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.

Thanksgiving Reflections

Above: Trevor’s turkey art project…or, “the cursed Indian,” as he calls it.

Stuff For Which I Am Thankful*: my beautiful bride; my astonishing children; two sets of happily married and loving parents (Busia and Dziadzi; Grandma and Grandpa Venjohn); a newly married sister and a new brother-in-law and nephew; my sister’s kids who double as godchildren for us…

* * * * *

A year ago on Thanksgiving, my sister was driving Jodi to the ER while my Mom and I finished dinner and greeted our other guests. I pulled each aside, and explained in a choked voice that we had intended to deliver the good news that we were expecting our fifth child, but that something wasn’t right, and Jodi was headed into the clinic to see a doctor. Was is ordinarily a favorite holiday for feasting and frivolity took a sudden turn: life became very real and close that afternoon, and our blessings, though numerous, seemed worth counting one by one.

It may seem odd to speak of the blessings that flowed from the loss of our little Jude, but there were many, and they began that very day, when the emotional tension reached a point that I called together everyone who was at our home — both sides of the family, adults and children alike — and asked them to pray for Jodi and our baby. We say Grace before every Thanksgiving feast, but this was something different, a deep and heartfelt prayer of petition, and I was moved by our loved ones and touched by God in that moment of profound peace.

In the year since, much has changed. For one, we were forced to take a serious look at our family and discern whether we were called to have another child. With Jude, we had been open to life, but since we had told the kids and had seen the joy in their faces at the prospect of another sibling, we needed to decide if a fifth child were something we would actively pursue — and talk with our doctors about the likelihood that we could lose another. The doctors’ answers were all positive; it didn’t take long to decide, and even less time to again learn we were expecting. On or about Dec. 14 we will welcome a fifth Thorplet — Samuel Firman or Lillian Clara, depending — and our house, our family, and our friends will rejoice. Join us, won’t you?

* * * * *
… all our other nieces, nephews, and godchildren; countless aunts, uncles, and cousins (including in-laws and outlaws; Polish and otherwise); our friends and family in Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, on both coasts, and everywhere in between…

* * * * *

Today is also Brendan’s 14th birthday, and in his opinion, it doesn’t get better than turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and stuffing, a chocolate cake from his mom, and his own personal apple pie from his godmother, Aunt Brenda. I can’t talk about pregnancy, Thanksgiving, and Bren’s birthday without recalling this day 14 years ago. The following account originally appeared in The Pioneer daily newspaper on Tuesday, Dec. 2:
At long last, we have a son

Few mornings compare to Sundays in October, except perhaps the last Monday in November.
On November 24, 1997, at 9:59 a.m., Jodi and I gave birth [Blogger’s Note: In retrospect, my role was more coaching and cutting the cord] to our son, Brendan James. First he was a tiny patch of hair, dark and slick (“I can see the head,” I cried, and Jodi pushed) — then an immense, misshapen head, and then a baby, wriggling and purple, with blood in his hair. He was tiny and yet strangely huge above Jodi’s shrunken tummy, struggling to make verbal the light, the cold and that infernal bulb syringe moving quickly about his head, from cavity to cavity, removing excess fluids.
Though he did not find the words, he made his case, and gave the face a voice; he cried, and from his cheeks slowly out to each extremity, turned scarlet.
“You have a baby boy,” the doctor said when we forgot to check or ask.
Brendan James Thorp.
We learned a short while late that weighed nine pounds, nine ounces, and measured 21-and-a-half inches long. These measurements seem important, especially to women and more so to those who have given birth to babies nearly as big or bigger. The weight was a source of some pride for me — I weighed in at nine pounds, 15 ounces, so of course he talks after his old man.
As for length…well, it has conjured up old fishing analogies — “He’s a keeper,” I say, and a friend tells me he’d be legal even for a pike.
His head measured 38 centimeters — again, a source of pride, but when I heard this, I wondered who would ask about head circumference.
It was question number four from Jodi’s mom, just behind weight and length. [Blogger’s Note: And the unstated but essential, “Are mom and baby doing well?”]

We never counted fingers and toes — wouldn’t his hands and feet look odd if he had extra or too few? And wouldn’t we still love him with six toes?
I still have counted, and now that twinge of doubt and anxiety that is becoming all too familiar has me wondering if I should…
His feet look like miniature versions of adult feet, which is nothing profound, I know, except that they are not chubby little baby feet at all. They are long, with distinct arches and heels and large big toes. He has wide hands with long, thin fingers like his father (my dad says I was born with a man’s hands). My mother — his Busia (Polish for “grandmother,” and my mom is Polish) calls them Thorp
He is the first male child born to my generation of the Thorp clam that will carry the family name, and my father and I are proud.
The specs — length, weight, etc. — are important, of course, if for no other reason than we are conditioned to ask and to tell. The other things — his hands, his feet, his name — are important because these things have stayed the same.
Our son is changing before our eyes. He has been with us one week now, and each day he is new again. His head has assumed a more regular shape; his color has gone from pale purple to jaundiced yellow to a healthy reddish hue (when not crying — he still turns scarlet when he screams). He is more awake and alert each day, and each day he eats more, sleeps longer, and cries less.
It feels as though the bus will stop at 880 Maple tomorrow, and Christmas Eve I’ll be wrapping Grandpa Thorp’s old Winchester Model 94. After months, weeks, and days of watching, waiting and timing, we’re wishing time would stand still for a moment and let us enjoy our infant son.
Like my white-haired Dziadzi (Polish for “grandfather,” and my mother’s father, like all Galubenskis, is Polish) and my father, I find myself sitting still with Brendan warm on my lap, staring down at him — watching him yawn, cry, sleep and stare back at me. Will he be a wrestler? A scholar? A fireman? He grabs my fingers and squeezes, and I tell him he is strong. I hover over him like other me do, and I’m careful — he is the heaviest nine pounds I’ve ever carried, and no doctor will convince me he’s not delicate and doesn’t need my constant watchfulness and protection. And he shall have it.
If I ramble, it’s because I don’t know what to say — we’ve only just met, and already I’m in love.
We have a son.
* * * * *
…also, a snug house and steady job; our Schnauzer, Puck; our Catholic faith and Life in the Bubble
* * * * *
I never planned to be a father of five (or four, or six), but I am grateful for the call and the opportunity. And today, on this feast, I am grateful to live in a country where Jodi and I are free to make this choice. To be sure, there are many who think we should’ve stopped at two, or one (or even before we started); I have no doubt that I work with several, although thus far they’ve kept their opinion to themselves. I’m grateful for the surprise of gender, knowing that we can welcome whichever wee one emerges with no pressure from society or the State.
I was browsing an online exchange featuring a young soldier speaking out against the Occupy Wall Street protesters and a liberal columnist responding to him. The columnist, as I recall, claimed that liberals dream bigger than conservatives — that they dream of employment and fair wages and health care for everyone, regardless of background or ability. It’s noble sentiment — Christian, even, on some level — but I don’t believe it’s true that this liberal has bigger dreams than me. We have the same dreams, but very different methods of pursuing them. For example, if I could opt in or opt out of the various programs and initiatives designed to save and protect us, fine — I’m free to choose. 
“But,” someone will object, “if people can opt out of these programs , not enough people will participate, and the programs will fail!”
Exactly. If people don’t want help, get out of the way.

I’ve blogged about the pursuit of happiness before. I don’t want anyone to presume to know what’s best for me and my family. I don’t want to be forced into participating in programs or activities that don’t correspond to my values or my faith. And I don’t want to outsource my good life or my responsibilities to love my God, my neighbor, and my enemy. I want to learn to do these things myself. And today I’m thankful to live in a country where this is still possible, and a community full of great examples: people who live each day as both a blessing and a prayer.

The end is the same. But we get there through conversion, not coercion, so that people don’t resent doing right.

* * * * *

…home-brewed beer; books and music; laughter, tears, and prayers…shall I continue?

* * * * *

Finally — although Thanksgiving isn’t really about football — I am grateful that the Lions are a legitimate team playing a meaningful game this afternoon. I am concerned, however: if you watched the pregame for the Monday night showdown between the Vikings and the Packers, you know that if you took the very best attributes of every great quarterback in football history (including Bradshaw’s, not Brady’s, hair) and constructed a Super-Quarterback, you might begin to approach the greatness of Aaron Rogers. With Rogers and the Packers already predestined for the Superbowl, and Ndamukong Suh designated as the “dirtiest player in the league,” I think we’re going to see the NFL enforcing it’s new rule implemented just a couple of weeks ago. Brendan and his friends first noticed this during the Monday night game:

Happy birthday, kid, and happy Thanksgiving, all!

* * * * *

*A partial list in no specific order…