Tuesday, December 13, 2005



I had never met anyone quite like Tommy. I don't really know if I had comprehended that his career was actually simply being there for the pre-teens and teenagers at our methodist church. All I know is that Tommy was special. I knew that from the first day I met him.

He was a small man and was very gentle in his personality. In fact what I remember most was the playful abuse he received from the older guys in the youth group. Shanks, wedgies, followed by severe tickling and laughing. We were a rowdy group at times, but Tommy LOVED us all. Looking back he reminds me of what I envision Saint Francis to have been like. Maybe I felt like a leper as a quiet 13 year old. Maybe Tommy's love for me and his ability to express to me the potential he saw was exactly what I longed to hear from someone.

I didn't grow up going to church. I didn't know church lingo, rituals or the church "way of life". I did know that when I showed up to that youth group- there I would encounter security, friendship, and Tommy.

A couple of years earlier storms had set in- set in my life. My parents separated. I spent more time staying with my grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and my grades began to severely drop. Grown ups who were concerned for me would have "serious talks" to discover what was going on. I withdrew... further and further into the exclusive and hidden places within. I can't recall now if I ever showed how I felt on the outside but chaos reigned on the inside.

But in the midst of the craziness I found my way to Dalewood UMC and its youth group. It was the youth group that became my anchor for a life that was at the mercy of strong winds and currents. There were nights that I ended up at Tommy's house for a "Guys Night Out" to hang out, eat and late night chats. Like I said before- the guys in our group were pretty rowdy. When we stayed over at Tommy's house- no doubt that he'd have to get up several times in the night and lay the law down while we all rolled our eyes, laughed at how crazy and pissed he looked and trying to look like we were too cool to care that he was frustrated. But then we all fell asleep spread out all over his house. There was a comfort and peace at that house, in those nights.

After a couple of years Tommy left our youth group for a time of discernment. He felt that he was being called to the Catholic priesthood. It was terribly hard to see him go but I remember being happy for him. I even helped him move out of the parsonage into his new place. As when all youth leaders leave- time did not stop, our youth group survived and even grew closer and stronger. As time went on I talked to Tommy less frequently, and that was ok.

I suppose it was a fall night, I was hanging out at Jen's parent's home, probably working on homework or maybe watching Beverly Hills 90210. These were common practices my jr. year in high school. The phone rang and Jen's mom answered. I don't recall how long she was on the phone I just remember that she came over to me and Jen afterward. With tears in her eyes and not quite knowing how to share it- she told us that Tommy had taken his life. I must have shut a lot out because I can't recall what I felt, what went through my mind, or even how long it was between that night and the funeral. I remember wondering if maybe something would have been different if I had called him, or checked up on him more.

Those of us in the youth group who had been close to Tommy found out that he had been dealing with depression for a long time but had told no one. Finally he had lost hope and gave up.

With the death of Tommy it felt like the end of a part of my life. That man who had given so much of himself to us was gone, and the possibility of having him around was gone.

Again, time continued to pass and I thought about Tommy's death less frequently until at some point I only thought about it occasionally. I was in college, into my second year when the God of Israel and Jesus, who had been absent for at least a year and half, began to make God's presence known to me again. I began volunteering with my old youth group back home and my passion to learn and discuss issues around faith began to grow stronger. As I worked with our youth group I felt the same kind of love for the teenagers that I had felt as a youth toward Tommy. In the midst of this, God seemed to be speaking quite loudly to me that I was being called to ministry.

I felt like a very unlikely person for this, but isnt that the way it usually goes? I had a million reasons to not be a youth pastor- I'm introverted, I'm not the least bit athletic, I'm unorganized, I have a tendancy to create awkward silence in conversations with people, I have a wierd taste in music, I read boring books, blah blah blah and the list goes on.

But God reminded me of those who came before me... God reminded me of Tommy- a very unlikely person to be a youth pastor- who's youth all were taller and bigger than he (except maybe the 7th grade girls), a quiet and soft spoken person with a very gentle nature. But look what he had done for me...

In every end there is a beginning. In every relationship where there is the love of Christ shown- Christ Incarnate dwells. Even when we think that we've come to the end of one experience in life- New Life is birthed out of it. That is the way and spirituality of Advent.



Eric Lee said...


Thanks for sharing that. I've been thinking a lot about death lately: Tookie Williams being executed last night, this post of yours, and over the years in bouts of my own depression, my own. There are lots of emotions, conflicting and dramatic, all at once. I don't really know how to handle all of it, but somehow, Jesus, through the reality of his life, death, and resurrection, makes life bearable. He brings form out of the formless, life out of death, love out of hatred. With all I've been through, I can't imagine putting my heart, mind, and soul anywhere else. It looks like although our trajectories have been slightly different, our end is the same, and we rejoice. I only hope that we can someday be reunited with the Tommy's of the world in love.



Dale said...


That was some post. Thanks for that. It brought about several reactions at once, and I can't begin to describe it all, but that was a moving story. Thanks for giving us some of your reflection on that.


Zoomdaddy said...

I always have thought we need some way of creating icons for those among the "great cloud of witnesses" who have impacted us. This blog entry is a start.

Joel Thomas said...

Very inspiring.

Clifton S said...

Jonathon, beautiful post. Aren't youth leaders increadible!
Grace and peace

Mike said...


Brother this strikes such a chord with me. Thanks for the encouragment. How many of us feel like if what we're doing actually makes a difference? Thanks for telling us to press on.

The other issue that really gets me though is the depression aspect. How many youth workers out there are truly depressed? I wonder how many of us truly don't have people to be real with regarding who we are without serious consequences in regards to our jobs, etc...

I just know from experience there are things I need help with but have been trained by my church experience not to reveal lest I be "disqualified." Now, there are certain serious issues where that is warranted, but I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about the day-to-day struggles many of us have.

Sometimes I really want someone to just care by asking how I'm doing, and allow me to real about my response without having repercussions on my job. Does anyone else feel this way?

Thankfully I have a couple of people I can be this way with, who are not connected to my job in anyway. I would encourage you to find those people in your life somewhere. We ALL need it.