Where hope Grows is the story of a had-been baseball player who never quite lived up to his potential (he was “supposed to be great”) – Calvin. He was mired in bitter disappointment, shame and guilt, which he tried to avoid through his drinking, only making things worse. His life began to change, however, when he met “Produce”—the Bible loving, “magically happy” employee at the local grocery store who had Down Syndrome. It’s a heart-warming story with some gritty moments and a few things to say, about God and about life.
Happiness is Attractive
Calvin and Produce formed an unusual friendship when Calvin found himself coming back to the store to talk, because he was hungry for some of Produce’s “magical happiness.” Calvin was depressed and discouraged and overwhelmed with the cares of life. Is it any wonder that Produce was a mystery to him? This kid with Down Syndrome seemed unsinkable. He obviously had challenges in life, but he was brimming with joy. And whenever Calvin was around him, Calvin found himself lifted as well.
Happiness is catchy. We underestimate its value. We underestimate its power as an attractive force and as an evangelistic force. Peter didn’t underestimate it. In fact, he warned us to be ready…because when people see our happiness, they’ll ask about it. Actually, he used the word hope, but those two go pretty hand in hand—who is happy without hope? And who has hope and isn’t happy? “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:5).
This is what happened for Calvin and Produce. Calvin had neither hope nor happiness. Produce had both, and as Calvin asked about his happiness, Produce had opportunity to give an answer. He gave him scriptures. “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” He talked about his love for the Bible. He invited Calvin to church…and eventually, Calvin came to Jesus and found hope and happiness, too.
- Have you ever been around a happy person and wondered why they were happy?
- Has anyone ever asked you why you were so happy?
- Do you see a correlation between happiness and hope?
- Have you ever thought about how being happy is an important evangelistic tool? Do you agree or disagree with that?
You don’t have to know all the answers or be a gifted communicator
Produce was certainly not an eloquent theologian. He was very simple in his approach to all things, but he didn’t let that stop him. He didn’t worry about whether or not he could answer all of Calvin’s questions. Like the boy with the fish and bread, he simply offered what He had. It wasn’t much. By all accounts, it wasn’t even enough, but when offered to God, it was plenty.
Many of us hesitate to share our faith because we are concerned we aren’t equipped. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to become better equipped, but I am saying we shouldn’t let our present condition deter us. Start with what you have. Often, what people really need is hope, happiness, love…they aren’t often really looking for an answer to a theological stumbling block. And if they say they are, chances are, that’s just a smokescreen. I have often seen someone get all their questions answered, and answered well, but when all their objections were removed, we discovered they weren’t the real issues in the first place. The real objection is generally a heart issue, not a head issue. It’s a reluctance to kneel before the King, to let someone else have control.
In the end, it’s always a matter of whether or not God opens someone’s eyes to see the truth. Our duty is to be available, faithful, obedient, willing to share. Actually bringing someone to a place of submission before the Lord, however, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. So don’t worry about your abilities or your knowledge. In fact, God will often use you specifically when you are ill-equipped. He likes it that way so that only He can get the glory. So don’t be dissuaded by your inadequacy…His adequacy is the point.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,[c] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being[d] might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
- How different would the story have been if Produce hadn’t shared Jesus with Calvin because he didn’t feel equipped to answer all of Calvin’s questions?
- Have you ever hesitated to share Jesus because you didn’t think you knew enough?
- Have you ever shared Jesus with someone even though you didn’t feel equipped? How did it go?
- Have you ever seen anyone offer up a lot of theological questions, only to find that those were just smoke screens? That their real issue was a heart issue (and maybe they didn’t want to admit that)?
Show Honor to EVERYone
Not everyone saw the value in Produce that Calvin did. For example, the grocery store manager never saw his potential and never saw him as a valuable employee, equal to the others. Calvin, however, saw his great worth and treated him with honor. In fact, he treated him with special honor…very much according to Paul’s admonition in scripture:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. …14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many… If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? … 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” …22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26, emphasis mine)
Calvin honored Produce, and in turn, Produce honored Calvin and his family. Produce was the one who brought Calvin and Katie (Calvin’s daughter) to the Lord. It was Produce who introduced them to hope. And it was Produce who protected Katie, defended her, and taught her how a man should treat her (in comparison to her lousy boyfriend).
- Do you think we would treat people better if we really saw them as part of ourselves, part of the same body, as Paul talks about?
- Why do you think Paul says to give special honor to the parts that are weaker?
- If Calvin hadn’t treated Produce with honor, how would the story have gone?
God’s a Father, not a Genie
Katie and Calvin have a discussion about prayer:
Katie: What did you say? When you prayed? … I said a prayer, too. It was the first time I actually prayed. Do you think I’ll get what I asked for?
Calvin: I don’t know.
Katie: What good is it to pray if you don’t get what you asked for?
Calvin: Growing up, did I give you everything you asked for?
Katie: Of course not.
Calvin: I loved you so much, I wanted to give you everything you asked for, but sometimes it’s not in your best interest… God is probably not a genie granting every wish.
Calvin explained that because he loved her he would always want to say yes, if he could and if it was best for her, but that there were times when and reasons why he had had to tell Katie no to something she asked for. God is no different. He’s not a genie, obligated to grant our every wish. He is a good Father, who gives good gifts. But, that good Father has the ability to see the future, and He knows when something is a good gift, and when (though it’s something we want and seems good to us at the time) it isn’t.
- Have you ever thanked God for not answering your prayer (presumably because you found it wouldn’t have been a good thing after all)?
- When God doesn’t answer your prayers, how do you feel? Why do you think He tells you “no”?
When Your Life Improves, So Do Your Relationships And the People Around You
Calvin’s relationship with Katie was rocky, at best. She didn’t respect her father. He was a drunk, wallowing in self-pity and going no-where. She was forced to be the grown up (picking him up from jail, etc.). Perhaps worse, he couldn’t get past his own pain enough to give her any love or attention—things she was starving for. She was getting them from a bad-news boyfriend, instead—because, “At least somebody loves me!” (Even though, his version of love expected her to prove her affection for him by sleeping with him…still not the unconditional love she was searching for.)
When Calvin found Jesus, his life improved. He found hope…which produced happiness. It also produced change. He didn’t need to drown his sorrows anymore, because He had something to live for. He began to let go of the past and live in the present and the future. He found courage to get a good job.
When Calvin had sobered up and gotten a good job, he felt better about himself. He no longer felt the need to hide from people, so his relationships began to improve. He started taking care of his daughter, engaging with her, showing up for her. He also found a good woman—one who wouldn’t have considered him when he was a drunken loser. And he started to make an impact on people’s lives through his job as a coach.
The effects of Calvin’s inner change didn’t stop there, however. Katie’s life began to change, too. When she got her dad back, she didn’t need the loser-boyfriend to validate her. She began to get the love and affection she was needing from her dad and that worked a significant change in her trajectory as well. It upgraded her sense of worth. When Calvin came to Jesus, it was but the tipping of a domino that, once knocked over, set into motion a chain of events, relationships and lives all around him that changed for the better. When he was unhealthy, like any sick person, he was spreading germs to all around him, infecting them with his toxicity, his disease. But, the process works both ways, so as he got healthy, he was spreading seeds of health to those around him that would also grow to maturity, only this time, producing good fruit.
It’s good to reminded of just how much our lives affect others, and why it is so important that we, ourselves, are healthy. Our attitudes, our thoughts, our lives, are catching by those around us. The question is, what are the people around us being infected by? And what are we catching from the people in our lives? God’s plan is for us to be filled with His Spirit, to live lives marked by His fruit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. He wants that not only for us, but also for those around us…that all we come into contact with would be germinated with the seeds of the fruit of His Spirit…just as happened with all who met Produce.
- How did Calvin’s inner change affect his outer life?
- How did Calvin’s change for the better positively affect people around him?
- How important is it to your life and the people around you that you get (or keep) your life together—that you live in a “good” place in your mind/emotions/etc.?
- How did Calvin’s best friends affect his life (his drinking buddies)? Compare that to the influence Produce had on Calvin. Given this—how important is it that you choose your friends well? What kind of an impact do people have on your life?
- Have you ever had a friend that had a negative impact on your life? Why were they a negative influence?
- Who has had a positive impact on your life? What made them a positive influence?
- Generally speaking, do you think your friends would say you have a positive or a negative influence on them?