Crossing the Road – A Path to Racial Healing

This article is running this month in READY magazine, the new brainchild of Gail and Dominique Dudley. They are a mother-daughter team interested in engaging the African American community in transformational living. I’m so proud of these women and the beauty and truth with which they are executing their vision. Here’s the cover with my article listed as ” The Good Samaritan.”14355152_10210778072310758_2504742666979822756_n

“Then a despised Samaritan came along and when he saw the man lying there, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with oil and wine and bandaged them.” Luke 10:34. Under normal circumstances the Jewish man lying along the side of the road and the Samaritan might run into each other in the market and not speak to each other. Generally, they hated one another because of past political and historical conflicts involving intermarriage. This diluted  the power of their race and violated Jewish law. Yet, in this parable the Samaritan, moved by compassion, crossed the road to help. How may of us have crossed the road to help?

This passage follows the question asked by a religious expert in the law, “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus knows that this man already knows the answer so he answers him with a question, “What does the law of Moses say?” Rightly, the leader answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus affirms him and offers and encouraging charge, “Do this and you will live.”

We all want to live in peace with our neighbor, but who is our neighbor? In our neighborhood our next door neighbor has the annoying habit of cutting the grass just as we all sit down to eat outside. The smell of gasoline wafts over our salmon salad, but this neighbor works two jobs, nearly around the clock to provide for his family so if that is the only time he can cut the grass then we deal with it. In the Greek “neighbor” means “someone who is near.” In America today if we are going to contribute to the healing of our growing racial divide the definition we use for neighbor needs to be extended beyond the family next door. We, like the Samaritan, must cross the road to the neighbor that others pass by and extend a hand of grace and love that is out of our comfort zone.unknown

A pastor in our church was sent out to start a movement of church multiplication. He came back to the home church at a recent conference and told a story about how things are going. One Sunday morning he felt “moved” to cross the road and attend the African American church service taking place in an auditorium. Afterward he introduced himself as the pastor who led the congregation across the street and offered their church as available for any needs True Freedom church might have in the future. In a simple meeting he extended his home to the pastor next door. The following week, the pastor found himself locked out of his building so he crossed the road to use the phone. After several calls the person with the keys could not be reached. So the pastor said, “No problem, your church can just meet here in our building today.” Thus began a deep friendship between a white Anglican congregation and a community of African American worshippers. These pastors crossed the road.

For about twelve years, I’ve wanted to go to Africa. It started with the notes we exchanged with our World Vision child in Rwanda. Then our church became deeply involved in building the work of God in Jos, Nigeria. We’ve hosted many people from Nigeria in our home for dinner and they’ve lived in our basement. My sons became fascinated with the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro and then friends of mine made the climb and I listened to their tales of overcoming fear and pain to get to the top. This only increased my desire to go, so I prayed about it. When I pray about things I usually get answers in God’s word, in a dream or in the bizarre “it can’t be coincidence” repeating circumstances of life. When asking God to get me to Africa, he kept giving me the unromantic answer I didn’t want to hear, “You need to learn how to go to Africa at home.” Then we met Jessica.

A logical way to learn how to live missionally at home presented itself in the form of a refugee housing complex in the town next door. Cool, highly educated twenty-somethings from our church lived in an intentional community among the refugees and they needed help with their
kids clubs on Sunday evenings. I found myself in a circle of about ten middle school girls with African or Burmese names so unfamiliar and difficult to pronounce that it took about a month to learn and remember them. We made chicken noodle soup swimming in Siracha sauce, think pink chicken noodle soup, we played “high low.” What was the high of your week and the low? We journaled and studied the bad girls of the Bible together, and the good girls too. The apartments were hot, dirty and reeked of unfamiliar spices simmering all day on the stovetop. Some days I forced myself to go. Spending my Sunday evenings in my perennial garden was a selfish pleasure I set aside. As the months ticked by I fell in love with one girl in my group from Liberia. She had a quiet, confident wisdom that my own kids didn’t possess when they were fifth graders. It wasn’t book smarts, but “the wisdom from above that is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” James 3:17. Her words intrigued me and captured my heart. How could this refugee girl without a mom, living in those conditions, with a father who didn’t work, know the things she knew?

On a freezing winter night we all sat in Burger King and she announced that her dad was moving to Boston and she didn’t want to go. My guts began to churn with that dangerous feeling of compassion which means your life is about to change. All the girls came up with different scenarios which would allow Jessica to stay in our community. None of them seemed likely. After a miraculous God given dream, (which is too long to tell about here, but you can read on my blog at www.margaretphilbrick.com) Jessica moved in with us. He dad went to Boston, married a lovely woman he met on-line and Jess is now an integral part of our family, read “integral” not “integrated.” Jessica is important and loved by us. She is integral.

In many ways the taste and color of our lives has completely changed. I was the only white woman at the Liberian wedding of her dad and new mom, also the only one not wearing a HUGE metallic colored hat. We watch black t.v. shows which I didn’t know existed. We eat HOT food if she makes it, as in chicken feet and goat meat stew. We hang out at other refugee housing communities where her friends live. They come over and jump on our trampoline. Because there are significant gaps in her education we read great young adult fiction together, right now the Crispin series by Avi. I thought I was done with these books after taking our three other children through them, but God is a God of surprises. There is nothing heroic about welcoming someone into your home, but there are adjustments, growing pains and joy with spicy laughter.

It may be an oversimplification and I’m well aware that people have spent their lives studying this, but if America is going to heal the racial divide then we all must cross the road and extend our hearts as neighbors to people God has for us to love. It might cost us our comfort, our to-do list and a sacrifice of self, but if we do this then then we will truly live. Luke 10:27.

Avoid School Year Stress With Sacred Space

 

Last May a friend who recently moved from Texas stopped me after a school concert to ask, “Why is it so crazy where we live? When I lived in Texas it wasn’t like this.” She’s right. It is crazy in our neck of the woods so here are a few strategies to combat that choking, stressed out feeling of back-to-school.

We live in Chicago’s western suburbs. Here, like many other affluent burbs, parents can drown themselves and their kids in a thousand productive and good activities which will shape their kids’ future. In a single day dozens of “opportunities” float across my computer screen enticing parents to sign up. Everything from knitting clubs, piano lessons, in-home baking classes and the ever expanding list of club sports all of which are beyond the regular after school offerings. Parents want their beautiful stars and starlets to step forward into the next  arena of dawn until dusk development. In our world, this is what good parents do. They provide experiences for their children which will hopefully capture their hearts and minds, enhancing focus and direction for the future. Overloading schedules can result in burnout with mom or dad in the drivers seat from 3:30 until 7:30. Dinner ends up being an already baked chicken from the grocery store and mac an’ cheese. No veggies. They take too long to chop. I’ve lived this routine. Our daughter used to eat her dinner in the car on the way home from ballet at 9:00p.m., shower and head up to her room for hours of homework. Not exactly family time.

Another reason why it is so “crazy” here is that we live in America. This is an achievement driven culture that thrives on crossing off the to-do list and winning awards. If we are not doing then we are dying. Yes, we are all dying but the doing somehow allows us to disguise the dying part. In our beautiful, green suburban enclave this is keenly felt. Almost every parent I know posts photos of their child’s current accomplishment on Facebook or drives them around on their bumper. “My child is an honor student at Hadley” the sticker reads. What is with those white stick figures that people put on their cars? Mom, Dad, eight children and four pet stickies which scream I AM SO BUSY. If we aren’t doing and now thanks to social media, proclaiming, we must be living dormant worthless lives. How can we stop the suburban spin and get off?

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My summer mornings were spent running or biking in a variety of forest preserves. Along the trail I’d stop. Taking a pause in the middle of my run, I’d look out at a vista and pray there. Right in our own crazy neighborhood, a quiet, morning beauty. I was running, but also resting. Seeking out spaces without cars, just crickets and birds. Saint James Farm overflows with giant oak trees, pastures, hidden creeks and trails. Along one of these gravel paths lies the Horse and Hound cemetery. Mr. McCormick, the creator of Saint James, loved his animals and laid them to rest amidst etched crosses reflecting an era all but gone in our county. This is a great fencepost legacy to lean into. Loving animals. Creating sacred space. Allowing others to partake and enjoy the bounty. Just a place to thank God for the day we’ve been given and all the people who’ve gone before us to make our lives more beautiful and rich.

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If running isn’t your thing, grab a Starbucks and sit by a fountain with your journal and make a list of all the things you are NOT going to do this fall. Close your eyes and drink in the spray on your face with that burned coffee bean taste of your latte. Resolve to seek quiet, seek beauty, rest in faith. The less we succumb to our external realities the more space we create for cultivating our internal reservoir. Remember to tell your children how and where you found your quiet center and the holy order this brought to your day (and hopefully theirs.) We can resist the crazy culture of overload if we give value to the sacred space in our day and share it with those we love. Sacred according to Merriam-Webster means “dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a diety.” Churches are a blessing, but what other sacred spaces are in your back yard?

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Creatively Capturing Summer

August 1st is the day we become painfully aware that summer is slipping through our fingers. Eager-eyed parents will be staring at me on August 25th Orientation, ready to hear about all of the challenges that their students will take on during the 2016-2017 school year. This leaves only 24 more days to savor the altered pace of summer. So before my calendar is covered in ink, I’m pledging to capture a moment of summer’s beauty in verse, image or prayer each day in order to have a tiny reservoir to draw from when leaves and then snow begin to crunch underfoot.

This idea came to me while reading and sleeping on my porch only to be awakened by a hummingbird zooming by. Details like this are full of beauty and glory, but we often miss them. Translating what strikes our heart chords into a poem or a photo also enables us to remember and hopefully not say, “Did summer even happen this year?” What glory sightings are you encountering this August? Create something that lasts from these moments and tell me about them!

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Awakened by Humming-

bird. Strumming through air,

shuddering summer beneath

sparkling silver Beech.

Your rumble of sound

enfolded by almighty, precious cielo.

I doze.

“Midnight in Sicily” flopped open

on sunscreen slathered legs.

Single strands of caressed hair

crossing and sticking fast to

sweat beaded face.

Your hum, breaking silence,

miniature freight train,

winged whir and whiz.

Heavenly music, drilling down

into scarlet Dahlia

one by patient one,

600 heartbeats a minute.

God’s alarm clock.

Arise. Summer is singing by.

 

Graduating Baby Corn Plants

Like millions of others, our youngest child graduated from high school this month. “Millions have done it before you and millions will do it after you,” my husband was told when he signed up for the Barbri course to prepare for the bar exam. There is something everyday, you’re just a number about graduating from high school. In the U.S. it’s common and rates are at an all time high with 81% of students graduating. As I hung graduation lanterns over the patio and sent out announcements I couldn’t escape the “been there done that” rudimentary feeling…until driving home from Wisconsin put me face to face with thousands of baby corn plants.

Their simple rows of lime green spriteness reflected hope. Each of them owned the potential to give something back to their planter and maker despite their soft leaved vulnerability. “Knee high by the Fourth of July” seemed impossible with only four inches of growth on Memorial Day. With the right conditions their single growing season will produce abundant food, about 800 kernels on a single ear of 16 rows. By November, those soldiers left standing dry, brown and brittle will blow over with the first winter blast. Left unharvested, their final act feeds the soil to strengthen the next crop. Our son’s eighteen years felt about the length of one growing season, but was it beautiful, rich and nourishing enough to grow a self-sacrificing adult?

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His little toe head of curls, one of which I keep tucked in a Limoges box on my dresser, felt the same as these first little corn leaves I stooped down to touch after pulling my car over. They also carry a soft curl before they toughen up in the face of sun, wind and rain. Making friends came easily for our young one and I wondered if these little plants become tight with their growing partners who share their space in just a few weeks. In every grade, desk partners and playground pals became friends out of convenience and necessity. He formed “The Purple Punk Club” with his skateboarding buddy in first grade – their mission – stealing the kindergartner’s ball. Naughty, but adorable boys. The corn plant doesn’t veer off mission unless deprived of nutrients and water. Did I water my little guy enough in those early years? Without water the tassels don’t form, there is no pollination, no kernels. I watered him with books and music, Berenstain Bears, Beatrix Potter and Yamaha Music School. As a graduate, he doesn’t read much for pleasure and would rather slam on his basement drums. Were those countless Berenstain bumbling stories enough to bear fruit in his developing soul? Well, drumming can be food for people. It aligns to their heartbeat and leads them into worship or it can offend and harm sensitive ears, a.k.a. his 82 year old grandmother. What happens with those drums is not my decision now.

Precious few of us know at eighteen what we want to be when we grow up. When he built his first drum set at three years old out of cookie tins and oatmeal containers we suspected. Dozens of concerts and thousands of practice hours later, our suspicion is confirmed. Come harvest time his hands and heart will be cultivating a new field in a new state with new gardeners, but the beating of the drum still pounds out his growing song.

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One proper growing season can produce millions of ears of milky white corn kernels, enough to feed a country for a year. One tiny house on the corner of President street and Liberty sends its youngest child off to college, but the tassel of golden silky hair remains in my Limoges box. The mother’s privilege is to take it out and ponder it’s possibilities when the silence of beating drums in this house produces a relieved sigh, an empty ache or a hunger. I’ll stop to savor a buttery rich ear of corn with a nice cold glass of pinot gris and toast the truth that although they all travel off to plant their own field, the farmer’s job is never done.

Geeking Out at Book Expo in Chicago

Imagine lines three people wide as far as you can see for Jonathan Safran Foer to sign his forthcoming novel, Here I Am. Think people rushing the entrance to get the coolest book bag swag from Sourcebooks, the free measuring spoons from Capstone. There were so many people in line to get in at noon when the Expo opened that I cut in, haven’t done this since grade school. It was easy. A group of unsuspecting book buyers were sitting on the floor studying the exhibitor map when everyone else stood up. I slipped in between them unnoticed. Bad girl! After two hours, my feet throbbing, I descended the 500 foot escalator for refuge on the second floor where I took off my black boots and looked over the almost dozen books I acquired free. Yes, new books – FREE! Books that haven’t come out yet – FREE!  I’m salivating. These booksellers are hawking their fall offerings with gusto. You can smell the ink of ARCs drying on pages. The enormous McCormick Place West arena filled to the gills with little elevated tables surrounded by four high chairs (not the kind you feed your kids Gerber Sweet Potatoes in, much cooler looking), with reps in suits talking books with even bigger Ingram reps with breast pocket kerchiefs. I actually met John Ingram who started the dominant world of book distribution ten years ago. If you haven’t heard of him, he is to book distribution what Michael Jordon is to basketball.Think every imaginable book nerd checking out the fall catalogues of everyone from HarperCollins to Double Dragon who publishes blood dripping horror.

I kept seeking out thick carpeted booth spaces to give my aching feet a break, not daring to sit in one of those high chairs out of fear of being identified as a bookselling poser. I’m not a seller, rather someone who is looking at trends in the industry and looking for something breakthrough beautiful. I’m already sick of adult coloring books so what is new out there? Surprise! What’s new is death and dying. Hasn’t that been around for awhile? But the Boomers are dying and they want to die well. End of life, preparing for end of life, what happens in the afterlife, are you ready to meet the “monster” of death books everywhere. Also, the look and style of creative visual compilations like John Derian’s (Artisan Books). He transports the nostalgia of 19th century flea market postcards into singular works of contemplative art, one gigantic image at a time. An eye. A pear. A paperweight per page draws the reader back in time to a restful place of savoring an object of beauty without looking at it on our phones.

I also went to meet my publisher, John Koehler of Koehler Books and my favorite agent, Don Gates. IMG953723John is a pioneer who realized that he can identify new talent and make deals on all fronts; traditional, hybrid and a recent self-publishing line with Ingram Spark. He is a special breed of publishing entrepreneur, professional boomerangist, Christian author and beach comber. I love his openness to trying new things, like embedding the classical music tracks in my novel. John rocks. He gives hope to the stodgy publishing world, now forced to undergo transformation due to the overwhelming influx of people writing books and self-publishing. Yes friends, several of the big five houses have self-publishing lines now. What a great way to make money when about 5,000 books are being published per DAY!

Books are alive and flourishing. Those silly doom predictors who said print was moribund, in permanent decline can forget it. In these days of Trump insanity, “HUGE” deals are still being made, bought and sold. Hundreds of readers are standing in line to get a signed copy of a yet to be released book and writers are dreaming up their next big story arc, all on the shores of Lake Michigan. Ha! Book Expo left New York for the Windy City. Perhaps the Cubs really are going to win the World Series.

Natasha’s New Book, Mentor For Life

I have to admit being a bit in awe of people who go to military academies. Natasha Robinson is one of them. They emit a burning efficiency which singes us lesser beings who actually spend our moments at a stoplight daydreaming rather than crossing off the to do list. For the last several months I’ve been meeting a gal in Panera who is a new friend, new Christian, and new to the church as in first time in her entire life new. I love this ray of sunshine and freshness friend. We always order the same thing, dress in whatever and hug each other coming and going. I guess you could say I’m her mentor although I’m not entirely equipped to be her mentor so I’m ordering Natasha’s book, Mentor for Life. If you have a desire to mentor and want to know how to do it well, this is a book you’ll love. Here’s a bit of Natasha’s cool, focused face, her beautiful book published by Zondervan and some of her own thoughts about it. You go girl!

http://www.amazon.com/Mentor-Life-Finding-Intentional-Discipleship/dp/0310522358

Why did you want to write the book, Mentor for Life?

Natasha: The process for Mentor for Life came about quite organically. I was leading a mentoring ministry in my local congregation and it was the type of ministry I wanted to be a part of my whole adult life. I was growing my faith, meeting new people, having interesting conversations, and reading thoughtful kingdom-focused books. The ministry was important to me so I would frequently talk about it and I wrote about it on my blog and in some of the leadership articles I wrote for Christianity Today. When I would share what we were doing and how I was watching God change people’s lives through mentoring as intentional discipleship, I started hearing people say, I want to be a part of something like that or I wish there was a ministry like that are my church. I would get messages on my Facebook page, notes in the comments section, or emails from my blog asking for a resource or my curriculum. When I saw this was a need in the church and people were sincerely asking for help, that’s when I sat down to write this book.

How has mentorship impacted your life?

Natasha: Mentoring has had in invaluable impact on my life. I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, in a community of people that understood the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” I always had mentors in my formative years in the form of coaches, teachers, community servants, and pastors. Everyone was collectively speaking into my life. The lessons I learned from these mentors taught me discipline and helped me confirm my identity, which later guided me to the United States Naval Academy.

The Naval Academy’s mission is to make leaders who are committed to making a career in the naval service. The institution cares about the moral, mental, and physical development of their midshipmen (students), and mentoring is naturally built into the leadership structure of the school. From the time you walk on campus, you’re being mentored by several and being groomed as you advance so you are able to mentor others. My time at the academy was very important to my professional development and the honing of my leadership skills.

With regards to my spiritual life, I was raised in a church but really didn’t start walking with the Lord in a personal relationship until I was in college. At that time, I was discipled and mentored by a woman who shaped me. I had many spiritual influencers at that time who built me up and helped me become who I am today.

Mentoring has become a passion of mine, because of the impact it’s had on my life, but also because of the transformation I’ve seen in other people. I believe mentoring is my service to God and to His church.

How do you think the church will benefit from the message of your book?

Natasha: I think the church will be challenged by Mentor for Life, specifically because it is not a how to book. It is a book that calls us back to the priority of our primary calling to make disciples who follow Jesus with their entire being by laying down their lives for the sake of the gospel and this great kingdom mission God has set before us. I think the church has relevant concerns and challenges in today’s culture, but we are not without hope in this world. I believe in the vision of the Lausanne Movement: “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” We can do that whether we are going out as missionaries to other parts of the world, or whether we are faithful and credible witnesses to the various people groups God has already put in front of us. Any devout believer wants to make disciples of Jesus, yet in our daily lives we become distracted, and what this book does is it resets our priorities and challenges us to allow everyone to overflow out of Jesus’ prayer for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. Mentor for Life challenges and equips the church to focus on the gospel and Jesus’ simple call to “follow me” and we do that by making disciples through relationships in an intimate small group of intentional learning.

 

How can someone seek out a mentor at church? How can you prepare yourself to be a mentor at church?

Natasha: How can someone find a mentor: ask! Just make sure that when you ask, you’re specific and make your motivations and intentions clear. This gives the space for conversation. For example, my mother passed away during my sophomore year of college. When I entered into a mentorship with an older woman at my church, one of her early questions to me was, “Are you trying to fill a ‘mommy void’ with this relationship?” That was certainly a valid question. I thought about it and confidently replied, “No.” No one would ever be able to replace my mother. I had a wonderful relationship with her and I have no regrets.

The reason I had sought out this woman at my church was because she was a prayer warrior. So after she asked me why I wanted her as my mentor, I told her it was because I wanted her to teach me how to pray. This taught me the importance of being specific in your “ask” of a mentor and to not be afraid to ask and make your expectations known. Putting all your expectations of a mentorship out in the open also gives you the opportunity to check your motives as a mentee. I still have a mentoring relationship with this woman today and I value it greatly.

With regards to preparing to become a mentor, most of the time you are just not ready. I do not want to discount the importance of training. I am an advocate for training and equipping leaders so they can serve the body of Christ and others well. That’s why I have written this book. That’s why I offer free downloadable information on my website. That’s why I have written a mentoring leadership training manual and accompanying videos. That’s also why I offer leadership consulting and mentoring coaching. However, I feel like this feeling of “not being ready” is what a lot of people use as an excuse to not commit to mentoring. I am saying very clearly that is NOT a sufficient excuse. “On the job” training is a big part of being an excellent mentor. There’s only so much you can prepare for. In mentoring, there’s always more to learn. There’s no “arriving” when it comes to being qualified to mentor. Prepare what and where you can by praying, being in the Word, listening and learning from others, and taking advantage of the tools that are available to you, but don’t wait on fully accomplishing those things before saying “yes” to being a mentor.

For mentors and mentees, it is imperative that both parties be open and honest up front about expectations and boundaries. Laying everything out at the beginning will help keep your time together focused, and will also provide accountability for both parties. Many times, the expectation of the mentee can lean towards being completely unrealistic. When that expectation is ultimately not met, the mentee ends up checking out of the relationship. Having affirmations can clarity expectations, build trust, and cause the mentoring relationship to flourish.

Mentorship is oftentimes all about “me,” when it should really be all about Christ. He is the mentor both for those who offer mentoring and those being mentored. For mentors, this means being open and willing to serve when called upon. For mentees, this meaning being open to change and willing to learn from a mentor. Both mentors and mentees need a humble and mutually submissive posture, and both need an attentive ear and teachable spirit. Shift away from focusing on yourself and your needs, and see how God wants to teach you and use you to influence the lives of others.

What makes Mentor for Life unique?

Natasha: Mentor for Life is unique because it does address mentoring from a perspective of 1-on-1 relationships. It clearly defines mentoring from the kingdom perspective of intentional making disciples, and we do that within a small group of approximately six mentees and we invest in building quality relationships through intentional learning over a longer period of time (approximately a year). The book is kingdom-focused, it engages the biblical texts, there is opportunity for theological reflection, it is missional (not just about what we do in the church but how we live among people), and it is challenging. It is also personal and relational. Throughout the book, I share about my faith journey, along with the leadership and mentoring lessons I learned while attending the United States Naval Academy and serving as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

How do you imagine the book will be used in both an individual and group setting? 

Natasha: I love to read so I have grown to love books. In some ways, I see myself being shaped and formed through the books I read. So I pray for the individual that this book will be transformative for the reader. Mentor for Life is not necessarily a book to rush through. It is a book to ponder. I have included questions, opportunities for personal reflection, and exercises at the end of each chapter. I encourage the reader to complete those, and I pray that as they go through the book they are not only thinking about starting a mentoring small group or ministry, but they are also asking themselves, “How can I be more intentional in how I live?” So I pray that Mentor for Life is spiritually transformative for every reader and it’s my hope that they will share and model what they learn with others. Mentor for Life is a leadership book, so it was written in mind to lay a solid foundation for those who do want to start a mentoring group or ministry. Reading this book will be a good first step for a small group ministry or leadership team, and they can follow up the reading by accessing the leadership training resource and videos to accompany this book.

Does spiritual mentorship have any effect on a person’s professional life? Can spiritual and professional mentorship work hand-in-hand?

Natasha: Yes, the two absolutely work together. I’ve experienced this in my personal life and I’ve been able to be a mentor spiritually and professionally for others.

In preparation for the book launch, I am having a kickoff event at my church. This event has been designed as an educational opportunity for church members and the public to have a better understanding of mentorship as intentional discipleship. Part of the event will include a panel discussion with mentors of mine, past and present. It was important for me to have these mentors present, because I wanted to show the different sides of mentoring and how everything works together.

One of the ladies that will be on the panel was my boss when I worked at the Department of Homeland Security. When I decided to leave the military and pursue a career, I had three job offers. All were good, which made my decision a little more difficult. I called an alumnus of the Naval Academy and sought her counsel regarding my decision. She had actually worked for one of the companies that was offering me a job, but advised me to go work at the Department of Homeland Security because of the skill set and influence of the woman that would be my boss.

During my interview for the job, my future boss seemed to sense (more than I had) how unsure I was about the job. I’m typically a confident person, but after having been in the military for eleven years, that was all I knew. The thought of starting something new was unsettling for me. My boss seemed to understand this fear, and she told me, “I can sense that you aren’t sure about this. But let me tell you this. Come here and do a good job. Network and meet great people, and use this job as your ‘transition’ job to figure out what you want to do.”

Having that freedom and support gave me a great sense of safety about this job and new career. It was about this time that I began writing for Christianity Today. I sent my boss the first article I had published, and she ended up calling me into her office and talking with me for a good half hour about it! It was so encouraging to hear from her, this accomplished woman, how much she’d gotten out of what I’d written. She encouraged me to keep writing, and later, she encouraged me to pursue going to seminary.

I’m so blessed to have this woman as a mentor and friend. She is an amazing example of how to be a Godly influence in a secular environment. Whether they knew it or not, everyone who came in contact with her saw Jesus. What better example of marrying spiritual and professional mentorship could there be?

 

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Climbing Kilimanjaro for Esperance and All

Today I’m praying for my friends and sisters who are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. A handful of women, two from the Redbud Writers Guild, are trekking up Kili as a fundraiser for women who are demeaned by their culture simply because they are women. This movement, One Million Thumbprints, is a “movement of peacemakers overcoming the effects of war on women.” It sounds peacenik, like a bunch of 1960’s retro-gals who let go of Hendrix and got ahold of the idea that real change can be won one woman at a time. That’s not all bad, particularly if you’re stuck in America chained to the election blather and wondering if God has anything good left for our country. Presidential candidates joking about yoga during a debate? As we say in Lent, “Good Lord deliver us.”

When I learned about this trip last fall I wanted to go and represent the Afghan Women Writers awwproject.org whom I mentor. These Afghan ladies walk an hour to an internet hot spot trying to sneak a cry of truth out into the world. Highlighting their voices from the mountaintop would raise awareness and funds to help support them and all women marginalized by the effects of war in their respective countries. I even have a picture of Kili on my Pinterest “Dream” board so I qualify. My sons have researched climbing Kili and it takes 4 -6 days depending on the route. Hopefully, they’re taking the six day journey which provides the most time to adjust to the altitude, meaning less altitude sickness. I know from experience that you don’t go out one October morning and run the Chicago Marathon, training helps. Alas, my day on the mountaintop awaits. My son’s last high school musical is running and papers need grading.

Instead, I’m here on my knees for these brave climbers, who give voice to women like Esperance and the hundreds of women who are raped every day on the front lines of sectarian conflict. You can learn more about them at www.onemillionthumbprints.org Please add your thumbprint, buy the devotional guide or even give to the cause because you know that healthy girls, thriving women, and educated mothers bring good into our world. As you walk into Marriano’s to buy your fresh squeezed orange juice at the ridiculously low price of $3.99, think of Sudanese women walking miles for water or Syrain women boiling dandelion greens to keep their families alive. I’m not trying to motivate you out of guilt. I make this grocery store trek weekly and I also don’t think of them while on my suburban pilgrimage, although I should.

If you have a yearning to change the world, hang out with people who share your heart. Another one of my favorite organizations which educates young girls in the third world is www.roomtoread.org  John Wood started Room to Read by collecting books in his garage and then taking them via a train of yaks up into the Himalayas to a school that kept their few books under lock and key, fearing they would be taken. Room to Read is changing the world for good.

Dig into what you’re passionate about. Learn and live it. When I climb Kilimanjaro I’ll let you know and if you write and say you want to climb for the cause near and dear to your heart, you’re welcome to come along. What issue is burning in your heart today?1MTClimb4Peacefront

We’re All Spring Ephemerals

While walking my yorkie-poo this morning I spot these early harbingers. Tufting out of the last fall’s rotting leaves a sunshine nugget shoots forth, one blossom so tiny you could miss it. After looking right then left, I reach down beneath my big toe and pick one. A single winter aconite (Eranthis). Six transparent yellow petals surround a burst of stamen rays, all clustered together to protect themselves from what might be tomorrows predicted snow. They belong in the ranunculus family (my favorite flower), but they look like summer buttercups. Ephemeral – transitory, short lived. Like us.

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We’ve been admiring “Bobby’s winter aconite” since our kids piled into double strollers and headed down to our neighbor’s corner. All of us longing for a blast of fresh air and someone to kick their new spring ball. You know the ones Target keeps in corded cages that you wrench the ball free from revealing its pastel glory, knowing that in about a week, POP! MOMMY(sobbing, hitting). Winter aconite makes a yellow carpet in Chicago’s February sun. Our eyes stare at the vivid swath of ground level warmth after months of twiggy grey, white and black. Color, all too short lived burns our retinas with newness of life.

The single stem now sits in a tiny bud vase on my writing desk, actually a Sanbitter bottle from the grocery store. Lifting it for a sniff propels me through today’s writing projects with a dose of perspective. We are all Spring Ephemerals. Our lives start out every bit as fresh as this bud, no wrinkles, unfocused blue eyes, cradle cap heads in need of nurture by caring, mature hands. We unfurl, for good or bad. With grace we’re given our day to bloom. Our eighty years is an hour equivalent in the life of this unassuming flower. Yet despite its hiddenness, the silent beauty of winter aconite dependably bursts upon us, leading us into the full spectrum of color which is there for the taking every year.

“What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden.”

from Spring by Gerrard Manley Hopkins

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Polar Plunging Into 2016!

As the LARGE bearded men gathered in their white robes on the beach of Lake Michigan, I had second thoughts. We’ve attended the January 1st Polar Bear Plunge over the years and laughed at the pounds of searing red flesh exiting the water and half naked people of all sizes standing in coolers of hot water to revive their frozen feet. This year was my year. No ice to be chopped up means no ice cutting through your shins and knees as you fly out of the water as fast as your near hypothermia muscles can get you ashore. Another edge, our friends who are seasoned plungers were going in and they knew the tricks, e.g. HOT water coolers, clothes waiting on chairs so they don’t get soaked, must wear shoes so you can run out more effectively and most important, go out in the front of the crowd to avoid the back up of tiptoers into the water who slow down the process to a polar crawl.

While festing at a New Years Eve party the night before a yogi was asked what she thought of the plunge, “I think it would be great for your lymph system.” Of course, this is the main reason to do it. All my lymph nodes will be excruciatingly squeezed and therefor detoxed for about two minutes. Sounded like a good idea, but then I could enjoy this benefit at my local juice bar while waiting for my cut of locavore salmon. Another compelling reason was provided by my girlfriend who served in the Marine Corp., (the real one, not the 35 degree water marine corp. we were about to dip into) “It propels you into the new year like nothing else. It kind of sets the tone for your whole year.” Hmmm. What might my whole year be like if I plunge? Visions of conquering new, unforseen heights and depths of creativity came to mind. Now that’s a benefit.

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The “Jump Around” music blasted out of the speakers and we got psyched up by jumping around. The new years day countdown to plunge sang out and off we all charged into what might be our end. There are several ambulances and firefighters who stand waiting to retrieve the weak and frail, or the many Packer fans who are overloaded with holiday cheese curds and Cherry Bounce, yes they go in too and you can smell them on the beach before you hit the water. Here’s what I learned:

– 35 degree water is easy to run out in but it makes it hard to run back. Your system is so shocked that you can’t breath, but your muscles need oxygen to get you out. This is why the kayaks and fireman are in place so no one goes out too far.

– There is a camaradarie that comes with doing something stupid. My son plunged with me and we are now proud members of the Polar Bear Club. The organizers give you a certificate if you sign the waiver saying you won’t sue them if you die. I wonder how many plunges you need to get one of those white robes with the official polar bear patch on them? Those were impressive. If my son gets one before I do, I will be jealous.

– 25 degree air feels like 25 degree air whether you are wet or dry. The difference is that your body becomes stiff when wet so park your car CLOSE to the beach.

– Hot water filled coolers provide the difference between life and death.

I hope this inspires many of you to plunge next New Years Day! Here’s the video of our graceful water ballet if you need more motivation. God bless your 2016 with healthy lymph nodes and the fulfillment of all your resolutions. Check out the lady in the white bikini holding the two stuffed polar bears. Now that’s Wisconsin!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5UGt6XD3Co

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The Ups and Downs of Aquiring an Unholy Desire

While sitting in our favorite crepe restaurant the other night, La Creperie www.lacreperiechicago.com, our oldest son asked, “What have you spent money on recently that you really wanted?” The question was directed at my husband and after thinking it over he said, “wine.” I know this is true because his smartphone is always tuned to Robert Parker’s wine reviews when I turn on Google. Like his father, he has become somewhat of a student of wine, forever in search of the exquisite yet affordable (no more than $15.00) red table wine. When you are paying for college and private high school, you don’t buy much for yourself, but the question woke me up in the middle of the night calling for an answer.

My wants are more intangible; more of God’s presence, more time in my garden to get the insanely invasive “prairie plant” under control before it destroys the entire perennial bed, the opportunity to travel the world and see every painting ever painted by Caravaggio.  These items do not come by my debit card and they don’t answer our son’s question, but one item comes to mind and it is a lesson in how we probably shouldn’t desire a certain thing too much.

Emma Toft is one of my heroines in life. Her image can be found on my Pinterest under the Hero’s category,  https://www.pinterest.com/margaretphilbri/heroes/ but her watermark is best found on the 300 plus acres of land in Wisconsin that she bequeathed to the University of Wisconsin. I’ve spent countless hours exploring and praying in her woods, even geeking out with binoculars and gawking at an eagle’s nest that reappears in the top of the white pine tree each spring. When she could no longer live off the land, she moved into town on highway 57. Her clapboard home recently became the town Visitor Center and during the renovation I saw them, two castaways inside a chain link fence out back, two old wooden ladders. We are talking old ladders, as in dowled together, covered with splatters of whitewash and rotting in the rain old. I’ve been fantasizing about acquiring Emma’s ladders and placing my hands on her rungs. Climbing one foot at a time where she placed her work boot protected feet. Although she’s been dead for more than thirty years, somehow owning those ladders would draw her closer to me. So like any wise woman intent on getting what she wants, I plotted.

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In June I walked into the visitors center and asked, oh so casually if I could have them, just to take the rotting garbage out back off their hands. The adorable senior volunteer smiled and said, “No. I’ve already asked for them and the folks said no. I thought they’d be cute to hang plants on ‘em.” Hang plants on this sacred object? Hmm, this was not going to be as easy as I’d imagined. I seriously thought about stealing them but the Lord’s Prayer kept me from that temptation as well as the thought of how to explain to my husband the sudden appearance of two ancient fifteen foot ladders. By the end of the summer, I decided to call the town hall and find out who was in charge of the visitors center. “Well I think that’s June Greeley, just let me check here.” I told June I would give a donation to the Visitor’s Center if she would let me take those ladders. “Oh, let me talk to the board about it and I’ll get back to you.” The Board of a town visitor’s center, a town of less than a thousand people? You are kidding me.  A month went by and she didn’t call.

I couldn’t bring myself to pray for these ladders, the thought was too selfish. What would we do with them if we did get them? As fading summer crickets chirped in the evening, I clung to the chainlink fence, staring down at them. They looked unusable, half rotten. I began to talk myself out of it, This is a completely impractical, irrational desire, get over it, But then the blessed voicemail came. “The Board has agreed to let you have the ladders for a donation. You can pick them up any time.” JOY inescapable washed over me as I drove home from teaching that Monday afternoon. Emma Toft’s ladders were ours! A piece of Emma, coming into our home! They would transform the living room with their primitive character and unique aesthetic. However distant, a part of her life would inhabit ours and this glory was accomplished for only a small donation.

Both ladders were soaking wet when I picked them up. The smaller of the two ladders fell apart into six pieces when I put it in the car. The giant ladder was full of earwigs, seeping out of each interlocking joint. They would need some serious repair and drying out. After a few days of debugging and baking in the sun I managed to prop the giant one up against the stucco wall in our living room. It looked incomplete, like Shel Silverstein’s Missing Piece or the Bridge to Nowhere. Perhaps someone didn’t finish painting the room and they left their ladder behind hoping to come back? The ladder is so huge and old that it’s dangerous. It could fall on a visiting child or crush the piano. It took me twenty minutes to get the beast back outside without killing myself. I called my father for consolation and a dose of vision. He helped, a little. “Oh you need to make a complete display out of it with a variety of rural antiquities, you know, a bunch of old farm stuff mounted on the wall in a group.”

Right now the dilapidated ladders are resting under an outside staircase waiting for their redemption and restoration. What would Emma Toft do? What will we do with them? I really wanted these ladders but now I seem to have inherited an even bigger project by acquiring them. Was it worth all the energy spent desiring them? This story is incomplete, but I might just be at an age where I need to stick to my holy, intangible desires … praying for them, trusting God to fulfill them in his own way and in his good and right time. If you have an idea of what to do with these monsters, please let me know. And, if you want to read more about the inimitable Emma Toft, here’s the link. Now I put our son’s question to you, what have you spent money on recently that you really wanted? How has it worked out?

http://www.doorcountycompass.com/blei/emma/emma_toft.htm

My favorite quote in this article, when asked what she wants to be remembered by: “Trying to keep the home place. Making people enjoy the out of doors. If you can’t make people love the out of doors, then they’re ignorant. Make them enjoy it. It’s the little things. That’s, I suppose, why so many people don’t see it.” Emma Toft’s interview with author Norbert Blei