When summer comes I often think about my grandmother, Mimi. She grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and married my grandfather, a grocer. They saved a little money to buy a small place on Mobile Bay, where I spent my summers. As I recently sat on my porch in Dallas, listening to the cicadas and looking up at the clouds, I swear I was transported back for a moment to the salty air, briar stickers, brackish water, and gentle breeze of the bay. I loved those days, but mostly because Mimi was in the middle of it all.
Mimi told me frequently, “Every day I pray that the angels would watch over you.” Her voice always spoke love. I was her favorite. The other grandchildren knew it. I will never forget her daily prayer for me. Now I think of her as the one watching over me, cheering me on, smiling down. Proud.
We all need people like that — people who love us unconditionally and always see the good in us. We need people in the stands as we run life's race. The writer of Hebrews puts it like this: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) When we know we are surrounded and celebrated, we can grow better. We can keep going.
Who’s in your cloud? Past and present?
In my past, I think of my other grandfather, a preacher, my father who died way too young, and elders in churches where I have served. In my present, there is my wife, Jen, son Christopher, and daughter Emmy. There are friends like David and Mindi and Mark; mentors like Weston and Os; colleagues from work.
Who are the people that cheer you on? Lord knows we need people like that. Life can be so discouraging. E.E. Cummings said, “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” It’s not easy to keep going sometimes. It takes strength to say, “This is what I believe,” or “This is what I don’t believe.” It takes courage to open your mouth and say something.
Hebrews suggests that there is a group of unseen believers who are always watching over us. They're those who kept the faith, who persevered through the hardness of life. They made it to the finish. But their journey is still somehow tied to ours. Their work is not done. Now, they surround us and support us. They urge us to not just persevere in human strength, but to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." They call to us to get rid of the sin that weighs us down or trips us up. We'll run better when we do.
If I feel afraid or lonely or confused, I sometimes ask, “What would all of these people, past and present, say about what I’m feeling and experiencing?” They likely would say, “It’s not as bad as you think.” I believe they would say, “You are not alone and you are loved, in spite of the junk and the flaws of your life.” They would probably say, "That habit - that thing that takes your energy and fills you with shame - wouldn't it feel good to lay that down?"
Thank the people who make up the cloud of your life. Don’t neglect them. Say what you need to say. And remember that you’re in someone else’s cloud. There may be nothing more important that you do with your life.