I had never met Ashley face-to-face. As usual, I was a little anxious about a first meeting, but I had promised a mutual friend that I would get together with her. We met at the Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt shop—a safe environment with other people in and out and great yogurt to savor. Ashley spoke right up seemingly without fear, but it was evident that there was a wall of protection wrapped around her physique. I shared a little about my family, career and faith. I asked her get-acquainted questions and a little bit about her personal struggles. I listened with curiosity. Reservedly yet honestly, Ashley discussed with me her military upbringing, her concerns about family, her stress-filled job, and her dream to work with children full time. For nearly two hours, I listened enraptured by all the family drama, her frustrations, and her dreams. Most of all I heard within her words a longing to do more and be more.
Towards the end of our conversation that evening, I asked her what she needed from me—a tutor in English, a mentor for guidance, or just a conversation partner. She confessed that it was very hard for her to trust people. I realized that it was a huge step for her when she told me that she would like to meet again. I did not need a title or even a bona fide purpose at this point; I sensed God’s urging that this was a step I needed to take even if it seemed awkward.
What about your relationships—past or present? Have you ever said to yourself, “This relationship is not going to last. We have nothing in common.” In that situation, do you have the tendency to want to make an about face? Or do you inform God that He must be mistaken so after a few contacts you give it up? Or do you continue getting those nudges from God and move ahead trusting that He knows best? After all, the Bible teaches:
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Philippians 2: 3-4
Meeting with Ashley seemed rather futile in the beginning, but God kept affirming every time Ashley and I met that He was pleased. We kept seeing each other every two or three weeks during the first six months. Sometime within those first few weeks, I became her “mentor.” I listened; she talked. I questioned; she answered. Mainly, I realized she just needed someone to listen–someone she could trust. Each time we met, I could sense the protective walls crumbling down a little more. Ashley was authentic with a great sense of humor, sharing stories about her life that kept me laughing. Her struggles went deep, but she was determined to continue working through tough issues. Her upbringing was so different from mine. Yet we both struggled with issues concerning our mothers, deliberations over church concerns, and we encouraged one another through our anecdotes.
A couple of weeks ago, Ashley had dinner with my husband and me. After the meal, Ashley and I casually sat in my living room chatting, sharing thoughts and laughing. I listened wholeheartedly; she talked willingly. I questioned freely; she talked candidly allowing her quirky sense of humor to reign. For me, this time was bittersweet. This is the last time I will see Ashley for nearly a year as she is following her heart and God to attend Freedom Academy in Kampala, Uganda. At one point in our conversation, I remarked about the first time we met and how much she has changed. She just laughed with a big grin on her face and a gleam in her eyes and said, “I remember.”
I am so proud of Ashley for this big step that she is taking but also for all the steps of growth she has taken over the past few years—even the ones she took before we met–that led her to “such a time as this.” Ashley got her finances in order and bought a house, sacrificed to help her younger brother have a stable environment, persevered and overcame obstacles in her supervisor job, stepped up to lead in the kid’s ministry at her church, and traveled to Uganda last October and worked with the Freedom Church and their children’s ministry comprised of Kampala’s street orphans. Now she has made the decision to quit her job, sell her home, take leadership classes at the Academy and help with the Freedom Heroes (the orphan ministry). Today, Ashley has story after story of how God has blown her away with His guidance and unexpected blessings. Genuinely sharing these stories touches so many lives as she allows her light to shine.
Looking back, I realize God had a plan in bringing the two of us together. When I came to the conclusion that I did not have to direct our relationship, I began to just trust God to guide our conversations. I listened; I questioned; I listened more. From time to time, I would challenge her to do more or to think about a certain issue in a different way, but I never told her what to do. Through God’s leading and her willingness to be prompted by His Spirit, Ashley figured out what steps were necessary for her.
Ashley is single and 30 years old; I am married in my 60’s. She introduces me as her mentor, but we are also friends. What’s more I realize how much she has taught me about embracing life in all the good, bad and ugly. Like all of us, Ashley struggles but also knows God’s voice and has learned to follow when He speaks. I pray that Ashley has 30+ years for God’s hands to keep molding and refining her life as He continues to do with mine.
I ask that you remember Ashley in your prayers. She leaves for Uganda on September 26. She returns to the states at the earliest in July of 2019. In her words, “The opportunity to work alongside Freedom Heroes again has my heart bursting with joy. This has been a huge, prayerful decision for my life to go and be the hands of Jesus in Kampala, and I am asking others to join me in my prayer to impact Kampala.”
What about you and your relationships? Is there a relationship that seems awkward and not worth your investment? Are you listening to God and what He desires? Are you taking an interest in someone who just needs a listening ear? Relationships are sometimes for a season, and other relationships are not meant to develop. Just remember to leave God in the equation until you know for sure what He desires. Ask Him for wisdom; He will guide you.
The greatest blessing in my relationship with Ashley…God providing me a front row seat observing His transformational work in a special young woman who wants to make a difference. I also know that she was not the only recipient in our relationship; I have grown from her perseverant example and youthful insights. I left our first get-together thinking I had to have our sessions all planned. “I remember.” But God has had the final “Aha!” Ashley and I have both grown more than we could ever imagine because of a God who is able to meld two ordinary women together in an unexpected bond.
“…a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” Proverbs 27: 9b
I do hope your friendships add value to your life and revitalize your soul. As long as God is at the center, there is a purpose far beyond what you may realize. I hope you can smile about significant relationships and say with a smile on your face, “I remember.”
Thanking God for friendships, Just Kathy