Joyfully Reflecting on Blessed Encounters in Edmonton

I’m leaving the “City of Champions” feeling like a champ. And it has nothing to do with how well (or not well) the retreat went, rather because of the number of blessed encounters I had on my trip.

Despite arriving to the airport relatively early, I was one of the last ones on to the plane. I was not-so-gently reminded by the Westjet employee at the gate that I was supposed to be there much earlier, especially because I had an exit row seat. As I boarded the plane, I hustled to my row 10 window seat and I recognized the good-looking guy seated in the aisle seat.

“Mr. Wayne Thompson!” I exclaimed.

“Skippy!” he replied.

And thus we commenced a non-stop, hour-long conversation that I’m sure everyone sitting around us appreciated. We had last worked together at PwC in 2002, and we have seen each other maybe once since then. Needless to say, we had a lot to catch up on, but it felt like we hadn’t missed a beat. I even got an explanation for Wayne’s nickname for me.

“It’s because of how you run” Wayne said, mimicking me with his arms.

“Uh, thanks I think. I thought it had something to do with peanut butter or something.”

I’m not used to having long conversations when flying, as I’m usually asleep even before the plane takes off. I have it down to a routine: listen to safety instructions, pray, fall asleep. Except when I’m seated in an emergency exit row. Then, it’s listen to safety instructions, pray, stay awake while plane takes off, fall asleep.

During Wayne’s restroom break, I looked across the aisle and spotted an attractive young lady reading a bible (making her even more attractive). Trying not to have it come across as a cheesy pick-up line (and a religious one at that), I asked her “Is that a Bible you’re reading?”

“Yes it is,” she replied. I was relieved she actually answered me and didn’t pretend her headphones were too loud.

“I presume you’re a Christian?” I asked.

“Yes, I am. I’m guessing you are too…I noticed your APeX Ministries shirt and your cross.”

Angie and I had a quick and pleasant chat, swapping as many faith and family stories as we could before Wayne returned. After the plane had landed and I had said good-bye to Wayne, Angie and I continued our conversation and promised to find each other on Facebook.

I then spent a wonderful afternoon catching up with Andrew and his wife Colleen at their beautiful home. I knew they would be wonderful hosts when Andrew opened up his fridge and showed me a dozen Pepsis on the lower shelf. We reminisced about my family’s road trip to Edmonton and visit to them back in the summer of 2006. We also talked about ministry, sports, and put the final touches on the next day’s retreat. All while demolishing a package of pepperoni sausage, crackers and cheese. He then took me to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, where I ran a training session for Sharon, their youth ministry coordinator (and formerly a youth ministry coordinator in Abbotsford).

The session went well, and it was great to catch up with Sharon. In particular, I was moved by Gerry, one of their volunteer youth leaders. Gerry was wearing a button with a picture of a young man’s face on it. When I asked about it, Gerry told me that the boy is his son…tragically killed 3 years-ago by a teenager. As Gerry teared up while telling me about his late son, I found myself getting emotional as well. To make matters worse, it would have been his son’s birthday in the next couple of months, and the young man charged with the murder will be released from prison later this summer, after only 3 years in prison.

I barely had the right words to say, so I didn’t really say much. Instead, I put my arms around Gerry and give him a hug and thanked him for sharing with me so honestly. He didn’t have to say it, but I knew that his son (and what happened to him) is his motivation for being involved in youth ministry. My conversation with Gerry really helped me put things into perspective, and was a perfect final motivation for Saturday.

Saturday’s retreat day for youth ministry leaders was abundantly blessed. The theme for the day was “Joyfully Reflecting the Image in which we are Created,” based on their Evangelization program called Nothing More Beautiful. We started off with Mass with Archbishop Smith and then launched into the retreat day, exploring the theme through 3 primary sessions, on image and imitation, prayer, and trust in God. After each session, participants had the chance to pray and reflect for 45 minutes or so. It made for a nicely-paced day and provided wonderful opportunities for prayer.

Blogs for Father's Day

In recognition of Father’s Day this Sunday, here are a few blogs I’ve written.

The first ones are about Sean and Jake and how they are like their dad…for better or (more often) for worse:

Giving Jake His Due (Like Father Like 2nd Son)

First Dibs on First Aid (Like Father Like Son)

Like Father Like Son

Next is the blog I wrote about Kayla’s birth in late 2007. It was an exciting yet scary time.

Lastly, my tribute to the greatest Dad ever, my late father Larry.

Happy Father’s Day!

You Know You're Getting Old When…

For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with people’s ages. More often than not, it’s a decent conversation starter, especially in my chosen field of youth ministry. Once I learn a teenager’s age, I can guesstimate what grade he or she is in…and away we go!

It’s also a proven conversation ender…especially when asking a female who you’ve just met. Sadly, I’ve actually done that before.

And I’ve always wondered for females…what is the age where a woman would like to be known as “younger” than they actually are? I think it’s fair to say that is teenage girls, they would like to be known as older than they actually are. It’s a sign that they look and/or act mature. But there must be a switch-over somewhere, as I can’t imagine a woman being impressed with someone saying to them: “Oh, you’re only 35? I thought you were over 40!!!” Sadly, I think I’ve said that before too. So where is that magical cut-off age? 19? 25? 30? 65?

Only once in my entire life has someone guessed that I was older than I actually was. Usually, people will come in at anywhere between 3 – 10 years younger than my actual age. The worst one was way back in the late 90s at my home parish of St. Paul in Richmond. A relatively newer female teen handed me a note with her name and number on it, with a big heart decorating the whole paper.

Being naïve, I said to her “Oh, so are you looking for more info about LIFE TEEN (the youth ministry we used and still use at the parish)?”

“LIFE TEEN?” she replied, “What’s that?”

I started to get a funny feeling in my stomach. “Uh…how old do you think I am?” I asked.

“14 or 15?”

“Thanks for the compliment…I think.” And with that, I walked away, not sure how to take the fact that she undershot me by 8 or 9 years!

As an aside, I think that the note still stands as the only love note that I’ve ever received. But that’s for another (sad) blog.

I guess I could chalk it up to my boyish good-looks or my wide-eyed charm. But who am I trying to kid? It’s because back then I acted like a 15 year-old. I’m better now…I act at least 17 years-old.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog called “Age Ain’t Nothin But a Number”. In it, I reflected upon my first 32 years of existence and took a look at what I had accomplished or not accomplished, depending on your perspective. A lot has changed in the past 24 months: we have a beautiful daughter, Sean has received First Communion, and Jake is at St. Paul School. Not all things have changed though: my lovely wife Gail is still a saint and the undeniable rock of our household.

As for me, I can’t take the late nights as well as I used to (despite the timestamp of this blog…haha) and it takes me a little longer to recover from strenuous exercise. And I’m starting to have the occasional brain lapse.

Earlier today, Gerard (yet another looks-younger-than-he-actually-is-type-of-guy) and I were talking at the YMO about summer plans and he asked me what I planned to do for my birthday in a couple of weeks.

“Nothing planned” I replied. “Probably going to do something big next year when I turn 35.”

My statement was met with an awkward silence. Now, silence is certainly ok (although rare when Gerard and I are together), but this one was a different type of silence. I could almost hear the gears in Gerard’s head clicking. So I continued:

“Maybe I’m getting more humble as I get older.”

Still more silence. I shifted nervously as I stared at my buddy. He broke the silence about 5 seconds later:

“Aren’t you turning 35 THIS year?”

The silence became raucous laughter as we together celebrated my absent-mindedness. This one wasn’t even about denial. It was all about me not knowing how old I am!

I said good-bye and left for my car but barely made it to the hallway before I turned around.

“Hey G…I’m just curious. Did you remember I was turning 35 because I’m 2 years younger than you and you remembered you’re turning 37?”

“Yeah….and I know you’re the same age as Gen and she’s turning 35 this year as well.”

Still smiling, I said, “Thanks for looking out for me, man.”

Gerard proclaimed: “That’s what best buds are for!”

Guess I should start planning now for my 40th!