Matthew 5.38-39  Romans 1:17-19

Six o’clock Saturday morning, T. Tom awoke just as he did every Saturday morning. He was ten years of age and everyone called him T. Tom, his dad, his grandparents, aunts and uncles, even his friends. Everyone except mother, Maggie Radwill. She always called him Thomas. No T, which was for Tyler. He kind of liked that. When she called him Thomas, he felt special.

Every Saturday morning while the rest of the family slept in, he got up, washed his face, brushed his teeth, and combed his hair. He put on his dark green tee shirt – the favorite, the one with a pocket – and jeans, the soft and faded ones. Last on were the sneakers, the hightop Keds with the round white rubber logo that fit over the ankle bone. His Saturday outfit.

A quick breakfast of cereal, OJ and milk, then stuff a PB&J sandwich, an apple, a Coke and a Big Hunk in a paper bag, stick a fresh drawing pad and three pencils – soft, medium and hard lead – everything in his backpack and he was on his way. The tires on his old Schwinn squawked on the cement floor of the garage as he pedaled out.

Over on Bay Street, winding past the feet of an ancient tree with a thick trunk and arms, a small stream flowed. Just past the tree where the stream was overgrown with willows and ferns and blackberry vines, T. Tom would drop his bike in the grass, scrabble down the embankment and disappear beneath the willows.

Hands under his chin, there he would lay on his stomach and watch the water ripple over the golden sand as it gently tumbled on to the ocean. He loved the way sunlight flickered across pyrite flakes, how it dappled the stream through the willow leaves.

  1. Tom loved his Saturday mornings under the willows, for here his imagination flared its wings and soared. When he’d watched the water long enough, he’d sit up and retrieve his pencils and pad. Almost by magic, his drawings would appear. He draw and draw until every page of his pad was filled, and when he came home in the afternoon, hurry to his room and with a roll of tape, turn his walls into a gallery worthy of Camelot itself.

Last summer, when T. Tom discovered this place, hurried back home, got his pad and pencils and spent the day sketching the glade, the leaves and branches, the crystal water, the sun-gold sand. He drew the edge, where the water met the sand, and

leaf prints in the mud, and an empty chrysalis stuck to a willow branch, and fiddleheads. Rocks became boulders, branches grew into trees, then forests, and the stream became a coursing river. Beyond the riverbank, forest glades and open meadows found fanciful knights on horseback riding to noble quests, gracious damsels and unicorns a la minuet, dragons peering from behind rocks, and wizards crafting spells.

He drew scenes of jousts and duels, of festive parties and hunts for roebuck and boar, of fathers and sons plying the river for salmon. There were scenes of sylvan grace and respite, of couples strolling hand in hand in sunlit glades, of families at work in the fields; of minstrels playing lutes, and jugglers and jesters cavorting while the king and queen and the princes and princesses with courtiers all, played quoits and badminton, drank mead and dined on roasted haunch of beef.

Throughout the summer, his drawings sang with joy and with adventure. Now, in September, his mother and father would often drift into his room and get lost for a few moments in the fantasy of his art. His mother, eyes wide, would shake her head and purse her lips say, “Thomas, you have a gift. You really do. Your drawings are just so … so real.” More than once, his father said, “T. Tom, these are amazing. It’s almost like being there.”

This Saturday, as T. Tom dropped his bike in the grass and gazed down at his special place, his stomach felt empty and cold as if he’d had nothing to eat.

Everything was gone.

Broken willow branches were strewn everywhere. The golden sand was trampled to mud and muck. A paper bag of garbage rested smack dab in the middle of the creek, leaking into the water.

  1. Tom’s Saturday place had been destroyed. This was no accident. He stood and looked and when there was no more to see, he picked up his bike and rode home.

As he trudged into the kitchen, his mother said, “Hi, Thomas. Back early?”

  1. Tom didn’t answer. He acknowledged his mother with a nod, went upstairs to his room, closed his door and lay down on his bed.

Not long after, a knock came on his door. “Thomas? Can I come in?”

  1. Tom tried to answer … couldn’t.

Mom poked her head in.

“Thomas, what’s wrong?”

“They wrecked it, Mom.” He gasped. It was hard not to sob.

“Wrecked what, Thomas?”

“My place.” His chin quivered.

“Your Saturday place?”  She sat on the edge of his bed.


Who, Thomas. Who wrecked it?”
“Dunno. Kids.”

“I’m really sorry, Thomas.” She brushed his forehead with her hand. Her smile was sad.

“It was such a great place, Mom. It was so peaceful, just so, so . . .”


“Yeah. Neat. Besides, it was all mine.”

“I’m so sorry, honey. I know it was special. Come on down to the kitchen when you feel a little better. I’ll fix you a snack.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

When his mother left, T. Tom took his pad and began to draw. He drew for an hour, perhaps more, then went down to the kitchen. He set his pad on the kitchen table and opened the refrigerator. He took out the milk and poured a glass. His mother got a couple of cookies from the jar and set them in front of him.

“This is different,” said Maggie, holding his drawing pad up. The background was a storm building, dark and ominous. The foreground was a rendering of some unidentifiable creature. It looked if it had been wounded, was perhaps even dying.

“Is this how you feel?” Maggie was chilled by what she saw.

“I guess.”

“Kind of interesting. But I sure like your other work better.”

“I know, Mom. This was just something I needed to do.”

Maggie thought, This is so, ah … disturbing. Gives me the same uneasy feeling I get from some of Dali’s work, or Breughel, Bosh, even. So despairing. Bleak. Probably just how he feels. My golden boy just got a lesson in life.

“Thomas, can I keep this for a while?”

  1. Tom looked up at his mother. She was smiling. He liked her smile. It was warm and real. “Sure, Mom.”

“C’mere, Thomas,” she said. She knelt and opened her arms and welcomed her son into her embrace. He put his arms around her neck. She held him that way for a long time. T. Tom wanted to stay there forever.

That evening, after supper, Maggie said to her husband, “Dan, we need to pray.”

Dan’s eyebrows lifted. “Yeah?”

“Thomas’s having a tough time. He needs our support.” After she explained what had happened, they lifted their son up in prayer.

“Our Father in Heaven, you know the heartache that our son has right now. Lord, we ask that you show him the way toward healing, that you encourage his heart and his mind. Lord, remind him of the wonderful gift you have given him, of the wonderful gift that he is to us and to all who know and love him. Sustain him, Lord, with the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Father, we thank you …”

They prayed for a while longer, their hands and their eyes meeting, knowing that they were together in this, confident that God would hear and honor their prayer and their hearts.

Before T. Tom left for school Monday morning, Maggie reminded herself, keep my boy in prayer throughout the day.

Monday was just another day at school. When T. Tom came home, Maggie asked him, “How are you doing, pal?”

“Okay, I guess.” He looked at the floor.

She leaned in and held his face with both hands. He raised his eyes to meet hers. “It still hurts, huh?” she said.


“Thomas . . . ?”


“I love you.”

“I know, Mom. I love you, too.”

  1. Tom went upstairs to his room and closed the door. Maggie’s heart ached when she heard the door close. She resisted the urge to follow him, to comfort him. He needed some time alone, that, she knew.

While Monday was just a routine school day, Tuesday was like a collision with a Mack truck.

At lunch time, T. Tom was in the cafeteria waiting in line when Denny Polacek deliberately bumped him.

“Oh, gee, sorry, Radwill, didn’t see you there.”

Denny was a sixth grader, older than T. Tom, and bigger. He lived in the same neighborhood and T. Tom avoided him whenever he could, which was most of the time. But today, Denny stuck his flat-nosed sweaty-pink piggish face right in T. Tom’s.

“Been fishin’ lately?” Denny’s sneer told T. Tom this wasn’t about fishing. “I went fishin’ the other day, y’know, over at that little creek on Bay Street. Well, I hooked into a whopper, a giant! It was so big, it just tore up the whole creek, the bushes, the sand, everything. But it got away.”

Denny glowered at T. Tom, daring him to retaliate.

  1. Tom, filled with more anger than hurt, said nothing. He edged back into the line. The destroyer of dreams now had a face. Might have known it would be him.

“Guess I’ll have to go back there and finish the job someday. Y’know, catch that whopper. Even if it means tearing up that whole stream. Wow! What a fish!”

“The creek is too small, Denny. There aren’t any fish there.” T. Tom’s voice cracked.

“You calling me a liar, Radwill?”

“There’s no fish in that creek and you know it.”

“Gee. How ‘bout that. I woulda swore I had a fish on. But you would know, I mean, since you spend so much time there and all. Wonder what it was that tore up the creek so bad. Can’t imagine what it was, y’ know, since it couldn’t ‘a been a fish.”

Denny laughed and slapped T. Tom on the shoulder. “See ya ‘round, Radwill.

Maybe over at the creek someday. I’ll give you a fishing lesson.”

  1. Tom left the cafeteria without eating and walked slowly around the school yard. Younger children played on the jungle gym and swings, yelling, having fun. T. Tom found an out of the way place and sat down. His feelings pinwheeled. His stomach yelled at him.

At home after school, he rummaged around in the refrigerator, looking for something to eat. He found celery and carrot sticks and poured a glass of milk.

“Hi, Thomas. How was school?”

“I found out who did it, Mom.”

“Oh? Who was it?”

“Denny Polacek.”

Why am I not surprised, she thought. “Oh, I’m so sorry, pal. How are you doing?”

“Not good. Crummy. Empty. Mad.”

“How about if I pray for you?”

He thought for a minute. “Yeah. I’d like that.”

Maggie scooted a chair in front of Thomas’s and took his hands in hers. “Father, our son is struggling with a lesson of life that is hard and hurtful. Lord, I want to pray for patience for him, and for the ability to forgive. Father, I pray that you would deliver Thomas from the desire to strike back, and from the darkness that hovers around the edges of his thoughts and feelings. Mostly, Lord, I pray for grace, that you would help him to know, deep in his heart, the great love you have for him. In Jesus’ name.”

  1. Tom smiled. “Thanks, Mom.”

He went upstairs. “Got some homework to do.”

Eleven days after T. Tom’s Saturday place was savaged, he awoke at 9:00 A.M. He got up, washed his face, brushed his teeth, and combed his hair. He put on his favorite tee shirt, jeans and sneakers, breakfasted on cereal, OJ and milk. Then he went back to his room, picked up his bank, opened it up and took out all of his money. He counted it. More than $20. That should be enough.

The bike ride downtown to Venable’s Art Supplies store didn’t take long. Mrs. Venable was sitting on her stool by the register, like she usually did.

“Hi, Mrs. Venable,” he said, waving as he went by.

“Hi, yourself, T. Tom. What’s it going to be today?”

“I need some pastelles.”

“Right over there by the pads and easels,” she said.

  1. Tom knew where they were and picked up all the boxes.

“Mrs. Venable, do you have any more in back? There’s only eight boxes here.”

“My, you must have a big project going. I’ll go look.”

She came back with three more. “Here you go, young man. Will that do?”

“I think so, Mrs. Venable. Thanks.” He paid for his purchase and put the pastilles in his backpack. He hurried to get home. He was anxious to begin.

Parking his bike in the garage, T. Tom scooted in the front door, threw a quick, “Hi, Mom,” in her general direction, hurried to his room and closed the door.

Maggie shook her head and smiled. He’s got something going, she thought. This should be interesting.

Later, at dinner, T. Tom said, “Mom, I’m going to be working on a special project in my room. It’s a surprise and it’s gonna take a while. Please don’t come in until I’m done, okay?”

Maggie set her fork on her plate. She looked at her husband. “Dan?”

He nodded. “It’s fine, Maggie. Trust him.”

“Okay. Okay, Thomas.”

“Thanks, Mom. I’ll take care of changing my sheets n’ stuff.”

She gave her mouth a little twist, said, “All right.” She gave another look at her husband. “Sure this is okay?”

“Sure, Darlin.’” He and T. Tom looked at each other. Dan winked. T. Tom grinned. Maggie thought, these guys know something I don’t.

For the rest of the month, every day after school, T. Tom grabbed a snack on the way up the stairs to his room and closed the door. Whenever Maggie passed by, she would hear him moving around and thought he sounded kind of like he was entertaining raccoons. Other times, she heard him humming or softly singing a favorite song. Once, she heard him sing the old hymn, one of her favorites: “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.” There were even times she heard him murmuring and thought, that sounds a lot like praying. Another day, she heard furniture moving.

What is he doing?

On an early November afternoon, T. Tom wandered downstairs, his drawing pad under his arm. He plunked it down on the kitchen table. He poured a glass of milk, took a couple of cookies out of the jar.

“Hey, Thomas,” said Maggie. “What’s up?”

“Usual day, Mom.”

Maggie was curious. She picked up his drawing pad. “Mind if I look?” she asked.

She sat down and turned the pages. “Thomas, these are wonderful. I mean, you’re drawing so well. Better than ever.” What she didn’t say was, “I’m glad you’re getting over the upset with Denny Polacek.”

“Thanks, Mom. I think it’s time for you to see my room. It’s done.”

Maggie Radwill made a little grin. “Okay.” She put the pad down and followed her son upstairs.

When T. Tom opened his bedroom door, Maggie gasped, for spread across four walls was Thomas‘s Saturday Place. Blue sky and billowing clouds covered the ceiling, sun shone through the willows, dappling the stream and sand. Nuggets of gold flickered in the water. From the castle gate, fair damsels rode unicorns, guarded by arrogant gryffons. Courses of gallant knights, their armor shining, shields and swords dazzling in the sunlight, rode proudly down the king’s highway. In a high meadow, a cadre of archers clad in Lincoln green vied with one another against a banque of targets. Pennons and granfalons fluttered from turrets and tentpoles while dragons peered from mountain clefts and elves, barely distinguishable from the willows, watched with glee. The king and queen, surrounded by their courtiers, paraded across a broad meadow in a pageant of color and joy. High in a small glade sat a rustic church … and standing next to the church … who is that in the brown robe, surrounded by children?

Was that Jesus? Yes!

“Oh, my! Oh, my!” Maggie stood in the middle of the floor in awe, turning slowly to take it all in. “Thomas, this is just … just … amazing. Stunning. When … what … I mean, this is so much work!”

“I wanted it to be a surprise for you. You know, because you’ve really helped me.”

“Surprise! I . . . I don’t know what to say. This is just, just incredible!”

Maggie strolled around the room, gazing in wonder at the depth and breadth of the mural, gathering in the wonderful nuances of color and form that so beautifully displayed her son’s wonderful gift.

“Thomas, your perspective, your colors, the details are just … well, they’re fantastic! I feel like I’m right there, part of the adventure.”

  1. Tom beamed. “Glad you like it, Mom. I like it too. It’s really fun to be here. Now all of us can be here together.”

“I’ll say.” Maggie continued to turn, marveling in this remarkable work of art.

Her eye was drawn to a scene on the riverbank where, surrounded by a group of knights and their squires, a young boy stood dressed in a green tee-shirt and faded jeans held a fishing pole. The rod was bent nearly double, hooked to a large, silver fish in the middle of the river.

Hmmm, thought Maggie, there’s something not quite right about that fish. She stepped closer. She looked carefully. Then she whooped, and her laughter filled the room. “Oh, Thomas, Thomas, Thomas, this is just terrific! I love it!”

Maggie’s grin grew bigger and bigger. The face on the fish was unmistakably that of Denny Polacek.


Copyright © 1998 Peter K. Schipper