Thursday, March 13

Dig for Mentors Like They're Gold

Dear Jacob,

Sometimes they just show up, and sometimes they're very intentionally placed.  However they come to you, you really want to take advantage of them, listen to their wisdom, and watch their lives.  A mentor is a gift that changes your life.

A full year after I transferred to the state university, I joined my campus student ministry friends at a week-long summer conference in New Mexico.  On my campus, I was on the leadership team, I led studies, met weekly with our leader and participated in whatever events we hosted.  It was an important part of my college experience and I was very committed to it.  About mid-week during the conference, a leader from another school caught up with me before an evening get-together.  

This man led a large campus ministry at another university.  Sometimes our groups met together at the beach for bonfires so I was acquainted with him and admired what he did with his students. And on this night he was just coming from a meeting with the directors from the other schools in Southern California.  When he saw me it seemed like he couldn't wait to say something to me.  And this is what he said:

"Deb, I hear that you are becoming quite the woman of God."

Let me try to explain what this felt like.  Let's say you're working toward improving something -- something hypothetical, like a grade in Algebra -- and as you put time into it and gradually make some headway you still feel like you're exhausted and spent, pushing boulders up a hill, and you can only manage to hold out the smallest bit of hope that someday you might at least squeak by with a B-. 

And then someone with some pull, some guy with some high-level Algebra victories under his own belt comes up to you and says, "Dude, you are the Greatest Algebra Champion of the World!"  Right away, this makes no sense to you, because you know exactly what the grade book says and you're confused.  But this guy is dead serious and since he knows what it means to be a total Algebra champ you have to trust him at least a little.

You consider what he's saying all the while he keeps talking; he complements how you approached that last test, how you responded to that big assignment and how you dove in to the hardest problems until deep into the night completely determined to understand how they work.  It's at this point you realize that he isn't talking so much about achieving results as he is about exerting effort.  And then you get it; your process of becoming good at something is getting some notice. Maybe you're actually doing it!

So, it was as if this man, this campus ministry director from a large, expensive university across the county from me, swooped me forward all the way to Algebra graduation crossing out all the F's and missing assignments and landed me with a perfect score. But he didn't stop there, he proudly declared.  "As your reward you get to move on to Algebra II. You can do it."

When someone takes note of your strengths and opportunities, when they guide you into a vision for yourself that you have a substantial taste for, and when they can intentionally inspire you toward negative splits -- which means that your race isn't over -- that's a good mentor.  Brad wasn't my regular mentor, but he found a moment and used it to help me with my own meaning-making.  He was a model that let me look over his shoulder as I was attempting a more intentional Christian existence. While I was surprised by his seemingly random assessment, he wasn't surprised by me in the least and he affirmed my worth and ability.

Simply put, I wanted to become a woman of God.  He told me how I was succeeding.  Over twenty years later, I still strive to meet that expectation that he set for me. 

Look around you. When worthy men come up to you, or text you and say, "Hey, I'd like to hang out with you" then run toward that opportunity and not away.  When someone complements you, hear it.  When you notice that a leader, teacher, director or influencer that used to be in your life actually isn't anymore, rectify it. Sometimes you have to dig for a mentor.  And sometimes they just follow you out of a room one night. However they come to you, we all do better when someone is watching.
Mentoring is not about coming to know something, that would be education.  Mentoring isn't about learning to do something, that would be training.  Mentoring is about showing someone how to be something.  -- Regi Campbell