a lesser degree during and after the horrific losses of life and property as a result of Hurricane Harvey. I think when we see that disaster does not differentiate between the divisions we often create or is existent, we somehow feel more connected. So, that would be to me the second idea. When we think we are connected by an event, positive or negative, we simply are nicer to each other. The sacrifices of those able to help those who need help have been huge. The small metro area I live in had one television station raise more than $1 per person of population in about a 16 hour period. The last thing, I come up with, is that the events are so large that we realize our smallness. But, in our smallness, we can do amazing things together. In our smallness, we become less concerned about how quickly traffic is moving or whether we have to wait in line at the gas pump.

The last thing I have been reading a lot about lately is the free GRACE provided by God through Jesus. If there is something that is free to every person on the planet, then I have to believe there is a potential that we can be more together as a people of every color, creed, tribe, sex, or any other difference that exists. I am known to find the black lining in every silver cloud, but in this, I see optimism. Someone will say my head is in the sand because the husky dictator of NK has WMD’s, or IS is popping up in different parts of the globe, or we don’t have enough clean water for 7+ billion people. I realize that there are, and have always been, huge risks in the world, but the same God that offers us free grace has always kept us from destroying humanity. I think that will only happen when he decides it is time and everything I know says we can not and will not know when that will be, so me worrying about it is illogical.

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Blessings from illness

As someone who has dealt with a chronic debilitating illness for more than twelve years now, I should never be surprised at where I find blessings I did not expect. I just had the wonderful experience of talking with someone undergoing immunotherapy for treatment of cancer. I know it weakens one and I tried to call and just speak to his wife, but because I had sent him a card recently, he heard my name and insisted on speaking with me. He spent more time thanking me for the card than it did for me to write the note I sent. That is just the man he is and why I had avoided calling him directly, because he is to kind not to talk even if he does not feel able. I have not learned that grace yet, but I pray that I will and that I will find a way to make people feel better after talking with me than I feel at that time.

While this person is putting up a valiant fight, he knows that there are no guarantees and that is OK because his faith will be there even if his body fails him. As someone who attempts to comfort and sometimes needs comforting, I read something that really stuck with me a few days ago. We should not expect everyone who finds a major illness, or other obstacle in their path, to become an olympic hurdler. Almost everyone loves life and does not want to have it taken away from them when they feel like they had so much left to give and do. However, we are not all endowed with the same ability to put on a brave face and move forward at full force. We should also realize that the brave face we see is often not what is lurking just below the surface. I know because I try to always do the same except with those closest to me. It has been stated ad nauseam that telling anyone we know to be ill, “but, you look so good” is not helpful and may, in fact, be very hurtful. There is not only a war going on in their body, but also in their mind and the guilt that comes along with feeling like less than whole person is one of those internal mind battles we face every day. To that individual, “but, you look so good”, may say to them that there is some doubt in your mind as to their real illness. I know that is not what anyone means, but our words are interpreted by other’s brains in very different ways.

I guess I would summarize by saying that we should always be very aware of our words and maybe more so to someone who is ill. ” I would love to think that I could hold up as well in similar circumstances” may be so much more positive and remove any statement that speaks directly to a person’s appearance or feeling. Also, reach out to those who you know are hurting or ill if you are in need of a blessing. more times than not, you will receive much more than the effort you are giving. I am certainly glad that I did today and received far more than I was giving. Thank you!

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