by Steven Norris
Sometimes truth hits us so hard that we wish deep down in our heart of hearts that it was a lie. This past Saturday, as I was going over my sermon, I took a break for a moment and scrolled through my Facebook feed. A friend had posted a picture with this opening sentence, “On the occasion of my ordination to ministry, Tommy wrote the words on this card…”
I was honored to serve on that ordination council and the “Tommy” in question was a mutual friend, so I read on. Immediately, I was struck by her use of the past tense. “Tommy was… Tommy had… Tommy saw… Tommy loved…” Then I came upon that fateful sentence, “I grieve deeply now at his death.”
I went to sleep on Saturday night in a state of utter disbelief. I awoke Sunday, hoping that it would all turn out to be a bad dream, only to find my social media awash in pictures and tributes to this friend and colleague who was really gone. Oh, how it wish it wasn’t true! Oh, how I grieve for his wife Laura and their three boys! Oh, how I grieve for the family of First Baptist Church of Asheville, NC, the church where Tommy ministered.
I wanted to add my own words of tribute. I pulled up my picture file and began searching for an image to accompany my words. I couldn’t find a one. How in the world is that possible? Did we never take a picture together?
As I pondered this, it dawned on me: Tommy and I became friends long before I carried around a camera in my pocket. When we met together, it was usually just the two of us, gathered in a quiet prayer room off the sanctuary of FBC Asheville. There was no one else present to document those sacred moments as we established a morning prayer routine that I continue to this day.
When our family became foster parents, Tommy made sure that our foster children had a spot in FBC’s daycare. It was located a block from the DFCS office, making visits with the kids’ mother and social worker that much simpler. I’m not sure how Tommy worked it all out, but we never paid a dime out-of-pocket.
Over the length of our friendship, Tommy challenged me to grow as a pastor. He opened doors for me to exercise my gifts within his own community of faith. He showed up for events at our little church that was located just down the street from his home. He prayed for me, consoled me, counseled me, and encouraged me in that huge open-hearted, generous, life-giving way that he treated everyone he met.
It strikes me that there are people in our lives whose qualitative presence dwarfs their quantitative one. Though his picture doesn’t show up in my social media feed, it looms large in the memory of my heart. I pray that you have such people who leave indelible marks on your heart that bear a striking resemblance to the fingerprints of Jesus. I pray that God may see fit to use me in such a way as I follow my friend’s example.