The Phantom Cross

A little more than a week ago, we dropped our second son Gabe off at the NET Center in St. Paul to begin training for nine months of drawing young people to Christ as a NET Ministries missionary. Then yesterday we dropped our eldest, Brendan, off for his third and final year at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.

As we sped east on I-94 last night, Jodi reflected that we hadn’t taken a photo of Bren as we dropped him off this year. The first year we took several. Last year I snapped one of Brendan and his roommate Nick for Jodi, since she couldn’t be there when I dropped him off. This time we were both there, and it was clearer than ever that our adult son has another beautiful life, mostly hidden from us. This was revealed during a brief stop  at his girlfriend Becky’s home in Moorehead for introductions and delicious, homemade double-chocolate-chip-and-almond scones on the way to UMary, by the laughter and embraces upon his arrival on campus, the excitement and shouted greetings from hallways and upstairs windows, the verbal and non-verbal shorthand between our son and his friends. He belongs there as much as in our home, and we were so subconsciously aware of this that dropping him off and driving away seemed almost natural.

It was not precisely so when we dropped off Gabe. I’ve reflected briefly on the difference when we celebrated his grad party earlier this summer: When we took Bren to Bismarck the first time, the sensation was like a long, taut line from me to him—I could not see him, but I could feel him and was acutely aware of his presence six hours to the west. But Gabe was dropped off just down the road in St. Paul, at a place he has been before. Currently he is at a camp somewhere in the woods, praying and team-building and training like countless times previously. From this perspective, this feels like no big deal—Gabe is doing youth ministry as he has for years now.

On the other hand, this time he is not coming home until Christmas and will be gone again until spring. And if he is chosen for a traveling team, as he hopes, he won’t be in any one place, but will live out of a suitcase, a van and a trailer, staying in strange homes in strange cities. Continue reading

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

Heartstrings II

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

301091_2215092411351_1388302_nAs with my first “Heartstrings” post, I keep noticing little connections to the Sacred Heart from earlier in my family life.

Posted to Facebook, Sept. 4, 2011: “A little end-of-summer love: Gabe saw it first; Emma noted that she was wearing her Burning Love t-shirt (featuring 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: ‘Love is patient, love is kind…’), and Trevor noticed it has three nails in it, just like Jesus…”

This is the shirt Emma was wearing in the post above. Notice the image of the Sacred Heart on it. I picked it for her.

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