The Tom Challenge 12-14-16

I haven’t written on my blog in quite some time. In fact, a while back I changed the settings of my blog to private. I suppose because I’ve used this blog with the intent to make a difference, however sharing some of the details of my life would have been best served to be kept quiet. I made the decision that just for today, I’m changing my settings to public in the hopes this story will encourage those reading this to make a difference. 

I was on my three mile walk this morning despite the frigid 15 degree temperature. My walks are so important to me. I use the time to reflect and more importantly pray. Not only for myself but the so many people who are on my prayer list. It was very cold this morning. In fact, so cold the wind was hurting my face. I couldn’t wait to get home to the warmth of my mothers house. I began to think of all those who weren’t as lucky to have a home to go to. Those who are homeless with not a warm place to look forward to. 

It’s no secret that I am very passionate about helping those in need. I’m very passionate in bringing awareness by encouraging others to open their hearts to the needs of others. As I reflected I thought of the many days I served feeding the homeless at the shelter in San Francisco. Four days per week, my church opened their doors for those in need. Tuesday’s and Thursday’s they served breakfast and lunch and allowed their “guests” to shower and do their laundry. Wednesday’s and Friday’s it was breakfast only but every day our guests left with a care package of snacks, socks, toiletry items and new clothes if they needed them. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Even more rewarding were the “guests” who became our friends. My friends. 

I was thinking of a gentleman I served with this morning. His name was Tom. Tom was a very tall, older gentleman with such a happy, giving heart. He was always smiling. He exuded so much gratitude and had a way about him that somehow lit up even the darkest room with a light of happiness.  If Tom wasn’t cleaning, he was helping the sisters, if there was a clean up activity at our church, Tom was the first one there to volunteer. He was always at mass and always willing to volunteer at church when needed. He helped the “guests” with anything they needed. He was a listening ear and always offering support to those in need. 

One Saturday, a church group I belonged to met at the church to make care packages for all of our “guests” for Easter. These care packages were filled with every necessity you can imagine. Not surprising, standing next to me working away was Tom. As usual Tom was not only volunteering his time to help but he was also very intuitive to my needs. I was fighting cancer at that time. The group brought in pizza for lunch so Tom and I took a break and sat together for lunch. Tom was very inquisitive about my cancer and exuded such a caring attribute that he melted my heart. Words can not describe my surprise when Tom began to share his story.  

Tom was not a volunteer at all, rather he was a “guest” of the shelter. In fact, he had been homeless living on Turk Street until a few months prior to meeting me. Turk Street is a very bad area in San Francisco. The sisters had helped Tom rent a room at a hostel. He was so grateful for everything they had done for him. They bought him dishes, pots and pans. Everything he needed for his room. He couldn’t have been more grateful. You see, Tom had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of his liver. He had been given about a year if that to live. He was very sick, yet he never showed it. Instead, he spent his days giving back. Tom shared that he had qualified for a liver transplant. After much thought, he opted to decline. I was shocked and asked him why he would do such a thing. After all, a liver transplant could save his life. I will never forget Tom’s reply. He looked at me with a big smile on his face and said “Velma, I’ve lived my life. I’ve had a full life. I haven’t always made the best choices and life hasn’t always treated me kind, but I’ve lived. I can not deprive a young person who might need a transplant of living theirs. What kind of person would that make me?”  I felt the tears roll down my face. There standing before me was the most selfless man I had ever met. I hugged Tom and from that day forward he became my friend who I looked up to. 

I’m sharing this story because I’d like to challenge those reading this today to take the Tom Challenge. Tom gave up a liver transplant to save his life in order to save someone else’s. What selfless act are you willing to do?  I’m not asking you to give up a liver, kidney or anything drastic but how about giving up an hour of your time to serve those in need, send an encouraging note to someone or just take the time to listen. There are so many things we can do to make a difference. The question is, how selfless are you? Just for today I’d like to encourage you take the Tom Challenge and make a difference. The reward you will receive will be far greater than the deed. 

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