This week offered the privilege of meeting ‘Sunshine’, the founder of Special Friends Day Camp at Warm Beach Christian Camps and Conference Center. One of the summer’s goals was to help Little Miss Sweetness experience a camp. In the past, many summer programs have come with the tag, “Can she provide her own assistant?” While that has not been impossible, it is another accessibility hurdle, both from a human and a financial resource perspective. To be honest, I have usually chosen to muddle through on our own.
So, I was excited this spring to have one organization say, “It looks like she will need a one-on-one volunteer,” and be prepared to provide that. As the scholarship to pay for the program followed from another community agency, my excitement for what she would experience grew. But, for a variety of reasons, that opportunity fell through, and late June, we were left scrambling to fill the void. It was then I e-stumbled onto Special Friends Day Camp. We had to hula our way through a single hoop, and they said, “Come.” They even fixed her lunch – all I had to do was get her there, swimsuit and horseback helmet and vaccination report in hand. It was way too easy…
Through the course of the week, as Little Miss Sweetness swam, rode horses, and made a slew of new friends, I hung around just enough to learn that most of the staff were volunteers, and that the director founded the camp six years ago in the twilight zone of raising a special needs child. What’s that have to do with loaves and fishes? Well, for starters, she didn’t raise a special needs child in a vacuum. But that’s her story. A week ago, I was wondering how to cope with the fact that I often feel I don’t have ENOUGH: not enough hands, when the 4 kids were all under age 8; not enough time when there is such a diversity of interests and opportunities; not enough energy, when each of the 4, plus spouse, have needs that seemingly require my attention, not enough time, period. And not enough will, when there is still a voice inside my head saying, “What about me???” (yeah, on the worst days there are 3 question marks). We haven’t even talked about the fact that outside the invisible box of our own family is a world plethoric with needs; needs next door and down the street, needs on native soil and in a jungle across the planet. Needs that scripture points to with the indication, ‘This matters…’ So I had gone to God with the question of loaves and fishes, and the horrible sense that mine were mold-pocked and ‘fishy’ instead of fresh and filling; and this week I meet the woman, who in the midst of all that similar mess, founded Special Friends Day Camp. With the support of a few disciples at Warm Beach, she brought one special needs son and a pocketful of energy to God, and He blessed it to feed hundreds of campers and their families. Six years later, she still wears the camp name Sunshine. On her face, where it counts.
I guess the short version (now that you’ve waded through the long) is that I feel stuck in a roiling cauldron of needs pulling at me: 1) from the perspective of being a wife, mother, daughter (of recently aging parents,) and friend; 2)I feel compelled as a disciple to serve and to trust, in both God’s provision and his strength; and 3) to be frank, I feel weighted by occasional discouragement, honest grief, and transient, but momentum-stealing fatigue and distractability – the need for sustenance. BUT…I do like bread, and fish.
So, after wrestling for a couple weeks with the swirling questions of Energy Conservation toward Vital Ministry in the Face of Overwhelming Need, here’s a reflection compiled from the ‘loaves and fishes’ gospel accounts in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9 and John 6.
The NEED to feed the 5000 did not come at a convenient time. According to the Mark passage, the disciples had been launched in ministry, and had come back to Jesus over-full of all that had happened, such that he called his disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31 NIV. And per Matthew 14, this was shortly after the death of John the Baptist; a time when Jesus and his disciples would seemingly have had grief of their own to process. But the needy followed them to a solitary place, and “Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14:14 NIV. According to Mark 6:34,” …they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” Some were sick…some were wandering aimlessly,dangerously…down the street, across the globe. Inconvenient. So many coming and going that the disciples “did not even have a chance to eat.” Mark 6:31 “What about me??” is down to 2 slightly less whiny question marks.
Jesus already knew what he was going to do when he asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread…” John 6:5. Jesus had fed the people eternally when he asked Philip to feed them temporally. Admittedly, there are times when God asks us to participate in the spiritual formation and discipling of others, particularly our children. But he does not ask us to feed everyone, in every way. Nor does he ask us to do the task alone. He invites us to join him in making God known, a felt, real presence in the lives of others. And sometimes he tests us, asking, “Who do you say that I am?” And sometimes, like Philip, he walks us through, step by step: masses, loaves, baskets, pieces.
Jesus, God himself, thanks his Father for the bread. Could be wrong, but I don’t think this is just a demonstration for the people’s benefit. You know how when you are trying to be a good example, you occasionally slip up – self control falters, and kindness, goodness and patience go AWOL? That never seems to happen to Jesus. The One most entitled to “It’s all about me..” is genuinely thankful for bread, and the privilege of serving – on a hillside, and on a cross.. In John 17, he pleads for the chance to share his glory – as in, give it away so you can have some, too. Thankful for bread, and the needy who need it. One less question mark in “What about me?”
Jesus had the people sit down. It is not entirely clear how many disciples were there that day to help with crowd control, but I’ve read enough history to know that the crowds of the day could sway. There was only one Jesus, and in every one of the four Gospel accounts, it includes that Jesus instructed for the crowds to sit down. To wait for their hunger to be met, even while others received the same. (Trying to keep this to a small volume, Friend, so I will leave the application to you.) And…just the dot .
Jesus broke the bread. When the disciples suggested that he make the people go away to fend for themselves, Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Mt. 14:16 In their minds, the disciples saw the escalating temporal need, compounded by impending darkness. From our humanomic perspective, don’t we do the same? My kids are whole eternal beings in the eyes of a loving God, but for them, I can panic about the most mundane things…or not so mundane. The impending darkness has me running scared at times. But Jesus took what they collectively had-meager as it was, organized them in community, (it sorta sounds like church), gave thanks to his known loving Father, and BROKE the bread. In more than 5 thousand pieces. And they were all satisfied.
There are countless times that I have felt broken, crumbled to the end of myself, in caring for special needs, in being a loving wife, in managing toddler x 3. Jesus took the only physical provision at hand-and he broke it. Sometimes it feels lonely to be so ‘only wanted,’ but Jesus took those carefully packed staples, and fed not one , but thousands.
Passages following the feeding of the five-thousand indicate that the people still did not recognize Jesus for who he was. In Mark 8 and Matthew 15, he feeds the people again, out of compassion. This after healing the lame, the blind , the crippled, the mute. Needs…in my house, out the door, down the street, across the world. Jesus began to introduce himself, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35.
“They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
See God, please see God in me, even in the broken way, I lift these loaves to thee.
God of the storehouse, will you extend your broad reach of compassion in me, even in the midst of my own need for rest or solace. Will you nurture an unwavering trust that you know what you are doing, a thankful ‘unentitled’ heart, and the courage to ask the needy to sit down, and near me. Will you give me eyes to see the loaves and fishes that you have so carefully placed with the brothers and sisters around me. And will you guard against the mistake of seeing you for merely temporal provision, and missing that You Are God.