The New Normal

NOTE: I wrote this blog two days before Ella was born and never posted it. Still catching up. 

Hailey and I know our lives are about to change forever. We planned for it.

Crib, clothes and more. Friends & family are the best!

Our friends who are parents have told us to go to the movies (we’ve been to the theater more in the last 6 weeks than we had the entire previous year), go out to dinner, get plenty of sleep and spend time talking—do whatever we can to get time alone, just the two of us.

The advice has been wonderful. But, at the same time, we’ve been married for seven years and  were also gifted with 10 months together where almost every night was spent alone with one another-without a tv, consistently working Internet and the other distractions most of us consider necessities. It’s odd to be at this stage and feel…well, ready (even if there is some uneasiness at the same time).

We’ve spent the better part of the past few months acquiring furniture, clothing and all the modern amenities people have told us we just have to have. And we’re extremely grateful for what we have received. Most of what we have is hand-me-downs or gifts. We wouldn’t be able to have this kid without the generous support of our friends and family.

In Malawi I learned that it really does take a village to raise a kid. Most children have multiple fathers and mothers (here we’d call them uncles and aunts) and each is equally important in the upbringing of a child. Our village has come through.

No carseats, only chitenjes…

As our home fills with baby stuff, I can’t help but think about the children we grew to know a year ago. When my daughter is born, she won’t be the first child I’ve named (in Malawi the parents do not name the child, the uncle does). Mothers rode in the car I drove and I didn’t worry once about whether or not the chitenje  around their chest carrying their newborn would pass Child Safety Seat Laws. I saw women unabashedly breastfeed without a hooter hider and (eventually) thought nothing of it. And I saw children thrive without Baby Einstein, pacifiers or diapers that always fit.

Two completely different worlds with different definitions of need. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in the middle–but maybe that’s a good thing.

Hailey and I are cherishing our last few nights as a family of two, but we’re also dreaming about the sleepless ones ahead. I’m positive we’ll miss the times we had alone, the feeling of being rested, and the ability to go out whenever we want. But I also know the “new normal” will provide all kinds of new experiences, stories and life lessons. And I can’t wait.

Ella’s Birth Story

NOTE: I have 3-4 posts that I’ve started in the last 2 months and haven’t had time to finish. A newborn daughter will do that. Over the next week or two, I will be posting them. I wrote most of this post on July 18, 2012. 

Today was supposed to be our daughter’s due date. Instead it was Ella Marie’s two-week birthday (and check up with the doc).

Last night Hailey and I sat up talking about how different her birth could have been. Instead of a cooing and growling baby, anticipation and anxiety could have been the culprits keeping us awake. The timing couldn’t     have been better.

On July 3rd, I got home from a long day at work. Around 7:00 Hailey sent a text asking if I would be coming home anytime soon. I thought nothing of it and called her to ask about dinner and if it was okay if I stopped to get gas. She said sure.

I got home and she was making dinner. It was a normal night…or so I thought. Hailey paused every few minutes while cutting vegetables and said she was feeling a little pain and tightness. Then she’d turn back to the veggies.

My wife is a rock star.

She didn’t tell me over the phone because she didn’t want me to worry and she assumed it was just Braxton Hicks contractions. We sat down on the couch, started dinner and within the hour she was arching her back in pain and had set her food down. She called a friend and then the doctor (who told her that she had probably just pushed herself too hard for the day and that she should drink some water and relax). Doctors know best, so I went back to my spaghetti.

While she was on the phone I went upstairs for less than five minutes. I came down and, through tears, she blurted, “DON’T YOU LEAVE ME!” All sorts of craziness ran through my head.

I knew she wanted to have the baby naturally and that our birth plan included the phrase “drug free.” Early in her pregnancy I would try to talk her down off her hippy pedestal. I’d recite my defense, there’s a reason for birth interventions and I wanted to be realistic about what might happen.

She’d always argue and I’d eventually concede (at some point I learned that arguing with a pregnant woman was a bad idea, but it took me entirely too long to get there…sorry dear). And now her practice contractions were causing her to scream at me and cry? Drug free my booty. There was no way she was having our kid without any medication.

By 9:00 she was hanging on my shoulders and wincing in pain. It was never consistent, so we weren’t too sure what to think. I was annoyed. I wanted to go to sleep. I had been up since 5:00 AM and these fake labor pains were keeping us awake. I said, “we’re either going to the hospital or I’m going to bed.” (Yes, I realize this whole interaction makes me look and sound like a complete jerk…). She wanted to go to the hospital.

I went upstairs and got ready to leave, came back down and then instead of getting in the car we decided we’d stay awhile longer. We couldn’t make up our mind. I had read somewhere that a bath helped with Braxton Hicks, so we agreed it would be a good next step. I went upstairs, started the water and then Hailey came up, but she didn’t get in the bath at all. She was already wet. Her water broke when she set foot in the bathroom.

The water breaking was a huge relief. Hailey’s pain supposedly worsened but I never knew. She was uncomfortable, but at least she knew that the baby was really coming right then, that night.

She sat on an exercise ball and I ran all over the house while tears flew down my face. We called the hospital and the doc had already called them saying we would be in later that night. Our parents were on their way. This was really it. The baby was coming.

I figured we’d be in for a long night. All our birth classes had told us to prepare for a marathon. Many of our friends have had kids; we had heard the stories. But none of them prepared me for what happened.

We got to the hospital just before 11:00 PM. Ella was born at 12:48 AM. All my thoughts and our disagreements about birth plans didn’t matter. There wasn’t time for them to. Nor was there time for drugs.

Hailey originally wanted me to be in the delivery room alone with her. She knew I was terrified so she asked our friend Amy, who is a nurse, to join me. Amy was in Indiana and wouldn’t have made it up from San Diego anyway, it was that fast.

Early in her pregnancy I told Hailey that I didn’t want to actually watch our daughter being born. I’d focus on her, coach her through the pain and keep my eyes above the imaginary curtain (the one that hides all the blood and other birth goo…). But I had to watch. Birth is unlike anything else I’d seen.

I cut the umbilical chord (twice), watched the doc clean up my beautiful and crazy tough wife and, after the initial skin to skin time with mom, stood in awe as my daughter squirmed and screamed under the lights of the warmer.

Ella was less than an hour old. I wandered over to Hailey and, as usual, the filter that is supposed to work between my brain and mouth didn’t. I brushed back her hair and said, “You were made for this. That was easy, when do we try for number two?”

To read Hailey’s perspective on Ella’s birth, click here.

Countdown to Fatherhood: One Month

Thanks for the photos Mikey. www.prinephotography.com

Fatherhood. Over the last 8 months I’ve debated how much or how little I should write about becoming a dad. Hailey and I have read books, attended classes and spent a lot of time talking about the whats, hows and whys of our impending (and exciting) life change. We can’t wait to have this little girl.

BUT, I haven’t spent much time processing on paper. And I figured now—a month away from Kid Rohde’s due date—and the day after Father’s Day, was as good of a time as any to write down a few thoughts:

 

  1. Birthing Class—When I was in middle school, during sex ed, my teacher made me stand on top of the table and scream “penis” and “vagina” at the top of my lungs until I could do it without laughing. I was that kid. I’d like to think I’ve grown up, but I also felt like that dad in birthing class. I found myself laughing when no one else was, shaking my head at questions common sense should have answered and making faces when the videos got a little too graphic for post meal education. I look forward to being a dad, but I’m terrified of the whole birthing process—and I’m not even the one pushing the child through my body.
  2. Doctor’s Appointments—I wish my 8th grade teacher could see me now, walking into an OBGYN office like it’s normal. This has been one of my favorite parts of our pregnancy (which is weird to say, our pregnancy…I know I had something to do with it and I may even have a belly like I’m with child, but let’s be honest, men don’t get pregnant). Going to the doc’s office to ask questions, see how much Hailey’s stomach has grown and hear our daughter’s heartbeat has been unreal. I wouldn’t miss an appointment for anything. This is happening. That thing moving around, throwing off my wife’s hormones and stomping around on her bladder isn’t an alien or a thing at all, its not even an IT—she’s a little girl—our little girl.
  3. Fear—Every 5-6 hours I have a freak out moment. They wake me up in the middle of the night. “Can I really do this?” “Am I ready to be a dad?” I’ve always loved kids—I spent much of my career in family ministry because of it—but I could always send those kids back home after a few hours. What happens when home is your own house?  I’ve been told that the greatest test of trusting God is knowing that He loves your child more than you can or ever will. Conceptually and theologically, I get it. Practically, I say bull. I want to control every aspect of this kid’s life—from her actual birth to when she eats, sleeps, poops or begins to date (thirty sounds about right…). But I don’t get to. And that is frightening.
  4. “That’s Just Your Theory”—I’m convinced there are more theories about birthing practices and infant care than there are actual babies alive in the world today. With every birth, comes a new method—maybe we will paten the Rohde Method, it will pay for our daughter’s college tuition. Everywhere we turn someone mentions new approaches to feeding, ways of avoiding sicknesses and how we should create the perfect atmosphere for healthy development. At first we were like sponges soaking up as much as we could. Now we’re like the old grimy thing that has sat by your sink for 8 months. We can’t soak up anymore. We’ll try our best, but I can’t guarantee bits of old food won’t be spread all over the counter while we listen.

Thirty-One Days…

Midwest Trip: Not Just a Check-list

Munster’s Finest

Two goals down and one in site. Last weekend I trekked to Indiana with my dad for the Indy 500 and a Cubs/Padres game. Every time I visit the Midwest I think of what could have been. I’m thankful my parents moved to San Diego, but as I’ve gotten older my family’s ‘roots’ have grown increasingly important (more on that later). Here are the highlights of the trip:

Three Floyd’s BreweryThere is a world-class craft brewery blocks from where my mom grew up. I knew it was in the same town (Munster), but had no idea how close it was. Dad and I visited twice and everything we tried was excellent. My mom and sister don’t know this yet, but when they go back in a few weeks they’ll be bringing back a couple of bottles…

The Indy 500. The first goal knocked off my list.  It was great to be there with my dad. He was in his element and I got to peak into another piece of his childhood. He lit up during the pre-race festivities (which started the day before with a parade and museum visit)  and didn’t wipe the smile off his face till the race ended.

Dad got giddy when the Purdue band led out the Indy 500 parade.

Wrigley. List item #2. My grandpa (mom’s dad) was a big Cubs fan; I vaguely remember driving by Wrigley when I was a kid, but I had never been inside the ballpark. The Padres are terrible and the Cubs equally miserable, but Wrigley is unreal. The two worst teams in the NL playing and the place still sells out. We picked up the train about an hour outside of Chicago and it was full of fans decked out in Cubs gear. Real Fans. We went with our good family friend’s, Chris and Rusty, and sat in the shade about 25 rows behind home plate (thankfully in the shade). I’ve now been to Wrigley, Fenway, old Yankee stadium, Double Day Field, Angels Stadium, Dodger’s Stadium, AT&T (or whatever the Giants stadium is called) and Petco. Wrigley is definitely in my top three. There was only one downside to the entire experience, the face-to-face troughs in the men’s  bathrooms. It’s awkward enough standing right next to another guy while using an open communal bucket toilet, but there is something completly wrong about looking into someone else’s eyes while doing so. I know Wrigley has always been known for it’s adherence to tradition (there isn’t a jumbotron, very few advertisments and half the fans flipped when they got lights in 1988), but sometimes change is a good thing.

View from our seats

Meeting Uncle Clint/The Tuck Family. When I went to Indiana three years ago, I visited my grandfather Kiff’s grave (he died before I was born) and tried to see some of my dad’s old stomping grounds. I’ve always known a lot about my mom’s side of the family, but less about my dad’s. My dad has a twin who I had never met. I’m not going to get into details here, but spending time with my uncle helped to piece together quite a few things. We also visited my dad’s childhood next door neighbors, who still live in the same house. Mr. Tuck turns 100 this July. He fought in the Battle of the Buldge in WWII; I can’t imagine the stories he could share. Mrs. Tuck told all sorts of tales about my dad and the kids in the neighborhood. They talked about the time my dad had fallen behind the house, hit his head and needed stiches, about “hoop tennis” (a game I think they made up, but one that the Tuck’s still had the homemade equipment for in the garage) and the rides Mr. Tuck would give up and down the street with the kids hanging off the open tailgate.

I love my dad, but we are so incredibly different. He talks a ton, but rarely about his childhood.  This trip wasn’t just about checking things of a list, it was about exploring, digging into and learning about my dad’s (and our family’s) story.

Here’s a few more photos:

Radios & Cars: Pretty much sums up my dad.
Outside of Wrigley

Birthday Reflection: 31 (2012)

Last Friday I turned 31. I spent some of the day reflecting on where I had been in the last year and where Hailey and I seem to be going in the not-so-distant future. When I turned 30 I wrote this and gave myself six goals to accomplish by the time I turn 35.

One year down, four to go. Let’s see how I’m doing.

  1. Become a Father—Check. In two months my daughter should take her first breath. Hailey has been a champ during pregnancy. It’s kinda funny how people keep reminding us that we are in for a big change. And it’s not so much the words spoken that make me laugh, but the tone that is used (like Hailey hasn’t been slowly growing a person inside her for the last 7+ months, but all of a sudden has a belly that hiccups, punches and kicks). It’s as if we haven’t been thinking, planning, praying and hoping for this for years. We know it will be different. We know we won’t sleep. The new normal is coming fast and I’m terrified. Terrified and excited all at the same time.
  2. Get back to (and maintain) a healthy weight—Still have work to do. Last year I wrote, “I’ve been told that a healthy weight is within 5-10 lbs of what you weighed when you graduated high school-I need to drop 20 lbs.” I came back from Malawi as heavy as I had been in a long time, started riding and going to the gym routinely, and dropped 10 lbs pretty quick. I still sit 20 lbs heavier than what I weighed 13 years ago.
  3. Publish a Book—Ha, had a lot of thoughts but WAY LESS time to write than I did last year. Still a goal, but seems as far fetched as #6 below.
  4. Go to a game at Wrigley Field—Check (well, almost). My pops and I are heading out to the mid-west next weekend. The Padres are in town the same weekend as the Indy 500.
  5. Go to the Indy 500 with my dad—Check (almost again). See above. Dad’s turning 60 in
    birthday bike ride

    June this year. Having a bit of an eary celebration by returning to his roots.

  6. Cycle across a country—hahahahahaha. Still a dream. First I’ll have to get to the point
    where I’m riding multiple times a week again. Baby steps, right? In fact, looking at these goals has convinced me it’s time for a birthday ride…

Three out of six in just over a year isn’t bad, but I’ve got a ton of work to do (on top of being a pastor, learning to be a dad, etc…it should be easy right?).

 

Life in the Middle: Grandma’s Memorial Service

old photo of g-ma used in memorial service bulletin

I was honored when my dad asked me to preach at his mom’s memorial service. Then it hit me…I’d actually have to keep it together long enough to get through a sermon. I couldn’t be the somewhat level-headed support to the grieving family that I have normally been during memorials and funerals. I was the grieving family.

Preparing for my grandma’s service was difficult. I put it off for a week and then fought through two days of tears before writing anything at all. I don’t always manuscript my entire sermon, but figured that if I got choked up and couldn’t get through the whole service someone would be able to step in and finish.

Writing is always thereputic for me. It helped me to grieve. It allowed me to miss grandma. But it also gave me perspective. Here is the script:

Pastoral Words of Hope

I have many memories of grandma. We all do. And I hope, as we mourn our loss, we’re able to continue to share them with one another. The pastor in me knows to say that the best way we can celebrate Ella’s life is by telling and re-telling these stories. The grandson in me wants to shutdown, close my eyes and move on to what’s next. Deep down, I know the reason that the pastor tells families to share memories is for their own healing.

And I guess…that is what today is all about. As a family, we need to mourn. We need to hurt. We need to cry. But we also need to laugh. We need to smile. We need to know that, as the earth melts and moves away—as our lives shake and look different, and as we figure out how to function without grandma—that there is a God calling us to His side; to wipe away our tears, to not simply get us through the mourning, but to help us grow closer to Him and to one another in the middle of it all… But that doesn’t mean it should be easy.

There are a few images of grandma that will be forever burned into the place in my brain where memories rest, occasionally coming to life when a person, place or story is remembered. I don’t know the scientific name for this place, but I know it exists. It was in her old age and illness that Grandma taught me that this place never deteriorates.

Even in the end of her memory loss and struggle—she knew that Elizabeth was her granddaughter—even if she got her confused with great grand-daughter Lindsay. She knew that my mom was “that girl” that my dad brought around. She even had memories of “Jimmy,” her own father-in-law. And I have to believe, even if she didn’t always express it, she also knew that she was loved and cherished by her son Brian.

The last time I saw grandma, Hailey and I went with my dad to help her finish moving out of one of her rooms and into a new one. We hadn’t been back from Malawi for more than a month. She was eating lunch. I walked in and said, “Hi grandma. I’m David your grandson, and this is my wife Hailey.” I didn’t expect her to remember me at all. She was happy that day. And she looked up and said, “Oh, I know. And you just got back from a trip.” I couldn’t believe it.

I felt horrible for not saying bye to grandma before we left a year earlier. Dad told me that she wouldn’t know me anyway, so I shouldn’t have worried about it.

But Dad, you were wrong. I’m sure she didn’t always remember who each of us was, but deep down…somewhere…she knew.

I’m grateful to have that last memory of her. But there are many more in that bank of frozen images as well.

I see the family sitting around grandma and grandpa’s dinner table learning the card game “hand and foot.” And I see the art that she had painted hanging on the wall and sitting on an easel in the laundry room. I taste the soup and sandwiches that she served Liz and me for dinner at 4 pm when we’d spend the night. I hear her scolding her favorite golfer on tv for missing a putt. And I hear the old electric organ that she let us pound on when we were bored at their house.

I actually have many vivid memories of grandma and grandpa’s mobile home. They had this corkboard on their wall when you’d walk in. It had pictures of all of us from different stages in our lives, from Indiana to Florida to California. They loved their family.

Their house had the feeling that a grandparent’s house should. As a young boy, I remember it feeling a bit foreign because it was full of “old people things.” It smelled kinda funny too. It wasn’t quite home, nor—if I’m completely honest—was it all the way comfortable. But I knew that every time I arrived I was safe and in a place where my childhood mind could wander into one mystery or another. I also knew it was a place where I was loved, no matter what I had done at home.

As I let my adult mind reflect on grandma, and as I try to grapple with what it means to be grandson, son, soon to be Father, friend and pastor, the passage that was read earlier brings both great hope and great comfort.

The Gospel of John puts Jesus’ words very simply. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, and believe in me.” Jesus had been sitting, having an intimate experience with those who were closest to him—the people he claimed were his family.  And right before this passage we read that he knew the hour had come for him to depart from the world and go to the Father. His disciples were afraid and didn’t know how to go on without their leader and friend. They may have even expected something else.

We often read the passages about Jesus telling his disciples about his death with glazed over eyes. We know the whole story. Or at least we often treat Scripture this way. We flip from Genesis to Revelation and think we’ve seen—or read of—the beginning and the end…. But we do so without realizing we are living in the middle.

God created the earth, humanity sinned, Jesus was born to take on that sin, He was crucified and then he rose from the grave. We live—in the same way as the disciples would eventually—between the time of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of our own.

Jesus knew that his disciples were uncomfortable with the unknown—with living in the middle. It was scary. And it was painful. It hurt so much that Jesus could see that their hearts were troubled. And what were His words of encouragement?

Believe in God. And Believe in Me.

Those are words that I’d pray we’d hear today.

Jesus went on to tell the disciples that there was a house with rooms prepared for each of them. I wonder what images popped into their head as Jesus spoke?

I hear these words and can’t help but think of a house kinda like grandma’s. One where a little boy’s mind can wander and dream. One that is different from where I now live, but oddly familiar. One that is completely safe. A place where you’d walk in and know you were loved even though you had done nothing to deserve it.

I just hope it smells a bit better than grandma’s house did.

I love Jesus’ next words. “I am the way, and the truth and life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He doesn’t say, “I point to the way” or “I point to the truth and the life.” He says HE is the way.

I spent a few moments last week going through grandma’s bible. I never had any deep or long talks with her about faith, but looking at how she had underlined certain passages made me smile.

She had highlighted the Doubting Thomas story. I don’t know how she resonated with it, or what it was about it that made her bracket it in her Bible—but I’d like to think it had something to do with wrestling with being in the middle of the story.

Being in the middle is difficult. Thomas new this as well as anyone. And it’s only natural to doubt all that you know when the foundations of what you believe are shaken. The middle hurts. It even hurts when we know the final outcome.

We all knew this day was coming for Grandma. The honest truth was, it was just a matter of time before she got tired of fighting. But if we are completely honest with ourselves, we’d realize that it is the same for us.

I don’t mean to sound morbid, but we will all get tired of the earthly race. And, whether or not we like it, it will finish for each of us at some point.

Scripture is littered with stories about people dying and passing on a legacy to their children. Much of what was recorded in the Bible was done so in order that future generations would remember who God was and what God had done.

My hope is—when I finish this race—that I’d be able to say that I passed on something that was not only honoring to God but was a visible sign of His love for a broken world. I look around this room and am confident that this is exactly the type of legacy that Ella has left for us. Will you pray with me?

My sister and I playing with grandpa in the house I described in my sermon

Lent Lesson from Grandma

Grandma & Niece Lindsay

Today you may see people walking around with a black smudge on their forehead. Do me a favor when you see them—even if you think they just look ridiculous and there is no significance to the day—stop and reflect on the frailty and enormity of life itself.

Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is connected to the times in Scripture where individuals expressed their sorrow for sin. In most services today, as people come forward, the pastor/minister/priest says something along the lines of “from dust you have come and from dust you will return, go and turn from sin. Hear the good news.” We’re called to reflect on our sinful nature, the gift of the cross and our life here and now.

But those two concepts-frailty and enormity-stick out. They seem to not fit together. At times, they even contradict one another; but that isn’t always the case. Not for those who have spent any amount of time with the sick and dying.

This is one of the many lessons I learned while in Malawi, but if I really think about it, it’s something I have been taught here as well. I just haven’t always been paying attention.

Children’s Hospital—Some of the children had lived in the hospital for months. Others, only for days. They just happened to be there today, on this day—three years ago. I was a chaplain in the Clinical Pastoral Education program and was asked to administer ashes to those who wanted them. There is nothing quite as humbling as placing ashes on a smiling sick child’s face and telling him or her that they will return to dust. It makes death a reality, a painful—seemingly unfair—reality.

Grandpa’s Inurnment—I was still in seminary, not even sure if I could “officiate” something like a committal to a final resting place. Through tears I got through the liturgy. I reflected on what my grandpa had told me before he died-that he was ready, had lived a good life and was tired. Placing the urn in the wall I said, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” Time crawled to a halt as I lifted the urn into the wall. As far as I know, I was the last one to touch my grandpa’s remains.

Next week, I’ll return to a re-opened wall to place Grandma next to Grandpa.

Grandma’s Death—President’s Day 2012. I got to the hospital a half hour after she had breathed her last breath. The door of her room closed. Dad alone by her side. Grandma still; her body frozen in a position that whispered I’ve finished this race. The truth is, Grandma’s dementia and Alzheimer’s had changed her in her last few years. She’d forgotten names and how to function as she once had. But that’s not the grandma I will remember, not the strong woman who helped my dad become the man he is today or the loving Grandma who spoiled my sister and me. The woman lying in bed, the one who was done fighting, was one who had triumphantly battled for 94 years. Before we left her side, my dad brushed her hair back and whispered, “you did good mom, you did real good” (forgive his poor grammar). She had, and so had he. We walked out and it was finished.

When I place her remains next to grandpa’s urn, the Scripture I quote will be the same that many of us will hear today as the Lenten season begins. In the middle of reflecting on Christ’s sufferings, the frailty of earthly life screams in agony. But once I step back and see the magnitude of the big picture—the enormity of creation and our relationship with the Creator, the ashes and dust, death itself— I’m reminded that there is a God who cares for each of us deeply, who redeems and loves us enough to take care of all our pain and suffering.

Thank you grandma, for one more lesson.

Zambian Animals

My father-in-law is a hunter. When I was in high school and first started showing up at the Nordmarken house, I quickly noticed the many paintings that hung on the wall. Bears and elk. Birds and fish. Horses and wolves.

My father-in-law also likes to talk. Not long after Hailey and I started dating, I began hearing all sorts of stories about hunting trips to Alaska, Mexico and Texas. When Hailey and I got a bit more serious my greatest fear was that he was going to ask me to join him on a hunting trip. I’m not sure any 20-year-old kid would be thrilled about walking around the forest alone with his girlfriend’s rifle-carrying father. Especially when that 20-year-old kid has never fired a (real) gun…

As I got to know Mike, I learned that his love for animals didn’t just include killing them. He was (and is) obsessed with how they live. This love wasn’t lost on the family. The Nordmarken kids grew up with ducks, rabbits, fish and the snakes their dad had caught in nearby canyons. When Hailey and her siblings were young, while most kids enjoyed the sound of a crunching snail under their feet, they would catch and race them. To this day, Hailey points out interesting animals when she sees them.

So when mom and dad Nordmarken decided to come to Malawi for a visit it was only natural for us to spend a few days in the Zambian bush. Hailey and I had been on safari before, but only in Malawi. We were thrilled to be seeing a new place and (hopefully) new animals.

A part of being an animal aficionado is enjoying the hunt and paying extremely close attention to detail. Mike and Sarina (mother-in-law) were fascinated with a lot of what we saw. They wanted to know about every little bird, bug and fruit. At first it drove me crazy; I wanted to see lions and leopards. I couldn’t care less about knowing how old an animal is or was by how hard its poop is or how its skeletal remains are put together.

The truth is, again, the journey is important. What you see and hear along the way is usually want leads you to your goal.

On the last night we were winding down our final game drive and still hadn’t seen a leopard. On our way back to camp Hailey heard dogs in the distance. But it wasn’t dogs. Turns out the bark of a baboon is quite doglike.

The frantic barking was a warning to the rest of the animal kingdom. A leopard was on the prowl. We radioed over to the other car and found the hunting cat. Had we not stopped to listen, there’s a good chance we would have missed it. Here is a small sampling from that night (and the rest of the trip as well):

 

shooting in the dark is difficult, even though it's a bit blurry this is my favorite shot of the night
nice kitty...

Thanks for a great trip mom and dad!

Birthday Reflection: Thirty

Thirty. It once was a scary number. Five days ago, my sister (who turns 33 today), told me that she remembers being a kid and thinking, “I wonder what life is going to be like when we are old, old like our parents age.” Old, like 30 and 33.

Last year my birthday was depressing. Twenty-Nine was terrifying. It meant thirty was just around the corner. I wasn’t ready. For some reason I felt like a slacker–like I hadn’t fully grown up yet and, because thirty was coming soon, my time was running out (yes…I do realize how ridiculous this sounds). Then I came to Malawi.

The other day I heard a local radio show talking about how a member of parliament is still a youth. He’s 46. Malawi might have a different definition of youth than most places (an odd thought considering the average life span), but it has given me new perspective on age. My grandma is almost 95 and I was complaining about turning 29! Something tells me I’m doing just fine.

Upon finding out I was turning thirty, one of my friends told me that I could now talk about my life in decades. Birthdays, like, New Years, are a great chance for reflection and goal setting. A few years ago, as he approached thirty, a friend of mine put together a thirty before thirty list (How many did you get done Tom?) I thought it was a good idea, and since I missed that boat, I thought I’d make two lists of my own.

Rather than bore you with three decades of highlights, I thought I’d stick to five experiences of the last five years.  Of course, there are more than five things that have happened in the last few years that I am excited about or proud of—these are just the first that come to mind.  Then I wanted to set five goals for the next five years. These are things I’ve thought about for some time, but just never really put down on paper (if you can call typing ‘putting down on paper’).

Five in the Last Five Years

  1. Married my best friend (cheesy yes, but true)—Okay, it was almost six years ago…I’m cheating a bit
  2. Became an uncle—I know I had I nothing to do with my sister having children, but I’d like to think I’ve played a part in raising my nieces. These girls are precious to me. Missing a year of their life has been the hardest part about being in Malawi; speaking to them on the phone is often the highlight of our week.
  3. Graduated from Seminary/Getting Ordained—Seminary was a six-year mixed bag. I loved school and my experience at Fuller but hated driving from San Diego to Irvine and Pasadena every week. Graduating felt like a huge accomplishment, but it is one that was trumped by my ordination service. There is nothing quite like having your call confirmed by your closest friends and family.
  4. Learned to live with a disease—I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease just over six years ago. At first it was very difficult to live with (vertigo is nasty) but I think I have learned to manage it fairly well.
  5. Lived in a foreign country—We have six weeks left in Malawi. I am appreciative of the perspective it has given us. I have always loved traveling, but you definitely get a different experience when you actually live in a place. Hailey and I will always travel but I don’t know if we will take the opportunity to live outside of the U.S. again.

Five (or six) in the Next Five Years

  1. Become a Father—Why be shy about it? Hailey and I love kids and dream about starting a family. I also realize that some of the goals/dreams I have for the next five years may drastically change if/when a child enters the picture.
  2. Get back to (and maintain) a healthy weight—I’ve been told that a healthy weight is within 5-10 lbs of what you weighed when you graduated high school-I need to drop 20 lbs.
  3. Publish a Book—Writing has become a passion of mine the last few years. I have a few ideas of books I’d love to write.
  4. Go to a game at Wrigley Field—I’ve been to Fenway, Double Day and the old Yankees Stadium but haven’t witnessed a game at Wrigley. I visited it as a child, but remember it as well as I remember my mom and dad being in their thirties.
  5. Go to the Indy 500 with my dad—My pops grew up going to this race. I am not an open wheel or NASCAR fan at all. But every year, when Memorial Day Weekend comes around my dad gets giddy like a little boy.
  6. Cycle across a country—Hailey and I took a three-day self-guided, cycling tour in Ireland and it was a blast (for me at least). It is the perfect way to see a new place. I’d love to take a few weeks, load up touring bikes with panniers and slowly make my way across an entire country.

It wasn’t quite the Nordmarken Birthday song, but these guys sang me a sweet tune and brought me out a piece of cake…

Birthday Song in Malawi from David Rohde on Vimeo.

Cape Town: Vacation

My dad has a silly little song and dance that he does when he finishes his last day of work before a vacation. I have fond memories of, before going to Lake Powell, Church Family Camp or some other place, him coming home and saying “I’m on vacccaaaation.” His giddy routine is stored in the family section of my brain’s memory bank right next to grandma’s standard “It’s a party” line that is recited every time she is with a few of us.

The moment our plane left Lilongwe’s Kamuzu International Airport I wanted to stand in the aisle and scream “I’m on vaccccaaation” in classic Brian Rohde form. By the time we sat down at our Bed and Breakfast with cheese, crackers and tasty drinks late at night in Cape Town it was a party.

I don’t think I really knew how tired I had been. I had assumed that the different pace of life in Malawi had kept me grounded and given me plenty of time to rest and recover. I was wrong. The truth is, simply living in a place so different had emptied my emotional storehouse.

My parent’s and uncle spoiled us in Cape Town. We took adventures, we read and, in standard Rohde/Brusch fashion, we ate. Oh did we eat. Seafood. Steak. Salad. Great Wine. Don’t get me wrong, we are eating well in Malawi, but the fare in Cape Town is so close to what we are used to in San Diego it is eerie (and San Diego has GREAT food).

Usually vacations fly by too fast for me. I feel that usually, by the last day I find myself looking back saying, “where did the time go?” It wasn’t that way with this trip. Everything slowed down. By the time we departed on Friday I couldn’t believe how much we had done in a short six days.

Two days ago I was talking with my friend Vasco. Vasco is a true friend. I can share anything with this man and he gets it. I shared some of the frustrations I had prior to our vacation (some of which I have written about, some that will be written about later and some that are not appropriate for the blogosphere at all). He said, “Why didn’t you call me?” and then “you need to take another break in two months.”

It is amazing what getting away has done for how Hailey and I function. Petty annoyances that had bogged us down no longer are a hindrance. Now, if we let them add up without taking a break again we might be in trouble. But this time, I think we’ll listen to our wise friend Vasco.

Here’s a few photos from our trip…