I have an old photograph that hangs above my craft desk. This picture of the "Ladies" faithfully arrived every Christmas for our Sunday School White Elephant event. Everyone looked forward to the party, but dreaded the picture. Inevitably, someone would pick the most prettily wrapped package...and behold...the Ladies! Everyone would laugh and make fun of the lucky person that got to take the "Ladies" home with the promise each time they would return "next year." And sure enough, each year they returned, more beautifully wrapped than the last year. Each year they could be found lurking among the gifts, everyone hoping they would not be the one to pick the "dreaded" package.
I watched this play out every year at Christmas...but in my heart...I loved those ladies.
Two years ago a new couple to our group opened the dreaded package. I approached them at the end of the evening and asked if I could take the picture "off their hands." They were grateful!
Me? I was ecstatic! Look at all the lovely ladies!!! These ladies make me smile.
They all look happy. They each look like they are having a good time and most importantly, they appear to enjoy each other's company.
Is this a women's Bible study? A quilt guild? Perhaps they've gathered for a wedding or a funeral?
Some of the women are wearing matching aprons, perhaps provided by the church (love the flowers on the front holding them on to their dress). Others are wearing their own personal apron they probably brought from home.
Why had they gathered? Who are the cooks? What was prepared? How many were served?
The dress code of the day dictates dresses, but some have hats, and one is wearing her fur collar!
You can see each of their individual personalities shining through.
Each woman came prepared to offer her talent and to minister to the others. Some of the women were served, while others undertook the serving. One group of ladies might have prepared the meal while others decorated and set up the tables. Each one offered herself fully to her task to make the event a success.
Yet, as I look at each of their faces and wonder who they are, I think of Paul's words in Hebrews 12:1
"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..."
I look up from my desk and think of them as my "great cloud of witnesses"...those women in my life who have built up and encouraged me in my faith.
There are some who have already "gone home"...my Aunt Sadie, Marie Porth, Miss Emma. Gracious hostesses who always opened their homes and served others with true Southern Hospitality.
Women from churches I have attended that have been loving examples of wives, mothers, sisters, daughters. So many who have been part of my "cloud of witnesses". So many that have touched my life by opening up and sharing their lives.
Rumor has it that this picture came from Missouri...but does it really matter?
I look at this group of women and I am thankful to them. They are a constant reminder of the important women in my life.
Aren't these women the same women today that are in each of our churches, communities and families? Aren't these same women touching our lives every day? They are the ones serving behind the scene in groups we belong to. We don't always notice them. We don't see them looking on, wiping their hands on their "apron" and smiling as they serve in background.
I love how The Message words the same text in Hebrews 12:1: "1-3Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
January is the time of year that many of us reflect on last year's goals and set new goals for the coming year.
As I look up at these women I know they have blazed the way before me. They have sacrificed much, not only for themselves and their families, but for their church, their communities...for women to follow. I may not know their names, but I know their legacy.
They are cheering me on to strip off all those "old" things that hold me back.
Letting go of what lies behind and looking forward...continuing to run the race God has set before me.
Keeping my eyes forward to the finish line...shedding off those things that are dragging me down.
My "great cloud of witnesses"...I can hear them calling out to me, urging me ever forward!
To all the women in my life...thank you.
You are changing me, spurring me on and continually teaching me His ways!