A few weeks ago I had a phone date with a long lost and found again friend, Penny. She was my theater director when I was in high school, just before I went to college. I spent several years with her in rehearsals every night and all weekend long. We were very good friends, she was a mentor, and I adored her like a little puppy with a friendly new owner. I’ve mentioned before that we have found each other again recently. When I hear her voice on the phone I am transported back to the teenager I was, and I have a collision in my head because my own children are the age I was when she was such a powerful influence in my life. Life passes so quickly, truly a vapor.
I took the opportunity with this visit to share with her what she did for me when I was a struggling teen. We compared notes on “who I was” in those days. Our notes didn’t really align so well. I was waffling with my own independent nature against the recent upset of divorce between my parents. I pushed them away and needed them more than ever all at once. I was confused. I was a gifted learner who went undiscovered in all my education. When a teacher introduced a subject, my mind would churn immediately on the aha of it and come to all these marvelous quick conclusions, and then what the teacher taught confirmed my thinking. I had no idea that wasn’t how everyone else did it. My teacher, friends, family never fully understood how my mind worked and I always felt just plain odd and usually bored. Finally I tried to accept that I was mostly misunderstood. But Penny “got me” immediately and she celebrated all the ways I was such an odd ball. She let me be who I was and cheered me on with good parts, challenges, firm direction, and critiques that helped me grow. She gave my abilities jobs to do that helped me soar, explore, and discover more. I had, and still have this insatiable voracious appetite for learning to do new things, and so she just put that eating machine to work. I thanked her for that, and suggested it’s why I think she’s brilliant because I saw her do that for every single cast member and student. She would often say, “I love that guy because he approaches life from a specific osbcure angle,” which in society might be deemed someone to side step and avoid but she found the special and highlighted it in every student. And she helped us feel good about ourselves. Can we just imagine if all teachers had her gift what a world of difference it would make in the future of our children?
In turn she described what I was like in the midst of all her students. She taught theater at Lansing Community College, and though I was in high school, I got special permission to take classes there. She said I was easy to direct, organized, prepared, focused, and that I had so much courage to take risks in the scenes. She thought I was strong! Ha, I guess I either had everyone fooled, or just myself. Nothing feels strong in the teen years. Then she said something I won’t forget, “I have a word for you and I always knew it then, and it is still true now, COURAGE”.
Whoa. I was rather happy it wasn’t something like arrogant, selfish, stubborn or insecure. The truth is, I was also all of those things back then, but this is how spot on she was with all her students, she could peel back the teen layers of my faults and see the golden layer, the courage that defined me then and drives me today. Back then my courage was raw and came from a hollow place in my own spunk but now I understand my courage comes from believing the promises of God. That’s a rock solid bank to withdraw courage.
A few days later, while we were in Katy, our pastor, Alex Kennedy, spoke about discouragement. The root for the word is “my” word, courage, and it also is the root for encourage. It is no coincidence one of my spiritual gifts is encouragement (the other courage word). Anyway, Pastor Alex explored discouragement in Nehemiah, the story of a great leader who was called to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Let me share the list of excellent leadership qualities found by the example of Nehemiah as outlined by Pastor Alex.
- Leaders ask the right questions
- Leaders are knees before sleeves people
- Leaders make a plan best discovered in the prayer closet
- Leaders motivate and cast a vision
- Leaders work out the plan God gave them (they don’t stay in the dreaming stage)
- Leaders fight the right fight
- Leaders deal with opposition
My mind was bouncing balls all over the place as he discussed this because I’m raw instinct going into this whole operation of running a nonprofit, and a company in Uganda to benefit children who live on the opposite side of the planet I do. I furiously took down notes.
When he explained how to follow Nehemiah’s example when discouraged, I saw the movie reel of my own experiences in Uganda with Adams and Elitia play out before my mind’s eye. God has always been showing me the way. I humbly followed. I didn’t let fear overcome my calling to help orphaned kids in Uganda. I did not lose courage in it all because I knew who was really leading the effort. I knew I wasn’t alone because I have constant prayer dialog going on with God, and I meditate on the promises He makes to me in his word when I feel insecure, scared and unsure. When I had to do something that me, little girl Tonya couldn’t possibly do, I relied on the promises God made and I took them personally. The result? I didn’t give up. I jumped from the high dive into frigid cold water. I let courage lead and the outcome is far better than I could ever imagined.
My favorite promises from God include: “fear not for I am with you, “I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand”, “take courage and work, for I am with you”, “not by might nor by power but by my Spirit”, and the one I always cling to with all my little self: “greater is he who is in you than he who is in this world”.
Today the search for total orphans is beginning in Uganda by our team there. Nakato and others are visiting a village where there are many children suffering alone. Soon we are going to be able to provide holistic care to children who have no one and nothing. That was the original vision I had when God put orphan care in my heart to do for Him. Today is a good day. The mercies of the Lord are fresh every day. I’m going to choose to reject discouragement, and remember God says this life is a vapor. I’m working with eternity in mind, and the present effect is a great and lasting peace. With God, ALL things are possible. (that’s another promise)
p.s. Penny went on to get a PhD, and she teaches drama to the underprivileged elementary public school kids in Ohio. All these years she has been giving her gift to every student who gets to see the sparkle in her eye and the width of her smile when they do something interesting. And if it produces her memorable laugh, that will be an encouragement for a lifetime. I know that for sure. We need more Penny’s in this world.
p.s.s. (sorry but I’m back in my writing spot at home and I can’t stop) Learning to ride horses is a way that I play out and practice all of these ideas in a real way. I have to lead, I have to trust, there is a great risk of falling, and I can’t let fear control. The more courage I have the better I ride. I love to unleash my courage, so riding is a perfect activity for my popcorn brain. ok. That’s all for today. Thanks for reading!