I'm still reading Hebrews. I know it's taking me a long time, and I'm okay with that. I love to read, and I read slowly.
I finally read Hebrews 11, the only chapter of Hebrews I'd read before tackling the whole book. It's a well-known passage about the heroes of the Bible, the great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before preparing our way, showing us how to be people of faith. I was so humbled by list of Bible heroes and their brave feats that I felt nauseous. I am so painfully short of their example.
As I reflected on that chapter in the Bible, I was reminded of another cloud of witnesses--people who have witnessed my attempt to live a life of faith, people who have inspired me and stood with me.
I say with full disclosure and no exaggeration that I would not be in ministry today without these people.
(I must also acknowledge my husband here. Without his steadfast support and faithfulness, even when it was really hard, I wouldn't be in ministry today. I probably wouldn't be lots of the things I am today without him. He, and other members of my family, surrounded me and protected me when I was hurt and vulnerable.)
When things got really hard in my ministry setting years ago...When two shrinks told me to quit my job for my own well being (apparently chronic stomach problems and night terrors are not typical work hazards)...When I wanted a 9-5, mindless, meaningless job free of responsibility and leadership and creativity...When I was not sure who I was anymore...I stayed because of these people.
One of the shrinks was also a professor of mine who knew me quite well. When I explained to him my pastoral attachment to this group of students, he agreed I should stay until they graduated. The plan was to quit soon after that time, and to re-evaluate my ministerial calling in a year or so. He thought that would be best for me, while still affirming the pastor he saw within me.
By the time that group graduated, I was on the mend mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Walking away from ministry was no longer on the table.
That group loved me, accepted me, entrusted me with their secrets, their doubts, their questions, their faith journeys, and their stories. That group believed in me when I'm not sure many others did; I certainly did not.
That group is more than ten years younger than me. They were teenagers at the time. My husband makes fun of me for counting these people as friends now; he tells me to find friends my own age.
But I wouldn't be where I am today without them. I wouldn't be at this church. I probably wouldn't be working with teenagers. I probably wouldn't be preaching again.
I have been blessed by several clouds of witnesses in my faith journey. Today, I am grateful for this cloud in particular.