The following is a blog post from December 2009. Tom is one of the reasons I decided help start this outrageous goal of collecting coats and blankets for the homeless. Meet Tom…
Anyone following my blog knows that I have an offbeat sense of humor. I enjoy being what Jerod calls cantankerous, however, that’s not fitting for today. Yesterday, I attended my cousin’s funeral.
My cousin Jim and I got along well. He and I had some things in common: we spoke our minds and enjoyed a good debate. Jim was opinionated, and that was a quality I very much appreciated. Why did I appreciate it? Because people that are opinionated are passionate about their beliefs. They like to not only share it with others, but they like to explain their reasoning and give people something to think about. Beyond that, they love to hear opposing views and debate them. Jim did this, and did it well.
Our last conversation on the phone was about God. Jim was talking about why bad things happen to good people, and he was stating his views when I blurted out, “…it’s because God gave us the gift of free will.” He said, “That’s the point I’m trying to make here! Don’t steal my thunder!” We had the same view, but he was prepared for the debate. I miss him.
I’m going to say this publicly, I was not the best cousin. I didn’t call him very often. I had a call from him, a call I never got the chance to return. I’m struggling with that now. I was too busy to pause in all of my busyness and make a phone call.
My two hour trip to Gladewater to attend the memorial service was an unexpected blessing. I stopped at Wendy’s to grab a bite to eat. As I was driving back onto the highway, I saw a man with a sign asking for help. My first thought was to call him homeless, but I really have no way of knowing if that was the case, so I’m going to go with ‘impoverished’. He was sitting so close to the highway, it would have been difficult for anyone to make a spontaneous stop. I merged into traffic wishing I had stopped. I thought back to when I lived in downtown Chicago, passing homeless and impoverished people all the time. It was easy to help, because I saw so many of them on a daily basis. Now I live in the untroubled suburbs, a place where being impoverished is frowned upon and being homeless is not allowed. Out of sight, out of mind, right? I drove about ten miles, turned the car around and headed back. I wanted to not only buy him lunch and give him the few dollars I had, but I had a strong desire to talk with him.
I returned to Wendy’s, bought him a meal and drove across the street where he was sitting. As I got out of the car, he started to approach me. I gave him the lunch and the few dollars cash I had. He was very appreciative, although he declined the Coke because he can’t have sugar. I was so anxious to talk with him. I never had any lengthy conversations with an impoverished person, but I was eager to know more about him.
Before I go any further here, I need to tell you why I’m writing this. I’m not writing this to get praise for being a good person or for doing a random act of kindness for a stranger. I’m writing this to tell of how God can take a selfish person and change them. Yes, me, a very selfish person. I was convicted to go back to this man, not because I needed to do a good Christmas time deed, but because I wanted to genuinely do something that might make his day a little better. More than that, I wanted to get to know him, I wanted to know what we had in common.
This is Tom. Tom is an amazingly friendly man, a man who has fallen on some hard times. We talked about travel, abandoned houses, photography, art, the Bible and God. Tom has seen the Mona Lisa in person! The coolest thing about it was listening to him explain how he takes in a piece of art, the astounding details and just listening to him describe the experience. I wanted to take him and go find the closest art gallery and spend the day there with him. Reality check! I’m in Tyler, Texas. Art gallery? Probably not. And yes, I know, don’t talk to strangers and don’t pick up hitchhikers. Tom was not a stranger and what am I teaching my kids about people?
Tom is a leather artist and has also dabbled in woodworking. Tom has an NIV study Bible. He’s had it for about 5 years and he loves to take notes, write stories and draw pictures in it, just like I do. I, of course, made sure he was stocked with art supplies for the necessary creative scrawls.
As I spoke with Tom, I felt this beautiful warmth. I typically don’t look into people’s eyes too much because they look back. I avoid it. But his eyes were intriguing. His soul was glowing and you could see it through his eyes.
We talked for a while before I realized I was going to be late if I didn’t get back on the road. We said goodbye, shook hands and I climbed into my car. All of a sudden, I realized how cold I was. The temperature outside was 38 degrees and Tom was dressed for it. I was not.
My encounter with him really got me thinking about life and the way I live it. I could go on here for days talking about Tom. I wanted to stay there and talk to him. Having a ‘tinselectomy’ is a permanent thing and a good thing. I’m going to get out of Frisco more often, get out of my comfort zone and go help homeless and impoverished people. There are plenty of them around, but they will never be sitting in my front yard. I don’t want to be selfish. I’m going to go find them and do what I can to help. I am so blessed in so many ways. Talking to Tom yesterday was a blessing. His sign said he was broke and hungry. Aren’t we all?
Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied, “`You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: `Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”