Honoring Dad

Tuesday night, my Facebook feed filled with images of my dad. There were photos of him presiding at weddings, commiserating in front of Eastern European tour buses, installed at his desk among purposefully-stacked papers. There were photos of camp: kids laying on their bellies for a look over Rockledge cliff, staff dressed in their silliest for Thursday night dinner.

The accompanying statements thanked him for being a leader, an inspiration, a mentor. More than a few people said they wouldn’t be who they are today without my dad’s influence, or that of the place he helped to create.

It was a beautiful, spontaneous display of gratitude and grief. My dad loved his ever-expanding church-camp-travel family, and I’m so grateful to you who comprised it. He thrived on your energy and friendship.

I was also privileged to see my dad in his roles as son, brother, uncle, husband, and grandpa. Most of all, of course, I got to know him as Dad. Today I’d like to honor him as Dad.

Dad was rooted. This November, on a chilly, sunny day, my dad and I set out for rural Southwest Wisconsin. True to form, my dad had planned the road trip around food; we stopped no fewer than six times for the finest maple long johns, cheese curds, apples, lefse, pie, and beer the area had to offer. But in between stops for fortification, we took in the hills, the winding roads, the clear sky. The rolling landscape holds my dad’s boyhood home, my grandpa’s barbershop, and the general store where my dad held his first job. His love of this place – the land and the people it held – was palpable.

My dad was curious. This curiosity was channeled into many endeavors, but most significant for my family were our vacations. In my dad’s eyes, the purpose of family vacation wasn’t relaxation but rather motion, education, and fun. He wanted to open our eyes to parts of the world we’d never seen, expose us to people who weren’t like us, show us that the places we saw on TV were touchable. We visited historical sites, museums, rode ferries, took bus tours, saw shows from the Lion King on Broadway to a Don Ho musical revue in Hawaii.

We walked through cities like Chicago and San Francisco because that, he said, was the best way to feel their energy. We learned that when he said a destination was “just around the corner,” that was true…but that the corner may or may not be close by.

Traveling with my dad taught me to seek out the unfamiliar, to embrace difference rather than fear it. He was fascinated by people’s stories and our collective history as intersections of current events, personality, and values. We traveled so he could pass on that fascination.

My dad was a welcomer. At Bethel Horizons, he made a place for everyone. Everyone could contribute, and everyone was worthy of being in community. Everyone was indeed seen as somebody made in God’s image. This belief in unconditional acceptance was quieter at home – no repeat-after-me litanies were shouted – but it was unmistakable. No matter how messy my life was at the time, I was always welcomed home. Maybe I was worried about, maybe my choices were not quite understood, but I was always loved rather than judged.

Finally, my dad was a servant. He didn’t like to take credit for the way his work changed people’s lives. He credited the work itself, the fact that forgiveness is powerful; he saw himself only as a person who chose to put forgiveness in action.

In this attitude of humility, my dad has left us with another opportunity. Many relationships, opportunities, and connections have been catalyzed by my dad’s life, but they don’t hinge on it. We are all capable of being welcomers, of finding God’s image in others, and of choosing fascination over fear.

We have lost a leader, a mentor, a friend, a dad. But we are still powerfully and lovingly led. New horizons await us all…and they’re just beyond the pie.

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Resolution

I am spending this New Year’s Eve in, and it feels just right. I went to an evening yoga class with a favorite instructor, made sweet dumpling squash soup and a greens-apple-beet salad, and parked myself on the couch. And then got up and made my a personal-sized chocolate cookie ice cream cake, and then parked myself again, finally to write.

The idea of making resolutions strikes me differently on different years. Some years I love the forward pull of goals, of things I pledge to do every day, of the promise of transformation. Some years I don’t want the pressure of trying to better myself; I want to be right here rather than striving towards somewhere else.

This year both sentiments are pulling on me. The past few months, I’ve dug into the thought processes that have led me to eat too little and move too much. I’ve recognized that I both crave and fear stillness; I know how satisfying it is to quiet my mind, yet I resist it with twitchy Facebook checks and absent-minded nibbles.

Likewise, somehow, I both crave and fear motion. I love the feeling of gaining traction towards an endpoint – an exam, an organized spice rack, a scary and awesome vision for life after grad school – yet I find myself pulling back to the safety of…Facebook and nibbling.

So I find myself wanting direction, intention, traction, and yet knowing that in my mind, those good things lie a hairsbreadth away from obsession. I want to make resolutions, but more self-imposed rules are not what I need. I need strength, and rigidity is not strength.

I also find myself sinking into languid, decadent relaxation like I’ve never let myself before. I am loving long, heavy nights of sleep without the pressure to wake up for a workout. I am drinking whole goddamned cocktails when I go out, accompanied by charcuterie and cheeses and sweet potato fries. I’m learning how to do holidays like I mean it, with scratch pumpkin pie, real whipped cream, and Christmas brunch with four different baked goods. I’m learning to hang out with my family all afternoon without feeling like I should go for a run. I’m learning to let myself be with, rather than trying to keep separate.

I’ve learned to appreciate these holidays as full, rich, and literally grounding. More important is that I’m letting myself experience different states of being; some days feel big, heavy, grounded, full to bursting. Others feel busy, light, forward-moving, pulling me to sharpness and precision. Disorder for me, ironically, is seeking too much order. It’s choosing one feeling – light, sharp, never settling, always striving – and hewing to it all the time. A state of high performance is perfectly fine, but only in balance with a state of low performance, or non-performance. Strength comes from work, nourishment, and rest. I’m catching up on the latter two.

So, resolutions. I made a list of what I want from the coming year. Most of the items are conceptual, less concrete than a motivational speaker or life coach would accept. I have a few measurable action steps, like shutting down Facebook and email while I’m working, and I will play with how to put intention rather than force behind steps.

Resolution means more than just intention, though. It’s also the end of conflict, the state of balance after tension is released. It’s the place that motion stops and from which it starts; it’s the end of the book, before the protagonists get immersed in the drama of volume two. Like the electrons whose jumping and falling creates light, we need both a resting place and a place that induces reach. Settling is beautiful, but staying settled means dying.

I’m taking this New Year’s Eve to settle a bit, to take in the resolution of this year before the next begins. And I’m also putting my intention towards the kind of resolution that comes in photographs: clarity. My vision won’t always be sharp, but I can keep my eyes up so I don’t miss it when the clouds disperse.

So this year, resolution in a few forms: intention, rest amidst motion, and clarity.

Fewer nibbles. More bites.

Happy New Year, all.

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The Top Ten from the First Four

The week isn’t done yet, but so far it’s brought a lot that’s too good not to share. So, the good stuff:

  1. The most meltingly tender, flavorful, succulent chicken I’ve ever had, in tacos at this week’s Slow Food Family Dinner. I will be buying and roasting a chicken this weekend!
  2. “It isn’t about proving something; it’s about sharing an experience.” – Yo Yo Ma, on the reason that he doesn’t get nervous about making mistakes in concerts.
  3. Driving with a bendy left arm. So easy. So easy!
  4. Noosa yoghurt. Silky, tangy-sweet-just-a-little-salty, heaven in a bowl. Seriously, try not to die before eating this.
  5. Unconditional love.
  6. Learning why high density polypropylene is rigid, why beta-carotene is fat-soluble, and how tomatoes take on a chocolate tone. For all the weirdness of being an extra-super-senior in undergrad classes, I’m so glad I came back to school.
  7. People willing to talk about important things.
  8. Cool air. Fall feels good, and I think it’s even supposed to be sunny tomorrow. Um, or Saturday.
  9. Two killer chocolate chip brownies, from different bakers, in two days.
  10. Hearing my Grandma say as she hugged me goodbye tonight, “Life is just going to keep getting better,” and believing it.

TGIF, everyone, but more than that, TG we get to do this. On to the last three.

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Details in the expanse

IMG_0215Last week words came easily, like water filling a tidepool at dusk, effortless and inevitable. This week a lot of big things happened, and words got blurry. I started my fall semester. I slowly, achingly gained enough elbow flexibility to wash my face with both hands. I saw my dad go into and come out of brain surgery. I walked a lot and carried a lot, having yet to figure out how much stuff I actually need for a day of school. I ate hospital cafeteria food with my mom, and we listened to one another. I brought ice cream and morning buns to my dad (on different days), watched football (twice, on different days), and saw his determination and lucidity gradually return.

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This disease is brutal, and so are the treatments. Individual lives are at once unflaggingly strong and terrifyingly tenuous. Like the confident, floppy-leafed maple trees that shelter tiny hopeful seedlings, we live in infinite beginnings and endings. We are at once anchored to minute, temporal details and awash in the broadest expanse.

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The expanse got big this week, like a sky so wide and open that there was nothing to do but float. I gave up on explanations, and efficiency, and doing dishes, and being ahead of whatever game I’d thought was worth playing. I noticed little things. I took pictures. I met my classmates. I cried behind my sunglasses, and I found people who let me cry without them. I cooked, and ate, and laughed, and eventually even did my dishes.

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I don’t think this life gets easy, or at least it doesn’t stay that way. But it keeps
getting beautiful. Relentlessly, effortlessly beautiful, in detail and expanse.

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Making Beauty

I haven’t blogged for a really long time. It would be overwhelming to ever blog again if I thought I needed to recap everything that’s happened in the intervening time. I can barely recap what’s happened today, or in the last month, much less understand it. But when things stop making sense, they still make beauty. That’s why I’m writing. I can’t draw worth a damn, or paint, or dance. My window on art is words, and maybe food and dirt. But I have no one to feed but myself tonight, and gardening in the dark is…dark. So here go the words:

I moved to Madison a few months ago. It was a huge step for me. It was one of the few shining, courageous, heady times in my life that I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do, resisting the urge to play backup singer to someone else who takes the real risks. I left my comfort zone and jumped into school, learning introductory chemistry from an amazingly competent and human prof…who was 6 years younger than me. I delighted in finding my way around the city on my bike, connecting one half-remembered street to another, letting a three-dimensional, five-sensical city map spread out within me. I wandered down Bascom Hill on my way home from the library, smitten by the well-worn buildings and the thousands of students’ stories they held. I let myself stop to read a few restaurant menus each day, searching for vegan or veganizable foods.

I was drinking in the experience of being in this old-and-new-again place, and yet somehow also holding it at arm’s length. I was meeting the city yet making friends more slowly than I wanted. I had let go of training for specific triathlons, but I found myself unsure of whether I was training enough. Enough for what? What was my goal? What if I didn’t have one? It felt like failure, or at the very least pusillanimity. (That’s a twenty-five cent word I learned while studying for the GRE. I’m going to make you look it up.)

I was trying like hell to gain traction, to put my biking, yoga-ing, healthy-eating, hard-working self in this place, but my proverbial wheels seemed to be spinning. I was doing fine in my class, meeting people gradually…but I was finding myself a ball of nerves more than I wanted. And finding myself dramatically skinny. Disconcertingly pointy. Like I was retracting into old versions of myself for fear of opening into this new place. Wrapping up tightly in my insecurity blankets.

And then, thank God, someone had the courage to have an uncomfortable conversation. One person expressed their concern about my physical and mental health, and all of a sudden the blankets fell away. I felt completely exposed. I was wearing my nerves and stuck-in-the-pastness and fear of the future in every protruding bone and brow furrow. I wasn’t fooling anyone, and after a weekend’s worth of tears and tough conversations, I finally I stopped trying to fool myself.

Food is an incredibly powerful thing. It offers sustenance and decadence, visceral connection to the past, and a tangible connection to our living community – whether through dirt on garlic from the garden or knowledge that Twinkies were packaged by someone, somewhere. I’ve always loved the flavors and colors and nuances of food, and I’ve loved the relationships nourished over food. I’ve also used food as a mechanism for control when life seemed uncontrollable; I’ve used it as comfort when life seemed uncomfortable. We all do this to some extent. Food is not optional, so each of us has to have a relationship with it. The health of this relationship ebbs and flows as we change, and mine had reached a true ebb.

So I got help. There are people very good at helping others navigating these ebbs and flows, and finally, finally, after my whole adult life and some of my teen years, I admitted that I didn’t have this thing figured out. It was an amazing relief.

And then the unfiguring started! My nutritionist suggested I add back some food groups. We started with grains and a few desserts, which I had basically eliminated this winter in an effort to “eat clean” and reduce purportedly inflammatory foods. I had not realized how readily my perfectionistic brain latched onto these new good-and-bad food categories, adding grains (especially those with gluten) and sugar to the “bad” list.

Anyhow, my body loved, loved, loved the beautiful whole grain bread and rice I gave it, and it even did fine with the white baguette slices with real butter I found at restaurants. Amazing. I started enjoying some more desserts: Guinness chocolate cake with my family at an open-air restaurant, hazelnut gelato with my very own self on State Street. Hot damn, this eating thing was feeling fantastic.

And then I decided to really branch out. I haven’t really identified as vegan in quite a while, as I went “off the wagon” occasionally. But this time I unhitched the wagon. Over the past three weeks, I’ve enjoyed eggs in many forms, a delicious variety of cheeses, pulled pork, chunks of bacon, chicken of widely varied quality, and luscious, flaky salmon. And a big fat hot fudge sundae at Ghirardelli Square in Chicago with my dad.

It’s been alternately delicious and disorienting. But I’m putting on some much-needed weight, becoming less pointy, and gradually finding myself at home in a more substantial body. One that is OK with being right here, even though things are uncomfortable and scary sometimes, and even though the future is bigger than I can see.

But this is about wanting a big future. It’s about stepping into school not knowing what will meet me at the end – or honestly, at the end of next week. It’s about intentionally living close to my family – in location and emotion – even though loving hard means hurting hard sometimes. It’s about opening to people for the simple reason that staying closed is a waste of time.

It’s about having the courage to eat from life’s whole buffet – from beautiful broccolini to caramel bread pudding – rather than from a cramped subset of foods chosen more by fear than reason.

It’s about loving the process of becoming, with all its mess. It’s about knowing that pain is not failure, that it’s a necessary corollary to joy.

It’s about being fed, and rooting down, and letting things make beauty rather than sense.

Posted in Everything Else, Food | 3 Comments

Horizons

This was an amazing weekend. 581 people and one sports mascot gathered on Monday night to honor my dad’s 45 years of ministry as a Bethel Lutheran Church pastor and Bethel Horizons camp executive director.

Dad Bucky

 

 

 

 

 

My mom said this morning that she felt drenched with love. I feel that too – and fatigue is starting to soak in as well – so tonight isn’t a time for new words. But in honor of my dad’s first day of retirement (May 1), I wanted to share the brief statement I gave as part of Bjorn’s, Dara’s, and my family reflection on Monday. Here’s to the horizon.

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Monday, April 29

Well before my father coaxed an attendance estimate out of the gleefully secretive planning committee, I knew this room would be full. My dad has made an impact on a great many lives, and I’m a very proud daughter.

The impact came through countless meetings, cups of coffee, and handshakes. But above all, this room is full because my dad believes that people can grow.

My dad knows that anyone, of any background, means, or status, can help. There’s a place for everyone to start, from painting boards to calming campers with a bedtime story. What’s more, there’s a place for everyone to grow, and a place for second chances after poor choices.

My dad expects quality, care, compassion, and drive from the people he works with – and from himself. With his expectation of excellence, he opens the possibility for it, a space to grow – a horizon if you will.

This horizon has the breadth it does – and brings the freedom it does – because it is not bound by physical place. Bethel Horizons holds holy places for many of us, from Rockledge cliff to the soccer field where so many fishies crossed the pond on summer Monday evenings. But the holiness of places, and our capacity for wholeness, and our ability to find growth…just IS.

That truth – that goodness just IS – is the crux of faith, and it’s what has empowered my dad to do what he’s done. He didn’t invent forgiveness or community or harmony. He just made a place for it, and invited others in.

Thank you, Dad, for believing in horizons. May we all continue to open them.

 

 

 

 

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The offseason: Less control, more trust

I went into this 8 week offseason with the intention to take a break from structured training, do a lot of yoga, and be ready to jump into training again come November. The first two are in progress, and as of this morning, the third looks like it will happen too.

In the last 5 weeks, I’ve taken more of a break from structure than I have in recent memory. I’ve trained at an as-I-feel pace. Or more accurately, I’ve exercised. Training has a target; my goal was just to keep the machine moving. I’ve gone biking with friends, stopped for coffee mid-ride, gone easy and gone hard just because I could. I bought a cross bike and will try it on an actual cross course this weekend. Probably before the race, without a bib number, but you never know! DFL beats DNS?

I’ve done a lot of yoga, and it’s been nothing short of amazing. In my first few classes I found myself anticipating the poses, thinking about how much time there was left, as if I could change it if I knew. Then I started to let go, just move and breathe…and the classes started to fly by. Or maybe I started to fly a little; there are times I felt like I was dancing. Like I let go of the little marionette strings that hold me too rigid and realized I could move on my own.

I pulled a chest muscle, let it heal. I quit chewing gum and just ate when I was hungry. I’ve listened to more music and less news. I haven’t logged workouts. I watched the debates and just let myself be nonplussed. I let myself fall just a little head over heels, let myself crash, and got back up.

Yoga is powerful in that it asks you to face yourself, and doing it 5 times a week is not always easy. My mind can be chattery and not always constructive; it can be frustrating to hear the chatter even when I know it’s just that. But I’m learning to listen more to my gut than my head; anticipate less, calculate less, trust more.

So I’ve been putting off making my race schedule for next season. I’ve truly enjoyed racing these last couple of years, but I wasn’t compelled by a constructing a schedule like I have been in the past. I’ve been spending less time planning and more time doing, and I like that. There was a time that I needed training to be a treadmill; I needed something to pull me out of bed, set me in motion, and then propel me again from the end of the workday until couch time.

But I don’t need that anymore. Amazing as it is, I’m learning to love the spaces in between destinations. I don’t need to feel busy to feel purposeful. I don’t need to feel fear to find motion.

Less control, more trust.

So I went swimming this morning. My swims over the past month have been really short and really easy and really slow. Today’s was not as short, not as easy, but still really slow. I wasn’t trying to swim fast today, but it’s still a little depressing to see a pace slower than my easy pace a season ago. So…maybe it’s time to dig in.

My bike power and speed are still lower than before my accident. I’m far healthier, but dagnammit, a little more speed would be nice. And fun.

So the fire in my belly is sparking up. The race plan is coming, this weekend, and base training will start in November. I’ll stick to my heart rate zones as much as I can, do my workouts, and see what I can build. But I’m going to let it be fun as well as work. I like building a base, watching my fitness ebb and flow and gradually build. I like working hard, being spent at the end of a workout, even finding that place where the legs just don’t want to start up. Finding those limits is a kind of fun, too; it’s what I originally fell in love with about triathlon.

But this season I’ll also stick with a few yoga classes a week, some skiing this winter, some workouts with friends, and generally a little more looseness. Less preparation, more action. Less sitting by the pool waiting to be ready to get in, more just getting in. Less living in the future, more living now.

Less control, more trust.

Good plan.

 

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