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Posts Tagged ‘mentoring’

Jo 12One morning around two years ago, I spoke to a group of women at a church on the other side of town. Afterwards, I was introduced to a lady who I discovered had really come to catch up with friends before heading home to Sweden a couple of days later. However, having heard me speak, she told me she was particularly interested in my book Soul Friend and in the whole concept of mentoring or being a spiritual companion. She then shared her desire to set up a program in her church to equip people to mentor others, so I offered to send her some material on the subject.

The next day, I emailed her a basic mentoring course a friend had written and I had edited, after checking that he was happy for it to be shared in this way. Then I thought no more about it—until last week, when an email arrived from this lady. In it, she wrote:

Hi Jo-Anne,

You may not remember me but I attended a meeting at Miranda Congregational church in April 2017 where you were speaking and selling your books. I spoke to you afterwards and mentioned my interest for Christian mentoring in Sweden where I live. You very kindly emailed me your manual.

This was the encouragement I needed to start a course in Christian mentoring in my church, the Lutheran church of Sweden in my area Stockholm. I gathered a team of four people including myself and we organised a one day course for those who would like to be mentors or have a mentor … One of our team members is a skilled translator and translated your manual into clear simple Swedish. We gave each of the 18 participants a print copy of the manual at the end of the course. 

The team then matched up mentors and mentorees during the months that followed … The result was very exciting with the present number of mentors being 11 and mentorees around 15. … Our team will meet again in September to decide if we will run the course again in January 2020 and widen the participants to the three other Lutheran churches in our parish and 5 other denominations.

So, I just wanted to express my thanks to you for being so generous in sharing the manual and for your books …

Isn’t God amazing? As soon as I read this, I thought of the little parable Jesus told about the mustard seed:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the bird of the air come and perch in its branches. Matthew 13:32.

God builds the kingdom using our faltering efforts with such grace, don’t you think? Surely, as we plant whatever little seeds we have, which are a gift from God anyway, God will step in, watch over them well and enable them to bear fruit just at the right time.

Who would have thought that brief, ‘accidental’ contact with this lady would have resulted in our little mentoring course blessing folk in faraway Sweden? But that’s just like God, isn’t it!

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Jo 23

In the recent Christmas heat, I watched some of the shrubs and plants near our unit struggle to stay alive. Even some of the hardiest ones in pots on our balcony suffered, as the hot sun scorched the leaves and shrivelled the flowers. The native trees nearby survived the best—those gum trees and grevilleas and callistemon have had to learn to be tough in our dry terrain. And it was in the midst of observing all this that I read the following:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.

They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” Psalm 92:13-15

Have you ever noticed how some folk in their sixties look and act old before their time, while others in their nineties still seem quite young and are happily engaged in life in all sorts of ways? Of course, ill health and other difficulties can make life hard for some. Yet even apart from that, some seem to shrivel up before their time, like my pot plants, and resort to sitting on the sidelines rather than fully participating, while others much older continue to lay hold of life with both hands.

Recently, I discovered that one gentleman who is a member of our Village choir is actually ninety-nine years old! I would never have guessed it. He is interesting to speak to, alert and observant, obviously highly intelligent and also a gifted artist. Someone else told me that when he didn’t turn up to choir last year for a while, they discovered he had gone to Poland for his great-grandson’s wedding!

Now while some might consider me so old already—including our youngest grandchildren—I am actually thirty years younger than this lovely gentleman! So I have been asking myself what God might have in store for me, should I too have another thirty years ahead of me. After all, I did not waste the first thirty years of my life or the second thirty—so why waste the third thirty or beyond? In my old age, which I’m sure I haven’t quite reached yet, I feel there is still so much for me to do. I have ideas for books I would still like to write. I have many more ideas for my blogs. I would love to continue speaking for a while yet. I enjoy mentoring several wonderful women leaders. Everywhere I look, I see other opportunities for ministry. And of course, beyond all that, I want to see our grandchildren grow and flourish and still be invested in their lives for many years to come.

So in 2018, and for as long as God enables, I hope and pray I can be more like the native trees and shrubs I can see from my balcony and not those sad, wilted pot plants. As I keep my feet firmly on that Rock who is the Lord, I hope I can continue to flourish, bearing good fruit and staying fresh and green, for a long time to come yet.

How about you?

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Jo 17It is some months since I have been able to visit my friend in the nursing home where she now lives. As I make my way to her room, I hope and pray she will recognise me. At the door, I see the nurses have just settled Joy in her special, comfortable wheelchair. She turns towards me—and her whole face lights up.

‘Oh! What a … what a … sur … oh!’

I reach out and grasp her hand, while Joy continues to look at my face in wonderment.

‘I’ll take her to the sunroom,’ a lovely nurse tells me—and soon we are settled there.

Joy continues to search my face with loving eyes. I resist the urge to tell her my name. I suspect it has slipped her mind, but it doesn’t matter—I know she knows who I am. I remind her of our book Soul Friend that I wrote about our journey together during my time at theological college, then on into ministry and writing.

‘Yes, Soul Friend,’ she says softly—and I know she remembers.

I talk to her about her family and mine. I share some little Turkish cookies I used to make often and take to her whenever we met and she remembers those too. It is a little hard for her to hold them now, as they tend to break easily. I see that the crumbs they leave on her clothes concern her a little, so I try to help her brush them off. We look at each other and laugh—a laugh that is beautiful music to my ears because it reminds me so vividly of other shared moments of joy. She has not changed—she is still the same precious person deep inside. Yes, she may now have trouble completing sentences. Yes, she may grope for the words she is trying to say. Yes, she may not remember names so easily. But she is still my lovely ‘soul friend’ Joy, out of whose face the love of God shines.

Eventually, I see she is getting tired. A nurse comes to wheel her to a lounge area and I prepare to say goodbye. I hold her hand and give her a kiss.

‘Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you—there’s nothing like a kiss!’ she says, closing her eyes in ecstasy.

‘Then I’ll give you another one!’ I tell her, dropping a light kiss on her forehead.  Her face is suffused with pure joy.

And as I hold her hand one last time, then turn to leave, I hear her familiar, beautiful words that have always felt like a blessing to me—‘Dear friend!’

As I drive away, the thought comes clearly to me that these two beautiful, little words are what God desires to speak into our hearts each day. I am not in my friend’s situation, but so often, I too become confused. So often, I let life overwhelm me. So often, I forget God. Yet each day, God reaches out to me and talks to me as with a dear friend. Each day, God is there to help me on my journey—and I am so blessed.

So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:11 New Living Translation

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This past month, I discovered once again how life can have a way of springing interesting surprises on us! Out of the blue, I was asked if I would accompany the small choir in our Village on the piano. And in what was perhaps a weaker moment, I agreed!

What could have possessed me? After all, it’s a long time since I accompanied a choir or singing group—possibly around … ahem … thirty-five years! Yes, I have played for congregational worship in that time—but not a great deal, as I have felt those days too are over.  Yet I could not help but say yes when our lovely conductor phoned and asked if I would help out. Besides, I soon discovered how much we had in common, with our lifelong involvement in music and also with husbands who are both retired ministers.

In no time at all, I was given the music for five items the choir will sing at two Christmas concerts. Four of these turned out to be easy enough, but the fifth one saw me scurrying to the piano to practise. So many tricky twists and turns and unexpected key changes!

Then the moment came for my big return to accompanying.  Everyone was so welcoming—and so grateful to have someone prepared to play for them. I soon felt at ease, especially when I realised the group found that challenging carol even more challenging than I did! I kept my eye on our conductor—and I also tried to help everyone along, wafting up into the melody line at times when the tricky accompaniment was leading some astray. I knew my role as an accompanist was just that—to accompany the singers and enhance their efforts rather than try to outdo them in any way.

As I strolled home that afternoon, it dawned on me that accompanying others in a musical sense is a little like the style of mentoring or spiritual companionship I have tried to give others over the years and still do. As best I can, I endeavour to walk in step with them, to listen to them, to pray for them, to provide resources that may help them somehow and yes, perhaps even to challenge at times when needed.

Then I realised too what a big part the whole idea of accompanying has played in my own journey with God—and still does. Recently when I spoke somewhere, I shared the following quote from Clement of Alexandria:

Prayer is keeping company with God

This is the privilege you and I have as children of God—to walk hand in hand with Jesus each day, listening, learning, knowing we are loved and accepted, talking with him, receiving strength, comfort and guidance. Of course, the difference is that Jesus is the perfect Shepherd, who is also to be honoured and obeyed as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yet by grace, he chooses to accompany us day by day through all our ups and downs.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3

Now that’s the fine art of accompaniment at its best, don’t you think?

 

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Jo 23Yesterday, I noticed a small, stand-up calendar on my desk. According to the month it showed, we were still in April. As I went to flip the page over to May, I gasped. Surely only a few days had passed since I had changed this calendar from March to April? How could another month have disappeared so quickly?

It seemed to me the year was fast slipping through my fingers, with no new book completed and very little preparation for upcoming speaking engagements done either. True, I submitted another non-fiction book to my publisher in January. And true, I have at least begun a new novel. And I had prepared for a speaking event this past weekend, only to have it cancelled, due to unforeseen circumstances. But … well, I seemed to have achieved so little in the light of all those weeks and months that have now passed into oblivion.

Then in the stillness around me, I became aware of God’s gentle voice speaking into my spirit. I sat up straight and breathed deeply. Yes, in this year, I have done my best. I have tried to take more care of myself, after ten busy, busy years of writing and speaking. I have tracked with several women, listening as they have shared what is happening in their lives. I have provided many meals for visitors in our home. I have minded grandchildren. I have rearranged our garden a little. And yes, I have kept writing too. Gradually, my heart was able to receive that gentle reminder of God’s total love and acceptance of me, whether I produced anything or not, whether I was digging the garden, speaking to a large group, writing that next great Australian novel—or simply doing nothing.

‘Am I not enough for you, Jo-Anne?’ God seemed to say. ‘Don’t you trust me to watch over you and bring good out of all the various strands and events in your life? I see exactly where you are up to in your writing. I knew ahead about that cancelled speaking engagement. I’m aware of how you feel about those fleeting months. But surely your times are in my hands? And don’t you yourself matter more to me than anything you might produce?’

I turned then to a book I am using at the moment entitled The Ignatian Adventure which contains spiritual exercises for each day—Scripture readings, other reflections and personal questions to ponder. I turned to the day’s reading—Jeremiah 17:7-8:

But blessed is the man (woman) who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He (she) will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Yes, however fast those months fly by, I know I will bear fruit as I continue to allow my roots to go down deep into God. The fruit may vary in type and in abundance—but the Lord is trustworthy and his love for me will never change, month after month, year after year, and on into eternity.

As the year slips by, are your roots going down deep into God too?

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P1030779You might find this hard to believe, but my husband and I are both getting a little older as each year passes—at least, he is! Occasionally, in my smug state of being a number of years younger, I remind him of this. Whenever we pass an elderly driver doing something a little dangerous on our roads, I have been known to comment, ‘Oh, don’t worry. He’s just an old guy of about seventy-four!’—which is, of course, is my husband’s age!

But last week marked a different sort of milestone for him. Fifty years ago, in March, 1965, Lionel began theological college, which involved a student ministry placement as part of the training. He has been in some ministry role or other ever since, including several local church ministries but also two longer periods as a theological college lecturer and registrar, firstly at the Bible College of South Australia and later at what is now the Australian College of Ministries.

Yet that is not all. Even now, he mentors several pastors, meets with others for coffee and a good dose of encouragement and understanding, occasionally preaches, and pastorally cares for various friends via visits, phone calls and emails. Also, he still provides background support in training others for intentional interim ministry. On top of that, he continues to support me in my writing and speaking ministry as my bookkeeper, computer expert and general ‘roadie’, as he likes to call himself!

During those fifty years of ministry, there have been many interesting experiences, both encouraging and discouraging. Many sermons have been preached. Many lectures have been given. Many people’s lives have been touched. Only God knows the end result of all Lionel’s efforts in sharing the Good News, in caring for others and in training others to minister. Through it all, Lionel has remained faithful. He has kept going when I would have wanted to give up. He has persevered when I would have lost interest in doing so. He has kept the main thing the main thing. And I honour him for that.

Recently, a man in our street became seriously ill. Since then, Lionel has made a point of visiting him, talking with him, praying with him and sharing about God with him, both at home and then in hospital—to the point that now he has been asked to take this man’s funeral when the time comes. He has spoken with this man’s wife too because he cares about them and about their eternal destiny. That to me is the mark of a true pastor and man of God.

So I would say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ to my husband for staying the course and completing that ministry marathon of fifty years. More importantly, however, I know this is what God will say to him one day—a day I know Lionel is looking forward to as he continues even now to run the race marked out for him until the very end.

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

May the Lord strengthen us all to remain faithful and finish our own, unique races well.

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P1020237I think it began around twenty years ago, although I can’t quite remember how or why. It has waned a little of late, but did not take much to rekindle when I was given a beautiful amethyst one recently. Yes, I will admit it—I love candles. This very moment, I have one burning nearby. Why? Now that’s a good question!

I remember years ago mentioning this love of mine in a training group and receiving some blank stares and incredulous looks, particularly from the male ministers present. What is she on about, they were clearly wondering. Has she lost it altogether? What is so good about having a candle burning when working alone or when counselling or mentoring someone? Is this some superstitious rubbish?

Candles perform several functions for me. Firstly, they serve as a tangible reminder of the presence of God as I sit at my desk and write. Yes, I know God is with me anyway every moment of the day—but I can be forgetful of that at times. And as I acknowledge God’s presence in this way, I remember Jesus who said: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12) How easily I can lose sight of that truth at times and allow the old enemy to let the darkness of discouragement take over!

Secondly, noticing that small, flickering flame, I am reminded of the light I am endeavouring to shine through my writing and speaking. Even though it might be only one small, insignificant flame, it is still burning brightly and has the potential to shine God’s light into someone’s life. And, as Jesus reminded us, each one of us is called to do just that for others:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. Matthew 5:14-15

Thirdly, there are aesthetic reasons behind my love of candles. I love their colours—beautiful purples, lilacs, blues and creams. I love the perfume of the scented ones—rose, vanilla, eucalypt. I love the ever-changing shape of the flame as it burns—darker at the centre, then lighter and brighter towards the tip. I love the sense of warmth and comfort candles bring to a room. In 2000, during a trip to Europe, my friend and I stayed with a family in the Netherlands. When evening fell, our hostess would busy herself lighting the many candles dotted around their sitting room. Then we would relax together in this gentle light, chatting and enjoying such warm fellowship, despite my being a stranger from the other side of the world. That warm, welcoming scene is etched forever in my memory.

And finally, as my candle burns, I love to remember the ones who gave it to me—my sister, a good friend, a mentoree, my  daughter, a group of women to whom I spoke. I pray for them, that they too will know the presence of the Saviour, the Light of the World, with them and that their light will continue to shine brightly wherever they are, today and always.

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