Phyllis Stanley, my dear friend and mentor, and me!
(In Italy at Mama Agata's cooking class.)
Yes, these lemons were real and came from the trees around us.
Deep, dark loneliness was a constant companion of my heart for many years. I ached inside for a friend, or someone who cared for me--someone who would even notice me. As a friend-oriented person, I had known deep friendship, but it seemed that once I became a mother, no one was there--and no one reached out to me.
The illusion that if we moved to a new town or joined a new church or group kept us, even as a family. searching for kindred spirits, like-minded friends.
We faithfully attended many groups, meetings, studies, but we were mainly the ones reaching out and often we just didn't seem to fit the mold of other people's expectations.
I remember once when Sarah was washing dishes, again, she said, "Wouldn't it be nice if some time someone would invite our whole family over for dinner and we wouldn't have to be the ones who cooked, cleaned and washed dishes--again!
Even as a then 12 year old, she wondered at the seeming loneliness of our family as a group.
The kids often made friends over the years as we would move from place to place. And we always had people we "did stuff" with, but very few kindred spirits.
God had made our family exceedingly idealistic, artistic, verbal, and a very close knit family. Our family felt close to each other, but it was hard to find a "match" with someone else.
As I would tearfully pray one more time, God began to speak to me very gently.
"Two are better than one. Woe to the one who has no one to lift him up."
That was me--no one to lift me up. And then there was the Titus 2 verse about older women teaching the younger about motherhood, marriage, and all the rest.
But, it seemed I did not know any older women who wanted to spend time with me--and let's be honest--very few women, that when I observed their lives, I wanted to influence me. And there were not many my own age, either, who seemed to draw me to the depth I wanted to live from deep inside of my heart.
But, I knew and felt that I desperately needed a friend--someone to share my burdens, my doubts, my insecurities, my fears, my struggles.
I wrote in my journal what kind of mentor I wanted:
1. Someone who was spiritual, excellent, deep, idealistic. I wanted someone who when I was with them, made me want to love God more. I wanted someone whose life and the expression of their lives, would inspire me.
2. Someone who "got" me and my ideals and actually liked them. As a mom with 4 children, homeschooling, discipleship oriented, it was hard to find others who were ahead of me--it seemed I was always the one ahead of others and I didn't always know what I was doing!
3. A real friend, someone with whom I could enjoy life and have fun--a must.
4. I wanted older, younger and same age in my life--someone ahead, someone behind, someone where I was. (A mentor does not have to be older--just kindred and responsive.)
But God put on my heart to seek friends as a hidden treasure--that it was for me to find and cherish and not to sit around and wait.
I have found that the best friends are those who perceive themselves to be "givers"
--people who are seeking in some way to invest their lives in others for the kingdom. Givers and servants are already on the move and so are open to being a friend.
I joined some Bible studies over the years, and I would keep my eyes out for someone committed and excited about their spiritual life--perhaps a missionary, a mom who loved her home, family and children, a leader. Then I would ask them if I could spend time with them.
This whole concept of "keeping my antennae out" has helped me so much over the years. It meant looking, actively seeking for that person who was giving of her own life, or who had a heart need that I could meet and also someone engaged in some kind of ministry or leadership, someone who had "life" about them--that now I define the "life" and the "light" of Christ.--or a hunger to have that life.
Where Jesus is, there will be a sparkle, an excitement, a burning to want more out of life.
And so, I would almost always have to be the one who would make it happen--with many women--I would host lunches, have different women over for tea, meet women for coffee, looking searching for "excellent" women who would draw me to the best of spiritual ideals. I have started small groups in my home, over and over and over again.
But often, it was in the reaching out to others and building small groups, that I found my best friends--sowing the threads of our lives together by serving in mutual ministries we loved. And then, our children would also become friends--serving along side us in purposeful ministries in which we were involved. And so began the community--husbands met husbands, traditions started, history has been made.
I realized that if I wanted godly friends in my life, I needed to look for them, cultivate them, love them and encourage them as I would want to be encouraged.
So I would:
1. Initiate with many women, somehow, some way in the midst of a very busy life with 4 children and ministry--I knew I needed it.
2. I made writers my mentors--and would search out books and writers who stimulated my ideals.
3. I would make it a priority to look for other women who seemed hungry for friendship, and because I needed it, I assumed others needed friendship and so I would "do to them what I wanted them to do to me" and
I would call them, send them notes or emails, intentionally tell them the ways I admired them, and I would invest in their lives and in our friendship.
It's how I met Sarah Mae, my co-author of Desperate--I saw her serving and reaching out through her conference, and as I was in the habit of reaching out, I reached out to her and she responded back.
You see, Jesus is the lover who reached out, initiated, poured out His love for our benefit. And so in friendship, I began to see myself as a giver of love, a builder of friendships and an initiator of life.
In giving my life, I found that eventually God gave me the friends and board members and ministry partners and girl friends that I needed and wanted.
I have friends who serve side by side with me in conferences.
Friends who run leadership conferences with me here in Colorado.
Friends who write a blog network with me.
Friends who live all over the United States and the world, who meet with me whenever we are in the same place. Friends I call, email, pray with, play and adventure all over the world together.
We all sort of mentor each other because we are committed to each other's well being.
Friendship--mentor relationships are an investment--and require intentional giving and planning. Even as a house that is built requires a plan and effort, so friendships grow out of intention and giving and cultivating.
But when I follow the pattern of Jesus--calling the disciples, meeting with them, "doing life" with them, teaching them, serving them, then I had His pattern of giving of Himself.
A personal example
My friend, Phyllis, is my mentor and dear friend. She is 13 years older than me. There was an immediate connection between us because of our mutual commitments and value for ministry and cultivating a life-giving home.
Yet, because she is very busy and has so many friends, (She and her husband have been on staff with the Navigators for many years, in the States and Internationally.), I just made an assumption that she would be too busy for me. Too many people wanted her attention and friendship. How would she find time for me?
Yet, she was the kind of friend I knew would call me to the ideals I wanted to pursue. So when she had a Bible study, I would ask to join. Cooking classes held in her home, would find me with my two girls participating. I pursued her as often as time allowed. I looked for every opportunity to be with her and responded to every invitation. And I also initiated times together. I honored the value of our friendship with my time.
She always constantly asked women come over to her house for cup of tea and talking. And so I made it my habit to ask her if I could come to her home and share a cup of tea with her and also if she wanted to come to my home as often as I could work it out.
I tried to insert myself in her life as much as I could and sought to be of encouragement and support to her amidst her busy life. When I was with her, she almost always opened her Bible, she was always reading some new book. Always, there would be a cup of tea, a candle and flowers waiting for me to feel special in her home. She lived a life of integrity that always inspired me to want to be more excellent. I would copy her, a wise woman!
And so a few years ago, I told her that my life required regular "Phyllis" time, and so we have loosely made a habit that when I am in town and she is in town, we would get together every week or two. And so making each other a regular commitment in the midst of very active lives, developed into a deep, loving friendship that now, after 15 years, has deep roots.
Three international trips, ministry together, her discipling my own girls, reaching out to other moms and friends together, prayer, meals, spiritual accountability, and more have come because we made our friendship something we would both cherish and invest in, amidst the thousands of demands of our own lives, because we knew that we needed each other.
The life of friendship and the influence of a mentor comes from initiating love and cultivating heart commitments.
And so it is true in life,
"Two are better than one, a strand of three chords is not easily broken,"
and so working diligently and pursuing actively a godly friendship is indeed a treasure.
Be sure to read Sarah Mae's article today about mentoring, here.
In Desperate – Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe, read letters between Sarah Mae and I and watch videos of the two of us discussing motherhood (every chapter has a QR code and link where you can connect with us!). Consider asking an older woman (or younger) to read the book with you. You can buy the book at Barnes & Noble HERE, or Amazon HERE.