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?
Blogger’s Note: This post appeared as the Sunday, August 1, bulletin column for St. Michael Catholic Church.
Last weekend our family went to Sunday Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Watertown, South Dakota. The pews were full; the priest, energetic; and we took part in blessing a couple celebrating 40 years of marriage with the same blessing song used by our Christ Renews His Parish retreats and St. Michael Catholic School:
May the blessing of the Lord be upon you/we bless you in the name of the Lord.
We caused much worry and concern as our youngest daughter, Lily, bolted from the worship space with her hands over her mouth as if she were going to be sick—and relief when she returned with a gap in her smile, having lost a tooth. And we delighted in Father inviting up a young boy who had drawn for him a picture of the Lord with the message Trust In Jesus on it.
“You love Jesus, don’t you?” said the priest, and the boy nodded solemnly. “And you trust Him, like the young boy in the gospel, who gave everything he had [loaves and fishes] even though he knew it wasn’t enough.”
None of these moments would have transpired had we rose Sunday morning and decided to head for home instead of to Mass.
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?
Nearly a month ago now, on October 6, our eldest son and his bride welcomed their first child into the world. The birth of a child is an everyday occurrence; all across the globe, fathers fret as mothers labor to bring wriggling, helpless, little humans into this world, as we have for thousands of years. Medicine and technology have improved to the point that many—even the majority—of these children survive past infancy and on to adulthood, so that sometimes we forget how miraculous this is. Sometimes fathers and mothers even think they are primarily responsible for creating the new life they hold in their arms.
They are not.
Biologically speaking, we parents are certainly involved in the earthier aspects of the miracle, and in our better moments, we may even desire, will and proactively seek to bring a child into the world. But no amount of wishing or willing can create a child or bring him or her to term. God does the hard work and invites us along for the ride. So it was for Jodi and me, when we welcomed each of our five children into the world—and in another, profound way, when we lost our little Jude. And so it is for Brendan and Becky.
His name is Augustine James Thorp.* I’m a dziadzi.**
On Labor Day weekend, we took Emma to Bismarck for her first year at the University of Mary. The six-hour trek to Mary Hill is becoming more and more familiar: the wide open spaces, green hills and big skies, the sun and the wind…and that one stretch with the bugs splattering like rain on the windshield. The speed zone through Moorehead and Fargo. The bluffs by the James River.
It’s an easy six hour of driving, and it’s getting easier.
When we took Brendan for his first year, I likened the sensation to a taut wire from the back of my mind to him, constantly aware of his absence. When we took Gabe to NET, the feeling was a bit different: First he was just down the freeway in St. Paul, but then he was who-knows-where, living out of a van and crisscrossing state lines and time-zones.
Subsequent years it was better—easier—because they knew people. Faces unfamiliar to us spoke in smiling shorthand to them, and it was clear they were at home (a perception with its own bittersweetness).
But Emma is my daughter, my first girl-baby. And media and internet insist there is so much to be afraid of. And I was a freshman guy once.