Archive for May, 2018

THE LEGACY OF NOT FITTING THE MOLD: GARY M’S STORY

May 31, 2018

Not everyone fits the mold.

Gary M., my longest-standing friend, is a case in point. Gary is 66 (I’m 65, almost 66). I’m taking him to 2 doctor’s appointments tomorrow, so he’s on my mind.

We met in my 3rd year of college, in January of 1971 on a bus from Atlanta to Charlotte. I was headed back from Atlanta, Gary got on in Greenville SC, and we began to talk. Even though we’d been at college together (the college was another 100 miles past Charlotte), we’d never met there. Small world, but an even smaller bus. I offered Gary a ride from my house near Charlotte (I had a car, he didn’t) and he took me up on it.

A couple weeks later, he introduced me to my first wife Iris (whom I married 2 years after the intro, was married 25 years, and she died at the end of 1998—that’s in some other blogposts I’ve written). We lived in Columbia from 1978 to 1984, and Gary lived with us for a year while going to law school at USC-Columbia SC. He graduated and got his law degree (Gary had a great mind and loved thinking and talking theology, law, ethics—anything in those realms). He ended up not being able to make it as an attorney in spite of his brilliant mind, primarily because he loved the poor and downtrodden. He has ended up working at a number of jobs for non-profits and disabilities board-type institutions, at subsistence wages. He never married (though he had several women who wanted to) and cared for his mom in her feebler later years (she just died about 3 years ago). Ironically, one of the women who really wanted to marry him, had the same last name as his mom, whose name was Evelyn W,, and her name was Ellen W. Go figure.

Gary has a great heart also. He has wanted to foster and often ends up helping down-and-outs who end up being a drain on his patience and resources, and almost never meet Gary’s expectations in the relationship. Thus is life, at least Gary’s life. In the last few years, he’s had not only his mom but a number of other key people in his social network pass away. So he’s struggling. And busy as I am, I’m trying to fit more time and diligence into the relationship, just because.

I treasure Gary and his insights (even when I disagree). He is one of those people it’s hard not to like, even love. But it does take a lot of patience. Still overall, it’s worth it. You only get a few friends like that in a lifetime. He’s part of my legacy, and I want to honor him with that thought here.

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THE LEGACY OF FRIENDS’ STORIES (Introduction)

May 30, 2018

Maybe it was because Monday (5/29/18) was Memorial Day. Maybe it was just because I was trying to figure out where to go after exhausting the 16 LEGACY blogposts I wrote 3-4 years ago and had made the commitment to try to post every day if possible. And maybe it was just because it was time.

In LEGACY 15 I had mentioned a story Geneva Anderson had told in her speeches as a coach and in Toastmasters competitions, called “Light the Pink Candle.” Then I read a story (on Facebook)of another friend about a miracle of faith in the life of her 21-year-old autistic son. So I emailed Geneva’s son (Geneva passed away last December) and messaged the friend on FB asking permission to share their stories on my blog. Both agreed. So when I get copies I’ll be posting them.

This is the introductory post for a folder I’ll call FRIENDS’ STORIES. With art, the sum of the works of all the great writers/musicians/artists in a generation is greater than an individual (think Elizabethan literature & Shakespeare/Romantic-era music & Beethoven/Impressionism & Monet or Manet). So the sphere of my legacy includes inspiring stories I’ve heard from and through friends and family, or even other sources as I go along.

This could well be a never-ending legacy.

LEGACY 16: The Value of Focus

May 29, 2018

(Originally written 10/12/15, but reading back through it, it reads like today, except for a few of the specifics being updated! I am at the point of revisiting my focus, re-focusing. Part of that has been a mastermind group on John Maxwell’s THE 15 INVALUABLE LAWS OF GROWTH: Live Them and Reach Your Potential.

Interestingly, though, as our company, Easley Electric Inc., celebrates 25 years of existence this month, I find that over the course of my life, I’ve been more focused in the long view than I had realized–45 years doing electrical work, 41 years being a licensed master electrician, 29 years in business with 25 of it full-time under the incorporated name, 5 years in a BNI chapter). And in marriage, I’ve been very focused also–one marriage of 25 years, ending in death of my spouse [I’d still be married to her, I believe, if she had lived], and coming on 19 years in the second. I like how Eugene Peterson, author of THE MESSAGE paraphrase of the Bible, titled his autobiography of his journey, using a phrase from Nietzsche: “a long obedience in the same direction.” The context reads

The essential thing “in heaven and in earth” is, apparently (to repeat it once more), that there should be long obedience in the same direction, there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living; for instance, virtue, art, music, dancing, reason, spirituality– …

So I guess, there is focus and there is focus. My life has been worth living. And that would be a legacy I could wish for everyone.

This is the last of the blogs on Legacy I’d written 3-4 years ago. Stay tuned for a new direction tomorrow!)

I have lost my focus. Again. It’s been exactly a year since I finished 13 blog writings in less than a month. In that intervening time, I’ve written 2, 1 in March, 1 in May.

Maybe I should say I had different focuses, other focuses. I decided to try to become a Life Coach in January this year, so I was devoting a lot of time to that. We were engulfed in a custody battle for our grandson that ended (abruptly and badly) in May. I was depressed after that. I tried doing a website for a tangent to the coaching (assessments), and that was a fiasco. Legacy was not even on my radar.

I was brought back by reading the section in Donald S. Whitney’s SIMPLIFY YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE: SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES FOR THE OVERWHELMED, the section on “Simplifying and Your Journal.” I was reminded of the legacy we need to work on consciously leaving. So here I am, back at it.

I’m getting some coaching myself, as well as coaching one guy, so I’m realizing the value of focus. I am re-committed to building the business in a more focused way.

Focus is key. Focus is primary. Focus is central.

Focus is critical. Critical to success. Critical to leaving a legacy.

Focus is a mindset. Focus requires perseverance, realignment, elimination, simplification. Focus requires focus.

Yes, that’s a circularity. (Maybe that’s not strictly the meaning in the discipline of logic, but it makes sense to me.) Focus begets focus. Focus encourages focus. Finding focus, ironically, encourages focus.

But it’s so easy to get off track. Life happens. Emotions waylay us, and we cave in to them. Situations arise, and we focus on them, and lose the bigger focus.

How do we stay on focus?

We keep coming back to it. We revisit it. We re-focus.

We remember. We remember being focused, the clarity, the sense of purpose, the rewards of being focused.

So here I am again.

Focusing.

And that’s enough for tonight. More tomorrow.

LEGACY 15: The Value of Our Quirks, Foibles, Weaknesses and Uniquenesses

May 28, 2018

(In the initial writing of this, written 5/1/15, I used people’s full names, but here deleted them to maintain their privacy. Otherwise, it is posted as originally written with only minor corrections for clarity and time passage. Geneva Anderson [www.genevaanderson.orgdid go to Las Vegas and was a finalist, but did not win. She passed away this past December, but left a wonderful legacy with stories like “Light the Pink Candle,” which I may share in a future blogpost.

The story of my wife happened the last day of 1998, around 2 p.m. She passed away at 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Having been a business administration major, and managing the financial aspects of our business, it was almost as if she had planned it that way. I treasure that thought as part of the memory.)

Mostly, we do not get to choose the unique qualities in our makeup that differentiate us from others. We often disparage them, wish them gone, rue their bane in our existence. But sometimes, in our striving for, and reaching, greatness, we are able to capitalize on them and make them truly our own in a powerful way.

I think of Gary S., a member of a networking group I’m in, sharing about the death of a former member before his time in our group, finding out to his horror minutes later that it was the mother of the member, and that she may not have even died. We all felt his pain—we’ve all been there, and are glad when are only watching. I think of Janie V’s eyesight problems that necessitate using a magnifying glass to read up close and require having a driver to travel—yet she has successfully created her thriving own real estate brokerage. I think of Geneva Anderson’s two-decade battle with cancer, her decision a few years back to launch out to become a professional speaker and coach, leading to her second state championship in Toastmasters with a speech about that journey that was both humorous and poignant. (She’s headed to Las Vegas in a few months, hopefully to become the national champion).

We mostly fail to realize how memorable our quirks, foibles, and weaknesses make us to those who know us, and how much they endear us to those whose lives we impact. I think of Joseph B., a successful business coach and Biblical counselor, whom I invited to a men’s prayer breakfast. His 20-minute testimony of his life’s journey included the story of his father’s valor in World War II, which he did not learn of until 2 decades after his father’s death, in the settling of the estate immediately after his mother’s death. He also shared about the success of having funded and founded 2 schools, left them still impacting kids, and embarking on another career—only to be betrayed by having a past accusation of which he was exonerated brought to light, and being forced to resign. He was moved to tears sharing these powerful stories. Of the 10 other men at that breakfast that day besides him and me, 3 of them came up to me, shook my hand, and thanked me for inviting me. One stated that it was one of the most moving times he had seen in the breakfast group, which has been in existence for almost four decades.

And I could tell many other stories like this that have caused me to smile with fond memories.

For me personally, the most memorable is the story of my final interaction with my wife of 25 years, who died suddenly on New Year’s Eve 1998, in a manner that almost seemed eerily planned—she had been a business major and the CFO of our business—a CPA could not have structured it better for uncomplicated tax returns. She had gone into the hospital the first week of December, had already had 6 major operations, been in intensive care the first and last weeks, and was headed into what would prove to be her final operation at 2 pm that day.

Lying on the gurney in the basement beside the elevator of a hospital, with plastic draped over some construction areas adjoining, she said to me, “Get that dog over there.”

I said, “What dog?”

She said, “That dog over there.”

I walked over a few feet, acted like I was doing something, came back and said, “OK. I took care of it,” or something to that effect.

She looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t lie to me, Ken Stewart!”

Stunned, I stood immovable as the elevator doors opened. They took her, and those were her final words to me.

I still laugh when I remember them.

LEGACY 14: THE VALUE OF WRITING

May 24, 2018

(LEGACY 13 is missing not for any superstitious reason but simply because i got stuck. But I don’t want to lose momentum, so for now, I’m skipping it.

It was titled THE VALUE OF MARRIAGE, originally “written” 10/12/14, but it turns out to be only an introductory paragraph. Trying to complete it now, I’m not happy with what I’m coming up with it. Hopefully I will cobble something together that is meaningful. Suffice it to say for now that I think marriage has great value. My first lasted 25 years and ended only because my wife died. My second is coming up on 19 years.

This blogpost, LEGACY 14, was originally written 03/21/15 and is posted verbatim with only one small change.)

Writing for some can be journaling or blogging. I’ve done both, but not consistently. I strongly encourage some sort of writing by which you are leaving a legacy. I would treasure reading some of the thoughts of my ancestors. What went through their minds? What were their experiences, and their understanding of the journeys?

One hidden value, however, is that writing itself can change you, develop you, and even re-create you. I think of my favorite songwriter’s statement about the Christian Creed, “I did not make it, no, it is making me.” Writing can be a process of enlightenment. I can recall times when I have realized something, had a revelation, seen something in a different light, while in the process of writing about it. Sometimes the very process of writing caused me to write something totally unexpected, something totally different from what I started out to write about. And I end up sometimes thinking of myself—and others—differently.

Writing has a calming effect for me. It brings me perspective, enables me to see things through others’ eyes, forgive where I need to, even pray for someone or through something. Writing is a microcosmic journey, a mini-adventure. It can capture a dream or explore mysteries.

Writing well-done can move the world. Think of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, some of Shakespeare’s soliloquies or Donne’s sonnets. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Lincoln felt, contributed significantly to bringing the Civil War to a head, and there are other books—novels, exposés, and such—that have had similarly great impact.

Writing releases tension AND energy. Writing brings ideas into a reality of concreteness. Writing connects us with like minds.

Writing is a vehicle for creativity to go places, to gain traction, to start movements.

Writing can be life-giving, life-breathing, breathtaking. Writing can spark fires that cannot be quenched, and quench fires that should never have been started.

An ancient Chinese proverb says, “Weakest ink stronger than strongest memory.” If we want memory to go further than our lifetime and the memories of those who have known us directly, writing is the only way.

LEGACY 12: THE WORK OF MARRIAGE

May 21, 2018

(Originally written 10/12/14, and updated)

Make no mistake about it: Marriage takes WORK. And having a GOOD marriage takes GREAT work—great both in quantity and quality.

On July 31, 2018, we will celebrate 19 years. My first marriage lasted a FULL (in both senses of the word) 25 years—and would likely be still going if my first wife had not died. So I feel I can speak with some authority on marriage. I may have failed at many things I’ve attempted, but I have made marriage work.

It doesn’t seem logical that marriage should require work—but then again it does. Much of our concept of modern-day Western marriage is based on romantic notions of love that have not historically prevailed. As a result, we have an illusion of marriage that often doesn’t fit reality.

Marriage is a practicality that enables two persons to bond together very disparate personalities. Thus, accommodation is required. Adjustments must be made. Adaptation is necessary.

Longevity requires an unspoken belief in the “till death do us part” part in our depths, whether we realize it or not. Interestingly, it often does require a sort of death along the way—death to our self-will, our habits, our preconceived notions. And if this commitment is not there, the changes we undergo individually will undermine the marriage, and it is destined to fail.

Also, in today’s culture, work is required to resist the swell of public opinion and cultural bias against marriage. Even tax structures in the US discourage marriage. The prevailing opinion seems to be, “Why bother?” Even religious favor is not as popular. It has not always been so. A century ago, social and religious pressure was the only factor keeping some marriages together, but it was strong enough to do just that. Duty was enshrined, and sanctity of marriage was at least believed in if not practiced.

The work required comes in all areas, even the most intimate. Yes, there are rewards, and fun, and good times, and those sustain and propel the work portions. It is not all work and no play, but set your mind to the fact that it does require work, sometimes at the most unexpected times and in ways we hadn’t planned on. Life slams us with sickness, accidents, and more, and sometimes it even becomes the carrying of one by the other for extended periods—I have known several men and women who sustained marriages that made outsiders wonder how and why they felt it worth it, but they kept trudging along like Admiral Peary seeking the North Pole. One such person is my father-in-law. If my mother-in-law had lived till May of 2017, they would have been married 70 years! And the last 11 years or so he stayed focused and committed through her increasingly debilitating Alzheimer’s disease. He is one of my heroes.

No one else besides you can decide whether marriage is indeed worth the investment. A man’s mind is his own. But we do not live in a vacuum—we are definitively influenced by the opinions of others. If we choose marriage, we must surround ourselves with others who agree, who help make it work.

The value of marriage makes it worth the work, but that’s another story.

LEGACY 11: THE VALUE OF LEGACY: Why Does It Matter?

May 20, 2018

(Originally written 9/30/14. The grandson mentioned here is almost 7 now.)

Why is being consciously concerned about leaving a legacy important? Why does it even matter?

The only answer that even works is love.

A hundred years from now, who will remember me personally? No one, most likely. A century later, if any of us exist at all in anyone’s consciousness, it is as a name on a building plaque or tombstone or in a genealogy. Nothing remains. Anonymous dust. (Since I plan to be cremated, there won’t even be the tombstone in my case.)

So why bother caring? For the same reason that, in that unthinking heartbeat, without batting an eyelash, we would lay down our lives for the grandson we are taking to the museum. He matters that much.

True, he probably won’t be around in that same hundred years, but leaving him something significant, consciously, may make it easier for those he transmits his legacy to. Someone has transmitted their legacy, even if only genetically, to get me here, and others have transmitted culture, knowledge, and sustainability to get us all here. So somehow, it matters.

We have to love enough to leave a legacy. The only legitimacy legacy can claim is caring enough to make it happen. Deep inside, in our core, we care, enough to want it to matter. So we strive to leave something behind.

I can remember crying in my early school days, asking my dad—in my own mind— why he had had to leave me. (He committed suicide when I was 3.) But sometimes a clarity would come in, that perhaps he had left me more by leaving me—I had social security and veteran benefits for school that I would not have had otherwise. And who knows what negative memories I was spared? Maybe in leaving me, he loved me more than even he knew. I still pray for him—that is part of his legacy in leaving.

We have to love our past adequately in order to value the future. The continuity needs to be established. It took me until I was age 60 to track back past my father’s father’s name, age, and residence listed on my dad’s birth certificate. I found a brokenness in the life of his father—my great-grandfather—that explained it. He had killed his mother accidentally at age 17, and died when his son was 12. That son, my grandfather, never married my grandmother, leaving more brokenness. (My father’s birth certificate says they were married, but I’m almost certain that was a cover-up, based on other genealogical clues.)

But out of all those brokennesses, and a multitude of others, the mosaic of my life is pieced together. I have to try to step back enough to discern the picture. And even then, I only catch glimpses of glory.

But I care enough to try to leave it for my son and daughter, for their daughters, and for this grandson who is not even my flesh and blood. He may never read this, but it matters to me. I love that much.

LEGACY 10: THE REAL VALUE OF MONEY (AND CURRENCY)

May 19, 2018

(Originally written 9/27/14)

I have been told I am one of the most generous people someone knows. I love to give. And that may be why I am where I am in life, as far as having not saved and having no cushion for retirement.

That may also cause a lot of people to disrespect my opinions about money and investing. So be it.

But I do not apologize for it. To me, the real value of money is its ability to bless people, to bring momentary happiness and satisfaction and relief from troubles—i.e., its currency, its ability to make relationships flow between people in good ways. Yes, it has propensities for evil use—and a lot of that is determined by its use, its application to specific situations. That application is a reflection of the morals, the values, the attitude of the person who is wielding its momentary and fleeting power.

The longer-lasting—indeed, eternal power, if it is to have any at all—is in giving. Giving graciously and gloriously—unexpectedly, serendipitously—gives money a real value (and here I think of the Spanish meaning of real: ROYAL). Money is at its best serving, benefiting, being used to add value to the overall human condition, furthering life and not death. This is why we honor philanthropists (even when their money has been ill-gotten)—somehow, they have laid hold of the principle of giving.

And in the final analysis, money is only one form of currency, often an expression of a truer one. Jesus commended the widow slipping her two meager mites into the treasure unnoticed as having more value that most giving—it reflected her heart, her desire to give all to God. We too can do that through the way we treat money.

He also commented on using this life’s resources to lay up treasures in another that will last immeasurably longer. One way to do that is to invest it in other treasures that will also be lasting into that realm—people.

One thing I frequently ask myself: What is the best way I can bless this person? Sometimes, if their heart is closed to me, the best way is to leave them alone. But more often, it is through the currency of kindness, of praise, of unexpected gratitude, of a different mindset—valuing them for who they are, who they are becoming, who they could be. And rarely is money the primary means of doing that—but it can be used as a part of a greater plan.

“Money is a great servant, but a terrible master,” someone said. Unless we have an underlying grid that tells us how to utilize money for good, money has no currency, no real or true value. But used for meaningful purposes, it can take on eternal worth.

LEGACY 8: UNPAID AND PAID

May 17, 2018

(Originally written 9/23/14. As indicated before, the 3-year-old grandson mentioned here is now almost 7.)

Our culture makes a huge distinction between “unpaid” and “paid” in matters like services rendered. Perhaps this is due to an extreme emphasis on the supposed (attributed) value of money.

But as anyone in on their deathbed, or in a life-and-death struggle, will testify, money means little or nothing in such situations. Money is a currency of exchange, not a measure of worth. You can dignify it with fancy terms like wealth management, asset protection, etc., but in the final analysis, we seek security, significance, a sense of belonging, and other intangibles.

Net worth is not real worth. It’s that simple.

Why then do we denigrate what we do by saying, “I’m not being paid for it”? Some of the things I’ve treasured most have not cost a dime—the sharing of a bite of his cookie by my grandson, the beaming smile of my wife when I’ve surprised her with something she never expected, the simple pleasure of a fiery sunset that sets the evening sky ablaze with amazement.

Ultimately, everything is “paid” in some form or fashion. We become what we invest in, so even literally unpaid actions have dividends, sometimes tangible, but not seen as so until far down the road, or by others than ourselves.  Dan Ariely, in Predictably Irrational, makes a point that you can’t set a price on that incredible Thanksgiving dinner prepared by your mother-in-law—and that the moment you do, you cross social boundaries in ways that cannot be uncrossed.

So how do we overcome this bias towards bullion and bull markets?

  • Take the long view. Take Stephen Covey’s advice to imagine your funeral, and what 4 people in the different realms of your life are saying—then live your life in a way to make those 4 speeches state clearly what you wish your legacy to be. Starting with the end of the row in mind is one of the clearest ways to plow a straight furrow. Avoid being short-sighted in ways that will matter at the end.
  • Be thankful. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. As someone said, it’s “BE-Attitudes” that matter. Thankfulness transforms our lives in ways we could not have imagined, and keeps them fresh daily.
  • Clear up your thinking. Express yourself simply and authentically. Make sure you tell people you love them, and appreciate them. Value your enemies—they can help you improve your game.
  • Open up. Don’t wait until tomorrow to experience joy and laughter. There has been more laughter in our lives with this 3-year-old grandson in the last 2 years than in any decade of my life previous. Find delight in simple moments. Take snapshots to store in your mind—and on your electronics. Look at others’ pictures for clues on what you value.
  • There is a value in persisting that can only be found by persisting when persisting doesn’t make sense. You can only what’s beyond tomorrow by going there.