I grew up in small-town Ontario, born to a gutsy, politically-idealistic young couple who had decided to brave the wilds of Canada rather than participate in a war they didn’t believe in.
Right after getting hitched, they went straight north from Lawrence to Winnipeg. But they eventually bought a farm between Merrickville and North Augusta, in the Ottawa Valley region. After all, since they were embracing all things new, why not try cattle farming?
When I was 7, this gutsy young couple–who had grown increasingly dissatisfied with life and with each other–had a dramatic conversion to Christianity. The conversion itself was not dramatic. In fact, it was invisible and silent and only shared with each other–later–with much trepidation. What was dramatic was the way in which this new faith immediately impacted nearly everything about how they were living.
So in their enthusiasm to share this “good news,” my parents shared their newfound faith with everyone they met. And I do mean everyone.
One of those people was Tommy Saunders. And, to make a long story very short, he decided to give Christianity a try too. Which for him also meant visible transformation. To symbolize the change in his heart, Tommy immediately announced that he would henceforth be known as Thomas B. (a name much more suited to a serious disciple, don’t you think?)
Thomas B. was a car mechanic who had received only a very basic education. But he approached learning about his faith with an ambition not many students possess. His enthusiasm was an inspiration. His flaws were often evident (whose aren’t?), but he called himself a work in progress and kept growing.
Thomas B. had a big impact on our family. He spent a lot of one-on-one time with me and with my brothers and sister. He encouraged me and listened and was sympathetic to my teenage angst. He took me more than once to a truck stop to have hot turkey sandwiches with white bread and gravy and french fries so that we could chat. He bought a cabin in the woods and we all had a big potluck lunch there after church every Sunday. I did my homework on a couch in front of the big wood-burning stove Thomas B. kept toasty for all of us. It was a comforting place to be. In all of our interactions, Thomas B. made me feel as important as a grown up and gave me a little glimpse of the potential my future might actually have.
At my wedding, Thomas B. announced at the reception that he was the first guy to “sleep with the bride.” This, because we had slept on opposite ends of a very large couch at a cabin our families visited together. People didn’t know whether to laugh or be mortified. But this was classic Thomas B. He exhibited toward all of us the affection and intimacy of a loving uncle.
Thomas B. is one of the reasons I believe passionately in having other positive adults involved in my kids’ lives. Since we had no relatives living within a thousand miles of us when I was growing up, these adult friends of my parents became our stand-in aunts and uncles. If they had children, they were our cousins. And so, family for me has always possessed a much broader definition than just one of blood connections. Rose, Pat, Connie, Kate, Fred, Bud, Debbie N., Ernie, Debbie J., Lorna and Bill and more: We were blessed with many loving and generous adults who cared about us and spent lots of time on us.
My boys have the same type of important relationships: Colleen, Michele, Steve and Virginia, neighbors, teachers, youth group leaders and many more. Do you realize what an impact you have? What an opportunity to influence you possess! We are so grateful for you.
Thomas B. was one of those people who always put his money where his mouth was. His word was his bond. His beliefs were reflected in his priorities. I just love those kinds of people! And as a child, this integrity I saw–demonstrated in the lives of the adults I knew–was instrumental in making me who I am. Thomas B. lived an undivided life.
Thomas B. recently became very sick with cancer and the prognosis was not good. He and Pat made an impromptu road trip down to visit my folks in SC. He was not well, but he was upbeat. That was his way.
He passed away a few days ago.
Apparently his memorial service was an appropriate send off. Here’s what (uncle) Bud shared with us about it:
“You would have loved the crowning and sending off of our brother. All Tom’s children spoke [we all cryed], then Fred did the ulegy [we all cryed] then Fred sang his testimony song as it was a favorite of Thomases[we all cryed]. Amanda Kinch and Tommies grand daughter did a slide show with music [we all cryed].We then went to the grave sight and said our final goodby’s. Toms boys Tavis, Thomas, Nahum and Toms brother Grant shoveled the dirt in.[we all cryed] .The church was totally full ,the Smiths Falls police stopped the traffic as all of smithsfalls went by. It was wonderful to see all the people Tom touched [Fred likened it to the little boy ,who gave all He had-5loaves of bread and 2 small fishes- and Jesus fed all the people and there was 11baskets left over.] How could Tommy get all the things done with his business, family, traveling all over the world and still had time to spend with you and me and all the other people he knew, and he made each of us feel so important, there definitely was a few baskets left over.”
I love you Thomas B.
Thanks for investing so much of your time into this girl’s life.
You made a difference, and your photo will be going up on my wall of riches so that I can be encouraged by your smiling face every day. xo