It's strange to find yourself all of a sudden in this "mid-life" situation, where you still feel young but you know you only have about 30 years left, and that's if everything goes well. I watched a movie the other day with Robert Redford in it, for those who even know who that is, and later found out that he is now 81 years old. And yes, he is still as handsome as ever.
I thought about how I had such a crush on him as a young girl and wondered if he still felt as young as I did then. In the movie, he seemed very much the same to me, just in a different looking "uniform". I had to look up an old movie he was in when he was about 30, and wondered what he would like to tell that young version of himself. He's now had 50 years of great experience under his belt and I imagined all of the sage advice he could give.
I've thought a lot about the value of being able to go back and tell your younger self what you should avoid, not take so seriously, take more seriously, and overall do differently. I'm not sure if you would listen, but it would be great to get a do-over. You would still make mistakes but maybe you could spare yourself from the biggest ones.
I've been studying a lot lately on mentorship and spiritual discipleship. Mentorship is defined as "guidance provided by an experienced person." I see spiritual discipleship, what Jesus called us to do, as basically the same thing. It's sharing what we have learned about God, how our relationship with Jesus has formed our lives, and how we have gradually learned to rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The hope in this, of course, is to help others, especially those younger, to live well by sharing the ways we have learned just that.
As I have thought about what that looks like on a practical level, I have thought about those in my life that have had the most impact on me and what I have learned from them. The two I immediately thought of surprised me because although they were great mentors, I saw how in a strange overt way, they were also part of my spiritual discipleship, I just didn't realize it at the time.
I am going to share these two prominent figures in my life with you.
The first one is Ocie Samantha Catherine Hutson Brown. Ocie happened to be my mother's mother, so as you have guessed was my Grandma Brown. Just writing those words floods my heart with a warmth I can't even explain as I think about who this woman was for me.
Ocie was born in 1901, in Elizabeth, Arkansas. She married my grandfather, William Clagg Brown and although others called him Bill, Ocie always called him Clagg. With these names, remember this was Arkansas.
From what I have gathered, Ocie and Clagg didn't have a stellar marriage and I get the feeling that she never really did feel loved by him. Unfortunately, their marriage ended sometime in the 50's which I'm guessing was fairly scandalous and extremely difficult.
The reason I don't know a lot about this is because I don't remember Ocie saying anything bad about anyone, even the man who undoubtedly had broken her heart. This quiet woman, who I never saw in a pair of pants, who never learned to drive, and who always seemed old to me (even in pictures when she was young), was one of my greatest teachers.
Ocie eventually moved into a duplex in Southern Idaho that my uncle owned, and I had the privilege of living next to her for a few years. Although she had always been a part of my life, during this time I got to spend a lot of time with her which I treasure.
She taught me how to crochet, tried to teach me to sew (unsuccessfully), taught me about planting flowers and how to cook. But most of all she taught me how to treat people.
There are too many stories to share, but she was known for her quiet, calming spirit and for her acceptance of those who seemed undeserving. She made cat-nip pillows for the neighborhood stray cat which she also fed, although I never really knew who it belonged to. She taught a neighbor, who had apparently once ridden with the "Hell's Angel's" motorcycle group and still very much looked the part, how to tat (basically making lace out of thread).
She also made quilts and tatted white cross bookmarks that she would give away. At her funeral, there were many people that the family didn't even know, but they knew her. She had given them a cross bookmark at some point and promised to pray for them. She had many fans.
What I remember the most about Ocie is her Bible. Her Bible was always open on the footstool at the foot of her chair. She never said anything to me about it and for many years, I ignored it on purpose. I didn't want anything to do with "religious" stuff so she never pushed. It was just always there, open.
While in High School, I became interested in God and accepted the gift of salvation by understanding that Jesus died for my sins. I started going to church and was baptized. Grandma and I still didn't talk about spiritual things but as I spent more time with her, I knew we had a connection. I remember wanting to have her heart for people and to love them as she did. She modeled what that really looked like.
Then there was Lawrence. Lawrence Swenson was my dad's father and when my father passed away when I was 8 years old, I think Grandpa decided to step in and be the father he never felt that he was. My sister and I were the great benefactors.
Lawrence wasn't perfect and life had been hard. He married at age 19 and my Grandmother was 15 when they started their lives together. He took various jobs to make ends meet but the Great Depression made times tough. Eventually, he managed to buy 100 acres of farmland in Southern Idaho and farmed until he passed away.
He taught me the value of hard work and always being willing to help a neighbor, even if you didn't always like them. He had a terrible temper but never once was angry with me, although I probably often deserved it. Only having two sons, he raised me more like a boy; teaching me to fish and hunt, to use and love power tools, how to fix things that were broken or at least try to figure it out, and how to work hard outside. He was always working on some kind of craft project, even though they weren't always very well done, and gave them as gifts. I loved working with him and loved his creativity.
Lawrence wasn't just my Grandpa, he was my foundation as a child. He gave me stability when I didn't always feel it and was my greatest support. When I struggled with feeling un-noticed and hungered for attention, he "saw" me, he connected, he cared.
He was never really a "religious" person but toward the end of his life, something changed. He started watching Billy Graham Crusades on TV, which I didn't like at all. We only had one channel and when it was taken over by a religious program I was miffed. I had no interest, but for some reason he did.
Not only that, but he started buying Christian records from the artists that would perform on the crusades. He would listen to these over and over again and started buying records of hymns as well. He also never spoke about his thoughts, but I could see a change, a softening in his demeanor, a depth I hadn't seen before.
When I was baptized in High School, my entire family went to watch, even though they didn't go to church with me. It was special to have Ocie and Lawrence there and I remember seeing tears in both of their eyes afterward. Even though no words were spoken, they both had a tremendous influence on my life as I started to follow Christ.
1 Peter 3:15 says "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect..." That's what it means to make disciples. It's simply sharing our lives, our experiences, what we've learned from mistakes, and what we have learned along the way. It doesn't even need to be super spiritual all the time but can be sharing expertise and basic life knowledge.
As I have thought about all that Ocie and Lawrence taught me, even though they didn't realize it at the time, I narrowed it down to 7 things:
- To accept people as they are, without judgment or elitism and to always be willing to help anyone.
- To really SEE people, to be willing to spend time with them and to be available.
- To be willing to share your vulnerabilities, even if you aren't sure about them yourself.
- To live out your values and convictions and to not be afraid to be honest about the changes occurring inside of yourself.
- To offer yourself to people even though you are very much aware of your imperfections.
- To not try to be someone other than yourself, even in your limitations and with your rough edges.
- To not be afraid to share your creativity and passion with others even at the risk of criticism.
If I can exemplify even a portion of this list I will feel pretty good about my life. What's funny is that they had no idea that they were making such an impact on me. We don't really know how much we can impact others either, just by sharing ourselves. It's intimidating, it takes time and it exposes ourselves when we often want to hide. But it seems to be what Jesus wants from us. Bob Goff, attorney, author and activist says to "Be who you needed when you were younger." Ocie and Lawrence were exactly what I needed, so somehow, with the grace of God, I need to live that out as well. It's quite a challenge.