this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?’
“Sir”, the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when
the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once
the man was cured: he picked up his mat and walked.
Calvin came into my life in 2003. Perhaps it was even before. He came to my
front door and rang the doorbell. I remember opening the door and feeling a bit
fearful. It was the first time a black man had ever been to my house. He was
very tall and thin. He spoke with a soft voice that I almost couldn’t hear. I also
couldn’t quite make out what he was asking for. Then he pointed to the front
flowerbed and I could tell he was asking if he could weed it for pay. This was the
beginning of many such encounters.
We live on Palmetto Street in Florence, S.C It is a very busy street
because it not only leads to downtown; it also leads to Myrtle Beach, SC. It is
Highway 76, so not suprisingly it has heavy traffic except on Sundays. There are
many people who walk by every day going to and from town. Our house is a big
old 78-year-old house. It was built in the mid-twenties when the street was still a
dirt road. The walkway to our entrance was broken and unsightly when we
moved in 8 years ago. I took it apart and used all of the pieces to form a freeform
circular walkway and edging for a flowerbed. My vision was to give those
walking by a reason to “stop and smell the roses”. This view was useless to the
cars that would speed past. I hoped it would reach out to those who were in hard
I enjoyed working in the flowerbed and I also enjoyed looking out my
front window to see if anyone passing by would notice. After a while, it was
clear that they not only noticed, sometimes they would stop and turn and drink in
the beauty of God’s creation. There were many times when people would even
stop and encourage me in my work. It gave me as much joy as it did those who
would stop to gaze. The bed has gone through many changes over the years, but
it has some form of flowers blooming all year round.
This brings me back to Calvin. He had walked past my garden many
times. There were times when I would see him working in several of my
neighbors’ yards when I would pass by on my walks. I prided myself in doing
my own yard work. I was healthy and was able to keep up with the needs of my
plants by myself. The years went by and I found that the flowerbed became a
burden to me when I went to work 30 hours a week. The weeds began to take
over the flowers and I began to look at the bed with disdain. I didn’t see Calvin
for quite a while because I wasn’t out in my yard very much anymore. As a
matter of fact, when I was out in the yard, I was usually playing catch up on my
weeding and I would work myself into a frenzy whenever I would try to get all of
the weeds out. Finally, I think Calvin took pity on me and stopped to ask if he
could help me with my weeding for pay. He had asked me this several times
before and I always said that I enjoyed doing the work myself. Now it would
have been a lie if I had said that. I really didn’t have time to enjoy the work that I
had once been only too happy to do.
I must tell you that at this time I didn’t know Calvin’s’ name. He was just
a tall skinny man that walked by my house. We only had a passing acquaintance.
The years had been kinder to my flowerbed than they had been to Calvin. In the
span of time that I first observed him until this day, he had grown even thinner.
And his gait had slowed down considerably. There was more of an expression of
urgency when he asked me on this particular day if I could give him some work
so that he could make a few dollars. I dreaded his asking me to let him help me.
I had the awful feeling that he was going to use the money for liquor. As a matter
of fact I could smell it on his breath. I felt he needed help but I didn’t want to
enable his drinking habit. I turned him down then and several times after that.
Then one day I decided to give him a job of raking the leaves in the yard.
Frankly, he did a pretty poor job, and hurried through the job and left quickly
after I paid him.
As another year sped by I didn’t see much of Calvin. My father and
mother had moved in with us and my dad had taken over most of the extra yard
work that needed to be done and that had lifted some of the responsibility off of
me. My flowerbed in the front began to thrive again. Calvin came by maybe
once or twice that year and I began to suggest that he go to the church and work
raking leaves there. He never took me up on it. This only further convinced me
that he really didn’t want to improve his situation. He might as well have never
come to me for work. It never occurred to me that he was more than a person
looking for a handout. I didn’t feel any responsibility to help him.
After returning from my mission trip to Nicaragua last year, I began to see
Calvin through different eyes. I no longer saw his need as being the most
important thing. I began to see that I needed to look more closely at him and
begin to see him as a person. I had quit my job by this time and I was staying
home most of the time now. When Calvin would come and ring the bell, I began
to go out on the porch and greet him and I began to ask him how he was doing.
He began to share with me and I began to give him food to eat instead of money.
This new relationship replaced any feelings of guilt that I had experienced.
Before, I would pay him to do a job and then I would imagine him going straight
to the liquor store. Now I felt I was supplying more of what he needed.
There came a time during the summer when I felt comfortable about
going out on the porch to join him while he was eating. I no longer felt
uncomfortable about not being able to understand him when he would talk to
me. I told him that I was having a hard time understanding him and that he would
have to speak more clearly and louder since I was hard of hearing. He was kind
to me and tried to communicate better with me. He also began making more eye
contact with me.
After a while he began to come by every few days. I would sit with him
while he ate and ask him what was going on in his life. I told him how I had
begun to pray for him and I asked him if there was anything in particular that I
could pray for him. He asked me to pray for God to stay close to him and help
him. I shared with him that I needed prayer for the same thing. I also told him
that it was a big adjustment trying to blend two households under one roof. I
asked him if he would pray for God to give me patience and help me to be kind to
my parents. He was more than happy to do this for me.
Toward the end of the summer, weeks would go by and I wouldn’t see
Calvin. I began to be concerned about whether he was hungry somewhere. I
wondered if he was finding enough work to survive. I also wondered if he was
working different neighborhoods and that perhaps he just didn’t get as much work
in my neighborhood anymore. Finally in October, he again began to stop by
every few days. It was beginning to get very cold outside. It was clear that this
was going to be a severe winter. I had some raking for him to do and several
times he actually went by the church and Starr gave him some work. As the
weather became more frigid, Calvin came by more often. I asked him if he would
like to come in and sit on the back porch where it was warm. He accepted the
invitation. He began to relax a little more in my presence. Or maybe, I began to
relax a little more in his presence. Never the less, a change began to occur in our
relationship. I think we both began to trust each other more. One day he shared
with me that he had become homeless. He told me that he was sleeping in the
park. I still felt that he was not doing all that he could to direct his life in the right
path. I continued to pray for him. He knew that I was doing the best I could for
him. I would have liked nothing more than to have given him a room in my
home, but I knew that he needed me to let him figure out how to get his life
straightened out on his own. It reminded me of the story of the lame man who
Jesus asked, “Do you want to be well?” I knew that I couldn’t make him well.
He needed to want to be healed before he could turn to the Healer.
In January of this year, I was going away on a mission trip to Nicaragua
again. I told Calvin that I would be away for a couple of weeks and I asked him
to pray for me. He was more than happy to be involved with me in this mission
trip. When I returned, it was very cold and Calvin was one of the first persons I
had an opportunity to see. He was so glad to see me when I opened the door. He
smiled broadly at me and I went to him and hugged him. I thanked him for all of
his prayers and he told me that he had prayed for my safety. He told me he had
been praying for my safe return. I invited him to the back porch and fixed him a
sandwich and proceeded to share with him the amazing things that had happened
while on my trip. He was so receptive to hear all of the stories. It was a joyful
time for both of us. I enjoyed hearing his comments. He said, “ I can understand
why these people were so thankful to have you come. You smile so beautifully
and you make a person feel that you really care for them.” I told him that I would
love for him to get to go on such a trip. He said that he would love to have the
opportunity some time. It was interesting to me that while I was there in
Nicaragua, I had thought of the great benefit it would be to Calvin if he could go
on such a trip. I tried to explain the circumstances and the living conditions that
these people live in. He was so interested and when I gave him a piece of printed
paper money they use in Nicaragua, he told me, “ I will keep this for a long, long
time.” I told him that I had brought it back as a souvenir for him.
While I was gone, my parents had taken up the job of fixing Calvin food
to eat. They wanted to be supportive of me in my local mission project. Calvin
really loved the homemade food that my mother would prepare. He especially
loved the sweet goodies. He would even ask for my mothers’ homemade bread.
I think he was partial to her French bread with peanut butter and jelly.
I tried to keep our relationship on an equal basis. I didn’t want him to
think of me as the giver and him as the taker. It took very little effort on my part
to give him some food. It took more effort on my part to think of him during the
day and to continue to pray for him. My prayers were always the same. I would
ask God to keep him safe and to bring him to the realization that he needed to
make a life change. It became evident that he was getting worse as the winter got
more intense. There were days when he would need to come in to warm himself
more than he needed food. His eyes took on a more desperate look and I felt like
he was getting farther away from hope of getting well. My prayers took on a
greater sense of urgency. I began to feel like I was losing Calvin. His gaze was
more distant and he had a far away look in his eyes. I think his pain had become
so great that he couldn’t even focus on what his greatest need was. When he
didn’t show up for several days, I began to visualize him on a cold park bench in
the cold of night. I asked God to keep him warm. I knew he had a good coat and
we had given him some gloves. I wondered if there would ever come a time
when things would change for the better for Calvin.
Then one day at the end of February, he came to the back porch again, but
this time after the feeding and prayer time, he asked for another piece of cake. I
went into the kitchen and returned with a piece wrapped in a paper towel. As I
handed it to him I said, “This is my piece of cake. You are doing me a favor by
taking it. I do not need this piece of cake as you can see.” As I handed it to him I
laughed and he smiled and received the cake. I then told him, “Calvin, I really do
care about you. When you do not come I worry that maybe you are not well. If
something were to happen to you, I would be very sad. I do care about you and
love you.” ”He thanked me profusely. As he backed out the door and closed it, he
was still saying thank you.
The next day, I was preparing to go to a meeting for a mission project,
when mother said Calvin was downstairs. I needed to finish getting ready but
I stopped and went downstairs. My hair was still wet, but I went to the porch
and greeted Calvin. He stood up and showed me a black plastic bag that he had
brought with him. He asked me if I would fix him a second sandwich. After
he ate his second sandwich, he opened his bag and showed me that he had some
fresh clothes and some deodorant inside. He asked, “Would you give me a pail of
warm water so I can clean myself? Then I can go out to the garage and wash up
and put on these clean clothes”.
I remember hesitating for an instant and then I told him, “ Come in and
follow me.” He followed me into the house and I led him to the downstairs
bedroom. I entered and turned on the light in the bathroom. I told him, “Use
this bathroom to bathe.” He turned and went back to the porch to get his clean
clothing. I returned downstairs with a fresh towel and placed it next to the sink. I
waited outside the door and he passed by me and entered the room. I closed the
door behind him.
When he came out, he was smiling and I asked him if he wanted to ride
over to the church with me. My meeting was at the church and I had called ahead
to ask Starr if he had any work for Calvin. He said that he did and that he would
be expecting us. While on the way to the church Calvin talked about turning his
life around. He said that he had been thinking after he left me the day before.
He said, “I felt a difference after you prayed for me yesterday. I felt that my day
was going to go better because it had begun with talking to God. I know that I
can’t keep going on the way that I have. I know that I have to take better care of
myself. I am going to start today to try to get well.”
I told him that I knew Starr would help him any way he could. He just
had to talk to him and tell him what he needed.
When I got out of my meeting, Calvin was raking and Starr told me that
he had tried to make arrangements for Calvin to get into a shelter that would help
him rehabilitate. I know this is not the first time that Calvin has started down this
road. I know that he has a long way to go, but I also know that he has two friends
who are praying for him.
When I finally let Calvin into my life, it was a conscious decision to treat
him, as I would want Jesus to treat me. I would prepare his food as though I was
going to give it to Jesus. When he asked for the pail of water, I thought, “I would
give Jesus my best.”
This has been process that God is using to help to teach Calvin and me
more about Himself. I truly want to be well. I see now that I have been in
spiritual poverty where the poor are concerned. It was not until I truly understood
how equal Calvin and I are that I was able to look at him and myself through
God’s eyes. It is interesting to me that I had to go to the poor of another country
to see how to serve the poor in my own country. I didn’t even know how poor I
was. Now that I see, I can look to see whom God will bring to my well of living
water that He provides for me. I had taken myself to Nicaragua to let God pour
out His love through me. I brought that same love home with me to pour out to
all that are thirsty.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.