Jim Bishop: The (Financial) Times, They Are A-Changin’ …

Column by Jim Bishop

It’s rather easy to get caught up in the apprehensive spirit that seems to permeate society these days.

The word on the street is that the rocky economic path we’re traveling will only become strewn with more fiscal casualties.

An economics professor in my church small group said to us just last week, “If you hear someone offer a simple explanation on why our country is in such dire financial straits, exercise caution. The fact is, no one knows exactly why we’re at this painful place and we’re not going to turn the tide with several government bailouts of major lending institutions. Much of this could have been prevented, but it’s happening, and we’re not going to change course overnight.”

While not exactly comforting words, I found them easier to accept from someone whom I know and who speaks from a groundswell of experience.

It doesn’t help that when it comes to understanding financial pictures, my horizontal hold is malfunctioning and images are usually distorted.

The most disheartening thing these days is opening, with trepidation, my quarterly retirement fund statement and seeing sets of parentheses (like these) indicating another net loss; we’re talking thousands of dollars, even though I’m in the “conservative” investment category. The small additional sum that I put in the account every month has been evaporating as well. It’s not easy to watch helplessly as that nest egg starts to crack.

I’m thankful that my employer provides a retirement pension, which slowly but surely has started to amount to something after laboring at the same place for many years. But, something else always came along that has kept us from putting money into other investments that hopefully will once day provide supplementary income to the woefully inadequate amount that Social Security kicks in (if indeed that program doesn’t kick the bucket in the near future).

When the announcement came some time ago that Uncle Sam would be sending every happy taxpayer an “economic stimulus check” in the mail, I said I’d believe it when it actually arrived in my mailbox. We waited, and waited some more, and one glad morning when it did come – forgive my skepticism – I wondered if it might bounce.

It didn’t, but turns out most of the $1,200 went to pay bills, to keep our two vehicles on the road with gas at $4 a gallon and to cover an unexpected major car repair. The wide screen, high-definition TV will have to wait.

In one of those serendipitous sidewalk conversations with an acquaintance a bit older than I, we talked openly about our respective situations and concluded that despite these perilous times, we have much to be thankful for and need to keep that reality in sharp focus.

I was reminded how fortunate I am to seldom be sick, am able to leap small molehills with a single bound and remain gainfully employed with a regular paycheck and experience better living through chemistry. I pray for continued physical and mental well being so that when retirement does come I may be able to pursue some endeavors that heretofore have eluded me. This will likely include some part-time, income-producing work, hopefully in radio and freelance writing.

I take some comfort in knowing that my wife and I aren’t facing these ominous times alone. We can draw strength from each other, from our family and friends, from our congregation – which is counting on us to keep dropping shekels in the offering plate for a host of worthy needs – and on faith in a God who promises to never leave us or forsake us.

Wall Street and my wallet may be taking a beating – I sure don’t comprehend what’s going on at either site – but like a trusty Timex watch that takes a licking, I determine to keep on ticking.

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