A giant pig wearing checkered shorts and a tattered baseball cap squealed its name in my ear doing its best to rouse me from my sleep. I finally managed to open my eyes and was instantly glad the squeal in my dreams had awakened me. Two muggy days and sleepless night had done a number on my senses. And, my patience.
My weekend of shepherding twenty mentally disabled teenagers in the backwoods of Louisiana had been filled with promise. I looked forward to being with the kids as we primitive camped and spent time together in a less structured environment. Unfortunately, they weren’t really wired for “less structured” and I wasn’t wired for sleep deprivation. What began with hope was now officially a full-fledged pain in the neck.
Ronnie saw pigs in every rock and stump in the deep grass around our campsite. He wouldn’t go a yard without a full escort. Apparently, Ronnie experienced some traumatic event with pigs early in his life. Either that, or screaming “Hog” at the top of his lungs until he passed out was his own personal form of free entertainment.
“Mister Tim,” Becka shouted into my tent, “Time to get up mister. It’s Sunday morning. Time for church.”
Becka was Ronnie’s alter ego. For every ounce of shyness and fear in Ronnie, Becka had a pound of total lack of inhibition. She was fourteen years old and barely five feet tall but she could out curse and probably outfight any grown man she came across. Becka was also paranoid schizophrenic and a force to be reckoned with is she missed her meds.
“Ok, Becka,” I mumbled though my fog of fading dreams and growing awareness. “I’m on my way.”
I crawled out of my tent and shielded my eyes from the rising sun. One of the other two workers that had joined me on this suicide mission was making coffee at the campfire. She looked up, waved and returned to preparing the morning meal.
“Hog, hog.” Ronnie sat squatted with his rear end resting on his heels as he studied a stump in the grass a few feet away. “ He turned and looked at me. Ronnie stood up, walked over and patted my shoulder. Pointing back to the stump he repeated, “hog.”
“No Ronnie,” I reassured him, “just a stump.”
He shook his head and squatted back down in his never ending vigil against any potential porker attack that might come.
After breakfast, we gathered to have morning worship. Three adult workers and twenty mentally and emotionally disabled teenagers in a circle. Twenty three of us and a billion gnats, mosquitoes, and other assorted biting creatures. All gathered to worship the Creator of all things.
Still battling with my own lack of sleep, mental fatigue, and general bad mood, I realized everyone was waiting on me. Somehow, I had been picked to be the worship leader for the morning. I opened the small Bible I carried with me and read a Psalm. As I closed the Bible I looked to my left to see Iris waving her hand high in the air.
Iris was tall for her age, had teeth that stuck out of her mouth at odd angles, and red hair always tied in a knot on the back of her head. When Iris spoke she made Ronnie and Becka sound like the gentle whispers of a nursing mother.
“Mr. Tim,” she barked, “Can I pray? Can I pray?”
Taking a deep breath I managed a smile and invited Iris to pray. Who knew what would come from that mouth of hers?
Iris stood, looked straight up in the sky and held her hands high. “Dear God. I know we ain’t much but you love us any way. Amen.” Iris plopped back down in the grass and winked at me.
Ronnie, Becka, and Iris had just led me deep into the Holy of Holies. A place I hadn’t visited in a while. A place organs and sermons had failed to open the door to.
I winked back at Iris. “Thank you Iris. He does love us all any way doesn’t he?”
Everyone agreed in their own way. I looked over at Ronnie. “What do you think Ronnie?”
Even Ronnie smiled. He stood, looked at me and whispered … “Hog.”
And I am sure the Creator understood and accepted Ronnie’s offering of worship as well.
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