My twins are eight years old. They love kittens and rainbow ponies and Nancy Drew Jr.
I look at them and see myself, at eight. See my chewed-off nails and curly pink scrawl. I wrap my arms around them and tell them the things I wish I could go back and tell myself.
Your signature looks lovely with the heart over the “i.”
No, no one noticed that you tripped in the doorway.
Don’t try to impress Kelly and Kristi. Impressing them won’t make them friends, and true friendship probably won’t be found with the cool kids, anyway.
At church, a new family slides in the back pew. The oldest is about fourteen, with a funky new haircut she’s chopped herself. I wince, remembering my own funky ‘do at thirteen, and the ushers who felt free with their teasing. I want to slip in next to her, put my arm around her shoulders, and say,
Do you love it? Was it harder to cut than you’d thought?
I want to tell her that she’s beautiful, even if her bangs are shorter than she wanted. With her young, fresh cheeks and almond eyes. I see that perfectly drawn eyeliner. I see those rainbow nails.
I want to say that I know how she wants to walk into the room and be the Cinderella everyone turns to admire. I know how it is to find out that balls are few and far between, and your figure or acne or more-modest dress means you’re not the one in the spotlight. But take heart! There is One who not only sees your beauty, but created it and adores it. There is One who treasures every fold of your fingerprint. Your beauty is a gift to the world. Don’t be embarrassed by it, or treat it cheaply. Hold your head high and thank God that you are a woman, and He called you very good.
This morning, late to homeschool co-op, we bottleneck in the door of the building and peel off our winter trappings. My mind is full of the art lesson to teach, my childrens’ speeches on American history, the bank deposit to make. I glance at the clock and rush through the crowd, eager to set out the paints, and almost knock down a newcomer. She’s twenty-five, I would guess. A toddler in her arms, a first grader holding on to her jacket. I toss an apology, trying to herd the masses to the tables, but her wide eyes unsettle me as I talk about primary colors and brush skills.
She seems anxious, nervous, insecure. I remember when I was first married and I moved to a new town. Showing up at ladies’ group felt like the first day at school. Would anyone talk to me? Would anyone like me? The art class ends and she drifts away before I’m done helping the last student tap glitter off his painting.
I wish I had taken her aside. Listened to her name and story and said…
Don’t worry! You’re doing fine! Your children are dressed and healthy. You’re intelligent and thoughtful and insightful. I bet you make fantastic cinnamon buns. Don’t stress too much about your paperwork, the school board here is super chill! Yes, that’s totally normal for a six-year-old. Just keep reading to her. My son had trouble blending sounds, too.
I see myself in these women and others. In the woman with a green-snotty baby at the grocery store, anxiously sorting her WIC checks. In my beautiful single friend who’s wondering what a career looks like in this economy. In the motley crew of girls at the after-school club, wild with passion for dancing and charm bracelets and swinging their fists at the bus stop.
My heart is full to bursting with love for them. I want to take them by the shoulders, look into their eyes and say, “I know.”
I know what it’s like, this strange road to womanhood. It’s full of insecurity and comparison and worry and failure. But it can be full of wonder, too! And beauty. And peace, if you know where to look!
I’d like to say that I’ve done this. I’ve slid into the pew and put my arms around a few shoulders. I’ve pulled that child aside to whisper encouragement. Searched into depths of many eyes, trying to communicate support.
But I haven’t, not as much as I could have.
So many times my own plans for moment, my own desires to be respected or accomplished, and my own worries about rejection keep me from the work of encouragement. I am ashamed of the opportunities I’ve missed.
I notice in the Word how often Jesus seems to notice the un-noticed. To look up in tree and see Zacchaeus. To speak to the woman coming alone to the well. To heal those lying along the street. He wasn’t distracted by His plans. They were His plans.
Do you feel unnoticed today?
I don’t know who you are. Whether you are desperately in need of a shower after a long night with a sick child, or whether you’re reading this on your tablet in between classes. But I feel so tenderly toward you. I so much want to look into your eyes, to take you by the shoulders, and say, “I know.” I know how you feel. Or at least, I’m willing to know.
And I think — no, I know — the tenderness and compassion I feel is not my own. It is the heart of Christ, bubbling over in love for you. He is El Roi, The God Who Sees.
He sees you. He has tender compassion for you. He knows you.
But maybe you know this. You’re secure. You’re mature. You’re the leader with a busy day. Maybe you, like me, need the encouragement Paul gave to the Corinthians: we are comforted so we can comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
All around you are women that the Spirit yearns to encourage.
Your own daughters, your younger sisters. The new girl in the choir. Maybe your helper as you teach AWANA.
Take a moment to consider the women who share your days and hours.
I am only just now learning to stop in the midst of my busyness and see those on the edge of the crowd. To set aside my plans and schedule and fears and insecurities, to turn my face towards them, to open my heart — the heart of the the Lord.
But what a surprising, awesome thing it is, when I do attempt this task. As I turn to do the work of the Lord — following in His steps — His Spirit wells up within me and gives me the encouraging words of grace to speak to them. How thrilling and humbling that He would choose to use me as an instrument of his grace!
When I remember that, my fears and schedule and hesitancy fly out the window.
Sister, I put my arm your shoulder today. I offer you the grace and the tender compassion of the Lord.
But I also bid you, for your own sake, experience the wonder of being the encourager. Let the love of the Lord flood through you and bubble over to the women He puts on the edges of your day.
Put your own arm around someone’s shoulders today.
Photography: JenniMarie Photography
(originally published in 2014)