Family and Fruitfulness: A Father’s Perspective

It’s getting quiet around here.

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.

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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.

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The Long Surrender

My last column was about wasting time—accomplishing too little with the time I’m given.

It has been a busy spring and summer. Our youngest son graduated, a new grandbaby arrived, and three of our children are relocating in preparation for a new phase of life. We have a grad party in the works, vacation plans, work and home projects, and all the ordinary, day-to-day stuff.

Often I cope well with our busy-ness—remembering with gratitude that we are juggling blessings. But sometimes stress and anxiety get the better of me. With so much to do, I rush around barking orders and straining to make everything go according to plan.

Whose plan? Mine of course; the one in my head. This was the plan for July:

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Movie Break: Super 8

Since we first saw ads for it circa 2010, I’ve been wanting to watch the 2011 Spielberg/Abrams sci-fi/suspense movie Super 8. Eleven years later, it’s on our youngest son Trevor’s list of movies to watch this summer, so we made it our Father’s Day, too-hot-to-be-outside choice today.

That was a good call.

The trailer is no lie: This movie evokes movies like E.T. and The Goonies, but with a more menacing edge. Think Iron Giant crossed with A Quiet Place: sweet, nostalgic, suspenseful, and genuinely scary, with enough blood and expletives to earn its PG-13 rating, but not enough to make you change the channel if watching it with your older kids.

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Rising to the Occasion

This post ran in the Ascension Sunday edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin, the weekend of May 28-29. Another note: My mother and my sister are both practicing Catholics these days…my bride sets a good example!

On this Ascension Sunday, I want to share with you a different sort of rising. Many of you know I didn’t grow up in the Catholic Church. I didn’t grow up in any church to speak of, aside from a brief period in the mid-1980s when my mother brought to St. Joseph the Worker in Beal City, Michigan, to be instructed in the catechism and receive our first Holy Communion from kindly old Father Hart.

Mom grew up in a Polish Catholic farm family. Dad was her next-door neighbor, of no particular faith; his grandmother shared Bible stories and values with him, but though he saw the sense in it, he has never claimed to be a believer. When I met my bride, I guess I was just Catholic enough—that brief period as a kid, plus a few dozen Catholic Masses and weddings, made enough of an impression that I could hold my own alongside her on Sunday mornings. And I was thoroughly smitten, so Jesus had His opening. He took full advantage.

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Life In Abundance

This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, May 15, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

Last weekend, we saw all of our children and grandchildren, not to mention my mother and several friends, due to our youngest son Trevor’s star turns as St. Thomas More in the play, A Man for All Seasons. We had representatives of four generations of Thorps under our roof. We saw moving performances, illustrating a 500-year-old life that remains compelling and relevant today. We celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday and the May Crowning of Mary and Mother’s Day at the 9:00 AM Mass, with Father Park and Bishop Williams and two deacons. We received Jesus in Word and Sacrament—and my mom benefitted deeply from 10 minutes with two of our parish’s wonderful prayer ministers after Mass. We ate and drank and made merry. It was a both-and kind of weekend, a time of spiritual superabundance.

Early Monday morning, after Mom departed for the airport, I read the daily gospel reading, which continues St. John’s Good Shepherd discourse. The last line of the reading struck me hardest:

“A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

John 10:10

I recognize the thief and his works—I see them daily in the world—and I know that, at times like last weekend, we are experiencing God’s abundant life firsthand. The Enemy divides, distorts, and destroys; he is wreaking havoc in the world right now. But Jesus brings hope, courage, joy, and peace—not to mention the perseverance to live in the Spirit despite the Enemy and those who serve him.

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