About RickThomasNet

Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking. In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).

Five Lost Boys In a Lost Family Doing Lost Things

RMlogo Five Lost Boys In a Lost Family Doing Lost Things

Perspective brings its unique interpretation. And our views about life and others change in time. Of course, everyone has their own opinion about what they remember, so when I talk about my brothers, you have to understand that these thoughts are mine, not theirs. I’m sure my bros would see things differently.

I did not have a good relationship with any of them. The years after I started school is where my memories begin. Whatever happened before that is either vague or lost to me.

Robby – I was scared of him. He was mean. He did as he pleased and used fear as a manipulative technique to keep us in line. He could do whatever he wanted to do to whomever he wanted to do it. To tell on him meant abuse. He was four years older than me, and every day that he was around was terrifying.

Joey – He was a bruiser in his own right. He was an angry child who modeled his older brother since he had no other role models. I remember him as a frustrated kid. He was stuck in the middle with no identity, following Robby, but never able to lead. And like the rest of us, he did not stay out of trouble. There was only one path out of childhood, which was a tragic one.

Gary – He was the angriest, terribly arrogant, and personally cruel to me. His attitude was no surprise, considering where he came from: our dysfunctional family. I was not necessarily afraid of him, but I did not like him. Being around him was painful. He left town as soon as he could (joined the Army) and proceeded to change his personality and voice. Once his accent changed and after he got a bit of travel under his belt, he would deride us for our backward, “hickish” ways.

Dwayne – He was two years younger than me. He had a relationship with Gary and Joey, but not me. I’m not sure how or why that was. I think part of it was because I took an “isolation approach” to childhood. I turned inward (TV addiction) to protect myself from the abuse. Quiet, reflective, and distant was my SOP. I didn’t know much about Dwayne, but there was one story I’ll never forget.

I was daring him one day that he would not throw a butcher knife at me. He did. It cut my shoulder blade as it bounced off my back. He was standing on the other side of the kitchen table; I ducked as I saw the knife coming toward me.

One of the more significant results of my childhood is how I view relationships. Loyalty, transparency, and honesty are critical to me. I disdain and respond poorly to gameplaying, manipulation, inauthenticity, and mean-spiritedness.

These qualities (loyalty and truth-telling) that became important to me are not bad, but how I came to embrace there was horrid.

My Life and Times with Randy Travis

RMlogo My Life and Times with Randy Travis

His real name is Randy Traywick. He changed it to “Travis” back in the ’80s, as he was becoming famous in Nashville. Randy and I went to middle and high school together. I don’t recall if he graduated from high school. His family was like ours (dysfunctional), and placing a premium on completing school was not a thing.

A Talented Family

He had a brother one year older, named Ricky. Ricky was the same age as my brother, Gary. Randy and I were the same age; I am one day younger. The Traywicks lived outside Marshville, NC, on a farm. They loved horses and had a beautiful piece of property.

The Traywick family was not wealthy but appeared to have it more together than we did. Randy’s dad had a room in their home for playing instruments and practicing for different events. Joey (my brother) sang with them once upon a time. I remember them doing an excellent rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun” for a school talent show. Ricky was more talented instrumentally and a better singer. He was the lead, but it was Randy who caught the break.

Our Shenanigans

One evening a group of us stole a couple of cases of empty drink bottles at a store near the Traywick home. Bottled sodas came in wooden crates that held 24 of them. We drove the roads, throwing the bottles at mailboxes. There was no good reason for doing this; we were dumb, country kids with no aim or aspiration for our lives.

Another time Gary, Ricky, Randy, and I broke into a local black church building for the fun of it. I was preaching, my brother was pretending to take the offering, and the Traywick boys were singing. The irony is that what we were doing eventually defined our lives. I went into the ministry. Gary became money-centered, and the Traywick boys focused on the music industry.

Weird, right?

And then there was the time when we skipped school and spent the day on Lake Lee, killing sea monsters.

Christians ponder, at times, on why the world is the way it is. They view the troubles in our culture through their “Christianized lenses,” as though how they believe and behave is how things ought to be. They have difficulty understanding why unregenerate people do the dumbest, vilest, and most ungodly things. I’m not confused like that. I understand fully how life can be without God, and there is no end or off-limits to the depravity of the human mind.

I lived it.

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:10-18).

What Happened

Gary went into the military when he was seventeen. Randy went to Nashville, and you can Google the rest of his story. Ricky went to prison. I got married and started carving out a traditional life. 

The Lord saved Ricky.

In 1989, I went home to “look him up” to see how he was doing. He was singing at a local church, and doing small-time gigs wherever he could. Gary pulled twenty-plus in the Army and retired in his early 40s.

Randy made millions.

After I moved to Greenville, SC, to attend Bible college, I was in a Sky City store (i.e., Walmart), and passed the music section. I saw an album cover that had “Randy Travis” written over it in a big font. I just happened to see the pic, and it had an uncanny resemblance to Randy Traywick. I stopped. I stared. I went on my way.

A few weeks later, I was talking to my mother. She asked if I had heard what happened to Randy Traywick. I said, “No,” and she told me about the name change and path to success.

On the humorous side, the town of Marshville put “The Home of Randy Travis” above their “Welcome to Marshville” sign that leads into town. It’s on Hwy 74. Most of the folks who cared about their little community were glad to get rid of him. But after his fame, he became one of their favorite sons.

People are funny like that.

I did ask Ricky in 1989 what he thought about his little brother becoming famous. I was thinking specifically about Ricky being a better talent. He said that he had to work through it.

Good for him.

My Probation Officer Was a Nice Man Who Gave Me Hope

RMlogo My Probation Officer Was a Nice Man Who Gave Me Hope

Probation was two years. It did not infringe on anything, other than a regularly scheduled meeting with a nice man. I’m not sure when or why they stopped, but they did. I wish I knew his name. You can find encouragement in the strangest places; it was my probation office whom the Lord used to move me farther along, and eventually finding Him.

What You Want to Do?

Mr. Probation Man asked me during one of our times together what I wanted to do with my life. I told him that I wanted to finish high school, go to college, get an excellent job, and have a family. He told me that I was an unusual juvenile. Most of them did not have ambition, other than more crime. I was so encouraged that I wanted to get mom a, “My son is the best juvie on probation” bumper sticker for her car.

One of the questions he asked me was whether I was going to commute to college. I had never heard that word in my life. Being the cool kid that I was, I gave him a half-baked answer, hoping it would not reveal my ignorance. I said that I had not decided yet. After I got home, I looked up commute in the dictionary to see what I had not decided yet.

Whew! I out smarted him!

Walk This Way

The most significant benefit of the arrest and probation is how it stung me enough to pause and think about what I was doing with my life. Robby was already in prison. Joey was not doing well, and they were about to incarcerate him. They arrested Gary and Dwayne with me, so their lives were circling the drain too.

Dad was a habituated drunk, and mom was sleeping around with many men, including the police force. Let’s just say that my family was out of control. I had to decide if I was going to walk their way or make an about-face.

Self-Reformation

If you don’t know the Lord and want to change yourself, you pay attention to what’s working with others, assuming it’s legal, and you model it. So I cut my hair, stopped cursing, drinking, and smoking. Those things were the natural, common-sense things to amputate.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matthew 5:29-30).

I figured I would limp through high school since I had no college plans. (I wish someone would have helped me to think about college and show me what I needed to do to get there.) I chose, instead, to become successful since I had a solid work ethic. I worked wherever I could.

I left home and moved into Mama Grant’s house when I was fifteen, and walked away from the 15 years of dysfunction that I had known. The next ten years were various forms of self-reformation, which had successes and failures.

My Plan

My formula was simple. Get a job, save money, find a wife, and live happily ever after. What could possibly go wrong with that?

I had a job; I was finishing up high school, and I was saving money. Self-reform was in full effect. There were good times ahead, no doubt.

I did note how there was still something missing inside of me, even with the determination and plan to self-reform.

The Dumbest Way in the World to Impress a Girl

RMlogo The Dumbest Way in the World to Impress a Girl

I was sitting in the library reading a newspaper, minding my business. No, for real, I was not doing anything wrong. No smoke bombs, no pranks, nothing illegal. And then, “she” walked through those doors. Teri came right up to me to let me know that someone wanted to see me in the office. It was kismet, though not how I had hoped!

My First Love

Teri worked in our high school office, and she was in my 10th grade class. I saw Teri the first time when I was in the fifth grade. She went to Marshville Elementary, and I went to Wingate Elementary. Our classes met at our school for an event that I do not remember. But I do remember when I saw her standing there. It was brief, from a distance, that beautiful blond hair. And then she was gone.

I never forgot her and couldn’t wait until middle school in two years, when we would be together, to begin my pursuit in earnest. We did date briefly in the 7th grade, but she broke up with me because I was too weird, I think. Undaunted, I maintained my crush throughout high school, so when she came to visit me in the library, all my dreams were rushing back.

The walk to the office with her was my moment for fate realized. But for some reason, she kept a few steps in front me.

Hard to get, I figured. I like coy.

My Worst Nightmare

When I arrived at the office, two or three sheriff deputies were waiting to take me downtown. It was one of those surreal moments in life where you feel like a Dali painting on the inside. I was humiliated from head to toe and full of fear. The rules of engagement vanished, as I forgot all about the love of my life.

They had found the stuff that we had stolen from the high school. The police were looking for something my older brothers had taken. I’m not exactly sure what it was, but in their search, they found what we ripped off from the school. We had hidden it at my grandmother’s property.

They soon arrested Gary and Dwayne as well. I think they let Dwayne go because he was underage. I don’t believe they kept Gary overnight, and I don’t remember what punishment he received. They searched me, took my belongings, including the leather strings to my knee-high moccasins. I was a cool kid, though my coolness was a thin layer that could not shield my stupidity.

Five Days That Changed Everything

I didn’t understand why they took my boot strings. Then, after five days in jail, it made sense: I wanted to kill myself. Suicidal thoughts mounted as the days dragged by like a disoriented sloth in a straitjacket. They put me in a 10’x10′ concrete walled room. I had a cot, sink, and a toilet. It was an open floor plan. There was a small window in the door and a narrow rectangular window that faced Charlotte.

Three times a day, a mysterious person shoved yellow grits and other foods through the small slot at the bottom of the door. Think: doggie door. Other than the mystery food-shover, I had no contact with anyone for five days. Of course, the worst part was that I had a ticket to the Bachman Turner Overdrive concert in Charlotte that weekend. My frustration was pretty high, knowing that my brothers got to go and not me.

It’s all about priorities.

I learned later that my dad decided to leave me in jail, thinking it would change my life. How ironic: the man that I hated with every breath in me made the right decision. The Lord used those five days to change my life forever. I’m grateful for dad’s decision.

I got a couple of years probation, but the impact on my life lasted much longer, even to this day. I determined that my experiences with crime, drugs, and bad people were over. It was time for a change.

As for Teri? Not sure what happened to her, but I knew whatever her plans were going to be, it would be without me.

The Beginning of the End of a Criminal’s Career

RMlogo The Beginning and the End of a Criminal's Career

The technical legal term for what I did is “B&E,” which does not mean the beginning of the end, though it could be. In a spiritual sense, it was the beginning of the end, for which I will always praise God. But in the legal world, it means breaking and entering. It’s when a criminal wants something so much that he breaks into a place to steal it.

Only Dopes Do Dope

I had a drug business during my high school days. Robby, the oldest brother, supplied me with marijuana, and I would sell it for him. I never made a profit, or you could say that all my profit went up in smoke. I had a specially made jacket where I sewed several pockets on the inside. Each hidden pocket had different “brands” and sizes of marijuana so our customers could choose what they wanted, e.g., Columbian, Acapulco Gold. They would line up in the restroom between classes to shop.

As my little business grew, I needed some scales to weigh the marijuana. Someone suggested that the “Thomas boys” could break into our local high school. The science department had quite a few scales. I am not sure who concocted this brain-dumb idea, but Gary and Dwayne were on board, so we made a plan.

Part of our motivation was a business decision. But, honestly, it’s what we did; it’s who we were. I started stealing when I was 12 years old. I was 15 when we decided to break into the high school. Like Bonnie and Clyde, the shelf-life of a thief is usually short. During this disturbing season in my life, we broke into two church buildings and stole things from various local stores and malls.

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need (Ephesians 4:28).

Sodas and Cigars

The first store I remember ripping off was a “mom and pop,” called J. L. Austins. It was a local hardware, food store on Main Street in Wingate, NC. We would enter through the back door, which had an unlocked screen during the day. We crawled in on our hands and knees like cats, maneuvered to the soda box, and took what we wanted. Then crawled back out to enjoy our haul.

The last time we broke into Austins was the day we were training my friend, Joe Woodson. Joe was a bit green but eager. We had crawled in, ducking from the sight-lines of the front counter. Joe was following us, but rather than crawling, he walked in standing up. He then let the door slam behind him. It made a loud noise; we were startled at his blunder, as all the “cats” rotated their heads and stared at him wide-eyed. Someone from the front realized what was going on and hollered in our direction. That was the end of our hardware store escapades.

Another short season, I stole cherry blend cigars from a local one-person gas station on Highway 74. Joe and I would go into the woods to smoke. We did this the entire summer. That fall, we went out for the midget league football team. The coach had us running laps around the Wingate Elementary School baseball field as part of our drills. Joe and I finished dead last. We could not breathe.

Those practices ended my cigar smoking days.

The End of My Crime Days

We continued our life of crime up to that fateful high school break-in. We would have gotten away with what we did, but the law was suspicious of some things they thought our older brothers were doing. They were on their trail, looking for their secret hideout.

Their trail led to one of our grandmother’s out-buildings where they found our stash from the high school. How ironic: they were looking for their stuff and found ours. I do not know if they ever found what they were looking for from my brothers, but what the police weren’t looking for, they found, and it was a significant turning point in my life.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, and what I felt was unfair back then was God’s kindness to me.

Regretfully Thinking About Mrs. Bolden, Smoke Bombs, and Sea Monsters

RMlogo Regrettfullly Thinking About Mrs. Bolden, Smoke Bombs, and Sea Monsters

Mrs. Bolden was a lovely 10th grade English teacher at Forest Hills High School in Marshville, NC. I don’t think she ever did anything wrong. She was sweet, enjoyed her job, did it well, and probably never caused anyone an ounce of trouble. Her wonderfulness makes what I did to her classroom so much worse.

Making Smoke Bombs

Someone taught me how to make “timed, smoke bombs.” It’s a simple thing to learn, and I trust that I don’t regret teaching this prank to my son. It’s a “time-release” smoke bomb—the critical key—that goes off about ten minutes after you light it.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

You put a lit cigarette without its filter over the fuse. Eventually, the cig will burn down to the wick, and, well, you know the rest.

Just before the start of Mrs. Bolden’s English class, I placed a smoke bomb outside the door’s entrance to the classroom. After the proper placement of my prank, I entered the room, took my chair, and began paying attention to Mrs. Bolden. Paying attention should have been a clue that I was up to something.

About ten minutes into the class period, smoke began to pour into the room. The alarms went off, the class emptied, and chaos took over. After the smoke cleared, being the good student that I was, I wanted to help Mrs. Bolden get to the bottom of this prank.

She never realized the culprit, I think.

The Regretful Christian

About 20 years later.

I went back to Forest Hills High School, looking for Mrs. Bolden to apologize to her. After I became a Christian and began to reflect on some of the antics of my youth, I wanted to make things right with a few unsuspecting folks. She was one of them.

She never meant harm to anyone. She was doing her job, and I was a jerk. Sadly, I could not find her. She was “old” in my day, so I imagine she had passed away by the time remorse arrived.

Killing Sea Monsters

On another day, a few of us skipped school and went to the ABC Store to get a case of beer. And we were doing acid. The crew this day was my brother Gary, plus Ricky and Randy Traywick (aka, Randy Travis).

We went to Lake Lee, rented a boat, and spent the afternoon peacefully rowing. And then, all of a sudden and out of the deep blue lake, Ricky stood up and began screaming, “Sea Monster, Sea Monster!” at the top of his lungs.

He took an oar and began swinging it wildly toward the sea monster that was approaching the boat. I was grateful for his leadership initiative. Upon closer inspection, we noticed the sea monster was a limb floating across the lake near the boat. Ricky was tripping.

He broke the oar.

The weird part was trying to explain to the guy who rented us the boat that we broke the oar over the back of a sea monster. I don’t think he believed us. As I was standing there talking to him, a beer rolled down my pant leg and down the dock ramp. We had to hide our remaining beers because we didn’t want him calling the law on underage kids drinking on the lake.

As the beer hit the pavement and rolled down the dock toward the lake, we both stood there in silence, staring at the rolling beer can. It seemed like it was moving in slow motion.

I remember thinking how we snookered the attendant with the sea monster story, but there was no way he was going to believe we weren’t drinking.

We briskly walked to our car and got out of there.

Streaking, Throwing Eggs, and Destroying an Airplane

RMlogo Streaking, Throwing Eggs, Destorying an Airplane

I wrote the purpose of these blogs in my “Apology” for this website. I need to say this to you because of the next batch of family stories. I write these posts for my children. I want them to know what it was like for the “Thomas boys.” One of the biggest problems we have in our country today is that there are several generations who have no clue what it is like to suffer. They have only known a flourishing America. To forget where you came from is to slip into things you’ll regret.

Our three children have lived a blessed life, and they will tell you that if you ask. They do not have my categories, experiences, or darkness. I’m not writing to glorify an evil past (or brag or “one-up” you, or any other misguided interpretation). I want our children to know that God’s grace works and the gospel transforms. I don’t want them to assume they can deviate from God’s path, and it will go well for them.

I began my life by walking down an evil path, and then I found the gospel (Christ). Our children have never known anything but a gospel environment. I want them to see how things could be if they choose to walk from the blessedness of all that they have known.

They Call Him the Streak

We five brothers were notorious for doing pranks. Some of them were fun and funny, while others were mean and regretful. In the mid-seventies, streaking was a big rage. Remember Ray Stevens? To streak, you have to get bum-naked and run through a crowd of people.

One day, I was perusing the Monroe Enquirer and saw a picture of my brother (Gary) on the front page. Yes, the big picture that they put at the top. He was sitting on the back of a rag-top, naked, riding down the main drag of Wingate College (now Wingate University). The front page! Literally. I was so impressed at his boldness and thankful it was not me.

The Egg Caper

My grandfather had chicken eggs. Lots of them. Papa Grant had an entrepreneurial spirit, though he was more like Fred G. Sanford than anyone else. He had scores of washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators in his yard.

Mama Grant accepted it.

One evening Robby and Joey stole some eggs from our grandfather and took them to Wingate College and began throwing them into the windows of the dorms. In those days, there was no air conditioning; they used window fans. When those eggs “hit the fan,” gooey slime splattered all over the dorm rooms. I have always imagined a college student finishing up his term paper on a manual typewriter, and he could not make any mistakes. Remember “whiteout.” This prank made a colossal mess and incited several students.

The chase was on.

Robby, being the athlete, jumped a nearby ravine and kept going. Joey, who was following close behind, tried to leap the large ditch but came up a yard short. He landed on the dark side of the bank. The first thing to make contact was his knee, which caught the corner of a concrete block. It knocked his knee to the backside of his leg. Joey was in screaming pain. The ambulance and police showed up at the same time.

I believe he went to the hospital first.

Is That Your Plane?

Dwayne, the youngest, demolished an airplane that belonged to the neighbors of one of his friends. Dwayne’s friend said the plane was his, as I understand the story, and Dwayne did not believe him and told him so.

The young boy “proved it” was his plane by attacking it with a club. I’m not sure what that proved, other than they were dumb. Dwayne joined in with his buddy. They threw rocks through the windows and beat the body up with sticks. They totaled the airplane.

Dwayne and his friend were about 12 years old. They were too young to prosecute.

Eight Illustrations From an Evil Brother’s Diary

RMlogo Eight Illustrations From an Evil Brother's Diary

Robby was a mean brother. There is no pleasant way of saying it. He was incorrigible. I have no idea why he was so angry or why he had a perverse pleasure in hurting people. If I had to guess, I would say he was reacting to dad while imitating his evilness. I do not recall one good thing that he ever did for anyone. I have illustrations.

One time he took a bedsheet from our beds and tied strings to each corner. He was rigging a makeshift parachute. He forced two of us (me) to climb a tree and jump into a pile of sticks that he had pointing in our direction. The protruding limbs were a nice touch; that’s my brother.

If you’re wondering, the chute did not open during the 12-foot drop. Fortunately, we were not hurt, as I remember it—other than our feelings. Perhaps you’re thinking, why did you do it? A good question. Robby always gave us two options: do what he said or he would beat us, and it was not a friendly beating. Typically, wisdom said it was better to follow along with his plans.

Another time he urinated in the lawnmower because he did not want to cut the grass. I can still see my dad yanking the cord, trying to start the mower while cursing a blue streak. It was humorous to us twisted, angry kids. Of course, Robby miscalculated. By the time dad got the mower repaired, the grass was more than a foot high. It was a beast to cut.

On another occasion, he took a rope and made a “squared circle” (wrestling term) around a few trees and bushes to form a wrestling ring. He got hyped-up from watching the Saturday wrestling show, so he and the next older brother, Joey, put on ski masks and pretended to be the “Masked Bolos,” a wrestling team back in the day.

They beat up two of the three young siblings (me). We oscillated between continual fear of getting beat up by Robby and enduring the wrath a drunk dad who verbally taunted and hit us. It was a sad childhood.

One time Robby strung up a cat inside an open soda machine. (I’m not sure why the soda machine was open, though I have an idea.) Then he beat the animal to death. Robby topped this event by hanging a boy from the second story of our old school building by his ankles just for kicks.

Childhood Karma

The funniest time was when he strung a thick string between two trees at the end of a path that led to our grandmother’s home. We lived about 50 yards from her. He was hoping that one of us would run down the lane to grandma’s house and get clipped at the neck. The funny part happened shortly after he strung up the string. Mother called him back to the house to do something. He forgot about his trap. Later, mom asked him to get something at grandma’s house.

Mother said she was washing the dishes, looking out the kitchen window that faced grandma’s house when she saw her oldest son run down the path. And all of a sudden, Robby was nearly decapitated as his legs shot out from under him. This “kid karma” was one of the more excellent moments from my weird childhood–from my perspective.

One evening Robby and Joey got into one of their “normal fights.” It escalated to the point where they broke a window in the living room. The glass cut a primary vein, and Robby began to spurt blood on the floor. They stopped fighting, as Robby was weakening and collapsing on the floor. It was a surreal moment. They called the ambulance, who arrived at the nick of time. He almost died. It was the oddest thing to sit there, not able to do anything other than watching your brother die.

And then there was the time when mother was so angry at him that she threw an ashtray and hit him on the side of his head. It was a heavy ashtray.

I was glad in the way of enjoying wrestling where you vicariously take pleasure in good beating up evil.

Mom had a mean fastball.

The Boy Who Could, But Chose Not To

The Boy That Could, But Chose Not To

Robby was one of those boys who had destiny written all over him. Specifically, in the area of athletics. I do not remember when he first took the field in the big three: baseball, football, and basketball—the main sports for kids in our day. He was best at baseball, probably because he enjoyed it more and had greater access through Little LeagueBabe Ruth, and high school.

A Star In Sports

To illustrate his destiny, I recall when he was playing on a Little League team, and they were behind. It was the last inning. Robby hit the ball, and it had just enough force to roll to the back fence and stop. Barely. The ball went under the glove of the third baseman and rolled unimpeded to the left-field fence. It was like the ball had eyes and the defense was playing in slow motion. Robby knocked in the winning run.

He was the hero. Again.

Another time on the high school football team, someone knocked him down on the 20-yard line of the opposing team. He got up and ran diagonally across the field to make the tackle on the player near the 10-yard line—70 yards away. It was a magic moment. Nobody could catch the opposing player. It was even more spectacular because when the guy knocked Robby down, his helmet came off. He got up, ran the guy down, and tackled him with no helmet.

A Star In Prison

When Robby was in Central Prison in Raleigh, NC, Clyde King of the New York Yankees came to interview him. He was that good. Unfortunately, only Robby could mess up his destiny. He was incarcerated and would never be able to fulfill his dreams on the field.

Robby was typically the first person to break a record, or he was the youngest to do “this or that.” I recall reading the papers many times where it said, “Robby Thomas was the first to (fill in the blank).” He was gifted. Even when he went to prison, he played on the prison teams, was a star, and got the MVP trophies.

An Angry Child

I do not know what went wrong with him. I’m not sure why he was angry all the time. Perhaps it was the same reason that I was an angry kid. All five boys were unhappy. We were pagans. Dad yelled and beat us every day, virtually. Dad was mostly verbal, which was typically the result of his drinking. I don’t recall him ever being sober, though I’m sure he was.

Robby was caught in the wake of awful parenting and continued to spin out of control. There was no spiritual intervention. His path was set. The boy who was destined to succeed rewrote his destiny and died a tragic death.

I never assumed Robby would be an old person, sitting in a rocking chair on a back porch somewhere with a wife and grandkids. He never gave that vibe. He was born to die young.

And he did.

The Brother With the Most Talent Was Murdered Young

The Brother With the Most Talent Was Murdered Young

My oldest brother, Robby, was born in July 1956. It feels weird to sound out his name in my mind. I only knew him during my pre-salvation years, and that was more than forty years ago. To think that he was my brother is surreal, as he seems to have belonged to another mother. But he was my oldest sibling, and then he wasn’t because a man murdered him.

And nobody cared.

Robby was a rare individual. He was more gifted than the rest of us, speaking of sports specifically. If someone would have voted “the most likely to succeed” from the bunch of us, Robby was the hands-down favorite. I was jealous because we all knew that he would make it out of our hell-hole with success.

I’m not sure where it went wrong, but it did in the worst kind of way.

The Dreaded Phone Call

In June 1987, I received the phone call that nobody wants. It was from mother. It was early. She told me that Robby had broken into a mobile home, and a man was sitting across the room with a double-barrel shotgun in hand. He unloaded both barrels toward Robby’s head. Robby put his hands in front of his face in an attempt to protect himself. It shredded his hands. He fell face down on the floor. It reminded me of Goliath when David sunk a rock into his forehead. The Bible says that Goliath fell forward, face down (1 Samuel 17:49).

The man took the shotgun, spun it around to where he was holding the barrels. He used it as a sledgehammer on the back of Robby’s skull. He broke the stock of the gun by crushing my brother’s head. It was the blows that killed him, though he could have died from the gunshot wounds if he had time to bleed out.

And then it was over. Robby was gone, a dash between two dates: 1957-1987.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14).

The authorities did not prosecute the killer. The police looked at it as one less criminal off the streets, and Robby broke into the mobile home anyhow—as the killer described what happened with no witnesses. Robby had just gotten out of prison in February (1987). He lived most of his adult life incarcerated.

He was an “institutionalized convict,” a person so acclimated to the inside that he could not live well on the outside. The rehabilitation programs didn’t work for him. Doing crime was his passion, which became the portal to prison, where he thrived. The three times they released him, he did things that led back to his “comfort zone.” His last release led to his murder.

A Girl With a Significant Other

Robby had a girlfriend on the outside while he was on the inside. They were pen-pals. The plot twist is that his girlfriend had a husband (or significant other). Robby decided he wanted the letters, which is why he showed up at the mobile home one dark evening. The one brother with the most potential was the first one to die. One more would follow a similar fate ten years later.

The brother, who never missed a day of school until his 10th-grade year, died 31 days before his 32 birthday. The person who was always one of the best at whatever sport’s league he participated threw his life away.

And there was no mercy.