My dearest Mary-Lou,
I think you got more than you bargained for. When you invited me, just a scraggly nine-year-old, to come for riding lessons, I bet you didn’t expect to still have me hanging around sixteen years later. It was initially just about the horses; how did our unlikely friendship become such an anchor in my life?
You taught me to groom, to ride, to take no nonsense from a half-ton animal. Do you remember when I couldn’t carry the Big Horn saddle, let alone lift it over my head onto Scruffy’s back? And she was the shortest mare! I’m taller now and Scruff passed on years ago; between here and there, you’ve mentored me in countless ways.
You’re probably surprised I call you Mentor, protesting on the grounds that all we’ve done is spend time together. But that’s the point! You’ve invested in me by being present. Sure, some of what you’ve taught me has been intentional: Don’t touch the electric fence was a good first lesson. More importantly, you’ve been a role model, an example for me. Rather than tell me how to live life, you’ve shown me.
You’ve shown me what it is like to trust God’s provision as you live paycheque to paycheque. Your dependence on his generosity is a demonstration of his goodness.
You’ve shown me that life as an unmarried woman, while hard, can also be really good. Because of you, I’m not afraid of the single life.
You’ve shown me what true generosity is like, as you give yourself fully to others. You give with great joy!
You’ve shown me that even in the face of hardship it is possible to bravely laugh and continue to hope for God to come through once again. And he does. For you, he always does.
It makes me wonder: for all my intentionality and lesson planning for those I’m mentoring, what are they really learning from me? What am I actually demonstrating to them? And whose lives am I influencing without being aware of my impact?
Admittedly I see things in me from you that I don’t like. I may or may not have learned my first swear words from you. I may have had a few angry outbursts that look a lot like yours. I’m loyal to a fault. I don’t begrudge you for any of these things, though I do wonder what flaws I’m passing on to others. But just as you do, I’m learning to laugh at myself, choosing to believe that God can use all things, even my faults, for good.
And there are also things about you that I love, but that I’ll never be, no matter how long I call you my mentor. Even if I’ve become a better conversationalist, I’ll never be as friendly or as talkative as you. I’ll never be as decisive or willing to directly confront issues. And I’ll never appreciate coffee. But while there are limits to how much you can form who I am, this is a reality of mentoring, rather than a shortcoming on your part. For a good mentor doesn’t create a carbon copy of themselves, but invites a person to become more fully who God designed them to be.
You know the white-striped bright-red horse trailer with chrome hubcaps that a neighbour unexpectedly gave you last year? I prayed that trailer into existence. When I was little, I used to regularly ask God to give you such shiny things: a new vehicle, a tractor, and yes, a horse trailer. I now see that having material things isn’t what’s most important in life. Anyone can accumulate and distribute stuff to others. But passing on depth of character? Believing in another until they glow with courage? Offering to hold someone’s story and help it grow? That’s special. That’s mentorship. That’s a gift from God, who is also kind enough to hold onto my silly little prayers for a horse trailer, dropping one right onto your front lawn.
You’ve formed me. Of course, ultimately God is forming me. But he’s used you in my life in ways both known and unknown. I’m grateful that God is orchestrating all this since becoming more like Jesus through the mentorship of ordinary people would be impossible without him. But once again, he’s done a beautiful thing.
And here’s to you Mary-Lou: thanks for mentoring me.
[Editor’s Note: This article belongs to our series on “what forms us?” Of course, it’s ultimately God who shapes us toward Christ-likeness. But we hope these reflections encourage awareness and inspire intentionality in how we live. For more articles in this series, click the #whatformsus tag.]