The ‘cloud’ is the silver lining, during COVID and beyond
When I reminded my husband that I was going to meet Mindy at her house to walk on Saturday, he said, “Who?”
“You remember, the woman who leads the online writing academy I’m doing? She lives here in town?”
He’d completely forgotten.
“How do you know her?”
“Where does she live?”
These and other questions came my way. For a man who had met me on a blind date after a single phone call and then invited me to dinner to meet his children the next night, he seemed too skeptical.
To ease his mind, I scrolled down the FlourishWriters website on my computer to a video of Mindy, speaking from her kitchen. The professional website and Mindy’s appearance seemed to put his mind at ease.
I had no fear of meeting this woman, even in her remote location, deep in the woods on the other side of town. She’d led our Zoom conference calls, workshops, and retreats for the writing academy. I’d made my way through every one of her podcasts. I knew her by heart, if not by face. Though I’d seen her face on my screen many times.
While my husband voiced his “woe is me, whatever will I do while you’re gone” montage, I made homemade toffee to make my visit sweet. I felt the opportunity to meet with Mindy as a gift and wanted to bring one to her and her family to thank her for her time. (We would end up walking and talking for nearly four hours. My husband found lawn work the answer to his “what will I do while you’re gone?”)
A cloud of witnesses
The following Monday, I was again one of many students in the academy as Mindy responded thoughtfully to each woman who voiced a question on our Zoom coaching call. As I scrolled through screen after screen of images of women from all over the world, I remembered how I had thought 200+ women in the online academy too many.
Now I see Michaela and Nancy and Denise and Johanna and Amanda. Live videos and names of women I am getting to know through our calls and the private community where we ask and answer questions, pray, and celebrate wins.
As I swam laps the morning after our call, Hebrews 12:1 came into my mind:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, ESV)
I thought, then, of these women as “so great a cloud of witnesses” on my journey as a writer. That’s what the author of Hebrews called the saints he’d numbered in Chapter 11 who walked “by faith.”
Perhaps I had heard a sermon about life after death that used that Scripture, perhaps it is the wording in the verse, but I always see the “cloud of witnesses” as fans — saints in heaven — in stadium seats cheering me as I run the race set before me.
I have imagined my own loved ones of faith who have left this life — my husband Bill, my grandmother, my mother and father, my father-in-love, my sister, my brother — in heaven, witnessing my life from their vantage point and cheering for me. (Those hyperlinks will take you to posts I wrote about each one, a treasure of memories that make me certain God has called me to write.)
But as I remembered my sisters in Christ in our FlourishWriters Academy online, I realized that they, too, are “so great a cloud of witnesses.” We are writers from all over the world joining together — in the cloud — to respond to God’s individual call to write.
God in the cloud
This week I have been reading the book of Exodus as part of the Bible in One Year plan. Since I’ve stopped multitasking my time with God, I’ve noticed so much more in the Scriptures. In Exodus Chapter 33, for instance, I saw the friendship Moses had with God for the first time.
Moses pitched a “tent of meeting” outside of Israel’s camp where he and others could inquire of God. They knew God was present because He appeared as a pillar of cloud that stayed at the entrance of the tent (v. 9). Scripture indicates that “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11).
But since God says that Moses couldn’t see His face or he would die (v. 20), we know that Moses was face to face with the presence of God in a cloud.
(You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?)
Since the pandemic started, we’ve had to limit our face-to-face meetings — because meeting in person, too, risks death or illness. We might spread COVID-19 without knowing we carried the disease. The cloud has been a way for us to meet face to face without sharing germs.
But consider Hebrews Chapter 11. The author lists Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and others. Some are listed not by name but by their faithful acts. Though these saints lived in all different time periods and locales, they are joined together in the “cloud of witnesses.”
So are we. My academy cloud has women of all ages from all over the world. The leaders purposely vary the times for workshops and coaching calls, knowing we are in different time zones, to make the calls more accessible. What may be midnight in the United Kingdom for one meeting time may be 5 p.m. there the next.
Relationships go the distance
When my first husband and I were dating, he lived in Wisconsin and I lived in Florida. It was the late 1980s. We didn’t have internet or smartphones or even inexpensive long-distance calling plans. We were poor college students with pens and paper and postage stamps — and a love strong enough to go the distance.
To hear Bill’s voice over the phone in those years? Like heaven. Had I been able to see him face to face over the cloud — for free? I can’t imagine the joy that might have been.
Today, we are blessed to have a “cloud of witnesses” we can see face to face though at a distance. The cloud is the silver lining for the pandemic and for opportunities such as an academy strictly online. Rather than Zoom fatigue, I experience Zoom energy when I’m on a call with these ladies.
Like the author of Hebrews, I could list my own heroes of the faith who have paved the way for writers of faith to gather as “clouds of witnesses.” Mindy and Jenny of FlourishWriters. Kimberley, Janis, and Mishael of the Koinonia publication on Medium.com. Deanne of Unstoppable Writers.
The cloud is a way to connect, develop relationships, encourage, inspire, and hold one another accountable. But while it may be the new “next best thing to being there,” we want more. Clearly, I am evidence of this. I was overjoyed to meet the leader of FlourishWriters face to face on Saturday (outside, socially distant, of course).
Like us, Moses wanted more than the cloud in his friendship with God.
“Now show me your glory,” he told the LORD (Exodus 33:18, NIV)
“I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you,” God responded, “and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence” (Exodus 33:19, NIV).
But He wouldn’t show Moses His face because he couldn’t see God’s face and live.
So God showed Moses his backside instead.
(Makes me satisfied with the cloud.) 😇
The Apostle Paul also realized that our fellowship with God is imperfect while we are here on Earth. In his first letter to the Corinthian church he said:
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV
When I’m on a Zoom call, with my video image staring at me as I view the others on the call, the cloud seems like a mirror. I’m often distracted by the view of myself as I see the others on the call. What a day it will be when we can take our eyes of ourselves and see each other — and our heavenly Father — face to face!
My friends, don’t undervalue the connections you make in the cloud. Be a part of that “cloud of witnesses.” It’s not only biblical, it’s also not the end. Just as we will see God face to face — knowing Him fully as He knows us — we will see each other, too.
What a glorious day that will be!
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