Sunday, April 29, 2012

Goodbye, Dad

For the past week on the phone, via email, in condolence cards, and in person at the memorial visitation and funeral service people have been telling me what an amazing man my dad was. He really, really was. I understand the tendency for girls to idolize their fathers, and of people to canonize the recently departed, but my eyes are at least partway open; I recognize at least some of my dad's flaws and shortcomings.

But he touched so many people so deeply in so many ways; he really was something very special. My dad was wise and compassionate and competent. He had a way of being that was just so . . . spirit-filled and mature and welcoming.

I will miss my father unbearably. I already do. But even worse, for me, is the knowledge that my young children and my nieces and nephew will have only vague (if any) memories of their grandfather. They all have wonderful fathers, but my dad was a unique model for a way to be a man. I wish they all had him around both personally and as a role model as they grow to adulthood and decide both who they want to be and the people with whom they choose to surround themselves.

Below are some thoughts I shared at the luncheon following the funeral, and following the break are his obituary and a bulletin insert that goes into a bit more detail about his life.

For a long ago funeral, my father wrote,We are created for life together and we know ourselves as we are known. It is in relationship that we become more than creature – where we become person.
A big part of the way I have always defined myself is as my father’s daughter: Ted’s daughter, the preacher’s daughter, the daughter of the man who meant so much to so many people.

I don’t know how to contain this. I don’t know how to process it. And it occurs to me that I’d like to call my dad to talk to him about this painful experience I’m going through.

My dad was a compassionate man. And he was so very wise. He was also competent and interesting and funny and sometimes painfully embarrassing.

When my sisters and I were teenagers and boys started calling, he’d sit in his recliner with the phone on his stomach, his finger on the “answer” button. He had incredibly fast reaction time. As soon as the phone started to ring he’d hit the button, whip the phone up to his ear, and bellow, “HELLO” in his preacher voice.  I can’t imagine having a better dad. In fact, I’ve never met anyone like my father.

If you’ve ever been to a wedding or a funeral at which my dad officiated, you know that he had the gift of making each ceremony special and unique. And whenever dad baptized a baby, the baby never cried. They just relaxed and stared up at him, mesmerized and comfortable.
Dad projected a sense that: No matter what you tell him, you will not shock him. No matter what you tell him, he will not judge you. No matter what you tell him, he will hold your problems in his heart. And you will not be alone.


My dad spent a week at a conference at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian retreat center in New Mexico. We went to Ghost Ranch as a family when my sisters and I were young, and hoped to go back again one day as a family reunion. By all accounts, my dad had a wonderful week. 

Last Sunday, he boarded a plane for the return flight from Albuquerque to Chicago: headed home. He sat across the aisle from a minister friend and colleague, and they were laughing as chatting as the plane taxied to the runway. My dad's head tipped back and he began to snore. His friend hit him and called his name. He did not respond. 

The young woman sitting on the other side of my father asked if he suffered from a seizure disorder then unbuckled herself, jumped into his lap, felt for a pulse, and began chest compressions. (She was a medical resident.) There was a defibrillator on-board the aircraft. The plane returned to the gate, where it was met by medics who worked on my dad for 40 minutes. He never regained consciousness. It was fast, it was probably painless, and it will always be a mystery. (My dad was overweight and 68 but was otherwise in good health with no personal or family history of heart problems. It might very well have been a sudden, catastrophic heart attack that killed him, but we'll never know for sure.) The whole time the medics worked on him, my dad's friend held his hand. He was not alone.


Lester, Rev. Dr. Ted Allen 68, of Valparaiso, formerly of Kansas, passed away suddenly Sunday, April 22, 2012 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was born February 8, 1944 in Evansville, IN to Furman and Florice (Peyton) Lester. He received a B.A. from Hanover College in 1966, Master of Divinity from McCormick Divinity School in 1969, Doctor of Ministry from McCormick School of Divinity in 1986 and his Psychology Doctorate from Graduate Theological Foundation in 2001. 

Ted had served as a Presbyterian minister since 1969 which included churches in Kansas City, MO, Independence, MO, Indianapolis, IN, Albuquerque, NM, Junction City, KS, Valparaiso, IN and South Bend, IN. 

Since 1999 he also served as a Pastoral Psychotherapist with Counseling Ministries in Valparaiso and Chicago. Ted will be remembered by many in the communities he had served as an activist for social justice, advocating for those without a voice. Survivors include his wife, Carolynn, whom he married on August 9, 1969 in New Hampshire; daughters, Sarahlynn Lester (Paul Boal) of St. Louis, MO, Jessica (Ivan) Hay of Kalamazoo, MI, Grace Lester (Benjamin Jett) of Louisville, KY, brother, Harry N. (Sarah) Lester of Hot Springs Village, AR and grandchildren, Eleanor, Adelaide and Theodore Lester-Boal, Arria, Evelyn and Clara Hay and Lilith and Samuel Jett. Ted was preceded in death by his parents and one brother, William Lester. 

Following cremation a memorial visitation will be held Wednesday from 4:00 - 7:00 pm at Moeller Funeral Home, 104 Roosevelt Rd., Valparaiso. A memorial service will be held Thursday, 10:00 am at Trinity Lutheran Church, 201 Washington St., Valparaiso, The Rev. Dr. Frank Vardeman and The Rev. Dr. John J. Santoro officiating. In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to Church World Service or Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Pew bulletin insert from funeral:

By the time Ted A. Lester was 8 years old, in Evansville, Indiana, he knew he wanted to be a minister. He frequently accompanied his pastor, Charlie Zapp, on pastoral visits. This is not to suggest that Ted was a goody-two-shoes, mind you. He spent much of kindergarten in the corner, took a little too much initiative as a crossing guard, and was frequently sent to the library to read when his teachers didn’t know what to do with him.

Ted’s parents were both from Western Kentucky, and they sent him back to the family farm during the summers when he was young. He was very close to his cousins. Ted was active in scouting and indeed became an Eagle Scout.  He took groups of boy scouts spelunking, even once he’d gone away to Hanover College across the state. 

In 1967 Ted moved to his favorite city in the world, Chicago, Illinois. He worked as a community organizer and was particularly interested in the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Mississippi – twice.  After seminary, he even attended a year of law school to help further his interest in community action. And he spent a year as a director of a group home for boys who were wards of the court.

Ted was ordained a Cumberland Presbyterian minister in June of 1967, and he quickly became very active within the larger church. He worked on the merger joining together two different denominations within the Presbyterian family. He served on the Committee on Ministry for his Presbyteries, assisting churches and pastors in need. He Moderated the Synod of Mid-America, and wrote quite a bit of curriculum and other training materials. Every three years at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium he served in the background as the hospital dean, caring for participants with health crises. Throughout his career, Ted was very interested in ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue. Ted was also very active in the communities in which he served. In Junction City, Kansas, he helped found the Open Door Community House for homeless individuals. He also took groups of youth on summer work camps.

Later in his career, Ted completed a doctorate in psychology and began a full-time pastoral counseling practice. He worked in both Valparaiso, Indiana and Chicago and was very interested in brain research and neuro-feedback.

Last year, Ted Lester “retired,” although he maintained both of his counseling offices (and some clients) as well as a part-time church in South Bend, Indiana. In his “retirement,” Ted developed new passions for gardening and cooking elaborate and gourmet meals.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

If you won a lottery, would you quit your job?

That was a newspaper headline this morning, a variation on the other lottery-themed headlines I've been watching for the past couple of weeks. I don't gamble. The lottery is gambling. Therefore, no lottery for me. But I really love the If I Won the Lottery game and I'm not sure my principles are up for the challenge.

I already don't "work." But there's lots of other stuff I'd do if I won the lottery . . .
  1. Pay off everything. Loans, house, that pesky credit card, everything.
  2. Go see our finance guy and set up everything we need to set up (including revised budgets).
  3. Church (organ fund, mission fund, new parking lot, etc.).
  4. Donations to our college, NPR, PBS, and local places we love like The Magic House, St. Louis Science Center, etc.

    Here's where the list really gets fun. This is where I usually start fantasizing:
  5. Pay off this sibling's outstanding debts.
  6. Pay off this other sibling's mortgages/student loans
  7. Buy a new house for yet another sibling.
  8. Buy my mother-in-law a red Mustang convertible.
  9. Remodel my parents' house.
  10. Encourage Paul to go back to school.
  11. When the kids are all in school all day, go back to school, myself.

    And then there's the stuff for us that's fun to imagine:
  12. Remodel this house.
  13. Buy or build our dream house in our dream neighborhood (only about 3 miles from here).
  14. Dress my children in the sorts of clothing I imagined they'd wear, before I had children and experienced the allure of inexpensive sweat-shop produced cheap clothes. And additional pairs of good shoes.
  15. When I'm feeling decadent, I imagine all sorts of things for myself, too. A personal trainer. Babysitter. Hair cuts. Pedicures. Nice clothes. (I am very cheap when it comes to spending money on myself for anything other than food.)
  16. Thinking of food - a personal chef to make nutritious, delicious meals a few nights a week would be awesome! Or even just someone to do the grocery shopping from time to time. But all this other stuff is second tier. At this point, I usually reload the fantasy and start again with imagining making my siblings' lives easier or just saying "yes" the next time a worthy cause calls to ask for money.

This pastime is one of my guilty pleasures. I don't find the game particularly constructive. It's fun. It helps me identify my priorities. But eventually I just end up wanting. And I'm not sure that's such a good thing.