Thursdays With Dad

Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
    and parents are the pride of their children.    
Proverbs 17:6 (NIV) 

I was prepared for a shock, but it was still significant.  I marvelled at the technology with such good resolution as I gazed upon my dad’s greyish face, his extremely sunken cheeks, misshapen jaw, eyes mostly closed and bloodshot around the rims.   I felt my heart groan with compassion for this man who, along with my mom, raised me. 

Racing through my mind were visions of fishing and hiking with Dad as a youngster, playing tennis with him through adolescence, playing tennis against him as a young adult, fighting with him all throughout my teen years, seeing the concern and lack of understanding in his eyes as I made some bad choices, seeing him go from sleepy eyed passenger to fully alert and near hysteria as he allowed me to drive to work one day and came close to a parked car, watching his face crumple when I hugged him as I arrived at the hospital for mom’s final hours, watching him angrily drive away when I refused to get in his banged up car with him at the wheel a few years ago.  He had run down his own mailbox getting out of the driveway to cause those dents!

My dad is a pretty funny guy a lot of the time.  When mom was alive, she could make him laugh a lot with her sarcastic wit.  Both of my parents were teachers and we were raised in an environment with a lot of “play on words”.  Family scrabble games, boggle events, and crosswords defined us for many years.  Dad is a terrible speller, but manages to pull of scrabble wins once in a while with his impressive knowledge of 3-letter words. 

I was looking for ways to get him to laugh tonight – standing in for mom.  One opportunity came up when he finally opened his eyes wide.  I said, “Uh oh – Happy Halloween!”  I got a glimmer of a smile. 

We chitchatted about nothing much at all.  He assured me that my sister Karen and her husband were NOT taking care of him well at all, and that he wasn’t getting good food.  I’m never sure if he just tries to keep people on their toes, or is just having a bad perspective day.  One thing I do know is that he is receiving superior care all the way around.  I asked him if he was in pain – “No.”  I asked what he wishes for – “Medical help to fix this.”  That won’t be happening – his condition is called PSP – Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.  From a website: 

“Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), corticobasal degeneration (CBD), and multiple system atrophy (MSA), are little-known but disabling brain diseases, sometimes called atypical Parkinsonian disorders. These rare neuro-degenerative diseases are often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Alzheimer’s disease. PSP, CBD and MSA lead to progressive decline, and although symptomatic treatment exists, there is no known cause or cure.”

Dad’s PSP was misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease – we know that because he has lived so long without the usual degeneration.  But he is now at the end-stages of PSP.

The conversation was coming to a close and I asked him what else I could do for him.  He thought about it and said, “Send me money.”  I said, “Okay, how much,” figuring he would say something like “a million will do”.  But instead, he said, “Ten dollars.”  And I said, “I suppose you want it in U.S. dollars?”  He said, “Doesn’t matter – whatever I can get.” 

I enjoy these little tidbits of conversation with my dad, and feel very blessed to have them.  I have now ministered to enough hurting people on the streets that have no contact with their family, to show me how fortunate I am to have a dad who has loved me all my life.  Dad was an electronics teacher in high school for a while.  It was in this environment that he thrived.  He would bring the “troubled boys” to our house to play basketball and just hang out – they thought he was cool because he let them be who they were.  He himself was a terrible student in high school, so I think he related to these young men in that way.  I can’t ever remember my dad turning anyone away who was having troubles or issues….just the opposite – he seemed to go seeking for them and continuously bringing them to the house! 

If I have even just a little bit of what my Dad has had for those who are troubled or hurting in life, that will be a good thing as I go about my work for the Lord.

Jesus, I pray for my Dad tonight.  I pray that he sense that at the root of all things, you have been there as the first cause.  That your love for him has shone through him even in response to those who prayed for him all their lives.  I pray that you are merciful to Dad as he is now the one in the “pain” of his final days instead of the one to help.  Reveal yourself to him through those who are close to him and care for him.  Amen.

A Night of Beautiful Women

1 Samuel 16:7 “…(t)he LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Last year, I took a worship class. This was not a worship music class, though that was a component, but was more of a class about what “worship” means – theologically, practically, and every other “ly” possible! It was far more of a “worship as a lifestyle” study and class. In that class, we read a book by Mark Labberton called “The Dangerous Act of Worship” and this book really pin-pointed some of the issues within the North American church and then focused on what God requires of us, which is captured in Micah 6:8 – “….to do justice, to love kindness (or mercy) and to walk humbly your God.”

Well, that just popped out at me, and when Charmaine Makarus (co-leader of Women’s Ministry) and I met to plan for this year’s Women’s Ministry events, we talked about having Micah 6:8 be our theme this year, and so it is. I KNEW we were on the right track, because shortly after that, I learned about Danielle Strickland here in Edmonton. She is a Salvation Army Officer and has spoken locally at YC and Re:Surgence, and worldwide as well.  As soon as I looked her up and heard her speak and saw what some of her work has been and continues to be, I emailed her to see if she could be our first speaker. “Justice” is her specialty topic as she has held various leadership positions involving social justice, locally and internationally.

Shortly after I booked her, I had a meeting with my field education advisor at Taylor, and I decided to see if I could do some field education with Danielle and her ministries downtown. She leads a Salvation Army Church along with her husband.  And she also has three outreaches for women:

(1) Ministry to prostituted, homeless and/or addicted women. A van goes out every Monday, Tuesday and Friday to minister to women on the street. Food, water, soda, snacks, clothing, underwear, socks, coats, etc., are all given out, and prayers are prayed.

(2) Chaplaincy to massage parlours. Every Wednesday, massage parlours are visited for prayer. This started off with taking cupcakes to massage parlours – Danielle is creative.

(3) Women’s Discipleship House. There is a house in the neighborhood over by the Italian Centre on 95th Street that women coming out of addiction programs can live in.

So, I met with her in July, and ever since, I’ve been going out in a van on Monday nights to minister to women on the streets who truly are in pain in so many ways. It has been an amazing experience to build relationships with the young ladies who have been providing this ministry and know what they are doing. They have touched my heart in a very special way.

To see some of the women is just heart-wrenching. Lots of nights, you just realize that street women do not appear similar to Julia Roberts when she portrays them. To be brutally honest, it can be harsh – there is sometimes wear and tear that only God can see through. But sometimes, like last night, it seems to be a night of beautiful ladies. Some of the stories, I’ll share with you (note that the names used below are not the real names of the women served):

Nicky was first one that approached our van last night. I would have guessed she was about 70 years old – turns out she is 48. She was pretty doped up on something, but still somewhat lucid. We gave her food, water, a jacket….she took off one of her shoes and her sock to show us a hugely swollen foot from probably infection after a surgery. I could see that Nicky has some really pretty features – she is part First Nation and her hair is beautiful. Her facial structure also looked very pretty. One of the girls in the van had seen her when she came out of the hospital after the surgery – so she was “clean” of drugs at the time – and said she was really quite beautiful. But within two weeks, Nicky was all messed up again.

We met up with a beautiful young lady – Andrea – that we had met up with a couple of weeks ago as well – only I did not recognize her! A couple of weeks ago she was “twitching” on ecstasy as she came and got some clothes, food and water from the van. Last night, she was completely sober and stunning, but still working the streets. I could not reconcile the two completely different individuals that are apparently one and the same young lady. In fact, when she first came to the van, I thought it very interesting that there were two “Andreas” that we ministered to – it is an unusual name these days. It was kind of freaky. It sort of reminded me of my brother who is a very troubled, lifetime alcoholic. When he was young, there was a vast difference you could see when he was drunk vs. when he was sober. But as he got older, the two “different” persons begin to come together as the drunk. We pray for this young lady to seek Christ and for him to touch her with just a drop of his power and transform her life.

Another one, 40 years old – Tanya. Our driver – a hilarious petite Brit named Jennie with a blonde Mohawk – has developed a friendship with her. Tanya is normally quite fey, a winsome spirit darting out of dark corners to wave at us. Tonight, though, she was subdued. I could see she wouldn’t meet Jennie’s eyes and she didn’t really want anything. As we pulled away, I yelled out, “Bye, Tanya” and she yelled back, “Love you!” thinking that Jennie had yelled the goodbye. Talking with Jennie, I found out she had been in rehab at one point and getting better and stronger and on her way (potentially) to getting off the streets, but a worker at the rehab facility in essence betrayed her by telling her boyfriend (in reality a pimp) that she was there (which they are not supposed to do). So, he came and got her out of there…after which there was too much fear to try again. The Salvation Army would pay for a flight to get her out of there and to a safe place in another city to recover, but she is unable to choose that currently, though you can tell internally she yearns to get out and be “normal”. We are going to see if we can take her out for a coffee next week and just love on her for a bit….I pray she begin to feel loved and supported by us in such a way as to see Jesus in us and be drawn to Him.

Finally, there was a young lady – Wendy, probably 25 years old at most, who waved down the van from a car where a man who looked 50 was driving her. We pulled over in a parking lot and she asked for some food and water/soda. She said not to worry about the guy in the car – “He is a good one.” I asked her where she is currently living and she said she is “between places.” My heart ached as I gazed on her beautiful face. She has a beautiful complexion and Irish freckles; her eyes were hazel and her teeth were perfectly shaped and pearly white. She had the looks of a healthy, wholesome American girl, but is living a life that is anything but healthy and wholesome.

There have been times in my life when I have envied beautiful women. I have a standard joke that I tell – “If I was as pretty as that, I’d be married with grandchildren now!” But last night it was apparent to me that physical beauty does not guarantee a good life. Other nights, it is easy to maintain the illusion that there is some distance between how I perceive myself and how I perceive those to whom we minister. But last night, that illusion was removed.

The only distance between these ladies and me is the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. A distance that disappears in a split second on their belief that Jesus is their Saviour, too.