By Carolyn Hittenberger
Hebrews 12:1-2 …since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith.
Who are the witnesses of Hebrews 12:1? How are they witnesses? Where are they?
In some profoundly mysterious way this passage indicates that the witness of those who have gone before us in the faith, surrounds us. The issue is not whether or not they are peering at us over a celestial balcony. The influence of their lives and in some cases their deaths, impacts our lives.
On many holidays of my childhood, Dad’s beat up panel truck carried us the 18 miles to Aunt Flora’s sprawling white farmhouse. Its wrap-around porch invited the adults to relax in over-sized wooden rockers. For us children, it was a fort or a ship or whatever we imagined it to be. At dinner time the mahogany dining table groaned with home made everything. My mouth still tingles at the memory of Aunt Flora’s apple pie accompanied by chunks of cheese.Following dinner everyone gathered to sing. Mom’s petite hands caressed the yellowed keys and her small feet pumped air into the dusty reeds of the aged parlor organ. Sitting beside the velvet-curtained sound box, my heartbeat became one with the rhythm of those hymns.
The scent of things past pricked my nose on those special occasions when Aunt Flora slid back the heavy wooden doors of her parlor. Ornate gold frames hanging on faded wallpaper, embraced the “portrait people”: my grandmother as a bride, who died when my father was born; Aunt Flora, a beauty at 18 who was left responsible for the care of her baby brother; my father as a curly haired toddler standing beside a three-cornered chair; my grandfather who when 12 lied his age to join the army; and a dozen or so others. Family history and my childish understanding of it exchanged glances.
Dad‘s gifted storytelling inscribed on my young mind the joys and pain of the portrait people. I felt a bond with those who’d gone before me. A glimpse of those whose past formed the foundation for my life warmed me with a sense of belonging. Aunt Flora’s braided rug left its imprint on my legs as I sat on the floor, listening, and the stories of those I had never known stamped my spirit with the security of family.
We do not walk this Christian life alone. The witness of those who’ve preceded us proclaims God’s faithfulness. They started the path, escaped the snares, and endured the race, looking to Jesus. Through the golden frame of Biblical accounts and historical portraits we taste the sweetness and security of belonging. Hymns and testimonies bind our hearts to those who persevered and laid for us a foundation of faith. Though sometimes the rough places of this world would leave their mark on us, deeper, sweeter, and more lasting is the stamp of influence left by testimonies of His Life in others. Exchange glances with those who surround us as witnesses. Ours is a heritage of victory. Rejoice! We are surrounded by family!
Father, I thank You for providing me with witnesses whose lives encourage me to walk the path You have laid out for me. Grant me the same power to, like them, persevere with joy. Thank you that I do not walk alone.
Carolyn Hittenberger is Assistant for the Caribbean Regional Office at Global University and also works with University Communications. For more information about Global University, visit http://think.globaluniversity.edu.