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.
What 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.
The Essence of Global Leadership Summit (GLS)
How do you summarize the information and inspiration that are captured and released upon those who come to Willow Creek Church (WCC) in Barrington, Illinois, for the annual Global Leadership Summit (www.willowcreekglobalsummit.com) or on those who choose to spend two days in a church, prison or other venue across the United States and Canada to soak in the wisdom and blessings via satellite streaming? I struggle with how to convey the power of GLS to transform your thoughts, thinking, and behaviors towards becoming a better leader. As Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek, passionately loves to say, “Everyone wins when a leader gets better.” My response is, “Amen! I want to hear more.”
For those who may never have heard of GLS, let me briefly describe the value of this annual two-day personal investment of your time? In a nutshell, GLS brings together leaders, who are moving forward, learning, struggling, and succeeding in their fields of leadership, who have a servant heart, and who desire to share with the world their knowledge, so people can become better at leading themselves, their families, colleagues, and their communities. As such the speakers come from diverse backgrounds and cover leadership in faith-based organizations, political arenas, businesses, and other non-profit government organizations (NGO). There is something for everyone. The messages transcend religion, culture, and lifestyles.
Past leaders whose names you probably recognize include Jack Welch, Jim Collins, Ed Catmull, Brene Brown, Tyler Perry, Carly Fiorina, Louie Giglio, General Colin Powell, Mark Burnett, and Condoleezza Rice. Many other speakers, who may not be as well-known as CEOs and celebrities, were just as impactful in their research findings and areas of expertise. GLS 2016 did not disappoint and included some new and returning favorite speakers advancing new topics. This year’s lineup included Bill Hybels, Alan Mulally, Melinda Gates, Jossy Chacko, Travis Bradberry, Patrick Lencioni, Chris McChesney, Erin Meyer, John Maxwell, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Danielle Strickland, Horst Schulze, and Wilfredo De Jesus.
In order to give you a taste of GLS, I have summarized and provided commentary on one key message shared by Bill Hybels.
Bill Hybels: The Lenses of Leadership
Bill discussed four types of eyewear that every leader should try on and decide how well the lenses are working to correct his/her leadership vision. The first pair are the red hot passion lenses which beg the question, “Are you presiding over people or energizing people to get from HERE to THERE?” Studies show that a leader gets a 40% performance differential from motivated versus unmotivated people. How does a leader get more passion? Passion is typically inspired by a dream, outrage, or extreme frustration which forces one to become an unstoppable force to create change. When you put on your ruby red eyeglasses, how filled is your passion bucket? Are you satisfied with the passion you have in life and how you are leading in your workplace and family? If you are not satisfied, what are you going to do about it? After all, it is the leader’s job to fill his own passion bucket and no one else’s. If you don’t know where to start, pick up a book of interest, go to places that stir your soul, or hang out with passionate people. Passion can be contagious! Help just one person, and you will be surprised how your passion bucket begins to fill.
The second pair of eyeglasses to try on are the shattered lenses. How many leaders are operating in or perpetuating a fear-based organization versus honoring people and building well-functioning cultures that are performance oriented! Organizations will only be as healthy as the leader’s desire and intent. Sometimes the shattered lenses are so close to the leader’s eyes that s/he cannot see clearly what the culture has become. If the leader’s true heartfelt desire is to lead and love well, how does a leader get a true perspective? If you are a work organization, you can hire an independent firm to survey the culture. If you are leading your family, you can ask trusted family and friends for feedback without rebuttal or justification. What many leaders forget, as they strive for results, is that God only values one thing—people. God has entrusted leaders with his treasures—his people. Sometimes leaders lose sight of the journey and its people while trying to reach a goal.
How can a leader both coach and support people to be all that God intended them to be? The first step is to increase self-awareness and expose their talents. Some people have never self-reflected or taken inventory of their talents and don’t know where to start. If you don’t know what you’re really good at, ask those who are closest to you. Most of your friends, family, and coworkers have already done an informal assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. After all, they typically discuss this in small groups around the water cooler or coffee bar. What can organizations do with this knowledge? How about matching people’s strengths with roles that would take advantage of those strengths and minimize the impact of weaknesses.
The third pair of specialized eyewear are the performance self-adjusting lenses. All organizations typically come together for a purpose, which usually includes setting and achieving goals whether formal or implied. Companies have goals for revenue, profit, safety, and customer satisfaction. Even families have goals such as raising healthy and independent adult children. Churches have goals such as the number of people served or number of members who have joined. In general, the speed of the leader equals the speed of the team in achieving those goals. This correlation begs the question of how can goals impact the speed of the team and what adjustments do leaders need to make? Bill professed that WCC was once a goalaholic church, with too many goals and not enough people to carry out all the good ideas and initiatives. You can imagine the results from goal overload, because many of you probably work in that environment today. Burnout? Feeling a lack of appreciation? Life becomes more about the goals and processes versus the people and the relationships? How can a leader adjust, get his/her team to perform at higher levels, and boost the morale of the team all at the same time? These are not opposing forces; leaders just need to readjust.
First, let us break a myth held by some leaders, which is that people are uncomfortable with performance feedback. Truth, people want to know that their senior leaders are proud of their progress. Truth, people want to know how they are doing and where they stand. Truth, people want clarity and can accept negative feedback, if the truth is said with the spirit of love. It is essentially cruel not to provide goals and give feedback. Second, if you can embrace these truths, the next step is for the leader to set the vision/mission for the organization and then ask the team what the goals should be. Each department should be empowered to develop strategies, decide and own measurable goals, and celebrate the successes. If you have too many or two few goals, you will not have clarity. Entrust your team to find the perfect balance to prioritize and focus on the win.
What is in your leadership rearview mirror? The fourth pair of eyeglasses that Bill perched atop his nose were the legacy lenses. Have you peeked lately into your rearview mirror to see what you have left behind as you moved people from HERE to THERE? At least on an annual basis, leaders should reflect on their legacy, self-evaluate, and learn how to do better. Leadership is about energy, and Bill suggested drawing an energy pie to determine where you are putting your energy: work, family, church, community, others, etc.
God designed us to flourish holistically, and in many cases we are putting all our energy into our work. How do you need to redistribute your energy across the pie slivers? What areas should remain untouched, which need a do-over, or perhaps one or more just need a make-over? It is never too late to change the course if you act now. Legacies can change in an instant, and the proof was in the simple yet powerful story of the thief on the cross next to Jesus who said, “Jesus remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And he [Jesus] said to him, “Truly I say to you, today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43). As Bill reminded us of that short Scripture, he also mentioned that 43 prisons were watching this leadership summit live.
Regardless of your religious background, your profession, or your family status, everyone of us is a leader. Global Leadership Summit is a golden ticket for some of the best leadership perspectives, insights, and best practices to become a better leader. If you get 5% better as a leader by investing two days at GLS, is it not worth it? GLS will be hosted on August 10-11, 2017 at over 600 locations nationwide. Visit https://www.willowcreek.com/events/leadership to learn more.
“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!
When 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 email@example.com.
Do you feel less joy these days? Does it feel like everyone else owns a piece of you and there is nothing left? Do you dream to have 15 minutes of uninterrupted time so you can reconnect with yourself? Is your life a harried record of accomplishments and yet never-ending to-do lists? Would your personal profile be listed in the dictionary under the word “busyness”? You may sadly chuckle and infer these questions are tongue-in-cheek, but the reality is that an answer of “yes” to any of these questions is a sobering reminder of how stressed and anxiety-ridden many are as they run, not walk, on the treadmill of American life. Unfortunately, the solution is not as easy as advertised by the late 1980’s commercial “Calgon, take me away!” in which a woman, surrounded by a chaotic home, says these four words and is then transported to a relaxing bath in a quiet room. If only the solution could be solved so simply by the purchase of a few bath products and an evening soaking in the tub.
What’s the solution?
The solution is within your power to implement. Personal boundaries! They are the critical component in designing the life you want. “Boundaries provide the structure to your character that will make everything else work” (Cloud, 2008). Boundaries affect how we relate to others, how we feel emotionally, and how we perform at work. When you understand the impact of boundaries and choose to define them for your life, you will reconnect with your identity, find more joy, and create a healthier and more satisfying life. The necessity of personal boundaries has emerged as a counter force to the crisis that has developed from an increasingly structureless society that values the integration of work-life, despite the rhetoric that we need to have more of a work-life balance. American culture and work have eroded the time and space boundaries we need to focus on the priorities we value most.
How did we get here?
So how did we get to this place of exhaustion and dissatisfaction? Work structure has changed from the typical 9 to 5 hours of operation to one in which we are to be available 24-7, where working in the evenings is just an extension of the normal work day. Work has penetrated our home space by either design or creep. Bortolot (2015) states that the home office is now one of the most important residential amenities. Even if one can physically separate his work environment within the home, he may not be able to mentally escape work. How many of you have tried to relax in the evening, only to feel the nag of work penetrating your thoughts? Do you compromise by opening up your laptop while watching your favorite TV sitcom? Although society praises the multi-tasker, they are usually pulled in so many directions, they struggle to enjoy anything other than the satisfaction that comes from crossing off more items on their to-do list. Keim (2012) showed that high multi-taskers performed poorly at filtering irrelevant from relevant information, had diminished ability to mentally organize, and experienced difficulty in switching between tasks. Keim (2012) concluded if you do two things simultaneously, you will not do any of them at full capacity.
Although our lives have all benefited from technology, the tragedy is that it has also enabled the violation of our time and space boundaries. Personal cell phones allow access to you at all times. iPhones and computers give instant access to data and connectivity to work. Email has expanded our network so strangers can now reach into our personal world. Although email was initially described as a productivity enhancement, anyone with an email address is now accessible at any time by any one. Email and voicemail can be blessings, but without personal boundaries, you may feel email is a curse because of the pressure to respond to communication, even if unsolicited. By definition most people are losing control over their most precious resource—their time. Money can be earned, won, spent and lost, but time is a finite resource.
Boundaries help us define who we are and form a structure in our lives that allows us to regain control (Cloud, 2008). Boundaries protect your time, space, and relationships so that you can positively influence your world. Our society does not naturally provide the support that helps us to create and live out healthy boundaries. Cloud (2008) asserts that “the irony is that most people are so caught up in trying to control the things they cannot control—other people, circumstances, or outcomes—that in the process they lose control of themselves” (p. 21). The only thing you can control is yourself, so consider the decision to take control of you.
How do I reclaim my life?
- Understand what a boundary is and what it does
A boundary is a demarcation of where you end and where someone or something else begins. Boundaries define ownership and who controls what does and does not go on in that space. More importantly boundaries define who is responsible for and accountable to protect that space.
- Understand what boundaries provide and how they serve your needs
Boundaries provide the structure that helps to define our character and personality, because they describe who we are, what we want, and how we feel and think. Clear boundaries provide security and benefit self and others, because they are not ambiguous, are predictable, and signal what we will and will not tolerate. They help to contain chaos, because one who is clear on boundaries will step in to make sure chaos is effectively dealt with.
- Define what you feel, think, and desire
Boundaries differentiate us from others and teach us how we are unique individuals in feelings, attitudes, behaviors, limits, thoughts, and choices. What are the things that you value most in life? How would you ideally want to live your life? What do you want to make a priority? What are your vision, mission, and goals?
- Identify the holes in your boundaries
Rebuilding boundaries is about reclaiming your power. Power drains have numerous sources as described by Cloud (2008): need for security, need for approval, need to be perfect, need to have others see you as ideal, need to overidentify with other people’s problems, need to rescue, fear of being alone, fear of conflict, need for harmony, fear of differing opinions, fear of anger, fear of feeling inferior, fear of someone’s power, inability to say no, inability to hear no or accept limits, inability to tolerate failure of others, hero worship, lack of internal structure, and dependency to name a few. You should identify the holes in your boundaries and address them.
- Communicate who you are to others
Set limits consistent with your vision, mission, values, and goals and communicate them to others. You empower others by allowing them to decide and live with the consequences defined by your boundaries. By default, you will no longer try to control others’ decisions and actions, because you can live with the outcome of whatever decision they make. Communicating and living within your boundaries is a form of respecting others and also provides a healthy model for them to emulate.
- Act on your boundaries
Live each day in accordance with your boundaries. When you are in control of your boundaries, you become a more integrated person, gain greater respect for yourself, and become more respectful of other people’s boundaries. Boundaries allow you to influence others’ behaviors toward you, which by default makes you feel whole and more in control.
What is the cost of boundaries?
Having boundaries comes comes with a personal cost. In order to have full control, you need to have the freedom to control those aspects of your life where you have boundaries. You can only leverage them if you are not dependent on any single person or entity for survival, because the one to whom you are dependent may decide to invoke their boundaries and put you in an untenable position. As you work on defining your personal boundaries and areas of weakness, you should also take inventory of your life to understand where you have weak capital. Has poor financial stewardship put you in a position that you could not weather a job lose for several months should you decide to invoke your boundaries? Would a work dismissal cause you undue hardship? If so, you may need to save for an emergency fund to build that capital. What about the young adult, still living rent-free with his parents, who does not like his imposed curfew? He is not free to come and go as he pleases as a fully functioning adult, because he may be asked to pack up his belongings and move out. His first step should be to build his financial capital so he can either re-negotiate rent for more freedom or secure other living arrangements. Before invoking boundaries, you must end any dependency and be able to live with the boundaries that any other individual may choose to impose on you.
CAUTION: Establishing boundaries for the first time may come with some emotionally charged responses from others in your life. You may likely find that those people who have boundaries respect you more, and those people who do not live with boundaries will resort to behaviors that will test the strength of yours. Think of the parent who has told his toddler no. Toddlers use the word no to try to establish their boundaries. When they do not get their way, they step up with more emotional persuasion. Next may come yelling, screaming, and possibly throwing things to get their way. They may fall on the floor in a full-blown tantrum. They may say, “I hate you,” as a means of hurting you into giving in. When you are firm on your boundaries for long enough, a toddler will eventually wear themselves out and move on. You may have to repeat this cycle a few times; however, when a toddler knows his parent is firm on a boundary, compliance prevails in the long run. This same principle also holds true for family, friends, or work relationships.
Bortolot, L. (2015). Four trends in home office design. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/248061
Cloud, H. (2008). The one-life solution: Reclaim your personal life while achieving greater professional success. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Keim, B. (2012). Is multitasking bad for us? Nova Science. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/is-multitasking-bad.html
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a life, premarital/marriage, and business 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.
Excerpt from LWI El Salvador 2016 Mission Journal (November 2, 2016)
I typically write my closing journal entry several days after returning from mission, so that I have time not only to unpack my bags but also the messages God shares with me during the week. Although I know God uses my hands and feet on the ground to serve, I am also to receive. God did not disappoint. I believe he put all the pieces together for me starting from my journey to Kenya in 2013, Haiti in 2014, Honduras in 2015, and then Kenya and El Salvador in 2016. Besides these short-term mission trips, God placed on my heart Shine Crossings and World Changers on Mission (WCoM). At the end of 2015, God closed the door to my employment at TPC Group and opened another door for me to attend Liberty University full-time to purse my second Masters which is in Human Services Counseling, Life Coaching. God made this all possible by bringing Darin into my life as a soulmate, supporter, and now financial leader of our home, so I could walk through the threshold and into the calling God has for my life. God has a plan, and I am living it!
Two years prior, God told me to watch for the Cross laid over the Star of David. Well, the corners of that star started to take shape about 6 months ago. God gave me the vision of the first triangle with corners of church (people), mission (developmental service), and business (enterprises). After my trip to Kenya in early 2016 another inverted triangle started to take form with dignity (in service). This trip completed the other two points of this triangle which are equipped (where we stand) and connectivity (God has no borders). So, when you put the two triangles together you have the Star of David. When I stepped into the Tabernacle Church in El Salvador and saw their emblem, the message was that Christ covers it all. The puzzle is complete. I believe when God told me to look for the Cross over the Star of David, he was telling me that he had given me everything. It is done! Now go!
I will be honest. I’m a bit scared. Not scared of failure, but just scared, because it is just so overwhelmingly big. Therefore, I remind myself again of TD Jakes’ message at the Global Leadership Summit (GLS). If you can accomplish your dream on your own, you are not dreaming big enough. I am also reminded of the bracelet that God encouraged me to buy just weeks before mission—FEARLESS. Dream big! Fearless! And fear less! I better embrace it all, and as I like to coach others and must take my own advice—just MOVE! GO! Have no fear, God is with you always.
Excerpt from Sandra Dillon’s El Salvador mission journal (October 22, 2016)
I am writing my last entry before our team departs for El Salvador. God has been stirring up a lot of imagery and concepts with me these past couple of weeks. In early October while enjoying a few margaritas and Mexican flavors with Matt and Holly Smith, I shared our calling to launch a group of people who would meet on a regular basis with the sole purpose of supporting each other as each moves out into his/her mission field. Six months ago, Darin and I left our life group, because we wanted to use the time for service as well as to explore a concept that God was placing on our hearts. We desired to launch a group (unknown what it would be called then) whose sole purpose would be for missional living and outreach. As Darin and I continued to focus on developing short-term mission trips to Kenya and El Salvador and serving in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and marriage/premarital ministry, this concept took a back burner. However, on October 7th, Matt and Holly challenged us to launch it, and excitedly said they wanted in. That night, as Darin and I laid in bed, I told him I thought God was telling us it was time! God’s message was coming through the spoken words of Matt and Holly. At that moment I committed to develop the program before we left for El Salvador to take the team to drill a well and do pump repair. Because God placed this initiative on our hearts, the details flowed as I put thought to paper. Shine Crossings will be launching World Changers on Mission (WCoM) whose inspirational Scripture is 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” (NIV).
The World Changers Vision
Build a transforming Christian army to love the world as Christ loves all
The World Changers Mission Statement
- Coach leaders to crush their limiting beliefs, love who they are, and discover their identity in Christ
- This mission will be accomplished through the following goals:
- Self-exploring to identify lies that are holding back personal identity and service and replace with the truth
- Driving on world service in ways that show Jesus’s love to others and which honor personal spiritual gifts and talents
- Meeting people where they are in their personal spiritual journey and providing information and encouragement to pursue Christ as their personal savior
- Developing and encouraging future world changers to organize and move out in service
For those who want to learn more about this initiative, I have developed a simple PowerPoint that provides more explanation and detail. Email me if you are interested in receiving more information. Because I know how God works, I cannot help but wonder how this mission trip will impact or further develop the concept of World Changers on Mission.
I am reminded of TD Jakes’ message from the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) in which he said that if you can accomplish your dream on your own, you are not dreaming big enough. World Changers on Mission (WCoM) may have been birthed by Darin and me through God’s planting of a mustard seed in fertile soil, but WCoM is about empowering everyone to move in their purpose. TD Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, has some incredibly powerful quotes which I share for thought-provoking action:
- “Don’t stop at where you are as if it were the destination, when in fact, in reality, it may be the transportation that brings you into that thing you were created to do.”
- “Everything you’ve gone through is preparation for what’s about to happen in your life. The Lord has already given you a word, move!”
- “We need to be who we were called to be instead of contorting ourselves into what other people want us to be!”
- “It is time for us to find the thing we were created to do, the people we were meant to affect, and the power that comes from alignment with purpose.”
- “Here is the problem with how many people approach the question of purpose: many are looking outside of themselves for their purpose, destiny, or meaning in life. The very key to knowing your purpose is discovering and celebrating your personal identity.”
- “God is about to plant you in a big thing. Your eyes have not seen, your ears have not heard, neither has entered into your heart what God has in store for you!”
- “If we are called to be the salt of the earth, we have to get out of the saltshaker. Get out of your comfort zone, enlarge your territory.”
- “Your Passion is your conviction about it, your Purpose is why you do it, your Destiny is where.”
- “At any age you can still ignite your passion through finding your purpose.”
- “When you know your purpose, you know what isn’t your purpose, so you can stop being distracted trying to do something that is not in the wheelhouse of what you were designed to do!”
All of TD Jakes’ (www.tdjakes.com) key messages are foundational to what WCoM embodies. So, what field is God calling you into?
An excerpt from Sandra Dillon’s El Salvador Mission Journal (October 10, 2016)
I feel remiss in not having issued a mission journal entry since early August, but frankly I think I was so busy with life, serving, and school that I wasn’t paying much attention to anything God might have been whispering in my ear. Yes, I have been short-changing God and paying the price. However, I believe God is stirring something powerful in my heart prior to taking a team of 11 to drill a well, repair wells, teach hygiene, and play with the village children in El Salvador with Living Water International.
In September while I was visiting Alex and Wes in Colorado Springs, I stopped at the Focus on the Family Bookstore—one of my favorites and one I never miss when in town. As the cashier was ringing up my book purchases, I looked down on the counter at several bracelets with one-word descriptions such as faith, hope, believe, etc. For those who know me, I am not a jewelry person, yet this one word, “fearless” caught my attention. I looked away to finalize my purchase, but my eyes were drawn back to this one bracelet. Given how strange it was that my attention was drawn towards this item, I took the time to resonate on what I was feeling and thinking. Fearless, fear less, less fear, strength, etc. I decided to add the bracelet to my total, so that I would not hold up the checkout line. I would figure out what God was telling me later when I had more time. Fast forward to when I returned to Houston—I put on the bracelet, thinking this would inspire my thoughts and any messages.
Fearless—was it simply an adjective, or was it fear less, more of a call to action, to identify my fears, face fear, turn my fear over to God by doing exactly what I feared. Although I have never counted the number of times that any one word is written in the Bible, a simple unverified internet search says that “love” appears more than 500 times and “fear” as expressed as “do not be afraid” or “do not fear” appears about 120 times. This was less than I would have estimated, but enough to send a clear message that we as humans suffer and struggle with fear in our lives, as there are many Scriptural references to “fear not.”
What fear does God want to bring to my attention and how might this be related to this mission trip? Darin and I have talked at length that we are not afraid of physical harm or death. Many people are fearful to go on a mission trip into a third world country. I remember well the pleas not to go to Nairobi, Kenya in October 2013 from well-meaning friends and family, because we were traveling just weeks after the Westgate Mall Christian massacre where hundreds of Christians were either killed or injured. We were scheduled for outreach in the slums of Ongata Rongai which was a mere 5 miles from this mall.
I know that fear is a powerful, self-inflicted weapon used to hold us back from everything we are called to be and when we are called to act. I am fully aware of my fears, when I feel fearful, and I have been working on confronting and moving into my fears. Fighting fear is a journey I take with God by my side, and so far, I wish I were farther along, but I am proud of my progress. I clearly see how my fears are the obstacles that block me from fully moving in the purpose God has for my life. Clarity of purpose helps me visualize the wall of fear that stands before me and how I need to walk through my wall of fear, climb over it, or go around it with these last two options taking a longer yet still successful path.
Acts 18:9 (NLT) speaks to my heart: “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, ‘Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent!’” Although there are a few interpretations for this Scripture, the message that resonates with me is to not be afraid of the things God is calling me to do that are outside my comfort zone. Speak of those fears so they cannot hold power over me or build walls that block my path towards my divine purpose. What am I afraid of? Right now, I hold only two fears that I am aware of—public speaking and the yet to be answered, “Will I be successful when I launch my life and marriage coaching business next year?” Why is God having me focus on my fears in a specific way just before we are to go on mission to El Salvador? Or is the timing just coincidence? I am not sure, but Darin and I are always surprised by every mission trip. We think we know the purpose of the trip, and then God shows up and delivers the message of our true trip purpose. Somehow I think “fearless” will be tied into whatever message God wants to share with us. I look forward to living out this journey with my 10 teammates and finding out what connection this trip has with “fearless.”
As I shared my personal fears, did you think of any fears that are holding you back from your life purpose?
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fictional setting of Boston in 1642, a woman named Hester Prynne must stand for three hours on a public scaffold wearing the scarlet “A” on her dress. For what purpose? So that she could be publicly shamed and humiliated for adultery! For those not familiar with the classic novel The Scarlet Letter, adultery was against the law of the land and church but also an unforgivable sin whose sentence lived on until death. Fast forward 375 years when adultery does not carry the same legal or societal stigma and where most surveys reveal that it is more common for husbands and wives to cheat than not over the course of their marriages.
Perhaps because adultery is so common, we have put the Scarlet “A” back into our pocket and now sew on a Scarlet “F”, as in felony, on every shirt lapel leaving prison. Oh, we may not be as obvious about it in this politically sensitive world, but how we treat ex-felons, who have served time for their crime, speaks volume in what we think of these men and women. Through our laws, community policies/practices and personal actions we have labeled these released prisoners (a.k.a. felons) with “F” as in “Failure.” Did you know that when a prisoner is released from prison he gets the clothes on his back, $50, and a bus ticket to anywhere? What is he supposed to do with those resources for his first night’s lodging and food? Let’s get real. What do you think happens next? With no support he will likely connect with old friends who will help him back into illegal activity to put food in his mouth and a roof over his head. And so the cycle begins again! Statistics show that 50% of felons return to prison after 3 years and 75% after 5 years. These are just the felons who get caught. Why are these statistics so surprising? They shouldn’t be.
What are the hurdles for felons who want to legally re-integrate into community? Well, he has difficulty finding a place to live, because he doesn’t own a home. He can’t live in an apartment complex, because management discriminates against all felons regardless of the crime, and probably, he can’t stay with relatives where he has worn out his welcome long before his prison sentence. He can’t get a job, because he doesn’t have any decent clothes for an interview, but if he did, when he checked the felony box on the application he is immediately disqualified. What would you do? I expect you are saying to yourself, “Well, he shouldn’t have gotten himself involved in crime to begin with?” Honestly, there is a part of me that wants to sympathize with that statement, but the other part of me knows a different story. My other half will suggest that the difference between you and an ex-felon can be the simple fact of just getting caught. How many times have you had one too many drinks, been legally intoxicated, and yet chose to drive home? For those who made it home safely, we breathe a sigh of relief—no one was hurt or killed. If you didn’t make it home, you might be in prison for intoxicated manslaughter.
So, you may think, “I see your point; it could have been me, but it wasn’t. Felons are not my problem.” My reply is, “If you live in this country, it is your problem, because incarceration affects each and every one of us.” Did you know the average annual cost to hold an inmate exceeds $30,000? Did you know the real cost to the taxpayer is multiples of that when you factor in lost tax revenue on wages, welfare and aid given to families of incarcerated men, and damages from crime. For those who are killed or harmed during a criminal act, I cannot put an estimate to the value of life and limb, but at a minimum, lost wages, funeral expenses, and medical bills could be tallied in the total cost.
So what can be done about this problem? Well, the solution is not by any means easy or short-lived, but we can start by building awareness of the issue, investing in effective transformational programs, and crushing the felon stereotype. The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP, http://www.pep.org) is giving prisoners the opportunity to change their lives for the betterment of their families and communities. PEP sees the value of these incarcerated men, and along with other business volunteers, they all come along side those prisoners who are doing the hard work to transform themselves. This program initially focuses on building authentic manhood and servant leadership and follows with building skills and training in business entrepreneurship. When program graduates are released from prison, they have access to transitional living and support to help integrate back into society. Over the past 3 years I have been an executive PEP volunteer and have seen transformed lives and returned dignity in the men we serve.
On April 1, 2016 I honorably participated in a kickoff session for another PEP class who were entering the authentic manhood segment of the program. Today I received a batch of photos with thank you cards from those men with whom I had the privilege of spending the day in prison. Yes, they teach these men how to write handwritten thank you cards, a much appreciated and overlook form of business etiquette. When you see how hard these men work for their future, you can’t help but be inspired to partner with them in their walk. If you were wondering whether this program works, recidivism is < 7% after 3 years for those graduating from this program. For the fifth consecutive year 100% of the graduates secured their first job within 90 days. Since PEP’s launch in 2010, 211 businesses have been started with 6 now generating over $1 million/year revenue. That’s not failure—that spells S-U-C-C-E-S-S!
PEP is a non-profit organization operating only through donations and no government financial assistance. The local Texas state correctional facilities welcome this program, because it works! We can only hope that one day, the federal and state governments will fund and incorporate these concepts into the prison system as a whole. You may not be in a position to volunteer your time or talents or to donate to this worthwhile program, but you can change the way you think about a felon. You can start to break the felony stigma. Don’t rush to pin the “F” letter on a felon’s collar. Ask questions. Learn his story. Offer support in a meaningful way. Even the act of listening and empathizing shows compassion and can make one feel valued as a human being. Like every one of us who has made a mistake, we hope to be judged not for who we were but for who we are actively working to be! Embrace the PEP Revolution!
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a business, life, and marital coach with an extensive background in business development and leadership. She now coaches others in how to develop and execute their 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.