Father to Five, Married to One…for 25 Years

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?

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A Man of Many Mothers

I am blessed to have so many wonderful mothers in my life, and on this day, it is my joy and honor to lift up many of them to God to receive His blessing. Happy Mother’s Day!

To Sharon, my mom and busia to my children: God bless you for your love and affection for me (I was and am a boy who needs it!), for the great gift of baptism into God’s family, for your faithful example of marriage and motherhood as we started our own family, and for your constant support and prayers for our family. I love you.

To Jodi, my bride and mother of my children: I would not be any sort of man, husband or father, without your constant love and mercy. God bless you for always making time for others, for your steadfast and peaceful spirit in the face of my sudden emotions, for seeing me as God does and loving me while I was stuck in sin, and for making me a father six times over (five here and one in heaven). I love you.

To Becky, the bride of my eldest son and expectant mother of our grandchild: You are a beacon, dear daughter-in-law, and a source of strength and blessing for Brendan and our entire family. God bless you for your deep love of Christ, your yes to marriage and motherhood, your joy in your vocation, even during these challenging times—and for the new life in your womb. I love you. Continue reading

From Conception

This was my first morning in the Adoration Chapel at my new hour, Saturdays at 5 a.m. It was as I hoped: a beautiful way to regroup—to end a week, start the weekend, and consecrate the days ahead to God.

While praying the Rosary, a thought struck me that hadn’t before. I was praying the Third Joyful Mystery—the Incarnation and Nativity of Jesus is how I spontaneously phrased it this morning—and it occurred to me in that moment that Jesus, at His conception, was an embryo, was He not? Perhaps not a zygote, which is specifically a fertilized egg; that is part of the great mystery of Mary’s virgin pregnancy. But an embryo, surely.

We often reflect on God’s great love and humility, that He would willingly condescend to become, not just a man, but a vulnerable, wriggling infant. But more astounding than that, He became what’s today’s culture wants to call “tissue,” a tiny cluster of cells like those pictured above, alive and human, but utterly helpless without Our Blessed Mother’s bodily protection and sustenance. Continue reading

Greeting From the North Pole, Part IX

Blogger’s Note: Over Christmas 2003, we became annual pen-pals with an elf named Siberius Quill, and he has again delivered this year! Transcriptions of past letters from Quill can be seen here.

Christmas 2011
My dearest children!
Bless my soul, but you’ve thrown a wrinkle in my writing! Again, the four of you have been on Your Very Best Behavior (all in all), so I’ve had my attention elsewhere—joining the Watcher Corps to observe and encourage those Children-on-the-Cusp, who drift from Naughty to Nice and back again throughout the year and may need a Pre-Christmas Nudge to keep them aright. Our Director of Circumstance, Miss Incognita Trueheart, and her team of Elfin Infiltrators secretly arrange opportunities for these children to do what is Right and Good, free from distraction or wicked influence, and most “Cuspers” thereby prove their True Loving Natures and merit the Nice List.
But back to the point: Such is time to an elf already centuries old, and so engaged was I in the trials of my other Young Charges, that I overlooked the Blesséd Arrival of little Lillian Clara, your delightful Baby Sister! I had thus already penned my letter to Masters Brendan, Gabriel, and Trevor, and the lovely (and still special, regardless of what your Father says in jest), Miss Emma, when the Goodchild Twins burst into my room with bright grins, all a-flutter. Now, the Goodchilds (or Goodchildren, as they prefer to be known), are the daughters of Old Abacus, the Master Counter, who for long centuries stretching to millennia, has aided my forefathers on the Quill side with assembling The List for the Old Man, ensuring no one is left off! Plethora Goodchild is herself a Nursery Watcher, whose sole responsibility is to monitor the hospitals, huts, ambulances, and baby-rooms of the world—anywhere a New Someone might appear, and add the Infant’s name to our records. Oftentimes she knows Who and Where to watch, for her sister, Firtilitee, is an elfin Midwife, who aids in the Arrivals of our Own Kind and has an eye for spying Baby Bumps, even on humans. Indeed, it was Plethora and Firtilitee Goodchild who first told me of the Expectation and Loss of little Jude last autumn, and they have watched your Dear Mother with much joyful anticipation these several months! Welcome, Lily! A very Merry Christmas indeed! Santa is most pleased to have Another Reason to stop over, and I am grateful for another Wee One to bring along in the Ways of Christmas!
You Older Ones have asked no questions of me this year, though I suspect you hold some close to your Hearts. It is no Crime to doubt Father Christmas and his Ways, for he is not only Bold and Jolly, but also Cunning and Elusive as the Artic Fox which pilfers ptarmigans from our coops! When you seek him hardest he slips your grasp, only do not lose your Sense of Wonder—for it is there, in your sleeping and waking Dreams—that you will find the Saintly Old Sprite, warming his hands o’er the Fire of your Own Heart. You’ll know he is Real when you do the Hard Work he does—the work that Christ Himself assigned to each of us: loving Each Other, our Neighbors, and our Enemies. Christmas is not about Any of Us, after all—it is always about Someone Else entirely (and the Child in the Manger, of course).
Ah, but I ramble so, and have run out of paper! A Very Happy Christmas to you all!

Siberius Quill

Trevor Remembers Jude

Several years ago, we purchased a cheap, pre-lit, artificial Christmas tree from Fleet Farm. It had been clearanced after the holiday, and we figured we could use it on those Christmases when we were travelling for much of the Christmas season and didn’t want a pricier real tree browning in our living room while we were gone.

The first time we set it up, the kids were excited. The box showed a mother and child decorating a beautiful, full, authentic-looking evergreen and brimming with holiday cheer. The box contained a green steel pole and stand, wrapped in what appeared to be the green shag version of outdoor carpet, and an array of giant green pipe-cleaners.

We put it together, bent the branches as best we could to block the view of the pole, and stepped back to admire our creation. Gabe looked from the bedraggled “tree” to the box and back again. “Can they do that?” he asked.

We sometimes still use the tree, just for a little extra greenery and lights, in some out-of-the-way corner of our home. This year we put it behind the Big Chair in our living room, and when we lucked into some extra Christmas decorations on Freecycle, we found ourselves with extra green, red, and gold balls, so we agreed to hang them on the fake tree.

The result is pictured above. It’s still a poor fake tree, but it doesn’t look half bad.

Last Christmas, on the heels of a miscarriage, Santa brought us a bird-feeder and seed for the backyard and a dove ornament bearing a message of Peace, in little Jude’s memory. As we were decorating our real tree, a nice blue spruce, someone in the family spied the little dove and suggested we put it on the fake tree — then, assuming Santa brings us another ornament for Jude this year, he can hang it on that tree, too.

So we did exactly that. Perhaps you can spy the dove on the tree above, as well.

A day or two later, Jodi and Trevor were talking as I came upstairs. Jodi saw me and said, “Trevor, you should tell Dad what you think we should call the fake tree.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

Trevor smiled his slightly embarrassed smile — a sure sign he is very excited about something but not sure how you’ll react. “I think we should do this every year, and put Jude’s ornaments on it,” he explained. “Then we could call it the Lost and Loved Tree…” (Here I choked back instant tears, and he went on to explain what needed none — that we lost a baby last year, and we miss and love our lost little one.)

Our previously pathetic, fake-Charlie-Brown tree has since taken on new beauty and significance, and my bride and I agree we can’t even consider not doing this again next year. Every year, we discuss new traditions we could start for our family. This year a new one was born independent of us, from a fake little tree and real big heart. Thanks, Trevor.