Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

Don’t just build the nest egg. Fly!

I was braced for a scolding. I was going to see my certified financial planner after several years since our last appointment. Bless me CFP, it’s been four years since my last assessment. My savings was depleted from a couple of fabulous trips. I thought about my dining room table and couch. Why had I bought that stuff instead of sinking more money into my pension? But instead of shaking his finger at me, my CFP gave me three questions as homework. 

The first question was, How would you live your life if you had enough money to take care of your needs now and in the future? This wasn’t a new question. I think about it a lot, usually on a dreary Illinois day when I’m dealing with a boring part of my work or a bitchy person at church. It’s the escape hatch. If I didn’t have to make money I would… and I’m off imagining a very different life.

The last question was, If your doctor told you that you had a day left to live, how would you feel? What did you not get to do or be? I was surprised by a sense of gratitude and satisfaction. I’ve had a pretty good life. Sure, I wished I’d written the great American novel (or any novel) but I’ve done good work as a pastor. I’d have liked to have been in a deep, love relationship, but I’ve had good friends. I did wish I’d been to Tierra del Fuego at the bottom of South America. There’s a trek there I’d like to do. I wished I’d known my nephews longer. There are things I regret and disappointments I carry, but I have room in myself to accept my life’s imperfections.

It is the middle question still sticks with me: Your doctor tells you have only 5 to 10 years left to live. You won’t ever feel sick, and you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do with the time you have left?

I knew immediately I’d figure out how to begin living the dream I’d imagined with the first question. I’d move someplace beautiful. I’d write more. I’d spend time with people I care about and sluff off those I don’t. There are conversations I need to have, apologies made, forgiveness extended. I’d go to Tierra del Fuego and visit my nephews.

could be living the last five to ten years of life. You don’t get to be 52 years old and have over 20 years in local church ministry without having seen lives cut short and dreams dashed. What makes me think I’m guaranteed another 30 years, exempt from the disasters that befall others in middle age? 

If I would hypothetically change my life if told I had only five to ten years left to live, why am I not changing my life now? As I left my follow-up appointment, my CFP told me to go ahead and plan that trip to the bottom of the world, even if it means putting less in my pension. I’ve been in more touch with my three nephews and am working toward writing every day.

 Life isn’t hypothetical. It’s real. It’s now. And you only get one. 


  1. Darrow Woods

    Dear Melissa;
    Your post is so very much in tune with my thinking of late. My wife has taken early retirement, and I have opted to keep working, at least while our kids complete their under-grad degrees.
    I look at the (small) pile of money we have accumulated, and two internal voices speak. One says, “Tend it carefully, try to make it grow. You never know…” The other voice says, ” Spend some. See some things. Go places. Make more memories. You never know…”
    The wisdom of the second voice is why Joel and I were able to visit with you in Reykavijk. (What a lovely sentence to be able to write!)
    It sounds like you have the right sort of financial advisor!

    • Melissa

      Darrow, it’s tricky, isn’t it? Figuring out how to be prepared for the future and live in the present.

  2. Gretchen B. Boyer

    I just listened to a song by Nat Zegree ( ) He wrote a song called Grateful – and a repeated line is “and I’ll never rest until the best of me is shared with all of the world.” He has a lot of inspiring lyrics (Amazon: You can Fly more than you Fall) but that phrase about sharing the best of me with all of the world resonated – I could share more – I find you inspiring in that way, Melissa. Your platform and your loving careful choice of words is a gift that you share with whoever chooses to attend. You and Nat both inspire me to be the best version of myself I can muster. Happy Birthday Early! (Tee Hee – I’m so darn clever!)

    • admin

      What a great line — “I’ll never rest until the best of me is shared with all of the world.” I’ve found that the best of us tends to be where we find the most joy. Thanks for sharing the song.
      thanks for the birthday wishes, Gretchen.

  3. Carol Rich

    Excellent and thought-provoking. Thank you.

    • admin

      Thanks so much, Carol.

  4. Jean Wood

    Melissa, as you know, my financial advisor gave me wonderful advice about whether to continue helping my sister and her family. Her financial problems had been keeping me awake at night. His job is to help me figure out how to have enough money until I am 100. He said I will be OK. I now sleep like a baby.
    She is finally starting to get SSI because of her health problems AND she is seriously dating a retired school principal.
    No one wants to run out of money, but helping the ones you love may give them the ability to make it in life!

    • admin

      There are so many pulls on our finances. I’m so glad your sister is doing better.

  5. Erin P. Gosser

    I’m grateful that we, too, are in a position where we worry and wonder about this. Logan just brought home a project from school about family. It was eye opening how an eight year old shared that his favorite traditions and memories are of traveling with his family. 🙂

    • admin

      I have found that spending money on experiences over stuff is a good way to go. As I continue to put money away from retirement but don’t want to abandon my dreams until them, I’m making intentional decisions about not spending as much on stuff — shopping resale shops for example.

  6. Harry Nicol

    I found this post very interesting. It’s one that I wish I’d written, but, of course, from my context. These two pulls, the one from the unknown future which we need to plan for whether we’ll get there or not, and the other from the now that we want to be as exciting and filled with places and people we love as possible, compete all the time. But add a third: the pull to actually give away some of our resources, just give them away, to do our part to help the world be better somehow. Now we have an even greater dilemma! That the position each of us in in as we consider our discipleship related to generosity and philanthropy. And that’s the position each of our parishioners is in when the church or any other worthy cause comes calling. It’s no wonder the work of encouraging generosity is hart!

    • admin

      It’s been my practice for years to give away at least 10% of my income — before taxes, before I put anything into retirement. I have to confess that there have been days when I wished I had held onto some of that money. But I want my resources to be put to good use. Not only has giving money away been good for the world, but it’s been good for me too. It helps me have a healthy relationship with money.

  7. Kelly OBrien

    Loved reading this. Am oh so overdue for that financial planner meeting as well!! Thank you Melissa!

    • admin

      thanks so much.

  8. Mindy

    Thank you for sharing this experience and your thoughts. Adjusting the lens between big picture security (perceived security) and close up living fully (whatever that personally means) is always challenge for me. Your post leaves me with a lot to ponder.

    • admin

      Thanks, Mindy.

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