From the moment he stumbled off the big red bus from St. Louis School for the Blind, I knew I was headed for no ordinary week.
His name was Matthew “Bishop” Pendleton and he was one of Camp Barnabas‘ favorite personalities known for his fifteen minute renditions of old church hymns during meal times and a keen detest for anything that was not his keyboard. He disliked walking, taking showers, and cleaning up his plate during mealtimes. He was my responsibility for 23 hours a day, for five of the hardest days of my young life.
It wasn’t so much that Matthew didn’t want to participate in any fun camp activity that bothered me–horses, canoes, ropes course–it was that he took twice as long as anyone else to get there. He would grope my arm as we stumbled in the Missouri heat 100 yards from the cabin to the dining hall, mumbling and snarling under his breath about the absurdity of the sticks on the path, and nearly pull me down with him whenever he tripped over one. When we finally arrived to the dining hall, he would gripe about everything put in front of him despite my best efforts to get him to eat.
Patience. I learned. Patience to absorb the complaints, patience to waddle along at any pace, patience to endure another chorus of “Victory is Mine.” Patience, as mine was tested and bent beyond what I thought I could handle.
I hear the same exasperated tone, that of a fed-up dad who’s heard just a little too much complaining, chased his kid down Aisle 11 one too many times, and asked politely for the final time, in Isaiah:
Ah, sinful nation,…
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the LORD;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.
Even with all of their sacrifices, harvest celebrations, and ritual prayers, God was fed-up with their disobedience (v. 13, 14). What God essentially wanted of his people was not atonement for their sins but righteousness revealed in their actions.
“learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.”
That week at Camp, I prayed daily for God’s heart. I earnestly sought his thoughts and feelings for Matthew, because on my own I didn’t have the patience. And on a much smaller scale than in Isaiah, I think I felt some of His anguish when my camper misbehaved. I wanted so much for Matthew to cooperate. To just do ask I asked. To try to be positive. To understand what I was saying.
On the last morning of camp before we sent all of our new friends back to their families, we had eggs. And not even the good kind. I’m pretty sure they were powdered. But Matthew loved them. He ate two whole plates full and still wanted more. Without any griping or pushing, Matthew had done as I asked–willingly and joyfully. I can’t recall a greater sense of contentment and victory than in that moment.