Mentoring the Next Generation

God placed Joy Barnett as a stepping stone in my life to keep me close to His heart, help me grow up, and get me through all the trials He would use to refine me. Joy and I were meant to meet.

She was the mother of Tommy Barnett, pastor of mega church Phoenix First Assembly, and founder of the Dream Center. She was also grandmother of Matthew Barnett, pastor of the main Dream Center in Los Angeles where 30,000 meals are fed to the homeless every week. Joy left behind an amazing legacy and was a phenomenal friend.

Let me describe how Joy was my stepping stone and how we loved each other. We met in Phoenix one night while my husband and I were at a conference. I was pregnant with our first baby. In walks Joy and she sits right next to me. We kind of checked each other out, smiled, and decided we liked each other. Looking back now, I realize we met by divine appointment. We recognized, on an unspoken level, God's love in each other that would bind us for a lifetime. Joy and I hit it right off, whispering through the conference and continuing our conversation in the parking lot later that evening.

She was recently widowed. We were both wives of dynamic leaders. I was in my 20's and Joy was in her early 60's when we met. She had been a pastor's wife in Shawnee Kansas for 44 years, was well respected and loved by many. My husband was an entrepreneur who, at the time, was doing fundraising for a number of evangelical leaders and was in the news a lot. Being in the spotlight means remaining quiet and confiding deep issues only with the closest of friends. We both understood this and knew we were that safe outlet for each other.

Even though I loved the Lord, I was barely saved and still willful and wild at heart. The Lord wanted me to learn to rest and be at peace with myself. When I was more mature and learned to be at peace in my own skin he would use my hyper intense nature for his purposes. But, for the time-being, Joy was an answer to my prayers for guidance. God gave me what I hadn't even known to ask for, someone to groom me for the calling He had for me.

You may wonder what your purpose is, especially as you grow older. God wants you to be a stepping stone to Jesus as Joy was to me! He wants you building on those Godly relationships already in your life. Being a stepping stone gives your life new meaning and purpose. My older friend says she hears her other mature friends say, "I notice I'm silent now." As you age beyond the career and child rearing stages, you start to lose sight of your goals. You just have to remember retirement is not in the Bible. In my own immaturity I did not realize what a void I filled for Joy until years later when she described in detail what she was experiencing at the time we met.

Her husband Hershel died suddenly and unexpectedly. Joy and Hershel had been planning on retiring in Phoenix, Arizona to be closer to their son Tommy Barnett and his ministry. When Hershel died, so did their dream of spending their golden years together enjoying life without the constant demands of the pastorate. She had lost her husband, her dream, her future and her identity! She didn't know who she was or what she was going to do. She moved out to Phoenix and got involved with the singles ministry at Tommy's church. Everyone loved her, but she didn't feel fulfilled. She had been married too long to feel single. After we met, she felt that God gave her our relationship to fill the void in her own life. The very thing God was cultivating in me He confirmed in her own life: Her identity was not in her husband, her role at church, or even in her friendships. Her identity was in Christ and nothing else. We need to find our identity in Christ and nothing else and no one else. We need to love each other, serve each other, and encourage each other in a way that builds our relationship with Jesus first. This is how we become stepping stones to Jesus.

Joy stayed in Phoenix just a little more than a year, but we spent a lot of time together. I learned some major life lessons from her. She showed me the importance of unconditional respect at the point of conflict. I learned the importance of not always having to be right and being able to say I'm sorry even when I'm right because peace is more important. Joy showed me how to be myself, speak straight from the heart, and that being authentic means being vulnerable, but that real relationship is worth the risk. Also, your own life speaks louder and more clearly than anything else you can possible say. These lessons were more caught than taught by the life Joy lived.

Did you know mentoring is a word not even in the Bible? But its foundation is biblical. Its origins are in Greek mythology where Mentor was the loyal friend and advisor to Odysseus. Earning his place as the trusted friend of Odysseus, Mentor went on to teach his son Telemachus. Mentor's life lessons and wisdom were passed on within the context of a loving trusted friendship. Joy taught me in this same way. Sometimes what you don't say is much louder than what comes out of your mouth! What motivates you unconsciously is much more powerful than what motivates you consciously. So when the Holy Spirit brings an issue to light in your life, it starts to lose its stronghold. Once you confess it, it begins to lose its power and that is why a safe friendship is so important.

As a stepping stone, Joy listened with her heart and understood. Joy exemplified the love and grace of Jesus Christ. She simply loved me and that helped me grow up. She just walked alongside me, giving me the freedom to choose the right path by myself, letting God refine me. And when those fiery trials burned and hurt, Joy would love me and accept me unconditionally and I knew it! Joy was a stepping stone who had in mind the things of God for my life.

It is too easy to lose ourselves as we care for our children and spouses, putting our good friends on the very back burner. While we need to focus on our families, God created us to be relational and we need connection with each other for support, encouragement, and prayer. Godly relationships are the healing salve to the hurt, what will keep you together, your marriage intact, and your children on the road to heaven!

I can think of no greater purpose than coming alongside someone who needs you, needs your love and encouragement. I know some phenomenal stepping stone friendships are forming right now as God has planted seeds of life today that will take root in your heart forever. Take the time and risk being vulnerable to share your life and help others. Be a stepping stone in your friend's life!