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Shawn and I chalked up many hours in 2018 traveling from North Carolina through Virginia to West Virginia, and we grew to appreciate our stops at the interstate rest areas in NC and VA. Both NC and VA invest in landscaping at these facilities including some impressive wildflower plantings. Pollinators, including Monarch butterflies, face a staggering loss of habitat (see Plight of the Monarchs). The open spaces at the rest areas and along interstate exits represent an opportunity to address the plight of the pollinators as well as to give motorists something beautiful to behold. One of these stops introduced us to North Carolina’s Butterfly Highway Project (details at Support Your Local Monarch), and we moved quickly to register our garden.

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Photo courtesy of Amanda Rae Wright.

Arranging the garden to foster butterflies may seem a trivial exercise to some, perhaps not worth the effort. Help a child locate a Monarch chrysalis and note the absolute rapture on her face. Be there when those tiny eyes watch the new butterfly emerge and take flight. In that moment she becomes a determined gardener with a love for plants and the associated winged critters. I have two adult daughters that love the garden. And my granddaughter is discovering dirt and plants and bugs, too. Those generations deserve the blessing of butterflies, and that urges me to convert some of my space to help the pollinators.

In a large part supporting the butterflies models the art of mentoring, a popular topic in organizations. Stacks of books, websites, blogs, and seminars tout the benefits and offer the “how to” of mentoring, yet the practice remains rare. My first engineering job paired me with a guy on the downhill slide to retirement, and I still give thanks for his guidance. He shared what he knew, demonstrated the proper ways, and took me under his wing during those formative months. We never had T-shirts or coffee mugs to tag him as the Mentor and me as the Mentee, but Bob loved engineering, electronics, and problem solving. He dealt out as much knowledge as I could sponge.

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Photo courtesy of Amanda Rae Wright

Consider some fundamental characteristics of a good mentor.

The mentor recognizes the needs of another.

The butterflies are in a bad way as they embark on their annual migration to Mexico. Food sources have dwindled. Protected habitats have evaporated. Monarchs are in no position to resolve their plight. Someone must step up to help.

Mentoring another person means I recognize that my knowledge can benefit him, or I have mastered a technique he needs for success. My attitude is willingness not exploitation. I’m not there to lord it over the other guy or use him to benefit myself. I’m out to help him.

The mentor moves with compassion.

Certainly I delight in my relationship with the Monarchs. What a joy to watch butterflies in the garden! My excitement builds as I search for the hidden jewel of a chrysalis. Amazement overflows as a newly hatched butterfly soars away. What if I never witnessed their egg to butterfly transition? Would I still rise up to support them?

Mentoring is often the stronger helping the weaker, the skilled helping the unskilled, or the knowledgeable helping the newbie. The reasons vary—this is right, it’s best for the long-term, it assures the organization’s future—but the overarching motivation is compassion. Mentors care and put feet to that feeling.

The mentor models a “whatever it takes” attitude.

To create the butterfly garden we relocated established plants. We tossed the stragglers such as that pathetic rose bush which demands constant attention and a steady diet of chemicals. We turned over part of the lawn and added compost to expand the available garden space. We trenched in a drain pipe with a popup emitter to channel the water from a nearby downspout into the center of the butterfly garden.

During the winter I tended the milkweed sprouts cowering in the corner of the shop. Vigilance became the watchword as I tracked temperatures, watered carefully, and carried the flats to the sunny backyard on warm days. Funny, none of this seemed like work, and we would do more to attract the Monarchs to the garden.

Mentoring demands that we share knowledge, resources, time, or whatever is required. Often lessons must be repeated. Sometimes we have to slow forward progress until the mentee catches up. And then we wait patiently with the knowledge the mentee does not yet have. We wait until his hunger for that knowledge drives him to a sponge-like state where he’s ready to soak it up.

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Photo courtesy of Amanda Rae Wright

Believers, we have the benefit of two letters written by a mentor to his mentee, Paul’s letters to Timothy. Among the lessons the younger man needed was this gem – be involved in mentoring others.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2 NASB

Mentoring is not a job for wimps. Maybe that is why so few attempt it.

I’ll see you in the garden. Most every session with the Creator gives me another lesson to analyze and apply.

Gardening. It’s not just a hobby. It’s an education.