Two months after my husband and I adopted our older daughter, I found myself sobbing on the treadmill in the middle of the night.
We had waited so long for our sweet girl. In a short time, she had completely captured our hearts. I had every reason to be blissfully happy, not crying alone at midnight.
What’s my problem?, I worried. What kind of person does this?
The next day at church, I saw a friend who had adopted her first child after ten years of marriage. She listened carefully as I described how I felt.
“You’re grieving the loss of the way things used to be,” she said. “It’s normal; it will pass.”
She was right. It did.
Another time, I was visiting an older friend at her home. I was just starting to experience the hormonal swings of peri-menopause, and I was lamenting how it was sometimes difficult to respond nicely in the throes of all that.
I’ll never forget this gentle, godly woman telling me how her husband had once volunteered to drive her to the pharmacy himself when she ran out of her hormone replacement therapy medication — she needed it that badly.
Several years later, when I was debating how to treat the symptoms of my own early menopause, I remembered that story. Her frank words gave me courage to do what I needed to do — for my own sake and the sake of everyone around me.
During yet another season of parenting, I was feeling guilty about not re-enrolling my daughters in AWANA. I’m all for memorizing Scripture, but the environment was overwhelming my little one, and my older girl who had embraced the program for years seemed to have outgrown it.
Between services one Sunday, I shared my conundrum with another friend — a middle-school teacher with four adult children. Laughing, she told me that one of her kids absolutely loved AWANA, two did OK with it, and the fourth actually got kicked out of the program.
Her story released me to make the decision that was right for our family, which was to drop our girls off at Grandma’s house instead of church while my husband and I went to our small group on Wednesday evenings.
In casual conversation, each of these women gave me the beautiful gift of unfiltered encouragement.
They didn’t toss out unhelpful responses like, “I’m so glad I’m done with all that” or, “You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to those years.” Nor did they lecture, judge, or minimize.
They listened well, and then they shared.
They didn’t take themselves too seriously, so they didn’t wonder if their stories made them look bad. They weren’t trying to prove anything, so they were free to draw from their own un-touched-up experiences for the sole purpose of helping me. In the process, they gave me permission to feel how I was feeling. They gave me hope that it wouldn’t always be this way. They gave me confidence to make the right decision.
My friends were all older than 50, but you don’t have to be any particular age to encourage like this. You just have to be a bit further down the path — just enough to have traversed a little more of life’s landscape than the girl behind you.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.
When I read this verse, I find it interesting that people who are already lifting others up need to be encouraged to keep at it. It can be hard work, this business of encouragement.
But, as my friends showed me, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Women in need of a hopeful word are all around us. And we — with all our “failures” and embarrassing stories — are just the ones to offer it.