It’s been said that great works aren’t performed by strength, but rather by perseverance.
Anna Flippin married Tom in 1990. It was her second marriage and his first. A San Francisco police officer, Tom graduated at the top of the Police Academy. He was very intelligent. Very well read. “In fact he was never without a book—ever,” Anna says. “He was even the editor of the San Francisco Police Officers Association newspaper. He had his own column and he was also a cartoonist.”
Anna describes Tom as a man with a magnetic personality, handsome and polite. “He treated me like I was a queen,” she says. “When I approached the table he always helped me sit down; he opened the car door. He was extremely attentive that way.”
The Flippins had been married for seven years when Anna’s perception of Tom dramatically changed. The blinders were ripped from her eyes when she came face-to face with reality: Her husband was no Prince Charming.
Over the next days … and months … and years, Anna persisted in praying that God would not only revive her marriage, but also soften Tom’s cynical heart.
“I just always believed him”
Tom was outside that summer evening in 1997 when his pager went off inside the house. Thinking that someone at his office was trying to reach him, Anna answered the page. When she dialed the number a woman answered. Anna asked, “Did you call Tom Flippin?”
The woman denied calling, so Anna redialed the number. The same woman answered.
When Anna heard her British accent, she recalled a conversation from months earlier. A man had phoned her, without identifying himself, saying that Tom had been having an affair with a British woman—for a long time. Anna asked her husband about the man’s call, and he denied the accusation. Anna believed him.
Now, Anna wondered if the man’s allegation had been true. But when Tom came back into the house, he again denied knowing any such woman. He said, “I’ve never seen this number before.”
The next day, after Tom went to work, Anna went through his phone records and charge statements. She not only found numerous references to the British woman’s phone number, but also discovered that her husband had paid for many things that she had never seen.
When Tom came home that night, she presented him with the highlighted evidence. Only then did he admit his unfaithfulness. “He had been trying to break it off but it was too difficult,” Anna says. “It was a very hard, hard time.”
Wondering how she could have been so naïve, she began to look at her years with Tom. “If he’d say, ‘I’m going to be late because I’m on a stakeout,’ ‘I have to work overtime,’ or ‘I’m going undercover and so you can’t get hold of me,’ then I just always believed him.”
Although Anna still wanted her marriage to work, Tom was not willing to get counseling. He insisted that the affair was over, that she just had to believe him. Anna wasn’t so sure, “I had spent time believing him,” Anna says. “And I said, ‘No.’”
“I want to see you in heaven”
The Flippins separated later that month, and Anna turned to Mariner’s Community Church in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Neither she nor Tom had been a churchgoer when they married, but a neighbor kept telling Anna that she needed to go to church. “I’m so grateful because about five years after I started going is when all of this happened.”
Anna was fearful that her husband would die without personally knowing Christ. Although they were separated, she continued to pray for his salvation and asked him to attend church with her. Tom didn’t care about spiritual things, but he went with her at times—just to make her happy. When she gave him books about Christ, he’d say, “I can see how much it means to you and I see how happy you are and that’s good for you, but not for me.”
“I want to see you in heaven,” Anna would say. “I want us to always be together forever.” Tom was not interested.
Paul Richardson, pastor of Mariner’s Community Church, says, “Anna had a deep concern: Will he die and go to hell? He was a tough one who didn’t believe and didn’t really care about believing.”
Richardson describes Anna as remaining faithful to her unfaithful husband. “She hung in and believed that he could change.”
“I want to do the right thing”
For two and a half years the Flippins went to both marriage counseling and individual counseling. An unlikely source drew them back together: the movie Saving Private Ryan. After Tom watched it, he began to examine his life. He phoned his wife and asked if he could come home. “I want to do the right thing,” he said. This time, Anna believed him.
As a long-time listener of FamilyLife Today (FamilyLife’s nationally syndicated radio broadcast), Anna knew about the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. So she told Tom that he could come home if they would continue their counseling, attend church together, and go to a Weekend to Remember. He agreed.
They attended the conference in Lake Tahoe, and Anna describes it as wonderful. She had prayed that her husband’s heart would be transformed at the conference. “I guess my hope was that … we could start working on a foundation from then,” she says. “Now that we were back together I wanted God in our marriage. I had hoped it would make an impact on his life.”
At the end of the weekend Tom told her that he was glad they went. He said that he enjoyed the weekend, “except for the God stuff.”
The conference brought the Flippins closer together and caused them to think about the issues in their marriage. Tom even listened to the gospel presentation at the conference, but didn’t think it was for him.
Shortly after attending the Weekend to Remember, Tom decided to take early retirement, and the Flippins moved to their vacation home in the mountains of Quincy, Calif. True to his word, Tom visited churches with his wife, wanting to find one where they would both feel comfortable.
“We hit it right off”
After visiting several churches, they walked into First Baptist Church in Quincy. “It was a tiny little church,” Anna says. “And this man greets us. … a retired police officer who’s now a preacher. Tom immediately connected with George.”
Pastor George Tarleton not only had been a police officer, but also had spent 24 years in the military. He was 47 years old before he made the decision to trust Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and almost 50 when he went to seminary. “I always felt that I was too rough around the edges to be a pastor,” Tarleton says. “And one of my instructors in seminary says, ‘No, there’s going to be a church somewhere that wants you just the way you are because you’re going to be able to relate to people the way other people can’t.’”
Like Tarleton, Tom had been in the military before becoming a police officer. “We hit it right off,” Tarleton says. “It was just kind of the right time and the right place and it was only through God’s grace.”
“We had the same kind of background in life and had made a lot of mistakes in our lives. … And he [Tom] was looking. He was definitely looking to believe in God and to find a purpose. There had to be more in life than what was going on and the stuff he had seen and the stuff he had gone through.”
The two men became good friends and Tom started attending church regularly. Anna continued to pray for her husband’s salvation. “She always hoped and believed that it [Tom’s salvation] would happen sometime,” Tarleton says.
“I don’t buy it”
After Tom had been retired for about four years, he developed a cold that he just couldn’t shake. Anna begged him to go to the doctor and feared that he might have developed pneumonia. But instead of pneumonia, Tom had lung cancer. “It was all around his heart,” Anna says. “He had never smoked in his life.” Although he went through chemotherapy and radiation, the doctor’s prognosis was not good.
Early in the summer of 2007, Pastor Richardson drove to Quincy to visit the Flippins. Once skeptical of the claims of Christ himself, he wanted to share his personal testimony with Tom. “I had a time when I questioned and doubted,” Richardson says. “And so I said, ‘Here’s my path. Here’s my story.’”
“I don’t buy it,” Tom said. “Life’s an energy force and once I die my energy is going to go into the universe. If there is a God he’s going to judge me on being a good person.”
Still, Anna just would not give up. She continued to pray.
“I can’t find the stairs”
Although Tom had lived much longer than the doctors expected, it appeared that the end was very near. The cancer was now in his brain and he began hallucinating. Several times he frantically called to Anna, “Honey, Honey, I can’t find the stairs. I can’t find the stairs.” Then he would add, “I can’t find the door. I can’t find the stairs to heaven.”
Anna called Pastor Tarleton and told him how Tom was fretfully searching for what seemed to be the door to heaven. She handed Tom the phone.
“He wanted to know how to get to heaven. He said he was looking for that stairway to heaven,” Tarleton says. “And I answered, ‘You already know.’”
Tom asked, “What do I have to do?”
“You just have to accept Jesus as the Boss of your life. Turn your life over to Him.”
“I do. I do,” Tom replied.
When Tom handed the phone back to Anna, Pastor Tarleton told her that Tom had asked Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of his life. Anna wasn’t so sure that it was genuine. “If you only know how crazy he’s been talking,” she told Tarleton. “I don’t really know.”
That evening, Pastor Richardson visited with Anna and Christina (Tom and Anna’s daughter). They told him about the phone call. He also was skeptical about whether Tom’s conversion was real.
Richardson went to Tom’s bedside and whispered, “Hey, Tom. It’s Paul. How ya doing, brother?”
Tom’s eyes opened and he got a big smile on his face. “And there was a look like I’ve never seen him look before—a complete sense of peace and joy with a smile like I’d not ever seen,” Richardson says. “And he grabbed my hand tight, ‘Pastor Paul, I’m in. I’m in.’”
Tom slipped off into a coma again. Anna, Christina, and Richardson just looked at one another and agreed that God had done something in Tom’s life.
“God cared more about Tom’s salvation than anybody else did”
“I believe that God wanted Tom into heaven even more than we did,” Richardson says. “And God’s going to use every means and every way to do that for His glory. God cared more about Tom’s salvation than even Anna, or I, or anybody else did. And He used circumstances, and Pastor George, and the coma, ... and all of that stuff so that at the right time he would accept Christ. … What a great God that would set up these situations.”
Tom's sense of desperation and confusion was replaced with an attitude of peace. A few days after Richardson's visit, Tom gasped for every breath as tears rolled down Anna's cheeks. "I love you, Tom," she said.
"I love you, too," he whispered. "Don't worry about me." That same day, July 9, 2007, Tom Flippin entered eternity.
Anna had persisted to the end and saw a great work. As she laid her head on her pillow that night, she felt comfort recalling her husband’s words, “I’m in.”
“Sometimes … all of a sudden heaven is peeled back for a second and you see the handiwork of God,” Richardson says. “You see God setting things up like you never could have imagined. His ways are not our ways. You get just a peek or just the shadow of His ways and you think, ‘Oh, my gosh, how marvelous are His ways!’”
Used with permission. Copyright © 2008 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
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