When God uses a Pastor with Advanced Parkinsons to get you back to work

fullsizerender-9Two weeks ago, while on leave from work, I dropped in on a former mentor – Pastor Mike Reitsma. I was out for a walk in my old neighborhood and ended up walking by the long term care institution where Mike now lived (with his advanced Parkinsons).

“I should visit.”

Looking into his darkened room I couldn’t tell if he was there. All I saw were some rumpled blankets on his bed… until I realized they were him.

“He’s asleep. I’ll come back later.”

But then a staff member came into the room and woke him up, telling him he had a guest.

“Well, well, well…” Mike said, regaining consciousness. He had a huge smile on his face and immediately knew who I was. More than that, for our entire visit, he knew who he was; as a pastor, leader, visionary and mentor. Which was encouraging given what I’d heard about the ongoing ravages of Parkinsons on his life. There are good days and bad.

But on this day, he was good! For 45 minutes he mentored me, corrected me, joked around with me, shared his frustrations with me, pondered the future of the church with me, and prayed for me. Our time together was such a gift (for both of us). I could tell that Mike needed to lead and care for someone, and I needed to be led and cared for. It was beautiful.

Yes there were times when the Parkinsons derailed the conversation, but even then there was beauty. At one down point Mike tried to open a devotional he’d been reading, wanting to point me to a lesson he’d learned. I could tell that his focus was lost as he could barely page through the book (his hands were shaking badly). Eventually he just randomly ended up on a page and pointed and slowly said, “This is what keeps me going.” At that moment I don’t think he had any idea what he was pointing to;

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

I read the passage back to him. Even though Mike had just told me that he can’t do “anything” any more, he could, and was doing something…. something that was so timely and important for both of us.

After telling him about my stress leave, he then turned to me and leaned in. I could feel the strength of his love. Then he said, “You can take a break… that’s okay. But you can’t stop. You can’t do nothing. You need to keep going. You need to do something!”

Coming from a friend who wants nothing more than to do something himself, and can’t; his words were cutting. In his weakness Mike reminded me that I still have strength in me, and passion, and capacity and ability, and I need to steward these gifts well. God isn’t done with his call on my life (even as he’s not done with Mike’s).


9 thoughts on “When God uses a Pastor with Advanced Parkinsons to get you back to work

  1. Michael Heaney

    Thanks very much for sharing John. My Pa died in 2008. He suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, dementia and Parkinson’s. He finally succumbed to pneumonia and passed to be with his Lord within 3 days. I found out then that pneumonia had a nickname…old man’s blessing. Although he was ill for many years, his family was truly blessed by him even in those times. And he was blessed by finally passing quickly.

  2. Martin

    Thanks John. A great post where God turns weakness into strength. Glad you were able to communicate with Mike despite the obvious challenges. I have fond memories of Mike and always attribute much of the church planting movement to Mike’s faithful prayers for the church in Calgary. Blessings in your own time of need.


    Dear dear John

    Oh how wonderful that you shared this with all of us. My favorite is also”be still and know that I am God”
    This has carried me through many hard times . I will never forget that you prayed for me on the side walk when I was taking Connor for a walk. You are a gift from God . Please take your rest and let Him guide you.
    Love Teena.

  4. Hank Vanderland

    John, Thank you for sharing the details of your meeting with Pastor Mike. In some way I am jealous that you were able to communicate so well with Mike and that he was able to bless you in your time of need. I have loved pastor Mike for many years for his Sheppard’s heart and his unwavering faith and ability to minister people in his life. Just a few minutes ago I wrote to a friend about the importance to “stand still” on a regular basis and related a good habit of my grandparents in Holland. Every day they would, after supper and doing the dishes, spend an hour sitting still in their dining room, without lights and no talking. This seemed strange to me as a child, but as an adult I have treasured the time to be still, (no talking) and to “stand still”, meaning finding a quiet place alone at home, along a river, in a forest, to find a quiet place to allow your whole being to come to rest in the Lord and in time become aware of you place in life, and asking the Lord to bring peace first without any plans or agendas. Often we find ourselves living at high speed, thinking we do what we are called to do and become burned out because we do not allow enough time to “stand still” and yes let the Lord quiet and restore you. Remember His words “Be still and know that I am God”. When I was still working with often lots of stress I would find a place to be still, to “stand still” on a regular basis to find rest and direction in my life.

    I hope and pray that the Lord will restore you, so you can continue to be a blessing according to His purpose for you!

    Your brother in Christ.

  5. Wayne Smith

    Emmanuel places folks in our lives for times such as these. Thank you for sharing this story and for sharing your struggles with us on Sunday – it is a blessing when as a Pastor you show the ‘flock’ that it is ok to share these kinds of struggles. It has for too long been ‘hidden’ or kept quiet – ‘real’ men don’t cry’ – true hope and healing come from sharing the burden.

  6. Scott Hickling

    Great words John. That passage has seen me thru some dark days for sure and how you described your visit captures the twinkle in Mikes eyes and the energy that is him. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Russ Sanche

    Mike and Ruth, please read my comments to John as well. Though we are at such a distance…I think of you guys often. You have both very consistently encouraged and released me from my early 20s until just a few years ago when we visited. Thanks so much. Peace, Russ

  8. Russ Sanche

    John, thanks for taking the time to share. I needed to hear those words, also. Mike is right. Giving ourselves permission to retreat so that we can advance once again is brilliant. Mike has been a wonderful encouragement to me and a true example of grace and strength. Peace to you, Russ

  9. Anonymous

    Oh , John, What a beautifully written piece about your visit with Mike…When I came to visit him, later that day, he had such a light in his eyes and told me about your visit and how much it meant to him….Thank you for being God’s messenger that day and thank you that you will” keep on keeping on,” for God and for the ministry that you are gifted and called to do…We love you…Mike and Ruth

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