Seeing with eyes of faith: How blindness transformed one woman’s trust in God

With wafts of delicious smells coursing through the kitchen, Laura Revan, 50, begins chopping a green pepper — blindfolded. And she does so with ease, skill and a big smile on her face.

She’s busy preparing her graduation facmeal for 75 people as she parts from nine months of training at the Colorado School for the Blind, where she’s learned to cope with her handicap, and re-learn ordinary tasks — such as cooking — as a person with no sight.

And through it all, she went from struggling in her faith and not wanting to get out of bed every day to a woman who “sees” with the eyes of faith much more clearly.

But she wasn’t always that way.

Dark days

Two years ago, life looked ordinary for Revan, and she was busy, as we are today, preparing for the holidays. It was Dec. 15, and always a fan of the Christmas season, she was shopping for a tree — until she suddenly blacked out.

Later, she went to the emergency room only to discover she had pneumonia, and later, ovarian cysts that were treated with chemotherapy and radiation to make sure it wasn’t cancer or that it hadn’t spread, Revan said.

As a result of the cancer treatments, her retina detached and she went blind.

“It was a really, really rough time. The doctors [didn’t think I would live long], and they couldn’t figure out what was going on or how to help me,” she said.

Laura Revan went blind due to a medical complication. The Lord used her condition to bring her back to him. (Photos by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

Her outlook changed when she had a dream.

She was standing at heaven’s gates trying to get in, but they wouldn’t open for her. Eventually, God came out to meet her.

“He holds my hand and he walks me to a bench right outside, and he said, ‘What are you doing? You’re giving up, it’s not your time, I’m not ready for you yet,’” Revan recounted. “And I said, ‘But it hurts, it’s so hard.’ And he said, ‘I have so much work for you! You’re going to help people, you’re going to encourage people, you’re going to bring people closer to me.’”

He assured her that she was going to be fine and that she would be protected, and she woke up feeling relieved and relaxed.

But surviving meant a lot of dark days ahead. Revan was now completely blind, and the doctors were ready to put her on hospice. Eventually she pulled through and went home, but her struggles continued, especially as she wrestled to accept this new suffering of blindness on top of everything else she had already been through, she said.

“I’ve been through a lot, my house burned down and I lost everything, then my mom passed away and my fiancé passed away, and it was just a lot of, ‘God, how strong do you think I am,’” Revan said. “He said, ‘I give my toughest battles to my strongest soldiers.’ I lost my faith, I just prayed for God to just take me. [But] I’ve always been a very strong, independent person, I fight to the end.”

…And he said, ‘I have so much work for you! You’re going to help people, you’re going to encourage people, you’re going to bring people closer to me.’”

“I was angry, I was ready to give up, but I knew I’ve fought too hard to give up,” she continued. “I just continued praying and I made a promise to God, I said, you get me through this, and every night I’m going to get down on my knees and I’m going to pray and thank you, and every morning I wake up, I’m going to say thank you, and I’ve been doing that now for about two years.”

As she continued to push through every day, and some were harder than others, she began doing research on living with blindness.

“I knew this is a new path he had put me on, I needed to continue to live, this is just a test, a season,” Revan said. “So I’m going to do what I have to do until the next season comes. And that’s when I found the Colorado School for the Blind, and I’m just ready to live life, because there’s life out there.”

The determination to “live life,” along with her faith in God, pushed Revan to keep going and to hope that she might be able to encourage others along the way.

“I felt his presence. He was always there,” she explained. “Anytime I thought about giving up or just not wanting to eat or leave my bed, it was a presence that would always be there with me to make me feel calm.”

A new way of seeing

After coming to the Colorado School for the Blind, Revan began learning a whole new way of living: She learned how to cook, how to travel in a city and cross traffic, using various indicators to help her navigate. She learned Braille, re-learned how to use phones and computers, and even did a woodshop project.

“It was like learning to read and write all over again,” she said.

Not long after she began, she called parishes to find a place to attend Sunday Mass. Eventually, she was connected to St. Mary’s Parish in Littleton through one of their ministries, Mother of Mercy, which connects parishioners with people in need to help provide for them.
Revan met Rachel Guerrera, a mother of two girls who gave her rides to Sunday Mass, and a friendship began.

Revan has learned to live with blindness by studying at Colorado School for the Blind. The Lord gave her life a renewed sense of purpose after he appeared to her in a dream. (Photos by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

“One of the biggest things [that inspires us] is her dignity,” Guerrera said. “She accepts help, and yet she is very dignified, she isn’t self-deprecating and doesn’t complain about what a handicap it is.”

“She says it’s because of her faith that she can ‘see’ what she has, and she’s grateful,” she added. “She does what she needs to do and that’s very inspiring to me.”

In addition to all of the practical skills Revan has learned while at the school, she’s learned just as much, if not more, about herself and about God.

“I learned about my strength, I learned how to be patient, that one is still hard. I’ve learned to not give up and stay close to my family and it’s taught me to continue pushing to make sure I get them on the right path,” she said.

I learned that all things are possible through him…”

“I learned that all things are possible through him, just believe in him and keep the faith, praying and asking him,” Revan continued. “And I’ve been giving it all to him. He’s an awesome God. He showed me who he is. He’s told me that I’m his child and made in his image, and I know how to perform through him.”

After graduating Nov. 30, Revan plans to go back to Georgia, where she is from, to be with her family and potentially go back to school to pursue a degree in counseling.

“There’s so much more life out there, even if you’ve lost one sense, you can still live and love life,” she said. “And I tell God, ‘Come on, get up, we’re going.’ I have a Guardian Angel [medal] that I keep with me, and I say, ‘Come on, I need you right now.’ I’ve done things that I didn’t think I could.”

COMING UP: Wrangled by faith

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Wrangled by faith

Meet ‘Cowboy John,’ a man transformed by Christ

He stands against the orange-stained horizon, donned in a cowboy hat and spurred boots. Beside him, a horse grazes in the grass, wearing a saddle that’s ripe for riding. It’s easy to see that this man and horse share a bond; one that could only be shared between a cowboy and his trusty steed.

Meet John Calderon, a cowboy and Catholic convert whose life has radically been changed by Christ.

Calderon, better known as “Cowboy John” to some in the community, has spent the last 28 years in Glenwood Springs, a town revered for its beautiful mountain scenery and natural hot springs. The rapid growth of Glenwood over the past several years has enabled Calderon to make a decent living as a tile and stone contractor.

After encountering Christ in the Catholic Church, John Calderon (left) began seeing people differently. He felt compelled to begin helping homeless people in Glenwood Springs, and is lovingly called an “angel” by some, including David and Diane Whitlock (right), a homeless couple he’s been helping. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

Though Glenwood Springs is a largely affluent community, the reality is that with large influxes of people comes an increase in the number of homeless. Ten years ago, Calderon wouldn’t have turned a blind eye to a beggar on the street; today, he calls some of those beggars friends, and does much more than just give them the occasional handout.

“I started noticing people. I feel like when I look at people around us,” Calderon said, pointing to a woman across the street, “I see God’s children everywhere.”

After his conversion, Calderon felt compelled to speak to homeless people in the area. It all started when he pulled up to McDonald’s in his truck, grabbed a Big Mac and parked in the parking lot to eat.

“I’d seen a lot of homeless people in the area, and I just decided to start joining them for lunch,” he said. “Talking to them, asking them where they were from and who they were. It got to where I enjoyed it.”

Angel in a cowboy hat

From there, it grew naturally. Calderon would get to know some of the homeless people he interacted with and would gradually offer them more and more help. Calderon connected with one homeless couple in particular, David and Diane Whitlock, and eventually began inviting them to his home, allowing them to do laundry and take a hot shower.

“Everybody else turns their back on us, but John is the only one who actually helped and said what he was going to do,” David said.

The sad reality of being homeless isn’t just the difficult living conditions people find themselves in. The Whitlocks recounted stories of being spit on, being called expletives, being told to get a job and worse. Many people who drive by treat them as less than human, but not Calderon.

I see God’s children everywhere.”

“John is an angel sent from heaven, I’m telling you,” Diane said. “He is an inspiration to all of us homeless. He not only buys us food, or provides for what we need, he gets out here and talks with us like we’re human.

“A true Christian is not going to be afraid to get dirty, and he’s not.”

Living on the streets can lead to a rough appearance, Calderon said, which not only makes it hard to get a job, but is also a big reason why there seems to be fear among people when approaching a homeless person.

“I hate that word, ‘homeless,’ it puts a label over someone’s head. They don’t look like you or I, and because of that appearance, it freaks people out,” he said. “But in reality, there’s a child of God underneath all of that.”

Tricks of the trade

The Whitlocks have been homeless for several years, drifting about the country, but always end up back in Glenwood Springs. They believe it’s because God wanted them to meet Calderon. They have both been having a tough time finding employment, and as a married couple of 28 years, they’d like to be able to do something together.

Calderon was an answer to this prayer, as well.

“He actually made us comfortable before he told us he owned a business and was willing to hire us on and teach us a trade,” Diane said. “That’s what we’ve been looking for, something we could do together as a husband and wife team.”

As a successful business owner, Calderon doesn’t just seek to give handouts to his homeless friends; he wants to empower them and teach them the skills to help them stand on their own two feet.

I hate that word, ‘homeless,’ it puts a label over someone’s head. They don’t look like you or I, and because of that appearance, it freaks people out. But in reality, there’s a child of God underneath all of that.”

“There’s a lot of people who really want to get out of their current situation, but with their appearance and sometimes looking rough, it’s hard to get a job,” Calderon explained.

“I try and make a point to offer laboring positions as much as I can. When I have a project going on somewhere around this area, I will go pick up someone that I’ve talked to that doesn’t have a job and I’ll put them to work. There’s a need for it.”

It’s a need that has spurred Calderon into action. He has plans to start a nonprofit organization that houses homeless people and teaches them a trade, thereby equipping them to enter the workforce. He’s already in touch with companies across the nation who would be willing to offer employment to people who went through his program.

Calderon would like to someday start a non-profit organization that houses homeless people and teaches them a trade, thereby equipping them to enter the workforce. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

“It’s important for people to try and help, not by just handing cash so they go away, but to actually take that person and teach them a trade,” Calderon said.

Calderon, an unassuming and humble man, was resistant to share his story at first; he didn’t want any recognition for his acts of charity, and doesn’t like to be in the spotlight. However, hopes that by his actions, he can spur others to break down the walls that stand between society and the homeless population and show true Christian love to those in need. In doing so, he insists the rewards are great.

“I feel like I get rewards that I can’t even speak of, and it [all] comes from God,” Calderon said. “I want people to come to realize that there are people who really care in the Catholic Church, and we’re inviting them to join us.”