Many who attend our church today never met Tom Carpenter, but I always think of Tom each year when the Super Bowl rolls around. Tom’s story is one of seeing God’s grace in the midst of cancer, through last words filled with hope. It’s a story of humble service, which reminds us that we never truly know the impact our lives will have on others for God’s Kingdom, an impact only heaven will one day reveal.
You see Tom was the first custodian at Grace Fellowship and he passed away 9 years ago this month. It was back in January 2010 when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he died a short three weeks later on February 16, 2010 at the age of 51.
This was a very moving experience for our young church, and it especially impacted the Hosner family, who Tom lived with. Tom was a behind the scenes guy, always seemed to be at the church serving in some way, and just happened to be cleaning every time our small group met on Friday nights (when we all brought food and dessert that we offered to him). It was so common to see him at the old warehouse church building that he almost went unnoticed…until suddenly he wasn’t able to be there.
The families in our church rallied around Tom. We even threw him a Super Bowl XLV party (Saints vs. Colts) while he was in the hospital, which was quite the logistical challenge of moving TVs around, moving Tom and his bed into the lobby of Emory Johns Creek, and getting “approval” from the staff and security guards.
Though many of the details are fading, the lasting memories are still alive along with the last words Tom wrote, words that are speaking a legacy of Grace.
Below is the first of his three CaringBridge posts (back before Facebook took off). I’ll post the other two over the next few weeks (which can now be found here and here). May his words be an encouragement to you, especially in times of suffering.
I am so thankful that nothing takes God by surprise. God knew what was going to happen to me and set in motion all of the components that led me to deliverance from my most recent desperate circumstances.
I found myself in the dark of an early Friday morning crying out to God to help me. If I said, ‘God help me’ once, I said it a hundred times. Half of my body was dead weight to me. I could not drag myself out of bed, and I was much afraid. I could not bring myself to have the attitude of St. Paul to be ‘thankful in all situations.’ I only knew I needed help and I was alone in the dark. But, then I realized that I wasn’t truly alone. God was right there with me and knew everything that was going on in my life right then. My human emotions still overtook me because, regrettably my faith is often weak.
God did help me when friends, who are like family, got me to the hospital. God helped me when doctors and nurses almost immediately began to minister to my needs, and learning as fast as they could what was wrong with me and how they could cure it. God helped me when caring, learned physicians quickly realized that surgery was necessary and most imperative. God helped me by allowing me to be put in the hands of the most skillful and able doctors to perform surgery at the exact moment when my life could be dramatically and irrevocably changed. If not for the insight and precise abilities of the surgeon I would be a victim of paralysis. I did not know how truly desperate my circumstances were, but God did. God heard my cry and He did help me. There are still struggles ahead for me, and I do not know how I will bear up under them. I only know that God will be there with me in pain and in pleasure.
God will be with me in spirit and in faithful friends to encourage me, pray for me, and help me along the way, wherever it may lead. That way, that path, that road, if it leads to eternity with God, no matter how hard or difficult the journey may become, will be worth it if we keep our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith. I do not present myself as a source of great biblical wisdom, or a practitioner of prodigious faith. I am, at the heart of it, a wretched sinner saved by grace who is only worthy of God’s great mercy through the willing sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ. Why God has such great love for us, only He knows. It is beyond human comprehension. God is with us in our joy and in our pain, when we rejoice and when we suffer. It is hard when life goes against us and we cannot see God’s greater purpose in allowing some hardship to come upon us. But God has not forsaken us, and his greater purpose will always be revealed to His eternal glory.
May (we) not lose sight of or forget that all things work together for the good of those who are in Christ Jesus. May God be forever praised, Amen.