Recently, I attended my church’s mid-week “ladies class”. I don’t get to go as often as I like because of my travel schedule and other work related commitments. I felt the nudge to show up that night and was super blessed by the message taught. The lady teaching the class shared a message of compassion. She talked about the walls that we tend to build around us – the walls that we build to protect us from the pain that others might inflict on us. She shared how those walls do insulate us from hurt..but they also insulate us from opportunities. My friend, Nancy Kymes, went on to share a personal story that touched me deeply. The story is hers to share – and she has given me permission to share it with you. I hope that it encourages you, as it did me, to look beyond myself, tear down walls and find compassion for others in the midst of my own crazy life.
Shannon Wilburn – CEO and Co-founder, Just Between Friends Franchise System, Inc.
She wasn’t really an attractive woman, not according to contemporary standards, anyway. She was a New Mexico woman, born and bred. Her skin was brown and leathery and creased around her eyes and mouth from years of smiling. She had a sprinkle of freckles across her nose and she wore her dark hair short and straight. She never wore fancy clothes, never owned a new car, never went to college, and never traveled any farther than the neighboring state of Texas. By worldly standards, she was a poster-girl for untapped potential.
She was an extremely busy woman. When I first met her, she was a wife, a mother of four teenaged children, a Sunday school teacher, and the piano teacher for most of the children in town. Her children were achievers, involved in sports and cheerleading. She and her husband attended every game, every event in which her children participated. Her house should have had a revolving door on the front because it was always filled with stray teenagers and other assorted houseguests.
She didn’t have time for me; I know that now. I never knew it then. She took me in so naturally. Several times each month, my family sat at her table. Hers was a musical family and we were invited to all the family singalongs. I can still see my young son sitting at their feet with his toy guitar, singing with all his might. She lived her life around us, taking us into every part of it. She babysat my children, answered all my parenting questions, shared her own frustrations with me. I never remember one single time that she that she wasn’t available for me, that she wasn’t teaching me. More than anything else about her, I remember her optimism and her laughter. She was my mother, not in a biological sense, but in my heart.
She never left that little New Mexico town, but I did. Our family moved to a larger town and when the moving van pulled away, hers was the last face I saw. We kept in touch for awhile with phone calls and occasional visits. Eventually, my children became busy teens and she was the grandmother to a herd of children. Our contact became limited to Christmas cards. I never forgot her, however, and I often heard her words, spoken to her children, coming from my mouth to my children. Every good thing I know about mothering, I learned from her.
She called me one day, many years later. We lived in Houston and she wanted to spend a few days at our house. I was elated until she told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer and needed treatment at M.D. Anderson. I wept and welcomed her back into my life and into my home. For such a sad time, it was a glorious time. The children, all grown now, came together at my house. It was a grand reunion. Once again, we enjoyed their music and their laughter and, once again, she taught me. I listened as she talked with each precious child, gently preparing them for her death. We all refused to even consider the possibility, but she was much wiser than we. She shared her thoughts with me and she taught me that faith could rejoice, even in the face of death.
She left for a week at home. I pushed her wheelchair all the way to her gate at the airport. We hugged, extra-long and extra-hard. She was my mother and somehow I knew that this was our last hug this side of heaven. The last image that I remember is her tear-stained face and her beautiful smile. She died a few days later, leaving me with the heritage of so many years of her precious time. It is a gift of inestimable worth.
I don’t know how Webster defines mentor, but I do know that my definition is a better one. A mentor is a very busy person who makes the time to take you into her life. She validates you, shines a light on your path, and teaches you that even on the darkest days, you can still find a reason to smile. A mentor becomes your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your friend. A mentor gives and you receive, until one day you are strong enough to stand alone. When that day comes, I believe that you must turn and find your counterpart. Mentors leave us with torches and we must use their light to find our way home.