Carl’s Garden



     Carl was a quiet man.  He did not talk much, but he would always greet you with a big smile and a firm handshake.  Even after living in our neighborhood for over 50 years, no one could really say they knew him very well.  About the only thing we knew was that, before his retirement, he took the bus to work each morning.

     The lone sight of him walking down the street often worried us.  He had a slight limp from a bullet wound received in World War II.  Watching him, we worried that although he had survived World War II, he may not make it through our changing, uptown neighborhood with its ever-increasing, random violence, gangs, and drug activity. 

     When Carl saw the flyer at our local church asking for volunteers to care for the gardens behind the minister’s residence, he responded in his characteristically unassuming manner.  Without fanfare, he just signed up.

     He was well into his 87th year when the very thing we had always feared finally happened.  He was just finishing his watering for the day when three gang members approached him.  Ignoring their attempt to intimidate him, he simply asked, “Would you like a drink from the hose?”

     The tallest and toughest-looking of the three said, “Yeah, sure,” with a malevolent, little smile.  As Carl offered the hose to him, the other two grabbed Carl’s arm, throwing him down to the ground.  As the hose snaked crazily over the ground, dousing everything in its way, Carl’s assailants stole his retirement watch and his wallet, and then fled.  Carl tried to get himself up, but he had been thrown down on his bad leg.  He lay there trying to gather himself as the minister came running to help him.  Although the minister had witnessed the attack from his office window, he could not get to the garden fast enough to stop it. 

     “Carl, are you okay?  Are you hurt?” the minister kept asking as he helped Carl to his feet. 

     Carl just passed a hand over his brow and sighed, shaking his head.  “Just some punk kids.  I hope they will wise-up someday.” 

     His wet clothes clung to his slight frame as he bent to pick up the hose.  He adjusted the nozzle again and started to water.  Confused and a little concerned, the minister asked, “Carl, what are you doing?”

     “I have to finish my watering.  It has been very dry lately,” came the calm reply.

     Satisfying himself that Carl really was all right, the minister could only marvel.  Carl was a man from a different time and place.

    A few weeks later the three returned.  Just as before, their threat was unchallenged.  Carl again offered them a drink from his hose.  This time they did not rob him.  They wrenched the hose from his hand and drenched him head to foot in the icy water.  When they had finished their humiliation of him, they sauntered off down the street, throwing catcalls and curses, falling over one another laughing at the hilarity of what they had just done.

     Carl just watched them.  Then he turned toward the warmth-giving sun, picked up his hose, and went on with his watering.

     The summer was quickly fading into fall, and Carl was doing some tilling when he was startled by the sudden approach of someone behind him.

     Carl was doing some tilling in his garden at the church when he was startled by the sudden approach of someone behind him.  He stumbled and fell into some evergreen branches.  As he struggled to regain his footing, he turned to see the tall leader of his summer tormentors reaching down for him.  He braced himself for the expected attack. 


     “Don’t worry old man; I’m not gonna hurt you this time.”  The young man spoke softly, still offering his tattooed and scarred hand to Carl.  As he helped Carl get up, the young man pulled a crumpled bag from his pocket and handed it to Carl.

     “What is this?” Carl asked.  

     “It’s your stuff,” the younger man explained.  “It’s your stuff back.  Even the money in your wallet.”

     “I don’t understand,” Carl said. “Why would you help me now?”

     The giver shifted his feet, seeming embarrassed and ill at ease.  “I learned something from you,” he said.  “I ran with that gang and hurt people like you.       We picked you because you were old, and we knew we could do it.  But every time we came and did something to you, instead of yelling and fighting back, you tried to give us a drink.  You didn’t hate us for hating you.  You kept showing love against our hate.”  He stopped for a moment.  “I couldn’t sleep after we stole your stuff, so here it is back.”  He paused for another awkward moment, not knowing what more there was to say.  “That bag’s my way of saying thanks for straightening me out, I guess.”  And with that, he walked off down the street.

      Carl looked down at the sack in his hands and gingerly opened it.  He took out his retirement watch and put it back on his wrist.  Opening his wallet, he checked for his wedding photo.  He gazed for a moment at the young bride who still smiled back at him from all those years ago. 

     He died one cold day after Christmas that winter.  Many people attended his funeral in spite of the weather.  In particular, the minister noticed a tall, young man whom he did not know sitting quietly in a distant corner of the church.  The minister spoke of Carl’s garden as a lesson in life.  In a voice made thick with unshed tears, he said, “Do your best and make your garden as beautiful as you can.  We will never forget Carl and his garden.” 

     The following spring, another flyer went up on the church bulletin board.  It read: “Person needed to care for Carl’s garden.” 

     The flyer went unnoticed by the busy parishioners until one day when a knock was heard at the minister’s office door.  Opening the door, the minister saw a pair of scarred and tattooed hands holding the flyer.  “I believe this is my job, if you’ll have me,” the young man said.  The minister recognized him as the same young man who had returned the stolen watch and wallet to Carl.  He knew that Carl’s kindness had turned this man’s life around.  He gave him the keys to the garden shed, he said, “Yes, go take care of Carl’s garden and honor him.”

     The man went to work and, over the next several years, he tended the flowers and vegetables just as Carl had done.  During that time, he went to college, got married, and became a prominent member of the community, but he never forgot his promise to Carl’s memory and kept the garden as beautiful as he thought Carl would have kept it.

     One day he approached the new minister and told him that he could not care for the garden any longer.  He explained with a shy and happy smile, “My wife just had a baby boy last night, and she is bringing him home on Saturday.”

     “Well, congratulations!” exclaimed the minister, as he was handed the garden shed keys.  “That is wonderful!  What is the baby’s name?”

     “Carl,” came the reply.

     That is the whole gospel message simply stated.

     From a Strictly Mathematical Viewpoint

     What equals 100 percent?  What does it mean to give more than 100 percent?  Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100 percent?  We have all been in situations where someone wants us to give over 100 percent.  How about achieving 101 percent?  What equals 100 percent in life?  What equals 101 percent?  Carl gave 101 percent.  What do you give?

     Here is a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these questions:


Is represented as:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26


K-I-N-D-N-E-S-S = _____ percent,


A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E = _____ percent,

and look how far the love of God will take you:

L- O- V- E-O-F-G-O-D = _____ percent.

     Surely Carl showed the love of God!

     “If we abide in Christ, if the love of God dwells in the heart, our feelings, our thoughts, our actions, will be in harmony with the will of God.”  Conflict and Courage, 359.

     “Persons of little talent, if faithful in keeping their hearts in the love of God, may win many souls to Christ.”Christian Service, 101