Conversations with Tommy – Part Two

Part one can be found here.

Since Tommy did not show up on Monday, I thought our adventure was done.  Oh, was I wrong.

Tuesday morning was filled with appointments (like lunch with church planter Joel Kruz…an awesome guy!) so I didn’t pull into the church parking lot until 2pm.  I was welcomed by an entertained/frustrated Bev.  You know how somethings are so maddening you have to laugh at them, Bev’s face looked as if she had been laughing all day long. 

Bev is one of the directors of Valley’s pre-school.  She and the rest of the team do a fantastic job.  I love Bev because she doesn’t take any crap.  Tuesday I knew I was in trouble because she was walking to my car with intense determination.

“Your buddy came by today,” she said with a smile.

“My buddy?” I asked, pretending that I didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Yeah, you know, the scary guy that pulled an eight inch knife on us last year.”

Bev went on to explain to me that Sunday was not Tommy’s first time at Valley.  A year ago he had evidently come on a Sunday morning (probably drunk) and walked down the aisle in the middle of one of Rick’s sermons demanding money.  He came back the next Monday and began begging the pre-school parents for cash.  When Bev asked him to leave he pulled a knife on her.  An eight inch knife.  Bev really wanted me to understand that the knife was eight inches long.  She kept gesturing with her hands and saying, “Eight inches.”  She called the cops and had him arrested.

I then shared with her what I had learned about Tommy from his social worker.  Fun facts like: he receives a monthly disability check that is enough to keep him locked up in the hotel; he only begs for money when he has spent his check on porn and alcohol; and he refuses all help from social services.

Tommy had returned to the school today and Bev immediately called the non-emergency police number.  When the cop car showed up Tommy ran away.

He returned at  3pm.  I was really excited about seeing him.  Seriously.  He was coming back and that meant maybe he was willing to get help.  We sat on the steps and talked.  Here is how the conversation went (as I remember it):

“Hey Tommy.  I missed you yesterday bro, but I’m glad you came today.”

“Yeah, ummm.  I need $80.”

“I’m sorry man.  I don’t have any money today and we don’t keep any money here at the building.”

“Well, what do you have for me?”

“What I promised you on Sunday.  I would love to get you plugged into a place of recovery where we can start moving you into a healthy place.”

“No.  No.  No.  Common man!  Eeeeiiiiightyyyy doooolllllllaaaarssss.  I need $80.”

“You need to start getting your life together and we can help you with that.”

“Fine.  Where you want to take me?”

“Well, most places fill up at 3pm.  How about tonight we get you in a cold weather shelter and then tomorrow I can try to get you into HUM or another program.”

“I’ve never been to a cold weather shelter before.”  Tommy said with genuine fear and concern.

“Dude, you should get a freak’in academy award.  I talked to Ms. Social Worker Lady (names changed to protect the innocent and the homeless guy).  She filled me in on your history.  I know you have been in and out of all the shelters in the city.”

“WHAT!” Tommy said enraged.  “Why would you go and call her?!?  She don’t want to help me.  How do you even know about that woman?!”

“You gave me her phone number and the note that says not to give you money.”

“That’s what that says?”  Tommy said with surprise.

I was taken aback.  I thought Tommy could read.  On Sunday I thought I remember him reading the bullitin.  “Yeah.  Can you not read?  That is something else we can help you with.”

“No.  I read fine.  I just never bother to read the %$#@ she gives me.”

I laughed out loud and said, “That’s hysterical.”

“You need to stop talking to people that don’t want to help me,” Tommy said as he pointed a finger in my face.

“Wait, wait.  She wants to help you.  She has been trying to help you.”

“No.  No.  No.  She don’t help.  The hospital don’t help.  And now I see that you don’t help either.”

“Okay.  Hold on.  I’m trying to help you right now.”

Suddenly the Eeyore voice returned and Tommy stared off into the distance for effect.  “You don’t want to help me.  She don’t want to help me.  The other church down the road don’t want to help me.  No one wants to help me.”

“I’m trying to help you.  I just told you I would take you to a place where you can stay and won’t freeze and then tomorrow I would begin working to get you back on your feet.”

“You don’t love me.”  The pain in his voice sounded so real I thought he was going to cry.

“Now wait a minute…”

Cutting me off, Tommy focused both eyes on me, shot me a wounded puppy dog look, and said with the saddest voice in his arsenal, “If you loved me like Jesus loved me you would just give me $400 or $500 so I could stay in a hotel for a week and run around here and better myself.”

“I demand that you define ‘better yourself.'” I said laughing out loud.

Tommy laughed.  “Where is the other pastor?  I want to talk to him.”

“I’m all you get bucko.”

“Alright.  I guess we’re done.”  Tommy flashed me a big smile.  “See you later.”

“You want a ride somewhere?”

“No.  I have a bus pass.”  And with that Tommy walked away.

My natural instinct after dealing a professional con-artist like Tommy is to put my defenses up and be more guarded the next time someone asks for help.  But that is not right.  Sure Tommy is abusing the system; but how I respond to the Tommy’s isn’t just about helping them.  It is about who I am as well.  With each encounter I define myself. 

Jesus’ death on the cross did not just communicate that the world was broken.  It said something profound about who He is. 

I didn’t do everything right with Tommy.  I wasn’t the model of love and self-sacrifice.  There is a lot I see now I should have done differently.  My take away though is the realization that my encounters with others also speak to who I am.  

My goal must be with every encounter to love so hard it might kill me.  I think that loving like that is loving like Christ.

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Conversations with Tommy – Part Two

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