One of my favorite childhood memories is having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch on the back steps of our house. Often my brother or sister would be sitting beside me. Occasionally, one of my parents would join the conclave. Some days when our numbers grew to four or five, someone would have to leave the steps and prance around the back yard balancing conversation, silliness, a glass of iced tea and the treasured sandwich.
Picnics were normal during our childhood. Because we never had potato chips or Cocoa-Cola in our home, the three siblings knew that if either item appeared in the weekly groceries, purchased on Friday, a picnic was coming on Saturday. Usually on those Fridays, Mama would not let us go into the Piggly Wiggly to see her buy the groceries. We would stand outside waiting. As we saw her approaching the check out register, we would press our faces against the window. Our hands would shield our faces from the piercing sunshine. As soon as one of us saw the picnic items being processed, we would let out a victory cheer and the fravolity would begin.
As soon as the Saturday chores were finished, our family of five would squeeze into our mini-auto; and we would ride down Dorchester Road. Daddy parked off the road where one of the many creeks flowed under the highway and we spent the day at Daddy’s fictitious Kalamazoo.
Daddy and the three siblings would splash in the creek while Mama laid out the blanket and the lunch. Sandwiches were our feast. Chips were our delicacies and Cocoa Cola was the most delicious drink ever created. We never shook our Cokes until they spewed out of the bottle. The caramel mixture was too precious to waste on foolish games.
Mama saved the cellophane-wrapped Twinkies for our afternoon snack, eaten feverishly after another two or three hours of splashing and pretend. We licked the cardboard backing and the wrapper because this much sweetness had to be good for soul, mind and body.
Some of this simple fun and laughter is what I find attractive about The Special Gathering members who are mentally challenged. We are a ministry within the developmentally disabled community. Even though our mission is evangelism and discipleship, playing with our members is an important part of our lives. Richard Stimson, our founder and executive director, said recently, “If I have a few minutes on Saturday, I’ll drop by bowling. I don’t have to do it. I do it because I enjoy playing with our folks.”
This morning I read an article about the medical and spiritual benefits of giving your brain a vacation. Perhaps that was the attraction of Kalamazoo and the back steps picnics. Even as a child, I yearned for times of simple delights. The same remains true with our members and all of us.
People who are intellectually delayed are adults. They have all the worries, concerns and responsibilities of most other adults. However, they have not lost the adventure of a back steps picnic. Most important, given a few minutes and your permission, they can take you to Kallamazoo with all the splashing and delights of a growing child.
I appreciate that God calls us his children. Somehow, it takes nearly all the pressure off of our relationship. He is the father and he knows best. Of course, he wants us to grow up and not act like childish brats. However, when I take my lunch and iced tea into the back yard, my father waits for me under the trees. I take special honor that I can include the Lord as I close my eyes and softly mumble my short prayer. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches still taste better in the back yard having a picnic. But they are especially delicious knowing that the King of Creation loves to join me for lunch.