Friday, February 17, 2017

What I've Learned About Being Mentored

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.
Proverbs 13:20

They have been professors and boss's wives, fellow co-workers, church ladies, and distant relatives. They have taught me everything from how to make a chicken pot pie and balance a checkbook, to how to respect a husband, pray, and raise children, to how to say no with grace and tact. Were it not for them, I would be a very different person today.

I'm talking about my mentors. Men and women who have, usually unknowingly, taught me some of life's greatest lessons.  

I wanted to share more about mentors and the mentoring process because the lessons I've learned from them come up often in my conversations and in my writing. I wanted to dispel a few myths and speak truth about what a mentoring relationship can be and what it shouldn't be. 

1.)  A mentor is usually someone older, but doesn't always have to be. I've had a couple of mentors who are my age but who are a few seasons ahead of me in life. This means they have already walked where I am (as it pertains to things like raising children or their spiritual lives) and their stories inspire me to keep going. 

2.)  A mentoring relationship is different from the ones you have with your girlfriends ...and it should be. With a girlfriend, I share funny moments and hard times and usually get a "I know, right?" reaction out of them, some sympathy, or a "It's going to be ok" hug. We share life on a moment-to-moment basis because we're usually in the same stage of life. 

But I don't go to a girlfriend for advice on what to do with my child or where my life is going.  My mentors are wiser and can offer advice my girlfriends, as wonderful as they are, just don't have the experience for.  I walk into a mentoring relationship with a quiet mouth and an open heart. I go in humbly knowing I have very little to teach and a lot to learn. I go in knowing that they may tell me hard truths that I may not want to hear but that I need. 

Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my headMy head will not refuse it
Psalm 141:5

3.)  A mentor is usually your gender, but doesn't always have to be. That said, there are certain precautions to take when interacting with mentors who are the opposite gender. When I was in high school and college, my mentors were all men (I realize now that this was because the Lord was filling in places where my dad should have stepped in and didn't). They took care to meet with their female mentorees in public places and usually in groups. They were all married, so if any of us girls had deep issues we needed to work through, these guys would have their wives handle it. In doing so, they kept themselves from becoming emotionally attached and therefore possibly romantically attached to any one of us. I didn't understand this at the time, but now I realize how wise they were being in protecting both themselves and us. 

4.)  A mentoring relationship doesn't need a label. What I mean is you don't have to have an all-out-official-sit-down with your potential mentor and sign a contract-in-blood detailing every aspect of your relationship to them. With almost all my mentors, the relationship has come about gradually and naturally. We form a friendship first, and as we talk and meet for coffee or do ministry together, a mentoring relationship develops and grows. 

5.)  A mentor may not even know they are mentoring you. Again, I think almost all the women I consider mentors don't even realize they are. We just have a friendship where we do things and have conversations and I am quietly taking mental notes about how they react to situations or how they handle pressures in their lives. Some of my mentors know they are mentors even though we've never used that term to define our relationship. They are the ones I go to when I need prayer and guidance and some more structured time together.

Although all the mentors I meet physically with are women, the male mentors in my life are writers and speakers whom I may never meet and who certainly don't realize they are mentoring me!

6.) A mentor is not forever. The one lesson I've had a tough time learning is that no relationship in life is forever. A mentor may come into our life to encourage a specific situation we are struggling with or they may stay for a few years, but eventually you both must part ways as you both change and grow. 

7.)  A mentor has a life outside of their relationship with you. Do not demand your mentor be available to you at all hours. Good mentors will know how to set boundaries with you. Please respect their time, their normal jobs, and their families. 

This also means they will probably have other people they mentor, and you should have other people who mentor you. No mentor, no matter how amazing, can answer every question or deal with every situation you have. 

8.) A mentor does not have to have the same worldview or spiritual beliefs as you. That said, since I am a Christian speaking to Christians, I believe most of our mentors should share our beliefs in order to be able to speak into our lives. But that doesn't mean we write off every soul who doesn't. I have learned important lessons about money, nutrition, charity, and health from mentors who call themselves atheist, New Age, Mormon, and homosexual. Many times experience and age can teach us a lot more than a person's label can.  

9.) A mentor doesn't have to be (and I would add, probably shouldn't be) a high-profile person. In our show-biz centered society, we idolize the people who are up-on-stage and in the spotlight. We somehow think that if we score a mentor who is popular and leads great ministries, that we'll somehow have the upper-hand. Let me tell you that if you're seeking mentors who are only in the spotlight, you will be disappointed. People like this usually already have full schedules and are in high demand by everyone. Except for rare instances, they will not have the time or energy to devote to a one-on-one mentoring relationship with you. Admire them from afar, read their books, shake their hands, but unless you already had a relationship with them before they were famous, or are pretty famous yourself, chances are a mentoring relationship with them will not happen.

And finally, and possibly most importantly...

10.) Pray your mentor in. There have been times in my life when I have gone a year or more without someone speaking into my life. Those have been some difficult times. It wasn't until a couple years ago that I learned that I could ask the Lord for a mentor.  A lot of us either because of the backgrounds we came out of or the constant moving we've done, don't have a lot of quality people around us to choose from. Ask the Lord to send some quality people to you. Ask him specifically to send you people who are where you want to be. If you want to see what a happy marriage looks like, ask him to send you mentors who are happily married. If you want to do a certain ministry one day, ask him to send you people who are already doing that and doing it well. And ask him to send people who can speak into the parts of your life that need to change and/or blindspots you can't see. Those are the mentors who have been the most influential in my life.

My whole adult life has been shaped by the mentors I've had. They have given me examples to look up to and taught me lessons about the Lord, and relationships, and being a Godly woman. They have shown me how to overcome fear and depression and discouragement. I am praying the same for each of you. May the Lord send you mentors in the most unlikely places and may you have the heart and eyes to see them and be taught by them. 

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
Proverbs 15:22

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Puppy Love

I was online reminiscing with a friend about "old times." We have both since moved states, she got her Master's, I got married, and we're both doing what we love in a way we never expected.

The name of a mutual friend came up...a guy I had had a huge crush on in college. So I did what any normal woman would do...I Facebook-stalked him. To clarify, I no longer have any feelings for this guy, so it's not like I was looking to rekindle something (trust me, there was nothing there to rekindle. He only saw me as a younger sister, which was a big bummer for me at the time.) To my young, wide-eyed, college-age eyes he was the epitome of everything I thought I wanted in a future husband. He was charming, outgoing, a scholar, tall, handsome, and when he smiled...*sigh* my whole world stopped turning. I had followed him around like a puppy even though he was a few years older and we didn't share a single class. I was in love with his persona and I was crushed that he never even gave me a second glance.

But now, more than 10 years later, seeing him in his Facebook photos, he just seemed kind of normal to me. He's gained a few pounds (haven't we all?), he has a normal job, he's married, and he likes sports and food just like any other guy. I couldn't figure out why I had been so smitten over him at one time.

Then I looked over at my wedding pictures, remembering one of the happiest days of my life and knowing that I was more in love than ever with my groom. I couldn't now imagine my life with anyone else. No one can make me laugh as hard, or take care of me as well, or believe in me the way my husband can.

Thirteen years ago, I thought I knew what I wanted in a husband. But the Lord in all his wisdom hid me away from the eyes of any guy for a while. I had no flowers, no romantic dates, and no one to dote on for a long time. I had been so disappointed. I wondered what was wrong with me and how I could change it. I had no idea that someone more wonderful was waiting for me.

I am so glad now that all my crushes and even my relationships didn't work out. I'm glad that all those guys went on to marry other women or fulfill other dreams. My life with Mr. Facebook could have been everything I ever wanted, but I find that now I have everything I didn't know I wanted. And that has made for a far richer story and has made me a far better person.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Here in This Moment

This past week I was cleaning out my inbox of seven years' worth of emails. A lot accumulates in that span of time. I realized that all the problems and worries I had thought were so insurmountable had been handled...every single one. All those bills I had to pay, calls I had to make, opinions that I had held so stubbornly to...none of them mattered anymore. All the relationships and conversations I had lost sleep over--I had forgotten about all of them. People had come and gone from my life, some had passed away into eternity.  I'm saddened at how much has changed in seven years. I wonder how life would have been different if I hadn't worried so much about everything.

But one thing I don't regret is that I lived each of the moments over the past seven years to the fullest. I don't regret the time I spent staying up with a friend, or giving someone a meal or a gift, or opening up my home to a person that needed it. Even when friendships didn't pan out like I expected them to, or when people let me down or took advantage of me, or when promotions passed me over to someone less qualified, I was able to sleep at night knowing I had lived my life to the best of my ability. I had done right by everyone and I had nothing to be ashamed of.

This was a lesson I had learned while still in college, from a wise professor who had been cultivating this in his own life. These are just some of the things he taught us:

Be fully present in the moment. Embrace every situation life gives you. Even in sorrow there is much to be learned. Listen intently to each conversation you're in. Don't try to multi-task. Do one thing fully until it is done.

The only things that matter in life are people and God. These are eternal and essential. Everything else eventually fades.

Stand before God for men before you stand before men for God. The most effective way to serve and honor people is to do it from a place where we first serve and honor God.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself. "I don't want to be loved the way some of you love yourselves," he would say. And he was right. The only way to truly love is to know how fully we are loved by the Lord. Otherwise we hurt or push away everyone we meet. 

Write. Always keep a notebook on you to record your thoughts, ideas, lessons, or Scripture. Memories fade, but what's written down endures and has a way of reminding us how far we have come. 

These precious lessons have stayed with me for the last 12 years. I am so thankful for them. They have become even more important since getting married and having a child. There is more vying for my attention now than ever in my life. But in the craziest moments I can remember these words and come back to what is truly important.