Tuesday, July 24, 2012

From "Bus Girl" to Butterfly

Mrs. Michelle (Givens) Wright is second from the left. Her former teachers from First Baptist Church of Rosemount are from left to right: Mrs. Vikki Pierson, Mrs. Francie Taylor, Mrs. Tina Rupe, and Mrs. Valerie Clear. If we could have included all the teachers, bus captains, bus workers, Pastor and Youth Pastor, Hyles-Anderson College staff and faculty and others who influenced Michelle's life for Christ, this photo would have been taken in a stadium!

"Hello, Mrs. Taylor? This is Michelle." She didn't have to identify herself. I recognized her sweet voice right away. It is still one of my favorite things to receive a phone call from any of my former "bus teen girls." Actually, it is more accurate to refer to these young people as "students from the bus ministry" rather than "bus kids." I'm not aiming for "political correctness" here; I'm just respecting the students. As one of my former students used to tell me, "bus kid" often has a negative connotation to it, and it surely should not! Most of us know many phenomenal Christians who once rode a bus to church! Still, many of us use the term "bus kid" lovingly; not negatively at all.

I know this: each young lady from my former class made as much of an impact on me as she claims that I did on her. If you are one of my former students reading this now, I thank the Lord for you. (And call me anytime! This means you: Iisha, Stephanie, Kisha, Desta, Iesha, Malaisha, Ashley, LaTonya, K-Girls, Lilya, Christina, Oxana, Lexy, Ellie, Kayla, Brooklyn, Destiny, LaToya One and LaToya Two, Promise, Abigail, Rachel, Justine, Elise, LaShawna, Shayla, Kaitlyn, Ashanti, Tamika, Tynica, Noelle, Pearl and Pearline, Star, Absidee (spelled "ABCD") and the rest of you. And if I didn't mention your name, get out a Q-Tip and "Quit Taking It Personally," because your teacher is just a bit older and suffering from something called  the "mental-pause"! Oh, and Iisha: Candyman probably still loves you.)

Michelle's story is not unique, as there are many people who rode a bus to a great church and had their lives changed forever. Michelle is one of many former students, and not mine alone. Before I ever met Michelle and her "old posse," they had already passed through many classes of wonderful teachers who had influenced them; making enormous and loving impacts on their hearts and lives. Teachers of bus ministry students: Your work really matters. Never take your job lightly, and never treat your bus riders like "second-class" church members. In God's sight, they are no different than you, except for the mode of transportation to church. Each one of their homes is unique, and every student is precious. Are you praying for the young people in your circle of influence? You have no idea who they are and what the Lord may have them do in this life. Working with people is not just a ministry; it is a privilege and a sacred trust.

What makes Michelle's story precious is this: She is not just a survivor; she is thriving! I am grateful to say that Michelle is not the only former student that I know of who is continuing to walk with the Lord, but the number of "success stories" is still too small.  How many of you have had students make it to 12th grade in your ministry, only to have them spiral off into ungodly living after they moved the tassel on their graduation cap? Before the ink was dry on the diploma, some had moved out of their homes and into lives that were totally contrary to what we had been teaching for all those years. Heartbreaking doesn't even begin to describe it. but that's not necessarily the end of the story. In fact, if you have former students living in carnal lifestyles right now, don't give up hope. Mistakes in life are just paragraphs in chapters; not the whole story.

Michelle was one of the "pilot students" of our Gracious Ladies' Mentoring Program at First Baptist Church of Rosemount. Now before you all flood me with emails and messages requesting details of this program, let me say this: It wasn't perfect, and I'll probably write more about it in a future e-booklet, if you'll be patient. Through lots of trial and error, my co-teacher Vikki Pierson and I tried to be patterns of godly gracious Christian womanhood to an ever-changing stream of girls. The main take-away lesson we learned was this: Mentoring is not just a class; it's a life habit. It's kind reproducing kind. You are probably mentoring someone right now, without any booklet or special format. Mentoring is a matter of modeling Christlike living for someone else.

Young people before...
Young people are "baby butterflies" that are hard to see as beautiful when their behavior is not so comely. Just as it takes stages of time for a caterpillar to be transformed into a butterfly, a young person develops into the person that God wants them to be in due season. Consider these facts about the caterpillar-to-butterfly process (from http://www.whyzz.com/how-does-a-caterpillar-become-a-butterfly):

"Caterpillars are growing a lot, so they eat, eat, eat! They also shed their skin many times to accommodate their fast growth. When they’ve reached full size, a caterpillar forms into its third life stage, the chrysalis or pupa. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar is busy as ever, working on changing form for the final time: When it emerges from the chrysalis, it has become a beautiful winged butterfly or moth! The adult butterfly or moth then finds a mate so they can lay eggs. The whole cycle starts again!"

Do you see the parallels here? Young students are just like that caterpillar; eager to "eat" what we "feed" them in knowledge. They grow rapidly during this stage, but then there is the "chrysalis or pupa" stage when they clam up and shut themselves into a shell of sorts. During this time, change is still taking place, but we can't see the growth and development, as it is hidden from our sight. Later, at the appointed time, a beautiful butterfly emerges in the form of an adult Christian. And then this person goes on to touch another life, and "the whole cycle starts again!" This is why investing in lives is so important!

Here are some things that anyone can teach a young person:
1. The Bible is the Ultimate Wisdom Book, and we must all read and get to know it. "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting, get understanding." (Prov. 4:7)
2. God has a plan for your life, but if you blow it, there is a Plan B,C,D... "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand." (Psa. 37:23-24)
3. Be careful who you allow in your "inner circle" of friends. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." (Prov. 13:20)
4. As you learn the Word of God, follow it. "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22)

This blog would be way too long if I told you about every student from our Gracious Ladies' Mentoring Program, so I'll just give you this snapshot from Michelle's life: Michelle had been away from the Lord for over a year, so my husband and I went to visit her one night in the hopes that we could help steer her back on track. When she opened the door to her apartment, my husband asked this question: "Michelle, what are you doing?"

Not "How are you doing," and not even "Hello," but "What are you doing?" I remember being startled by his frankness (not at all like him) and realizing at that moment that the Lord had directed Norman's speech. We stood there awkwardly for a bit, and then Michelle invited us in. We visited, then left not knowing if Michelle would ever get right with God again. But we had hope...

Months later, a very used car with those old hidden headlights (one of them was stuck in the one-eyed, popped up position), pulled up next to us in the parking lot at church. It was a Wednesday night, and the driver was Michelle. My heart shouted for joy as I realized that God's Word had worked in Michelle's heart like a time-release capsule. Michelle became faithful to church, served on a bus, and sat with our family in the services every week after that for several months. The "butterfly" was emerging from her shell.

Then one Wednesday night before church, Michelle came to me and said, "Mrs. Taylor, I believe that the Lord wants me to go to Bible college." She practically had to hold me down and stop me from racing the car off to Bible college before she had even enrolled! That statement was followed by a meeting with our Pastor, Dr. David Clear, in his office, where he helped Michelle to formulate a plan. The church family at First Baptist gave also a special love offering, allowing us to take Michelle shopping for needed clothing, supplies, and providing money to register for that first semester. Michelle paid most of the bill, but our church family got behind her and gave her a good launch! This, too, is mentoring.

When we give time and resources to our young people in the ministry, we are teaching them that giving is an everyday part of the fabric of the Christian life. Hoarders never have enough, while givers never run out of resources. Mentoring is not a program; it is showing others how to walk with God by allowing them to have a close-up view of your own life in Christ. It is also friendship, as a bond is naturally formed from the time spent together.

Michelle "crammed four years of Bible college into five years," (Hey! Bible college is not day camp!) graduating from Hyles-Anderson College in January of 2010 with four people there as her "cheering section": Michelle's own Mom (Mrs. Roby), her former teacher Mrs. Taylor, along with Mr. Taylor taking photos like a paparazzo, and Pastor Clear. Michelle's Mom and I patted each other on the hand now and then, struggling to hold back the tears. Mrs. Roby leaned over at one point and said, "This has always been my dream for Michelle." That opened the flood gates for me! Tears of joy took the makeup off my eyes and ran it down to my chin as I beamed through that ceremony with Michelle's Mom. 

It was finally her turn. Her name was announced with such authority: "Michelle Nicole Givens." 

We clapped and cheered and cried and laughed and clapped and cheered! A graceful young woman stepped elegantly across the platform, received her diploma, then moved on almost symbolically into her next chapter in the book of life. That same young lady had her feet under my dining room table on a recent Sunday night after church, during her brief visit to Minnesota. We had spaghetti and garlic bread washed down with lemonade, just like the old days when she was a surly teen wearing a sweatshirt with the hood pulled way over her head and worn with sunglasses indoors. That teen was the caterpillar. The young lady I know today is the butterfly. Thank God for transformations!
...Young people after

 "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Rom. 12:2)

Note: The Gracious Ladies' Mentoring Program will be available as a booklet sometime in late 2013. Watch for it in the Shop at www.keeptheheart.com.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Speaker's Life is Melted Junior Mints

I love serving the Lord as a "teacher of good things," but life as a traveling teacher or "speaker," as most call it, is an odd life.

First, there's the invitation: "Hello Mrs. Taylor. You don't know me, but my sister's mother-in-law's grandma heard you speak, and we'd like to invite you to our ladies' retreat." (I am on the other end of the phone wondering, "Are there spiders at this retreat?" Retreat is sometimes code for "camp," and I'm an unhappy camper. "Camp" is synonymous with "bugs and insomnia."

The emails are just as funny as the phone calls: "Dear Mrs. Taylor, I exercise to you almost every day, and I told my Pastor's wife about you and we were wondering if you could teach at our ladies' conference." (I am reading the email and wondering how she exercises TO me, and do I get any credit for the calories burned? I later find out that the emailer is referring to a lesson recorded on CD.)

The invitations that feel the most ominous are when the Pastor himself calls: "Mrs. Taylor, this is Pastor Authority Voice from Say Yes Baptist Church. We're having a ladies' event and we want you to be our guest speaker." (I am on the other end of the phone wishing that I wasn't getting a call directly from the Principal's office.)

No matter how I receive the invitation, I see them as important requests that must be handled with prayer. I never take any invitation lightly, realizing that this is what the Lord has given me to do, and when it works out, it's always a blessing. "Man's goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?" (Prov. 20:24)

The work begins after we say "yes."

Deciding which lessons to teach is a matter of prayer and labor. Although some lesson topics really flow, it usually takes several drafts to get to a final lesson. I used to fill the trash with the lesson drafts, but that seemed so wasteful. Now after printing a preview draft, if it doesn't ring the bell, I cut it into scrap paper. Most of the scrap paper in our house has my "failed" lessons on the back.

Writing lessons takes countless hours, all year round (except during holidays), and I need the Lord to direct me every time. My "motto verse" for writing projects is Proverbs 16:3: "Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established." Often, the lessons that make me the most uncomfortable are the ones that people tell me helped them immensely. If you've ever heard me teach, you already know that every lesson is founded on Scripture. This is how God "establishes my thoughts."

When I arrive at the hotel before a conference, there is usually a gift basket of treats. On one of my trips, I was given a box of Junior Mints. I love chocolate covered mints! I put them in my tote bag and left the tote in the car, completely forgetting about the 100-degree Tennessee heat. When I got to the airport, I pulled out what was supposed to be my special treat, but the box felt funny. Nothing rattled around when I shook the box. "Oh oh," I thought as I opened the flap and found a mixture of brown and gray goop (the gray was the mint filling, once upon a cooler temperature). Oh well, I dug around in my tote bag, found a plastic spoon and proceeded to enjoy my Junior Mint Mousse. Necessity is the mother of invention, you know. I could be on to something here...

Sometimes this "odd job" gets so hectic that it makes me feel like melted chocolate, but I still love serving the Lord as a "teacher of good things." I will keep my chocolate in my purse next time, though.

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10)


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Things NOT to Say to Young Adult Women

And let me tell you a thing or two...

There is a gap between young women and older women today, and it's not just generational; it's relational. Not everyone has this problem, but if you've been viewing younger women as those who "just don't know any better," maybe this blog will help. Gratefully, not all women are off course in this area, but here are a few examples of things that we should not say to our younger sister friends:


1. "Honey, when I was your age..."
Click-FOG. The young woman is still there, but her mind has checked out into that wonderful fog zone that only she can access. You are still talking, lips moving rapidly, but your words are just sounds in the distance now. By starting the sentence with a "let me teach you something, barefoot baby girl" tone of voice, you lost your audience before getting anywhere near your point. Focus on the question being asked; not on what you used to do. Of course, if you're asked about what you used to do (Wow!) go ahead and share things, keeping in mind that you are speaking to another adult; not to a child. Younger does not always mean "child."

Example: If a young woman asks you how you handled temper tantrums...
Good: "Tell me what you've been doing so far." (After listening carefully, offer ideas; not mandates: "Maybe this would be something you could try...")
Not so good: "When I was your age, I didn't put up with that kind of nonsense. I let my kids know who was Boss, and when I said 'Jump!' they asked me 'How high?' on the way up..."
Moral: Be a good listener, and think before responding. "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him." (Prov. 18:13)

2. Let me tell you how to... I know, I know. It's hard to watch things happen and not run to the rescue, but do you remember how you felt when people did that to you in your 20s and 30s? I can remember having a total stranger walk up to me in a parking lot and offer to sign me up for community education parenting classes because my child was crying loudly on the way to the car! After she saw my tense eyeballs, she backed away from the car (almost with her hands in the air = not my best moment). Whatever we want to say, it will sound better if we've been asked first.

Moral: If it's not an emergency, wait until you're asked. You can pray while waiting. "He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears." (Prov.26:17)

3. This is the way we did it... "When we first got married, we ate all our meals together, did laundry as a couple every Friday, made a budget and stuck to it, rode to work together and recited Bible verses to each other in the car..." Relax. I'm making that up! But seriously, no matter how we did things when we got married, if we've been married for more than five years, things have changed dramatically. Think about it: You can make dinner reservations, airline reservations, hotel reservations, car rental reservations, and order a new pair of shoes; all through a slim little hand-held device called a Smartphone! When I got married in 1982, we didn't even have cell phones. We thought we were doing something when we purchased our first big old clunky cordless home phone!

Accept the fact that couples will do some things differently. We end up sounding like change-resistant fuddy-duds when we criticize change just because it changed! For instance, I thought Smartphones were a ridiculous invention, until I found out that I can get my boarding pass sent to my phone (very useful to the frequent flier)! Things have changed in more than just technology, and it helps if we'll do our best to keep up without making all change sound criminal.

Moral: Some change really is progress. Remember wringer-washers? "Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this." (Eccl. 7:10)

 4. You're so young, you may not understand yet... Whether married or still single, young people have more abilities than we realize. After all, if they've gone to college and paid any or all of the bill, they've had practice paying for big-ticket items. And if they're married, they begin making a multitude of decisions after they say "I do." Capability comes with practice, not just with age.

I can vividly remember going out for a dinner celebration after finding out that we were expecting our first child. At the end of dinner, Norman told me this: "Only one of us is going to work outside the home, and it's going to be me."  We had only been married four years when this pivotal decision was made. Young married people are not "playing house"; they are building a life together. We learned how, and so will they.

Moral: Remember that young people can have wisdom. It's not age-specific. "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." (I Tim. 4:12)

Have you said something to a young adult that wasn't right? It happens, and it can be fixed. Heartfelt apologies are rarely turned down, especially when a person knows that you love them and you meant well. Apply this phrase honestly and liberally, as needed: "I was wrong. Will you forgive me?"

Young adult women make fun, exciting and enriching sister friends, if we don't alienate them.

"She openeth her mouth with wisdom: and in her tongue is the law of kindness." (Prov. 31:26)

Do You Know What You Have?

Someone out there may be struggling with this holiday called Valentine's Day, and I can relate.  This is my third Valentine's...