Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Developing Authentic Sisterhood

Leslie Basham: Today on Revive Our Hearts, the messy topic of authentic friendships. Holly Elliff tells us about an intriguing habit Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth used to have at ministry dinners.

Holly Elliff: When I first met Nancy, we would go out to eat after conferences and stuff. Nancy would leave the table where all of the staff wives were and walk down and sit on this end of the table where the men were, because this end of the table was boring, and this end of the table was interesting.

Leslie: Carolyn McCulley tells us about the first time she visited Nancy’s house.

Carolyn McCulley: I just remember I think I used up an entire box of tissues crying in your house. I’m like, “This is my heart, and it hurts, and I know you know what it means.” I’m snot-faced in front of you and red-eyed, and I’m not even going to pretend to look pretty.

Leslie: Dannah Gresh explains why buying a condiment and the grocery store has become an emotional experience.

Dannah Gresh: I’m a new empty nester, and so every time I went to buy ketchup at the grocery store and I needed the small one . . . tear-fest.

Leslie: Hear all of it today as we explore "Developing Authentic Sisterhood" on Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Friday, July 5, 2019.

Around fifteen years ago, Nancy realized that she needed more healthy female friendships in her life, so she began to intentionally cultivate closer relationships with a small handful of godly women. That evolved into a group that she now calls “The Sisterhood.” Today we’ll be hearing from some of those women. It's part of the series, "Developing Authentic Sisterhood." I hope you’ll find some practical thoughts for how you can develop some close friendships yourself.

Let's listen. Nancy is joined by her friends: Carolyn McCulley, Holly Elliff, Kim Wagner, and the first voice you'll hear is Dannah Gresh.

Dannah: Nancy, you’re the reason that this little group of sisterhood friendship exists. You are the common denominator, the glue that brought us together. And you said in your prayer that the Lord revealed to you that you needed friends. How did He reveal that to you, and how did you create this little collection that we love so much?

Nancy: I don’t think the Lord revealed that to me until I was seeing the fruit of those kinds of relationships. I didn’t know what I was missing.

Holly and I have known each other the longest, and we were serving in a ministry together. We didn’t set out to become friends. We just ended up in life experiences where . . .

Holly: Actually, I have to tell you that . . .

Nancy: Oh, Holly.

Holly: Oh, I have so many stories I won’t tell you. 

Nancy: I’m sorry, I have a phone call coming in.

Holly: When I first met Nancy, we would go out to eat after conferences and stuff. Nancy would leave the table where all of the staff wives were and walk down and sit on this end of the table where the men were, because this end of the table was boring, and this end of the table was interesting. Now, what I’ve seen happen in the last few years is the Lord just totally transforming Nancy to the point where now she doesn’t mind being with the girls.

Nancy: I love being with these girls. We’ve cultivated a sense of caring about things that matter, and we have a lot of fun, too. But even in that, we’re always coming back to and underlying all of that is that these relationships are valuable.

I remember when . . . one of our friends isn’t here. She’s probably the quietest one in the group. She would never be caught dead on this platform. In fact, when I first met her, she was just very, very shy and quiet.

But I was located for a time in another city where I was doing some radio recording. I didn’t know anybody there. I didn’t have any friends. She knew I was there, and I think she just felt sorry for me. We didn’t know each other, but I was working with her husband’s ministry, and she reached out to me and said, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

She lived nearby, and I was in all of the time studying. She would pull me out, just very quiet. She was not like the controlling, driving, Type-A, firstborn, person that I am. And we walked over the next eight years—she kept track—I think it was 500 miles. We talked, and we prayed, and we memorized Scripture, and we laughed. She came out of her shell, and I learned a lot from listening to her. We became really, really good friends.

And as it happened, as the Lord would have it, Holly and Kim both lived in the same area. I was needy—that’s part of how this developed. I needed prayer. I needed encouragement. We were starting the radio ministry, and I had no clue what I was doing. I was way out over my skis, and I was desperate for . . . and I needed illustrations.

So I would talk to my friends and say, “Give me some. Talk to me. You’re married women. I’ve never been there; never done this.” They would encourage. They would come to our recording sessions.

Anyway, it just happened. I looked back when I left and realized these women have become a really important part in my life. It wasn’t just the surface stuff. It wasn’t just the photo ops. The first time Mary Kassian (who’s down the hall there) . . . Were we all four in my little condo there? I was sick as a dog. I had the flu or something. I was in my bathrobe, blowing my nose, and was really, really sick. Mary had come in to record radio. That’s the first time we got to know Mary.

She became a part of this little circle. It was actually in some of those conversations that the whole idea for the True Woman movement was born—just out of friends talking.

Holly: That was 2005, I think.

Kim Wagner: Well, Nancy, I remember the first conversation that we ever had face to face. We had had some conversation before this, but really, to spend time together. It was before books, before radio. You asked me if we could take a walk together, and we spent some time together on that walk. I just poured out to you where I was in my relationship with my husband, how I had struggled but could not share with anyone in the church what I was walking through.

You asked me a question that started me on a journey when you said, “Do you think you might intimidate your husband?” And, really, inside—you don’t do this to Nancy’s face, but inside—I’m going, “Right . . .” Because, no, I didn’t think I intimidated him. But you asked that question, and in so many ways, in so many things that you have said, that Holly has said, and others, too, were an integral way of discipling me.

Dannah: Nancy has a way of asking those kinds of questions. It feels like a velvet hammer hitting you on the head.

Nancy: But you guys do that to me, too. It goes both ways. You can’t just be the one who’s the giver and the discipler, even if you’re the older woman. The one soul means you put down your guard.

It doesn’t mean you don’t have boundaries or that you don’t have what’s appropriate. You don’t say everything to every person, but there has to be a level at which you’re both willing to be vulnerable and to open up your heart and share things that don’t make you look great, to get out of the photo op stuff.

Dannah: My thought is this: Many times we’re struggling with our loneliness, which I want to talk about, because both of you touched on that. Somebody has to be the pursuer. Isn’t that scary, girls? I mean, don’t you still feel like you’re in seventh grade sometimes, when there’s someone you like, “I’d really like to be her friend, but . . .”

Carolyn: Actually, yes. I clearly remember that transitional moment with Nancy. I think I had already gone through Singled Out for Him before I’d had the opportunity to work with you on a writing project. I was just contributing some chapters, actually ghost writing them for somebody else to a book you were editing. So I was, like, “I have Nancy’s email address.” You try not to be that fan girl, but you really are, “I’m in—the email.”

Then it was during one of your recordings in Little Rock, and this is when I think I met you all, and you invited me to stay with you. This is when it all just melted for me. We were in your living room, and I don’t remember what age I was, but there’s a season in your singleness that gets really, really tough as the door’s shutting toward fertility as well. By the way, it’s a time to be really patient with single women because it’s hard. Late thirties, early forties is hard. I was somewhere in that.

You were really ministering to me and encouraging me, and I just remember I think I used up an entire box of tissues crying in your house. That’s where I felt the transparency for us to start kick in. Then when you asked me to start coming along on these retreats, I had that moment again of, “Okay, don’t mess it up. Don’t mess it up. You’ve got a big couple of days here. Keep your mouth shut. Shut.”

And, again, the transparency and the authenticity really breaks through when people are willing. I think you’re one of the most transparent people I know. You’re willing to just say, “Here’s my mess.” And when people are willing to do that, it really opens up a lot, because we’re all a mess. That’s why Jesus came for us. That’s why He loves us. We’re a work in progress, and I don’t know why we ever try to pretend differently.

Dannah: You said everybody’s lonely. And so I guess I know this is not as much fun as being on the beach with our Dr. Pepper, but I think we should talk a little bit about that. Like, have you been lonely? And how has a sister helped you through that loneliness?

Holly: My friend, Leann, who’s on the front row down here, has almost six kids. We have a common bond because our lives are mutually crazy. Even in the midst of a house full of kids, you can be lonely because we don’t just need to have physical bodies around us. We need connected hearts with other women.

Dannah: I think that the secret . . . you described about being a mess in front of Nancy is what brought that wall down. I think that’s what makes us less lonely is being messy with our friends, not those picture-perfect moments.

I could have just had the most lonely year of my life because my life was one mess after another. For beginners, I’m a new empty nester, and so every time I went to buy ketchup at the grocery store and I needed the small one . . . tear-fest.

Ministry finance problems, marriage problems, big, big, big stuff. Like, everything was a mess, adding up to what equals white-hot mess. I wanted to withdraw from this friendship. I wanted to hide. I didn’t want to be real. I didn’t want to say how ugly it was.

The lie Satan tells us is: If they really know what’s going on in your life, they won’t be your friends anymore.

I believed that with everything in my being. But I told them how ugly things were. I cried with them—more than once. Nancy probably doesn’t know this, but I had what I refer to lovingly as the Mexican meltdown at her wedding reception—Mexican because it was almost really spicy.

But Holly saw in my eyes before I lost it, and, you know, sometimes your girlfriends say, “Let’s go cry together.” Sometimes they’re, like, “Don’t even start crying, you will not stop.” She knew that was one of those moments. She just walked over, and she put her hands in mine, and she said, “Don’t close your eyes, but I’m going to pray for you. You just look ahead at all these people—see how cute their clothes are? It’s very nice, and that cake looks delicious.” And she’s just getting my mind out of it, and prayed me through what could have been a really lonely moment, but the reason she was able to do that was because I told her my junk.

So I just want to encourage you, if there’s something a mess in your life—your marriage, your kids, your finances—the way out of loneliness is not picture perfection. It’s letting yourself be messy with your girlfriends.

Carolyn: Yes. Actually, there’s two points of deep, deep sadness in my life that I remember you all being there for, and you specifically, Dannah. by the time of my mom’s funeral, I was pretty wiped out.

There’s this moment where you start to realize everybody who shows up at the funeral. You might think, Oh, I’m only going to see somebody for five minutes. Should I really go? Should I make the effort? You don’t know until you’re on the receiving end of it how meaningful it is that people go to great lengths to show up, even for five minutes, just to hold your hand. Dannah came on behalf of The Sisterhood. When I saw her beautiful blonde self roll into that room, it just lit my heart up because this was somebody I knew that I could just go, “It’s really hard.” And I didn’t have to go, “Thanks for coming.” Even though you want to say, “Thanks for coming,” you could just go, “It’s hard, and thank you for praying.” It was meaningful.

And the second thing for me, and I alluded to this in talking. I own my own film company, and any time you’re self-employed, you have the opportunity to trust God for your provision like nobody’s business. And, long story short, it was a tough financial time.

The enemy used that to just sink the word: failure. I could say, “Yes, you know.” I could be very analytical. “Sure, most small businesses fail within five years. I should be glad that mine’s in year six. I work in film. It’s rickety anyway. We all know this.”

I can be like that, but as soon as I said, “I feel like a failure. Why can’t I make this work?” Oh, the oppression and the tears! The enemy was right there every single day saying, “You know what? You should just take your life. You’re a failure.”

And when you use those terms, it sets alarm bells off. People are like, “Ooo, ooo, suicide ideation.” I didn’t mean I was making a plan. I just had that temptation. And we have to be honest, that temptation is with all of us a lot.

Because the enemy cannot thwart our salvation, he can thwart our fruitfulness, and he can thwart our faith. And I had one little thread of faith, and it was based on a lyric from a praise song that I’ve played for you guys and danced, and somebody got a really awful picture of me like—it’s really unflattering—but it was simply this: “You can’t steal my praise.”

That is all I had, ladies. That was all I had. “It was not my choice to end this story that God is writing right now. I can’t do it. You won’t steal my praise.” That’s all I had. So that’s the shred I held on to.

And these ladies, they called. They texted. They prayed. They were just there. Even though they weren’t physically right next to me, their presence was there walking through the darkness all the time. That’s what’s so important, that we just go, “Yes, I’m a mess, and here’s how I’m feeling about failure, and here’s what the enemy is doing, and just hold my little, weak arms up. That’s all I need you to do.”

Dannah: You forgot that we ate apple pie together. That’s important.

Nancy, what do you think the qualities are in this circle of friendship, the biblical qualities, the character qualities? And what are we looking for when we’re trying to develop more intimate friendships at home?

Nancy: You all are watching a seasoned set of friendships here. It’s not just the whole group, by the way. There are eight total. And it’s not exclusive. We have other friends. We do things with other people. In fact, we don’t publicly—well, I guess we have now—really talk about The Sisterhood. It’s just kind of internal. We pray together. We get together.

But we have other relationships. We have other friendships. It changes. Seasons change. We change. Life changes. And what you’re seeing is long-term fruit of cultivating one-on-one, two-on-one, eight occasionally. We’re rarely all together. But you’re seeing the best results of a long-term thing that God has done, but there’s a long process leading up to that.

And don’t get discouraged as I think we all have and easily can about the fact that you don’t have this at this moment in your life. None of us had this until this moment. And next year it will look different.

Somebody said having children changes it. My getting married has changed in terms of just the dynamics of how this friendship works, although this group did a Skype interview. We were in the Dominican Republic. I was getting ready to go—I knew him, but we were getting ready to go talk about having a friendship, and they wanted to interview him. For ninety minutes, they did, on Skype. They asked him questions, and then they made him sign: If this relationship develops, are you going to let this Sisterhood keep meeting?

But he has seen the value of what these women bring to my life, and he says, “You need this. I want you to have this.” Because he knows I’ll be a better wife and this is a better marriage if I have the benefit of women speaking into my life.

That’s not really where I was going with that. Just don’t get discouraged about or resentful or disdainful about friendships that maybe aren’t all that you wish they could be because there are no friendships this side of heaven that are all you wished they could be. We all have parts of our hearts that no one and nothing can really connect, including in a marriage. We have walls. We are in human flesh. We will not know as we are known until we see Jesus face to face. That’s the ultimate.

And in this life, friendship with Him is the best that it gets. And the best it gets here is not as good as what it will be. So when you say, “I’m in a church. I’m lonely. I don’t have people like this in my church,” or “I don’t have people like this in my family,” or “The people that I know are snarky. They’re sarcastic. It’s not healthy friendships.” Watch out for those things.

We’re really careful about keeping confidences, about being loyal, about speaking grace into each other’s lives. We’ve not done that perfectly. We’ve not even always done it well with each other or with others. So now we’re grownups. We’re bringing to life decades of growing in friendship, and we’re still working at it.

I can remember as a thirty-year-old woman being very awkward about friendships. Take me back to third grade, and that was super awkward. All I loved was books and study. I hated recess and weekends and holidays. All I liked was sitting on the front row and asking the teacher if she could give me harder questions. How weird is that?

Dannah: It’s weird.

Nancy: I was a total dork!

Take what God gives you. And here’s the other thing . . . I’ll be done with this. It’s easy to think: I need this kind of relationship or this kind of friendship in my life right now. And then to pine. Or, I need marriage, or I need children, or something that’s people oriented. Women are made for relationship. God made us for relationship. We think, If I don’t have this kind of . . . sisterhood, or the kind of marriage Nancy and Robert have, or one of these, then I can’t be whole.

You can be whole with whatever God has given you right now. And God knows what you really need.

When I was first in Arkansas and I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have any friends, and I was crying my eyes out, and we were doing radio, and nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. That was a hard season. I’m thinking, I can’t do this. But God knew I needed that desert time. God knew I needed that hard place.

God knows what you need. He will bring you what you need. Don’t prescribe for God what it has to look like. Receive with gratitude and with joy what God gives you in this season, and know that whatever He gives you is enough for this moment. That doesn’t mean you don’t keep moving forward, saying, “Lord, I want to be better at this.” But do it as a giver, not as a taker.

If you’re saying, “I need a friendship like this.” That’s a taker. If you say, “I want to be a friend.” That’s a giver.

Holly: I just want to say, too, if you are the person, and you’re feeling lonely, like you have never had a good friend, it may be that the Lord is saying to you, “You need to be a good friend.” So look for someone who . . . If you knew how distinctively different we are up here, it is miraculous that God has bonded a friendship because we are very different in temperament, in personality, and life. It may be that God has for you a friend who looks nothing like you, who is not the same age as you, who has a totally different lifestyle. But it may be that God is the catalyst here to move you toward that other person because they are also looking for a friend.

Nancy: We’ve been listening to a conversation between a group of godly women who regularly get together and encourage each other. We heard from Carolyn McCulley, Holly Elliff, Kim Wagner, and Dannah Gresh. They’ve been talking with our host, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, about developing authentic sisterhood.

We’d like to help you encourage the women around you and here’s one idea. Why don’t you put a group together and go through the new Bible study produced by Revive Our Hearts. It’s called Esther: Trusting God’s Plan. This is an in-depth study of the book of Esther. It will help you dig into the text for yourself and apply it to your life and situation.

A group of friends got together to discuss each chapter and you can hear that discussion on the Women of the Bible podcast from Revive Our Hearts. A new episode will be coming out over the next several weeks. And we also recorded that conversation on video. You and a group of friends could go through this study, watch the videos, and then have your own discussion on what you’re learning about Esther. To get your copy of the study, donate any amount at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1–800–569–5959. And to see the videos as they’re released over the next weeks, visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

On Monday, we’ll continue on this topic of women encouraging other women. Dannah Gresh will be talking with her mom about how she intentionally mentors younger women. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is a proud supporter of sisters encouraging one another, and it’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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