We should be willing to make changes. When enough is at stake or we are uncomfortable enough, we make the needed changes.

The following stories illustrate three individuals who are faced with important decisions.

Bill was in the emergency room at the hospital. He woke up early in the morning with severe pain in his chest. His wife had rushed him to the hospital as his life passed before his eyes.

For years his doctor had been telling him he needed to lose some weight. It was sort of a joke between the two of them.

Bill also had trouble with his blood pressure. It had always been a little high but not really a problem. His wife complained about him eating ice cream late in the evening. She kept saying that it was not healthy for him, but he was not convinced. Now as he lay in the bed he thought of all the things he should have, could have and might have done. But it was too late.

His wife cried and his children eventually showed up with somber looks on their faces. The day was spent running tests and being scanned from head to toe. Doctors began giving Bill a variety of drugs.

Steve had a terrible temper. He’d had it since he was young. While growing up, his parents made attempts to help him control it. When he was in elementary school it got him in trouble repeatedly, but later he was able to manage it to the point where it did not ruin his life.

As a young adult, he gravitated to hanging out in bars most evenings. When he had a few beers his temper would flare up. On more than one occasion he found himself in the middle of a fight, and twice the police had been called.

Eventually Steve settled himself down, married a nice young lady. Things went well for the first few years but when his farm had trouble cash flowing, Steve began to drink more than an occasional beer. With the frustration and the alcohol, his temper returned.

On evening Steve came home from the bar in a foul mood and insulted his wife and threatened their kids. In his anger he picked up a book off the table and threw it at his wife. It hit her in the face and split her lip open. She looked at him with wild eyes and ran into the bedroom, slamming and locking the door.

Steve stood outside the door and tried to apologize but heard no response. Eventually he sat down in the recliner.

Twenty minutes later there was a knock on the door. Much to his surprise there were two deputy sheriffs standing there. They asked what happened and Steve’s wife emerged from the bedroom. Steve found himself in a patrol car on the way to jail. The reality of what he had done began to sink in. As he sat in the jail overnight, he had difficulty believing he had hurt someone he loved deeply. 

The sun was shining brightly on a Tuesday morning when Ed left to meet his banker. He had the same banker for the last 20 years and considered him a friend. Things had not been going well on the farm for several years, but his banker had been supportive and continued to work with him. He suggested a number of things Ed should do to reduce operation cost or increase his income.

His banker had increasingly questioned Ed about his new equipment purchases and the need to pay down his operating notes. With the difficult times Ed had not been able to fully pay off his operating note. The bank wanted to place a lien on the 160 acres of farmland he had purchased from his dad. Ed was unwilling to even talk about the subject.

Ed prided himself on his line of equipment and felt that if he didn’t update it regularly, he would soon look like everyone else. This included a new truck every other year whether he needed a new one or not. He was not a young man anymore and was unwilling to take any real advice or have the bank put any real constraints on the things he was doing.

After some small talk, his banker asked whether he could pay off the operating note this year. Ed said he could not.

His banker then preceded to lay out the steps that would be necessary if Ed was to continue his relationship with the bank. The banker was firm in his request to control his spending and required a lien against the balance of his farmland if there was going to be any credit extended in the future. Ed sat there shocked with these requirements.

In each of these situations, actions occurring over many years eventually lead to an undesired result. Each person involved focused on their own perception of what was going on until it became seemingly impossible for them to see the inevitable.

People can change and make good choices. Here’s how these three men reacted to their situations:

Bill was thoroughly scared after the test results were in. He had an irregular heartbeat and one of his heart valves was not working so well. Bill resolved to make changes.

After all the years of ignoring his wife’s advice, he changed his diet. Over time he was able to drop 40 pounds and looked and felt better than he had in the last 20 years. There was a fitness center in his town and he learned exercises that would help him and his heart. He also became a dedicated walker.

Steve woke up in the county jail. Not only was his life out of control but he had hurt and betrayed the trust of his wife. He could not just go home and apologize to make things OK.

His wife came in and elected not to press charges against him. She laid out some ground rules as to what their relationship would look like for the next few months.

Steve joined Alcoholics Anonymous and attended with a serious purpose. He and his wife went to marriage counseling and Steve went to special counseling for anger management. He thoroughly recognized he had almost thrown away everything that he held dear. It would take a sincere effort to repair the damage he had done.

Over the next few years he was able to rebuild his family’s trust. Things improved steadily, and later in his life Steve was in a position to speak and mentor others, helping them how they could change their lives.

Ed was still sitting across the desk from his banker. He could hardly contain his anger. Many thoughts raced through his mind and after a few moments he stood up, picked up his hat, and walked out without saying a word.

He returned home and told his wife what had happened. The next day he collected all of his financial information and visited the other bank in town. Not surprisingly, the second banker felt much like his original banker. Ed returned home again to ponder his situation.

Eventually Ed came to the realization that his spending was beyond the profitability of his farming operation. He also realized it was not possible to protect his land from a lien with how much he owed the bank.

Ed decided to make some changes. He traded in his new truck for an older model with no loan. He approached his original banker with some humility and willingness to listen. These and other changes put Ed on the path back to financial security.

In each of these three situations, the individuals were able to rise to the occasion and find solutions to the problems they faced. The magnitude of the solutions needed to be equal to the magnitude of the problems.

When the price to be paid is high enough, people will do the difficult things necessary to protect the things they value.

Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bobdun away.com.

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