Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Someone Ahead: A New Kind of Mentor

In the 19 years I've been attending the same church, Pastor Mike  has repeatedly given this same piece of wise instruction:

Find someone ahead of you, behind you, and alongside of you. 
In other words, get a mentor, someone to teach you. Be a mentor, pass on what you have learned. Live in community with people who encourage you and challenge you.

I understood the concept, but I was in an introvert in a new church. I didn't want to talk to anyone, and very few people talked to me. Could I do this? How would I do this? Was it even necessary?

Eventually I learned to step outside of myself. I made a few friends who challenged me to step beyond my fears. I encouraged some women who were younger than me. And Teresa invited me to go on walks with her.

Teresa is my pastor's wife. She asked me questions about how I became a follower of Jesus Christ. She let me talk about what I was reading. She invited me to join a Life Group with her. She sent me an encouragement note after I joined. I watched her and the way she encouraged other women. I watched her nod her head and ask thoughtful questions in response to what the women said. When I started my own Life Group, I followed her example. I sent handwritten notes. I listened carefully, like I had seen Teresa do.

If I didn't know what to do about a situation, I asked Teresa on one of our walks. And then the walks became less and less often as Teresa began teaching others. It was a natural progression, and we continue to move in and out of each other's lives, depending on what's going on in our lives.

Teresa never used the word mentor, but that's exactly what she was.
In fact, none of my mentors ever used the word mentor to describe our relationship.

We just spent time together, sometimes alone, but more often in group settings. I watched, listened, asked questions, and learned.

I'm incredibly grateful for these men and women who have modeled what it's like to live as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Good mentors are hard to find. I suspect most of my mentors didn't even know I was watching.

Over the years, a few women have asked if I would be their mentors. We met together regularly, but I wasn't quite sure what to do, and I'm not sure we accomplished anything.

I still think the best mentoring relationships were more informal, more organic. They just happened as we spent time together and learned from each other.

That's why Margaret Feinberg's gave October 2012 blog titled "Four Keys to Finding the Perfect Mentor You've Always Wanted" resonated with me. Feinberg describes the difficulty in finding good mentor, the potential of feeling reject, the possibility that the relationship won't be quite what you hoped it would be.  She encourages women to take the risk and provides four guidelines for developing mentoring relationships in our lives:

1.  Reconsider the meaning of the word mentor. 
2.  Make sure there's a personal connection.
3.  Check out the person's life.
4.  Adjust your expectations.

This last one is incredibly important. No single person can give you answers to everything in your life. But perhaps that person can mentor you in prayer, or in cooking, or in training your toddler, or in learning to develop daily Bible study. Click on the link for Feinberg's blog to see more.

I need women who are ahead of me. As I grow older, I find that someone may be ahead of me in one area, but not in another area. It turns out that we end up mentoring each other.

Pastor Mike's advice, to always have some ahead, someone behind, and someone alongside, has been essential in helping me stay focused on serving God.

Who is ahead of you right now? How can you build this into your life?
Who is behind you? Who are you mentoring? How can you build this into your life?
Who is alongside of you?

We need each other.

How to Waste a Perfectly Good Crisis

Misunderstood. Alone. 
We're headed off to Palm Springs again in a week.  For those of you who don't know me well, Palm Springs in the summer is my happy place.

This year anticipation of the trip causes reflection because it reminds us of our last family vacation, when we learned Duane's mom had liver cancer. We cut our vacation short, and two weeks later, she died.

That started our year of crises. 
  • I doubted God's provision, so I took every class offered to me. My schedule was crazy as I taught seven different courses at six different schools. 
  • I crashed my car. 
  • Duane and his sisters sold his mom's house.
  • Duane and his sisters distributed the belongings.
  • We held a massive yard sale. 
  • I tore a tendon in my leg and couldn't walk for two weeks. 
In the last two months:
  • Duane experienced chest pain that emulated a heart attack.
  • He had a series of other health issues.
  • Our garage flooded three times.
  • Construction workers opened up walls in all rooms of our house to replace plastic pipes with copper pipes and then closed the pipes. We had open walls and fine layers of dust everywhere.
I think that's all, but maybe not. Who can keep track?

Through it all, we have fought to stay close to God. Overall, we have continued to trust God, but we do have moments when we don't do so well.  Last week, an interpersonal conflict pushed me over the edge. I met a friend for coffee and told her, "I'm done. I just don't want to do this anymore." 

I came home and found a blog from Frank Viola in my in-box.  He wrote:
We all face crises in our lives. They seem to come in seasons.For the Christian, a crisis is a divine opportunity to discover something fresh about our Lord.Unfortunately, many people waste the crises that come into their lives.
His point is that, God wants to birth new things in our lives through the difficulties we experience. The story of Joseph illustrates this principle. James 1 reassures us that if we embrace our trials instead of running away from them, "our faith will blossom under pressure" .  Romans 5 reminds us to celebrate during suffering because through the suffering we will grow in hope and learn to rely on God's goodness and faithfulness.

The thing is, after a season of crisis after crisis, I didn't want to learn anything new. I didn't want to blossom or grow in hope. I felt hurt. And angry. Tired. Misunderstood. Isolated. I didn't want to talk to God. I didn't want to listen to Him. I wanted vindication.

I thought about this as I scanned Viola's short entry. I hadn't even opened my Bible that day. I hadn't prayed.

As I read, I remembered: God is God. He knows me better than I know myself. My heart began to soften. God loves me. I need Him. He will not abandon me. Even if this situation doesn't work out as well as I would like, God is still good. He will take care of me.

There are times when I'm tired, but I don't want to waste a crisis. I want to grow to be the kind of woman God had in mind when he created me.

Here's Viola's advice on how to waste a good crisis.  By the way, he says this is "not recommended."

1. When you are in crisis, don’t make any adjustments to your life.
2. When you are in crisis, forget that God is on the throne and that He is for you.
3. When you are in crisis, give power to the enemy by doubting your Lord.
4. When you are in crisis, forget that “this too shall pass,” live in the moment, and walk by sight rather than 
by faith.
5. When you are in crisis, do not fast, and neglect frequent prayer.

In the days before confessing to my friend that I was "done," I had done several of those things. I had forgotten God was on the throne and that He loved me, He was for me. In my imagination, I magnified the power of humans and doubted the faithfulness of God. I forgot that the situation was temporary and that it would ultimately pass. And finally, at the end, I kept my Bible and my prayer journal closed. 

After I finished reading, I closed my computer, and I prayed. 
This has been a year filled with crises, but it hasn't been a bad year. In fact, it's been a really beautiful year. I am in love with my husband, and my kids, and my friends. I'm grateful for moments of joy and moments of discovery. I've seen extraordinary things this year, things I would never have imagined could happen.

When we slow down, we see God's hand our lives. We see where He has protected us, provided for us, comforted us, guided us. We are not ever alone. We might not have seen those things if it weren't for the crises in our lives.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy birthday, America

This morning I’m gazing across an orange grove as I read my Bible and scribble prayers in my journal. Today I want to remember to thank God and praise him as I go about my day. It shouldn’t be too hard, I think. Duane and I took advantage of the short school week to head north on a mini-vacation. We found a little inn known for fabulous breakfasts, and so this morning I’m sitting on our private balcony listening to worship music and feeling the breezes as remember all the things I have to be thankful for, all the things I can praise God for.

I look beyond the orange groves to the tractor on the hill, and I watch the workers as they gather around it in the morning coolness. It’s the Fourth of July, but growing things requires daily effort.  I think of the farmers and the farms across our nation, and I begin to remember the many fields I’ve seen trekking across the country on road trips. I’m a city girl at heart, or at least a pretty dedicated suburbanite, but I still see beauty in open spaces and farmland.

Sometimes, when I’m traveling in those open spaces, I see abandoned barns and houses. The wood is gray and worn, walls are missing. Trees grow up around these old houses.  Trees the original farmers planted so their children and children could enjoy fruit and shade and beauty—trees whose fruit, shade, and beauty they probably never enjoyed.

I am always grateful for these original pioneers who ventured into the unknown, who paved the way for my own family to head west. 

I think of them now as I gaze across the farmland in front of me, and I think of all the pioneers who risked the lives they knew to create new lives in new lands. America is a land built by pioneers--men, women, and children who saw what could be and made it happen. Many of them never saw the fruit of their labors, but they did it anyway. They did it for us, and I am grateful.

·         I am grateful for colonists who came into an unknown and inhospitable land. 
·         I am grateful men, women, and children who inched their way west, some to see new things, some to strike it rich, some to build new lives.
·         I am grateful for farmers, slave and free, who strengthened this country by working the land and feeding America.
·         I am grateful for abolitionists who said no one should be held captive.
·         I am grateful women who marched in the streets, advocating for the right to vote, to learn, to be taken seriously.  
·         I am grateful for civil rights activists who saw injustice and risked their lives and their reputations so that everyone could take advantage of the opportunities in this land.
·         I am grateful I am grateful for the many soldiers, firemen, and law enforcement personnel who have sacrificed their lives for our safety and security. 

I am grateful for these Americans who saw the future and gave their lives for all of us.  

Happy birthday, America! You have beautiful children.