The Un-Birthday

Today marks the second birthday that we will be remembering Tricia without the joy of her physical presence.

I’m discovering that moving on from a loss doesn’t mean we erase the significant days of those people we love who most shaped and shared our lives from our calendars. It may just mean that we change the context in which we commemorate them. Just because I change the context of something doesn’t change the significance of it.

I have decided that on this side of things I am going to take a different approach to the way I observe Tricia’s birthday. Frankly, I am clueless how to celebrate something as personal as a birthday without the one I’m celebrating being present anyway. So this year I am choosing to look at it like the scene in Alice in Wonderland where the rabbit and the hatter are throwing themselves a “un-birthday” party. Alice, of course has no concept of what a un-birthday is but she soon learns it is the other 364 days of the year that aren’t her birthday that are worthy of celebration.

This year I am celebrating Tricia’s birthday by moving toward celebrating her “un-birthdays” – those moments we have over the other 364 days of the year that remind us of a beautiful life. I will celebrate her when I talk to our daughter and see glimpses of her in Lauren. Lauren’s laugh, her strong sense of principles, a certain determination, the way she waves her hand to make a point, and the sparkle in her blue eyes that she inherited. These are the daily joys that come on the “un-birthdays” which I can celebrate repeatedly.

I celebrate Tricia as I remember something she would say to me in the form of encouragement when I am feeling like I’m swinging in the wind at things that don’t come to fruition fast enough to suit me.

Sometimes when I drive in to Nashville from being out of town and see the skyline on the horizon I remember how fearful I was of moving here over twenty-five years ago and I quietly mumble to myself, “Thanks, Sweet Pea,” for her believing in me more than I did.

I can even celebrate her in the fact that she had our deck built with the stairs going down the wrong side of the house (in my opinion) and I laugh at that disagreement with every trip down those steps.

There won’t be a cake with Tricia’s name on it today. We aren’t going to get together and ceremoniously blow out her candles. Those are beautiful expressions but those aren’t ours to do now. What I will do is continue to celebrate her “un-birthday” tomorrow and each day when I see the glimpses of what she left here – a beautiful, bright daughter, a host of friends, the lasting impressions of her generosity, a circle of people she impacted and empowered, and a laugh that will stay in my mind as long as I remember her.

And occasionally, when I trudge up and down those blasted deck stairs that honestly should have been on the opposite side of the house.

Thoughts On Mentoring…

To mentor is to train and counsel and advise. It is to model as much as it is to impart strength. Leading requires relationship because we are asking people to trust us. Otherwise, we are simply reducing mentoring to a conceptual leadership model of boxes to check as we run people through the machine, which often is falsely labeled as Christian community.

Mentoring is not efficient. It doesn’t fit the time study grid of a highly effective ministry leader very well on paper. To wear the mantel of a mentor may mean we don’t get a lot of actual “work” done at times. It is rarely convenient and rarely on our terms when the opportunity to invest ourselves presents itself. But when we love with the kind of love that is willing to step outside of our little ministry boxes people begin to genuinely believe us. When we trust them with our stories, they can soon find the freedom to trust themselves, and others with theirs. This is the beginning of earning the permission to speak into lives and be heard, which is at the core of a mentor’s credibility.

Since my own spiritual overhaul over the last several years I have begun looking at people through different eyes. They are not just names in our databases or slots on our music rosters. They are stories, lives, souls with dreams and hopes, and hearts longing for connection. They are eager to be invested in and in return will surprise themselves with the joy they experience from serving. As they come alive to their own stories they will become those who share and draw others in embracing their own stories. And so it goes.

As leaders we will inevitably reproduce ourselves in the people we shepherd. The question is what kind of leadership we are exhibiting for reproduction. Are we producing efficient, task oriented, goal driven volunteers who only feel God’s pleasure if they have checked off all the boxes correctly? Or are we creating an environment in which people can bring all of themselves, their whole story, to be embraced, loved, inspired, and utilized. Are we truly about creating a tapestry of lives that do community together?

My role as a mentor is one that invites people into the broken fragments, which in the hands of God become a beautiful mosaic. The lives, the stories, the restored hearts are all represented in the tiny shards he strategically places in the mortar. The beauty of the mosaic is that instead of God simply putting back together a broken vessel, he uses the pieces from many broken vessels together to tell his story. The mentor knows that there is something beautiful in progress and that God is always up to something redemptive. Those tiny specks that we almost discarded and disregarded are the very things that bring the colors to the story God is telling. As a lead worshipper, I am the one entrusted with reaching into the clutched hands of those I serve, asking them to trust me enough to let go of the sharp fragments, and then showing them that there is place in the mosaic that was saved and perfectly suited just for their own tiny pieces.