The older I get, the more I repeat myself, so you may have heard this before: I would take six months of October. A half year of crisp, cool, color-filled autumn; about six weeks of snowy white winter between Thanksgiving and roughly New Year’s Day, and the balance a long, blooming spring that turns green but never quite gets hot.
If ever I find the right combination of latitude and altitude, I’ll be gone. You’re welcome to visit.
We’re currently blessed with a beautiful October here in Minnesota. The leaves turned from green to gold, red, orange, and bright yellow in a few short days, it seemed; a thunderstorm stripped the top two-thirds of one tree across the street, but left the others intact, and even a sticky, wet snowfall earlier this week served only to make the color pop before vanishing into the soil before noon.
This morning the rooftops are coated in pale frost, but the ground is wet and smells like year’s end. Indoors, coffee’s in my cup, bluegrass is on the radio, and a whiff of the furnace’s first burnings is blowing up from the registers. It’s gonna be a good day.
This weekend, Emma and Trevor are helping with our church’s Core Team Retreat, so just Jodi, Lily, and I, along with our Airedale Bruno, are at home. It’s a preview of our new reality beginning early next month—our youngest as an only child; we, as nearly empty-nesters.
This situation is not extraordinary. Indeed it is almost inevitable, and certainly preferable to a basement full of adult children without direction or dreams. But both Jodi and I agree that the approaching transition feels different.
* * * * *
In the wee hours of Thursday morning, our oldest son Brendan, his bride, and his two little sons left Bismarck in a plane, bound for Minneapolis, Boston, and, ultimately, Rome. They arrived in the Eternal City early Friday; they will make their home in a convent apartment for 10 months out of 12 for the next two to three years as Brendan oversees Student Life for the University of Mary’s Rome campus.
We hope to visit them this spring. We didn’t travel back and forth to Bismarck often these past few years, but seeing the four of them in person just once a year—and the stark reality that an ocean and two half-continents lie between us—leaves a hollow feeling in my chest.
* * * * *
Tomorrow morning, we take our youngest son, Trevor, to Saint John Vianney Seminary (SJV) at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul to begin his undergraduate studies and formal discernment of priesthood. In his case, he’ll be less than an hour away, but it seems further somehow. SJV is an island of clean-cut, well-dressed young men living and praying together amid the highs and lows of life on a fairly typical college campus. The young men’s schedule is structured and rigorous; their access to technology—especially smart phones—is strictly limited; their studies are not oriented simply to a career field and a job, but to a lifelong vocational call.
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?
Note: I am an emotional guy. I am a bit self-conscious about the number of times in my posts I “choke up,” tear up or flat-out cry. But the Psalmist cried a lot, too. Also, this post appears as the bulletin column for this Sunday, January 24, for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.
Two Mondays ago, a friend and I discussed God’s desire for simple obedience. As a man who is constantly trying to make sense of things (and who often worries about what others think of me) this has been a long, hard lesson. I often analyze the promptings of the Spirit, worried that I’ll look foolish if I carry them out.
No one likes to be laughed at—but perhaps we should expect it:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
1 Corinthians 4:10
Later that same day, the Zach Williams song, “Fear Is a Liar” came on. My mind immediately went to my elder daughter, Emma, who is a freshman at the University of Mary in Bismarck.
That’s not a completely random connection: Emma used to have a quote from that song on the wall of her bedroom: “Cast your fear in the fire, ’cuz fear, he is a liar.” But this wasn’t just a pleasant memory conjured up by song lyrics—I felt a strong urge to pray for her and to tell her I did so. Immediately I lifted Emma and her needs and intentions to Our Lady to bring to Jesus.
That was the easy part. Then I grabbed my phone to text my daughter: “‘Fear is a Liar’ is on, and as soon as it began, I felt moved to pray for you.”
I stopped briefly and thought, Is this weird? I hit Send, and began to type again: “I have asked Mary to intercede for you.”
Again I stopped. I wanted to type, “Do not be afraid,” but I couldn’t. Seriously, I thought, what if she’s having a quiet morning enjoying a late breakfast or hanging out with friends? What if nothing’s going on? How weird is it to have your Dad text, “Do not be afraid” when you’re not worried about anything?
And then, a whisper in my heart: Trust Me.
I typed, “I have asked Mary to intercede for you. Do not be afraid!”
I quickly hit Send. Then I typed and sent, “I love you, daughter,” set down my phone and walked away.
A few minutes later I heard it buzz. I returned to see a message from Emma. My text arrived just after she had delivered a short speech to her speech class, and she had been anxious about it beforehand.
“Thanks dad,” she texted. “I love you too.”
Tear welled in my eyes to think that God was there, in this ordinary moment, when His daughter and mine was worried about so small a thing as a class presentation, that He used me to love her in that moment, and all I had to do was text her.
It’s so easy to share God’s love. What are you worried about?
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.