A Thrivent couple becomes even more intentional with their money and time after losing their daughter.
Karl and Karen Lee lived what they’d call a typical life. They moved to Dacula, Georgia, in 1989 for jobs—Karl in the paper industry and Karen in the health care industry. In 1997, after the birth of their second child, Karen decided to stay home to raise their two children.
They still live in the first home they bought 31 years ago. And together they’ve been active in both their church and community. Their son, Tim, went to Georgia Tech for engineering, moving to New York City after graduation. Their daughter, Amy, went to the University of Georgia to be a special education teacher.
However, life changed in 2018 when the family was in Michigan attending Karl’s dad’s funeral. Amy was in a car accident and died just days later from injuries sustained in the accident. “It was a life-changing event,” Karen says. “Amy was all kinds of smiles and sunshine with everyone she met. We had no idea how many people she had impacted until she died.”
While still heartbroken, Karl and Karen continue to see the blessings of Amy’s life. Her loss has helped them become even more intentional with their finances and time. For example, Karen now works part time at the nonprofit Extra Special People, where Amy volunteered. The Facebook page #LoveLikeAmy promotes kindness. Family and friends donated $25,000 to start a scholarship in her name. And so much more. “We are always amazed by the people who continue to do what they can to honor Amy,” Karl says.
It’s about living simply and keeping our finances in check, allowing us to focus on a higher purpose.
How did you first learn about Thrivent?
Karl: I still have the original life insurance policy I got when I was six months old. When we moved to Georgia in 1989, we joined a church and got connected with a financial representative. We set a goal of how much money we wanted to save by age 50. We planned what to save, spend and give. And we did reach that financial goal.
What’s your first memory of money?
Karen: Growing up, we were given an allowance and taught the value of saving. If you’re consistent, it adds up over time. I always had some sort of job, mostly babysitting. When I graduated from college, I bought a brand-new car with my own money that I’d saved up over time.
Karl: I don’t remember talking about money while growing up. It was when I went to college that I became aware of money and the value of what others had provided to me through the years.
What are your guiding principles around money decisions?
Karen: We’ve always been a team on the money front. We agree with the philosophy of living within our means, being content with what we have and not buying impulsively. According to Luke 12:15, life isn’t measured by how much we own. When we don’t overextend ourselves, we can raise our focus to be more in line with God’s purposes.
What’s the best piece of financial advice you’ve ever received?
Karen: My first boss told me I needed to sign up for the company’s 401(k).
Karl: I took a year off in college and I had a few people tell me I needed to finish my education. I took that as financial advice, that I needed to follow my goals.
What’s your favorite volunteer activity?
Karen: We spend a lot of time leading Sunday school. Karl taught middle school for a long time, and I led an adult Sunday school class.
Karl: I love influencing fourth through eighth graders, without telling them what to think.
How do you demonstrate gratitude?
Karl: Showing gratitude for all we’ve been given is being responsible with the money we’ve been blessed with. It’s a journey.
Karen: Amy’s passing impacted our attitude of gratitude. We can’t change our circumstances, but we can change how we react. When you experience a tragedy, you get stronger, and you get softer. It takes a lot of strength, a lot of reliance on God. Amy’s loss made us realize we need to look way beyond ourselves.
What does it mean to thrive with purpose?
Karen: It’s about living simply and keeping our finances in check, allowing us to focus on a higher purpose.
Karl: We’ve been painting kindness rocks and leaving them in many places. We write “#lovelikeamy” on the back of each. This is a simple way we can thrive with purpose. It’s getting outside of our comfort zones to bring joy to other people.
Author Donna Hein is editor of Thrivent Magazine.