In many ways she is my opposite. She is effortlessly organized as if a West Point graduate. Organization is something for which I constantly strive but have no natural giftedness in. I have, however, fallen in deep love with my labelmaker. I have to have fun props to fool myself into systemically categorizing belongings. Colleen’s mind map of nourishment storage struck me last week as I opened her pantry which resembles an IKEA Ad far more than a location where a hungry family of four finds food.
I met this detailophile at the tender age of 11 at Fondren Middle School. I was still in my ahem…euphemism alert…big-boned phase and she was crowned with a curly brunette halo. Both of which calamities one good growth spurt for each of us would rectify. My predominantly Jewish Herod Elementary School Crew held together en masse which meant that most of my closest friends went to Saturday School at Temple. The first time I spent the night and mentioned my church, Colleen was very confused. She assumed that I was Jewish as well.
Colleen’s Mother, Mary Grace, laughed at her daughter’s assumptions. MG was an endless supply of one-liners which still reverberate 37 years later. When a constable came to The Gibbs’ door looking for her son Jack and later left, MG questioned Jack about what caused the altercation. He explained that a neighbor kid “flipped him off.” M.G. asked, “off your bicycle?” We were actually both looking for a snack in her Mom’s pantry and fell down laughing hysterically. We dropped like two fainting goats.
Colleen was my person through so many milestones. She watched my very first comedy performance at Camp Tejas in 7th grade and still keeps my speaking calendar to this very day. We tied up our families’ land lines for hours after our first day at rival High Schools. We spent literally all of our Summers between Westbury Baptist Church and Maplewood Pool. She, Cara and Jill (sweetest and smartest among us) skipped school to watch my cheerleader tryouts Junior Year. We all made cheerleader for our Senior Year which was (no exaggeration here) everything.
She went with my family to visit my two older brothers at Baylor when we were 15 and I was at her house the Christmas Morning to watch Colleen open her Baylor T-Shirt. This was M.G.’s way of giving her Irish Catholic blessing for Colleen to attend the very Baptist university. Colleen did attend Baylor with me and our shenanigans continued. Mainly we schemed about upperclassmen who had our utterly unrequited love. Once in Denny’s after such a conversation, a man leaned over as he was leaving and told us he hoped we wound up down the street from each other in houses with white picket fences. Did I mention that we could be loud in public? And self-unaware?
We graduated from college and I continued to Seminary for my Masters of Communication while Colleen landed a job in event planning at Dallas Fanfares. With her attention to detail and people skills, she flourished. I finally began loving school after 16 years and discovered another love: John. Well, actually re-discovered. Our former Youth Minister at Westbury, Steve Wilson, moved to a job at FBC Tyler. Sparks flew on a youth choir tour in 1985 when Colleen and I were assigned to spend the night at The Lake’s house. (Church families volunteer to house a few kids from the group.) The Lakes had three boys: Jody, Jonah, Kyle and one daughter: Kristie. I began dating the oldest, our age, who turned out years later to be one of John’s best friends. What a tangled web we weave!
Colleen was not only in our wedding but was the first at my reception to try to inform me that a screen behind my cake had been jostled by a renegade toddler, knocking the first few layers to the ground. Ever the fixer, Colleen tried to make things better before we arrived. When we did get there, she ran up to me with icing-laden hands to break the news. Unable to deliver the sad tale after stammering, she began crying and ran off. To this day, my favorite picture from the night is us cutting the reconfigured confection with icing prominently displayed on the lattice screen behind us.
You do not always value treasures for their true worth when you are young: one thinks there will always be an unending supply of smart, strong, praying women with which to do life. One assumes Mom and Dad will be ever-present to comfort and encourage you when you hit a speed bump or road block. There will always be more time to finish college, have children, prioritize a spouse, save money, get the kids in church or volunteer. When you are a child Christmas comes every 24 months, when you’re in charge of Christmas it happens every 6.
As way leads unto way and you live and lose and love and pray you notice the beauty of the tree ribbons others have tied, especially when a heartbreak slows time for you. Those ribbons are markers along the way that reassure you that God loves you and to simply keep walking. They are a life-line pointing forward which is the only real direction one can go with sanity. When we are intentional with those around us who are going through a rough patch, we are ribbon- tiers.
Colleen spent many, many nights giving me proof that come what may there was always hope. When we were in Jackson praying for God to spare our Maggie Lee in ICU, Colleen and so many others came to help. When she had to return to her small children, she stayed up praying literally all night long. Texting Bible Verses and prayers. She wanted me to know that I was not alone.
When my Father died, she tied a ribbon. Her faithful kindness extended to me in physical ways. Our Fathers were both incredibly kind and affable men. I lost mine and then she lost hers. And I tied after she lost MG. I was there with her to remind her that she was not alone. There is just something unforgettable about someone’s silent presence down life’s dark forests that gets imprinted on your memory.
I attest that although God could in one nanosecond deliver us from all disappointment and struggle that clouds our way He does not. God is not obligated to insulate us from the results of others poor choices made of their free will anymore than he protects other people against ours. But He does provide encouragement: friends are the ribbons tied in the trees reminding us that they cannot remove our great sadness but they can point us toward home. And that in our darkest days means the difference between hope and total despair. Life on Earth is not for the faint of heart. But what I have found is people who show up for me that know I will show up for them. This is only possible by God’s grace and often that ribbon looks a lot like you and me.