5 Questions About…Mentoring

Do you have friends who you look forward to spending time with because they are just. so. much. FUN?  Heather is one of those people in my life.  I know whenever we get together the ideas will be exploding like confetti and laughter will punctuate our conversation.   She is the discipleship pastor at the National Community Church in D.C. – one of the most vibrant and innovative faith communities I know.  Heather has also written two books, Community is Messy (about small group ministry) and Amazed and Confused (about Habbakuk).  You should check them out!

HZ.20131.  One of the things I admire about you is the way you build into others around you.  How did that come to be a value in your ministry?

I don’t think there was one catalytic moment; it was just a slow process of recognizing the way that God was working in my life and taking note of where I was feeling most fulfilled, seeing the most fruit, and having the most fun. I was captivated by 2 Timothy 2:2, realizing that the only investments we can make that truly last are the investments we make in other people.  Growing people grow people. I’d rather grow people than manage programs.

2.  Can you tell about an experience you have had with someone who built into you and what you learned from it? Continue reading

Three Ideas About Feedback Vs. Criticism

Monday I wrote about how we can handle criticism that feels like a personal attack.  Ironically, I had an experience this week that got me to thinking about the difference between criticism and feedback.

Criticism is usually unsolicited and often exposes blind spots that are uncomfortable for us to acknowledge.  Definition: the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.

Feedback is usually solicited.  Definition: information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

Let me tell you about my experience this week. Continue reading

Three Things to Listen For

John and I “mentor” several young men and women, but I’m not crazy about that word.  Basically we’re all just travelers on a road trip trying to help each other find the exits, and the Culvers, scrape up enough money for tolls, and not crash.

All of us stumble and run and trudge along with each other.  Parent and child, friends of different generations, boss and staff, coaches, teachers, trainers…

Healthy or wounded or recovering, energized at times and weary at others, seeking sometimes, finding at others.  Discouraged or joy-filled we need each other.  

In all relationships I want to be present to God and to the other at the same time.  Kind of like when I’m in the Great Room at church after worship, talking to someone I can always discern John’s voice if he’s also in the room.  It’s distinctive and I know it.  How I long for that same ear attuned God’s voice while I’m in conversation with others!

Awhile ago I heard someone suggest that as we are present to God with others, there is often one of three things He may want us to listen for that may be needed.

1 Thessalonians 2:11,12 says “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”

Whether it’s a child or friend or co-worker, does this person need encouragement and affirmation?  A picture of what’s possible?  Celebration of what you’ve seen in them?  Naming their gifts?

Or do they need an empathic listening ear?  Someone to sit by their side and remind them they’re not alone?

Lastly, might they need a kick in the butt?  Maybe that takes the form of correction or facing hard truth, or setting the bar higher?

This being present to God and others doesn’t come naturally for me.  It takes practice and  paying attention.  And sometimes I just ask the person, “What do need most today?”

As I reflect over my conversations from yesterday, I was responsive to God’s nudging with friends who needed comfort and encouragement, but with the boy I tutor, I think urging – more challenge – was called for, and I missed it in the moment.

What about you?

Two Boys and God

This is the story of two boys, half a world apart.  Two boys who have never met, and probably never will, but have become brothers in some small sense.

It’s a story about two boys, but it’s also a story about God.  God who saw Michael in rural Uganda and Eric in urban Minneapolis and thought maybe they could help each other out.

Mike (1)

I’ll never forget the day we met Michael in Rakai Uganda, 2009  He was 14 years old.  A little boy with a man inside.  We were there to celebrate the completion of World Vision’s transforming work in this forgotten place of AIDS and dirty water and parentless families.

Michael had traveled fifteen miles on dusty African roads and stood straight and tall, shoulders back, dressed in his best sky blue shirt and khaki pants.  He spoke to John and me in perfect English:

“I have come to you on behalf of myself and my schoolmates.  We need your continued help.  It is my dream to become a doctor, but without help I will not be able to attend the schools I need to.  I beseech you (yes, that’s what he said :)).  Please do not leave us.  I want to be the best doctor in Africa.”

Michael was articulate, brave, and clearly a leader.  A remarkable young man.  There was no way we could turn our backs on his need, so along with another couple we committed to pay his tuition through medical school.

Soon after that, back here in urban Minneapolis I started tutoring Eric, a young boy, 10 years old, who had moved here from Togo.  Struggling to learn everything in his fifth language.  Times tables, american culture, the harsh realities of cruel middle school boys.

Unlike Michael, Eric didn’t have dreams other than making it through the baffling days at school.


Still, like Michael I saw a core strength in Eric.  A tiny spark of courage and hope that enabled him to keep showing up, like the robins who seem to have irrationally appeared back in Minnesota in spite of our April snow.

And this is when God showed up.  In a whisper.

I felt like He was saying, “Michael should mentor Eric.”

Michael, now 18, in Uganda with his dream, was meant to inspire Eric, now 14, struggling to find his way in Minneapolis.

And so I introduced them. Through letters.

And Michael, a young man who has never traveled more than 125 miles from his home, never seen the ocean or ridden an airplane, is challenging and inspiring Eric, a world away.

I helped Eric write Michael about his life here in America and here is some of what Michael wrote back:

I think you are surprised that I know your name and you wonder how I got it.  You should know that both I and you share some very important people in our lives.  One of those people is Aunt Laura.  I live in Uganda and she told me that you came from Togo.  So you and I are brothers because we were born in the same area (continent).  For me I have not travelled to any other country and I am happy for you because you are in America.

Aunt Laura told me that you are a very great boy and she is proud of you.  She is always praying for you so that you can get used to the American system of education and American sports.  We both trust you will soon do well, but you should be working hard and have a very positive attitude about what you are doing.  Pray also as you word hard and God will help you learn what is difficult.  Share with Aunt Laura whatever is hard for you.  I am sure she will help you.

When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Eric had written “a policeman because they get to drive cars fast.”  He had also said he likes reading about the bad guys in the Bible from a book I gave him.  This is part of Mike’s response:

It is not bad to become a police officer, but you also need to continuously seek for career guidance from Auntie Laura and Uncle John so that you can know other professions in life. 

While at school, we receive a spiritual leader who leads us in fellowship and when I go back home, I go to church every Sunday just like you.  Which bad guys do you always read about from the Bible?  What things did they do?  

For me, I always read about good guys like Samuel, Moses, and David, a young man who was loved by God and made king.  From these I get inspiration and think you also need it.  Please try to read about these three good guys.  You will find it important.  Tell me what you learn.

None of this life stuff for teenage boys is easy.

Neither have fathers in their lives.  I don’t know what the future will hold.  But very time I see Eric to tutor him and every time I write Michael, I try to leave them with these words, “Never forget, you are an amazing young man and God can do great things through you.”

Awhile ago, after I had said that to Eric at the end of our tutoring time in a room removed from the other kids who are prone to tease and distract, he went downstairs where they were playing pool, and he approached the head of the tutoring program.  I prompted, “Eric, tell him.”

Shyly he said, “I am an amazing young man.”

I think that Michael is helping him believe that too.  And I pray it is making a difference.

Lord, thank you that on days that feel bland and monotonous and like oatmeal without the brown sugar, You – Your holy hands are working behind the scenes, redeeming and weaving together lives that You see are bright and beautiful and deserve hope.

Never. Under. Estimate my Jesus.

I’m taking a little August Sabbatical, so I thought I’d repost one of my favorites from last year.  Eric is continuing to grow and went to his first baseball game this summer.  I tell him every time I see him that he is an amazing young man.  I think he may be starting to believe it…

Every Monday evening from 5:00-6:00 I have what is both the most discouraging and most powerful hour of my week.

Three years ago I started tutoring a 9 year old girl named Erica who moved here from Togo, west Africa with her twin brother Eric, and her older brother Sylvanus.  Erica and Sylvanus have made the transition to a new city, a new culture, a 5th (yes, 5th!) language, and are catching up academically in a new school.  Amazing.  Courageous.  Inspiring.

Continue reading

Life Without the Olympics

What are we going to do now that the Olympics are over?!  Watch Bachelorette reruns?  Complain about political ads?  Wonder what celebrity is heading for rehab?

The great thing about the Olympics is that it raises our eyes and gives us a vision above the mundane, above our lowest selves.  It inspires us with stories of courage and determination and high ideals.

I read this Monday morning in USA Today:

This was the Olympics in which the Queen said hello, and Michael Phelps said goodbye.  This was the Olympics where a man from South Africa ran with no legs and a woman from Poland played table tennis with one arm.  This was the Olympics that reminded us what it does best – nurturingevery dream. – Mike Lopresti

Continue reading

You’ve got this. Kind of.

A few weeks ago some gifted young women who live in another part of the country, asked me to sort of mentor them.  I haven’t heard from them recently so I think they may have come to their senses and realized this request was kind of like inviting Zacchaeus onto their basketball team.  But anyway, what went through my mind is exactly what has gone through my mind when others have graciously approached me with an invitation:

Wow.  I LOVE them!

I must be special!

Holy Buckets!  What do I have to give them?

What if they expect, you know, wise words whenever I open my mouth and I’ve got, like…NOTHING!?

What if I say I’ll do this and then they’re disappointed in me?  What if they decide I’m a Loser Mentor?

And then God whispers

You’ve got this.  

Because really…you don’t.

But I do.

And that’s all that matters.

Listen to them.  Listen to Me.  Listen to them with Me and that will be enough.

Because I’m always more than enough.

This was a nice invitation.  However, there are many times when I question my adequacy because there hasnt been an invitation.  I don’t feel called, or challenged, or included in anything “significant”  But in those moments God whispers…

You’ve got this.  You’re chosen.  But not because you’re adequate, or even asked by others, but just available.  And I am with you.

And He brings to mind the story of the widow at Zaraphath in 1st Kings who had only a handful of flour and a little oil, preparing a last meal for herself and her son when the prophet Elijah showed up asking for one meal.  And then another, and another.

God’s word to her through Elijah is His word to me and you.  “…make a small loaf of bread from what you have…” And there was food for every day.

Just use what you have.  And I will make it so much more.  

Just respond to the small things I’ve put in your hands.  In front of you.  In your family.  In your neighborhood.  In your workplace.

You’ve got this when you realize that you don’t, because I do.

 Where do you feel inadequate?  Where are you afraid you won’t have what is needed?

Never. Under. Estimate my Jesus.

Every Monday evening from 5:00-6:00 I have what is both the most discouraging and most powerful hour of my week.

Three years ago I started tutoring a 9 year old girl named Erica who moved here from Togo, west Africa with her twin brother Eric, and her older brother Sylvanus.  Erica and Sylvanus have made the transition to a new city, a new culture, a 5th (yes, 5th!) language, and are catching up academically in a new school.  Amazing.  Courageous.  Inspiring.

Eric is just as courageous, but he is now a 12-year old boy who has fallen through the cracks of the system…been passed along because that’s convenient…been teased by his peers when he’s trying to catch up by doing 3rd grade level work as a 6th grader.

So now I tutor Eric, sitting in an old inner city church that looks like it’s out of The Bells of St. Mary’s.  We sit at a huge table with about 10 other loud, chaotic, disruptive kids who are supposed to be doing their homework, but would like nothing better than to foment a Middle School revolution with Eric as a compatriot.

Every week, for the first 15 minutes, the revolutionaries seem to be winning.  Eric has no use for me.  He grumbles.  He makes excuses. He’s too cool.  It’s too hard to work when others are playing.  I wonder why I make the effort to fight the traffic and the snow and the dark to drive into this neighborhood for a kid who doesn’t care.

And then, every week, when I’m about to give up, in an instant, the tide of the battle turns and Eric gives in and starts reading to me or doing his times tables.

Now here’s the thing that floors me.  None of the chaos around us stops.  All the other kids are loud and distracting…arguing, throwing things, flirting…But once Eric is engaged, nothing (and I mean nothing) will deter him from his concentration.

Yesterday he chose an Amelia Bedelia book and as he’s reading and pencils are flying through the air around us and boys are fighting all around us I’m thinking “This 12-year-old kid is going to be bored with this book!  He’s gonna give up any minute.  I would!”  But no.  Not only does he keep reading for 40 minutes, he asks questions, and follows my directions to write a summary for his teacher.

At the end of our time, everyone has left to go downstairs to dinner.  Eric and I are  alone at the big table and it is finally quiet.  I look deep into his beautiful African brown eyes and say, “Eric, you are amazing.  You have the most remarkable ability to focus and remember what you’ve read.  You have worked so hard.  I am proud of you and you should be proud of yourself.”

His eyes don’t leave mine.  He doesn’t look away.

Now Eric is a 12 year old boy remember, so I don’t expect to get much of a response, but he looks back at me with the unmistakable expression of a starving kid being given a morsel of hope.  

And I think, “How can I not come back next week?”

When I get to my car the tears come as I think this is just one hour out of Eric’s whole week.  One small statement of affirmation in a sea of taunting and apathy.  It’s not enough.  It’s not enough.  He needs so much more.

And then I turn on the car and the words come over my cd player…

Never.  Under.  Estimate my Jesus.

You’re telling me that there’s no hope.

I’m telling you you’re wrong.”

And I start praying for this little boy.  “Abba Father, do what only You can do.”  Multiply this one measly hour.  Multiply these paltry words of affirmation in the life of this precious boy.

Where in your life are you feeling hopeless?  What words do you think Jesus might speak to you?