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.
I dropped Trevor at Holy Spirit yesterday morning and took the scenic route home, past Pelican Lake. The sun was a blaze of yellow-gold in an ice blue sky, the snow was a hard gleam of white over the fields, and the shadows cast by bough, branch or blade cut dark blue gashes on the ground. The dawn was a study in brightness and contrast—the colors washed out or deepened until the world almost appeared black and white, the lines sharpened, the darkness more stark in the light…
…until a new perspective set the wild lands ablaze. I followed a sweeping curve, and the sunrise ignited the landscape. Woods and weeds, willows and reeds, glowed with a golden halo of hoarfrost—what looked as bitter and biting as last week’s election now softened and warmed in the golden light.
Isn’t it strange what perspective can do? Hard lines and shadows dissolve in the divine light, beauty blazes up, and with it goodness and truth. The night ends, the day breaks, the winter is long but finite; the Lord still pours out His life and love, still looks upon all the work of His hands and, smiling, says, Behold, it is very good.
We dare not hold that gaze too long, that look of love in His eyes. We feel ourselves a waving weed in a windblown winter field, exposed, insignificant, starved for His attention. Do we not see that, bathed in His light, each of us is beautiful, unique and necessary? We are ablaze with divine life, and the world is ours to warm.
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.
I am blessed this morning to be sitting in the morning sun, overlooking a lake, drinking coffee and listening to an abundance of birds of all shapes and sizes squabbling over breakfast. Swallows and sparrows, redwings and robins, hawks, herons and hummers, filling the air with a cacophony of sound. The blue of the sky is reflected in the rippling water; all else is gold and green, as from my perch I watch three varieties of squirrel cross-crossing the grass seeking food: sleek grays, feisty reds and bold chipmunks.
That God would grace creation with even one prototypical bird or rodent is nothing to sneeze at, and here are so many different kinds, each beautiful in its way—and each created for us.
Do you realize? We believe that all of Creation in its incredible variety was made, out of love, for us. God worked for six “days” establishing the order of the universe and the wonders of the living world, and then made us in His image, giving us stewardship of everything.