Real Community

I’ve been mentoring the same young lady, Alyssa, for the past four years. This may not seem like a big deal for you, but for me it’s huge for a multitude of reasons. One, I’m really not good with commitment. This isn’t me being humble or hard on myself, it’s just the simple truth – maintaining friendships is not a strength of mine, never has been. Secondly, most days I don’t really feel qualified. Truthfully, most days I struggle to feel like an adult. Adulting is hard, and often times not fun, and I frequently take a break from it, sometimes intentionally, sometimes by accident. Either way I’m not really consistent with the whole adulting thing. So, with these thoughts in mind, you might be wondering how in the world I ever started mentoring Alyssa.

Alyssa was a part of my husband’s youth group. She was one of my kiddos, as all the youth are (if you are a part of my classroom or my husband’s youth group, you instantly become a permanent part of my heart and life. I love ya like my own, that’s just how it is). We hosted this youth group at our house, so she was frequently in our home and even claimed one of our guest bedrooms as her own during lock-ins. A couple of years into youth group, Alyssa recommitted her life to Christ at Ichthus (a Christian concert). At that time I felt lead to offer to mentor her in her walk with Christ to encourage her continued growth in her relationship with the Lord. Now, for me this was a big deal. (A.) I didn’t want her to feel like she had to say yes, and (B.) Adam was resigning as youth minister, so I wasn’t going to be seeing her regularly, and with that whole commitment thing, I wasn’t sure how this would go if she did want to. So, I met her for coffee (I firmly believe that all good things begin with Jesus and coffee) and offered to continue to meet with her for coffee every week and talk about life and Jesus. I told her to take time to pray about it, and she did. A few days later she called me and said she was in.

Now I had a mentee and no idea what to do! I had never been mentored officially like this before. There had been, at various times, older women in my life that had shared life with me and advised me when I sought it, but I had never had someone sit down with me one on one and pour into me consistently over an extended period of time. There was a church program for mentorship that I was a part of, but it was short lived and used a set curriculum, so I really had no basis for what I had just stepped into. I decided that our first meeting should be Orange Leaf (because the next best thing to coffee is ice cream) and a trip to Lifeway to find some material to help us.

Now, this seems like a good time to point out that Alyssa and I are very different people. Don’t get me wrong, we have all the important things in common – we both love Doctor Who, Mexican food, and 80’s rock. However she is a definitive introvert, and I would lean toward being an extrovert. She’s a thinker, and I’m a talker. She mulls things over for days, and I instantly react. So, while I had known her for years, and we were close, we had mainly interacted in groups. One on one conversation was new for us, and I’m not going to lie, it was a little awkward at first. However, we picked out a devotional and decided on our next meeting time.

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Alyssa and I at our favorite meeting spot, Purdy’s Coffee. Sadly, we had to take this picture specifically for this blog, because even though we’ve been meeting forever, there are almost no pictures of us. 

Since then we have been meeting almost every week. We have had some devotionals we liked better than others. We have done topical studies on things like dating, finances, being a woman of God, and adoption. We have also, per her request, started doing studies on specific books of the Bible. We’ve moved from the youth section of Lifeway to the adult Bible study section. She’s graduated high school (Valedictorian, I might add!), started college, and spent a semester studying abroad in Mexico. She’s branched out and become her own person. A person I’m extremely proud of. Every time she does something that demonstrates a lot of growth and faith (like stopping and buying food for a homeless man, or taking a huge leap of faith by going to live in a different country, or standing up for her faith and the lifestyle it requires even when she’s facing peer pressure), I have to just stop and thank God for allowing me to be a small part of her life. She has a fantastic and wonderfully, supportive family, so she didn’t need me to guide her or prevent her from some terrible path she was on. She would have been fine with or without my guidance, so quite often I’m humbled that God chose me to be involved in how He is growing her.

When I first offered to mentor Alyssa, I thought it was because God wanted to use me in her life. And that was/is true. However, what I didn’t expect was how God would use her in my life. When we first started meeting, I was very cautious about sharing things from my life unless they related to the study. After all, she wasn’t there to be a listening ear to me, I was supposed to be that for her. However, over time, we’ve developed more of a friendship. Yes, I’m still slightly (okay, a lot) older than her, and I still have more life experiences and at times spiritual insights to share, but the mentorship has turned into a friendship that we both treasure. Even if when we go out for coffee or dinner people think I’m her mother. At first, it was always me leading the meetings, doing most of the talking. However, now she speaks up much more and occasionally leads the meetings (this may or may not have initially started because I forgot to prepare once, and she had no choice but to lead). At first, it was her learning from me (or so I like to believe). However, I now realize that she has taught me things too. I’ve become better at commitment because of her consistency in meeting with me. I’ve realized that it’s okay to be quiet and think through things before you speak (still working at putting this one into practice, though).

If you think about it mentorship is used in a lot of areas of our life. We have residencies, internships, student teaching, etc. for our jobs, big sisters for sororities (and possibly big brothers for fraternities, is that a thing?), and Big Brother/Big Sister programs in our communities. So, why would we not mentor people in the faith? If we need training on how to be good at our jobs, good sorority members, and good citizens, why would we not accept and give training on how to be a good/strong Christian? Not to mention the biblical call we have to make disciples, which I believe goes so much further than evangelism and group Bible studies. It involves living life with people, discipling them through both example and studying the Word.

I think the idea of mentoring is intimidating to those that would be mentors. We don’t feel like we have our lives together, so how could we possibly help guide someone else. Or at least that’s how I feel. However, the truth is, that’s not what is required to be a mentor. Being a mentor is about bringing someone else into your mess of a life and letting them learn from the good, the bad, and the ugly. Letting them see your relationship with God for all that is, the highs and the lows. Letting them know that yeah, you messed up, but God’s grace is enough for you, and it will be enough for them when they mess up. Here’s the deal, we need each other to get through life. God created us for community – real community, and I think mentorship is a key part of that community. More than likely you’ve had someone, if not multiple someones, pour into you. So, at some point, you will have the opportunity to pour into someone else, and I highly recommend you seize that opportunity. You won’t regret it.