“The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.’ ” (John 21:17)
In high school, my student council advisor had a giant sign on the wall that read, “There Once Was a Street Sweeper…”
While I cannot recall all of the details, I remember that he used the poster to segue into a motivational story about a street sweeper who did his job to the best of his ability every day. Perhaps it came from famous quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’ ”
This past weekend I was grading papers when I heard a knock at the door. The initial frustration resulting from me already missing time with my family was only magnified when I opened the door to a man who I had already rejected the prior week when he knocked and asked if I wanted my house address painted on the curb.
Somewhat annoyed I listened to the sales pitch (again) and politely declined with all the usual responses: no cash, no time and not interested. Every response I gave was met with an even better option from the persistent salesman. He was willing to provide the service free of charge and would accept any gratuity in the form of canned goods, non-fiction books, clothes, etc.
Now, before I tell you his clincher, I want to share with you where my heart was going. Sadly, I have to say it was stuck on the eight essays I had sitting on my desktop that were not going to grade themselves. I was focused on finishing my grading so I could start spending as much of the Christmas season as possible with my wife and daughters.
Now back to the persistent address painter’s closing line:
“Could you do me a favor and just pay it forward the next time you see someone in need? I have plenty of paint, and I’d rather see it painted than not. So, would you be okay if I paint your curb?”
Like a slap to my face, I was not only moved by his gesture, but somewhat ashamed that I was adamant against having my curb painted. After all, nothing says Christmas more than a stingy guy not willing to pay a couple dollars to have a necessary service performed to his house.
I hope I am not the only one willing to admit that I make constant excuses of being too busy loving those close to me that I often overlook those closest to God that He has directly placed in my path.
My wife and I hurriedly went through the cupboards to find some cans, grabbed some unworn T-shirts and found some rolled coins to place in a bag to express our gratitude. Again, my focus must have been on how quickly I could make this happen so I could return to grading.
I found myself back inside and ready to work. But, before the door even shut my wife asked, “What’s his story?” to which I replied, “I don’t even know his name.”
Seeing the disappointment in my own eyes from my own actions, my wife immediately reached for a “to-go” coffee cup and said she would make some hot cider for me to take out as an excuse to get to know the man’s story. The cup was accepted with one of the biggest smiles I’ve seen as the cold was starting to settle in as a rain storm was just on the horizon.
In order to accept the warm beverage, he had to set down the Bible that he was reading while waiting for the first layer of paint to dry. This provided the beginning to one of the most unique conversations I have ever had. For the next 40 minutes, I sat and conversed about BJ’s family, professional history, criminal history and, most importantly, his spiritual journey.
BJ has been painting curbs for about seven years, as it has been his most consistent form of income. BJ simply wants to love others how he wants to be loved, as he feels tremendously blessed and loved by God on a daily basis. If someone cannot pay BJ, he wants to bless them with his services free of charge.
Did you catch that? BJ wants to love and serve others, even if they have nothing to offer him.
As we shook hands and I turned to walk back into my warm house, my jaw dropped in awe of this man’s heart. Suddenly, the task of grading seemed meaningless, my house to-do list became a “blessed to have it” list and any life struggle that I spent time worrying about over the last several weeks seemed like a thing of the past.
Christmas is a great time to challenge everyone to find a way to bless someone who truly cannot “repay” the gift. Meaning, when I give a gift to my daughters or wife, I get paid back by seeing their smiles and happiness and receiving their warm hugs. However, wheeling in a neighbor’s trash can while they are at work or picking trash out of their yard is unseen.
Pray for God to lay on your heart a need that needs to be met by you, a need that will not result in a “thank you.”
Try to love others how you want to be loved!
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