The last time I saw Tom alive was in mid-Novem­ber, 2016, at his home in Okla­homa City. I opened the front door, walked down a famil­iar hall­way lined with books, and there was Tom sit­ting in his favorite chair in the liv­ing room. His eyes lit up when he saw me. Chris, how ya doing?”, a ques­tion he had asked me hun­dreds of times over the past twen­ty-nine years.

Tom had been grow­ing increas­ing­ly weak, and he couldn’t rise when I walked up; I bent down and gave him a big hug, part of our reg­u­lar rou­tine. This time the hug was prolonged. 

I had come to Okla­homa City for a board meet­ing of the Cen­ter for Ear­ly African Chris­tian­i­ty, one of the many projects Tom had ini­ti­at­ed and led. Soon the board meet­ing began. We were all close friends of Tom. As the meet­ing pro­gressed, I think we all sensed an era was soon to end. 

Tom let us know that he prob­a­bly wouldn’t be say­ing much, and as I watched him from across the room for the next few hours, I not­ed a dis­tant look in his eyes. Oh my,” I said to myself. He’s already left us.” What was he see­ing? What was he hear­ing? When will he be leav­ing us?” I won­dered. It would not be long before my ques­tion was answered. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I had to leave the meet­ing ear­ly. There was a plane to catch and it would not wait for me. I walked across the room. One last hug. One last time to whis­per in his ear, I love you, Tom.” I love you, too, Chris.” As I start­ed to rise he held on tight­ly; one last, long hug from my frail friend. I think we both knew that we wouldn’t be see­ing each oth­er for a good while. 

Tom seemed to shrink before our eyes as over the last year he lost more and more weight. Then the shock of his old­est son’s stroke and death in Sep­tem­ber had laid into him. No one should have to bury their kids, and after Clark’s death I sensed Tom with­draw­ing, less engaged in his work. A shift of focus was occurring. 

Yet what a life he had led. God had blessed Tom’s voca­tion and his work. Indeed, a prayer Tom had prayed when he was thir­ty-five had been gra­cious­ly answered: 

This cost­ly gift of life is now half spent.
Thou hast entrust­ed me with breath and flesh.
Enable me, if time still shall remain.
To plunge my mus­cle, bone, and heart and brain
To hon­or thee by serv­ing neigh­bors near at hand
Whose suf­fer­ing only thou canst under­stand”
(35th birth­day, 1966)

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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