Storms and opportunities

A few weekends ago, I went on a motorcycle trip with three buddies. We had originally planned to go to southern Arkansas, work our way up to the north, and then head back home. The weather report forecasted a ton of rain, and it ended up flooding in Arkansas. My buddies and I decided to go somewhere without rain.

We jumped on our bikes and headed south to Waco, Texas. On our way there, we did a big loop around the western side of the Metroplex down to Waco. We planned on doing a big loop to the east on our way back, plus a loop back toward Gainesville.

On Saturday, we woke up in Waco and checked the weather. We had been dodging storms and watching the weather most of our trip. We knew we had to be home by Sunday, so we tried our best to plan a route to get us there around the storms. We started north, but we couldn’t take I-35 all the way north because of storms. We were on highway 34 and 78 for parts of the trip.

Whenever we saw a storm, either by the clouds or by our phones, we’d turn right and head that way for a while. Then, we’d turn left and head back north. If you looked at our route on a map, you would see a huge line of zigzags and backtracking. We just wanted to be sure we were not hit by the storms. We finally stopped in Ardmore for the night on Saturday.

We watched the weather and found out Myrtle Springs, Texas, got hit by an F5 tornado and four people had died. We had passed through Myrtle Springs an hour before the tornado hit. If we had made different decisions, we could have potentially been in that tornado’s path in a place we weren’t familiar with. We didn’t know where to find shelter, what roads were dead ends, or anything else necessary to keep us safe.

During breakfast that morning, we talked about the opportunities you have in life. How many times in life are you able to sit still? To turn left? To turn right? To still go forward but decrease your speed? There’s a reason for everything, like our directions and our speed. Sometimes I am so busy and distracted by the noise that I don’t listen to what the things around me are telling me. Are you?

Do you listen to what’s going on around you?

If there is one date that I’ll never forget, it’s April 19, 2017. It was right after our busy season, and Holly and I were headed home after dinner. Our neighbor, Ed, called about 5:30 telling me not to panic about all the Luther police and Oklahoma County sheriff cars. Ed’s neighbor had his daughter and granddaughter visiting him, and the 4-year-old granddaughter had gone missing.

I was concerned because there are wild dogs, coyotes, bobcats, and cougars that roam around my property. Since we were still on the road home, Ed was checking my barns and around my property to make sure she wasn’t playing hide and seek. It had recently rained, so there weren’t any tracks in the mud. The police were using search dogs, and they requested that we not walk across the properties because if our scent crossed hers, the dogs might get off track.

Once we got home and were allowed back onto our property, three drones went up to provide an arial view. We decided to check a few more places and to stay in communication, just in case we found her. I went to do some chores and walked towards my paddock. One of my draft horses, Penny, was staring straight north and not moving. I leaned against the fence and watched Penny, then I changed positions so that I could see everything that she was seeing.

I kept telling myself, “Listen to what she’s telling you.” She turned to the northeast, and her body posture completely changed. I jumped the fence and started sprinting to the other side of the paddock to get a better look, because I knew what she was trying to tell me at that point. The cattle were running away from one of the north ponds, so I knew something wasn’t right. I saw a head pop out of the pond and realized it was the missing granddaughter. I called the neighbor to ask what the girl was wearing (a baby blue coat) and her name (Charlie).

I jumped the paddock fence and ran towards the child, calling her name. I ran a quarter mile from the house, and when I picked her up, she just started sobbing. The adrenaline rush dropped, and I felt like I was about to pass out, even through the excitement of finding her. We got her back to her mother and grandfather, and as you can imagine, it was a happy reunion.

Charlie wrote me a thank you card that said, “Thank you for finding me. You’re a good neighbor.” She drew pictures of the horses, me carrying her, and us walking home. Holly told me that they had come over with the card and banana nut bread. Ed said that Penny tried to tell him the same thing, but he just didn’t hear it.

Animals have this amazing ability to let us know what’s going on, even without speaking. Their posture, actions, and demeanor can show how they feel about their environment and if something isn’t right. You don’t have to have words to listen to the world around you. Keep listening, and listen harder.

The best way to hold rental real estate

If you’re investing in real estate (especially in rental real estate), you’re probably weighing your options and considering the safest way for you to hold that real estate.

In my opinion, an LLC is typically the best option in that situation, and not a corporation.

A limited liability company, or LLC, is a company structure where the members of the company cannot be held personally liable for the company’s debts or liabilities.

An LLC is more flexible than a corporation because the LLC can be managed by a single individual or a third party. The business will be able to file taxes as though it were a partnership or sole-proprietorship, while having legal protection. If an LLC is sued, the plaintiffs are suing the company, not the owners or investors.

The tax and civil laws are favorable for real estate LLCs, as well. I believe that rental real estate investments should never belong in a corporation.

Most of corporate real estate focuses on commercial properties instead of residential because they would need to “flip” the residential property within a year or face double taxation at the corporate level. If you’re investing in residential real estate, an LLC will give you more options than a corporation would.

Let’s pretend you have ten rental properties. You could have a series of eleven LLCs that covers you, as the owner, and the ten properties. The LLC does nothing but hold the properties for you. The eleventh LLC manages the ten others.

The ten properties’ LLC has a relationship with the one LLC, while the one LLC manages the other ten. That one LLC would be the main point of contact, responsible for the bank account, repairs, management, or anything else that is needed.

If you have any questions about LLCs, or any other business entities, please contact my office.

We would be happy to sit down with you to talk about the pros and cons of each of the entities that you can choose from.

Don’t get discouraged by driving in the ditch

Back in the day, I drove a 1974 powder blue Pinto station wagon. Once, a friend and I were planning on fishing in a hole that was way back in the woods. The road that I used to get there had ditches on both sides of it. When I was driving, my car started veering off into one ditch.

I knew if I stepped on the brake, I would get stuck in the ditch. I kept on the gas and eventually got back up on the road. Then, I started veering off into the other ditch. I spent about a third of the time from the main highway to the fishing hole in the ditches on both sides of the road.

We made it to the fishing hole in the end, even if that meant I took my Pinto four-wheeling!

There are usually ditches on both sides of the road, both literally and figuratively. In life, we have the tendency to think that going off into the ditch is going to be the worst thing that could ever happen to us.

But driving in the ditch doesn’t always mean that your direction is wrong. It just means there is another step to get back on the road. For me, the ditch eventually let me get back on the road.

When you’re in the ditch, it’s sometimes scary because it’s not the safety you’re used to from the road. It may take you a little longer to reach your destination. You’re still going in the direction you want to go, even if it’s not the way that you expected.

Until you decide that you don’t want to be on that specific road, it’s okay to be in the ditch. Just let everything smooth out until you can see the road again. You’ll get where you need to be eventually.

So what? Now what?

The head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Chuck Pagano, has a saying for everything. He may not have coined this saying, but he sure says it a lot: “So what? Now what?”

How I view this quote, in the terms of football, is like this. When something bad happens on the football field and the players come off the field saying things like, “Coach, they held me! They blocked me in the back!” the response is, “So what? Now what?”

There are all kinds of events and circumstances that are out of our control. What we can control, though, is the way we react tho those situations. All you can do is move on from the event and learn from it. So what? Now what?

The more I learn about Chuck Pagano, the more I appreciate this quote. He’s a really neat guy that had leukemia. He overcame cancer and used a bunch of sayings to get through the treatments. He’s really inspirational.

When something challenging happens, you can look back on it and think, it cannot be that bad. It just can’t be because it’s already over. It happened. What comes next?

When I played football, we were very small. Our offensive line was tiny. We shouldn’t have been very successful, not based on the way things looked. But we had a play that we ran so often, we did it better than anybody else. We would run a sweep, running outside toward the sidelines, about 40-50% of the time, and that’s how we got around our bad-looking circumstances.

To me, that’s a great exercise in the “So what? Now what?” mentality Pagano has.

You can use this saying in every aspect of your life:

  • You get a big client? So what? Now what?
  • You scored a touchdown? So what? Now what?
  • You lost a sale? So what? Now what?
  • You get a promotion? So what? Now what?

For me, I’m a driver. When I do something well, I want to do it even better. When I succeed, I want to succeed some more.

This keeps driving me forward. It keeps me leaning into everything so that I can be better, do more, and be more impactful. It also keeps my head level so I don’t get too caught up in my problems. When things go sour, it’s okay. It’s not that bad. It’s just one event in the journey.

I once heard Steve Farrar unpack Psalms 23 for two hours. He really focused on the word “through,” when David talks about going through the valley of the shadow of death. It isn’t about the destination, it’s a journey.

This journey has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning, it’s not a big deal because you’re just starting. The valley isn’t unbearable. In the middle, it starts to get tougher. The valley begins to seem unbearable. In the end, though, the journey wasn’t actually that bad, because you’re looking back at the end of it.

So what? Now what? Tomorrow, you can ask the same questions in whatever situation comes up then. Go through the journey of the day.

Get 2017’s taxes off to a good start

Now that April 15th has come and gone: congratulations! The 2016 tax season is over. Let’s use this time to start thinking about next year’s taxes.

Everything from this past year is fresh in your mind: your W-2, your mortgage payments, and your contributions to organizations. You know if you had a big refund, if your rental properties did well or not, and how your investments fared. You can use all of that as a launching pad for your 2017 plan!

You’re already a third of the way through the year, so you’ve got some material to start working with when you think about your plan for 2017 taxes. You can track your spending habits, see if everything goes as expected, and decide what changes you may want to make.

That way, you’ve got a launching pad for 2017 taxes with these four months under your belt. With your tax return, you can figure out a multitude of things:

  • what happened/didn’t happen in the previous year that you expected
  • what you like (and don’t like) about your spending habits
  • how much do you want to owe next tax season/do you want a big refund?
  • how can you change your spending habits, if necessary

You’ll want to reevaluate again in July. It should be easy math by then, because the first six months of the year will be done. You’ll be able to transition the first half of the year to the second half, and it should be the same. You can start planning for the 2017 tax season from this plan: estimating your tax liability, your refund, and your estimated tax payment(s).

If 2016 was a problem year, use 2017 to fix it so there aren’t any issues this upcoming tax season. This 2017 plan should allow you to see what your variances, good or bad, are going to be compared to your 2016 plan.

Want to talk with a real-life person to help you figure out your plan for 2017 taxes? Give our office a call. We’d be happy to help.

How do you define poverty?

In my last blog post, I talked about a book I’ve been reading by Robert Lupton called Toxic Charity. In it, Lupton details the impact charitable giving has on people in vulnerable situations, and his findings might surprise you.

In 2011, a study was conducted on 60,000 people in financial poverty in developing countries. They were asked, “How do you define poverty?” Listed below are their answers—in order of most common to least common:

  • Poverty is an empty heart.
  • Not knowing your abilities and strengths.
  • Not being able to make progress.
  • Isolation.
  • No hope or belief in yourself. Knowing you can’t take care of your family.
  • Broken relationships.
  • Not knowing God.
  • Not having basic things to eat. Not having money.
  • Poverty is a consequence of not sharing.
  • Lack of good thoughts.

As you can see, money was mentioned only once and much further down the list of priorities than most Americans would expect. The study highlights that poverty is innately social and psychological.

In the US, our narrow definition of poverty is what’s on a W2 or a tax return. However, people who are truly in financial poverty aren’t only concerned with the money they’re making—they want to feel like they know their purpose, just like everybody else does.

In the past, my answer has always been to give money. I believed if I could give money to someone who is struggling, I could help them get out of poverty. But that’s not the case according to people who are in true poverty. People want to have a purpose. I want to serve others in such a way that they’re going to be truly successful.

Yes, sometimes in emergency situations people need just a little money. But most of the time people need us to breathe hope into them and give them a chance at building a future for themselves.

This message has inspired me and changed my way of thinking about giving. I hope it does the same for you!

Are you doing more harm than good?

I’ve been reading an eye-opening book by Robert Lupton lately called Toxic Charity. In it, Lupton presents a case stating that years of charitable giving at home and abroad have barely made a dent in reducing poverty and often encourage dependency.

In this book, Lupton details the negative cycle of giving related to traditional charity.

  1. Give once and you elicit appreciation.
  2. Give twice and you create anticipation.
  3. Give three times and you create expectation.
  4. Give four times and it becomes entitlement.
  5. Give five times and you establish dependency.

As I begin to think through this concept, I flip the coin and consider instances when I’ve been on the receiving end of a gift. I think about the times when friends or family have helped me with the farm or moving cattle. The first time someone helps me I’m grateful. But as time goes on, I absolutely do begin to expect them to help me—and I even begin to depend on their assistance.

I do a lot of work in Niagara, and this concept has made me think about how I can help people without hurting them. I live a fast-paced life, so I want to do what’s most convenient and has the biggest impact. The biggest immediate impact is usually giving money. But I’m realizing that’s not what I should always be doing.

What is easy for me is probably the most harmful thing that I can possibly do. Giving money makes me feel good, and it doesn’t take a big investment of my time, effort, or energy. It takes me all of eight seconds to write a check and give an investment of my resources.

But what if the people I’m trying to help really need an investment of my time, effort, and energy?

Lupton offers an oath for compassionate service:

  • Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
  • Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing and use grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
  • Subordinate your self-interests to the needs of those being served.
  • Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said—unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
  • Above all, do no harm.

In the real world, this may look like a church replacing its traditional food pantry with a food co-op. Local residents could pay $3 in co-op dues for $30 worth of groceries, and they buy the food, box it, and distribute it. Another example might be turning a church’s free clothing closet into a revenue-generating thrift store that teaches job skills. Or, transform a soup kitchen into an entrepreneurial venture for female recipients who have a vision for starting a catering business.

This new way of looking at compassionate service has been on my mind lately, and I hope this message inspires you to consider how you can give empowerment instead of entitlement.

Watch out for squirrels!

I came home from work the other day and pulled my truck into the driveway to see several squirrels running through the trees. They were jumping from limb to limb and tree to tree—fast as lightning! I stood there for a few minutes watching them in awe before opening the rear door to my truck and emptying out the backseat.

Suddenly, a squirrel jumped into the backseat of my truck!

He immediately locked eyes with me then screamed in my face before running away. Yes, he screamed! He was just as shocked as I was.

It was as if he was too preoccupied playing with his squirrel friends to notice that anyone was around. When he found himself in my truck, he immediately realized he was somewhere he didn’t want to be, face-to-face with something that could be a potential threat to him.

It made me think about all the times that I’ve been too preoccupied with my own activities, only to take a moment to look up and realize that I was somewhere I didn’t want to be.

It was a good reminder for me to have purpose, vision, and direction, and to keep those things front and center. The ability to stay focused is an important part of daily life, no matter your career, responsibilities, or primary functions. It’s crucial to be able to focus on what you’re doing at all times.

Distractions can sidetrack and even discourage us from staying focused and going positively forward toward our short-term and long-term goals. This encounter with the squirrel was a great real-life reminder for me to stay the course and be intentional with every decision I make.

Date night questions

My wife and I are very intentional about having weekly date nights on Friday. Sometimes our dates are simple–just grilling on the patio. Other times we’ll treat ourselves to a nice dinner out.

After so many years of marriage, it can become difficult to continue improving and deepening your relationship. It’s easy to get comfortable and forget there is still so much more to learn about each other!

Mundane daily questions like, “How was your day?” are important, but they don’t tell the full story. And those questions don’t usually lead to deeper communication.

Throughout our relationship, my wife and I have made it a priority to ask fun, creative, and deep questions to get us talking.

Think about your spouse—you asked a lot of questions while you were dating to get to know each other better, right? There’s no reason that should stop now that you have made a commitment to one another!

Here are some of the questions my wife and I have asked each other recently on our Friday night dates:

  • What was the very first thing you thought about me?
  • What did you learn about marriage from your mom and dad?
  • What do you think is the best thing about our relationship?
  • What did you learn about marriage from my mom and dad?
  • If you could have dinner with one person from history (who is already deceased), who would it be and why?
  • What is the thing that I have done for you that has had the greatest impact on you?
  • Let’s say we can travel anywhere, and money is not an object. Where do we go? Why?
  • You’re marooned on an island, and you are allowed one song, one book, and one picture. What would you choose?

Use only two to three questions each date night, and really talk about your answers in detail. The point is to get to know your partner on a deep level all over again. This will increase your feelings of closeness, connection, and romance, which we all know is the whole point of date night!

Even if you’ve known each other a long time, even if you assume you know the answer, ask anyway. It’s good to hear what you already knew in your spouse’s words, and you may just be surprised.

I hope you and your spouse enjoy asking each other these questions as much as my wife and I did!