For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a notebook & pen in my hand. A neighbor growing up worked for a paper manufacturer and the scraps of paper he shared with us provided endless hours of joy with my childhood friends. 

Suffice it to say, writing and journaling weave in and out of my life like threads woven on your favorite blanket. 

But, recently, I confess, I’ve felt scattered. My notebook was filled with plenty of “to-do lists.” It even was close by like an adult security blanket. 

But something was off.

Feeling Scattered

Usually, when my feet hit the floor to start the day, I give God thanks for another day and look at my calendar for the day and week ahead.

Then, I’m off and running.  When I noticed the scatteredness I was feeling, I started asking questions.

Let me be clear. The scatteredness I was feeling was bothering me, not hindering anyone else. I was tending to my responsibilities and the people in my life. And, to poke a little fun, I have Achiever as #2 on my CliftonStrengths. Not getting things done can lead to panic and deep frustration in my soul. This wasn’t panic level unsettledness. 

When I’m not checking something off a list, I’m not being productive. (Welcome to the mind & heart of someone with Achiever talent!) The people who love me, warts and all, know that when I’m not productive, I’m not happy. As an aside, I’ve learned, the hard way, that rest can be one of the most productive things I can do. 

Something Was Off

But, having said all of that, something was off. 

I wondered, “Was I not getting enough sleep?” “Was I not eating well? Not setting good boundaries? 




What was off? 

For a few days, I simply practiced curiosity about what wasn’t “feeling right.” 

And then an unsolicited email from a coaching colleague landed in my inbox and I knew what that unsettled feeling was all about. Unintentionally, she helped me see what was happening. 

I’d not been using my journal or reflecting on my days with intentionality. In the midst of all the busyness, the one tool I use to process, reflect, and integrate what I’m learning about myself, others, and leadership was set aside in the busyness of daily life.

In the midst of personal and professional responsibilities, I had unintentionally set aside a key resource in my life. I returned to the email and recognized something I see happen with other leaders, too.

Busyness was crowding out space in my life to process all the input that was happening every day.

What, then, was needed?

Breathing Room

Busyness doesn’t lead to breathing room. Breathing room is the necessary pause in life that every leader needs to process the noise, input, and meetings we’re experiencing. 

That unsettled feeling I was experiencing was simply a whole lot of “input” in my life swirling in my soul without a place to land. 

In order to make meaning out of life, we need breathing space to foster growth. You might be thinking, isn’t that the rhythm God of God’s creation, too?

It sure is. We call that weekly breathing room Sabbath.

Daily, however, that breathing room happens for me with exercise, hobbies, and journaling. What I had not realized were the benefits a simple journaling practice brings into life and leadership.

“There is well over 35 years of scientific research that proves there are many benefits that can be gained through writing about your thoughts and feelings: lowered blood pressure, improved immune functioning, reduced stress, greater confidence, more clarity for decision making, healing emotional wounds, improving personal relationships, cultivating resilience and making meaning out of life events are among the many proven benefits of expressive writing.” L. Monk. 

Who knew that simple paper and pen could offer us so many benefits? It’s certainly helped me identify why I was feeling unsettled. Here are three ways leaders can benefit from journaling. It’s a simple, unexpected leadership tool that you can use to navigate life.

3 Ways Leaders Can Benefit from Journaling

First, journaling can help you focus and increase intentionality

Use your journal to reflect on how you engage your time and energy toward your values, priorities, and relationships. Exploring your thoughts and feelings about your goals, values, and relationships will help you make adjustments and recognize gaps. If you choose to reflect at the end of the day, here are three simple questions you can respond to:

  • What was awesome about today?
  • What would I change about today?
  • What have I learned and how will I use this going forward?

Second, journaling can boost your confidence.

Before you say, “Really, Sara?” here’s the thing. The process of untangling your thoughts on paper about a specific situation can help gain clarity which leads to confidence. 

Consider a situation where you’d like to be more confident. Here are a few suggested prompts to help you deepen your confidence.

  • What do I trust about myself?
  • What feels like a risk here?
  • If I were to let go of X belief, what might be possible?
  • How do my values inform my approach to this situation?

Finally, journaling can help leaders stop ruminating and build resilience.

Go back to the busyness of life I mentioned at the top of this article. When we ruminate on things, it leads to indecision. If we’re seeking to maintain a growth mindset, ruminating won’t do that! It will hinder growth and confidence. So while I’d like to simply say “stop it!” I know all too well it’s not always that simple. 

But, in the midst of our busyness, if we don’t stop and do something with our thoughts and feelings, our ruminating can lead to anxiety. And we’ve all experienced plenty of that in the past 18 months. We don’t need to pile on anxiety from daily life.

You might even be thinking right now about a challenge, conflict, or perceived slight that won’t stop cycling through your mind. Let’s try a different approach that will only cost you 15-30 minutes of your day. Grab a pen and paper and write about it.

Instead of offering your best as a leader, ruminating leaders can erode trust with our teams and impede your own health. Here’s why: your indecision, inaction, and avoidance lead to stress. And we all know what stress does. 

So what do you say? How about starting with a piece of paper and pen? Here are a few prompts to help you get started.

  • What is going well? What created this? What role did I play?
  • What’s challenging for me right now? What contributed to this? What’s my role in that?
  • What strengths can I honor and draw on in my daily life? How?

One Unexpected Leadership Tool

At the end of the day, a regular practice of journaling can help you as a leader stay grounded in who God created you to be and guide you towards being the courageous leader God wants you to be.

If you see me with a notebook in hand, it might have less to do with keeping track of what needs to get done and more to do with weaving the threads of life, leadership, and learning into a beautiful tapestry only God can create. 

Maybe today you’ll give yourself the gift of breathing room.  Grab a pen and paper and respond to one of the journal prompts above. It will be one step in remembering, “who you are is how you lead.” 

PS – Every week, the podcast offers two or more questions for you to integrate what you’re learning into your practice of leadership. We call it Write it Down/Talk it Out. Check out this week’s episode and questions here.

Last week, in a county board of education meeting in Tennessee, the board voted to require masks for students, staff, and visitors in elementary school buildings and on all school buses. The vote came after a contentious 4-hour meeting that was frequently interrupted by anti-mask residents who were in attendance. 

The tension of the meeting spilled out into the parking lot. Two men, who were among the anti-mask contingent, directly threatened a doctor who testified in favor of the mandate. As the doctor was getting into his car, a man yelled, “We know who you are, and we know where to find you!” 

Another man yelled, “You will never be allowed in public again!”

Leading in the Midst of Crisis

I don’t know about you, but such events are unthinkable to me. Frankly, they are disturbing and disgusting. I’m not questioning the right or opportunity to express opinions, but I am questioning the actions of threatening, blaming, and shaming.

As I read that report, I began to think of you as a leader. How do you speak up and lead when you know the people entrusted to your care are conflicted in their thinking, angry in their speaking, and threatening in their actions? Too often the reaction to mask mandates and vaccines pushes aside public health and human dignity.  When there is an opportunity to think of others and to respond with care and compassion, the reaction is self-focused and filled with rage and intimidation. So, how do you lead in the midst of a crisis?

A Good Word

I don’t know how many churches there are in the Columbus metro area, but I do know there are over 200 United Methodist congregations in the Capitol Area Districts.  I also know that the people entrusted to your care wait in anticipation for a good word from you. Although the event referenced above was in Tennessee, you lead and serve people, in your central Ohio communities, who have similar feelings and opinions regarding masks, vaccines, and personal rights.

How do you lead courageously in the midst of a crisis? 

1.      Remember who you are and why you do what you do. 

You are a child of God, and you have the opportunity to let people experience God’s love and care in and through you. Your identity is shaped by who God is and not by your preferences. So, regardless of your personal feelings about masks, vaccines, and personal rights, you are thinking of what is best for the people around you, recognizing their potential, and assisting them to live into being who God has created them to be.   

As a courageous leader, who is a Jesus follower, your leadership is characterized more in the fruit you produce than in your opinions.  So, your life is not characterized as much by whether you agree or disagree with masks and vaccinations as it is by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

With that in mind, it matters where you start.  You are a Jesus follower. Start there. You are a leader within a community of Jesus followers. Help people start with Jesus. This will take courage because some people will want to start thinking of themselves as “American” or “free” or “white” or “Republican” or “Democrat.” 

Starting anywhere other than Jesus separates us from one another. Starting anywhere other than Jesus, people perceive that their sense of self is being threatened. They feel insecure, powerless, and out of control. Sometimes people feel they must defend themselves and protect their rights.  At other times, people are not thinking in terms of relationships or character. Care and forgiveness are nowhere to be found. Remember who you are and why you do what you do because who you are is how you lead!

2.      Be a peacemaker. 

As a Jesus follower, you are identified as a child of God by your peacemaking. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). It is not always convenient to stand firm in faith. Courageous leaders face their fears, trusting and risking vulnerability because they know who they are.    

Too often leaders think that keeping the peace is more important than making peace.  Keeping peace often comes with keeping silent. If you don’t speak up, then you are keeping things peaceful. 

It is difficult to speak up when you know that most of the people around you are going the other way. But if you stand in fear and react out of emotion, you give power to what is not real and to what is not true. At any given time, people react out of fear.  At such times, silence is not an option.

It is easy to give in to your thoughts and feelings of uncertainty. But courageous leaders look beyond the immediate situation and circumstances. Things are not right with the world. What we are experiencing is more than differences in opinion, lack of knowledge, or poor communication.  It cannot be explained away as someone’s likes and dislikes. The struggle is real and dangerous.

At times like these, people are looking for a peacemaker, someone who leads with trust and confidence. They are looking for someone who can offer hope, not as wishful thinking, but as God’s preferred future of shalom. So, raise your voice and speak clearly.

  • Wear a mask – For your own health and out of care and compassion for others
  • Get vaccinated – For your own health and the well-being of others
  • Your right as a Jesus follower is to love others. Insisting on your own rights negates the love you have received in and through Jesus.

Be a peacemaker. Being a living child of God is not easy, but people will recognize and experience God’s love in and through you.  Who you are is how you lead!

3.      Be the leader needed for this time. 

You were created to lead at this time in history. You have been gifted with the strengths and abilities to lead courageously and effectively.  To be the leader you have been created to be, you will need to join hands, if not hearts, with people with whom you may not associate, agree, or understand. Model for your community and the world God’s design for all creation. Uncertainty and confusion can seem overpowering. Yet, God’s plan for creation is to bring order out of chaos.

It is not easy, but when you know who you are and why you do what you do, you can step up and lead with courage in troubled and uncertain times.  

Here are a few things to remember:

  • Do to others what you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31)
  • Love one another…By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34)
  • Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 5:32).
  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility regard others as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:3)
  • Love is patient, love is kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on getting its own way. It does not dishonor others. It is not easily angered or resentful and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not celebrate wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
  • Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say (Ephesians 4:29)
  • Be imitators of God as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:1-2)
  • Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. . . so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-12)

Difference Makers

When you come to the end of the day “having done everything” you can, stand firm, because you know that in the midst of all the confusion there is the presence of God. You have been created to lead for this moment. In whatever you face, you are standing firm on the promise, power, and victory of the Risen Christ.  Thanks be to God!

You can make a difference.  You and I know that we can’t do it alone and God is not going to do it for us. But you can be the leader needed in the midst of crisis when you open the door and invite God through Christ to enter in. To you, who has been created to lead at the time, the invitation remains, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20).

In the midst of crisis, be the leader God has created you to be. This week, how will you model the love you have experienced in Jesus? In what situation or circumstance will you step up and lead with courage and grace? Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Final Reminders

Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I have a conversation about Doing Hard Things. Listen to Episode 192 here. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

Who you are is how you lead.

The past year has offered each of us, as leaders, numerous learning opportunities. A variety of situations and circumstances have required changes in how we work and how we communicate with those entrusted to our care. The shifts are subtle but are necessary for becoming the leaders needed for this time. Whether it is remote from the kitchen table or in-person in the meeting room, these shifts will help you navigate the leadership challenges of today. 

Three of these shifts are:

  • Rhetoric to Relationships  
  • Self-Awareness to Self-Direction  
  • Time Management to Time Value 

1.      Rhetoric to Relationships: Shift Your Focus to Empathy.  

Courageous leaders are effective communicators, but leadership is deeper than words. Courageous leadership transforms rhetoric into relationships. When people say, “we need to improve our communication” or “you are not communicating with us,” they are saying “we feel disconnected and not a part of things.” When they say, “You don’t know who we are” or “we don’t know who you are,” they are saying, “we are not connected, and we don’t trust you.”

The number one characteristic people want in their leader is trust. You are leading in a time when saying you care is not enough.  The people entrusted to your care want you to know who they are and understand their life situations.  Along with giving programmatic updates, asking questions, and active listening, you are being asked to go deeper and develop empathy. Brene Brown says empathy fuels connection: it’s feeling with people and connecting with a person’s situation. 

It is showing you care, not just as the leader, but as a person. I know this sounds simplistic, but over this past year people have missed relationships. The time is right to model active listening and compassion. It is important to connect with people through their stories, whether it be stories of family members being sick, the difficulties of homeschooling, or other kinds of loss and grief.  Make time in your work life and in the work of your people to shift from updates and reports to listening and connecting to what is happening in their personal lives.

Try this, ask people how they are really doing, and more importantly, wait for the response. Empathy is being able to make space between your question and someone’s answer. Shift the good of what you are saying into meaningful relationships. 

2.      Self-Awareness to Self-Direction

Courageous leaders have the understanding and ability to manage their own thoughts and emotions when responding to individuals and to unwanted situations. There is a difference between reacting emotionally and responding neutrally.  Self-awareness is the ability to be aware of and control your own emotions. We might call it emotional intelligence.   

The shift is from being only aware of your thoughts and emotions to directing your behavior willingly with curiosity and kindness.  Your response does not invalidate or deny your emotions but trusts them as a way of learning about yourself and how to use them in positive and productive ways.  

So, as you become more aware of your feelings, you know more how to navigate through them. How do we do this? Be present in the moment. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge that they are just thoughts and emotions. And understand that they do not define you.  As you become more aware of how to navigate your own emotions, thoughts, and responses, you will become more aware of what impact your actions have on others.

With this shift, you will not only be aware of your own feelings and the impact of your actions, but you will also become the leader people trust and look to for care and direction. 

3.      Time Management to Time Value

Courageous leaders not only manage their own time and value the time of others but they know the significance of the time they have been given to relate to and lead others.

Our workdays have changed. We cannot simply transfer how we worked in an office into the home space. Cramming meetings and presentations into zoom calls simply does not work. Our context has also changed. So, it is necessary to shift from managing our time to designing our time around how we work, based on what we are working on and with whom we are working. 

Consider being more intentional about how people come together. Consider what can be done by email and what needs to be done face-to-face. Do face-to-face meetings need to be in person or virtually?

When you are planning a meeting, consider who needs to be present, the agenda, and what decisions must be made. Again, I know this seems simple, but time value allows you to send out information before the meeting, have a conversation by text or email, and before making the decisions. Time value provides you the opportunity to not only manage your time, take seriously the time of others, but work more efficiently as you lead effectively.

So, to shift from rhetoric to relationships and from self-awareness to self-direction, build in time to meet individually, one-on-one, with the people you lead. Keep in mind that you always have the opportunity to listen. Sometimes your listening will be work and other times you are listening to what others have to share.  

It seems that there is never enough time in the day. But, since we all get the same 24 hours, why is it that some people achieve so much more with their time than others? The answer lies in shifting from activities to relationships. Being busy is not the same as being effective. It isn’t even working smarter instead of harder.  It is in using your time to develop relationships with care and compassion.  People want a leader who they can trust. Who you are is how you lead.

Your Next Step

This week, what one shift can you make? What one shift will you make?

Remember, Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I are discussing barriers to leadership growth and what you can do about it. Tune and listen to Episode 191: 4 Barriers to Leadership Growth and What You Can Do about it. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

How are you doing this week?  I genuinely want to know. I care about you and your ministry. To say the least, you have been through a lot over the past eighteen months. I don’t need to rehash all the events, but I do want to commend you on your leadership and to take an inventory of how you are doing. 

Becoming Who God Created You to Be

Over the years I have had some good district superintendents. Those who I considered the best were the superintendents who came alongside me and assisted me in becoming the leader God created me to be. 

So, I’m wondering how I best serve you as your district superintendent.  Some of you know that I ask a lot of questions. Most of my questions are either out of curiosity or for clarity. I can honestly say that with each question, I am seeking ways to assist you in becoming the best leader you can be.   

Reflecting on Ministry

With that in mind, I am curious about how you are doing in this season of your ministry. You have just lived through a time like no other time in history. There have been concerns over what is coming next, grief over what once was, and anxiety about what to do now. You have learned new ways of doing some things and better ways to do others.

So, I have some questions, mostly out of curiosity, to help take an honest look at what you have accomplished so you might step into your next season of ministry with courage and effectiveness. 

Let’s consider the impact you have had on the people entrusted to your care.  Whether family, friends, neighbors, church members, or colleagues, let’s look at how you have made a difference in their lives. 

1. Reflect upon some things you have accomplished over the past eighteen months. 

Be honest and generous with yourself. What challenges did you have to overcome? What did you learn that can be useful now or be used in the future?    

It is okay to feel good about it. Be kind to yourself and take notice of some of the small things you have accomplished. 

Did you learn to cook something you haven’t cooked before, start a new exercise routine, or pick up a new hobby? Maybe it was keeping your children fed and clothed as you navigated the chaos of becoming an at-home teacher. Or, may it was when you set boundaries, either with work or in your personal life, you accomplished something significant.   

Get one or two of those accomplishments in mind. 

Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, “O God, thank you for giving me the strength and courage to endure through difficult and uncertain times. Amen.” 

2. Reflect upon times you shared or experienced love over the past eighteen months. 

When were you vulnerable and empathetic? 

Where did you take people seriously when you felt it was difficult to do? 

When did you listen to and make a place for people with whom you disagreed? 

Whether it was with family, friends, church members, or strangers, where did you provide a caring and safe place for people to become who God had created them to be? 

 Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for loving people through me, and thank you for loving me through those same people. Amen”  

3. Reflect upon times when you experienced joy. 

What made you stop to remember God’s goodness and to give God thanks? 

What was taking place when you realized your interaction with people was a response of gratitude for God’s grace? 

When did you feel at one with God and the people around you?  

Think about a time when you laughed so hard you cried, a time you were amazed by God’s presence, and/or a moment you keep close. Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind.  

Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer,

“O God, thank you for the deep joy you have planted in my heart. Help me be so joyful that the people around me experience your joy in and through me. Amen.”  

4. Reflect upon the moments you gave someone the benefit of your doubt. 

How did you show God’s love and kindness to people whether they deserved it or not? When did you say to yourself, “I know he is doing the best he can?” Or “How can I help her take the next step?”  

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for caring for people in and through me. Help me to be open to receive your kindness and goodness through them.  Amen.” 

5. Reflect upon the situations where you experienced courage. 

What risks did you take? When did you have to be vulnerable? What empowered you to make decisions and lead through difficult situations? Who were the people that came alongside you to encourage you?  

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for giving me the strengths and skills to lead with courage. By your grace, give me the courage to assist others to live and lead courageously. Amen.”  

You’re Doing Great!

As a leader, you have accomplished more than you have given yourself credit for accomplishing. You have been gifted to lead at this time in history. People are looking to you to be the leader they can trust, a leader of compassion, a leader who is stable, and a leader who offers genuine hope. 

At the moment, we are in the middle of a mess. But because you have taken the time to reflect upon what God has done in and through you, you are more able to step up and out to lead with courage and grace. You have been created and gifted to lead at this time in history. So, how are you doing? 

Your Next Step

This week, call, text, email a trusted friend or colleague, and tell them something you have accomplished over the past eighteen months. Give them the opportunity to celebrate with you. At your best, you cannot be who God created you to be alone.  Remember, it is okay to feel good, so celebrate.

If you don’t have someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing, then call, text, or email me.  It would be my pleasure to celebrate your accomplishments. 

I am grateful for you and your leadership. You have accomplished much. Now is the time to stop and catch your breath before stepping back into the mess.  

Just remember, who you are is how you lead. Stay focused upon the God who has gifted you. Continue to be who God has created you to be. You have already made a significant difference. Just imagine what God will do in and through your leadership today and tomorrow. 

A Prayer for You

O God, thank you for my friends and colleagues. Thank you for the ways you have enriched my life in and through them.  By your grace, embrace them through me so we can be the leaders you need us to be at this time in history. I offer them to you in the name of Jesus. Amen 

Final Reminder

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I are discussing what to do when you are living in times of uncertainty. Sometimes uncertainty looks like doubt. At other times, it looks like the need to learn a new skill. And still, at other times, it is wrapped up in decision fatigue or endless options that overwhelm you. Tune in and listen to Episode 190: What to Do When You Don’t Know What To Do. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past Episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

For some of you, it has been a while since I checked in with you. For others, this is my first opportunity to check in with you.

  • How are you doing?
  • How are you doing personally?
  • How are you doing professionally?
  • What do you need from me as you continue to lead into and through times of uncertainty? 

As you are deciding how to answer my questions, I want to commend you, again, on your work in leading through the Covid pandemic and through the racial unrest in your community. As I continue to pray for you and for your leadership, my question remains, how are you doing?

Care and Concern

Besides my genuine care and concern for you, I have a specific reason for checking in with you.

I thought of you last week when I read of a group of mothers from Williamson County, Tennessee called Moms for Liberty. They are trying to shut down the use of specific curriculum in their public schools. It is interesting that the curriculum includes an autobiography by Ruby Bridges. As a 6-year-old, Bridges became an international symbol of the civil rights movement. In September of 1960, she was one of the first Black children to integrate an elementary school in New Orleans. 

The Moms for Liberty argue that her book, Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story, contains too many truths that cut too close. The mothers find the story objectionable, citing a description of a “large crowd of angry white people who didn’t want Black children in a white school.” They say that’s too negative a rendering of a moment that is well documented in books, film, and photography.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges and I are the same age.

We entered the first grade in the same year. I’m sure the integration of a white school made all the major news outlets across our county, but I don’t remember ever hearing about Ruby Bridges until I was in college. I wonder if those mothers have truly seen the pictures from that year-long struggle over integration? Have they avoided the photographs of White women with their necks jutted out and their mouths screaming as though their world was coming to an end? One of the protesters carried a sign that read: “All I want for Christmas is a clean white school.” When I see video clips and listen to the cries of the crowd, one chant that can be heard is “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate.”

When I read that news story, I thought of you and how you must continually keep the story of Ruby Bridges and others in front of the people in your community. You know that the issue is not the integration of schools, but the dignity of human beings.

Understanding Racism

I once heard Jane Elliot say, “People who are racist aren’t stupid, they’re ignorant. And the answer to ignorance is education.” If that is true, why would anyone want to keep the stories from being told? 

Jane Elliot has had a tremendous impact on me, my understanding of racism, and how to address it. In April 1968, she was a third-grade teacher in the small town of Riceville, Iowa. On the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, she felt compelled to shift her lesson plans. She decided to teach her young white students about discrimination by telling the children that brown-eyed people were superior to their blue-eyed peers. She watched as the students turned on each other. Then, the next day, she reversed the script.

Notice she invited the children of her third-grade class into an exercise that highlighted the arbitrary and irrational basis of prejudice. Sixty-one years after Ruby Bridges and fifty-three years after Martin Luther King, Jr., we are still wrestling with the same arbitrary and irrational basis for prejudice. Why wouldn’t we want to teach our children, our neighbors, our friends, and those who are entrusted to our care about the love of God and dignity of all persons? 

In a recent interview (early 2020), I heard her say, “There has been a big increase in racism in America over the past five years. We were making progress in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, even in the ’90s, and then a black man in the White House made a whole lot of white folks really angry because that said plainly to everyone, ‘A black man can get there and do it and do it well. Now if that’s true, then maybe my white skin doesn’t automatically make me superior.’ And it knocked the socks off everyone who believed in the rightness of whiteness.” 

Race is a Social Concept

She also said, “Many people don’t recognize that race is a social concept. Race isn’t biological. Race does not run in our DNA. Race is how somebody somewhere hundreds of years ago decided to categorize the human race.” 

Michele L. Norris, a writer for the Washington Post writes, “We do our children no favors if we only feed them a steady diet of fairy tales that sidestep life’s complexities.” She also writes that we do long-term harm when we sanitize our history in the name of protecting our children from feeling bad about themselves. “What’s really at work is adults trying to outrun a sense of shame.”

Courageous Leaders

Courageous leadership does not sigh a big sigh of relief when every crisis passes over. Courageous leadership steps into the crisis, discovers where God is at work, and leads people into the redemptive and transformative qualities of God’s love and grace. 

Let’s take the story of Ruby Bridges for example. Instead of reacting out of fear and protectionism, face the fear and respond by pointing where God’s love and grace are at work. What are the redemptive qualities of the story? 

Consider the following:

  • The teacher, Barbara Henry, who instructed Ruby day after day in a classroom. She and Ruby were the only two present when all the other students were pulled out by their parents. Barbara Henry gave herself unselfishly to the education of one little girl. 
  • The psychiatrist, Robert Coles, who counseled Ruby’s parents in the midst of death threats. He also met with Ruby on a regular basis to help her face the adults who lined the sidewalk to the school building shouting words of hatred. Robert Coles gave himself unselfishly to the emotional and mental health of Ruby and her family. 
  • The 6-year-old Ruby Bridges herself. She faced that crowd every day for a year. Her parents lost their jobs. They relied on the goodness of others to get through the crisis. Ruby once sent a letter to Santa Claus saying all she wanted for Christmas was for her father to get his job back.
  • Ruby’s parents who taught and modelled the love and grace of God. One day, while being escorted into the school building, Ruby stopped and said something. It looked like she was speaking to the angry crowd. Later when asked what she said, she replied, “I was praying for them.” “What did you pray for?” She replied, “What my mommy and daddy taught me to pray.” “And what was that?” Ruby replied, “I prayed, ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.’”

Wow! What a legacy. In the midst of such anger and hatred, it is not hard to find God’s love and grace. It seems to me that the Moms for Liberty were looking out more for themselves than for their children. Because of their own fear and anxiety, they missed an opportunity to model for their children the way of love and grace. 

Learn the Full Story

Fredrick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Our children need to learn the full story. The story includes both haters and helpers. Instead of sweeping away an uncomfortable history, tell the truth so that years from now our schools will have eradicated the forces of racial bias and white supremacy that have shaped every aspect of American life. 

So, do you understand why I thought of you when I read the story of the Moms for Liberty? You are in the position to do something about the racism that pervades our daily lives and the systems in which we participate and from which we benefit.

This is what you can do as a leader. 

Develop relationships of trust with children, youth, and young adults.

  • Become a mentor. Encourage them to go to college where not everyone looks like them and shares their political, sociological, or religious views. Encourage them to study abroad or to participate in mission teams in other countries where they can experience the achievements and beauty of non-white cultures.
  • Become a reader in your local school. Take the book, The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles, and read to the class. Her story and other books like it are inspirational. They shape the minds, hearts, and imaginations of all of us. They also help design a future without racism. There are many more books from which to choose. See the list of children’s books at the end of this blog. Or go to and search for “Overcoming Racism” and “Putting an End to Racism.”
  • Buy several copies of The Story of Ruby Bridges and donate copies to your local school, your local public library, and to your church library. Take time to educate children. Teach them to be the leaders that will shape the future of our country. 
  • There are many more books from which to choose. See a list of several children’s books at the end of this blog.

Develop relationships of trust with the adults entrusted to your care.

  • Lead a book study. Use Ruby Bridges book, Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story alongside the Bible. Point out the experiences of God’s grace in Ruby’s story.
  • Encourage parents to read the story of Ruby Bridges to their children. Provide the books and the opportunity to gather parents together for conversation. Your leadership will be invaluable in shaping the values of parents and children.
  • Encourage parents, all adults for that matter, to read a book regarding racism over the next 6 months. Again, provide the books and the opportunity to gather for conversation. Model for your adults. Let them experience how their lives can shape the future of our country.

Who You Are is How You Lead

Friends, who you are is how you lead. This week, where will you experience God at work and how will you lead people into discovering God’s love and grace? What one step will you take toward changing the world by putting an end to racism? 

Now that the Capitol Area North District and Capitol Area South District are under the leadership of one district superintendent, we have added new people to our team. When you need and want assistance, remember that Jill Philipp and Diana Keefer are available to assist you. You can reach Jill at or Diana at

Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are also with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Resources for Children

Below are the children’s resources I mentioned above:

For additional resources, explore “Overcoming Racism.” In that post you will find many books from which to choose.