A Tale of Three Trees: It’s Not What You Think!

Have you ever bawled like a baby when reading a children’s fable?  I have!  Several years ago, as I was browsing the small bookstore at The Homestead Heritage in Waco, Texas, I picked up The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale.  I guarantee you that this was no ordinary children’s story.   The tale tells of the dreams of three trees in the forest, who all long to grow into something that the world would value.  One wanted to be the most beautiful, the other the strongest, and the third the tallest.   After many years the woodcutters came to harvest these trees on the mountain.

Christ with CrossWhat these three trees wished themselves to be instead became how they were used to serve.   The purpose of each tree brought me to tears.  Can you guess how the tallest tree was used?  The third tree wanted to be the tallest tree in the land, and by some accounts this tree got what it wished for as it stood tall at Calvary with Jesus nailed to it.   This tree had one idea of its future, but God had another purpose and plan.  Despite the ugliness it endured as it co-labored with Jesus, the third tree had the opportunity to help bring Salvation to the world.  Now that’s worth both living and dying for!

We all have dreams, and the question we should ask ourselves is whether we are dreaming the right dream.  Are you pursuing your own dream or seeking to know God’s dream for your life?  Sometimes God’s dream for your life will take you through ugliness, harshness, and cruelty such as what Jesus experienced on the cross?  Much of the time you will never be made aware of the impact you are making and must maintain faith that God is using each faithful word and action for Kingdom impact.  On those seemingly rare occasions when I do get feedback, I find those are the fuel that keep me seeking the Lord’s will for my life.

Why Easter Is My Favorite Holiday!

“What’s your favorite holiday?”  Most of my friends and family respond with Christmas.  Why? Answers include the recollection of fond childhood memories opening presents around the tree, the beautiful decorations, lots of great food, or the ability to spend time with a larger circle of family.  Many claim Thanksgiving as their favorite holiday, because they can spend time with family without the stress of Christmas shopping and exhaustion that comes from too many activities crammed into one month—December. The common theme between Christmas and Thanksgiving is these holidays are spent in relationships.  What is my favorite holiday?  It would have to be Easter? I realize that most people think of chocolate bunnies, egg hunts, white baskets, and fluffy bunnies, but Easter represents the ultimate gift given to me by my best friend!  Easter celebrates my personal relationship with Jesus!

jeremiah 29-11-2When I think of the love that I have my daughter, Alex, I am awed that God would sacrifice His own son for me, so I could live.  Would I be able to sacrifice my dear Alex, so others can live?  Could I have done what Abraham planned to do in Genesis 22—sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac?  I like to think I would obey God, but I do not think anyone can be confident in his answer until placed directly in that situation!  How grateful I am not to have to choose.  How grateful I am that Jesus died on the cross to take my sins, so I can be with the Father long after my body turns to ashes!  With my gift of eternal life, I cannot choose any other path other than to follow Him and use my life to glory God.  Am I perfect?  No, I sin daily, although I can honestly say I try to live my life honorably, sharing of my time and treasures.

I pray that if you know Jesus, you will continue to listen for God’s calling for your life and act in faith.  I pray that everyone has a life vision and a life Scripture that speaks and resonates in their hearts.  My Scripture has always been Jeremiah 29:11.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  I know God has big plans for me to accomplish during the years I live on earth.  Every day I look forward to a new adventure as I am humbled by God’s gift!

For those who have not welcomed Jesus into their hearts, please reach out!  I would love to further the conversation about Jesus and what He can do for you!  You can reach me at shinecrossings@gmail.com.

Happy Easter!

Will College Debt Affect Who You Decide to Date or Marry?

December 15, 2016

The flip side of that question is “Does your college debt make you less attractive to date or marry?”  Many want to believe the most important ingredient to a happy and fulfilled marriage is love, because true love can overcome the normal struggles endured by marriages over their lifetimes.   These same people would also like to believe that college debt should be immaterial to the decision with whom you spend the rest of your life—after all, the right person is the right person, no matter what the circumstances.  I would propose that love is a choice—a choice to fall in love with someone with whom you can create a successful life.  If this holds true, I would wager that most successful people are not necessarily looking for partners with money but for spouses who make sound financial decisions.  Why?  Because fiscal literacy and responsible financial stewardship are extremely helpful in developing a solid marriage foundation from which to move forward in individual life calling and marriage purpose.

Overwhelming costudent-debt-ball-and-chain-2llege debt can sap energy and joy, as well as interfere with life calling, because significant resources are funneled to pay off those loans—making it feel like one is dragging around a ball and chain for ten years.  Not even personal bankruptcy can dissolve this financial burden—a lifetime sentence until it is repaid.   I am neither advocating for or against pursuing a college degree, and these words come from a chemical engineer with an MBA, who will also receive her second masters in life coaching in 2017.  I believe a college education can open more doors for career and job choices as well as develop new worldviews, critical thinking, discipline, commitment, friendships, and a sense of community.  However, I am recommending that before taking on any debt that everyone understand what they are called to do, how post-secondary education will support that purpose, and then using sound judgment to determine the best path forward.  Approaches can include community college, part-time vs. full-time, scholarships, employer incentives, military benefits, etc.  You may ask how did I pay for my education?   I focused on good grades, worked when not studying, saved, sacrificed, applied for scholarships and loans, and was rewarded with grants and reasonable loans to pair with my savings the first time.  The second time I worked full-time while going for my graduate degree part-time, taking advantage of my employer’s partial tuition reimbursement benefit in conjunction with my savings.   The third time around I worked and saved for my full tuition, hence my return to college at 53 years old.

Mentoring and coaching high schoolers and young adults, I often see them struggle with evaluating and deciding how to afford a college education.  Surprisingly, many of these students are encouraged by their parents to apply and attend universities above their collective financial means.  The parents and students alike are swept up in the hype that a college education is the gateway to a successful life—the more prestigious the school, the better, and whatever debt is required to achieve that dream is worth it.  With this momentum and the euphoria of acceptance letters, it becomes difficult to bring good judgment and reasonable thought in deciding whether to pursue a degree, what degree, its timing, and how to pay for it.

The sad reality—burdensome college debt has stalled many young degreed graduates who cannot turn back time.  They are drowning in debt that cannot be expunged.  Consumer Reports (2016) issued a report on the impact on student debt, and the survey statistics are sobering:

  • 45% of respondents said their student loan debt was not worth the cost of college
  • 47% said if they had the chance to do it all over again they would accept less financial aid and go to a less expensive school
  • 50% are having problems making student loan payments

With half of recent graduates wishing for a do-over or struggling with debt repayment, these statistics should be a wake-up call that the current approach in securing a diploma is broken.   What are the impacts to graduates overburdened with college debt?  Consumer Reports (2016) found:

  • 44% cut back on daily living expenses
  • 37% delayed saving for retirement or other financial goals
  • 28% delayed buying a house
  • 12% delayed marriage
  • 14% changed careers because of student debt

In many cases, these necessary life adjustments resulted from not understanding the impact of long-debt.   Although not specifically addressed in the survey, many young graduates reluctantly return home after college to live with their parents, resulting in a “failure to launch” not by personal choice.  Although subsidized room and board allow these graduates to pay off college debt, they struggle with financial independence and attracting financially independent mates.  Consumer Reports (2016) revealed that 44% of respondents wanted to know how much student debt a dating partner had before beginning a serious relationship with 36% and 20% of respondents saying “no” or “unsure”, respectively.

With these statistics as a wake-up call, the next question most students should ask is “How much college debt can I afford?”  The general rule of thumb is a graduate can afford college debt equivalent to the first year of salary.  For example, if you are pursuing a teaching degree and expect to be paid $50,000 per year as a teacher, you can commit to $50,000 of student debt.  A post-graduation balanced budget should be drafted to confirm you can re-pay this debt while ensuring you can put a roof over your head, food in your mouth, clothing on your back, and the means of getting to your job to earn that income.

When I student-loan-payback-schedule-10-yearscoach students and parents on personal finances, this simple matrix translates the amount of student debt into a monthly payment for 10 years at various interest levels.  Some students are financing teaching degrees at prestigious 4-year universities, taking on over $100,000 of debt for a job which will only pay $50,000 per year.  When asked “How will you put a roof over your head if you have to pay $1,000 a month towards school loans?” their facial expressions reflect confusion, surprise, and worry.  What I find more troublesome are students who are financing college under an “undecided” major.  These students usually take upwards of 5 to 7 years to graduate—incurring more debt than if they would have paused after high school, worked, figured out what degree fit their life plan, andstudent-debt then pursued their education over 4 years.   Powell (2016) reported that the average college graduate debt is $37,000 in 2016.  Many of the entry-level, non-science based jobs for these graduates do not pay that amount per year.  Many graduates have no idea when their loans will be paid off.

If you think colleges are educating you on prudent decision-making and the harsh realities of debt repayment, they are not.  Universities are businesses, trying to make enough money to keep their doors open.  If they sign you up, the colleges will receive income through your financial aid and tuition payments.  They are not incentivized to explain what debt you can and cannot afford.  By default, they are operating on the concept of Caveat Emptor, translated Let the Buyer Beware!

Pursuing a college degree can be one of life’s most significant and costly decisions, because the debt you take on can have a lasting impact on your quality of life.  The debt you carry can also impact your ability to attract a life partner.  Many students never stop to consider all the long-term ramifications of debt choices.   I encourage you to pause, think through this decision, reach out for help, and make wise choices!  Your future depends on it!

References

Consumer Reports National Research Center (2016). College Financing Survey: 2016 Nationally Representative Online Survey. Retrieved from: http://www.consumerreports.org/student-loan-debt-crisis/degrees-of-debt-and-regret/

Powell, F. (2016). Ten Student Loan Facts College Grads Need to Know. U.S. News. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/slideshows/10-student-loan-facts-college-grads-need-to-know


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a business, life, and marital coach with an extensive background in business development and leadership.  She coaches others in how to develop and execute life plans, develop successful businesses, and build better relationships by identifying and living their personal values, enhancing skills and competencies, and being held accountable for executing their defined goals.