You have probably heard of Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford as they are being accused of fraudulent financial schemes, involving billions of dollars. You know what the headlines have revealed about their luxurious lifestyles while deceiving many investors and their advisors into trusting them. What you probably haven’t heard is the story of one of the victims whose response challenges each of us at the very core.
Ian Thiermann is 90 now and lives in California. He retired 25 years ago, after running a tree preservation and pest control business. His entire life’s savings of over $700,000 were lost in Madoff’s fraud. He will always remember the day in December 2008 when his investment advisor called him. He said the man was in a state of total shock when he said, “My son, my mother, my aunts, my uncles, we have all lost everything. I have lost everything and you have lost everything!”
Thiermann is still making mortgage payments and his wife Carrie has medical bills, so he decided to go back to work. Ron Clements owns the local grocery store where Thiermann shops regularly. When he heard of Thiermann’s plight, he created a greeter job just for him. Clements said, “He’s an inspiration to others going through tough financial times. His will to succeed, after losing everything, has prompted others to want to step up to the plate and make something happen.”
When asked how he felt about Madoff, Ian said he didn’t have time to dwell on the man responsible for his financial crisis. He said he would not spend time feeling sorry for himself. He smiled when he added that he had a job to do. His greeter job at the grocery store takes 30 hours a week and gets him $10 an hour. When his wife was asked, she said, “I feel sorry for Madoff because he has to live with the consequences of what he did.”
Where’s the anger, even rage, we might justify in such a victim? Where’s the consuming passion for revenge? Where’s even a moderate reaction to the fact that Madoff was still living in his very expensive penthouse while Thiermann was telling shoppers to be sure to try the soup? Perhaps they are in the same place they should be when we understand and apply Paul’s heart-searching words to the Romans. “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
It might reveal far more about us than we want revealed, if we were such victims and were interviewed. We might have to tell about sleepless nights, inability to eat, declining health, disrupted relationships, etc. Why? Because we might have put our security in what is never secure. We might have decided we were better than others who hadn’t accumulated so much as we. We might have made the grave mistake of thinking our value was connected to money.
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (I Timothy 6:21)
Article copyright (c) 2009 by Charles G. Mickey. All rights reserved.