Time is a strange phenomenon. We’ve all experienced that sensation in which the days seem long and weeks short; where the whole summer stretches out in front of us for sunlit miles…and then suddenly it’s Christmas. Marriage is like that, too. On a hot summer’s day on the South Dakota plains—August 17, 1996—in a little Spanish-style stucco church named for a German bishop, St. Liborius, two kids got hitched. The tall, slim, cleancut groom in white tails was me: book-smart and big-hearted, a little awkward and a lot emotional, with an insecure streak, a dose of self-righteousness, and a professed agnosticism that bore little resemblence to the faithfulness I was prepared to promise to this girl.
And what a girl! Jodi was, then as now, beautiful: dark wavy hair, eyes that went from brown to hazel to green and back, quick to laugh, solid and peaceful, steadfast in her Catholic faith, and willingly to pour herself out entirely for those she loved. She was a fountain flowing; I, a bottomless bucket.
One of us cried at our wedding—the one who saw too well that he was getting the better end of this deal. How could I ever love her enough?
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.
This morning Facebook served up a memory from nine years ago:
Quote of the Day from poet Carl Sandberg: ” A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”
September 29, 2011
We were less than three months from welcoming Lily into the world at the time. Today we are almost certainly within two weeks of welcoming our first grandchild. “Baby Boombastic,” as Brendan and Becky’s baby has been affectionately nicknamed by his or her youngest uncle Ben, could emerge any moment, and not a moment too soon.
Oma and Dziadzi cannot wait to meet you, little one.
This past weekend we were blessed to celebrate the wedding of our eldest Engeldaughter, Kate, to her own beloved Brendan (not ours). Jodi and I were the host couple, as Mike and Stacy had been for us last winter—essentially managing the details so the parents of the bride and groom could absorb the graces of the day. It was a great joy to be able to serve our extended family in this way, and for a guy like me, who easily slips into introspection, these duties forced me to raise my gaze and watch the celebration unfold.
On Labor Day weekend, we took Emma to Bismarck for her first year at the University of Mary. The six-hour trek to Mary Hill is becoming more and more familiar: the wide open spaces, green hills and big skies, the sun and the wind…and that one stretch with the bugs splattering like rain on the windshield. The speed zone through Moorehead and Fargo. The bluffs by the James River.
It’s an easy six hour of driving, and it’s getting easier.
When we took Brendan for his first year, I likened the sensation to a taut wire from the back of my mind to him, constantly aware of his absence. When we took Gabe to NET, the feeling was a bit different: First he was just down the freeway in St. Paul, but then he was who-knows-where, living out of a van and crisscrossing state lines and time-zones.
Subsequent years it was better—easier—because they knew people. Faces unfamiliar to us spoke in smiling shorthand to them, and it was clear they were at home (a perception with its own bittersweetness).
But Emma is my daughter, my first girl-baby. And media and internet insist there is so much to be afraid of. And I was a freshman guy once.
Earlier this week, our second son, Gabe, returned to NET Ministries for a third year, this time as a staff member and traveling team supervisor. When he graduated from high school, college wasn’t calling him; God was. We are blessed to live in a Catholic community with a history and large appetite for supporting such missionaries—the past two years he has been fully funded, enabling extra donations to flow to teammates and friends with less support. He has crisscrossed the state and much of the country, logging tens of thousands of miles on lots of prayer and little sleep, fueled by egg bakes and pizzas, sloppy joes and taco bars. He has shared the word of God, the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit with thousands of middle- and high-schoolers.
Coronavirus brought him home early this spring, and we were glad to have him. He helped tremendously around the house, schooling his youngest sister, eight-year-old Lily; discovering new recipes and cooking several great meals; helping me get into the habit of praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and generally doing whatever we asked of him. Continue reading →