Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Friday, December 6, 2013

Tom Lamb

Picture by Catherine Buca

A Tribute to a Friend and Brother

A kind and gentle man.  A doting and passionate husband.  A loving and caring father.   These are only some of the words that mark the man Tom Lamb.  It wouldn't be farfetched to believe that when Tom passes from this life and steps into eternity there will be people too numerous to count grieved to see him go.

Too often when someone dies, the loved ones left behind wish they would have done more to express their feelings, to say I love you, or to make amends.  We reflect on the past and what could have been.  We’re reminded of the good times.  I believe it is healthy to reflect on their memories while remembering the legacy they left behind.  It’s part of the grieving process.

But sometimes we have the rare opportunity to speak from our hearts before God takes them home.  If the relationship is healthy and the conversations are generally open and honest, they already know how you feel.  Sometimes, though, we leave some things left unsaid.  We expect the person to know how we feel.  The thing is, unless we speak the words, do they really know?

That’s what I want to express here.  I think sometimes I leave things unsaid.  I can be uncomfortable being open with my feelings.  But I know I have a rare opportunity to express my feelings for a great friend who has touched my life.  And the best way I know how is through writing.  That’s what I want to do for my cousin, my friend, and my brother in Christ.

Tom’s life has distinct meaning.  God knew the purpose for which he brought Tom into our lives.  I’m reminded of Romans 8:28, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purposes.”  It is true that Tom went through some difficult periods in his life.  Those times often brought pain.  It brought pain to his life and the lives of others close to him.  If that’s all there was that would certainly be a tragic ending.  But God used those moments in his past and still does.  The beauty of those moments can be seen throughout his life.

This isn't to marginalize Tom or the value that he has brought into each of our lives. It should be seen in the context of being human; a man whose life was dramatically changed by a single event in history. Like each one of us Tom lived a life of a sinner. What turned his life around isn't an event that Tom can even take credit for.  I'm sure Tom would be the first to concede that if it weren't for Jesus his life would be a total wreck.  Jesus is the One who deserves all the credit and all the praise.

Like many of us, Tom had to go through a season to face his desperation and his need for a Savior.  Some realize this need earl y in life.  For others it takes time.  One thing is for certain though.  Tom came to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior at just the right time.

The evidence of Christ in Tom’s heart is unmistakable.  I saw it on many occasions:  how he spoke to a homeless man and treated him with dignity and respect; when he befriended an immigrant and took time and effort to help him and his family get acclimated to Des Moines; taking the daunting task of leading children’s Sunday school classes for preschoolers; loving Tammy as his wife and being transparent with her; opening up his life and heart to me as a friend, sharing his struggles and encouraging me in my walk with the Lord; and many other such moments where he’s impacted people in extraordinary ways.

I’m certain that whether it’s in his job, at church, at home or in his community, Tom is recognized for having made an impact.  I remember that whenever I was around Tom there were usually times that he would run into someone he knows; often people he knew from years past.  Tom always had and has a knack for making others feel special.  He took time to engage and ask questions and show a genuine interest in them, whoever they were.

I remember after meeting Tom for the first time.  It was during a time in my life before I knew the Lord.  I went to visit my cousin Tammy and was eventually introduced to him.  Tom made me feel welcome.  Something about his personality grabbed my attention.  He was engaging, he was friendly and I could tell that he was a godly man.  Like I said, at that time I wasn’t a believer.  So even though I didn’t fully understand what being a godly man was really about I still knew there was something different about him.

I was there when Tom and Tammy got married.  I remember helping Tom lift some very heavy furniture up in the loft (their bedroom) of their new home.  There were many weekends where I would come and visit and spend a night in their spare bedroom.  In fact, they would refer to the spare bedroom as “Dean’s room” at that time.

I was so grateful to have both Tom and Tammy there in my life then.  That was when Shelby and I were still divorced but talking to each other.  Shelby had recently come to receive Jesus into her life and I did too shortly thereafter.  That New Year’s Shelby came to visit from Tennessee and Tom and Tammy invited us into their home.  Shelby slept in “my room” while I slept on the couch.  I think that Shelby hit it off so well with Tom and Tammy that I was pleasantly surprised.  It was that holiday that sparked something in Shelby’s and my heart that eventually led us getting remarried.

Some very special memories come from times we spent with Tom and Tammy.  I remember turning to both of them when Shelby and I were discussing getting remarried.  We needed godly counsel and I valued their wisdom very much.  They were there when Shelby and I eventually recommitted ourselves to each other in matrimony.  And they were there, the only ones that helped us after I drove all the way down to Tennessee to bring my beautiful bride back to Iowa.  They helped unload the moving van, yes, but so much more.  Tom recognized the stress that Shelby was under.  She was going through some of the most stressful moments in life…all at once.  She got married, quit her job, moved to Iowa and was adjusting to a lot of new experiences.  Tom recognized this and in his congenial way helped soothe some of the stress.

There was a moment in all of the moving chaos that Tom and Tammy really blessed us.  Shelby and I were concerned how we were starting out financially.  We were beginning to put ourselves in debt with the move and the deposit on the rental home we just moved into that Tom and Tammy could sense through our conversations that we needed help.  They didn’t know how much or really all of the details.  They only knew we were going through some difficulty.  However, God used them and provided us with exactly the amount we needed to get ourselves started with a clean slate.  Exactly the right amount.

It’s events like those that mark only the beginning of other significant moments in our relationship.
For one, Tammy helped Shelby when she was looking for employment.  In a God-like way Shelby landed a job at Principal where Tammy works.  The interview wasn’t in the best of circumstances and Shelby didn’t even have her best clothes available, but God still made it happen.

Some of my fondest memories, though, are the times Tom and I spent doing the Saturday night street feed ministry for the Door of Faith, or Hope Ministries as it became.  Prior to Shelby and me getting remarried I remember living in Boone and driving down to Des Moines to shop for an engagement ring.  I thought since I was in the vicinity I would take advantage and visit Tom and Tammy.  Tammy, though, informed me that Tom was involved that night doing the street feed ministry.  Whether it was her idea or Tom’s I’m not sure, but Tom drove out of his way, picked me up and exposed me to an exciting ministry that touched my heart.  Tom and I spent many Saturday nights together involved in this ministry and during those times had many wonderful experiences and conversations…with each other and with the people we ministered to.

Eventually Shelby and I moved from Nevada to Ankeny, Iowa.  Again, who was there helping us shop for the townhome and the eventual move but Tom and Tammy?  Time and again Tom and Tammy were there for us.

It wasn’t long after that Shelby and I visited First Family Church.  FFC was meeting at the Nevelyn Center at that time.  We were so excited about this church that we invited Tom and Tammy to visit.  At that time Tom and Tammy were very much involved in another church plant.  Something happened though that caused them to leave and when the time was right they subsequently visited First Family.  They, too, fell in love with this church family and soon we found ourselves as a physical family doing life together with our spiritual family.

Ever since Tom and Tammy joined First Family we have seen how they have impacted so many people.  Tom has a gift in engaging people and making them feel special.  There was a time that I even joined Tom in serving in the children’s ministry with the preschoolers.  Now there’s a challenging ministry.   But even with the children you could see the impact he made in their lives as they would often run up to Tom and give him hugs outside of class.

We didn’t always attend the same lighthouses (small church groups) together but the times that we did were very special.  In fact, we found ourselves forming our own informal lighthouse called the Chili's lighthouse.  It was called such because we made a point to go to Chili’s after work on Friday evenings and do a Bible study at our house afterwards.  Of course, we didn’t always frequent the same restaurant.  Many times we simply chose to go to the Jordan Creek Mall and make an evening out of it there.

Whatever the place and however we would gather, Tom and I would often find time to talk.  Tom would have issues he was dealing with in his job or his family and I would have issues that I was struggling with as well.  We confided in each other and that meant a lot to me.  There has never been a man that I have been so close to on a spiritual level.  Neither one of us had all the answers but as Tom consistently pointed out we engaged each other like iron sharpening iron as in Proverbs 27:17.

The times that we spent outdoors, helping cut trees or sitting by their fire pit, were especially meaningful times for me.  I think being together, whatever we were doing, always seemed to be special in some way.  Even the time we went to the Loess Hills together.  Though Tammy was extremely nervous about the large fire I had in the fire pit I still think often about that time we went “roughing it.”  And the holidays we shared were special too.  Sitting by their fireplace, playing board games, eating black eyed peas and cornbread and watching New Year’s Day football games we made some wonderful memories.

Last year Shelby and I listened to God’s leading and decided to move to Tennessee.  In making that decision it was difficult to break the news to family and friends that we were leaving behind.  We made assurances that we would always be in touch, never wanting to really say goodbye because of those close relationships.  Breaking that news was especially difficult with Tom and Tammy because of the close bonds that were formed over the past decade.  Even in the face of this difficult task, Tom and Tammy were there once again helping us pack and load the moving van for our departure.  From the moment we drove the U-Haul into Iowa to the moment we drove out, Tom and Tammy were there.

For me it’s particularly difficult to leave behind the friendship that Tom and I experienced over the years.  I’ve had friends, obviously, in various stages of my life but never had I had a relationship with a man that was on this spiritual level.  It takes on a different kind of emotional connection.

I have always felt the value of Tom’s and my friendship.  I don’t know if it’s an exact analogy but I think of Tom and me like David and Jonathan in the Bible.  It would be difficult for me to say this in any circumstance to any man but regarding Tom I can honestly say that I love this man.  I love his heart.  It’s genuine, it’s real, and it’s passionate about the things of God.  David’s and Jonathan’s friendship was intense and it was dramatic.  Maybe Tom’s and my relationship isn’t quite on that level but I do value his friendship very much.  He has been a big part of my life and a significant reason for my spiritual growth. 

I don’t believe it was ever the intention that leaving Iowa meant forever.  When Shelby and I moved away to be near her family and to provide our help, we truly believed (and still do) that God brought us to the Memphis area for a reason.  Now to hear that Tom has cancer unquestionably breaks our hearts.  Being miles away we feel helpless to be there for either Tom or Tammy.  For two people who have done so much and have meant so much to us these circumstances seem like such a cruel thing.

We are extremely grateful that God has given us the memories of our time with Tom and Tammy.  If God is willing we may find that we have years of opportunity yet to build on to those treasures.  However God would move in these circumstances we know and trust that His perfect will be done.

In writing this, my only hope is that Tom is able to get a sense of the value and depth of the love Shelby and I have for him.  Too often our loved ones leave us before we have the chance to express that love.  Not only that, I want this letter to be a testimony of the impact that Tom has had on our lives, my life in particular.  Let this be my tribute to Tom, my friend and my brother.

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