Two 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).