Wednesday Witness: Private Little Wars

Last weekend I was blessed to make my fourth annual silent retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House at Demontreville, near Lake Elmo, Minnesota. My two eldest sons went with me for a weekend of rest, reflection and spiritual rejuvenation.

The music that is played over the weekend ranges from Gregorian chant to sax-and-bongos praise music that too frequently causes my sons and I make eye contact and stifle laughter. Over the past few weeks, the three of us had been trying to recall a particular song from the late 1960s that seems to be played at every retreat, every year. It isn’t a bad song, but a little too…’60s…for us to really enjoy. We couldn’t remember the name, but knew that the instant it started our eyes would meet, for better or worse. And sure enough, they did, on Friday—the first full day of the retreat. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Learning to Surrender

Blogger’s Note: Originally published on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, July 25, 2018.

Last weekend was a whirlwind. We hosted a graduation party for our second son, Gabe, which meant that my parents, their dog, and my eldest son’s girlfriend, Becky, joined the seven of us and our dog in our three-bedroom house Friday through Sunday. The Engels—six in number, and as much family as our blood relatives—spent much of the daylight hours and a few after dark with us as well. The house was packed to the rafters and filled with laughter; the weather was wonderful, the turnout was great, and a joy was pervasive among almost everyone.

Almost everyone, except me. Continue reading

This Week Has Been Good to Us

It’s been a heck of a spring so far. I’ve been buried in work, not to mention snow and unexpected auto repairs. Jodi and I are like ships passing much of the time, except morning prayer, which we’ve managed to maintain. I’ve missed as many of the kids’ activities as I’ve made in the past month, but I see them in while I run, stop to stop, dropping them off and picking them up.

And Bruno waits at the top of the stairs, watching for someone to come in and up, casually stretching, closer and closer, straining for a pet or a pat, hoping for a walk or a car ride at least.

It’s go, go, go as the school year winds down—but this week has been something else entirely. Continue reading

Easter Greetings from the Thorp Gang

Holy Saturday

“Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” – John 20:29

How dark a Sabbath dawned the day after Jesus’s crucifixion: the so-called savior dead and in the ground; his disciples scattered, and the Passover at hand—a remembrance of freedom for God’s chosen people, once again marked under Roman rule.

Our Holy Saturday is not so dark, for although we did not walk with the living Lord or see His risen self, we know the story and believe what we have heard—that fear-filled seventh day was followed by an eighth, a day of resurrection and re-creation. A day of joy and wonder.

So we rise this Holy Saturday, not with trepidation, but anticipation. We rise to the same hell-bent, broken world the apostles did, still filled with pride and pain and broken people; we look with wonder this morning at four inches of fresh snow fallen silently over night and rejoice that God has seen fit to grace us with another day, another hour, another breath. Continue reading

All Is Gift

ChestertonThanks

I wanted to tell you yesterday all the things I’m grateful for this year. I rose at 4 a.m. to stretch, pray, and write—but the Bearded Wonder (my eldest son Brendan) is home from college and rose at 4:30. We sat in flickering candlelight and visited for a couple hours, until Jodi got up to start the turkey. Then I left her and her boy alone and greeted the dawn with Bruno. Our walk was unusually peaceful: silent except for the whine of the distant freeway; we saw a total of four cars, a jogger, and a neighbor with the same idea: walking his dog in the quiet of the new day.

The rest of the household was stirring when we returned home, and the rest of the morning was spent going to Mass (the Feast before the feast) and preparing for dinner. We cooked, we ate, we watched the Lions get trounced by the Vikings. (Sorry, fellow Lions fans: to me, the game didn’t feel close.) My folks were supposed to be here, but Mom got sick and they returned home—we arranged for a friend to bring them Thanksgiving dinner, and enjoyed a beautiful, grateful phone call with them in the early afternoon.  We laughed and listened to music; we napped, walked Bruno again, and ate pie.

And yet, when evening fell, I felt unsettled. The one thing I hadn’t done was write. So while the family played games in the dining room, I attempted to journal. Instead I listened to Jodi and the kids joking, arguing, and laughing together. After a while, Brendan stepped away from the games and took up the mandolin, picking and strumming snippets of songs we knew. I closed my journal and vowed to write this morning.

* * * * *

Today Brendan turns twenty. I rose again at four, acutely aware that I have now been a father for two decades—nearly half my life to date!—and unsure about what that means for me. I went downstairs to let Bruno out; stepped into the cold, black morning, and breathed in the clean air. I need to write, I thought.

About what? About all of this.

I brought Bruno back in and shuffled into the bathroom. I stood in front of the mirror to see myself. At 4 a.m., I look lived in: a little worn and disheveled, sagging here and there, but comfortable and still functional. I leaned in closer to peer into my own eyes—windows to the soul, they say—and in an instant, they filled with unexpected tears.

Gifts. All of it—my bride in our bed, our beautiful offspring, the pup downstairs. Our aging suburban split-level. The still unfinished tree house out back. All gifts.

I am working harder these days for less money, and yet I feel better—freer—than I have in years. Gift. We have friends who never get sick of our company, family who love us, and a great God in Heaven who keeps the very rhythm of our hearts in time with His own. All gifts.

The tears brimmed but didn’t fall; my chest swelled but didn’t burst. Sure signs that I have not yet fully grasped the magnitude of my situation: the all-powerful and ever-present Creator of the universe is making room enough in me so He can dwell there. The One who is Love is carving a God-size hole in me, chipping away, flake by flake, at my stony heart.

* * * * *

With all the many gifts I enjoy in this life, perhaps the thing I am most grateful for this year is perspective. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Look around you. Have you seen this place?

Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? — Job 38:4-7

We are so very blessed and have done nothing to deserve it. Sure, we’re good people, as far as that goes. But lots of good people suffer, and a fair number of not-so-good people seem to thrive. I cannot earn these blessings or somehow make them happen—I cannot avoid illness, accident, or tragedy—any more than I can make Brendan’s beard grow. I can only look on with wonder and thanksgiving, and join my song to Mary’s: The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name!