Stories of Grace

Story of Grace: Tommy Payne


This story was shared Sunday Morning, January 12, 2014. This text is taken from Tommy’s hand written notes and shared here with his permission. 

I’ve been coming to All Saints for about four years now. I don’t think the members really know that much about me. Where I came from, what I do for a living, my family, what are my beliefs. I nicknamed myself the “owl in the attic.” I may seem to be very wise or intelligent, but I don’t say anything most of the time – just sit and stare blankly like an owl.

I was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on September 8, 1947. I had a very religious upbringing. Strict discipline, church every Sunday, recitals, boy scouts, church gathering. I was born a very smart, if not gifted person; excuse my modesty. Early in my childhood I could draw pictures and talk like a grown up. An A student, a teacher’s pet, a boy that seemed to be destined towards a great future. I never wanted for anything. My father worked in a tire factory and my mother was a nurse. I had microscopes, chemistry sets, children’s book, and all kinds of pets.

I would often lay awake at night trying to figure out what God was like, where the universe ended, what happens when you die, and the typical questions a five year old might ask or the questions a future nerd might ask.

Even though I was nerdy, to a great extent I was still a growing boy. I got into fights, had to be spanked, disobeyed my parents and teachers. These were the seeds of a future life where I would rebel against any authority and suffer dire consequences for being willful and anti-social.

I was not totally the polite, well-mannered young man I seemed to be. I had a dark side as I suppose we all have. The only thing that remained in my character was the incessant thirst for knowledge. I would read anything. An entire set of encyclopedias, newspaper editorials, religious books, crossword puzzles, philosophy, classic books, and novels. Even daily horoscopes. I gave myself another nickname, “watermelon head,” a huge brain full of useless knowledge.

There was something wrong with me. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. On one hand a nerdy intellectual, on the other a troubled teenager who was often suspended from school.

Finally my misbehavior caught up with me. I got expelled from all city schools for beating up my art teacher with several of my neighborhood gang members. I passed a GED test with a high score and ____________.

Ironically, I received a scholarship to a commercial art school in West Port, CT. Right after being expelled, my parents had me placed in a mental hospital. I was diagnosed as being a manic-depressive. I had no idea what that meant. As far as I was concerned I was just doing my thing: drinking wine, smoking pot, hanging out in the hood, gang banging, just an average inner city, black teenager defying the authority of a racist society. At least this was my excuse.

I was not an inner city, black kid even though I hung out in the Foote-Homes project and ran with the Lauderdale Sub Street Gang. I played the part perfectly. My Friends would never believe I could actually draw picture and write articles. I could drink wine, smoke pot, and gang fight with the best was all they saw.

There was something always burning in my inner self. There was something that clung to my soul. I now see it is as the spirit of redemption. That no matter how far you fall into sin and iniquity, the blood of Christ is always there for you, to save and redeem.

My life was a dark and sinful journey down a crooked path that leads to hell. Later came prison, drug addiction, eventually homelessness, hostility and derangement. I began to form peculiar habits. I developed insomnia and hyper activity. Where was God in my life? God was not in my life. I was not an atheist, but I saw God as being oblivious to his creations. For the most part we are left to fend for ourselves in a cruel and desperate world where ever the fickle hands of fate fall, so is human destiny.

I saw myself as a born loser who would eventually suffer a loser’s fate. I would be found dead in my prison cell or an abandoned building. I had no legacy or purpose for existing. My life was a treatise dedicated to failure. Failure as a husband, a father, a good citizen, an intellectual, a scholar, not to mention, a failure as a Christian.

Such is depression. The number one cause of suicide. A feeling of worthlessness.

What was my turning point?

In 1979 my father, after going out to celebrate their 34th anniversary, shot and killed my mother. It was ruled as self-defense. He had retired from work and was then a security guard who carried a pistol. She came at him with a butcher knife and – he defended himself. I was totally devastated. My closest friends, my two loved ones taken away from me by the cruel hands of fate. He died 7 months later from mostly a broken heart.

In 2008 my youngest daughter Meka was found dead in an empty apartment. Her death was treated as an overdose of crack cocaine. But no autopsy was performed. Apples don’t fall too far from the tree. But these tragedies were my blinding lights. Something stirred my being from the core. God became personal the only consolation for a bleeding soul.

I am a survivor. God has given me the will to survive as well as a sense of purpose. In spite of my jagged path I have found compassion. I am peaceful and harmless. Humble with a real sense of love.

It takes a lot for some people to find God. I was one of those people. I thought with my brain and not with my heart or my soul.

Academically brilliant but spiritually empty. A confusing person with many sides to a conflicting personality. A person with a degree in journalism but once lived in an empty house. A very high IQ but a chronic loner with very low self-esteem. I thank God to be at All Saints and able to share in a family of Christ. At least I succeeded in this if nothing else.

Life has not been that good for me, but I don’t regret it. We live in preparation for death and eternity. All I can say is that God made me well prepared.

My parents and daughter suffered the fate I should have suffered. But by taking away the people I most loved and bringing me into a personal relationship with Christ made me realize that God is not oblivious and is capable of displaying his mercy, love, and justice to every person on earth.

Behind all my tragedies I still have a great sense of humor. Christ bore my sin and prepared me for a peaceful, harmless life. A spiritual security. I’ve been there and done that then came out fresh and innocent by the grace of God.

– Tommy Payne


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