Discipleship can be defined simply as following Jesus, living life in obedience to His commands and out of a desire to serve Him. In some Christian circles, the word discipleship is also used to describe the one-on-one relationship between a more mature Christian and a younger Christian, where the more mature believer tries to help the younger Christian grow in his or her faith.
I owe much of my spiritual growth to several women who, over my thirty years, have walked alongside me in this kind of discipleship relationship. I think first, and primarily, of my mom, a joyful, steady homemaker who I know began teaching me to know Jesus before I can remember it. Our's was not a formal discipleship relationship with a regular weekly meeting time or topic, but it was discipleship all the same, eighteen years of living life together in our home and as we interacted with our shared community. The things she taught me were often more by example than by word, but they were rich, important lessons about what it means to be a woman of God. Time after time, I saw her patiently and joyfully lay down her life for her family and friends, wrestle honestly with God through hard things, and humbly admit her weaknesses. And as I watched, God showed me a picture of the kind of woman I want to be some day.
In the first weeks of my freshmen year of college, suddenly on my own and feeling very alone, I met a woman who would disciple me in my pivotal undergraduate years. Karly, a blonde Iowan, was a recent college graduate herself, but in my eyes, she was old and wise and oh-so-grown-up. She did, after all, have a car and a real apartment and a college degree. She also led the freshmen Bible study I ended up joining with the Navigators campus ministry, and she took an interest in getting to know me. We did fun things together - going out for ice cream, playing pranks on some of the guys in our ministry, working out at the campus gym - but we also talked. A lot. We talked about boys and about school and about sharing our faith on campus. Karly had an awesome laugh, one that came deep from her throat and made her nose crinkle, but she was also willing to cry with me about my struggles. During the three years I met with Karly, I learned the importance of talking about my spiritual journey with others on a regular basis, and I caught a vision for investing in other girls, like she had invested herself in me.
The summer before my junior year, I moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado for the summer to participate in what the Navigators called a Summer Training Program (STP). Imagine 50-60 college students living on the grounds of a Christian conference center, working on housekeeping, grounds, and kitchen crews, sharing cramped living quarters, and doing Bible studies and attending services together. Throw in some hikes up Colorado's many fourteeners, some midnight runs to Sonic, and lots of crushes and ultimate frisbee, and you've got the basic idea. That summer, I met with my team leader, an older, married woman named Carol, for regular discipleship times. I liked Carol immediately because she was taller than me, a rare and always delightful occurence in my world, and because she was a natural visionary and leader. I can't remember many of the specific things we talked about that summer, in various Colorado Springs coffee shops and on hikes up red-rocked ridges, but I do remember that Carol saw God-given potential in me, that she encouraged me to use my gifts for God's glory and to dream dreams as big as the Colorado sky.
My senior year of college, after Karly had moved on to pursue other ministry opportunities, I began meeting with the senior staff member of our campus ministry, Cathy. Cathy, who is perhaps the most sincere and caring person I know, wanted to help prepare me for life after college. In her living room and over Cokes at the Arby's in downtown State College, we talked our way through a five-part study on Biblical womanhood. But we also talked about life and about the Bible study I was leading for younger girls on campus, and I think in the end it was those conversations that most prepared me for life after college. Many of the girls in my study were dealing with deep issues like past abuses and depression, and Cathy wisely helped me learn how to help them and who to point them to when I couldn't help. In many ways, it was my first deep taste of the harsh realities of a fallen world, and Cathy's counsel prepared me to care for broken, hurting people - both in my Bible study and for the rest of my life.
After college, I moved from quiet, insulated, central Pennsylvania college town to the sprawling bustle of metropolitan DC. And God sent me Connally, a former English teacher turned Navigator staff member, whose ministry focused on twenty-somethings making the transition from college to career. That, thankfully, included me, and oh what a transition it was. Connally patiently listened to my desperate tales of a life that wasn't turning out the way it was "supposed to" and graciously drew me out about my unfulfilled desires for marriage and community and church. Time after time, God used her ability to understand me better than I understood myself to gently point me toward eternal truths that stood firm in the midst of the internal chaos I was feeling. And she also helped me to realize that I approached life as not only a thinker, but also an artist, a term I never would have applied to myself previously but now embrace as part of God's calling for my life.
I can't think of five more different women. In fact, the only thing they all have in common is that each of them loves Jesus and has committed her life to following Him. But God brought each one to me at the right time and used their particular strengths and gifts that I might grow to know Him more. Through each of them, I have been blessed.