Christ Followers

It’s been said by several people, possibly even Gandhi, that people like Christ but not Christians. Meaning that if you were to read just the writings and teachings of Jesus, then you’d come to an expectation of how people within a church might behave that is completely different than what you would actually encounter.

What can I say? There’s no defending some of the dumb things we’ve done. We’re humans. If you ever looked at someone who attends church regularly and said, “They have it all figured out.” then you just need to look a little closer past the shiny veneer.

We’re all messed up. We yell at our kids and feel guilty about it later. We regularly lose our cool in traffic just like everyone else. We give in and feed our families fast food even though we know that it’s not the best meal for them. We use bad words and sometimes wish we had never learned any of them. Turns out you really can’t unlearn a bad word. We make poor financial choices, some of which cost us severely and for a very long time. Sometimes we actually do this as an entire church organization. We say things we don’t mean and we get confused about something we call “doctrine” that people who have PhD’s argue about.

We are flawed, we are broken and we are trying to get better. Even if it’s a very long term project that takes decades, we just want to follow every single word that Jesus spoke. Because we also like him too. We think he saved the world and we want to tell everyone about it.

So, please, give us a chance and visit us at the community church. And remember, if we offend you, it’s not Christ that did it, it’s all his hurt and broken followers just trying to do the best we can to follow him. We’d love if you would join us.

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Go Be That Person

I have heard from two different sources that I’m not supposed to use the word “that” in anything I publish. Supposedly it’s superfluous. By the way, since I have a big vocabulary and can use words like “superfluous” in a sentence without having to even stop and look it up, I’m exempt.

I have been trying to understand all the reasons that people don’t get involved in mentoring. I mean, I don’t know who these mystery people are that don’t enjoy the shrill pitch of 9 and 10 year olds squealing for just about any reason at all, but I believe they are out there.

And what I have learned is that for some it is intimidating, but it just doesn’t have to be. I realize that I’m beginning to sound like your mother but I think you’re perfect just the way you are.

What people forget is that kids don’t need you to be JJ Watt or Lebron James or whatever other relevant athlete/celebrity that kids look up to. Think about it for just a minute. Who were the heroes you worshipped growing up? It doesn’t really matter what generation you grew up in, you very likely learned as an adult that the hero you thought so highly of as a kid was someone you shouldn’t emulate at all. Wasn’t it Mickey Mantle himself who said, “Don’t be like me.”

The point is that you ARE perfect just as you stand (or sit) ((or lay down in bed reading this)). What do you like to do? What are your hobbies? Go find a kid who has interest in that and share that with them. Do you like to read? Find a kid who also likes to read (because I can almost assure you they have been made to feel like they don’t fit in) and ask them if they want to be in your special cool book club. Or maybe you are the real life Uncle Rico and didn’t catch your big break and think about football all the time. I’m willing to bet there is a kid somewhere in your neighborhood or apartment complex that would enjoy catching your perfect spirals.

I’ve said it before: You’re Good Enough. You don’t need to be anything but your true self. Whoever you are, you can be yourself around a kid who is looking for someone to be their true friend. They need someone who will walk through life and be their trusted advocate. Someone who will be there for them as they face the challenges of adolescence. We all still remember the joys of being 12 to 14 years old and desperately trying to figure out where we fit in, don’t we? Don’t you think you have some valuable wisdom to share?

You can be the friend that some kid out there really needs. You can be that special person.

Go Be That Person.

Love is A Choice

Obviously love starts out as an emotion. When you hold a little baby for the first time, you can’t help but love them so much. When you and that special someone have feelings for each other, there is just no holding back the love.

But those feelings fade over time. Ask anyone who’s raised a child through the teenage years and they’ll agree that there were days when that kid was the most unlovable person on the planet.  You sometimes have to choose to love them, possibly against their will.  And ask anyone who has stuck with a spouse for more than a couple of decades and you’ll find two people who have overlooked the small stuff and chosen love.

I mention this because it seems to me that we as a society have made a choice that love should always be a fun emotion. It’s not. Love is a commitment.

And so thinking about that and these fatherless (or motherless) kids in your community who don’t understand love at all, it’s important to understand what you’re really teaching them.

You’re showing them that you made the choice to love them and be there, even when they sometimes might not want you there. You chose love and came anyway. On those days where you really could have stood to skip lunch and work through on an important deadline, you chose love and you came to see them anyways. You chose them, and you chose love.

You are changing the world, one kid at a time, with love.

The investment of time

Consider for a minute some special event that you recall growing up, while I share one of mine:

Until I was in grade school, my mother taught piano from home. I recall one afternoon that a man we knew from church came and dropped off his daughter for a lesson and invited me to go get an ice cream cone.

Now, quick sidebar here, this was the ’80’s and that was a completely acceptable thing for him to ask and for my mother to allow.

Being a red-blooded American, there is only one thing I love more than ice cream, and that’s puppies. So, of course, I accepted. It was an ice cream cone after all. Nothing weird happened. It was just a grown up being friends with a kid. So, why after all these years, do I recall so vividly all the details surrounding that day?

It’s because of how he made me feel. For a few moments, I was the only thing going on in this guy’s life. He could have done what every other parent did when they dropped a kid off for lessons and pay no attention to me whatsoever. But he didn’t. He spent time with me.

When considering the impact of mentoring in communities, it’s important to understand how it’s being measured. Because a frequent objection I hear is that people just don’t have the time to invest in a project like that. The truth is that whatever time you have is enough. You just need to be around.

Children, especially younger ones, have very little understanding of money. But they completely understand time. So, while they won’t object to you spending all your money on them, they would rather have your time. Consider it another way:  If you were to give them the most expensive gift they asked for but mailed it to them, they might appreciate it but they would likely not remember anything about it a week later;  However, if you had nothing to give them at all but showed up and just said, “Let’s hang out.”, I can assure you that would be the part they remembered. They would not remember the expensive toy at all, but they, like me and my delicious ice cream cone, would remember the time you spent with them, probably forever.

The point is that you don’t have to quit your job and spend 100 hours a week volunteering at the neighborhood school to make an impact. My recommendation is to give up your lunch once a week and go eat it with a kid at school who doesn’t have a dad. You don’t have to buy them a gift every week, you don’t even have to buy their lunch. You just have to make your own sandwich and show up and  invest a little time with them.

So, do you have that special recollection yet? Think for a minute how that made you feel. That time when you were the center of someone’s attention and they just wanted to be with you. You have the opportunity to pass that forward to someone in your neighborhood or apartment complex or community. Somewhere close to you there is a kid who is looking for someone who will spend a little bit of time with them. Go be that person.

You’re Good Enough

Billions of dollars are spent every year convincing you of all the different things you need to be happy. You need this car, that house, this job, that address, this degree. The list goes on forever. And of course none of it is true. But we believe the narrative. We believe happiness comes from being more like the the happy people we see on tv and social media.

And in turn, we take that narrative and say things to ourselves like, “This volunteering and mentoring stuff is a good deal! Whenever I finally get ahead at work, I’ll make that happen.” or “I will take the time to get involved in my community as soon as _____ is done.” We have a lot of excuses and none of them are valid.

Because what we’re really afraid of is that maybe we’re not good enough. If it feels like I’m peering directly into your soul, it’s only because I’m speaking from first hand experience.

I spent many years avoiding doing the work I knew how to do because I felt like I was too much of a screwup in my own life to share anything of value with a kid. I thought I didn’t have any valuable lessons to share with a kid. I used to say to myself those very excuses that are invalid. I used to think I wasn’t cut out to be a mentor because, first of all, did I really know enough about life to help a kid out? I mean, look at all the mistakes I’ve made in my life. I couldn’t possibly have anything helpful to share with anyone. I believed the lie.

Some of the best advice I ever received  was, “Just be faithful to people.” So all that time I spent believing that shameful lie that I really wasn’t good enough, I just did the best I could to be faithful to the kid I had committed to. Faith and belief kept me going while I worked it out. Belief in myself that I was indeed good enough to make it work and faith in a kid that no one else really thought was going to make it.  And since life is not a sitcom, there wasn’t a special day towards the end of the episode where everything just came together neatly and I solved the mystery by 9:57 so that the news could come on at 10:00.

But, again, this isn’t about me and how I pretty much solved the world’s problems. (Because I haven’t….yet). This is about you and my encouragement to you:

You don’t need a different set of circumstances. You don’t need a different past. You do not need a special degree in social work. You do not need to be debt free and completely free of all the demons and/or bad decisions of your past. You don’t have to have your entire life figured out and wrapped up in a shiny package with a bow, and maybe a little jingly bell on it. Because you know, Martha Stewart would approve of putting a jingly bell on a gift.

You just need to be you. Show up and be there for a kid on a regular basis. Be faithful to them. Be yourself. Where you are in life is exactly where a kid in your community needs you to be right now. You Are Good Enough.

Does Mentoring Matter?

You can make a difference in lives, young and old, simply by investing in the lives of others around you already.

Charles Clark, a janitor at Euless Trinity High School, is regularly named one of the most influential people at the high school by graduating students.

How could that be, Warner? He’s just a janitor. Doesn’t he just mop, mop, mop all day long? While possibly singing a song?

It’s because he long ago decided that he would do something besides look straight past all the kids in his high school that clearly needed a role model to look up to.

So, he started paying attention to them. And doing what he could where he was. That’s all. They ceased to be invisible and he began to make a difference in their lives.

We often get caught up in doing big huge things when the truth is that if we just do something small each day for the people who are around us, we can eventually make a difference in their lives. No matter what you do, you can make a difference for someone. Everyone can do something great, even the janitor at the local high school.