“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. ~ Hebrews 12:1-2
Our journey, or our race as Hebrews talks about is never one that is walked or run alone. The story we write of our lives has many contributing authors. We have a cloud of “witnesses” that float in and out of our lives that we watch and look to during the course of our lives that impact how we live life and love those around us. Some are good and some are not so good. Many of mine helped me be braver. Some taught me humility and grace. Then there are some that looked a lot like me – and I didn’t like what I saw. We watch people and rub up against them in the hopes that the good in them will rub off on us. That’s what it means to be a witness.
One cloud that hovered over me for 52 years was my mom. I needed to have someone to look up to – to try to emulate. She was funny and feisty, and always trying to figure out where she fit in this world as a sister, daughter, wife, mother and as a Christian. She was a child of the depression – a woman who was flawed, hurt and disappointed, but who showed love for others by caring for them. She was graceful but struggled to understand grace. I watched her get angry, then mourn when her anger cost her dearly. I have a deep desire to know her stories, her roots, her regrets and her victories. She taught me a lot of good things – like how to care for people. Because we were so different in personality, she once told me I was a “pistol”, which I eventually figured out she didn’t necessarily think that was a good thing.
I ran from the shade of my dad’s cloud because I could never figure him out – but now I wish I had taken the time. He was old-school in his thinking of what women should and shouldn’t do, and I never seemed to fit into that scenario the way he thought I should. He did teach me what hard work and discipline looked like, for which I’m grateful, but I always felt as if I disappointed him. He taught me prejudice…only because that’s what he was taught…but thankfully the dove told me at a young age that was wrong. But later in life, as I learned the analogy of our Father in Heaven’s love…I grew to trust and honor him for the part he played in growing and caring for me in his own way. He was a good man with some regrets, and we got to have some faith talks later in his life that I hope were a deciding factor in where he is spending eternity.
Two clouds that I loved were my grandmothers, Violet and Cora. Violet was a strong-willed Danish woman who lost her husband early, was caregiver to her sick Father, and stood up for my rights. She was opinionated about women’s rights, and taught me women could be strong and athletic and should be chosen early when picking teams for backyard baseball. One of my favorite memories of her was Christmas Eve circa 1964 when she thought she was alone in the Living Room looking at the lights of the tree. I peered around the corner as she sat and sang Silent Night in Danish, and I watched as a tear trickling down her cheek as memories flooded over her.
Cora was a strong Christian woman who loved to tell stories (boy could she talk), loved the Los Angeles Dodgers and always smiled, or had a headache and seemed tired. She taught me about faith, for which I am eternally (literally) grateful. She was a tea-tootler who almost didn’t come to my wedding because we were serving champagne for the toast. One of my favorite things I loved about her story was how she learned to drive when she was 60 years old. What a determined trailblazer she was.
I loved them both for the traits that I inherited from them….determination, strength, a sensitive and caring heart, and faith-filled… and you all know how I love a good story! Their personalities are part of the blood that flows through me.
I had several friends growing up, but a special part of my cloud-cover was my high school / college friend, Carol. Her friendship and care for me was unconditional, which I had never experienced. She was the first friend who treated me like a sister, and I so regretted not having a sister to grow up with. We were both getting our wobbly faith-feet underneath us around the same time, and she taught me how women can be supportive of one another without competition or as being a threat, not as insecure or jealous or weak, but instead as a sister in Christ. That’s a powerful force for good. Eventually the wind blew and this dear cloud blew away as we leaned into marriage and life in different places.
I had two clouds in my early 20’s that came and shaded me with their mentor marks that I will never forget – Nancy C. and Carol H. I saw in these two women a peace and confidence in their faith that I lacked and I wanted to get me some of that! I wanted my faith to be strong like theirs, and they gave me the tools to help me build that. Their mentoring planted such great faith seeds in my life, and I am so grateful for the watering they did before they drifted off to bless others.
My favorite cloud is my husband, Ken. He blew into my life just when I thought all the good guy clouds in the world were taken or had dissipated, and he redeemed my faith in true love. He can be soft and fluffy, full of love and life and joy. But sometimes when he’s been floating too long without a break or support he can be dark and foreboding, and rain all over my parade. He challenges me, and has taught me to listen, love unconditionally, and keeps me on my toes because he’s almost always right. I hate that about him. What a pistol! But he is one cloud that isn’t going to drift away any time soon.
I’m passionate about my kid clouds, and my latest struggle is letting go of their consistency in my cloud cover. I know our kids are given to us for only a season, and that our job is to teach them how to fluff and puff out their cloud wings and float out into the world (I couldn’t think of a good cloud analogy for kids coming and going from our lives…so don’t write back and tell me clouds don’t have wings please!) but this ache I feel around a much different relationship with Brady and Bryan brings rain to my skies regularly. I miss the comfort of their shade and comfort. But I trust that I will learn new and exciting things from their examples as they move out into the world and I get to watch how they offer shade to others.
Finally, I am finding great comfort in the shade of many friends that have chosen to bless me with their friendship. Woman (and men) who are passionate and alive in their faith, knowing their purpose is to come alongside others with joy and laughter and vulnerability. I get to watch them be brave as they walk in sickness and hardship. I get to watch them be real in their marriages. I watch them care for the people God has placed around them with kindness and forgiveness, and they help equip me in the knowledge that I can do the same thing. Laurie, Robyn, Cindy (1, 2 and 3), Janis, Mickey, Kathleen, and Lori are just a few who I am honored to float through this life with. Thank you that you make me feel as if I am enough – you are the wind at my back and you make me brave.
So these are just some of the “witnesses” that have clouded my skies and walked my story with me. Both good and bad. As I’ve tried to make sense of my life, I’ve had to learn that not all the dark clouds I bumped into were as they seem. Paul Tripp says it this way; “What looks like the end my be the beginning. What looks like hopeless may be God’s instrument to give you real and lasting hope. What looks like disaster might, in fact, be grace. Your Father is committed to taking what seems bad and turning it into something that is very, very good”.
So some of my witnesses have shown me grace, and some have shown me the opposite of grace. But that’s all a part of the lesson and the growing in grace that I’m so passionate about pursuing. Grace in the hard places. Grace in the everyday stuff. Grace in the clouds.
You knew I HAD to end it with a cloud, right? Be the cloud for someone today. Be their shade and be a witness of grace to them.