Stretching Toward Heaven

This is my father-of-the-groom speech from Brendan and Becky’s wedding on December 28, 2019. I finally got to see this video (and actually hear what I said) for the first time yesterday, and this is one of my favorite things I’ve “written.”

A little context for what you are about to hear:

  • I had just taken our youngest daughter, who fell asleep during the wedding and was not feeling well, up to my parents’ room in the hotel. The dance had not yet started, and my dad had already turned in for the night. This was a long day for both of them!
  • There was a blizzard this weekend, so many people didn’t make it to the wedding—especially those from out of state, like Grandma and Grandpa Venjohn.
  • Gabe had given his Best Man speech just before this, in which he had joked that he felt loved by his big brother Brendan, even though none of our kids have the capacity to express love. (Our kids are often ribbed for their lack of expressed affection toward each other and their parents.)
  • I had detailed notes in my pocket, but because I was caught off-guard and was thinking about Lily, I never took them out. I had written something like this the day before, while cooking chili for the rehearsal supper in the church kitchen. We had cooked a massive amount of chili at home, then failed to get it cooled quickly for transportation and were worried about giving the entire wedding party and both families food poisoning, so we remade it in Moorhead.

I’m sure that just after this recording cuts out, I said proposed an actual toast. But the speech is what I want to share today, so my dad and Jodi’s folks can finally hear it.

“Things change…”

One-Track Mind

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

I am writing this column from my parents’ log house in rural Michigan. Yesterday our Airedale Bruno and I drove 12 hours to get here. Half the time I listened to the news on Minnesota and Wisconsin Public Radio.  

Public radio is in frustrating entity for me, and this long drive was no exception. On one hand, they interviewed interesting people about compelling topics and told wonderful stories that kept me awake and alert all morning and into the afternoon. On the other hand, nearly every story was presented with a left-leaning worldliness and a persistent godless optimism, as though this past year (and the previous three) were truly unprecedented and hellish, but now the right people with the right ideas, wielding power in the right way, can finally fix everything. Nearly all of the interviews were political, some were explicitly pagan—and none mentioned God in any meaningful way, except to reference the road not taken.

This is the divide that concerns me in our society. This is the fundamental, irreconcilable issue upon which there can be no compromise: Either God is real and created the universe and humanity according to His law and purpose, or He didn’t. Both views have profound implications on how we live together in this world.

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Be Present to the Present

Note: This post also appears in the St. Michael and St. Albert bulletins this weekend.

Last weekend I visited my parents in Michigan. It’s a 12-hour drive; my sister and I spent two days helping to sort through and organize 50 years of accumulation in their basement—then I drove 12 hours back home. It was a good weekend, in large part because I mostly avoided my phone and computer to focus on where I was, what I was doing and—most importantly—who I was with.

That is no small thing for me, because I slip easily into thinking about tomorrow, next week, the future. I am a planner by nature and struggle with uncertainty, but providentially, I listened to a wonderful audio version of C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters on the way to my folks’ place. The book is presented as a series of letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape, who is offering advice to his nephew, a junior tempter trying to lure one particular human soul to Hell.

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A Man of Many Fathers

In the spirit of my Mother’s Day post from last month, I thought I raise a post and a pint to the fathers who matter most in my life to receive God’s blessing. Happy Father’s Day!

To Daryl, my dad and dziadzi to my children: You set a high bar for fatherhood and sacrificial love, Dad, and even though we are quite different, I still strive to be like you in so many ways. Thank you for your constant care, support and example. I love you.

To all the priests who have blessed me over the years. To Fr. Kubiak, my baptismal priest; Fr. Hart, the priest of my First Reconciliation and First Communion; my spiritual father, Fr. Bill Zink, the priest of my reversion, Confirmation, and first call to ministry; and the various shepherds who, at critical moments in my conversion, have called me to deeper discipleship: Fr. Leonard Siebenaler, Fr. Michael Becker, Fr. Michael Rudolf, Fr. Peter Richards, Fr. Nathaniel Meyers, Fr. Nathan LaLiberte, Fr. Joah Ellis, and Jim Englert. I am eternally grateful, and I love you.

To Brendan, my eldest son and expectant father of our first grandchild: It humbles me to see you and your bride step so calmly and confidently into marriage and family life. I am inspired by your love and example, I cannot wait to see your little one asleep in your arms (or erupting out both ends!)—and I love you. Continue reading

One Thing Leads to Another, and Another, and…

With all the world’s wickedness on display, perhaps we could use some good news today? It’s been a wonderful week, friends.

* * * * *

Brendan and Becky were in town last weekend for a beautiful wedding—and as friends on the groom’s side we made the short list of guests who could actually attend. It was a great blessing to celebrate the love of God and of two young people in a church at the end of a long week of violence and sorrow.

100991410_10222259326129831_8472946898402017280_nOn Monday, Lily, Jodi and I paraded by vehicle through the Big Woods Elementary School parking lot to cheer and be cheered by the teachers and staff. (In retrospect, Gabe should have joined; he did most to help her with distance learning these past few months.) It was a bittersweet end to the school year, capped by a tear-jerking video from Mrs. Skon to all her students later in the week. We were all blessed to have her as a teacher through these challenges—Lily most of all. Continue reading