Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Women Mentoring Women: Building a Spiritual Legacy

“Let’s use that one.” The sweet, older woman pointed at my five-year-old son’s right hand.

He's a lefty so he often reaches out to shake hands during our church's Sunday morning greeting time with his dominant hand.  After giving us all "good morning" hellos accompanied by a handshake, she stopped to greet him, taking care to subtly emphasize the use of the correct hand. Leaning over, she grabbed his hand and looked him straight in the eye. “Squeeze tight. Little boys should have a nice, firm handshake.” She smiled and walked on to the next person.

I love the wisdom and confidence that comes with age.  Who’s not going to take advice from a spunky, wise personality wrapped in the body of a grandma? Sign me up for all the sage advice you can give me. 

I know some people are opposed to the idea of growing older.  They do all they can to avoid it, but it’s inevitable.  For the record, I am not opposed to aging.  Once my gray hairs started their mission to make me salt and pepper (the hair color, not the nineties rap group), I embraced them.  Yes, it’s not as easy to sit in the floor and play with kids and I always make a weird groaning sound as I hoist myself up from sitting criss-cross applesauce. But really, the benefits do outweigh the creaks, aches, grays, and wrinkles of getting older. 

One of the fun things about getting older is that I don’t care nearly as much what people think of me.  You should see what I wear to Walmart…I fit right in.  Age has also allowed me to be more patient and empathetic than in my younger years because I have had more time to mess up and be forgiven. 

But the best benefit is something I have looked forward to for a long while.  I get to be the older woman written about in Titus 2 and man, do I love it.

Titus 2:3-5 is used as an example for Christian women who wish to mentor and be mentored. The ESV version says:

 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

There is a lot of info packed into these three verses.  Basically, older women should live in such a way that they are an example for younger women. They should impart wisdom about attitude, character, life, and family.

As someone who was one of these younger women being taught by word and example, I have a huge respect for spiritual mentoring.  Once I became a Christian, I was a new creation, but it was comforting to have an older woman to be a living illustration of someone with a solid walk with Christ.  It was also helpful and sobering to have someone to speak the truth in love when I would fall short. (Sweet memories with Amy)

Last week I happened to stumble upon an email from Amy dated thirteen years ago.  In it she talked about a few of us leaving and how she missed our group. We were ready to face the world – getting married, going to grad school, moving to new towns, and starting new lives. We were sure to take her wisdom along on our new adventures.  She also talked about meeting with a new group of ladies and commented about how “young” they were.  Just as we were once young and in need of guidance.

She appreciated her role as a spiritual mentor and wanted to continue pouring into others.

Now I have the opportunity, as the older woman, to be that example and speak that truth. What a blessing it is to spend time with younger women and be a small part of their life. Being in this position means a lot of listening and asking questions, transparency, a lot of praying, and it means being available.

It is awesome knowing I get to be a part of something bigger than myself.  A spiritual legacy where Amy poured into my life and I, in turn, get to pour into the lives of others. It didn’t start with Amy and it won’t end with my college ladies.  It’s a blessing that keeps flowing. A legacy rooted in Titus 2, but lived out in women across time and distance. 

So, what does spiritual mentoring look like?

It can take many forms.  Some churches match older and younger women, where the older women have the responsibility to guide and mentor. Sometimes women decide to seek out these relationships on their own, looking for someone in need of mentoring or for someone to be a mentor. In both cases, this could look like one-on-one meetings in homes or restaurants where conversations happen over food or coffee, or over the phone when time permits. It could also take the form of small groups of women learning and guiding together.

Whatever the venue, the ladies’ ages, or the length of time involved, prayer should guide these relationships and commitment is key.  It’s a tangible way to love your neighbor as yourself and live out the guidelines provided in Titus 2.

Do you have a spiritual mentor? Are you a spiritual mentor?  What about your church?  Do they have a program for older and younger women?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Extending Forgiveness When People Let You Down

It’s interesting how people come and go in our lives.  Sometimes we lose people because of physical distance; sometimes we lose them because of emotional distance.  Lives change, jobs change, and neighborhoods change, which can all lead to changes in who we spend time with and who we choose to befriend. Occasionally we lose people because they have wounded us with hurtful words or actions that are like painful daggers.  Or maybe we’re the ones doing the wounding.

A few years ago, I left a budding friendship because of hurtful words spoken in anger. The side of me that understood human emotions and motivation knew the anger was coming from a place of hurt and anxiety, neither of which was caused by me.  I was just the unfortunate recipient of those words. As I left that evening I cried out of hurt and embarrassment and I lost confidence in that friendship.

For a long time after, my stomach would knot up when I thought about that encounter.  That experience festered in me and I couldn’t even think about that person without feeling strong emotions. 

But you know what?  God is good.  He is a God of forgiveness and asks this of us as well.  Colossians 3:13 tells us to forgive if we have a grievance toward someone and to forgive as Christ forgave. Ephesians 4:32 echoes that notion by telling us to forgive each other as Christ did for us. Matthew 6:14-15 tells us that if we forgive others, then our Father in heaven will forgive us. 

In my thirty-seven years, there have only been a handful of times that I have felt deeply wounded by another person.  I would say I’m pretty good at letting things go and most of the time it’s easy for me to see the best in someone despite their shortcomings. By the grace of God, He keeps bitterness from festering.  I know for some it is difficult to forgive, especially when words damage and attitudes are foul. 

The truth about forgiveness is that it not only paints a picture of mercy and grace poured out for another, but as the one doing the forgiving it frees us from bitterness and anger.  In some relationships, the person needing forgiveness may not know or care, but it’s still important to forgive. It’s healthy to forgive someone in our own heart to not be burdened by a past offence. Forgiveness is good.

One of the places most susceptible to conflict is within our closest relationships.  Loving our friends and family is not an easy task because with them we are most vulnerable.  What happens when they let us down?  Again, it’s easy to hold on to grudges and allow bitterness to take root, but it’s also important to know that people, including you and me, are imperfect.

Although God created community and friendship and love, we cannot put our faith in imperfect people.

No person can complete you.

Not your friends, not your kids, not your spouse.  No human being is capable of providing all you need to make you whole.  No person walking this earth, or sitting next to you on the couch, or holding your hand can ever fully close your wounds or make you feel complete.

Only God can.

Only God can bring peace and perfect love.  Only God can fully satisfy our longing for relationship.

When we put others in a position to do only what God can, then we are destined for disappointment.  Other people will let us down.

Every. Single. Time.  It’s inevitable. 

To me, that’s why forgiveness is so important.  If God can forgive us as we fail Him over and over and over, to infinity, then we must learn to be more forgiving toward those who fail us. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

And hope they’ll forgive us as well. 

Although that friendship didn’t move forward from that upsetting evening, I have forgiven that person because I too am in need of forgiveness. I feel like Paul who says in 1 Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” I may not have persecuted or murdered Christians, but I am a sinner guilty of words that damage, hurt, and destroy.  I commit sins of the tongue every day. If I am extended mercy and forgiveness, how much more should I extend that same forgiveness to others? 

I am thankful I have a merciful God who covers a sinner like me with overflowing grace and I pray I won’t have spiritual amnesia when it comes to extending forgiveness to others. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Overcoming Disappointment with Truth

Frustration. Annoyance. Disappointment. Anger.

All these feelings came rushing at me the day I realized someone was building on the property right next to mine. 

For years Jonathan and I had been casually looking for the perfect piece of acreage on which to build our future, forever home.  On a cool, crisp, fall morning we happened upon a beautiful property surrounded by tall trees and blackberry bushes galore, with a pond in the back corner of the cleared portion of land.  The property stretched back deep into the cool, shady woods where I imagined my kids creating adventures that would stick in their memories for a lifetime.  It was perfect for us.  We could build and not see a neighbor.  Trees would bookend our house and we could sit far from the sleepy country road.

We bought the property and painstakingly drew and re-drew our plans for the house we would build with our own hands.  When it came time to dig out the side of the hill for our future basement, we were ecstatic.  Finally!  We were breaking ground on our forever home.   

A few days later while visiting our freshly dug plot, I noticed someone had cleared the trees on the acreage next to ours.  At first, I thought it might have been the electric company, then I noticed that flags had been strategically placed in the outline of a house.  A house that was too close, in my opinion, to our property line.  A house that disturbed the sight line from the large porch I had so meticulously planned.  The house that messed up my sunset view.  The house that muddled up the life I envisioned on that property.

I cried. 

Jonathan asked if I still wanted to build.  He told me it was not too late to sell and find somewhere else and I’ll be honest, I thought about it.  I fully entertained the idea of starting the process all over again, but then I remembered the wonderful things about the property and I still wanted this to be our forever home.  

Although I tried to get over it, I still I allowed myself to become bitter.  I was disappointed with the timing, I was angry with the placement of the house, and frankly, I was just bugged by the whole situation. 

And then God dealt with my heart.

I took time to think about my feelings and knew I had to deal with the negative emotions that festered in me.  As I traveled down the path of confronting my bitterness and disappointment, I realized I was angry at the situation and that my perfect ideal had been shattered.  In all this, God reminded me of two major things.

1. God is sovereign and I am not.

As much as I would like to make plans and think my way is the best and only way, that is foolishness.  Proverbs 16:9 tells us, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  The truth of that verse, and many others, is that God is sovereign.  My God is the creator of everything (Colossians 1:16) and the giver of all good things (James 1:17, Psalm 84:11), so I can trust him when something I perceive to be inconvenient pops up.  Plus, what I consider to be inconvenient is really God’s way of growing me. 

Jerry Bridges, in his excellent book Respectable Sins ¹, explains that we should be thankful in ALL circumstances, both the good and the bad, the large and the trivial.  He references Romans 8:28-29 where Paul tells us that for those who love God all things work together for good.  All our circumstances help shape and mold us to be more Christ-like. This is the good of which Paul speaks, which is much better than our notion of good things like success and comfort.  As Christians, this is the good for which we should be thankful. This is grace God gives us. 

2. Loving your neighbor is sometimes inconvenient, but always worth it.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, his answer was two-fold.  Love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40).  I’ll admit the second part is harder because your neighbor (myself included) isn’t always lovable. 

When our neighbor cut down his trees, tore down the large, antique, red barn, and bulldozed the brush, he not only opened our sight line to his house, but down the road as well.  Trees no longer hide us from neighbors; now we can see them and they can see us.  We have lost a bit of privacy. 

Sitting on my porch lamenting my lack of seclusion, God reminded me of why we chose this land and why we designed our house the way we did.  Hospitality is our goal.  Opening our home to current friends and those we would like to befriend has been a cornerstone of this project.  Seclusion, isolation, and solitude are nice, especially for this introvert, but God desires for my family to love our neighbors.  That means breaking down barriers and walls that keep others out.  It means opening doors to friendship, loving those around us without asking anything in return, and loving the unlovable.  Sometimes it means embracing a lack of solitude and a too close neighbor.

Ultimately, I am thankful for inconvenience.  It allows me to see where God is working in my life and in the lives of others.  It reminds me that God is sovereign, that He is good all the time, and it is not all about me. May I never forget! 

¹Bridges, Jerry. "Unthankfulness." Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2007. N. pag. Print.