Last Thursday, Ross and I met Tom. He is first mentioned in linvilles in Love with new friends (3rd paragraph). We met Tom in Raleigh, on the corner of Durant Rd. and Capital Blvd. He was just walking along when I saw him, and then the Holy Spirit moved me: “Yeah, get him” was the impression I got. I told Ross to get his attention and see if he wanted a ride. He certainly did.
I will not put a picture of Tom up, but he’s a good looking guy of 24 years; very friendly southern drawl that bespeaks of intelligence, despite expletives. He was so nicely dressed that one could’ve thought him just another extremely environmentally conscious fellow walking to work, if not for the bags he carried. He unhesitatingly jumped into the car with a big smile and an unapologetic openness in expressing what he needed.
Tom wanted us to take him south. Our destination was north. We went south, but not as far as he wanted. Veder (1995 Volvo station wagon) is no longer a long distance kind of car. Tom was good at small talk. He told us about the hard times he’d been experiencing: getting kicked out by his mom, getting in with a bad crowd, getting a DUI, losing his driver’s license; with no explanation for why he was kicked out by his mom to begin with.
We dropped him off at the bus station in the Triangle Town Center Mall’s outer loop. On the way, we attempted to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He thwarted this with a plethora of exclamations that he was indeed a “born again Christian,” which clearly contradicted the lifestyle he had just described; but that didn’t seem to bother him as he now divulged to us his abounding Christian devotion. We parted ways after exchanging cell phone numbers. Yes, he had a cell phone.
Working with homeless people in the past, and knowing how they can often just disappear, I assumed that this would be the last time I would see Tom. It wasn’t.
Driving home from work on Monday, I received a call. The caller ID read “Tom” so I answered: “(Hello, this is Mr. linville.)” Silence. “(Mr. linville here, is anyone there?)”
(~Side note: Ross told me that since I’m recalling this dialog from memory, I should use “(…)” instead of just “…” ~)
“(Uh, is Mr. linville there?)” came the response.
“(Yes, this is Mr. linville. Who is this?)” A car honked on the other end.
“(Hey, I need to speak to Mr. linville. Is this Mr. linville’s phone?)”
“(Yes, it is, and this is Mr. linville speaking.)”
“(Dude, it’s Tom. Hey, I’m sorry to bother ya, but I’m not gonna lie, I need some help.)”
“(Sure thing, man. How can I help?)”
“(Well, I’m here off Capital Blvd., man, at the Walgreens across from the Crystal Palace, you know. I need some money to find a place to sleep tonight, man. If you could just spare $20 bucks that’s all I would need, man. I’m just here off Capital, you know. Are you close to here? I’m being honest, man, $20 bucks would help so much. Dude, Mr. linville, man, could you please help me out?)”
“(Not really Tom. I’m already way north of where you are, and I don’t hand out cash.)”
“(Ah, man, that’s okay dude. I’ll be honest with you, man, I’m just glad you answered. People aren’t honest anymore. They say they’ll answer, but they don’t. My mom doesn’t answer. My dad doesn’t answer, you know. People lie. But I won’t lie to you, man. If you got $10 bucks, that would be helpful too, you know? You’re a Christian dude. I need to be around someone like you who’s honest. I know you’re honest cuz you’re a Christian. You don’t even have $10 bucks?)”
“(Yeah, okay, yeah. Thanks man.)” *click*
I wanted that to be the end. I wanted to drive home, change clothes, eat dinner, and relax with Mrs. linville. I wanted to get a good nights sleep for work the next day. I wanted to forget about Tom. Ignore his need. Close my eyes to the figure hiding in the bushes trying to sleep. Pretend he’s unafraid of bugs, and snakes, and thieves, and death. I wanted to just let him disappear. God wouldn’t let me.
Then the King [Jesus] will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matt. 25:34-40, ESV
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. Matt. 5:38-42, ESV
Such verses flooded my mind. I had to pray. Pray for wisdom regarding what I could do. Pray for peace regarding what I was going to do. I called Mrs. linville. She was amazing. Her faith in God and readiness to serve in whatever way possible astounded me. We prayed together. It was good. I called Tom:
“(Hey Tom. Mrs. linville and I just talked. If you’d like a warm meal and a place to lay your head tonight, we’d be honored if you would stay at our place. The only exception is that you will have to be ready to leave with me at 5:30am tomorrow morning when I go to work.)”
His response was one of pure gratitude. He knew exactly what buses to take to get to me. We agreed that when he arrived in Wake Forest, he would give me a call and I’d go pick him up. When the call came 2 hours later, he was still in Raleigh. He was at the Triangle Town Center’s outer loop bus stop where I had initially dropped him off last Thursday. Going and getting him without Ross just seemed wrong, so I called Ross up and together we headed out. This was not an easy decision on the Smith(s) part in light of an overdue date night they’d been planning. I thank the Smith(s) for their willingness to put others before themselves. They are so cool.
God rewards faithfulness. Before Ross and I had driven even one mile, Tom called. He had caught the Wake Forest bus and was right around the corner. We made it back in less than 10 minutes. Ross and Sarah got to go on their date AND be a part of God’s work in Tom’s life. God is so gracious!
As Tom walked toward us from the bus stop, the first thing we noticed was that he had acquired a rolling suitcase (not a big one; but like a duffel bag with wheels). When he got in the car, we noticed more. Tom was totally drugged up. He immediately confessed that he was on Hydrocodon because of the pain in his hand, at which point we saw the stitches and the gash in his right hand. According to Tom, he was cut wrestling a knife away from a lady friend of his who was attempting to stab herself to end her life.
It was difficult to believe anything he said. His eyes were glazed over and droopy with dark circles beneath. He was fidgety and quietly chuckled to himself as he attempted to communicate. These attempts failed. He repeated random things he had already told us all the way home. Getting a little unnerved, I confronted him for an explanation about his behavior. He was unable to give me a straight answer about anything. Except that I could trust him; he prefaced almost every sentence with “I’ll be honest with ya, man,” or “I won’t lie to ya, man.” That made trusting him difficult.
Sitting in the car beside Ross, I began to struggle. Twisting around to look this guy in the eye, it felt like my spirit was also being twisted. Mentally, I began to doubt this decision. I began to believe that Tom’s choice to get this way exempted him from mercy. What if this guy snapped? What if he killed all of us as we slept? What is he carrying in those bags? What am I about to allow into my home? Drugs? Needles? Knives? Guns? Bombs? Anthrax?
(~Side note: like you, this was my FIRST thought when considering the repercussions of taking Tom in; but God gave me peace about it. My selfishness, however, never stopped screaming against it and as my fears grew, my focus on God slipped. When God falls out of focus, the world becomes a terrifying place, and I was becoming terrified.~)
I had to pray. Silently, staring at Tom, I begged God for help. God responded immediately. Before my eyes, Tom transformed. I no longer saw a sad, broken, bleeding, and untrustworthy thief. In my back seat sat Jesus Christ. However you want to take that, there he sat. No, I didn’t see Christ’s face in place of Tom’s, but Christ veiled Tom so as to powerfully remind me that I was safe. My family was safe. Ross and I, and our families, we are almighty God’s; of whom shall we be afraid? Of none.
Tom slept like a baby. Better than a baby. Mrs. linville fixed us a delicious meal, lovingly prepared Tom’s bed, and truly made him feel like a part of the family, which he expressed to me later. Joining us in family devotions, Tom was zealous and enthusiastic about the sonship promised to the followers of Christ. When he heard Ephesians 1:5-6, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved,” he freaked out at Christ being called the Beloved. He designed a tattoo for it and designated the entirety of his right forearm to it on the spot. I had never really meditated on Christ as being the Beloved. Tom’s observation was a blessing.
The morning had to come. Tom and I enjoyed some scrambled eggs and toasted bagels with orange juice. My heart ached at the possibility of putting him back on the street. After a night of eating together, singing together, and sharing together, I new – at least in part – that my previous fears were unwarranted. Tom very easily could’ve been me, if my life had happened to him, and I would’ve definitely been him, if his life had happened to me. The saying is horribly true: that we fear the unknown. Oh, how we fear it. I thank God, who knows all things, that he comforted me and overcame my fears.
5:20am and back in the car, Tom was a different person. Aware, lucid, and scared, he spoke clearly and intelligibly, the way he did when we first met. As we drove south, to Lake Boone Trail, he expressed true conviction over his sins. He told me things that would’ve made me pull over and kick him out. He looked to me for hope. I hesitated, still processing what he had shared. That’s all his doubt needed. He wept, certain that he had ruined his chances at ever knowing God. Recovering, I had to almost scream his name three times to get him back. He was upset. Totally sure of his conclusion. Resigned to his damnation, what more could I possibly know that could comfort?
I shared with him what God wanted. I shared with him God’s standard, which Tom totally understood in light of seeing the clarity of his sin. God wants holiness. God’s standard is his own holiness. Nothing less can save. I told Tom that this meant that all people were hopeless. The most benevolent man in the world could not give enough to please God. I saw something click in Tom’s eyes. The Spirit was giving him understanding. He said, (“That’s why we need Jesus!)” and I was able to tell him what he had heard all his life, but this time with ears that hear.
For Tom, there was no need to repeat a prayer after me. There was no canned incantation recited. God was after Tom, just as I saw last Thursday. Tom’s salvation was happening, one day at a time, and spiritually, he was soaring. Physically, however, he was sinking like a stone. He had not slept well due to the pain in his hand for five days. I prayed again about what I could do. The Lord laid on my heart the story of the good Samaritan. I then prayed for peace about what I was going to do.
Only two miles from where I worked, there is a Ramada Inn. I checked Tom in at 6:00am and he could stay there all day and into the next day until 12:00pm. We found his room and got him settled. I gave him some Scripture to read and think about, prayed for him, and said goodbye.
This story enabled me to share my faith with three co-workers that day. With one I was even able to share a little bit of the gospel. I prayed earnestly that Tom was using this time wisely. When I checked my cell phone, I had 2 messages from Tom. Listening to them made me smile. He had slept well after I dropped him off. He said that when he awoke, he jumped into the Bible and now had too many questions to leave on a voice mail. He had watched the 700 Club on TV, which got him thinking about the judgement day, and then Raleigh, NC felt the tremors from Mineral, Virginia’s 5.8 earthquake. He was sure it was the end of the world.
After work I went back to check on him before heading home. He met me in the hall, too excited to wait for me to take 10 more steps. The barrage of questions was hard to keep up with. We examined passages together until his questions dwindled. I walked him through Matthew 24, emphasizing that the sign of famines and earthquakes was but the beginning of the end. He was glad there was still time to talk to his family about God! He ran, got his phone, went to the hotel’s phone, read and dialed a number, and handed it to me. “(What’s going on?)” I asked. “(Tell my brother about Jesus.)” he said. “(Oh, and that I didn’t sell cocaine to get this room.)” I couldn’t help but chuckle at the proximity of those two requests.
His brother didn’t answer the phone, so I left him a message explaining how Tom didn’t sell cocaine to get the room, but how God had put him there through me because of His love for Tom. It didn’t feel right to go much further than that on a voice mail, so I hung up. Tom was overjoyed. We looked over a few more scriptures about God’s provision and power and then, at Tom’s request, bowed down together and prayed. Tom’s prayer was totally selfless. He asked that God would take care of my family, bless us, keep us healthy, grow Judah up strong, and let the new baby be born healthy. I felt so honored to be a part of this.
After leaving Tom to let him get some sleep, I felt so full of the Spirit. Getting to share this, getting to tell of God’s work in Tom’s life, has been such a tremendous privilege. Nevertheless, even after experiencing all that, my fearful flesh creeped in. The next day I began to worry that Tom would not check out at 12:00pm and I’d get billed for another day. I began to worry that Tom had rented a bunch of movie’s through the hotel, had ordered room service and booze, and had run up a huge tab. My fears grew so much that I called the hotel to double check. Tom had done no such thing. In fact, Tom had checked out at 9:00am. He was gone.
I called his cell phone several times to see how he was doing, where he was going, but he never answered. As I pray for him, I am given peace that he’s walking with God. I have confidence that I’ll see him again, whether because he’s failed or succeeded, I don’t care. We are all wrecks. We all need God; and all who walk with Him succeed. I look forward to reuniting with Tom someday; though if it’s not here below, then I pray it’s up above.
(thanks for reading this crazy long post)