Sunday, August 1, 2010

Could Be We Need a Mentor

Aunt Georgie was a mentor to me. She filled the space left when my grandmother, her best friend left us too suddenly and much too young. Gifts for birthdays and Christmas’s were always special from Aunt Georgie, and were very often books. It was Aunt Georgie that introduced me to all the Newberry Award winners for children’s literature, giving us the new one each year. She opened our eyes to Tasha Tudor, Winnie the Pooh, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Secret Garden and Ann of Green Gables. Growing up in the woods, the sun didn’t shine directly into our house from any window, but visits to Aunt Georgie’s house gave us an opportunity to lie in the sun and read in her special spot.

Uncle Jack, a burly, lumberjack of a man had built his tiny, bookish teacher bride a deep bay window one step up from the living room. It was probably six feet deep with floor to ceiling windows to the front and floor to ceiling bookshelves along the sides. There was a little ladies slipper chair with a dainty footstool for her tiny feet (any adult sized chair sat a bit too high and deep for her) and a vintage metal swing arm floor lamp that peeked over her shoulder to light her page. The living room beyond likewise had floor to ceiling bookshelves along one whole wall, giving her ever-expanding collection room to grow. There was a piano with a spectacular mountain scene painting above and cozy sofa and chairs where for many years we would sit together for a visit. In later years Sir Sidney, her giant tabby cat would curl in and out of our legs, talking to us as we humans chatted. The only concession to TV was a small black and white in the back bedroom that had once been their sons. Uncle Jack listened to his sports on the radio if he had an interest, and Aunt Georgie played endless albums on her furniture legged stereo console that always sat beside the piano on the far side of the room.

Aunt Georgie laughingly described herself as the first woman my dad ever slept with. When she was a single young school teacher, she moved to the North woods for her first teaching assignment and lived with my grandparents where she shared a bed with my 7 year old father until meeting Uncle Jack, my grandfather’s friend at the CCC camp. She married Uncle Jack after he successfully swept her off her feet with his tough guy love and devotion. Moving her to their home on White Sand Lake, just down to road from my grandparents, they ran a housekeeping cottage resort until his passing after more that fifty years of marriage.

I learned many things from Aunt Georgie but without a doubt the most important thing was that faith in God, if we learned to understand it best, promised a life of joy and laughter. When I would stop to visit her on my trips home from college, she would meet me at the door with a big hug, which I had to stoop to receive. Then she would pull back and laugh out loud, her eyes glistening with the twinkle that you think is a storybook thing until you know someone who twinkles. She was a four foot eight snorter laugher and her happiness would be full and true as, rubbing her hands together in a gesture of “Oh Goody”, she would pull me to the sunny little reading spot and state, “I want to know what’s new, and don’t leave out a thing!”

It was not until I was in college and my own faith was really blossoming, that she shared her connection to my great grandfather Titus, a man I never knew. Grandpa Titus had been a circuit preacher and farmer in South East Wisconsin. When he was widowed and too old to farm any longer, he came and lived the rest of his years in Northern Wisconsin with my grandfather, grandmother and dad, who by now ran an American Plan Resort on White Birch Lake. Grandpa Titus had mentored Aunt Georgie in her faith and now, she considered it her honor and duty to mentor me in mine.

Throughout college and my young married years, I would receive many books on faith from Aunt Georgie, with the direction to read them and then come visit her to discuss. The conservative, evangelical movement was beginning to pick up steam by then, and with it seemed to come an ever-expanding list of rules. I wanted so badly to practice my faith in the way my Creator wanted from me, that I tried- truly I did try, to be a good little Christian wife and good girl. I noticed though, that just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, Aunt Georgie would seem to disapprove. I actually worried about her faith sometimes, because she didn’t seem to appreciate the value joining goose stepping march of sameness that the movement seemed to imply all Christians should adopt if they truly loved the Lord. (I hadn’t yet learned that one never lets themselves be “should on”.) She didn’t listen with unwavering devotion to the popular radio personalities whose ministries were just beginning to blossom, and she rejected televangelists for the most part. Aunt Georgie preferred instead her little north woods church family, her personal study and a life of unceasing prayer. Above all, she found her faith in God in her faith in people, and people loved her. I know she had many men and women who flocked to her home for one-on-one chats, advice and prayer. This was her ministry and I am sure we could fill several pages with the names of lives she touched.

Though there were things about the evangelical movement that Aunt Georgie embraced, such as the widening of talk about God’s love that drove it in the beginning. As time went on however, the evangelical movement seemed to rob Aunt Georgie of her smile- the beacon of her joy in the Lord. There was so much critical comparison, so much uniformity and judgment beginning to leak into everything spiritual, that I think it made her sad. While there were still books and movies and lectures that inspired her and brought back the twinkle, I could tell that in her later years, discussions on faith exhausted her.

Gone was the time when people could share ideas and walk away from a conversation arm in arm, agreeing that it had been a wonderful debate. Instead, we seemed to be determined to be right- arguing a point to the state of hurtfulness and severed relationship rather than honoring a spirit of love and respect. Aunt Georgie didn’t like this new brand of Christianity; it concerned her.

I owe much of who I have become to Aunt Georgie. She is a guide to all my thoughts of spiritual things. Right after WWJD comes WWAGD. If I pick up a book, after reading it, I mentally assign it to one of two piles- ones Aunt Georgie would have loved and ones Aunt Georgie would have disliked. I don’t need to tell you which ones I hope to model more.

I still have many books that were her gifts to me. My favorite book of all time is the story of Sheldon Vanauken and his wife, and is entitled, “A Severe Mercy”. My husband and I have referred to this book often in our marriage, pondering their relationship- its idealistic point of view and ultimate lessons. A book called, “The Remnant” gives a novel- based account of the Carmelites preparation of the Mary who would become the mother of Jesus. Scandalous as it would be among many born again Bible thumping believers, even amidst its historical liberties can be found the spirit and intent of holy living and divine love. This book taught me that beauty and truth can be found in many unconventional places if we are willing and brave enough to look. I know from Aunt Georgie’s perspective, Buddha and Confucius had some pretty good things to say She would also say the rainbow belongs to everyone.

When I met the man who would become my husband, she scooped him up too, loving to visit with and learn all about him. There were times when he would go to visit her on his own, and I don’t think I will ever know what all was talked about, though I know it drew them close as well. When Aunt Georgie could no longer live on her own, in the midst of moving, she passed many of her Bible Study helps on to my husband- understanding his love of research and scholarship and knowing he would use them.

More than a eulogy though, I tell the story of Aunt Georgie’s life to pose a most important question- where is that joy today? Where is the unconditional welcome of new and different ideas? Aunt Georgie would never tell a woman that God meant for her to be seen and not heard, to be obedient and serve without questioning the decisions of the male leadership around her. Many men, including the pastor, sought out Aunt Georgie for advice. Her wisdom was not restricted by gender, and her joy was not centered in a satisfied martyrdom. Rather she was loved by a Creator she knew well, and she simply let His love flow through her.

Gender was a non-issue in her faith. She never overthrew Him, never became self-important as she easily could have and rather than fighting the changing religious trends, she kept her own counsel and prayed for us all. Aunt Georgie found other ways, like teaching English to Hmong immigrants that lived near her retirement apartment, to show God’s love to people in a way that would not be pigeonholed by a changing church system.

I am convinced that this joy is what is missing from faith today. This snorting, belly-laugh of delight in all spiritual things as we share in the walk of life. I am further convinced, that as women, we are not only permitted, but required to be all that the Creator has called us to be.

I remember hearing that Ann Graham Lott, when questioned about the propriety of her being a woman pastor, responded, “I don’t know why the Lord called me to pastor- you would have to ask Him”.

This is truly what we must do. We must get off the rollercoaster of rules and rituals and ask HIM. And when we have heard His voice, if we follow what He is telling us to do, we cannot help but be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. Halleluiah. We must look back to our spiritual mentors, our simple beginnings and find the roots of our faith before we can ever expect to go forward.

For some, like my husband, who were forever in raised with the message of “turn or burn”, this is especially hard to sift through. Too many mixed voices shout from their memories to easily discern if it was divine love that ultimately wooed them to a serious life of faith, or if it was fire insurance.
But faith can be found- He can be found. Searching for the people He has given us can help up see where our journey was always meant to go.

As attentive travelers, we can look at the path behind us and see bright streetlights- the people who showed us the Creator’s way. And if as usually is the case, we cannot always see the ones that will walk ahead with us- we gain strength from remembering our mentors. Mentors who are rarely who we expect and who didn’t appear even a moment before they were needed but have been there. We feel anew how much they loved us as God loves us. It gives us reason to believe He always will.


  1. Beautiful first post, Sue...after reading it, I think I love Aunt Georgie too! :-)

    Welcome to careful, it's addicting!

  2. Quintessential Susie. Love it.

  3. Great introduction to your blog, Susie!

  4. Great blog Sue. It is so fun to be heard and to move someone occasionally. You certainly do that.

    I am addicted to blogging. Gary actually bought me a laptop so that he could at least watch me blog. Sad, huh? Great husband though!