The Gift of Mentoring

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I have been blessed to have had many women mentors in my life. I would not be the woman I am today if not for these generous spirits. Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” Winston Churchill declared, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” And from Maya Angelou we have, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

A mentor is defined as a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. A mentor can also be an influential senior sponsor or supporter. I’m had mentors who impacted me both professionally as well as spiritually. They have been older and younger than me. They have come from a variety of cultural, educational, ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds. What every one of them shared was an open and giving nature.

Unlike some women, I have always loved working with women. Perhaps it’s because I had such a close relationship with my own mother. She was my first mentor, although I don’t think either one of us realized it at the time. She believed that I could do anything and be anything that I wanted. She never pushed me…but she did encourage me. She originally worked to support the family, but later because she discovered her passion. But, she didn’t have a strong female manager encouraging her in the workplace simply because they were few and far between. She had to depend on staying in the good graces of her male superiors. And that required that she sometimes bite her tongue and pretend to be stupider than she really was. But, my mother gave many women employment opportunities they wouldn’t have normally had.

Professionally, I have had the most amazing women direct my career, support and encourage me. And teach me. But once I had a female director who did everything she could to keep me in the background. She had me prepare all the reports, charts, and hand-outs for her quarterly presentations to the board of directors of a large corporation. On two occasions, she was asked questions for which she didn’t have the answer. It required that I bring her the needed information into the meeting. It infuriated her that I would have to even come into the meeting. As far as she was concerned, she preferred that I was invisible to anyone in authority. After two years of dealing with her, I felt suffocated and couldn’t wait to transfer out of her department. What was unfortunate was that we both lost out on what could have been a good relationship. I vowed then and there that I would do anything I could to promote and encourage the women I worked with and for.

I have also been mentored by the most generous women in my spiritual walk. They have encouraged me, supported me, and helped me mature. Some of them had no idea that they were doing this. They influenced me by their gentle, calm, and godly example. But the one who shaped me the most was a woman named Sally Beckwith.

Sally was the most generous person I have ever met. She was married to the love of her life, the mother of 7 children, and the grandmother to more than I could count. Her main goal in life was to take care of her family and to ease their way in life. And yet, she seemed to do that for everyone around her as well. I chaired a couple of annual women’s conferences at our church and Sally was the first to volunteer to serve on my committee. My events were a success because I had Sally beside me making sure every “t” was crossed and every “i” was dotted. There wasn’t a task that was too lowly or a job too menial. Whatever needed to be done, she rolled up her sleeves and dug in. In fact, she had an incredible ability to see what needed to be done before it even needed doing.

When my son started high school, Sally volunteered to be on his emergency contact form because she lived a block from the school and she knew I worked. The first time he needed to go home because he sick, he was released to Sally. When I got home that night he told me, “Mom, Sally is famous. When I told the nurse she could release me to her, she replied, “Oh Sally, that’s okay then.” Not only had Sally sent seven children through that same high school, she had been the emergency contact for other families as well as mine. Of course the school nurse knew her well.

Sadly, Sally was taken from us too soon. She was diagnosed with ALS when she was 56 years old and she died two years later. At her memorial service, several women spoke about their special friendship with Sally. Than, one woman got up and said that she too had been prepared to talk about how she was a special friend of Sally’s. But after hearing so many speak, she realized that Sally’s gift was the ability to make everyone feel like a special friend. I was no exception.

I ran into Sally’s husband a few years later and he introduced me to his new wife as one of Sally’s dear friends. That touched me because I still missed Sally so much. But, I also liked how I could tell that this new wife wasn’t threatened by the casual mention of a first wife. Maybe the new wife knew that it was useless to pretend Sally hadn’t existed or maybe, she had heard enough about Sally that she knew she would have been one of her special friends too. I’m pretty sure it would have been the latter.

Sally was the truest definition of a mentor and I doubt she would have even known it.  A true mentor is one who serves.   Mark 10:45 says “Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” I would be pleased if I could be a fraction of the mentor to others that Sally was to so many.

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