Tom’s Scarf

I grew up in Cheatham County, Tennessee, where if you are a man, you do NOT wear a scarf. The average temperature in February in my hometown is 39. Scarves are not necessary. So if you were wearing one, it was as an accessory, not a necessity. And if you wore a scarf as an accessory in Cheatham County, Tennessee, then let’s just say you were looked at as . . . strange. That’s why I originally balked when someone suggested I buy a scarf before we moved here to the Royal Oak area of Michigan (where the average temp. in February is 27).

After walking around the corner of a building with the wind chill in the negative 20’s one day in Minneapolis, a wind did something to my soul I did not realize could happen to a human soul by the wind. The opening on the neck of my coat was as wide as the Cumberland River, leaving myself opened for that wind to gush down into my very bones. At that moment I thought, “I do not care what people back home think of me. I need a scarf!”

That’s why I was grateful when Tom McCullough, my late mentor and the Lead Pastor of Central Oaks at that time, gave me one of his.

Last night I was watching the National Championship game of college football and I remembered a year ago when I was in the waiting room while Tom’s hand was being operated on. He nearly severed it in an accident with a saw and was having it sown back on. On television was the championship football game. Up until then his pancreatic cancer was miraculously kept at bay. But after that accident and surgery, he seemed to go down hill. Seeing the game made me think of that waiting room, and Tom.

Looking at that scarf Tom gave made me think of a word that epitomizes a lot of what Tom provided for me, and what I assume for many others as well: warmth. Some people can make a chill run down your neck when they walk in the room. Not Tom. His presence was like a warm fire with crackling wood above a stone hearth. He had a gift to make me feel like I was home no matter where we were.

Maybe it was the way he spoke with the slight smile, the cracks around his eyes, and the subtle rise and fall of his inflection. Maybe it was how no matter how foolish my ideas were, or how immature my complaining was, or naive my hopes were, he never made me feel that way. Or maybe it was how when we played golf, his encouragement made me feel like my 110 was better than his 85. “Wow, Jacob, you’ve really got a gnack for this.” (I knew he was just being nice, but he still convinced me!)

I miss Tom. I miss being able to tell him exactly how I was feeling about a frustration without fear of losing our relationship. I miss his consistency and faithfulness.

God will use me in different ways than He used Tom. I’m not Tom and I never will be, and that’s OK. And God must know that I don’t need Tom anymore, although that is difficult to accept. Most of the people that come into our lives come “for such a time as this.” I know God will help me pastor faithfully and love my family well through His Spirit, and through other people, too. I’m not living in the past. But I hope it’s OK to reflect and remember when I wrap that earth-toned scarf around my neck, that God used a great man to give me warmth in a pivotal time in my life and ministry. I hope it’s OK to stop and say, “Thank you, Father, for how you used Tom McCullough in my life. Thank you, God, for this scarf.”

That’s one scarf I’m not afraid to wear–even in Cheatham County.

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