I inched forward a bit on my knees, toward the door that stood barely ajar at the end of the hall. Light bent around the frame at odd angles, casting zig zag lines on the L-shaped carpet in front of me. I didn’t really care about the lines; I was trying to hear the sounds from the room and I was concentrating on being quiet, because I was supposed to be asleep. I was eavesdropping on someone’s conversation and that conversation concerned me. His voice was breaking as he alternately spoke and wept. Once I reached the door and laid my head on the floor, I could see the bottoms of his worn black shoes. He couldn’t see me. I strained to hear. He was talking about me; I caught my name. He seemed worried about me, kept repeating his petition that I would know my worth and act accordingly. My worth? I’m just a kid, I thought. I didn’t have a job and hadn’t done anything of note. Just a kid.
I listened to him carry on this way for what seemed like a long time and grew sleepy from the repetitive canter of his voice as he asked for protection for me, a presence with me and again, that I would realize how valuable I am and act in a manner becomming my worth. That word floated through the door to me again and again — worth, worthy, worthiness… Years later, I remember that experience, and the countless other times I spied on his private conversations because I couldn’t understand why he was so concerned with my worth. My grandfather wasn’t going to sell me or trade me for anything. I admit to being slightly stupid about self-awareness at times and just couldn’t see what worth I possibly possessed.
Then, we studied Hebrews. Chapter 11 – the Faith chapter. It listed all the amazing accomplishments our mothers and fathers managed by faith. I would never stack up to Abraham or Rahab or Samson. None of those, as Hebrews 11 explains, received what was promised because God had promised us something better — they did all that and still didn’t receive what had been promised? And then! 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.” All those men and women of faith are witnesses to the promises of God. My grandfather was a faithful witness, too.
I called him “Bebop” and his name was my first word. He would let me make terrible concoctions in his kitchen and he’s always do his best to stomach my creations. He took me to the bookstore every summer Monday and would buy an armful of books for me and when, by Thursday, I’d read them all, he would take me to the library for some more. We went to the park and he built a treehouse for my sister and me. We hunted worms in his backyard and crawfish in the bayou behind his house. And then, in the afternoon, when I was tired, he’d come in to rest his eyes and I’d creep into the hallway to listen to him pray. What a witness! He had been a preacher, sometimes and done iron work on buildings downtown. He had an incredible pineapple cake recipe the little old ladies at church fought over. He told stories to me in a room he’d arranged as a tent and came to all my piano recitals. So what if he didn’t part the sea or save Israel? He was a witness to me.
But those characters in Hebrews 11, they didn’t receive what had been promised. Bebop didn’t receive his promise here, either. I know I wasn’t the only person he prayed for on those afternoons when he thought I was snug in bed — I heard him pray for others, too, but at least where I was concerned, I don’t think he saw his prayers answered. I still – over a decade after his death – don’t think of myself as having a ton of personal worth. I tend to mistrust compliments from others and suspect them of having other motives for being nice to me. I pray that God’s promise to my grandpa is fulfilled and that whatever worth I possess, my actions will reflect. I will certainly attempt to live up to the great cloud of witnesses, to throw off those things that hinder and the sin that entangles and just run the race. I know I’ll have a cheering section when I finish, in one amazing witness.