Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Backwards

We lived last weekend backwards. We started out with a funeral on Saturday then followed it with a Baptism Sunday morning and finally celebrated a birth when we got home from the baptism.

We began our weekend with a memorial service in New Braunfels. Ann had died over two weeks ago but it seems to be a growing trend to not hurry with things for a death and it makes a lot of sense.  People are getting cremated and there’s no rush. This gives folks time to plan if they need time off work or travel out of town.  The biggest benefit in the delay is that we get time to recover from the shock and a lot of the deep mourning.  And this was good. Some of us had already mourned the loss of Ann Tubbs 15 years ago so instead we celebrated the 15 bonus years God gave us.  A couple of people have asked me for a copy of what I said at the service so I'm going to post it at the end of today's blog.  In case you don't have the time or inclination to read it let me just report that there wasn't an empty seat in the Sanctuary and that says it all.

Our girls joined us on Friday and it became a sort of mini-vacation.  I couldn’t remember the last time we had spent time together without the two granddaughters and it was nice to have a change of pace.  Both Elizabeth and Emily loved Ann and it was a testimony to not only Ann’s character but theirs as well that they wanted to take the time off work and expense of travel. It was "paying their respects" in the most literal sense of the word.

We make statements with where we place our feet.  From funerals to mission trips you can say a lot just by where you place your body.  And my girls wanted to express their admiration and love by driving six hours.  It says a lot when you do that.

Once they got to the hill country we realized we had more time than we had expected and well...  there were the Outlet Stores in San Marcos just waiting for us so it didn't make any sense NOT to check them out.  Then there was the new Buc-ees gas station.  I had never heard of them and in case you haven't either, let me just say that it was the most awesome gas station I have ever seen in my life.  It might be the biggest and best in the world.  Give them a Google.  They have 120 gas hoses.  Yes.  120.  And if the ability to fill yourself up is irresistible so is the ability to empty yourself out.  I didn't count the bathroom stalls but there are gobs of them and they are the best and cleanest I've ever seen. They have A WALL of candy.  An in-store Wendy’s with computerized ordering:  you go to a kiosk, touch the screen to order, swipe your card and wait for your number to be called.  And in-store BBQ counter. And a huge gift shop.  It was like the State Fair of gas stations.

Ann’s memorial service equaled Buc-ees in quality and quantity.  As I stood to say my “few words” I looked out at the room and couldn’t help say, “Did anyone really think there would be an empty seat here today”?  When it was over I was glad I had Linda Terpstra to hold on to.  A long and happy chapter of my life had closed.

Our next event of the weekend was a baptism.  As we sat down in church Sunday I heard the lady behind me tell her husband there sure were a lot of visitors today and it must be for the baptism.  I couldn’t help but turn and tell her “Honey, you haven’t seen a baby baptized until you’ve seen a Holloman baptized.”  LilyMae’s grandfather was our pastor in Garland.  Her aunt and uncle are both ministers.  In total, we had five Presbyterian pastors in the Sanctuary Sunday. You already know my take on baptism so I won’t repeat here except to say it was everything a baptism should be and more. It was the Buc-ees of Baptisms.

And what could crown such a weekend better than a birth?  Our neighbors’ cow gave birth Saturday morning.  We’ve known Suzi Cow since she was a baby herself and were so proud to see what a great little mother she is. Baby's name is Clarabelle and I have been promised fresh milk when she is old enough to share with others.

Life goes on.  People die and calves are born and in between we have a few ceremonies to affirm life, to say that what happens in between is important.

The gist of it, the core lesson, of the entire weekend is something I learned a long time ago:  We are all called to a ministry I like to call Being Part of People’s Lives.

The importance we attach to the people we love is what gives the attachment, the bond, its meaning.  You can have a loose attachment if you want, a perfunctory one, a formal, distant one, and the bond will be loose. And it might be dry and listless. Or you can gamble your heart, risk your time and attention on people and sometimes you win the lottery.

Anyone who ever had the opportunity to be Ann Tubbs' friend definitely won the lottery.  Here are my "few words:"
Very seldom in a person’s life do they encounter someone like Ann Tubbs.  She had a rare combination of both spiritual wisdom and common sense.  I’ve sifted through some of the words people have used to describe her and “integrity” was used a lot. So was the word “substantial”, strong,  thoughtful, classy, and generous.  For over thirty years I watched her act with integrity and generosity on many occasions and she always did it quietly.  She was not one to enjoy the spotlight.

We shared a variety of experiences with each other, from Girl Scouts with our daughters to riding in a bus down dirt roads in Guatemala to sitting around in her backyard just talking. We even got sent to the principal’s office once—which is what we called a summons from the moderator of Grace Presbytery to come explain to him exactly what we were doing in Guatemala.  Nobody loved being a renegade more than Ann.  And we’ve all seen that expression of glee she got when she was plotting a small rebellion.

She had so many talents that I couldn’t name them all but there was one very rare and coveted talent that all Girl Scout leaders wish they had:  She was deaf.  When night came and we put 16 fourth-grade girls down, supposedly for the evening, Ann just took out her hearing aids and slept the sleep of the angels and we were all jealous.

Ann was always the person everyone went to for advice.  I called her a couple of days after 9/11 because I had had a horrible nightmare and need reassurance.  She told me I was the third person to call her about nightmares and that everyone was having them.  She had an easy-going way of talking you off the ledge.  But she also knew when to use humor.  She once gave me a kitchen towel that read, “Put your big girl panties on and just deal with it.”

She was an expert Tom Sawyer.  If she saw a need she would volunteer to fill it, but then she would invite you to come work with her.  And it would be so much fun you would invite others to join you.  The next thing you knew, somehow you were in charge of the project and Ann had moved quietly to the cheerleader bench.

For many years she hosted an annual Halloween bonfire for a group of friends.  We would eat chili dogs and pack up goody boxes for the college kids.  Then we would sit outside and solve a few of the world’s problems.  One year the bonfire had ended up perilously close to some new peach trees she had planted.  Well, you can’t move a bonfire so Ann got some sheets that she doused with water and draped over the trees.  As the fire grew the neighbors on the other side of their lake saw the white sheets and our fire with us walking around it and they reported us to the police.  When Charlie answered the door the police told him that there had been reports of witchcraft at his house.  When Charlie finished laughing he told the cops that it was a group of ladies from the church and that we were probably sitting around talking about the bible….which, in fact, we were. But from that day on, we referred to our group as the Witches of Willow Lake.

Ann loved to watch the night sky.  I don’t think she ever missed a lunar eclipse or a meteor shower, even the ones at 3 a.m. –and she would usually invite you to come watch it with her—even the ones at 3 am.  She loved to see what the stars were doing on a clear night;  she could identify constellations I’ve never even heard of.  She introduced me to the colors of the Pleiades.  Looking through her telescope, they looked like Christmas lights twinkling in the sky.

Probably the most defining event in Ann’s life was her near-fatal car accident in 1998. Once they got the news people dropped everything and drove to Ft Worth to sit with Charles and Karen throughout the evening.  By the time we decided it was safe to go home, we circled up for a prayer and there were 30 people in that circle holding hands-- All who had come in the middle of the night from far away just because we loved Ann.

She almost died more than a few times from rolling the car down an embankment and into a farmers field.  She was in a coma for over a month while having just about every organ in her body hooked up to some kind of tube.  After she pulled the rabbit out of the hat and survived, she had a lot of rehab to go through.  She had to spend a lot of time retraining her brain and she didn't enjoy the math problems they made her do.  "I never enjoyed balancing my checkbook before and it's not any fun now."

I drove her to her rehab appointments a couple of times.  One time we got totally lost on our way to therapy and I calculated that between us we had over 50 years of experience driving in downtown Dallas-- How could we be lost?   As I laughed at our predicament, she said, “Yeah, but I have brain damage.  What’s your excuse?"

I’m not so sure about the brain damage because she was still the smartest and wisest person in any room.

Immediately after that wreck, it looked very bad and only got worse as the days went by and the days drug on for far too long.  In the beginning, her friends sent indignant memos to God and we didn’t pull any punches:    Our messages went something like this:  “GOD…What in the hell are you thinking?  You can’t do this. This is Ann Tubbs we’re talking about.  She’s the one person down here who makes any sense.  Listen up, God, this is serious. This chick is on your side.  She’s down here making you look good.   You can’t take her from us. We’re not finished with her.”   I’m sure that if God worked on a “majority rules” system Ann would have hopped out of bed immediately.

But it wasn’t over in the first day.  It drug on a long time. Six weeks is a long time to live with uncertainty. As the days drug on, instead of indignant, we became pathetic and pleading.  Finally, we were just exhausted.   We all told God the same thing:  “I just can’t pray any more. I’m beat.   I’m exhausted.  I surrender.  I will just have to figure out how to do it without Ann.”

 And that same day we surrendered and let God be in charge, Ann turned the corner.

She just woke up one day.  Her first conscious thought was that she was late to Karen’s graduation, which is where they were headed before the wreck.  The brain is a fascinating thing. The mind and the soul are so interconnected that it makes you wonder where one stops and the other begins. And as much as Ann knew about the brain I think she was as puzzled as we were.

Later she told our group of friends that she had had a “visit” while she was in the coma-- a vision; possibly a near-death experience.  She said she looked over to find a woman sitting on the side of her bed. The woman was so real to Ann that when she described the woman to us later she was able to go into such detail that we can still picture her.   Ann described the woman as an old weathered Indian.  She called her a crone.  The old Indian Crone explained that she had been sent to give Ann instructions. When Ann told me the message the Crone had given her I wrote it down, knowing I was receiving wisdom I never wanted to forget.  Here are the words the Indian Crone gave Ann…  Ann would need three things: 

Patience.  Persistence.  And Knowing when to let go. 

We are gathered together today to remember Ann and because It is our turn to know when to let go. Each one of us had a different relationship with Ann and each one of us hates to let her go. For the last 15 years we have all been holding so tightly to her, not ready to let her go.  It is time to release our grip, relax our hands, and let go of a woman we hold so dear.

Charlie and Karen, Caroline and Mary Beth:  you have been Patient.  God knows you have been Persistent.  It’s time now for you to Know When to Let Go.  It’s time for us all to let go. But every time we look at the night sky we will remember how much she loved us and we will feel her presence.  I like to think she will become part of the Pleiades and will shine down on us like twinkling Christmas lights.

The people who were part of Ann’s journey through life hold the last 15 years as a bonus.  We can’t complain.  We have no more angry memos to God.  No more pathetic pleadings.  Only surrender.  And thanks.

Thank you God—for creating a person like Ann Haynes Tubbs and for the gift of knowing her.  God, thank you for the 15 years.  Fifteen years of hiking and planting and star gazing with Charlie.  Time to watch her daughter grow as a mother and time to watch her grandsons grow into handsome young men. Precious time with her sisters.  God, we pleaded with you for more time and you gave it to us.  And for that, we thank you.  Amen.  

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