Gifts Of A Lifetime

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Listen to “Gifts of a Lifetime” by Fred Smith

 

It’s a familiar scene made even more so by movies and novels: the reading of the last will and testament. The somber family is seated quietly around the table in the law office. The attorney reaches down into his briefcase and pulls out the file. He puts on his glasses, clears his throat and starts slowly reading the wishes of the deceased. Of course, in the back of every mind is the obvious question, “How much did he leave me?” It’s not unnatural or even greedy. It’s pretty normal behavior. Everyone has some vague notion or hope, and then the attorney says, “Your father left a sprinkling trust” and closes the file.

What in the world is a “sprinkling trust?” Whoever heard of such a thing? What does that mean for all of us?

Well, as many attorneys and financial professionals reading this know, a sprinkling trust is an instrument that allows the trustee of the estate to have broad latitude in how the assets of the estate are gifted. They have the power to decide how funds will be distributed to inheritors.

Instead of a lump sum settlement, this trust allows the trustee to use their discretion about when inheritors are most ready to receive funds or when there is a special need. They can either set up a fixed schedule of gifts based on age or simply use their judgment about when to make the gifts.

I’ve been thinking a good deal about how the image of “heir” and “inheritor” is used in Scripture. Many of us have in our minds the lump sum image, I believe. Male heirs in the Old Testament received the entire estate when their father died. It was not parceled out to them. It was pretty much a zero sum game. All or nothing at all.

However, as I have thought about my life and others, it has been more like a sprinkling trust than a lump sum. It has been layers of disbursements over time.

When I was young God gave me experiences of travel and adventure that have been the platform for much of what I have done later in life. It was not only the adventure but the realization that taking the opportunities to be with diverse people and endure discomfort was a gift. While my parents likely did not consider my hitchhiking across the country as a gift, I now do. Yes, times were different then and I would not recommend it to anyone but, still, it became the well from which I’ve drawn many stories.

In my mid-30s, I had the gift of challenging work in sometimes difficult circumstances. Looking back now I can see that hardship and exposure to conflict was a gift.

In my mid-40s, it was the gift of being encouraged to build a network of relationships and exposure to people, ideas, and organizations that I could never have done on my own or when I was younger. For that, I am grateful to Bob Buford.

In my 50s and early 60s, it was international travel and connecting the dots through the growth of The Gathering.

Now, in my 70’s it is what Erik Erikson coined “the period of generativity” or John Gardner wrote about as the challenge of self-renewal. What is the best use of the gifts that have been decades in accumulating?

I could not have received these as a “lump sum.” They had to be distributed in layers gradually over the course of my life. It’s not that I necessarily would have misspent or squandered them. I simply would not have known how to invest, benefit from, and use them all at once.

Maybe the same is true in your life? Things have come in stages and God’s “sprinkling trust” over years has not only made it possible for you to grow but each gift has prepared you for the next.

It’s easy – but mistaken – to assume at this stage of my life that all the gifts have been distributed by now and the challenge is simply to conserve and protect. No, there is always a future gift. The next gift doesn’t require making a radical change or going in a different direction. It only means I am thinking about how all these gifts along the way have prepared me for what lies ahead. It means being grateful for God’s wisdom in sprinkling these gifts over an entire lifetime.

Art by Diana Durr

You can purchase “Where The Light Divides” here.

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Showing 18 comments
  • Avatar
    Sam Griffith
    Reply

    Fred,
    An excellent reminder that life is a long marathon towards achieving GOD’s great plans for each of us. Life is not a sprint to wealth and then leisurely retirement.
    But the image of GOD sprinkling HIS blessings (often in the form of opportunities for service) to us as we grow and mature is a delight. We sometimes forget that at each stage of life, GOD has plans for us. Even Caleb, in his eighties, asked Joshua to give him the “high hills” to take, the most difficult part of the fulfillment of GOD’s gift of His Promised Land to HIS people.
    At any age, we are called to “contend for the Faith.” Jude v 3.
    And during this pandemic, our service in prayer, in service to family, and when the isolation ends, restoring America to Christianity.
    We were called to the Kingdom for such a time ad this. Esther 4:14.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Sam. I am hoping to live up to Caleb’s example (and yours) when I get there!

  • Avatar
    David Spence
    Reply

    Oh, how true, Fred. And the trustee of our sprinkling trust has infinite wisdom, sees the future, and has perfect plans for our welfare and not for evil…. The corpus is inexhaustible. We are never without a future and a hope. How marvelous!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      This is a wonderful response, David! Thank you.

      • Avatar
        Claire Adare
        Reply

        Thank you! I just celebrated my 75th birthday on the 20th and as Sam Griffith pointed out, I want to like Caleb and ask for the “high hills.”

        • Fred Smith
          Fred Smith
          Reply

          I wonder if there are giants we can conquer at 80 that we could not have at 40? Are the giants the same or different?

  • Avatar
    Brad Layland
    Reply

    Fred,

    I talk to many donors about their legacy and their giving after they are gone and the concept of a “Sprinkled Trust” is one I often recommend. Applying this to the concept of how God gives us “gifts” to use to build his Kingdom over time is a practical and refreshing way of understanding the journey we are all on. Thanks for sharing.

    Brad

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Brad. I appreciate the encouragement.

  • Avatar
    David Galloway
    Reply

    Good image of a sprinkling trust. Never heard that before but really applies. You used your life experience to illustrate well.
    Erikson’s life review encourages a look back in the rearview mirror at one’s life. His notion, like that of psychoanalysis, is a mixed bag. If one see’s a sense of cohesion or integrity in one’s life, it yields a sense of hope. However, if that sense of integrity is not there, there is a despair, a deep sense of the loss of meaning. As I talk to folks our age, I ask them to tell me their story, not unlike Marney had them “throw up” their story. It’s fascinating to see the role of interpretation as the meaning maker, homo poeta, finds that certain moments that seemed disastrous turn out to be the greatest gift.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, David. I had not thought about the possibility of looking back and not seeing cohesion. So, yes, if looking back creates despair then that would not be pleasant at all! I spent time yesterday with a friend who teaches people to tell their stories – not their whole life – but a story that illustrates some of the larger themes of their life. What people choose to tell is always interesting. For many people, it is the first time anyone has asked. You and I have too much inventory!

  • Avatar
    John Huffman
    Reply

    Very profound insights Fred. You have helped me reframe my life experience as far as inheritance is concerned. As one whose financial inheritance was very small you have helped me realize the immense fortune I have received in authentic faith, wisdom, love, affirmation and life experience, sometimes quite challenging, from both my father and mother sprinkled over my 80 years and still paying rich dividends years after their passings.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Reframed in that way I do not know anyone with a richer and deeper inheritance, John. You may be the wealthiest person I know.

  • Avatar
    John Sims
    Reply

    Great thoughts, great comments. I believe I’ll find them especially useful as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic. I don’t want to think about how I’d address that if not for my own “sprinkling” — and the sprinklings I continue to share with others.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. You have the right stuff to handle this!

  • Avatar
    Kevin Cusack
    Reply

    Fred – As usual great insight , gifts indeed. Did not realize we shared the experiences of long distance hitchhiking ! Of course it was a more acceptable form of travel in the 60’s and 70’s. As I often said it added a least another 50% adventure to the trip. Having hitched cross country and back twice and thru Mexico once , we need to swap stories next time we are together.
    All the best
    Kevin

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      We can write a book about it and call it “A Hitchhikers’s Guide To The Universe”. Seriously, I would love to hear your stories. It’s a miracle we lived through it.

  • Avatar
    In his name, Gail Berger
    Reply

    Fred, thank you for your beautiful thoughts, They gave a lot of food for thought. I was with royal treasure those number of years that were so exciting for me and we met more than once. I am now writing a book about something called the Blessing House. They are my life stories where God changed me significantly all of which resulted in building It is a 6500 ft.² home on a lake with a creek running by it In a small town called Victoria Minnesota. It is open to whomever God brings to the door and the blessing is simply the home which is filled full of memory and objects of value to me that all tell a story. My goal is to help whoever comes to the door and whoever is going to read this book to regard their homes as the most valuable thing the Lord has given the church. We are scattered into all neighborhoods and people can rub shoulders with the gospel in a home setting-hospitality is the love of the stranger. And in a xenophobic world where we are told to stay away get out this is my own possession I am suggesting that the least used gift to the world are the homes of Christians. I find it amusing that I am writing this at a time when the world is closing doors, but perhaps this is the Very Way, God wants it to be made known. Everything I own is in the home and can go on without me because of a board and I find that great freedom. It is so Countercultural and yet I watch God change lives just by having a home people can come to whenever they want. Everything is locked up including our churches and everyone needs to make an appointment,but this home is always open. Thousands of people have made use of this facility including churches businesses ministries organizations of all kinds families kids teenagers… And the list goes on. I personally want to thank you for your comments that have encouraged me and thank you for all the events that I was able to attend at the gathering which inspired me.In His Name, Gail Berger

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Yes, Gail. Having experienced your home and hospitality I can only encourage you – as long as you have people as welcoming and gracious as you were to us!

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