I was in an elevator in Flint, Michigan in February about 30 years ago. I know, you feel sorry for me don’t you? The last place on earth one should be is in an elevator in Flint, Michigan, in February.

But there I was, and when the door opened a much older lady (at least 80) came inside to share this experience with me. We were both going to the 5th floor. She broke the awkward silence with unforgettable words: “I love that yellow sweater you are wearing. You look so handsome in it.”

I mumbled some thanks, and had smart phones been invented yet I would have asked her to repeat those words so I could record it and play it for my wife to hear, and for some of my friends who thought women would never hit on me again. When hearing the story, one of our children asked whether I realized that the woman was probably near 90 and couldn’t see very well. 

I ignored all the expected insults and proceeded to keep the yellow sweater way passed its prime. Why do I remember that incident 30 years later? Because I was encouraged. It simply felt good.

A wise man once said that in this world we all will have trouble. We all know he was right in his assessment. Somehow, somewhere, at some time, we need to be encouraged in this world of trouble.

In our Spark of Life Grief Recovery Retreats, we have learned so much, not the least of which is the power and the necessity of encouragement. We have discovered that when we encourage others, not only are they helped, but we are encouraged as well.

A couple I will never forget had experienced the devastation of their teenage son ending his life. The father held him until he died. As they shared their story on the first night of the retreat, the mother could not even raise her head. Defeated and discouraged and devastated described her, understandably.

By Sunday, we saw this mother begin to encourage an older woman who had lost her husband after a long and happy marriage. When Mary, the mother, was encouraging the widow, a countenance came over her face. She had a glow about her. She looked like a different person from the one we saw when the retreat began. As she was doing this, her husband looked at me and mouthed these words – Who is this woman – referring to his wife.

And he was encouraged as well.

And I went out and bought another yellow sweater.

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