The older I get, the more I repeat myself, so you may have heard this before: I would take six months of October. A half year of crisp, cool, color-filled autumn; about six weeks of snowy white winter between Thanksgiving and roughly New Year’s Day, and the balance a long, blooming spring that turns green but never quite gets hot.
If ever I find the right combination of latitude and altitude, I’ll be gone. You’re welcome to visit.
We’re currently blessed with a beautiful October here in Minnesota. The leaves turned from green to gold, red, orange, and bright yellow in a few short days, it seemed; a thunderstorm stripped the top two-thirds of one tree across the street, but left the others intact, and even a sticky, wet snowfall earlier this week served only to make the color pop before vanishing into the soil before noon.
This morning the rooftops are coated in pale frost, but the ground is wet and smells like year’s end. Indoors, coffee’s in my cup, bluegrass is on the radio, and a whiff of the furnace’s first burnings is blowing up from the registers. It’s gonna be a good day.
This weekend, Emma and Trevor are helping with our church’s Core Team Retreat, so just Jodi, Lily, and I, along with our Airedale Bruno, are at home. It’s a preview of our new reality beginning early next month—our youngest as an only child; we, as nearly empty-nesters.
This situation is not extraordinary. Indeed it is almost inevitable, and certainly preferable to a basement full of adult children without direction or dreams. But both Jodi and I agree that the approaching transition feels different.
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In the wee hours of Thursday morning, our oldest son Brendan, his bride, and his two little sons left Bismarck in a plane, bound for Minneapolis, Boston, and, ultimately, Rome. They arrived in the Eternal City early Friday; they will make their home in a convent apartment for 10 months out of 12 for the next two to three years as Brendan oversees Student Life for the University of Mary’s Rome campus.
We hope to visit them this spring. We didn’t travel back and forth to Bismarck often these past few years, but seeing the four of them in person just once a year—and the stark reality that an ocean and two half-continents lie between us—leaves a hollow feeling in my chest.
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Tomorrow morning, we take our youngest son, Trevor, to Saint John Vianney Seminary (SJV) at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul to begin his undergraduate studies and formal discernment of priesthood. In his case, he’ll be less than an hour away, but it seems further somehow. SJV is an island of clean-cut, well-dressed young men living and praying together amid the highs and lows of life on a fairly typical college campus. The young men’s schedule is structured and rigorous; their access to technology—especially smart phones—is strictly limited; their studies are not oriented simply to a career field and a job, but to a lifelong vocational call.
Last weekend, we saw all of our children and grandchildren, not to mention my mother and several friends, due to our youngest son Trevor’s star turns as St. Thomas More in the play, A Man for All Seasons. We had representatives of four generations of Thorps under our roof. We saw moving performances, illustrating a 500-year-old life that remains compelling and relevant today. We celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday and the May Crowning of Mary and Mother’s Day at the 9:00 AM Mass, with Father Park and Bishop Williams and two deacons. We received Jesus in Word and Sacrament—and my mom benefitted deeply from 10 minutes with two of our parish’s wonderful prayer ministers after Mass. We ate and drank and made merry. It was a both-and kind of weekend, a time of spiritual superabundance.
Early Monday morning, after Mom departed for the airport, I read the daily gospel reading, which continues St. John’s Good Shepherd discourse. The last line of the reading struck me hardest:
“A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
I recognize the thief and his works—I see them daily in the world—and I know that, at times like last weekend, we are experiencing God’s abundant life firsthand. The Enemy divides, distorts, and destroys; he is wreaking havoc in the world right now. But Jesus brings hope, courage, joy, and peace—not to mention the perseverance to live in the Spirit despite the Enemy and those who serve him.
It is a strange and beautiful gift to watch your children grow, mature, and start lives and families of their own. Not everyone receives this gift: some lose children before adulthood, some children never grow up, and some grow to pursue paths we would not choose and dare not watch. But—praise God!—thus far our children have surprised us only in good and Godly ways, rebelling only superficially and never for long.
My bride and I take no credit for this, aside from these two decisions: We continue to prioritize our own faith and marriage (our relationships with God and each other), and we continue to work on giving our sons and daughters back to God (to Whom they belong, after all).
Even those decisions we do not live perfectly, which again points to God as the guiding hand that leads each of them home again, not to us, but to Him!
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Jodi and I were blessed to spend both Christmas and New Year’s weekends with all of our children and grandchildren. The Thorp Family Christmas came to Bismarck; we stayed in Brendan and Becky’s house with their friends and renters Ethan and Mia, and celebrated in North Hall at the University of Mary, where both Brendan and Becky work. Their North Hall apartment would be entirely too small for everyone, but as the freshman men were all home for the holidays, we made use of two common rooms, including a kitchen with dual ovens, to visit, eat, and celebrate.
Santa found us there and supplied us well with gifts and treats; Ethan and Mia joined us for meals; and we enjoyed Christmas and Holy Family Masses at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. Aside from the mysterious disappearance of Jodi’s purse (which has not been located, though no cards have been used), it was a truly blessed weekend.
We brought Emma back home with us from Bismarck, a challenge since 10 minutes before we left for North Dakota, our loaded Suburban died, necessitating a switch to the much smaller minivan, but we made it work. For the week between Christmas and New Year’s, both Gabe and Emma were home with Jodi, Trevor, Lily, and me (and Bruno the Airedale, of course). Then, late on the 30th, Brendan and family rejoined us in Minnesota, as Becky was videographer for a New Year’s Eve wedding in our area. We ate too much, played many games, tried some new drinks, and generally made merry.
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The careful reader may have noticed the word “grandchildren” in paragraph four. This is not a typo, though only Augustine was prowling the corridors of North Hall in Bismarck or gazing starstruck at our tree and Nativity in Albertville. Our second grandchild keeps a lower profile thus far, but should make his or her debut in early July!
The timing is providential, enabling us to meet the newest Thorp just prior to Brendan, Becky, and family’s big move to Rome in August. Our eldest has been hired to lead the University of Mary’s Rome program, and he and his bride will likely spend the majority of the next three years living, working, and raising their family in the Eternal City. What faith, history, art, and architecture couldn’t achieve, Nature will: Jodi and I will be going to Rome at last, if only to eat gelato with our grandkids!
These two—Brendan and Becky—are the most intentional spouses and parents I have ever witnessed. Patient, consistent, and collaborative, they know what they are about and how they want to raise their children. At times I shake my head in admiration, at times in disbelief, but I have so much respect for their first two years of married living. And we love them fiercely.
He says he feels called to life in religious community. He feels called to poverty you can see and feel. And he wants to draw people to Jesus.
This is not “good parenting”…it’s surrender. We pray for God’s will, and this is clearly God’s work. Whether Gabe ever takes perpetual vows and a new name or not, we are blessed to watch, and learn from, him. We love him.
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Emma is with us through the end of the week. Three semesters in at the University of Mary, she has switched majors from Business to Social Work to Philosophy, joined the Honors Program, and rolled her Catholic Studies minor into a second major. She did not go the Rome this fall due to uncertainty around COVID restrictions, and now that she will have family there, she seem more inclined to travel there on her own instead of with the university. She is working as a RA this semester and is surrounded by solid friends who make her laugh and absorb her caustic wit with relative ease.
What does the future hold? She can’t say: at lunch today she mentioned middle-school youth ministry, missionary work, teaching—but only in answer to my leading questions. She is like Brendan in so many ways, but like Gabe in this: She will tell us when she feels relatively certain and not before.
We love her and can’t wait to see who she will become!
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Trevor is a senior this year, just one semester away from graduation. He continues to thrive at Holy Spirit Academy, pushing himself academically and artistically, and this past summer, travelled alone to California to participate in the Great Books Summer Program at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC). Like his brothers before him, TAC is on his short list of colleges for next year, along with UMary—but this Saturday, Father Blume, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, is coming to talk with him about Saint John Vianney College Seminary (SJV). Trevor has already been accepted to the University of St. Thomas, where SJV is located. A big decision is coming!
In the meantime, Trev works for Heil Taxidermy, like his brothers, and as a math tutor for Mathnasium—and is a Core Team stalwart for our church’s Youth Ministry team, helping to lead middle-school events. He stays a little too busy at times, but he’s learning what he can handle, an essential skill for college, work, or priesthood.
Whatever the call, whatever the decision, we love him.
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Earlier this month, our youngest reached double-digits! Lily is in fourth grade this year and likes to stay busy. Crafts, baking, reading, sports, Legos, dolls, games, art, music, you name it; she enjoys a little bit of everything. This year she joined the Lego League robotics team at St. Michael Catholic School, but tested positive for COVID the week before and missed the competition. (Her team took fourth.) She has lots of friends of both genders, but spends more time with the boys because “the girls just stand around and talk; they don’t do anything fun.”
This February she is looking forward to a trip to Florida with Jodi and me to visit some dear friends; they will spoil her unapologetically while my bride and I take a belated anniversary drive to the Keys for a couple days.
She deserves it. We love her.
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That leaves us. Twenty-five years of marriage have passed in a blink. You might think we should be better at this, and you’d be right—but we couldn’t be more blessed. We are employed and healthy. We looked into diaconate together and discerned instead to invest, for the time being, in our marriage and in my writing, which is beginning to make a difference in the world. It’s funny: The first time I tried to make a living writing for the Church, I wound up unemployed and almost broke. This time, I haven’t worried about paying bills, only trying to serve, and the money is there when we need it.
And Jodi continues to amaze. It is true that men and women are different creatures, but this woman is so specifically different that I must unlearn everything I know about me to understand her. I assume she is mad, or sad, or irritated, because I would be if I were in her shoes, and there she is, at peace, wondering what the fuss is about. My short-temperedness she shrugs off, assuming I’m doing the best I can.
I love her so.
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That’s the latest from the Minnesota Thorps. Wishing the happiest of Christmases and a blessed New Year. Know that our thoughts and prayers are with you even when we are not. We love you, too.
In July of 2019, our family caravanned with friends from Michigan out to Glacier National Park to camp and hike and see the sites. It was a wonderful trip, and for the first time, Brendan’s fiancée (now wife) Becky joined us as well.
One of the characteristics of our family that Becky had to adjust to is the constant crackle of wordplay, sarcasm, and verbal violence dealt out among our members. I remember distinctly the first shot I fired across her bow at the dinner table during one of our first few visits with her. She took it well, with a wry smile and a very deliberate “Wow.”—as in, “Okay, so it’s like that now.”
This is not about that, however. This is about the first real shot she fired back.
We were standing around the firepit at the campground at Glacier, and Brendan was complimenting something he had eaten with Becky’s family: venison meat sticks, I think. I was standing just behind Becky, and as Brendan gushed, I stooped to rest my chin on Becky’s shoulder and gave her my best sideways puppy-dog eyes to indicate how much her future father-in-law would appreciate such delicacies.
She took evasive action, as one might in such a circumstance, and with the same wry smile, said, “You know, you’re basically Bruno in human form.”