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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just a Few Steps Ahead - The Walk of a Mentor

"I really can't wait to eat Claire's delicious dinner. She has always prepared a sumptious meal all these years... But this crazy rain seems to get heavier by the minute, and the traffic is really crazy... I wish we had arranged another day for our mentoring session..."

That was my lament to Sue as we drove last Thursday to the home of Ben and Claire, the lovely couple who have been our relationship mentors even before we got married. The December monsoons had come a few weeks early, peak hour traffic was almost at a standstill, our son Z was getting a little cranky in his car seat, and we were very late - almost one hour to be precise.

But the moment we entered the house, all strain and tiredness seemed to evaporate like the springtime mist. Ben was all smiles as he greeted us. "There's no need to apologise," he voiced, as we articulated the long story behind why we were so late. "What's most important is that you're here," echoed Claire, her gentle disposition melting away all our discomfort. "Uncle, Aunty, would you like a drink?" R, the second daughter, graciously asked; to which the eldest child and daughter S added thoughtfully, "Would you like a straw in a cup for Z, so that he can drink as well?"

We knew at once that our "troubles" were all worthwhile.

We first asked Ben and Claire to be our relationship mentors almost five years ago, about a year or so before we got married. We had then just gotten attached officially, and were seeking a couple who were a few steps ahead of us to talk through important relationship issues, to pray for us, as well as to simply help us to learn more about what it takes to develop a strong and healthy relationship. Ben and Claire graciously agreed; and the rest, as they say, is history.

Through the years, Ben and Claire have been with us all the way. They were there during the happy moments, like during our wedding, when their third child D was one of our page boys. Claire helped us to take care of the children, and to make sure that all the page boys and flower girls appeared at the right timing during the bridal procession. Our mentors were also there after Z came into our life, both of them coming to our house to share in our joy, and to rejoice with us at the newest addition to our family.

Ben and Claire were there during the difficult moments in our lives; like when we've had to talk through some of the major issues affecting us as a couple. During these sessions, Ben would always be there to share his insights, and Claire would be there supporting him as he spoke. They also provided more than emotional encouragement; and I will always remember the time when Claire appeared at our house with a huge pot of chicken soup - Z had just come home from the hospital and the couple simply wanted to bless us with a physical gesture of their love and care, hoping that the chicken soup would help us tide through the sleepless nights caring for a newborn child.

We have learnt so much from Ben and Claire - and more often that not, it has been from what we have observed from their lives, rather than only about what they have spoken to us. For instance, we have learnt many principles of parenting just by observing how they parent their children. One incident I remember a few years back was when their third child D had an argument with their youngest child and son C. Ben not only reprimanded C for not sharing his toy with D, but also asked him to give the item to D. Oftentimes we tend to give in to the youngest child during arguments so as to placate him or her. Ben demonstrated otherwise, instead applying the principles of justice and fairness in his parenting.

The family also adopts these principles during mealtime, during which the older children would help to serve the food and wash the dishes, while the younger children help to set the table before the meal, and then to wipe the table afterwards once the food is cleared. Our recent visit saw the youngest, 5-year-old C, offering to clear the dishes after the meal and passing them to his oldest sister, 16-year-old S, to wash up.

Sue and I firmly believe in the concept of mentoring, a long-term process during which an individual would seek the advice and guiding direction of an older and respected person. We ourselves have been mentors to young people, both individually as well as together as a couple. As relationship mentors, we have assisted youth couples in their decision-making process, to help them better understand themselves before they even embark on a relationship, as well as to help them iron out salient issues in their relationships.

There have been a number of precious moments, one of which was when one of our youths shared passionately about why he liked the girl to her in person. While the two eventually did not get together then, we truly felt it was a special moment, and that it was a privilege for us to witness such an honest proclaimation of love. Then there have been the "double dates", during which youth couples would come over to our place to cook, and we would utilise the dining table as the platform to discuss important BGR (Boy-Girl Relationship) issues. There have of course been the difficult moments, when we have had to counsel couples who were going through a break-up. What it took during those instances was for us to listen to the hearts of those we were mentoring, as well as to share with them our own experiences; and to be just a few steps ahead of them in their life journeys.

As I remember the time we shared with Ben and Claire last week, I cannot help but be thankful for this lovely couple, as well as their four wonderful children. While Sue and I were talking to the parents, the children were enjoying a precious time with Z. Our son was running up and down the house, with four kor kors and jie jies, two big brothers and two big sisters, to care for him and play with him. We have learnt much from our mentors and their family, and we are truly grateful.

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