I began writing this reflection as soon as I heard the news; however, I waited to put it on the blog. Gaines' much more eloquent post rightly appears (and should be read) first.
In our kitchen sits a small, sturdy, rectangular wooden stool. It is crafted well. It has survived three years of our standing on it to reach things from the top shelf, of holding heavy sacks of groceries, and of being used as a support for oversize boxes filled with food and supplies for numerous Apartment Life events. No matter what its use or location in our home, I will never be able to look at it without remembering its maker.
There are quite a few kitchens in the Atlanta area (and in parts beyond) that contain one of these stools. Mr. Tommy built them for perhaps a hundred or more couples as a wedding gift. I always smile when I see one in a friend or acquantance's house, because it is a tangible reminder that they, too, have been touched by his love.
His obituary tells me that his battle with cancer began long before I knew him (9 and 1/2 years ago), but the active lifestyle he and his wife led until shortly before his death told me otherwise. My history with them only extends about four years, since I only got to know them after Gaines and I began dating. However, I distinctly remember meeting them at the very first WMBC Fall retreat I attended, in 2000. Then, when I began visiting Gaines on the weekends not long after that, I remember being impressed both with their generosity and kindness to me, a virtual stranger, and with their stamina. For an older couple, they always seemed to stay up late! He and his wife used to walk 3+ miles a day in their hilly neighborhood and had a perpetually busy schedule, often visiting friends and family, as well as elderly members of the church who were too ill to attend. He always seemed healthy for his age, defying the best doctors' predictions, and continued to share Christ's word through his faithful service to our little church and with the Gideons. He even helped out with church renovation projects--the most recent in my memory being the heavy labor of tearing down a wall sometime last year. I have fond memories of dinners with them, even in these last few months, where Tommy insisted that we clear the table to play dominoes, even when he was feeling weak. In short, he was a walking miracle.
For a while now, our small group from church has used our Thursday night meeting time to visit with them at their home. One thing Tommy loved to do was sing, and so each week we would gather with some tattered blue hymnals to sing songs of praise to our Lord, many of which were unfamiliar to us young folks. No matter how many times we stumbled over the words or went off-key, their joy at hearing the old gospel songs sung again erased any lack of experience, skill or talent we might posess. Those hymn-singings became the highlight of my weeks. Though we were attempting to share some inkling of the generosity which they have shown to us, we were overcome with the hospitaliy and joy they displayed in the face of death. We weren't ministering to him, he was ministering to us!
A month ago, we thought we would be having his funeral, but when he bounced back the next week, we were greeted by a veritable feast of buttered biscuits and his wife's joyful exclamation, "There's no sick person in this house!" In the midst of his pain, Tommy had prayed to go Home, but if it was his Father's will he would like to stay on just a little longer to minister to others. And minister he did. Doctors, nurses, relatives and visitors could all share some way God has touched their lives through him, especially in the weeks before his death. Our friends wrote beautiful posts about his legacy.
The plethora of young couples at our church has meant that Tommy spent hundreds of hours in his workshop crafting each stool. However, these pieces of lacquered wood are not his real legacy. His example of a Christ-like life and his constant proclamation of the Gospel story as a preacher, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and surrogate grandparent to so many will survive long after his wooden stools turn to dust. I'd like to think, though, that on the day in which all things in earth and heaven will be redeemed, Tommy's wooden stools will be among those works of art displayed. Not necessarily for their craftsmanship or intrinsic, simplistic beauty, but because each was made for the glory of the Creator.
May the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace and rise in glory.