Living Without Regrets

with Mark DeMoss | June 11, 2007

Looking back on your life, is there anything you'd do differently? Today on the broadcast, Mark DeMoss, founder of The DeMoss Group, tells Dennis Rainey about the tremendous impact his father had on him. Mark shares with Dennis why he's resolved to live his life on purpose and how that resolution affects all areas of his life.

Looking back on your life, is there anything you'd do differently? Today on the broadcast, Mark DeMoss, founder of The DeMoss Group, tells Dennis Rainey about the tremendous impact his father had on him. Mark shares with Dennis why he's resolved to live his life on purpose and how that resolution affects all areas of his life.

Living Without Regrets

With Mark DeMoss
|
June 11, 2007
| Download Transcript PDF

Mark: I was struck by listening to people who would come and speak or that you'd read about who were older in life talking about things they regretted – they regretted not spending more time with their families, or they regretted that they traveled so much, or whatever it was.  And I just have thought so many times we all know what those regrets will be, and we know them before we get to our deathbed, so wouldn't it be wise to do something about them?

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 11th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  To live a life of no regrets demands wisdom.  We'll talk about where you get wisdom today.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  When your children were in high school, not all of them, but you did a Bible study with some of your children …

Dennis: I did.

Bob: Taking them through the Book of Proverbs.

Dennis: That's right, met every – I think it was Thursday morning, and bribed them with doughnuts and tried to average a chapter a week.  We didn't always finish a chapter, but tried to read every verse in the chapter, and that's 31 chapters, 31 weeks, and we didn't always make it through in a year.  There were interruptions in their schedule and mine, but it was a great time, Bob, a tremendous time.

Bob: Why did you pick Proverbs as the place to lock in with a high school student?

Dennis: One word – wisdom.  I'll bet you could call any of our kids right now and ask them, "What is wisdom?"  And I'll bet they could answer it.

Bob: Really?

Dennis: It's skill in everyday living.  The word, actually, in the Hebrew means to take raw elements, raw material like silver, that doesn't have form to it, and to put it into a highly skilled craftsman's hands and to shape it into something of beauty and symmetry and design and function.  And when God penned the Book of Proverbs, I think what He was intending that we do is take the raw elements of life and live it according to His perspective – how He designed it to be lived, and I think it's really going to be valuable to our listeners, Bob, that we have a guest on today's broadcast who has an exact definition of wisdom that I just outlined.  Mark DeMoss joins us on FamilyLife Today.  It is skill in everyday living, isn't it?

Mark: It sure is.  That's the definition.

Dennis: Mark is from Georgia.  He and his wife, April, live there, along with their three children.  He is the president and founder of The DeMoss Group, which is a public relations firm that represents such little organizations as The Samaritan's Purse, that's Franklin Graham's organization; Campus Crusade for Christ; Chuck Colson's organization, Prison Fellowship; and he's been a great encouragement to me and a good coach when it comes to public relations, and he has also written a book.  Even though he made the statement to his wife one time – now, you tell our listeners – what did you pledge you'd never do?

Mark: I think I probably said I would never write a book.

Bob: Now, wait, "I think I probably said," or "I did say," which would it be?

Mark: I'm sure I've said it, and because some people had encouraged me to write a book here and there, and I didn't see myself as an author.  I heard to be hard work, which it is, but I'm excited about this one.

Dennis: This is "The Little Red Book of Wisdom," and you start this book out with a story about a man who embodied wisdom to you.

Mark: Yes, my late father, who impacted my life more than anybody ever has, and he was taken away from me, taken home, earlier than, certainly, statistical averages.  And I lost my father the week before my senior year of high school.  I was 17, and he was 53.

 And then in this same chapter, Dennis, I refer to seven years after that losing my 22-year-old brother, and it struck me really almost dramatically that as I enter my mid-40s, I am now nearly my father's age when he died, and I'm twice my brother's age when he died, and that really underscores for me the brevity of life, the value of time, and so I did begin this book with that.

Dennis: You lost your dad suddenly to a heart attack, and they found a little piece of paper he had scribbled on.  He was known to be a note taker and write notes to himself and to others, and he had this one note that made a huge impact upon you that you write about in your book.

Mark: When we returned from the hospital that Saturday afternoon, I think it was within hours, my mother discovered this little note on his nightstand beside the bed that just had written down a verse from Psalms, chapter 90, verse 12 that says, "Lord, teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom."  And that was fitting.  That was a fitting capstone on his life of 53 years, and it stood with me in these years since.

Dennis: Mark, when you wrote about your father's death, you have a sentence that I want to read for our listeners, because it really picks up what your dad was writing about, about numbering our days.  You write – "I'm never so lost in living that I don't hear the clock tick or have an eye on the calendar.  Not in a paranoid sense but with a sense of purpose." 

 In other words, you want to live your life like your dad had scribbled that note – "Teach us to number our days."  Look at the calendar, watch the clock, not being uptight about it, but just making sure you had a resolute purpose of living your life as God intended you to live it.

 You felt like your dad did that, didn't you?

Mark: I know he did it, and I watched him do it, and I know I don't do it as well as he did it, but I know this – I do it better than I would had I not had that model for 17 years.

Bob: Dennis, I've heard you tell about somebody you knew who had a – didn't he have a jar of rocks on his desk?

Dennis: Marbles.

Bob: Tell that story.

Dennis: Well, he was actually numbering the days that he had left with his son and had a jar of marbles on his desk to teach him that he had, in this case, I think it was only five years left with his son at home as a 14-year-old, or a 13-year-old, and so he had one marble for each weekend.  And each weekend he'd take a marble out of the jar, one after another, and that caused him to think about "I need to be purposeful about the weekends, the weeks, and the days that I have with my son as I build into his life."

 It's the same concept.

Bob: He was watching that evaporate every time he took a marble out.

Dennis: Watching it go down in number.

Bob: And you stop and think none of us is guaranteed a certain number of days or years, but if you say, "Okay, most people may live 'til they're 80, and today you're 40.  Well, if you went and took a marble for every week you had left, that would be a pretty big jar, but each time you took one of those out and watched it diminish, it would send a powerful message about making sure you make the most of the time you have, right?

Mark: Yeah, this subject ties so closely to another chapter I wrote called "Anticipate Deathbed Regrets," because I was struck, too, at an early age by listening to people who would come and speak or that you'd read about who were older in life talking about things they regretted.  They regretted not spending more time with their families, or they regretted that they traveled so much or worked too hard or didn't take care of their body, whatever it was.  And I just have thought so many times, we all know what those regrets will be, and we know them before we get to our deathbed, so wouldn't it be wise to do something about them?  Go ahead and take steps to avoid having those regrets. 

 I wanted to be able to say now I'm not going to look back and say I wish I hadn't worked so hard building this public relations firm because I lost my family.  And so this whole concept of time and the value of time and brevity of life, for me, has been very personal and very real because of these two deaths in my family, and I've tried to do things as a still relatively young person, I think, to do something about them.

 And I remember talking to April about some intentional things I was going to do cut my travel in half by the time I turned 40, and I did it.  Not everybody can do it, but a lot of people can do it who don't do it.

Bob: And I'm curious about that – as you consider the brevity of life, and as you consider this whole subject of deathbed regrets, travel is one illustration.  But what are some of the other things that the shortness of life has caused you to do differently than if you hadn't considered this theme?

Mark: Well, it's caused me to exercise and eat healthier, for one thing.

Bob: All right, we're going to have to end today's program right here, folks.  Sorry, we are out of time but, Mark, thanks for being here.

[laughter]

Mark: It really has – after my father died, he had some cholesterol issues that are hereditary, and I learned that I had the same issues, but I didn't do anything about it for a number of years and then got quite serious about it.  I've been very diligent about my diet and exercise, and I'm still not guaranteed more days than the next person, but I think it's wise.

Dennis: You quote a story by Nelson Mandela who had a great impact in South Africa when he came out of prison, just about his regrets, speaking about regrets because, you know, it is interesting how many people at the end of their lives express their regrets.

 But those regrets have been a lifetime in the making, as you are pointing out, and as you're also offering, you don't have to wait until the end to express them.  You can make a decision today to do something different so that you don't have those regrets.

 Share that story about Nelson Mandela, about what he said about his family that was so insightful.

Mark: Yeah, the story was of Mandela having spent 20 years in prison removed from his family and society, and soon after being released, he was talking about some of his regrets, and he said – this is an amazing statement – he says, "It seems to be the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives."  And then he said, "When your life is the struggle, as mine was, there is little room left for family.  That has always been my greatest regret and the most painful aspect of the choice I made."

 And then at the wedding of one of his daughters, he talked some more about his regret and what his children had suffered in his absence, because his children talked about how they thought when he got home from prison that they were going to get their father back, and what they realized was even that didn't happen because what they got back was this national leader who was sort of the nation's father not their father.

 And Mandela writes in his autobiography, this line – "To be the father of a nation is a great honor, but to be the father of family is a greater joy."  And then he says, "But it was a joy I had far too little of."  And I look at something like that, and I'm in my 40s, and I say, "Well, why wouldn't I do some things right now in my 40s so that I don't write that someday in an autobiography when I'm 80?"

Dennis: Yeah, you don't have to be Nelson Mandela and be the father of a nation.  You can't just change the wording and say to be the father of a corporation, to be the father of a school, to be a father of a political party.  You know, but to be the father of a family and to do it successfully – that can be the greater joy. 

 I've got a little post-it note in my office that – I don't know where I jotted it down from, but it says, "Small choices make a big difference."  You know, if you string enough small choices together that are in the wrong direction, it will result with a big regret.

Bob: We started by talking about your dad and his death and the impact that had on you.  Reflect a little bit on what you saw in his life that reinforced these ideas.  Did he live with the idea that his days were numbered?  Did he live with the idea that there would be no deathbed regrets when he died?

Mark: He was probably the most time-conscious person I've ever seen or known or been around, and, you know, some might argue, to a fault …

Dennis: Are you saying he was highly scheduled?

Mark: He was highly scheduled, he was always purposeful, everything was purposeful.  You know, I learned from him if you get on an airplane somewhere, that's time that can be used for something, and he always used to point out people that would get on a four-hour flight with nothing in their hands to read, and so they'd read the airline magazine for 20 minutes, and the catalog that sells stuff in the airplanes, and it seemed like a waste of time.  I don't read every minute, but it's made me purposeful.

Dennis: Did you feel like, as a young man growing up – you said you were with him for 17 years, so you had your teenage years, for the most part, with him.  Did you feel like you were scheduled?  Or did you feel like you had your dad's heart?

Mark: No, I think I had his heart and sense of purpose, because this was not – he didn't dictate or mandate this on us.  It wasn't like that.  It was – I guess I watched it and like it.  It made sense.

Bob: You know, some people would hear you talk and think, "Well, it sounds like he might be rigid, or it sounds like he's inflexible, or intense."  And yet I have a friend of mine who knew your dad – didn't know him well, but he was actually at a businessman's lunch in Dallas where your dad spoke, and it was that particular day that my friend came to faith.  He heard your dad share his testimony and gave his life to Christ.

 And my friend happened to be in Philadelphia a number of years later, and he said, "You know, I wonder if I could go by and see that guy, the guy who I heard talk.  I'd just like to follow-up and tell him what's happened to me."  And so my friend called and asked if he could come by, and they scheduled 30 minutes for your dad to meet with him, and my friend said, "We wound up talking almost 90 minutes."

 And I tell that story because some people would think your dad would be going, "We scheduled 30, I'm done."

Dennis: He had time for people.

Bob: And for higher priorities that God might present in any given day.

Mark: That story sounds very much like him.

Dennis: You received something a little over 60 days before his death that marked your life, and it was an important milestone in your life because it gave you something permanent to remember him by. 

Mark: Are you referring to a letter?

Dennis: I am.

Mark: I think, that he sent me, and probably the most difficult thing for me even about his death just before my senior year of high school is that I spent that entire summer away from home and had only been home for less than a week when he died.  But I have a letter that he wrote me earlier in that summer to encourage me, tell me he was proud of me that was mailed to me where I was living.

 But his letter stuck with me, and I'm glad I saved it.  I don't know that I was saving everything at that age, but I saved that, and I have it, and I'm glad for that.  But that was a special letter from him.

Dennis: Why don't you share that letter, if you don't mind, with our listeners?

Mark: Okay, yeah, it's dated June 19, 1979.  He says, "Dear Mark, it was good chatting with you last night, and I'm glad to see how enthused you are about what you'll be doing this summer.  Again, I am confident this will prove to be a great and wonderfully worthwhile experience regardless of how little or much money you earn.

 As you indicated, the discipline itself will be excellent, and I am sure the experience will prove to be invaluable in whatever you decide to do with your life.  We really miss you already.  Selfishly, we wish you were here with us, but I know this is going to be in your best interest.  I am praying especially for these first few days during this time of getting acclimated after which I feel sure the whole thing will become much easier.  With much love, Dad."

 And then he – the letter was typed, and then he wrote with his handwriting, "P.S. I want you to know I am very proud of you."  And I've still got that letter.

Bob: Now, somebody might hear a letter like that and go, as you said, Dennis, it's kind of normal.  There's not really anything deep and profound.  Why is that so important to you?

Mark: Well, I would tell it to you this way – I think in terms of how things have changed.  I think it would be unusual 20 years from now for anybody to be sitting on this program telling you about an e-mail they received or a text message on their cell phone or even a phone call they got.  There is something about a letter on paper in an envelope with a stamp that is …

Dennis: Well, in fact, in your book didn't you say the postal service says we receive how many billion pieces of mail, and yet only a few are personal?

Mark: The average American will have to receive 100 pieces of mail to get one personal letter.  And I think that's a shame, and we've now become sort of creatures of convenience, and e-mail has its place in value, and …

Dennis: Telephones do, too.

Mark: Long distance calls have gotten cheaper and cheaper, and I'm not against any of that, but I believe the impact of a written letter always exceeds the effort it took to write it, and there are so many examples of that.  So I've kind of been on a little letter-writing crusade, I guess.

Bob: We recently had Greg Vaughn as a guest on our program, and Greg has written a book called "Letters from Dad," that is a book that advocates exactly what you're talking about – fathers and mothers, for that matter, sitting down and writing handwritten letters to their children that will become keepsakes – things that your children will hang onto in the same way that I've hung onto those letters that my dad sent home from World War II. 

 And we had a number of our listeners who contacted us to get a copy of Greg's book and who, I hope, have been starting on this quest of writing those handwritten letters to their children, and if any of our listeners are interested, we've got copies of Greg's book in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  Go to our website, FamilyLife.com.  If you click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the home page, that will take you to the area of the site where you'll see information about Greg Vaughn's book, "Letters From Dad," and information about Mark DeMoss's book, The Little Red Book of Wisdom."

 In fact, just recently, Dennis, I don't think you knew this, but I've started taking the group of guys that I meet with every week, we've started going through Mark's book together, one chapter a week, just as a way to interact over a number of these issues and say, "What do we think?  Is this a wise standard?  Is this something that we ought to be considering for our own lives?"  And we may not agree with everything that's in Mark's book, but you know what?  That's okay, because it's going to provoke our thinking around how we live our lives with wisdom.  What are the pros and the cons of the choices we make, and how can we live in such a way that we, first of all, represent Christ well, and then we live with practical wisdom, skill in everyday living.

 And, again, let me encourage our listeners to get a copy of Mark's book.  It's called "The Little Red Book of Wisdom," and you can order a copy from our website at FamilyLife.com, click that red "Go" button that you see in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to the area of the site where you can order Mark's book or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, and someone on our team can let you know how you can get "The Little Red Book of Wisdom," or Greg Vaughn's book, "Letters From Dad," or other resources that we have available to help fathers pass on wisdom to their children.

 And then if you are able to help us this month with a donation of any amount to FamilyLife Today, we have a thank you gift we'd like to send you.  It's a DVD of a message where, Dennis, you were speaking to a group of dads at a Weekend to Remember conference, and you were talking about a dad's role, or a dad's responsibility in the family.  And it's a great message.  We put it on DVD and want to make it available this month to any of our listeners who would like to get a copy either for themselves or perhaps to pass along to a new dad, someone who may be a first-time father and would benefit from watching this DVD message.

 Again, the DVD is available this month when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and you request it.  If you're making your donation online at FamilyLife.com, when you get to the keycode box, type in the word "dads," d-a-d-s, and our team will know to send you a copy of this DVD.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone and, when you do, you can ask about the DVD from Dennis Rainey, and we'll be happy to send it out to you.

 It's a thank you gift for your financial support of this ministry.  We appreciate your partnership with us.

 Tomorrow we want to talk more about wisdom, practical wisdom for everyday living and some of the lessons that Mark DeMoss has learned along the way that he is passing along to the rest of us in his "Little Red Book of Wisdom."  I hope you can be back with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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