To paraphrase Winston Zeddemore, when someone asks you to officiate a wedding in Hawaii, you say YES! And you bring your spouse and kids. Especially when it is for friends. So I was on a working vacation with my family last week when word came that Grandma Ruth died. The funeral service would be before we returned and I would miss it. I wasn’t actually related to Ruth Gray, but she was a long time family friend and was very important to me. I share with you what I sent to have read on my behalf as a way to continue the celebration of her life. ——————————————————————————————————– I’m very sorry I cannot be with all of you today as we mourn Ruth’s death and celebrate her life. I’m grateful you’ll indulge me in offering a few thoughts…especially since you know how dangerous it is to give a preacher a microphone – even from over 3000 miles away! Grandma Ruth was an amazing woman who always made an incredible first impression. In fact, here’s everything I remember from the first time I met her: [silence] You see, I was only 9 months old when Ruth Gray became my caregiver, so I don’t have a memory of that. But I know it didn’t take long for ‘Ruth Gray, caregiver’ to become ‘Grandma Ruth’ to me. I mean really, Jenny & Tracy called her Grandma, so why shouldn’t I? No two words better capture the Ruth Gray I knew than ‘caregiver’ and ‘Grandma’. I was lucky to have Grandma Ruth in my life, but I certainly wasn’t the only one. That’s why ‘caregiver’ is one of my words for her today. There’s the obvious sense of that word for her: she provided care for many children over the years. But even beyond that, Ruth was kind to all she met. She genuinely cared about the well being of other people. Even strangers. Now don’t get me wrong, she didn’t suffer fools lightly: a lesson this fool learned early and often! As trite as it may sound, I really did know – eventually, at least – that any time she reprimanded me, it was to teach me something. That was also part of how she expressed her care. I don’t recall ever having a direct conversation with Ruth about what it means to be a person of faith. I think now that we didn’t need to. She made loving God and loving others her way of life. Being a caregiver wasn’t just what she did, it was who she was. The prolific author and teacher, Father Richard Rohr writes: as faith deepens, “God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with you, and you are not afraid of making mistakes.” That’s the kind of faith Ruth taught me because that’s the kind of faith she lived. As for that other word, while it may have been simple mimicry that got me started calling Ruth ‘Grandma’, it very quickly became a fact. Her home became a second home for me: a place I ate and napped and played. A place I read and learned. A place I was welcome and safe and cared for. It was a place I was loved. I may not have been able to explain this at the time, but I now know that I called her Grandma Ruth because she loved me like I was her own – and I loved her the same way. I’ll miss you, Grandma Ruth. The world is a better place because you were in it. I am a better person because I knew you. May God’s peace be with us all.