I wrote several months ago about how my period of homelessness helped me be grateful for everything. And I mean everything. For the most part, there is little in my life that gets me down for very long, at least where possessions or my situation are concerned. I have a small townhome that I rent. I used to own a beautiful little ranch house on five acres in Tennessee but that was gone after the collapse of the mortgage industry. I miss that house, sometimes to the point that I shed tears. It was my home.
But I also spent almost six years living in my car after that collapse. I was in my mid- forties. I could not find work and I could not leave Nashville, where I lived, because my daughter needed me.
When you’ve had nothing, truly nothing, you appreciate everything. Zig Ziglar used to say, “If you aren’t thankful for what you have, it won’t be long before you find you have nothing to be thankful for.”
Speaking of Zig…
He’s the real reason I’m writing this today.
In 2011 I was three years into my terrible ordeal. I was travelling back and forth to Houston, for job training. I had reluctantly decided –momentarily anyway- to leave town and pursue a job. (I did not stay there…my daughter’s world continued to crumble and she needed her daddy to at least be in the same town she was in.) Two years before, in 2009, a friend of mine had given me Zig’s classic three-box set pictured here.
She knew I needed what was in there, but I was in no mood for motivational speakers. While I had certainly heard of Zig, I had never heard him speak, and I assumed he was just another guy who repelled down from the ceiling, and used a lot of words that rhymed with “achieve.”
So the cassette tapes (remember those?) sat in my storage locker for three years until May of 2011. I was packing for the fourteen hour drive to Houston and decided I would give them a listen. “Nothing seems to be working,” I thought, “I might as well see what Zig has to say.”
It changed my life.
Not thirty minutes outside of Nashville, I had to steer my truck onto the shoulder of the road. I was in tears and it wasn’t safe to drive. Zig had just offered one of the phrases he was so known for; “Failure is an event…not a person.” I could not help but cry. By this time I had been homeless for three years. I lost my home, my career, my sense of pride and my fatherhood. (My wife and I had divorced many years before and she had remarried so at least my daughter had a place to live, but I couldn’t see her overnight anymore) I was a shattered man and worse…I wondered if there was ever going to be a brighter day again. I had begun to lose hope that the future would bring change and I was seeing myself as a failure. Not as a good, hardworking man who had failed…as a failure.
I listened intently the rest of that drive to Houston. In fact I was almost through it for the second time when I arrived in the dirty little Thirty-eight-dollars-a-day efficiency motel. It was everything you’d expect for the price. The first night I was there, there were a dozen crickets in the room, chirping loudly and keeping me awake. I managed to find them all and, umm, “get rid of them” but the next night, more arrived in their place. What astounded me was I was in a second floor room. How another dozen crickets managed to hop up two flights of steps and get into my room was beyond me. It felt biblical in its plague-ish nature.
But that hardly mattered to me. I was busy in job training and in every spare moment I would listen to Zig in the tape player in my weathered old GMC Yukon.
My outlook changed almost overnight. I wrote down the affirmation statement, modified it a little to fit my situation and my goals, and started saying it out loud to my reflection in the mirror, twice a day.
My attitude changed. I had hope within just a day or two. I was so thankful for those tapes and for the kindness of my friend Teresa who knew I was going to need them and gave them to me.
I was so grateful in fact that I took a chance. I wanted Zig to know my story, and to know how much he’d helped me. Literally, saving my life. I was so desperate at that time that maybe one more defeat would have been my breaking point. It was Memorial Day weekend 2011. I woke on Saturday morning, found Ziglar.com, and wrote an email to Zig, telling him where I was and what my world was like at the time. I told him how I’d come to get those tapes and how they’d changed my life during that long drive to Texas.
I had no idea if he would ever see my email. I figured I’d just get some computer generated auto-response.
But I felt great about letting somebody there know about my situation and how they’d helped me. I said a heart-felt “Thank you!” to whomever would read the email and I went on about my business.
That was Saturday. Monday was Memorial Day and I spent it watching TV in the motel room, and studying my college classes. (I was finishing my Bachelor’s degree through my alma mater’s online program at the time) Tuesday morning, I left for my training in downtown Houston and went about my day. During our first break in the morning, probably around ten, I checked email on my phone and to my amazement I had no less than four emails from folks at Ziglar Corp. The first was from Laurie Magers, Zig’s assistant, who assured me that she would make certain he read the email and thanking me for writing to them. She told me she would let everyone else know, and they would all be praying for me.
About an hour after that, I received a wonderful email from Bryan Flanagan, who told me he was praying for me, reminding me I was not a failure, and telling me “You are one of our family now…you can do this.” Funny enough, I believed him. I could tell he meant it. And he did.
About thirty minutes after that, I received a wonderful message from Julie Ziglar Norman, Zig’s daughter. Julie was so kind and told me she had called her dad and told him my story. He was excited, she told me, and he was so glad I let them all know about the tapes and how they’d helped me.
Julie emailed me again about an hour later. “Dad would love to meet you,” she said, “If you’re ever in Dallas, let us know.”
Are you kidding?
I emailed her back and said, “I can be in Dallas tomorrow if you want!” Julie responded back –laughing no doubt- and said “Let me check dad’s schedule and we’ll arrange it.”
We settled on July 7th. And so, on July 6, 2011, I set out from Nashville TN in my beaten and worn 1996 GMC Yukon, and arrived at my hotel in Dallas. The next day I drove to Ziglar Corp offices in Plano and I met the man who literally helped to save my life in the midst of the worst, darkest time I’d endured.
I was so honored. Zig walked me around the office and introduced me to everyone there. We stopped at his wall of gratitude and he recounted every name on that wall and told me every story behind each face. How they’d touched his life, and how they helped him and what he learned from them.
Then we went to lunch at his favorite Chinese restaurant which I believe was called “Yao Fuzi.” I sat there, not talking much, just soaking in every word this wonderful, incredible man had to offer. His conversation was punctuated with some of the things he was always known to say, mostly that he adored his beloved wife “The Red Head” and “If she ever leaves me…I’m going with her!”
I laughed and I smiled for a very long time. I felt like I was with family. I knew, without a doubt, these folks cared. I had hope.
I took hope with me from that meeting and started snowballing it as best I could. It took another year for me to graduate. It took three years from that lunch meeting to even find a job and a home again. But I had hope.
I had hope because I was sitting at lunch with a master of hopefulness. I had this because I took the time to say “Thank you.” Even though I thought for sure he’d never get the message.
There is something more to this story. Something about the way we can pass hope along to someone whose “hope account” is in deficit. There’s another component to the story.
Those three cassette box sets are dear to me. Dear because they changed my life. Dear because they started me on the road back to hope and happiness. And special because they became the foundation upon which the second –and I say the best- half of my life has been built.
And they are special because they came from Zig himself.
The story is this: My friend Teresa, who gave them to me, is a successful hair stylist in Nashville. Naomi Judd was one of her customers. Teresa’s husband passed away in the 1990’s at a young age. About a year after he passed, Naomi was going out on an extended book / speaking tour. She asked Teresa if she would go along as her stylist / assistant. I think Naomi instinctively knew Teresa needed to get away for a while. Her grief had been heavy, as you could imagine.
Naomi agreed to pay her a sum of money that made it impossible to say No, and so Teresa shut down her business and went on the road.
They were in Tampa, Florida speaking at a large motivational speaker’s summit and Zig happened to be on the bill.
One morning, Teresa rose early, as is her habit, and went down to breakfast alone. She was sitting by herself, away from others, grieving her beloved husband deeply. She’d been there a long while, not noticing anyone or anything going on around her. She was interrupted by a kindly man, who said;
“You look like you need a friend.”
It was Zig.
Teresa opened up about her loss and her missing her husband. Zig empathized with her. This was not many years after losing one of his own daughter’s lung disease. They talked, he got her to smile, and then he handed her three box sets of cassettes.
The very ones she gave to me some ten years later.
I will never part with those cassettes. They barely work anymore. They squeal when you get near the end of the tape. I’ve had to repair one or two already. I have memorized every word on them, and still they are dear to me. They feel like a tiny bit of Zig is in there with the eighteen cassettes the boxes hold.
They gave me hope. Zig himself had given them in hope to someone who passed the gift along.
I wouldn’t take a million dollars for them.
Hope is a priceless commodity. Hope makes a homeless man decide not to quit. Hope makes a lonely woman smile even though her heart is broken. Hope was behind every word spoken by the wonderful Zig Ziglar.
Hope is what people hear on my voice mail at work. (They will literally call my desk to hear my message) Hope is what people love about my often-funny answer when they see me in the hallway and ask “How you doin’?”
Hope is what they feel when I stop and ask them how they are doing and wait to hear their answer.
Hope is costless and priceless.
Thankfulness is a key that unlocks a world of hope and a universe of friendships. Thankfulness like what I expressed from that small, cricket-inhabited, noisy, cheap efficiency in Houston, over Memorial Day weekend 2011, when I said a simple “Thank You,” and got –in return- a friend in Zig Ziglar and his entire family and staff.
Tell someone “Thank you” today. Give them some hope.
Whatever it is they do in this world, they will do it better and with a smile on their face.
Believe me, I know.