Last week was my mom’s birthday. She would have turned 71…I can’t believe it. She went to heaven at 52 and she barely even had a gray hair. Although she did get her hair “frosted” so maybe it was in there somewhere. Nonetheless, she was young and beautiful and I hate that she’s gone. I wish we could’ve spent the day together celebrating 71 years and eating lots of shrimp.
I have always tried to spend her special days doing things she loved and honoring her uniqueness and fabulousness. At some point in the day though, my mind will wander to all the years she’s missed and I’ll feel heartbroken about it.
And really that heartbroken feeling surfaces a bit every day. I have been without my mom for almost 19 years and that has left so many holes, so many gaps. There are countless things I need to learn from her, enjoy with her and hear from her.
This year on her birthday I spent time reflecting not only on what I have missed but how God has provided people to step into those gaps for me. I recently spoke at a women’s event on the idea of mentoring and as I prepared, it became clear that the most significant mentoring relationships I am in are the ones that fill a gap. A place in my life (or in theirs) where there is a hole.
Mentoring put simply is when a more experienced person helps, advises, encourages or trains a less experienced one. You can mentor someone in fishing or singing or on the job at an insurance company. But the best kind is very personal- mentoring someone in life. Walking alongside, giving them your heart and your time while helping them live life well before God.
Paul (in the Bible) was pretty good at this. He made relationships, cared for people, spoke both encouragement and hard truths. We see some of this in his letter to the church at Thessalonica.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 & 11-12 (The Message)
7-8 We took you just as you were. We were never patronizing, never condescending, but we cared for you the way a mother cares for her children. We loved you dearly. Not content to just pass on the Message, we wanted to give you our hearts. And we did.
11-12 With each of you we were like a father with his child, holding your hand, whispering encouragement, showing you step-by-step how to live well before God, who called us into his own kingdom, into this delightful life.
My mentoring relationships have been that way. Not a program or a certain method, but coming alongside in the context of a genuine relationship. Sharing life. Sharing wisdom. Working through faith as well as marriage, friendship, parenting, wounds, fears, failures, hopes and dreams. Saying the hard things, speaking life over each other, helping each other make brave and hard choices.
I am so grateful for the people who were willing to step into my gaps and be what I needed. None of them pushed their way in, but emerged as natural mentors in already healthy and supportive relationships. And I let them in. My sister. My mother-in-law. My aunts. And Cathy, Judy, Peg, Rhonda… So many stories of ways they’ve taught me, prayed for me, helped me make good choices, celebrated with me, mourned with me, listened to me, challenged me, lifted my arms.
I’ll never forget getting a call from our marriage mentors after our third miscarriage. “Please come up for a couple of nights. It’s snowing here, we want to make you good food and coffee, play with your kids. We want to listen, take care of you, see how you are.” And that’s exactly what they did. We made a snowman, sat by the fire, prayed. They asked us how our hearts were, how our marriage was and how the kids were. And I didn’t realize how much I needed to be taken care of like that.
As I’ve experienced this kind of beauty, I’ve been inspired to extend it to others. We need to always be in the middle. Walking with those further down the road AND those coming up behind. Learning and teaching. Like the proverb says, “if we walk with the wise, we will grow wise.”
I have a special group of tight-knit people in my life due to the ministry I was part of for a long time. Most are 10-15 years younger than me and we worked together on a staff that was first about the relationships and second about the work. I saw my job as a mentor first and a program director second.
It’s been years since I left my job, but the mentoring is still going strong. I now have 3 small kids and no time or ministry budget left to take them each to coffee every few weeks and give them my full attention. Instead, the mentoring has looked more like: “Let’s talk and pray together while you: come stay in our guest room for a couple nights, eat cereal with us at 11pm, walk through Target with me (and my wild kids), come for dinner, help me decorate for the birthday party, hold my baby while I fold laundry.”
Sometimes they just want to be around a healthy (albeit imperfect) family because they didn’t grow up with one. Sometimes they just need a place to stay and some good food. Sometimes they want to share something hard and need a safe place to do it. Sometimes they want advice. Sometimes they just want to be heard. In any case, inviting them into my home and my life has been an avenue for honest friendship and good mentoring.
One such friend has been with me a long time. She regularly comes to stay over at my house, texts me late at night, calls to tell me hard news, great news, or confusing news. We are good friends, I am just a decade+ ahead in life and have some things she needs. Her gaps are different than mine, but we all have them. (She has things I need too- even when you’re the one further down the road, mentoring is never a one-way street.)
Last year as she was staying the weekend with our kids so we could get away to a marriage retreat, she found out that her boyfriend’s parents were at the same retreat. She sent me a picture of them and encouraged me to introduce myself if I saw them. So I started looking among the hundreds of couples in the room and eventually spotted a woman walking out to the bathroom that looked like his mom. So, of course, I followed her. And then awkwardly stood outside the bathroom door waiting for her to come out.
She came out and I introduced myself. She knew who I was and about the role I have played in her son’s girlfriend’s life. A girlfriend who at this point is very likely to become his wife. And the mother to her grandchildren. And a permanent part of her family. She hugged me and started crying. And I started crying.
She thanked me for the years I have invested and for how I have stepped into the gaps. She recognized in that moment how those things will impact her son, their marriage, their kids and the entire family. And then we cried more, outside that bathroom door, having known each other for about 10 minutes. Feeling connected over our trust in Jesus, our love for this young couple (who are now engaged!) and overwhelmed at the power of stepping into someone’s gaps.
That sort of mentoring has impacted my life and my relationships greatly. It has made the 19 years since losing my mom more beautiful for me. I wish my mom had been here to help me get ready on my wedding day, to hold my hand through contractions, to hold my heart when we lost our babies, to help me navigate this life- but I haven’t been without. I am a better woman, a more faithful Christ-follower and a good mentor for others because of those that stepped in for me.
Although there’s no mentoring plan that I follow, these are things I commit to-
- Being authentic, inviting people in- to my stories, to my home, to my real life
- Asking God to reveal needs, gaps that I might step into
- Letting it happen naturally, not forcing it (I don’t want a bunch of people trying to be my mom, I’m sure other people don’t want that either)
- Sticking with people long term, if they are willing
- Earning the right to say hard things (trust, care, filling their tank)
- Always pointing them to Christ. To truth, to what is good and right.