Category: LIFE

Written by Randy C. Cowell, M.S, LUTCF, CFP®, CRPC®

Most Americans are not aware that Social Security benefits have not always been taxed. Not until 1983 was there a tax on the once sacred retirement benefit. In a bipartisan compromise after recognizing the impending insolvency of Social Security, President Ronald Reagan and then Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, agreed to allow up to 50% of benefits to be taxed. That opened the door. Later in 1993 during his first term, President Bill Clinton raised the taxation percentage to 85%. This article will discuss the impact those taxes have on retirees.

Before you can implement defense strategies one must first understand how the IRS thinks. There is a calculation that is performed specifically to determine whether you are over the prescribed income threshold. About this time you are saying, “There is an income threshold?” Yes, if married and filing jointly, it’s $44,000 and if filing single, it’s $34,000. So what does that really mean? The IRS, as one of its last calculations when calculating your taxes, determines your “Provisional” income. If you are not familiar with that term, just read on. 

Provisional income simply stated, is the calculation to determine if your SS will be taxed. First, they add all your 1099 income. This includes interest, dividends, short- and long-term capital gains, as well as any municipal bond income. (You read correctly. ALL muni-bond income counts as provisional income.) Next, the IRS counts all the “Ordinary” income from your qualified plans and retirement accounts. Then to cap it off, they add insult to injury and count 50% of your SS benefit. If you are married and it exceeds $44,000 or single and it exceed $34,000, then congratulations–up to 85% of your benefits will be taxed at the highest tax bracket you are in. 

So, now that you know what Provisional income is, let’s have some fun with math. First we have to make some assumptions. Let’s say you are married filing jointly and your SS income is $25,000. We have calculated your provisional income and it exceeds $44,000. That means 85% of your income or $21,250 is now added to your income at the highest marginal rate. We assume if you are in the 24% marginal bracket, your SS tax bill is $5,100. You now discover you have a $5,100 hole in your income. So how do most people respond? They withdraw more money from their IRA’s and saving accounts. Here is an important question. When they withdraw more income from their IRA account(s), if tax rates have risen, how much more will they have to withdraw?

So, why should you be concerned about preventing your provisional income from exceeding the threshold(s)? According to David McKnight, best selling author of the Power of Zero, retirees that allow their SS to be taxed tend to run out of money faster than those that do not. [1]Why? Because the mere act of withdrawing more puts that much more pressure on the assets to perform. To make matters worse when tax rates go up (assuming Congress does nothing), how much more will retirees have to withhold to compensate for even more taxes?

Not to pile on here, but if you listen to other experts like David Walker, former Comptroller General, and Ed Slott CPA, retirement expert, tax rates beyond 2026 are destined to increase due to the fiscal spending policies of the government. Ed Slott warns, “Those who saved most diligently, though, will soon realize that a substantial chunk of those tax-deferred retirement savings are sitting ducks for a revenue-hungry Uncle Sam. In fact, as your 401(k) or IRA funds grow, so does the government’s share since it is a partner, Uncle Sam can increase his partnership percentage of your tax-deferred savings whenever he needs more money, and that day is coming soon. The question is then, are you prepared?”[2]

So what’s the answer? Stay tuned for Part II in next month’s Community Spirit magazine for strategies that can insulate and buffer you from the impact of higher taxes. (2423086RM–Feb21)

[1] McKnight, D. “The Power of Zero.” 2013. Reprint. Boston: Acanthus Publishing, 2018. Print.

[2] Slott, E. 2013. Forward. In: The Power of Zero. Boston; Acanthus Publishing, xi-xii

Randy C Cowell is a columnist and President of ACT Financial Services, Inc., in Tulsa. Oklahoma. He is the author of “God Good­ Debt Bad”. Randy welcomes your thoughts and prayers. He can be reached at 918-664-0081 or by e-mail at rcowell@htk.com.

Registered Representative of and Securities and Investment Advisory Services offered through Hornor, Townsend & Kent, LLC (HTK), Registered Investment Advisor, member FINRA/SIPC, 4111 S. Darlington Ave., Suite 800, Tulsa, OK 74135, (918) 664-6511. HTK is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. ACT Financial Services, Inc. is unaffiliated with Hornor, Townsend, & Kent, Inc.


Dr. Jorge Gonzalez is known for his passion for concierge-level patient care. It is why patients follow him wherever he goes. It’s also why new patients seek him out.  When Mike Radke was recruited to work for Dr. G, he didn’t really know how critical his role would be.  Mike was given the responsibility as the liaison between the patient, the insurance companies and the pharmacies.  This role was an effort to help patients get the care Dr. G knew they needed.  It’s a fight unfit for those battling with neurological conditions just trying to find a path to wellness.  They needed help.

That help came in the form of a 24-year veteran of the United States Air Force.  Mike was given marching orders by Dr. G to go make sense of an impossible world of paperwork and forms standing in the way of the care his patients needed.  Mike said, “We are different here at Dr. G’s office, because we really are about patient care and not the dollars.  Dr. G employs me to help facilitate the process to get patients, like the veterans, the medication and care they need.”  He added, “It’s a full-time job just trying to navigate the system with them.  Imagine if they were trying to navigate it alone.  We fully believe we are in this together. Whether Dr. G is praying in his office to help patients fight their medical battles or entrusting me to do what I’m skilled to fight the battles with the insurance companies with them—it really is the highest level of care.”    

Almost immediately in his new role, Mike noticed a more troubling trend in veteran care.  Mike said, “Due to some changes in legislation a few years ago, veterans could seek care outside the Veterans Administration medical unit and come into Dr. G’s office to receive needed specialized care.”  Mike continued, “As a veteran, who suffered numerous injuries and disabilities from combat, I really appreciated the newfound freedom.”  The move was a nice step; however, as good as the move had been, Mike noticed getting the insurance companies to approve recommended prescriptions and treatments for these patients was next to impossible.  

Mike said “Dr. G would diagnose the veteran patient and then prescribe the treatment the patient needed; however, that’s when the mess really started.  The prescription was denied; mountains of paperwork and coding ensued, trying to find the path of least resistance to get the patients the help needed.”  Mike went on, “For veterans, it is next to impossible to get the right treatments through the system. When disapproved, it then requires a custom authorization created by the same insurance company, who denied it the first time.” 

Mike continued, “I was giving the medication briefing for a patient with migraines.  Come to find out, the patient was also a combat veteran.  We started realizing how much we had in common, even the timeframe of different operations. In the process, I found out he also suffered from migraines caused by undocumented head injuries in the service.  As so many veterans know, you need someone who believes you and is willing to listen in order to get the right treatment.”  Mike emphasized, “In the service, if it’s not written it didn’t happen. Documentation is a problem.  You are so busy and so focused on the battle you are in, caring for yourself becomes the last thing you are thinking about.  You are concerned with your comrades first.  The military has a bit of a demented or dark sense of humor. It’s common to say demeaning sorts of comments in regard to health and injuries–so you certainly aren’t recording them all. But, just because they weren’t recorded, it doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.”

That’s where Dr. G is different.  He truly listens to the causative circumstances explained by the patients and uses that information to diagnose the problems.  It’s a nice feeling just to be heard, much less to get the right diagnosis and recommended treatment.  It’s unbelievable what some veterans go through just trying to find a doctor who will listen to them.  With Dr. G they were heard; he wanted to prescribe the proper medicine to bring relief to the veteran patient, but it would take an exorbitant amount of work to get it approved.  Mike said he works through rigorous amounts of coding, submitting and resubmitting the paperwork to get what is needed.  Then he added, “There are so many legislative guidelines that have actually become closer to brick walls between veterans getting the proper treatment and the proper amount of quality care needed.”  

“So, as I explained it to Dr. G,” Mike said, “I was given the power to go do something about it.  It really came down to someone needing to say something.  I’m sure lobbyists are talking in Washington D.C., but we never hear it.  It really questions the benefit of those conversations in D.C. if I don’t see any needed changes here in Tulsa, OK.  This individual with the migraines said he wanted to do something about it as well.  Since he and I had that common bond from a battlefield to a chance meeting in the doctor’s office, I could completely understand his plight.” Mike added. 

Mike continued, “So, we worked together.  I armed him with the information to take this battle up the chain.  We discussed the quality and quantity of care in the VA vs a civilian workforce. We selected the medication for migraines, so that we could show individual results as an example of this study.  The veterans aren’t a part of these normal drug studies.  So, when a medication has the ability to relieve the veteran of something that is chronic and debilitating—it’s just crazy we can’t get it approved.”  Mike added, “Migraine sufferers are really the only ones who understand just how life altering they can be.  We are incredibly lucky to have a doctor in Tulsa, who specializes in the care of these monsters—and he wants to provide that needed care to the veterans.  So, we really wanted to help get this case heard.”  

It is obvious veterans want care beyond what the VA system can afford them.  If we can’t get the quality of care we need, what was the point in creating the legislation to allow the veterans to step away from the VA in the first place?” quipped Mike. “It was definitely a double-edged sword.” said Mike.  “We knew our office had to be sharper than the legislation to push this level of care to the needed level for veterans.  It wasn’t going to stop with the freedom to explore other care. It had to be armed with folks like me, empowered by doctors like Dr. G, taking on the system to get that needed care approved and paid for by the system.  The VA have traditional medicines but unfortunately those medicines are often dictated by a federal budget and not by the need of the patient.” he said.  “Their physicians care changed but the company that approves the payment of the insurance and the treatments allowed didn’t.” Mike ended.

Mike’s plight was just the beginning.  “I had a chance meeting with someone I was able to help bridge that gap. I helped sharpen their sword or figuratively put a bigger round in their gun.” Mike went on, “I fear we are now in a situation where we are just at the tip of the iceberg with different types of care needed for veterans based on the last 20 years of conflicts.” Mike added, “With operations and conflicts such as Desert Shield/Storm, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, those individuals are either retiring or getting older and now their service-connected signs and symptoms need more attention, specialized attention.  Now that they can get specialized care outside of the VA—the way they are going to pay for it should be two steps ahead of them and right now it’s five steps behind.”  Mike closed, “Veterans need Dr. G and our office to help get us the care we need and the help to navigate the war for coverage. It’s a sword this office is honored to take up in the fight.  We never leave anyone behind, and we’ll never quit fighting the good fight.”

Dr. G operates a concierge neurology practice off of 68th and Yale.  He’s also launching 3 new research study for migraine sufferers, Alzheimer’s/dementia, and seizures in 2019.  If you or someone you love suffers from any of these afflictions and want to be part of the study, just reach out at research@tulsaneurospecialists.com

Community Spirit with Dr. Gonzalez’s office reached out and received a great response from Congressman Kevin Hern’s office.  We’re looking forward to watching all of these amazing hearts work together to see what they can do for veterans:

“Congressman Hern is the son a of 22-year Air Force veteran, so he had a first-hand look growing up at the many sacrifices that military members and their families make every single day for our country.  Because of this experience, the Congressman has a special place in his heart for helping our veterans.

While we may sometimes disagree on the methods, both sides of the aisle seem to agree that our veterans deserve the best care we have to offer.  I believe the thousands of dedicated individuals working on behalf of veterans in our federal system, along with members of Congress from both parties, are always willing to listen to new ideas about providing the best service to our veterans. 

Our office, like many, has a full-time staffer focused solely on providing answers to veterans about their benefits, making inquiries on their behalf, and helping them navigate the federal process. We can’t promise outcomes, but we certainly take enormous pride in being able to assist our veterans in any way that we can.”

-Robert Aery, District Director for Congressman Kevin Hern


Written by Mike Henry, Sr., Follower of One

Love At Work… It’s Not What You Think

Do you love your coworkers? Chances are, if you enjoy your work, you enjoy your coworkers. Going back to 1999, Gallup has polled people in their workplaces for their level of engagement at work. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman first wrote about employee engagement in their groundbreaking 1999 book, First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Gallup, 1999). They asked twelve questions to measure how engaged people were in their jobs. Two of the questions measured how loved people felt at work. Question 6 was “Is there someone at work who encourages my development?” And question 10 was “Do I have a best friend at work?”

The Great Commandment

Jesus said the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-31 NASB) was first and foremost that we should love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He then continued, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31).

My neighbors have always been people at work. I grew up working. Often my job called me to leave the house at 6:30 in the morning and I would return home between 6 and 6:30 at night. So, my neighbors were always people I worked with. We even joked that during one period in my career, I left and came home in the dark. I felt like Batman. No one ever saw me unless I was in my Batmobile or at the office.

Love can mean a strong sense of affection, or it can mean wishing and working toward whatever is best for someone else. Paul urged the Philippians to consider others more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3 NASB). He went on to cite Jesus as the example (vs. 4-10). Jesus laid aside his position as God and became a human, even a baby, to a poor family in the middle of nowhere. He lived as one of us, yet without sin, for around 30 years before even beginning to talk about his role as our Savior. And then he went on to suffer the shame of death on a cross as a pauper, between two thieves. Even while we were against him, he was for us. Jesus even said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 NASB).

Give Love Away

Jesus set the example for us to love. His kind of love wasn’t a feeling, it was action. Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and Wayne Kirkpatrick wrote a song based on Jesus’ love for us, titled Give It Away. The lyric was, “love, isn’t love, till you give it away.” If you think of love as something pointed toward you, you’re not thinking about the kind of love Jesus lived. His love was pointed toward others. It was designed to be given away. Jesus’ love inspired him to give away everything for the best interests of people who didn’t appreciate him at all.

Questions to Ask

What does it mean to love a neighbor when that neighbor is a coworker? Let’s start with what it means to be a best friend. Do you think of them when they’re not around? Do you actively look for ways to bless them? Do you help them with their work? Do you know their family? Would you recognize their family members or even know their names? Do you know what their hobbies are or what their kids are involved in? Do you appreciate what they appreciate? Do you ever take your time and money and invest it in their lives, their passions and their interests? What do you give away because you appreciate them?

How would you encourage your coworker’s development? What do you do to help your neighbors at work find the energy and courage to take a class, give extra effort, or get ahead in their own career? Do you encourage others to take a chance? Do you know what your coworkers’ value, so you can encourage them to pursue their passions? When your friends have ideas, do you “help” them by pointing out all of the obstacles or questioning their judgement? Or do you help them find ways around obstacles, so they can move toward their goal? Do you help your friends believe they can reach their dreams, or do you help them accept the status quo?

Go Beyond Your Job Description

When I love my neighbors at work, I find ways to go over and above my own job description to work in their eternal best interests. Every time we do something for someone else, without expectation of return, we cooperate with Jesus. He is at work in the lives of everyone we meet, encouraging them to experience eternal life in his kingdom today. Jesus will use our love for others as a tool. He will show us ways to bless and serve others if we actively work toward their good.

And after we love them, we will find we like them, too. When we treasure our relationship with our friends at work, we will find our heart follows. Jesus wasn’t joking when he said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21, NASB). Jesus knows our greatest need. We find love when we give love, and we find life when we give life. Give Jesus’ love to others and increase your joy, in your life and in your work, too!

February 25 – March 1, join Follower of One on their Marketplace Mission Trip. Go to your own workplace every day, pray for your coworkers and join God at work. Learn more and sign up at https://www.followerofone.org/marketplace-mission-trips/marketplace-mission-trip-february-2019/.



The beginning of the new year is traditionally thought of as the perfect time to start fresh and set new goals for the year. But most New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. What if this year, instead of making a resolution that you’ll give up on within a few weeks, you resolve to change how you think? What if you worked to change the physical structure of your brain? It just might help you make long-lasting, positive changes in your life. This year, resolve to go beyond the typical resolution.

Winning the Battle in Your Mind

Most of life’s battles are won or lost in the mind. No matter if your thoughts are positive or negative, your life will always move in the direction of your strongest thoughts. It’s like what Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, once said: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” 

With each thought and decision, we are creating neural pathways in our brains. The more we think the same thoughts and make the same decisions, the deeper our neural pathways get and the stronger those habits become. If you don’t like the direction your thoughts are taking you, there’s good news! You have the power to retrain your brain.

Think about your front lawn. If you walk through the grass, taking the same shortcut to your car every day, eventually you’ll wear a path in the grass. But if you decide to stop walking in the grass and choose to take the sidewalk, over time, it will become your new default. The grass will grow back, and it will become easier and more desirable to continue taking the new path. In the same way, you can change the physical structure of your brain by choosing to think positive thoughts. Neuroscientists call it neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity was substantiated in the 1970s, and there have been numerous scientific studies since then that support the brain’s ability to be rewired. But it wasn’t a radically new concept. The idea also appeared in the Bible. In a letter to the ancient Church in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Regardless of the terminology—rewiring your brain or renewing your mind—scientists and people of faith agree that the practice can help people lead more positive, fulfilling lives. 

How to Retrain Your Brain

The first step in the process of retraining your brain is to commit to doing the work. You can’t learn any new skill or create any new habit overnight. It takes hard work and consistency. On average, it takes at least three weeks to create a new habit, and research shows it may take more than two months for a new behavior to become automatic. Creating new neural pathways will take time, but be encouraged that once you’ve created the new pathway, it becomes easier to stay the course. Promise yourself you’ll make every effort to be consistent.

Next, identify the number one thing holding you back. While it may be tempting to try to tackle multiple areas, you’ll have more success if you choose to focus on just one. Give it some serious thought. Put in the effort to dig below the surface and discover the root of what’s causing you to struggle. For example, your relationship problems, job performance, or poor health may all be caused by low self-esteem, and by changing that one thought pattern, you could see improvements in several areas of your life.

So, what are the negative or empty things you say to yourself over and over? Maybe it’s, “I’m an idiot,” “I’m too busy,” or “There’s never enough.” What are the hurtful things you tell yourself that you’d never say to another person? Maybe something like, “I’m not good enough,” “Because of my past, I don’t deserve anything good,” or “Things will never change. I’ll always struggle with this.” Identify one recurring phrase that keeps you from living a positive life.

Once you know which thought needs to change, replace it with a positive affirmation. If you struggle with feeling inadequate, your positive phrase might be, “I am smart, resourceful, and capable.” And if you’re a Christian, look at what God says about His creation in the Bible and use that as inspiration for your daily declarations. For example, if you’re often worried and afraid, consider what the Apostle Paul shared with Timothy: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Kickstart the renewal of your mind by writing down the positive thought and placing it where you’ll see it regularly—on your mirror, on your desk, or on your phone’s background. When the negative thought enters your mind, proactively pause in the moment to replace it with your positive statement, both in your mind and out loud. Refuse to give voice to the negativity. Only allow yourself to say the positive affirmation aloud. Repeat it as often as you need to so that you believe it.

A Year of Cultivating Consistency

Knowing that you can change the trajectory of your life by changing your thought patterns, focus your resolutions on addressing that number one area holding you back. Ensure your life looks different one year from now by following these tips: 

Start with 1-2 small, specific actions. 

Choose something so small that you can’t help but succeed. If you want to be healthier and have more self-confidence, try cutting out just one guilty pleasure food item from your diet instead of every unhealthy food all at once. If you want to learn a new skill, resolve to read one professional development article per week instead of setting the goal to be an expert by the end of the year. If you conquer your small resolutions, you can always add more mid-year. You just don’t want to bite off more than you can chew and end up discouraged in a matter of weeks.

Plan to be consistent.

Set yourself up for success by scheduling time to make progress with your resolution. Leave yourself reminders so you can’t forget, and give yourself a deadline so you don’t put it off. Make it part of your weekly or even daily routine. Something for you to remember is that successful people do consistently what normal people do occasionally. 

Keep training your mind toward truth.

As the year continues, you’re bound to hit some speed bumps or even the occasional roadblock. Don’t allow the lies that have held you down in the past to resurface and distract or discourage you. Continue repeating your positive affirmations, even developing new affirmations to combat new negative thoughts as they arise. You might consider hiding encouraging notes around the house that you’ll find throughout the year or giving them to friends who’ll mail one to you when they feel prompted. Find the method that works best for you, and hold on to the truth. Renew your mind by writing it, thinking it, and speaking it until you believe it.

Know your triggers and prepare your response. 

We all have weak spots, especially when trying to change a well-established habit. Do your best to identify the things that could derail, distract, or discourage you before you begin. Draw up a battle plan that will help you fight against your natural inclinations until you’re able to rewire your brain to follow the new neural pathway. If you can identify the things that may trigger you to respond negatively and decide in advance how you will respond with positivity, you’ll be more likely to succeed in the moment. 

Give yourself grace.

Perfection is not a realistic expectation. When you get derailed, be kind to yourself. Don’t let it give you an excuse to give up, but don’t be too hard on yourself either. What’s incredible about grace is there’s always enough. That’s something God made sure of. So, pause to consider what went wrong, make adjustments, and start again.

Find accountability.

You don’t have to tell everybody what you’re struggling with, but you should find a small group of trusted friends with whom you can share. Choose people you can be honest with and feel safe around. Be sure they will not just agree with you at every turn but will challenge you when you need it. You should also try to surround yourself with people who are succeeding in the areas you want to grow in. It will be difficult to learn about patience from impatient people or humility from the prideful. And if you want to grow in faith, add someone to your inner circle whose faith is strong. Surrounding yourself with a solid support system can be the thing that tips the balance in your favor.

Find your source of strength.

Determine what motivates you, and keep your eyes fixed on it. Maybe you have children who you want to set a good example for, or maybe you’re determined to outlive the age at which your parents died. If you’re a Christian, you’re motivated by your relationship with Jesus and your desire to be more like Him. Whatever inspires you to be better, keep it top of mind and don’t lose sight of it.

So many people feel “stuck” in today’s world, like they’re going nowhere fast. But there is hope for a better tomorrow. We have the ability to press into the uncomfortable and make changes that will have a lasting impact in our lives and in the lives of future generations. 

While his people were exiled from their homeland, the prophet Zechariah said, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10). Be encouraged by this passage, and today, take your first, small step toward the future you want. 

To get started with ideas for creating your own positive affirmations, visit www.life.church/declarations. 


Resources:

“Mastermind” Sermon Series by Craig Groeschel, Life.Church

Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind by Joyce Meyer

Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health by Caroline Leaf

By Ingrid B. Skarstad Williams

Banners emblazoned the church entrance: Life 2.0 — a new ministry series. The simple title sparked my expectation! Being a big of a girl geek, I liked the 2.0 reference. Web 2.0 was a big deal then! The Internet had transformed from static information to an interactive explosion of possibilities. My life was on the cusp of such a transformation as well. 

Messages shared here were always markers of God’s kindness. His love repeatedly reached me with words from a loving pastor that laser-beamed into my bruised life. And yet this one felt different—even more powerful, as if hope within had already awakened to it. Maybe it was because I no longer held God at arm’s length? Maybe it was because I was already anticipating change now that my life was actively being renovated—this time with God’s blueprint? Or maybe it was because . . .

I interrupted my own thoughts to greet the pastor, “I’m excited about the new series!” His eyes danced as he asked, “Did you recognize it?” I paused to think. He prompted, “The title?” My puzzled look spurred him on, “You inspired it! Life 2.0!” Still blank, I laughed, “I did?” He referenced a conversation where I used the phrase “Life 2.0” and it stuck—at least in his mind. I had completely forgotten! 

Months prior, my fiancé and I sought out yet another round of counsel. We shared a deep love, but had trouble moving from engagement to marriage. The first round of many followed a series on marriage in which he made an offer: any couples living together could “make it official” and be married at the end of the month, just schedule an appointment. We did, and it shocked our pastor! When we arrived, he closed the door and laughed as he shared his surprise. He thought we were already married! We had been attending the church together for many years. Both of us were professionals in key positions, so he assumed our differing last names were on trend with career decisions—especially for second marriages. Besides, we just seemed married.

In our hearts, we probably were. The first wedding we planned ended up being premature, so our pre-paid getaway was more of a secret vacation with unofficial vows witnessed by the bed and breakfast officiant in their chapel in the woods. Our intention was to make those vows official as soon as we could.

Intentions. In retrospect, the word makes my spine shiver. We had banked on intentions for years. As a result, our lives were envious on the outside but embarrassing messes behind the scenes. Since we were “living in sin” anyway, we opened the door to more sin, always thinking we would make everything right later—when we were married. In the meantime, we kept silent. For me the silence meant no real friendships, no involvement at church, just “safe” places where my personal life wouldn’t come into question.

Whenever my desire rose up strong to reconcile my ways with God’s ways, I would pacify it with, “It’s temporary. One day . . .” Any number of fill-in-the-blank sentences would follow. “When _____ happens, we can finally _____. As soon as _____ is over, we can talk about _____. And when my kids _____, it will be easier to _____.” True to the nature of blanks, most of those sentences remained empty. My faux optimism was a cover-up for the true repentance I needed. 

We landed in our pastor’s office more than once. We would make progress, then stall. Finally the time for a turn-around decision came. I could no longer soothe myself into a rosy future. I needed to make things right with God—either with my fiancé-turned-husband or on my own. When we met with our pastor for the last time, it had become clear that the hurdle my fiancé couldn’t clear was fear he could not be a father to my kids and we would be driven apart.

The kindness of my pastor still brings tears as I remember that session. With wisdom and compassion, he helped us plan our break up. We still loved one another deeply. We were not angry. The plan even had room for getting back together. But we never did reunite. Instead we navigated through the pain of dissolving bonds our eight-year friendship and romance had built.

At first I found the reconciliation with God exhilarating. It outweighed grief. It energized transitions. Life-altering change on a massive scale wasn’t new, but it previously was not brought on by choice. Years earlier, my former husband and ministry partner of thirteen years was discovered to be a pedophile. It rocked every fiber of the life I thought I knew. I became a single parent, and due to the nature of the discovery, my children became “fatherless” for quite some time. We made hard decisions. We got help. We moved forward. 

But this time? I initiated my own recalibration. Nothing was left untouched. I had embarked upon Life 2.0 with my youngest child under my wing and God by my side. I didn’t know we would encounter more strenuous challenges than we faced before, but I did know that being right with God was more valuable than anything—and I was right. Did I make mistakes? Of course. I made some doozies! But I came through on the other side. Now I am in a place of restoration. Dreams I didn’t even know I had are coming to life. Peace is a daily pleasure. And this adventure with God is one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Switching Gears

What does this mean for you, dear reader? You may be thinking, “Who cares!” Believe me, I’ve already thought of that. If you’ve read this far, I’ve already agonized over what your thoughts may be. So let me switch gears and speak directly to you for a moment. 

Do you have God on pause? Do you hold Him at arm’s length in some areas? Are you already facing overwhelming circumstances? You may need your own Life 2.0 renovation! Maybe things are pretty steady, but you could have Career 2.0 or Parent 2.0 on the horizon. I’m here to encourage you to take the plunge—now. Yes, now! 

Here are four simple things you can do today, the same anchors that held me through extreme change and help me thrive in Life 2.0: 

Pay attention. There was a time I wasn’t so sure I could hear God’s voice. I decided to practice on myself by paying attention to my own inner self. I was stunned! God was in me to a much greater degree than I had imagined. I just needed to be aware. 

Follow peace. God leads with peace. Even when chaos surrounds you, in your heart there will be peace as you make decisions and move forward. Follow it! 

Trust God. I have reasoned my way into trouble—sometimes thinking I was doing the right thing! If I had recognized God’s nudges, I could have avoided tragedies. 

Stay humble. This is packed with several elements. Repent quickly. Forgive often. Be full of grace and mercy—not just for yourself, but for others too.

Prayers

I leave you, dear reader, with my prayers. If you have stuck with me to the end, know that I have prayed Proverbs 3:5–10 for you. May you find the 2.0s in every area of your life where you crave change. 

Proverbs 3:5–10 (TPT)

5 Trust in the Lord completely, and do not rely on your own opinions. With all your heart rely on him to guide you, and he will lead you in every decision you make.

6 Become intimate with him in whatever you do, and he will lead you wherever you go. Don’t think for a moment that you know it all,

7 for wisdom comes when you adore him with undivided
devotion and avoid everything that’s wrong.

8 Then you will find the healing refreshment your body and spirit long for.

9 Glorify God with all your wealth, honoring him with your very best, with every increase that comes to you.

10 Then every dimension of your life will overflow with blessings from an uncontainable source of inner joy!

Written by Mike Henry. Follower of One.

New Mindset

Jesus challenged us to think differently about every aspect of our lives. If someone asks for our garment, we should give our outer coat also. If someone asks us to go one mile, we should go two (Matthew 5:40-41). These are just 2 examples where Jesus instructed us to consider others more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Jesus challenges us to give our lives away (Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24). 

But our default mindset or operating system is “Me first!” Our sin nature places us – and not God – in the center of the universe. We feed and clothe ourselves. We take care of ourselves. We choose for ourselves how we spend our time and our money, what attracts our attention, even how we work and live. We are the king of our own lives. We work exercise control over our life and our stuff. We want our rights and our privacy, and we don’t want to lose them. 

To follow Jesus and join his kingdom, we must renew our minds. But how can we reprogram our minds when we work every day in a secular job? Jesus has a new role for us. As we give him our mind, he will give us a new ministry.

New Ministry

The Greek word “diakoneo” and its variants are most often translated “minister” or “ministry.” But sometimes they are translated by the words “servant” and “service.” We get our word, “deacon” from it. When Jesus said that he didn’t come to be served but to serve, he used this word (Mark 10:45). When the apostles first decided to appoint deacons, it was because they didn’t want to “serve tables” (Acts 6:2) but rather they would devote themselves to “ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Both “serve” and “ministry” only two verses apart are from the same Greek root word.

A minister isn’t someone who works for a church. A minister is anyone who follows Jesus. Jesus expects us to minister to others according to the example he gave us. 

We minister to anyone we meet. Our job as a minister doesn’t necessarily call us to another area of the world or to a different culture. We don’t have to quit our jobs to become a minister. We can minister right where we are. Ministry is the work of serving others, so they might see and trust Jesus and glorify God. When we minister, we join Jesus in his work. 

Full-Time Ministry

You are a full-time minister. We can minister in any job or any role in society. Are you a student? Minster to your peers. Are you an employee? Minister to your boss, your team, even your customers. A manager? Add the people you supervise to your “ministry.” Are you a parent? Whether you stay at home or work elsewhere, your children, and their friends are part of your ministry. Do you shop at the grocery, or buy food? Pray for the person who serves you. Talk to them. Find ways to appreciate and serve them. 

Every day we meet dozens of people. In each meeting, we can help others move toward Jesus or away from him. Jesus works through his followers. When we follow Jesus, we serve people, so they might draw near to Jesus. Even if our friends and coworkers already know Jesus, we can all follow him better. Anyone can draw a little nearer (James 4:8). Therefore, as we follow Jesus, we minister to anyone and everyone we meet.

When Paul said we should pray without ceasing,
(1 Thessalonians 5:17) he gave every follower of Jesus a full-time ministry. Our ministry takes place while we battle our flesh and our own operating system in a world designed to distract us from our relationship with God. In our workplaces, we’re tempted to work for a different goal. Maybe it’s profit, or success, or the approval of others. Jesus reminds us of his goal for us when we pray. As we pray without ceasing, we establish Jesus’ kingdom in our daily environment. Through full-time prayer, we put ourselves in a position to join God as he makes Jesus visible in our world. Our prayers tell God we’re available to do his work and we’re
interested in his people.

Experiment

This month, each morning, pray for the people who office near you or the people you work with, even remote coworkers. Pray for your coffee barista or your boss. Ask God to show you what he would have you do to serve and bless that person. And look for tangible actions. Don’t tell someone you’ll pray for them – pray. Find a way to take your thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and give those thoughts to Jesus. 

Then, let us know what happens. Jesus will give you ideas about how to serve others. When you get an idea, do it! Take a chance and see what Jesus causes to happen in your new workplace ministry. He will give you a ministry mindset and put you to work.


My son is a Junior at Regent Preparatory here in Tulsa. We have several customers from the school the come to us just because they have known our family for many years.  As often as I can, I encourage those parents to send their new driver to us to get used to going to the shop – by themselves.  It’s a critical step in being a new auto owner.

For that matter, it’s critical for an old auto owner. Auto care can be completely intimidating.  It’s true. So much so, that many just don’t do it. Many people fear being sold something they don’t need or having the shop speak so much automotive jargon that they just say “Go ahead” to prevent admitting they know little about their car.  

At Christian Brothers Automotive, we believe part of our job is education.  We want to show you what is going on, not just tell you.  We will bring you back to the bays or send you a digital report of everything we see going on with your car.  For every customer, we want to be worthy of the name on our buildings, because Christian means something to us when it comes to our level of integrity and care.  

Each location is an independently owned franchise started in 1982 Houston, TX.  The founders were two men who met in a Bible study.  They created a mission to provide honest and fair car repair in a way that honors the name of Christ.

Regardless of where you choose to go, the best thing you can do to prepare to go to a shop is to know your maintenance history.  

– Russ Knight, Owner 

Christian Brothers Automotive, Tulsa Hills

(918) 289-0636, www.Cbac.com/Tulsa-hills 

FREE STUDENT CAR CARE CLINIC:

January 26th 10-12

Christian Brothers Automotive

Tulsa Hills, 7163 S Olympia Avenue, Tulsa, OK 74132


By Randy C. Cowell, ACT Financial

Now that I have your attention, let’s start by shedding light on the grim future of taxation in America.  

Hop in the De Lorean and let’s go to 1980.  Seymore Durst, a New York Real Estate magnate, did a few infamous things pointing to our rising national debt. Frustrated politicians were unwilling to take action, in 1989 he built a National Debt Clock near Times Square trying to jolt the country to action.  Still ticking 30 years later, the National debt eclipsed the 21 trillion-dollar mark.  That’s a 21 followed by twelve zeros! 

Hop back in and let’s stop in 2004.  Allow me to introduce you to David M. Walker.  Walker served under Bush 41 as one of two trustees for Social Security and Medicare. He also was the Comptroller General and CEO of the Government Accountability office under Clinton.  In other words, he was the CPA of the USA under two presidents from opposite sides of the political tracks, noted as a well-respected nonpartisan and apolitical public servant.  

Armed with statistics and the fact that the first of 78 million baby boomers would be ready to tap into Social Security in a few years, Walker sounded the alarm where he could.  For Walker, the writing was on the wall. In 2005, with the assistance of several financial heavy weights, such as, Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker, they began crisscrossing our nation on a campaign called the “Fiscal Wake-up” tour.  Their mantra: “Taxes could and most likely will have to double in the future to keep our country solvent.”  In 2008, David Walker resigned from public service to continue his crusade.  In 2010, he wrote Comeback America-Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility.  It’s an easy read and you won’t want to put it down. 

Now that everyone is in a good mood, let’s jolt our baffled selves back to 2019, where we can discuss some strategies to potentially buffer/insulate you and your family from the oncoming taxation freight train headed our way.

Provisional Income 

Not familiar with the term?  Don’t feel bad. Most Americans do not understand how the Internal Revenue Service uses provisional income to calculate the taxation on their Social Security income. What is considered provisional income?  All 1099 income and all ordinary income. That’s code-speak for pretty much everything not “qualified.”  In addition to that, income is anything from your pension and any withdrawals from your retirement plans. 

So, if you don’t want to pay taxes AND you don’t want 85% of your Social Security benefit to be taxed, what can you do now to get to a lower, dare I say it, maybe even a zero tax bracket?  I believe the first step is recognizing what a truly tax-free investment* looks like.  

Here are the four rules that must be met to truly qualify for tax free status: 

  • It must not be taxable at the Federal level.
  • It must not be taxable at the state level
  • There cannot be capital gains taxation associated with distributions 
  • Income from the investment CANNOT be included as provisional income. 

Even a municipal bond, if purchased out of state, can fail three out of four requirements.  Would it surprise you to know there are only two truly tax-free investments?*  

Roth IRA’s** and specially designed life insurance***.  Whether it is a muni bond, mutual fund, rental property, or the thousands of other investments* available, these four rules must apply to qualify as a truly tax-free investment*.  

  •  If David Walker is right and tax rates must double in the future to pay for our debt and all the unfunded entitlements, how prepared are you and your portfolio to weather that storm? 
  • Knowing that unless congress changes things, at the exact stroke of midnight, January 1, 2026, tax rates are going up– are you going to take advantage?  (i.e. taxes are on sale for the next 8 years)
  • If you could receive your Social Security tax free and perhaps your qualified retirement income tax free, would that be a conversation worth having?  

The concepts and strategies mentioned in this article are guidelines and it is always recommended that the reader(s) seek wise legal, accounting, and investment advice.  It goes without saying that the tax code we are dealing with today could change.  True, but there is a history of legislative changes that over the years have “grandfathered” certain investment products.  Life insurance is one of those investments that historically has been grandfathered.   

Future tax code changes are inevitable.  The treatment of products and the applications surrounding them are subject to legislative change. Until these things change, wise strategic planning is a necessity.

For additional information on how to get to the 0% tax bracket in retirement, please call our office at (918) 664-0081. 


RANDY C. COWELL, MS, LUTCF, CFP®, CRPC®, ACT FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC.

Randy is President and Senior Strategist of ACT Financial Services, Inc in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He is a Certified Financial Planner®, Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor®, Investment Advisor Representative of HTK, Inc. and recognized as a Fellow by the Underwriters Training Council (LUTCF).  His expertise combined with a unique “Biblically-based” philosophy, has served his clients well for over three decades.  Randy can be reached at (918) 664-0081 or by email at rcowell@htk.com.


 *“Investment” as used in this article is a blanket term for any vehicle in which you can save money.  Examples would be saving accounts, life insurance, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.  You get the idea.  

**There are income restrictions that could prevent one from participating in a Roth IRA.  There are strategies that could be implemented to take advantage of the Roth and Roth conversion so speak to your financial adviser, tax adviser, and group benefits coordinator about whether you qualify for a Roth IRA or Roth rollover. 

***Life insurance that is characterized as a Modified Endowment contract does not receive the same tax treatment as a Non-MEC version.  Please consult your tax adviser for further details on Modified Endowment life insurance.  Registered Representative of and Securities and Investment Advisory Services offered through Hornor, Townsend & Kent, Inc. (HTK), Registered Investment Advisor, member FINRA/SIPC, 4111 S. Darlington Ave., Suite 800, Tulsa, OK 74135, (918) 664-6511. ACT Financial Services, Inc. is unaffiliated with Hornor, Townsend, & Kent, Inc. HTK does not provide tax or legal advice.  2247317RM-Sep20

Maintenance on an AC/heating unit isn’t fun. In fact, it’s so fun that it’s rarely done. We live in an era where we just expect units to keep our homes at the right temperature for comfort. They’re just supposed to always work. We’ve even invented thermostats that can help us control the temperature when we’re sleeping or not in the home with timers, smart phones and even the dreaded Alexa. (Don’t get me started on her! She’s the only one in our family who gets directions upwards of 8-10x and still gets them wrong).

Having a mid-90’s home we bought and started renovating in 2017, the last thing we wanted to spend more money on was heating and cooling. The units MIGHT be original (don’t judge us!). With the warranty negotiated with the purchase of the home, we cycled into keeping the warranty hoping the units fail and we can upgrade the new ones. Last year, I called the warranty company over 6 times due to temperature issues. I waited 3-7 days each time for my turn. One time included a very expensive leak that spotted my ceiling in two places and caused me to hire a sheetrock guy and a painter.

The warranty company claimed our water was from a leaky roof. Came and went. Nope. For a week, my daughter and I slept upstairs, as my husband was in Colorado hunting. The warranty company’s repair team then shut down the same week for vacation. I’m sorry. What? And, believe it or not, the other A/C upstairs started dripping water from the vent. The only saving grace was the vent being above the toilet (and us sleeping upstairs of course,  as I rarely have cause to go in that guest room bath). All this with my hubby only accessible via satellite texts? Really? Oh come on.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I called Air Solutions.  They pulled in with the cute green mobile unit (I know, but it is cute—I’m sure you’ve seen it). Anyway, turns out the unit WAS leaking. It was fixed the next day after the call. Hunt away hubby! Mamma’s got this. Finally, in a home with not one, not two, but 3 air conditioner units, my dearest daughter and I could enjoy some modern comfort of cool air!

I’ve used Air Solutions dozens of times in my dire emergencies—once at Grand Lake in 2017 (they do go that far!) when our vacation rental property was quickly losing wonderful summer cash waiting on the warranty company.  Sometimes you just can’t take it anymore, warranty or not.

When we bought the magazine, they were the first company I called to support us as the advertisers, as I wanted a good excuse to share my own experiences. See, they don’t know it, but the incident above with my daughter transpired at the exact time we were praying about purchasing the magazine. My mind was a wee bit stressed thinking about the financial burden, while also feeling called to help impact this city for Christ. My daughter was missing her daddy, uncomfortable, not sleeping well AND not liking her new school. (Lights dimmed for lunch. No talking. For 3 year olds? Really? I digress). We all know how much we grow to depend on the hubs to just take care of things, especially the things we take for granted like our heating/cooling system. Air Solutions played a big hero part in that story. They cleared the way, helped me clear my head, and God used them to help me breathe again (much cooler air I might add!). The half dollar satellite texts to my hubby got to stay focused on discussing this potential calling. Now, here we are!

Next time I’ll share about their home plans to help save you from my kinds of stressful messes!

Air Solutions

918-288-0305

www.callairsolutions.com

It’s a specialty we are becoming more familiar with by the day.

Migraine headaches, a more common neurological condition, can undermine your ability to function.  Alzheimer’s and dementia have touched most of our families in some way by now, tearing away precious memories and sound minds needed to even do daily life. Seizures. Multiple Sclerosis (MS). ALS.  The list goes on. The problem with all of these diseases, aside from their caustic nature, becomes specialized treatments to understand the root cause.  So many neurological symptoms can mirror other diseases, which can make them seem impossible to treat.  Plus, the lack of knowing where to go to really get someone who will actually listen can be debilitating in its own right.  Until you’ve experienced a life altering neurological set of symptoms, you don’t really understand.  However, once you do—you’re ready to talk with someone who will listen.

Enter Dr. Jorge Gonzalez, neurologist, who integrates his faith with his medicine, bringing a full realm of complete care. He’s a neurological specialist in Tulsa, who recently left his other practice to open his own facility with a different kind of care.  Patients express such appreciation for Dr. Gonzalez. They explain his level of attention has been unmatched in their experience.  CSM recently spoke with Charles Samuel, a migraine sufferer and patient, to better understand some of those differences.  Charles is a kind-hearted retired policeman and security in Jenks/ORU, former SWAT EMT from Atlanta, and a man dedicated to his walk with God.  Charles suffered migraines until he couldn’t bear it any further. He found Dr. G many years ago and has followed him ever since.

“Initially, several years ago, my primary care physician recommended Dr. G for migraines I was having. That was our initial contact. He’s such a thorough physician. He just paid such close attention to small details, for which I’m grateful, because I’m a complicated patient. I’ve had over 12 surgeries. So, whenever he left to go on his own, I followed him.  I went and got my records and there I went. Just because I love what he does. I mean, while treating me, he also prayed for me.  Took it to a new level really.  I learned at ORU that the trinity of us, our body, mind, and spirit—it all works together.  It really is a blessing to have such a highly trained physician to be there for you. He cares not for your business but truly cares for you as a person.”

Charles said, “Dr. G really pushes for the etiology or the causation of your neurological issues. There were some major issues he discovered with me that could’ve caused serious problems later. He pushed me on my history and I found some genetic links to my migraines.   I was just so impressed the first time he sat with me. He actually talked with me. Then he said ‘Ok. We’re going to check everything. Let’s do a full neurological assessment.’  I was losing my balance. The test revealed a small autoimmune situation going on. He was able to put me on steroids and I haven’t had issues with it since!” He said, “As a patient, I also felt better that we had time to talk. There are no beepers. No rush. Once he’s there he is there 100%. He’s listening to his patients with sincerity. Not half listening. Not half paying attention.” 

Charles explained further, “It’s a complicated system now to get care.  Dr. G decided despite that system, I’ll still give my patient this high-end service. You can’t beat that.  I’ve even received personal calls from him checking on me. To get that type of call from a gifted neurologist, much less any physician…I mean, he’s taking the time to call me to see how I’m doing. He did that himself.”  It was easy to tell Dr. G’s thorough care touched Charles’ life. More than that though, Charles explained “Besides his scientific and medical wisdom, his faith is paramount in his life and it just ups the care you can receive from him. All this just adds up to a really good guy, a good neurologist, and a good man of God. I believe his faith guides him.  It’s a blessing to me to have a physician like him.  To have a doc you can say ‘Can you pray for me on that?’ it just matters to me and I think it improves the care he gives me.” 

Dr. G operates a concierge neurology practice off of 68th and Yale. He’s also launching 3 new research studies for migraine sufferers, Alzheimer’s/dementia, and seizures in 2019.  If you or someone you love suffers from any of these afflictions and want to be part of the study, just reach out at research@tulsaneurospecialists.com. The hope is the research studies can facilitate getting proper treatments to patients more quickly as they partner with some of the best in the business.

Jorge A. Gonzalez, MD

5010 E. 68th St. Suite 102 Tulsa, OK

918-236-5881

www.tulsaneurospecialists.com