“Blessed is he who is kind to the needy.”—Proverbs 14:21
My eyes were captivated with the water fountain eight floors below. As I gazed out my floor-to-ceiling windows, I caught my reflection and smoothed out my navy blue suit. It had been so many years that I had been out of the business suit that I was not sure the suit would suit me anymore. So many questions filled my thoughts. Will I be able to fit in at Waterstone Financial Group? Will my co-workers like me? Respect me? How about the clients? Will they accept me? Can I do it all—be a mom and full time financial planner? How do I use the copy machine? Where’s the bathroom? From the complex to the simple, the questions all seemed overwhelming.
“Do you have a minute? Can I come in?”
“Yeah sure, Steve”
“So how is it going for you so far, Lisa?”
“Good. I’m glad. I know I really don’t know you, but I’ve heard good things about you.”
“Yes, just a little bit. I’ve heard you’re very smart and good at what you do.” He paused and then slowly added, “But, more importantly, I’ve heard that you have a caring heart.”
“Thank you. I’m flattered.” I felt a mild blush color my cheeks.
“Lisa, I was wondering if I could ask you a favor?”
“There’s a little old lady up in Rockford whose husband has recently passed away. She’s called several times to another Waterstone representative but is not getting a return call. She needs help reregistering her account to reflect her husband’s passing. I know there really is no money in it for you, and that it is a good hour away, but I was just wondering if you would be so kind? She really could use the help.”
Without hesitating, I responded, “Of course. I’m happy to help.”
“Thanks, Lisa. And, if I haven’t told you already, as the president of Waterstone, I’m happy to have you on board. You’re a good addition to the office.”
As he walked out my office door, I thought, this whole work thing just may be… good.
Saturday came, and I was so busy getting acclimated to the new work environment that I almost forgot it was my birthday. After an hour drive, I made the left-hand turn that brought me straight into a trailer park. I thought to myself, Well, this is not the normal office visit for most CFPs®, but what would Jesus do? He always said to be humble and help the poor and widowed, so I guess I am being called to do both.
Upon arrival to Marilyn’s trailer home, I took a deep breath. Alright, if this is where you want me, God, so be it.
Who am I to question God and his motives?
At first glance, I came to the conclusion that Marilyn was a sweet old lady. She was wearing a blue flowered house frock dress, a navy blue long sweater, and slippers. She made no pretense on her appearance or who she was but simply greeted me warmly, “Hi Lisa. Thanks for coming out. Did you find my house okay?”
“Yes, thanks, Marilyn. No problem.”
Pointing to the kitchen table she continued, “Is this okay? Can we sit here?”
“Yes, this is fine.”
“I know I didn’t know your husband, or you, for that matter, but I’m sorry. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy.”
“No. It has not been easy, but thank you.”
“So, Marilyn, I printed off a copy of your last statement; here it is.”
Taking out her reading glasses, she took the folded copy, peered at it and said,
“Yep, that’s about right.”
“Looks like you and your husband had a trust, with both of you as trustees.”
Chuckling, she added, “If you say so; all of this confuses me.”
Her face started to deflate like an innertube. She let the tears flow down her cheeks.
I leaned forward, reached out, and covered her hand with mine. “You’re going to be alright, Marilyn.”
“I don’t know. I’m alone, and I’m not sure if I can even live on what I have.”
Putting my CFP® hat on, it was time to ask the hard questions. “So, you are concerned about how you’re going to live? Let’s talk about it, Marilyn. My job is to help you live and be happy. Is it okay to ask you some questions, so I can see if I can help you?”
“So, let’s start out with what you spend; do you have any idea?”
“Yeah, kinda. My place here is paid for, so there is no mortgage. Ummm, let me go get my bank statements. That will tell me what I spend.”
“Yes, that’s the best place to start.”
As Marilyn made her way to a back room, I took a quick glance around. Her “happy abode” mirrored a typical elderly lady’s home, with plenty of knitted afghans and dollies in sight. Nothing looked like it had been updated in years, but I am sure she was comfortable in her humble surroundings.
“I think I found what you were looking for.”
Sitting down a little closer to me, she put down the bank statement on the kitchen table.
I nodded. “Yes, that will help.”
Putting on her readers she said, “Let’s see, it looks like I spend about three thousand dollars a month.
“Okay. That’s a good start. Do you know what income you bring in Marilyn?”
“What do you mean, Lisa?”
“Well, do you receive Social Security payments?”
“Ya, I know I used to get around $2500 when my husband was alive but now, I think it is half the amount since I won’t get his anymore, will I?”
“No, Marilyn, I’m sorry. You get to choose either his or yours, but not both.”
“Ya, that’s what I thought. So, if that’s the case, how am I gonna live?”
“Umm I am not sure. So let’s see, we do have these investments…” I showed her a copy of the most recent statement. “We could have the dividends paid to you as an option but that won’t make up the difference. We may have to start selling some of the investments to give you additional income.”
“Oh, no. My husband said never to sell any of the investments. He always said to hold on to them. It was our rainy day money.”
“But Marilyn, I know your husband would hate to see you like this, worrying and all.”
“I’ll manage, don’t worry, Lisa. Why don’t you just help me get my husband off the account for now? I’ll worry about everything else later.”
“Okay, Marilyn, if you insist. We’ll start there. By any chance, do you have a copy of Burt’s death certificate?”
“I do. I’ll be right back.”
As Marilyn made her way to the back room again, vibrating sounds emanated from my purse. Leaning down, I pulled my cell from the side pocket. Glancing at the screen, I spotted a text from my friend, Chris: ‘Hey, Lis, are we still on for your birthday? Dinner and a movie?’
I quickly typed back…Yes. I think. I’m in a meeting. It’s taking longer than I thought. I’ll text when I’m finished.
As I put my phone away, Marilyn walked in the room, dragging her feet, almost tripping on her slippers. “Here, Lisa. Here is the death certificate.”
“Okay, Marilyn, I need you to sign this form stating that you want to be listed as the only trustee of the trust. Sign right here, Marilyn.”
I noticed her hand shake a little. I was unsure if it was nervousness or arthritis.
Marilyn signed on the line and then slid the paper over to me along the oak wooden table.
“Good. That will be updated on Monday.”
“Lisa. Thank you. You were kind enough to come out. No one would even return my call.”
“It’s okay, Marilyn. I think this is how God has called me to serve.”
“Oh, Lisa, I don’t really know you, but I feel lucky to have met you. It is rare to find someone who truly cares.”
“Thanks, but I have to admit I’m a little worried about you. How are going to survive?”
Marilyn put both her hands on the kitchen table for leverage and then pushed her chair away from the table. “I’ll be right back.”
Her house dress swayed from side to side as she made her way to the back room.
What’s she up to now?
As she made her way back to kitchen table, I noticed Marilyn not only had a white shawl covering her shoulders but a stack of white papers, about six inches high, covering her forearms.
Releasing the papers to me she asked, “Do you think these could help?”
I took the stack of papers and placed them on the kitchen table.
“So, will they help?” Marilyn asked with round eyes.
I looked at the stack in front of me and realized they were not just any papers but stock certificates of AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon.
“Marilyn, where did you get these?”
“Burt always had them in a box under the bed. He said just keep them. They were for a rainy day. So do you think that maybe they are worth something? That they could help me?”
“Oh my goodness. Yes, Marilyn.”
I quickly pulled up Bloomberg on my phone and researched stock quotes to obtain price information. Taking out my calculator, I did some quick estimations on what all the paper in front of me equated to. A million dollars’ worth of stock? Not believing my eyes, I added the certificates up one last time. “Marilyn, these stocks are worth about a million dollars.”
“What?” Her eyebrows shot up in shock.
“I said that these stocks are worth a million dollars. Marilyn, you’re a millionaire.”
“Are you sure? It can’t be.”
“Yes, I’m sure. You’re going to be fine, Marilyn.”
Her face became flush and her eyes began to water. “Oh my God! I don’t believe it. Burt always said to save the box for a rainy day.”
“Well, Marilyn, today it’s not raining. It’s pouring!”
I went on to explain the formalities of how I would reregister the physical stock certificates into book entry form, start paying the dividends to her in cash, and establish a direct deposit so that her income worries would be no more. She would have a comfortable and secure retirement.
When all the business was done, Marilyn walked me to the door and hugged me. “You truly are a gift.”
“Today’s my birthday. You were my gift, Marilyn. I was happy to help.”
Driving out of the trailer park, I shook my head, looking at my humble surroundings. Who would have thought that this is how the day would turn out?
I guess I should never question how, when, or where God wants to use me. Heck, I am sure even the stable owner never thought his barn would be the birth place of Jesus… and, like that miracle, today felt like a miracle too, delivered for a sweet old lady, named…. Marilyn.
As the old saying goes, it is better to give then to receive. No birthday cake or presents were needed. This birthday girl adorned a giant smile, and not even a party hat would make her outfit more complete.
My email inbox is already stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with “Black Friday” sales. I can’t help but envision Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory screaming, “I want it now.” I would put money on it that Veruca would fail the marshmallow test, but how would you fair?
The first “Marshmallow Test” was a study conducted at Stanford University . Kids were given the choice of eating a marshmallow right away or if they waited fifteen minutes they would receive two marshmallows. The purpose of the original study was to understand delayed gratification. The study found that children who could wait tended to have better life outcomes, educational attainment, and health.
How can you benefit this holiday season by delaying instant gratification?
1) Fitness: Before you put on your fuzzy slippers, wrap yourself in a Snuggie, and plop yourself down on the couch to watch TV after work, go for a thirty-minute walk to avoid the winter weight. Eccles. 7:18 “Live a balanced life.”
2) Relationships: The holidays bring out tempers. Instead of lashing out immediately or sending a harsh email. Write the email but do not send it. Wait, your emotion will hopefully pass to preserve the relationship. How about a little Christmas kindness? Proverbs 12:16 “A fool is quick-tempered; a wise man stays cool when insulted.”
3) Love: I know the holidays can be lonely but wait for the real thing. Don’t settle for a “New Year’s Eve date.” Be confident to be alone, not fearful that you will never find love. 1 John 4:18 “Perfect love has no fear.”
4) Finances: Do you want the iPhone 7? Or the new Lexus wrapped in a bow? Put your wants on hold until they become a need. You will have more money to save or invest. Start small, how about no peppermint mochas or salted caramel lattes for the month of December and save that money in jar?
My clients who are disciplined and delay a purchase until it becomes a need and not simply a want, are successful investors. They set a budget and stick to it. By systematically paying themselves first, they save more and retirement can be achieved.
What is your score from 1-10 on your ability to delay gratification? Can you wait for the second marshmallow? Feel free to comment your score.
Proverbs 25:28 “A man without self-control is as defenseless as a city without walls.”