Tom Bradford’s message given at The Center’s Mens Breakfast at The Country Club of Birmingham, October 22, 2021. Tom Bradford is President of the National Christian Foundation of Alabama.
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Thank you. You’re not paying a whole lot of attention if you say it doesn’t cost you a dime. You’re paying me $20 a month to keep up with all this. Richard called me a few weeks ago and said, hey, I heard you spoke to the Young Business Leaders’ second half group a few weeks ago and I wonder if I could get you to come tell that same story to my group. And I said, well, Richard, you know, they videoed it. It’s on their website. Why don’t you just play the video? And he said, I don’t think that would work. He said, I really need you to come do it personally. And I really want you to do that. And if you’ll come, I’ll double your fee. I said, okay, well, when Richard Simmons calls, it’s sort of like getting a visit from the Angel Gabriel, you know? And so, and then he said he would double my fee but he didn’t tell me what my fee would be.
So, when I get in this morning, he said, I really appreciate you coming. Why don’t you get two biscuits instead of one? I’m just underwhelmed with your generosity. Thank you so much.
Everywhere I go, when I went in and spoke to the other group and this group, somebody is going to say, several people are going to say, hey, you’re looking good. Funny thing is nobody ever told me I was looking good before I got cancer. I just, I don’t understand this. And I finally realized that what they really are saying is you don’t look near as bad as I thought you would. And I do feel pretty good.
And I’m reminded of a story that Ricky Brooks told me. He went to pick up Wales Goebel to go to lunch one day. Wales is an evangelist. A lot of you know Wales. He’s 92 years old. And Ricky said he came bounding out of the house, across the yard and jumped into the car. Ricky said, Wales, you’re looking good, and Wales, with that Southern drawl said, Ricky son, I have come to realize there’s only three stages of life. There’s youth, there’s middle age and then there’s, you’re looking good. So here I am final stage. I’m looking good.
Well, since I was speaking to that group called second half, I thought maybe I should tell the story about my second half. And I see a lot of y’all here are in the second half, of course, I wasn’t in the second half, I was 71 years old. So, I was in the fourth quarter getting close to the two-minute drill there. But anyhow, this is what happened to me.
I had sold the food brokerage business in 2007 and a guy named Curtis Tyner and Chuck Weldon came to see me and said, we would like to see if you’ll help us start a local Christian foundation as an affiliate office of the National Christian Foundation in Atlanta. We’d been trying for three or four years to get this off the ground and we can’t get it going. We finally got serious about it and went off and had a day-long retreat with one of the VPs at NCF and said, what do we have to do?
And they said, well, you need to do two things. You need to put together a steering committee to put up the seed money to finance it for the first two or three years so that it can generate some assets. And we’ve done that. We’ve got nine guys. We’ll put up all the money. I thought, wow, that’s interesting. Second thing we need to do is recruit some older guys to be on the Board so that the older people in the community would feel comfortable putting their money there. And we’ve recruited Drayton Nabers. He said he’ll be on the Board, and we’d like for you to be on the Board. I said, oh gosh, I’ve been selling my business. I’m transitioning all the employees out. My plate’s pretty full. I just haven’t gotten time to even think about anything else right now. This is in June of 2007.
And he said, well, we’ll be back. And in August, they called me and said, Ron Blue’s going to be in town next week. Would you have lunch with him. Now, I don’t know if y’all know Ron, but he’s probably the guru of Christian philanthropy in my generation. He’s written 21 books and testified before Congress and so I said, yeah, I’d love to have lunch with Ron. And so, he came over and we had lunch. I said, Ron, why do we need to start another donor-advised fund? Because that’s what it is. We’ve got the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and I’ve got a fund there and, it’s not Christian, but I give to Christian things. I give to my church. I give to Focus on the Family and Walk Through the Bible, and I said, why do we need to duplicate that? Got the National Christian Foundation in Atlanta. We’ve got the PCA, which is my denomination, it’s got a donor-advised fund. Why do we need to start another one?
He said, Tom, the problem is nobody knows anything about it. We started the National Christian Foundation in 1982. It sat around for 15 years with some money but never really went anywhere till the late nineties when we started opening local affiliates around the country. We’ve got 23 now all the way from Portland, Oregon to Miami and the money started pouring in. We manage over a billion dollars in assets. I said wow. He said it is so simple, I use it for all of my charitable donations. I haven’t written a check to charity in 15 years, and I thought, hmm, that’s an interesting concept. And he said, we’ve got all the back-room stuff in Atlanta. We’ve got the website and we’ve got the administrators and the lawyers and investment advisors, and said, well you’ve got the relationships. We just need somebody in every local market explaining to people the benefits of using a donor-advised fund and we’ll generate millions of more dollars for the kingdom. I said, that is a neat idea. Okay, I’ll do that. I’ll be on the Board. About three weeks later, I’m sitting in a senior adult conference in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, put on by my friend Scott Dawson, who is an evangelist, and the speaker was Tony Evans, a pastor from Dallas, Texas. And there were 500 white heads sitting out there. And he said, you guys don’t need to think about retiring. That’s not in the Bible. Well, he had my attention. I’d sold the business the 1st of July, but I had a six-month workout contract. You know, you don’t sell a business and walk away. You got to help them transition. So, he had my attention.
He said, you need to find God’s purpose for your life. He said, sometimes it’s hard to find, but I think if these four things ever come together at the same time, it may be God’s purpose for you. And I’m not going to give you his 30-minute talk. I’ll just give you the four things. The first one is, what’s your passion? What turns you on? Well, my passion was Christian work. I was in business, but my passion was the Christian work.
Secondly, what are your gifts? What are you good at? And I’m thinking, well, I’m a salesman and an administrator. I don’t see myself as a visionary kind of guy, more of a manager than a visionary.
Thirdly, what experiences has God put in your path along the way to prepare you for this? And I’m thinking, well, I’m always raising money for something. I headed up the capital funds drive to build Briarwood Church and the United Way. And I’m one of these crazy guys that just likes to raise money. Most people hate to raise money, but I kind of enjoy doing it.
And then the fourth one said when the opportunity presents itself, and I kind of felt like God was tapping me on the shoulder and said, okay, I’m presenting you with an opportunity here. You don’t need to be on the Board. You need to run that thing for those guys. I thought hmmm. I thought I was just going to be on the Board.
My Dad retired when he was in his early sixties, but he drove into the office every day until he was 92. He just did volunteer work and that’s what I was looking forward to doing. You can stay as busy as you want doing volunteer work, but you don’t have any responsibilities. You’re free to go play tennis or golf or go hunting or go to the beach or whatever you want to do, travel. And nobody even knows you’re gone. But, I wrestled with the Lord for probably three weeks, talked to my brother John, my wife, and both of them said, you probably ought to do this. You’re too wired to be able to sit back and not do anything.
So, I finally called Curtis Tyner back in. I said, okay, where do you stand on getting this going? It’s a great idea. He said, well, Tom, I got a problem. I got nine guys say they put up all the seed money, but nobody will give me any money until they know who’s gonna run it and I can’t go out and hire somebody until I got some money. I just don’t know which way to go with that. And I said, well, let me tell you where I am. I told him about Tony Evans. I said, I’ve got an empty office here, and a secretary sitting out here who can handle this on a part-time basis. If you want me to, I’ll recruit the rest of your Board, I’ll get it up and running in 60 days, and once I get it going good, I’ll recruit and train your President and give you two years of my life, Lord willing. I see you’ve got a hundred thousand dollars in the budget for the president and at my age and position in life, I’m no longer focused on how much I can accumulate. I’m more focused on how much I can give away. So, you just put that money in a giving fund for me to give away and we’ll go from there. And he said, well, that’s a deal. So that was, in probably November of 2007. So, my contract was up December 31st. I was retired one day and on January 2nd, I started National Christian Foundation of Alabama.
And I’ll have to say, it’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. We started out with 12 families who had funds with the National Christian Foundation, all donor-advised funds. And now we’ve got about 950 families and we’ve given out, or they have given out, over $280 million since we started. So, the Lord has really blessed it. And it’s the sort of thing that kind of keeps me excited in life.
I’ve got to tell you a couple of stories that just show you why I get so excited about doing this. I think one of my favorite Bible verses is in the sixth chapter of Hezekiah where it says, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, but not one shekel more,” because Caesar has not been a good steward of the money that you have sent to him. And so that’s what we do.
We try to help people save money on taxes. Just this week, yesterday, I was talking to a guy who’s got a fund with us and he’s 71 years old. He had just sent me about $25,000 of stock, which we sold, and put the money in his fund. And he’s probably giving away 50 to $60,000 a year. And I said, let me ask you a question. Is your house paid for? And he said, oh yeah, yeah, I’ve got it all paid for. And I said, have you ever heard about bunching your charitable giving? He said, no, what’s that? I said, okay, here’s what you need to do. You’re going to give away what $50,000 this year. So, you’ve got a $50,000 tax deduction. There are three things that you can itemize on your tax return, and that is charitable giving, home mortgage interest, and state and local taxes. About three years ago, the IRS put a cap on state and local taxes of $10,000. That’s all you can claim. That’s your ad valorem tax on your house and car and your state income tax. And so that leaves you your home mortgage interest and your charitable giving. You don’t have any home mortgage interest anymore. So, what you need to do is on December 31st of this year, just give me another check for $50,000 or $60,000, whatever you want to give away next year. So, this year you get a tax deduction for a hundred thousand dollars. Next year, you don’t make any charitable contributions. You use the money you’ve preloaded into your fund to continue giving to your church and the same charities. And you take the standard deduction, which in his case, will about $28,000. So, I said, you’ve just picked up an extra tax deduction of $18,000, which is about $6,300 in tax savings. He said, wow, that’s a good deal. Now that’s exciting to me.
Then yesterday afternoon, I was working with a guy, he’s got a private foundation, and he owns all the stock in his company. His company’s probably worth $50 million or more. And he’s funding the private foundation with cash. You can’t give stock in a privately held company to a private foundation and get a tax deduction for it. But you can give stock to a public foundation like us and get full credit for it. And so, I talked to one of our tax attorneys in Atlanta, and here’s what we came up with. He can give us, he’s given away about a hundred thousand dollars a year. He can give us $300,000 worth of stock in his company and get a $300,000 tax deduction. He can then turn around and buy his stock from us the next day for a hundred thousand dollars in cash and $200,000 note. So he’s got the stock back. He can then turn around and give that stock at the new appreciated value to his private foundation and get another 300,000. Now, is that slick? I mean, I just get so excited. If that doesn’t turn you on, then you’ve got too much money. You know, if you can’t think about how exciting that is.
Well, of course, when I did get cancer, one of the main things I wanted to get accomplished before I went to be with the Lord was to find my replacement.
And I was so excited that last week, our Board named Ricky Brooks as my replacement and I’m so excited. Ricky was one of the guys on the steering committee that helped us get started back in 2007. Well, I’m going to stay on. I’ve told the Board that I would like to continue on as a relationship manager, as long as the Lord gives me strength to drive into the office every day. My son Jim is staying on as VP to work with people, the secretary is staying on. So, there won’t be any changes except we got Ricky there to take us up to the next level. So, we’re excited about that.
Well, another story I told this group of Young Business Leaders was about how I decided to make some of the tough decisions in late life. And what happened is my nephew Carter Harsh, who some of you know, and Dan Roberts, who some of you know, asked me probably 10, 15 years ago if I would come speak to their accountability group of five or six guys. I was in my middle seventies. They were in their middle fifties, and they wanted me to tell them what they needed to be thinking about for the next 20 years. Well, I hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to that, frankly, but I did give some thought to it. So, here’s what I told them. I said, if you live long enough, there are five things you’re going to have to give up that you don’t want to give up. They’re probably going to come in this order. The first one’s going to be your job, or it could be your hobby, you know, like tennis or golf or turkey hunting, whatever it is. The second one is going to be your car. The third was going to be your house, the fourth one’s going to be your checkbook and then the last one was going to be the right to make your own decisions. If you live long enough. Now, the question you’ve got to think about is how are you going to make those decisions. You probably are not going to be the best person to make those decisions for yourself. So, what usually happens is it’s left up to your kids to make all those decisions and that can cause a lot of family stress.
So, what I’ve done, I decided to do at that time, I went and found three guys, younger guys, 25, 30 years younger than me, guys that I loved, and I knew they loved me and I really respected their judgment and I have gotten them to agree that they will be the group to hold me accountable on those things so my kids don’t have to tell me, I’ve got to give up the car or move out of my house. And so, the way it works, I’ve told my kids, and then I wrote them a letter and said, if you feel like it’s time for me to do any of those things, you go to one of those guys, they will investigate it. And if any two of those three, tell me it’s time, I will do that. And those guys are Scott Dawson, who’s here today, Tom Caradine, and Bruce Stallings, executive pastor at Briarwood. So that’s what I’ve done.
Now, the interesting thing is about maybe three or four years later, I was having lunch one day with Bruce Stallings, the executive pastor at Briarwood, and he said, Tom, I know you said several years ago, when you started this National Christian Foundation, you’re going to give them two years of your life. It’s been three or four years. When are you going to hang it up? I said, well, you know, that may be up to you. You may be the one to tell me it’s time to do that. And I said, but right now, I think I’m pretty sharp enough and mentally alert enough, and I’m physically able to keep up with all the stuff I’ve got to do and so I’m going to keep on doing as long as I feel like I’m able to do it, but I may have to give it up one of these days and you may be the one to tell me. And so anyhow, we talked, and we got back in the car. It was a hot day in September and the air condition on my car was blowing out hot air. And I was grousing about that, riding with the windows down, I’m going to have to take my car into the shop, I hate that. And somehow, we got back onto the subject of the Foundation, and I said, yeah, I know, at some point, I’m not going to be mentally alert enough to keep up with all this stuff but right now I think I’m sharp enough to keep up with all of it. And we talked about that. So, we get back to the church and he starts to get out of the car, and he says, Tom, I don’t think your air conditioning is on. I said, what? And I got one of these screens there and I started just hitting it. And all of a sudden, whoosh, here comes the cold air. And Bruce looked at me and he said, Tom, do you want to call Scott and Tom? Or do you want me to call them?
But anyhow, I do think that’s a good way for you to decide instead of making your kids tell you it’s time to quit driving your car.
Third story I told was about writing a book. I was at a Walk Through the Bible conference in the mid-nineties and Bruce Wilkinson was teaching on the passage from the second chapter of Judges where it says that the Israelites served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen the mighty works the Lord had done for the Israelites. But then there arose a new generation that did not know the mighty things the Lord had done, and they did evil in the sight of the Lord. And I thought, you know, I don’t want that to happen in my family. So, when I retire, I’m going to write a book about what the Lord has done in my life to pass on to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren so that they hopefully won’t forget all that. Problem is, I never did retire. So, when I got up to April of last year, when the governor shut us down and I had to work from home for 30 days, I had a little time on my hands and I thought, if I’m ever going to write that book, I better do it. And so, I started writing and I wrote the book. It’s just called The Bradford Family History. And I would encourage each of you to think about doing this for your great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. I’ve got, let’s see, eight, I guess it’s eight, eight great-grandchildren, I had a new one yesterday. I think that was number eight. So, I want them to know the great things the Lord has done in my life. And I decided I was going to have it in hardback because if I did a paperback, they’re liable to lose it.
But I thought maybe if I did it in hardback, it cost me $2,100 to get 50 copies of this made. I thought maybe they’ll put it on the shelf, and they will read it 15, 20, 30 years from now. I hope that they will. So, I would encourage y’all to think about doing the same thing. Of course, the first chapter in here is about the greatest decision I ever made, which is my testimony. And I sort of came to Christ through the four spiritual laws. And back in those days in the mid-sixties, everybody knew what the four spiritual laws were. Probably half of y’all here today don’t even know what I’m talking about, but it’s a little tract that Campus Crusade used to explain how you come to Christ. So, I put one in the back of the book so that they can all see that. So, I would encourage you to think about doing that for your great-grandchildren.
So that brings me to the last story that I have to tell that Richard has entitled, “Walking by Faith Through a Terminal Illness.” I grew up in a nominal Christian home and I use the term ‘Christian’ very lightly there. When I was young, I came to know that Jesus was the Son of God, that He died for my sins, He was raised from the dead, and I accepted all that, but it didn’t make any difference to me. We went to Sunday School, I’d say off and on, rarely went to church, and then of course, when I went off to college, I kind of quit going, but I’d go occasionally, got out of college, got married. My wife made me go to church every Sunday. And so, we were going to church in a large liberal church here and, in fact I even taught Sunday School occasionally, played the piano in the Sunday School class, rarely went to church. I thought it was kind of boring.
Then in the mid-sixties, I was probably 28, 29 years old. People started talking about being born again or having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Now some of y’all don’t even know what I’m talking about but back in those days, people did not talk about their personal faith like they do now, and I thought, man, those folks have just gone off the deep end. They are just a bunch of religious fanatics. And they were going to Bible study on Friday night, and I thought, good night. And I said something about a religious fanatic one day. And the guy said, Tom, you know what a fanatic is, don’t you? And I said, no, what’s that? And he said, a fanatic is somebody who’s all fired up about something that you’re not, you’re just not really interested in. And I realized those people are all fired up about Jesus Christ and I really wasn’t all that interested.
And then one day a fellow taught our Sunday school class, and he used the four spiritual laws, and it’s got some illustrations in it and I wasn’t going to go into all that, but the fourth spiritual law is that you must individually receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. And he puts some circles up on the Board to explain that. And when I saw that, it just hit me for the first time that I believed intellectually all these things to be true about Christ, but I’d never made a personal commitment. And so, I thought, well, I better do that. I invited Jesus to come in and take control of my life and I talked to my wife. She felt the same way.
She was more religious than I, but she didn’t know any more than I did about it. And I said, maybe we ought to go to one of those Bible studies that our religious fanatic friends are going to. And so let’s get a babysitter and go Friday night. So, she said, okay, she called me Thursday afternoon and said, Tom, I just found out that Frank Barker is teaching a Bible study at his house tonight. Would you like to go to that? Now, he was the founding pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, a little church out on 280 where Mountain Brook Community Church sits now, and all of these religious fanatics were going to that church. They had about 250 members at the time. And frankly, I thought they handled snakes out there. I mean, I didn’t know what in the world was going on. And I said, well, you know, he’s the guru, let’s go hear what he’s got to say.
So, we got a babysitter and went to Frank’s house that night and they were about 18 or 20 people sitting around in his living room. And, Frank said, well, just open your Bibles to Matthew eight or wherever he was. I don’t remember, somewhere in Matthew, and he’d read a verse and explain it, and then read the next verse and explain it and read the next version. I’d never heard the Bible explained so clearly. I thought, wow, that is really interesting. And, nine o’clock, he said, well, we’ll stop here and pick up here next week. Then he said something that gave me cold chills. He said, we always close by praying around the room. Ooh, I’ve never prayed out loud in front of anybody. And he saw the blood drain from my face, and he said, just keep it simple, just a sentence or two. Okay. And he said, and we always kneel. Oh, good night. So, I knelt down there, and my wife did, and he asked the guy sitting next to my wife to start.
And that guy prayed for every missionary and everything that I’ve ever heard of, and I didn’t hear a word he said. All I was just thinking about this beautiful prayer I’m going to say. Well, my wife was next and my wife has such a tender soft heart that to this day, she cannot pray out loud without getting choked up. And she got choked up and just said, Lord, help me to become a Christian. Oh wow. I was just so taken with the sincerity of that simple prayer that I totally forgot my beautiful prayer. And all I could say is, Lord help me to become a Christian. Well, of course, then as they went around the room, everybody else prayed for us, which…. that’s sort of a humbling experience. But anyhow, that’s what I needed.
So, we finished and stood up and Frank came up and said, hey, can you stick around? I’d like to talk to you. Well, of course I wanted to talk to him too. And so, we had refreshments, everybody left, and I said, Frank, let me tell you where I am spiritually. And I told him about the four laws. And I said, I’ve invited Jesus to come in and take control of my life. Every day this week, I’ve tried to make every decision as though Jesus was on the throne of my life. I don’t feel any different. How do you know?
And he said, Tom, you don’t have saving faith. Saving faith in the Bible is believing something that you cannot see or feel or touch. If you invited Jesus into your heart and you heard a thud or heard a bell ring, you know that wouldn’t take any faith.
Why don’t you invite Him one more time and just thank Him to do what He promised to do? He said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come into him.” You don’t think He’d lied to you do you? I said, oh no. And he said, well, just one more time and just thank Him. I said, that seems so simple. He says, it is simple, for the simple-minded. That’s how you come to Christ, as a little child. And so, I said, okay. And so, I bowed my head and invited Christ to come in, thanked Him, and Marianne did the same thing.
And we got up and left his house and I still didn’t feel any different. But I just knew for the first time that something had happened in my life. I got home at 10 o’clock and I picked up the phone and called her brother, Fred, who had been driving us crazy for about two years, witnessing to us, trying to get us to come to Christ and I said, Fred, you’re not going to believe what your sister and I did tonight. We both invited Christ to come in. And when, of course he was excited. I couldn’t wait to get back to that Bible study the next week, even though I was going to have to pray out loud. I was hungry for spiritual food. And I found out that the reason they were meeting at Frank’s house, as they’d been meeting at his sister-in-law’s house, and she was going to have a baby and they couldn’t meet there anymore. I said, well, come on to our house next Thursday night. And they did. And for the next two and a half years, they came to our house every Thursday night. And that’s where I got grounded in the faith and got to know Frank. We became close friends and started playing tennis together. And he discipled me. And that was a great time of spiritual growth in my life.
So, then that brings me up to where I am now. In April of this year, I went into the hospital for surgery. They had found a mass next to my liver the size of a baseball. They’d done a biopsy and said it wasn’t malignant, but it needed to come out. When I came out of the surgery and woke up, my wife said, well, the doctor said when he got in there, it was bigger than he thought. It was already in the liver, and it was next to a major artery, and he couldn’t take it out. And so, he just sewed you back up. We need to find another way to treat it.
I found out the next week they had taken another biopsy while they were in there and it was malignant. And they said, if you don’t do anything, you’ve probably got four to six months to live. But if we can treat it aggressively with chemo, we can probably add 12 months to that. And I said, I don’t think I’m going to do that. My wife and I had already talked about it and decided that if that ever came to us, we were just going to not fight it. Just take it as the Lord’s will. I watched my brother John suffer through pancreatic cancer on chemo. And I just told the doctor, I said, why would I want to spend the last few months of my life sick? So, I said, I think I’m just gonna ride it out. And he said, okay, that’s your choice. I’m not going to go to MD Anderson in Houston. Or I had one friend who went to India to get some sort of exotic treatments for cancer. And he just struggled with it for about a year and then went to be with the Lord, and you know, why would I want to do that. So, that’s kind of where I am.
It’s interesting. People ask me three questions all the time. How are you doing? How’s Marianne doing? And what are your plans? Well, I’m doing pretty good. I’m talking about six months ago. I said then, I can really say that today. I have a slight pain every now and then on a scale of one to 10, it may be a one, maybe a two. Most of the time, I’m not even aware of any of it. I am having a little trouble with my feet swelling. My shoes are a little bit tight, but that’s not a whole lot to worry about. I’ve started back playing tennis again and I play with Frank Barker. Frank’s 89 and still playing tennis. We’ve been playing tennis together for 40 years. He was on the tennis team at Auburn so he’s a good tennis player. He can’t remember anything anymore unfortunately. He can’t remember the score, which is probably helpful to me, but unfortunately his partner’s Bob Sproul sitting over here, and he can remember the score, so I can’t get away with anything, but I’m just doing amazingly well.
Marianne is doing amazingly well. She cried when we got home from the doctor. That was a pretty big shock. You know, I’m thinking they’ve taken out a benign tumor and to come to find out, it’s malignant, and she cried for about maybe 30 or 45 seconds. And then she just bounced back to her usual bubbly, upbeat self. And she’s probably cried six or seven times in the last six months, but never for more than 30 seconds. One day last week we were in the kitchen, and I was talking about one of the missionaries I supported just called me and said he was going to work for a Christian college. And so, I wouldn’t need to support him anymore. And I looked over there and she was crying. I said, what’s the matter? She said, what am I going to do about taking care of all these people when you’re gone?
And I said, well, you don’t have to do that. My son, Jim’s going to take care of that. He knows what I’ve been doing. And I’ve got the money in my fund, and I’ve told him what to do. You don’t need to worry about that. So, she was fine. She bounced back. So that’s kind of how she’s been. She’s just been a rock. And then that’s sure made things a whole lot easier on me. As far as my plans are concerned, I plan to just keep right on doing what I’m doing as long as the Lord gives me strength to drive into the office, I’m going to keep working, and I’m going to keep playing tennis and I’m just going to keep living life to the fullest. I’ve tried to think about this from a couple of different ways. You know, one from a practical standpoint.
l kind of look at it like this. My family is kind of living through a storm right now. You know, it’s raining every day, some days harder than others, but it’s rained every day, a big black cloud hanging out there. But we can function through that. I still drive to the office. She drives to the store and it’s just not as pleasant as it was before, but we can function through it. But I do know that at some point the sun’s going to come out again, the birds will sing, and life goes on. Problem is that the sun’s not going to come out until the storm’s over. So, with that as background, it just seems kind of silly for me to do whatever I can to extend the length of the storm for my family to go through.
So, I that’s the reason I’m not taking any aggressive treatment for that. And then from a sort of a scriptural standpoint, it’s interesting to me, I have prayed the same prayer, I have a devotion every morning, pray and I’ve said, close my prayer every morning with the same sentence for the last probably 15 years. Lord, thank You, thank You, thank You for the amazing, good health You’ve given me at my age. And I do pray that You’ll protect that health until it’s time for me to come home and then bring me quickly so that I won’t be a burden to my wife or my kids. And when I say quickly, I don’t mean a sudden death. You know, I’ve thought about this. There’s only three ways to exit this life. One is a sudden death where you just dropped dead from a heart attack or get killed in an automobile accident. That’d be the best thing for me, but that’s not the best thing for the family. It sure leaves a lot of loose ends, you know, for them to have to tie up. Another way is a long, extended illness. I’ve watched some of my friends go through that for a year, two years, five years. Well, that’s a really tough one on the family to go through that.
So, when I say quick, I mean, I just, you know, six months to a year, something like that, give you time to get your affairs in order, you know, and get ready to go. And one of the things that I needed to do, the first thing I needed to do is getting Marianne out of that big house and get in a garden home. We were living in a house with five bedrooms and four and a half baths where our kids grew up, been there for 53 years. But we’d been talking for a couple of years about the need to downsize and get into something smaller. Well, obviously this brought all that to a head.
And so, we started looking. My daughter is in the real estate business, and she took Marianne to see some houses, couldn’t find anything she liked. And she called me one Tuesday and said, hey, I just found that one of the cottages at Danberry is coming on the market Thursday. You want to go see that? That’s a little gated community out in Inverness, across the street from Danberry Retirement home, 49 homes. And I said, yeah, let’s, that’s a nice place. Let’s look at that. We got the first appointment, came on the market Thursday morning, we went in at 9:30 and we walked around, and Marianne said, I like this. Let’s make an offer. And so, I made them an offer for their asking price, thinking I’m going to get in a bidding war because I could see on the schedule that two more people were coming in to look at it that afternoon, but they accepted my offer Friday morning.
My friend Tom Caradine had called me and said that he understood I was thinking about selling my house and his daughter was moving from Atlanta to Birmingham. Her husband’s a physician recruited at Grandview, and she’d always liked my house. We had the bridesmaid’s luncheon for her when she got married at our house and for each of her two sisters. So, she’d been in my house a lot and she loved the house. And he said, would you sell it to them? I said, well, I’m not putting it on the market until I find another house. I’m not going to be homeless. And he said, I know, but they’re going to be in town this weekend for the golf tournament, the Region’s golf tournament. Can they just come by and see the house? Because her husband had never seen it. I said, sure. Tell them to come at 10 o’clock.
So, they walk in at 10 o’clock Saturday morning. I said, Katie, I got some good news. We bought a house yesterday. So, our house is on the market. It’s yours if you want it. Well, she was excited. They walked around and looked at the house, sat down in my living room. My daughter had run a MLS list of all the houses in Mountain Brook of my size that had been sold in the last two years with the highest price and the lowest price. And I showed it to him, I said, okay, here’s the highest and lowest price for this size house. And most of them are right here in the middle. That’s what I want for my house. If you want it for that, it’s yours. If not, just let me know by tomorrow afternoon, cause I’m going to list it with Peggy Monday morning. He turned, looked at his wife, and they didn’t say a word to each other. He just turned back and said, we’ll take it.
So, in less than 24 hours, I found the perfect house for me, sold my house without having to put it on the market. Only the Lord can do that. And so, I feel like the Lord has answered my prayers in spades. You know, he’s given me the time to get that fixed and He’s got, redid my will, you know, just got things done that needed to be done, and the last piece of the puzzle is I needed to find my replacement for NCF and got that done last week.
So, it’s been amazing how the Lord has blessed. And it’s interesting, I was telling my wife a couple of weeks ago, you know, it’s just occurred to me that the last six months has probably been the most joyful six months of my life. Now, lest you think I’m being super-spiritual, let me explain what I mean by joyful.
I had to teach Sunday School probably 35 years ago on the book of Philippians and the theme of the book of Philippians is the joyful Christian mind. And as I was thinking about that, you know, in our English language, we interchange words a lot. And a lot of people interchange the words, joy, happiness, peace, and so on. And I was trying to wrestle with what’s the difference in those three things from a Biblical standpoint. And here’s what I came up with. I think that peace is a quiet heart. There’s absolutely nothing bothering you. Happiness is a light heart. You know, everything’s going your way. Life is just a bowl of cherries, but joy is a thankful heart. And that’s a matter of attitude; it has nothing to do with the circumstances.
Happiness is a lot, depending on circumstances; joy is not. And so, I can say that I have been overwhelmed with gratitude in the last six months. The outpouring of love I’ve gotten from friends, people that I hardly know come up to me and say, hey, I’ve been praying for you every day. Wow. And just thinking about what the Lord has done and how He’s allowed me to get all of this in order. I don’t see how anybody could be more grateful than I am. So, that’s why I say it’s the most joyful period of my life.
So let me just close with this statement. I remember reading years ago, “Death leaves a heartache that no one can heal, but love leaves a memory that no one can steal.” So, my challenge to you is, in whatever time you have left, focus on love. Love the Lord. Love your spouse. Love your kids. Love your friends. And that way you’ll create memories that no one can steal. Thank you.
Richard: I’m going to close in prayer and then you’ll be dismissed. Father, thank You for, thank You for Tom Bradford. Thank You for that wonderful presentation, and I just thank You for his life, his example, just the, you can see the Light of Christ in him, particularly the peace that you see. We’re just grateful for this time together. I pray Your blessing on all these men as we leave today. We pray all this in Christ’s Name. Amen.