. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you
or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go,
and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people
and your God my God. Where you die I will die,
and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me,
be it ever so severely, if anything but death
separates you and me.” RUTH 1:16-17
They just didn’t get it, couldn’t understand. My family thought I was nuts to leave home and follow a sad-faced little woman to another country. They thought I had lost my senses.
And some of what they said was right. Naomi was grief stricken. She didn’t even want my company. She begged Orpah and me to return home, to give her peace in her sorrow and allow her to travel alone. Orpah did return, but I just couldn’t leave that little woman.
I’m not at all like Orpah. You see, I tend to be a bit stubborn, and I was determined to see Naomi laugh again. I had lived with her when she was whole, worshiping her strange God, full of laughter and dance. I loved this joy-filled woman, who danced as she sang of the miracles of Yahweh. I loved the sound of her laughter and the spontaneous hugs she gave me, hugs I had hungered for since I was a child. She was giving me something I had never had before. She was showing me how to play, how to laugh and enjoy life.
So I set my face, smiled at my family and at Naomi, and refused to leave her. I would not leave this woman until I had learned to laugh, and to laugh for a lifetime. I wanted to learn how to hug and to hold on to the good in life. I needed a teacher, and Naomi was the only woman I knew who could do it.
I know this sounds odd. I know that many who read our story don’t understand why I had to follow her. Engulfed by grief, Naomi was instructing everyone within earshot to call her bitter. She wanted to be named by the tragedy she had suffered. But I knew better. I had seen Naomi whole. I wanted that same wholeness for myself. And if wholeness meant following the one God, the one who made Naomi smile in spite of herself, lifting her arms to encompass his creation, then I needed Naomi. I needed her to introduce me to the ways of this God and to the joy found there.
Besides, grief passes. I know it sounds harsh, but time eventually heals you to the place that the grief no longer flattens you. Naomi would eventually be able to experience worship without sobs. The day would come when she would fall asleep with dry eyes. I might even hear her laughter again. I was determined to hear her laughter again.
So I followed her home. I went looking for her laughter. I did as she told me, never understanding but following anyway. I worked as she worked. I slept by a handsome man’s feet and found kindness there. Eventually I placed our child in her arms and felt Naomi’s laughter as it reverberated off my bones and into my heart.
Most important, I learned to follow Naomi’s heart. I learned to listen, as she did, to the words of Yahweh. I learned to obey his commands and to walk as his children walked. I learned to lift my own arms, to look at his creation with awe and wonder. I learned to laugh and to love and to hug my own children whenever the mood struck.My children grew up safe and secure. No child sacrifice for my children. My children worship a God of love and of joy. We worship Naomi’s God.
. . . . . . .
Ruth followed Naomi for reasons of love. She needed the love, friendship and guidance of another woman, of an older, more experienced woman. Her story is filled with the kind of love and commitment that we hunger for as women.
There are myriad ways in which we are mentored and in which we mentor. Mentoring is a kaleidoscope, a constantly changing field of color and wonder. It is not a linear path on which one chooses one guide and faithfully imitates. Mentoring and being mentored are full of faces and circumstances and discovery. Mentoring is a rich tapestry woven by a community of generous souls.
I grew up surrounded by a community of women who loved God.
I had a mom who worshiped Jesus, grandmothers who taught my parents to worship Jesus and aunties who worshiped Jesus—and still do.
My mother’s circle of friends was packed with women who loved Jesus. I grew up with Annis teaching me Scripture, Ginger directing my social life back to the boundaries provided by Scripture, Virginia and Mary Etta providing comfort and wonderful food at every turn, and Fenter singing God’s praises.
It was an incredible community in which to come of age. These women taught me most of what I know about the joys of being created in God’s image. This is not to say that the men in my life had no influence. My dad and grandpas and uncles all added treasure to my life. They taught me the joy and fun of being a cherished daughter in a community of men who love and serve Jesus. But it was the women in my life who modeled and affirmed all I know about what it means to be female, created in God’s image.
In Scripture, Titus 2:3-5 instructs:
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Scripture sets up a tall order. I have been blessed in life to have a circle of mentors, a wide circle of women who have loved me, taught me, laughed with me and sobbed with me. None of them would say they “mentored” me. They are probably uncomfortable with the word, even though they practice the concept on a regular basis. Yet most of us understand Ruth’s need for Naomi. We see women whose lives hold elements we desire, things we have no idea how to possess.
We hunger for a mentoring relationship.
My mother was my first and most profound mentor. She is the mentor whose words are stored in my bones, coming back to me on a daily basis, instructing me in how to live and how to love. Mom has been at Jesus’ house now for six years, and not a day passes when I do not miss her, missing her special brand of wisdom.
I was in my twenties before I realized that not everyone had the good fortune to have a mom like mine. Mom and I were best friends as adults. She was the first call I made whenever I was stuck in a decision-making process. She was my closest female friend.
Mom taught me how to love. Even as I write these words, I can hear her arguing with my conclusion. She was so aware of her shortcomings, so aware of her own sins, that she failed to take inventory of her strengths. But the reality is, she taught me how to love. My mother loved my father with an intensity that grounded me as a child. I always knew that Mom’s first love was Dad. He was the star around which she orbited. They held hands, always. She spoke well of him, always. She wanted to share her thoughts and experiences with him, always.
I remember when I was just weeks away from my wedding. Mom and I were in the car, on our way to order flowers. And because my mom had only ever spoken well of my father, she suddenly had a concern.
“Honey, you, uh . . . Carol, you know your Dad is not perfect, right?” she asked, while negotiating the freeway.
I glanced at her and laughed. “Right, Saint William is not perfect.” I adore my father. He walks with Jesus. But I had been a normal teenager.
I had rows with both parents that make me cringe today. At twenty-five, memories of those conflicts were fresh. I knew Dad was not perfect. I had helped him understand that on numerous occasions!
“Seriously, Carol,” Mom cautioned.
“Seriously, Mom,” I sighed.
We drove another mile or two before she picked up the thread again. “Carol, you know your dad and I have had disagreements in our marriage,” she said, eyes on the road.
I glanced at her, wondering what this was all about. In my childhood, I had only seen my parents have a serious disagreement once. It had been resolved by their quick trip to the beach while my sister and I were farmed out to Grandma. I had seen little of the flare-up and none of the resolution.
“Ongoing disagreements?” I asked.
Mom’s smile was an easy one. “Ongoing as in rehashing the same mistakes? Then yes. Ongoing as in, are we fighting and in trouble? No.” She sounded amused.
“So what is the point of all this?” I asked.
“The point is, I want you to understand that married people do have major disagreements. You weren’t around for our early years. We had disagreements that left me so angry I would leave the house and drive around until I could calm down.” Her tone was one of amused recollection.
I can picture this. Mom and I are both volatile. We are easily upset at times. We have both needed to find ways to blow off steam without decapitating those we love. I can see her driving that old Chevy around town.
“You and Mark are going to fight,” she continued. “It’s inevitable. I just don’t want you to think that we had a smooth course. We didn’t. We learned how to love. You will need to learn how to settle a disagreement in a reasonable way.”
Mom must not think I am all that reasonable when angry. Imagine that!
I married Mark. I got frustrated with Mark. I took the car keys and stormed out of the apartment and drove around until I calmed down. I learned, with the patient tutelage of the Holy Spirit, how to settle a disagreement in a reasonable way.
And Mom’s words and life shaped me. I learned I could be frustrated beyond words and still love Mark. I learned that I needed to take a quick walk or a short (or long) drive to keep myself from saying things that would hurt him. I also hurt Mark many times and learned how to ask for forgiveness.
The night my mother died, my sister and I wept as my father held her and poured out his heart. Over and over he kept saying, “You girls don’t know. You can never know what an incredible woman your mother was.” To this day, he is still in love with his Nancy.
So you see, even in death she mentored me. She gave me the model of a marriage. With his partner on the other side, Dad still held her hand and wept out her praises. My mother’s mentoring provided the foundation for the person I have become.
By the grace of God, I have had other mentors besides Mom, women who have filled my life with their wisdom, their knowledge, their sense of fun. These women entered my life because of my needs. They had attributes I craved, and they were kind enough to come alongside and teach me from their own journeys.
Ernestine is a woman who has helped me become an adult, teaching me what it means to love God as an adult. She is the one who most often helps with the process. Ernestine knows the process.
I met Ernestine when I was twenty-three years old. She teaches the Word of God like a Bible professor. She has a passion for the written word that stabilizes me. Like me, Ernestine is a reader, and once we knew that about each other, the friendship was solid. I believe we seek out mentors because they have in their lives an element we want. I sought out Ernestine because she had a depth in the Word of God that I wanted. She had walked out her faith in some pretty difficult circumstances and had maintained her love for the Savior. By my early thirties, I knew that life was going to hand all of us some pretty difficult circumstances, and I wanted stability like Ernestine’s.
Ernestine would be the first to say she has not mentored me. I think the word mentor is intimidating to her, as it is for so many of us. Let me tell you a little about what Ernestine has done for me, and you can decide if she’s a mentor or not.
Whenever my walk becomes difficult and I don’t know what to do or where to turn, I end up in Ernestine’s living room. She pours tea, hands out Kleenex, takes out the Scripture and reveals its wisdom.
When my mother lay dying, Ernestine prayed with me. She prayed for me. She listened. When I needed a day away from all of it, she talked about books and movies and children and never mentioned Mom at all. She was an oasis.
When I turned forty and Mom was gone, Ernestine asked what I wanted for my birthday. No party? No craziness? She arrived with my friends Wendy and Annie and made a lovely brunch. Together we sat and smiled and were still.
When my children have worn out my knees, she allows them to wear out hers. When I had surgery, when they thought I might die, she joined others who stormed heaven’s gates and said, “No!” God heard their prayers.
She reads manuscripts and makes suggestions. She reads finished projects and applauds.
Ernestine would say we are just friends, and we are. But she is so much more. She is that woman who has walked farther, worked harder and knows Jesus better than I. She provides stability for me. She is the sister whose footsteps I look for, whose walk I follow.
And then there’s Diane, my wonderful friend from Arkansas. Though I had taught a bit, speaking at retreats was new and daunting. Diane heard me fussing about this new arena the Lord had introduced into my life and stepped in to help me. “Girlfriend,” she said with a laugh, “if you want to see what not to do, come follow me.” I followed. Diane is my ideal when it comes to retreats: she can tell a story that will leave you laughing so hard it hurts. She loves the Lord and loves to laugh. I learned much about what to do and nothing about “what not to do.”
The first retreat I followed Diane on was a jewel that I still treasure. With small children at home, just the idea of a weekend away was alluring. But Diane came up with the best plan: I was given the job of praying at the retreat. She had gone over her notes with me and I was to pray the entire time, sitting in the back. I was to pray that the Holy Spirit would do his deepest possible work in each life. I was to pray that Diane would stay on track. I was to pray that the women would have open hearts.
So I prayed and Diane preached. (I’m sorry. I know that, for many of us, women teach and do not preach, but women, she preached!) The Holy Spirit was present and lives were touched. Lives were changed. And in the midst of it all, at a moment when an issue came up that Diane knew I was writing about, that amazing teacher turned and gave me the floor. Just like that I got to practice in front of a pro.
I will never forget that moment. She smiled graciously and said, “You all know I travel with a friend who prays while we meet. This time it’s Carol, and I happen to know that this is a question that Carol can answer best. The Lord has been talking to her about this very thing.”
To say I was scared was an understatement. I was terrified. But Diane was smiling. And she was right: the question was on target. We had discussed that very issue on the drive down. I had poured out my heart to Diane, telling her all I had learned about it.
So Diane just turned the whole thing over to the novice, and you know what? The Holy Spirit was still present as Diane and I shifted jobs. She prayed, and for a brief time I taught. It was only for a few moments, but I taught—hadn’t gotten to preaching yet—and lives were touched, lives were changed.
What an incredible woman! What generosity! She recognized that the Holy Spirit was present and that it was our job to get out of his way and let the work occur. But that is how Diane is. She is always interested in his work and never in hers. Her rule of thumb is this: We don’t care who the Holy Spirit speaks through; we are just grateful that he speaks.
It is a rule that I strive to follow. The early church knew it. They all brought songs or verses to their gatherings and shared them. In today’s culture, it is often one authority who speaks. A teacher or retreat speaker gets all the fun of being used by the Holy Spirit. Diane taught me that we need to learn to share the fun.
We often turn to women for help when they have qualities we seek. Sometimes they have a skill we want to acquire. Sometimes they have a character quality that we feel light-years away from obtaining.
When we find the right person, our mentoring sessions tend to be more formal in nature. I watch Ernestine with a conscious intent to learn. I do the same with Diane and several others. These lessons are deliberate attempts to learn from my mentors.
There are other mentors whose presence in our lives is cherished and often unnoticed. These informal mentors are the women we work with on the job, in the church, in the raising of our children, in the loving of our husbands. They are often our peers. They are “just friends” whose impact in our lives is priceless.
Today, at the age of forty-five, I have several “best friends”: Cathy has been a sister to my soul since college. Wendy feeds my artistic spirit. Debbie takes care of me, praying regularly for me and my children.
Susan creates a home that renews me. Penny watches over my schedule and reminds me of the need for solid intellectual and emotional rest.
It is a wide and powerful circle. My children are growing up in the love of these additional “aunties.” I am growing up in their love also.
Often our friends, our trusted lifelong friends, guide much of our growth. Dee Brestin refers to these friends as “perennials.” I love that idea, because the plants that return to my garden each spring have become old friends. I look for their shoots to appear, nurture their growth, enjoy their beauty. Annuals are lovely, put perennials are relationship and character builders.
One of my perennials is my college roommate, Cathy. Her husband, Bob, serves our country as a military man with great passion and integrity. Our children trace their understanding of U.S. geography and history to the places Uncle Bob and Aunt Cathy have lived. They have lived all over the nation, and today they are based in Hong Kong. Cathy and I have found it necessary to visit each other wherever we are. Bob sent a ticket to me two years ago to make sure I visited them in China. It somehow helps to have a visual idea of each other’s surroundings. I love knowing where the international school is and where the boys catch their bus. I can still recall the smells of the wet market and the glory of the flower stalls.
Last spring, Cathy came to visit me. She had not seen this house, though I have lived here four years. We laughed, talked, shopped, talked, talked and, well, visited until all hours for one week. It was a busy week. I had much going on at work. My schedule was a bit crazy, and by Thursday night, Cathy was concerned. When the last kid was off doing homework, she suggested we visit out in the garden. We grabbed pillows and headed out into the warm night.
“Carol, this schedule has to stop,” she said, just moments into the conversation.
I smiled, feeling that she just didn’t understand my life. I had no intention of pursuing this conversation. “It will end. I promise. I’ll be all rested by summer’s end,” I said.
“Don’t do that,” she urged. “Don’t refuse to look at it realistically. You had surgery just nine months ago. Didn’t that teach you anything?”
That hurt. The surgery had been terrifying. The doctors thought it was ovarian cancer. It wasn’t, but the threat had been far too real. And I had learned. At least, I thought I had.
“Carol, that was not a blip on the screen,” Cathy told me. “That was God getting your attention. You have to slow down.”
I looked at the flowers and sighed. “Do we have to do this?” I asked.
“Yes, sweetie, we do. You won’t know your own children if you keep up this pace.”
Ouch. My children are my treasure. I can’t bear it when I hurt them. I don’t want to be told I’m not being a good mom.
Cathy hugged me and suggested we look at the schedule and try to make some adjustments. She knew I was hurting, but she knew she was right. Scripture says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:6). My schedule was overloaded. I needed to make cuts. I needed more time to mother my kids. And I needed my friend to help me see it.
Cathy is loyal to the core, but her loyalty does not blind her. She knows my faults, knows I tend to overbook my life. She loves me enough to force the issue on occasion. She loves me enough to tell me the truth of a situation. She loves me enough to let me see her faults too. And so now, in our forties, with both our mothers inside heaven’s gate, we teach each other. We teach gently, lovingly and firmly. We care for each other’s souls.
It is a wonderful thing to be mentored, yet it is difficult to be asked to mentor. Most of us do not feel able to teach. We are aware of our own flaws before God’s throne and are afraid we might pass those imperfections on.
Naomi knew that difficulty. She had the same hesitation many of us feel when we are asked to mentor. Imagine what it must have been like for her. She and her husband had left Israel during a time of famine. They moved to the country of Moab, and there her husband died. Her sons took foreign wives, and later they also died. C. S. Lewis tells us, “Grief is like the sky; it covers everything.” To traverse that emotional landscape alone would be doubly painful. Yet that is what Naomi set out to do. She wanted to be alone with her grief.
One daughter-in-law refused to part with her. Ruth was adamant. She would stay with Naomi; she would make Naomi’s home her own. Naomi’s God would be her God, and she would be buried in Naomi’s land. What a testimony of love between two women!
So Naomi returned home with a daughter of the heart. You can imagine how difficult this would have been for her. Have you ever been so low you had nothing to give? Certainly that was Naomi’s life. She was depleted. She had lost everything, and she was bitter. Yet here was this young woman, needing her love, needing her help. Here was Ruth, a daughter of the heart who needed an introduction to the God of Israel.
Naomi found the strength to love. She gave direction. She watched God move.
God did bless these two. Naomi’s God became Ruth’s. Naomi’s kinsman became Ruth’s husband. And Ruth’s child became Naomi’s laughter.
It is easy to see the end of Naomi’s story and to forget her blunt refusal to mentor Ruth. We forget that she asked Ruth to return home. We also spend little time considering the emotional reserves it took for Naomi to bring Ruth back to Israel. It cost Naomi something to teach and look after Ruth. She worried over her future. She fussed over Ruth, and she made mistakes of her own. She was human.
When we are asked to be special friends with younger women, it is easy to let the circumstances of our own lives crowd them out. We suggest they return to the church, find someone older, someone wiser. I have been known to say, “I don’t know how to mentor.”
I’ll never forget telling one young woman just that. But she was tenacious. She informed me that we didn’t need a format; she just wanted to “hang out.” I am a child of the seventies, so hanging out is my forte. I let her know that my house was always open for hanging out. So that is what we did and what we still do. We talk while I iron.
We laugh while I cook. We groan when the dryer buzzes. We learn from each other over the chores of daily life. As for who is mentoring whom, I’m well aware of what I’m learning: it doesn’t take much to mentor if you like to hang out. Even my flaws, wrapped around the ironing board, are visible, recognizable and forgivable because of her kind heart.
The process changed us both, but did I become a mentor? Oh, I don’t know. It’s such a big word. I’m just in my forties, you know.
Mentor? I think not. I think we just became friends.
1. Who have been mentors to you? What do they bring to your life? What important lessons or skills have they taught you?
2. Read Titus 2. Consider your place in the circle of life. What do you need to learn? Who could mentor you? Consider the younger women in your life. What skills or character qualities do you have that you could help them develop?
3. Think about the ways other women have mentored you. How have they become part of your life? Was it formal? Informal? Did you ask for help? As you reflect on question two, how will you approach these women to ask for help or to offer it?