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Happily Even After

Bye-bye baby

December 29, 2010

Closing a phone conversation by saying “I love you” is important business.

Movies generally get this scene spot-on. Picture the new lovers speaking on the phone. The man is at work or among a bunch of guy friends. The woman says, “Good bye, I love you.” And suddenly the man is faced with a huge decision to make. Does he unabashedly commit to the romantic relationship and publicly declare his love, or does he capitulate to his circumstances and privately snub his lover?

Pause for effect, then he says, “mm-hm… you, too.”

Being married 12 years, I have no qualms whatsoever about saying “I love you” to Stacey on the phone. But I have gotten out of the habit of doing so lately and this came up in a really funny exchange yesterday.

Some years ago, I had occasional contact with a woman over the phone for some parish business. She always signed off by saying, “Bye-bye.” Having young children at the time, I was familiar with this as a way to say farewell to youngsters. I found it rather funny that this grown woman used this send-off without a trace of irony.

Amused, I decided to start using it myself, but with a good bit of irony.

So, whenever I spoke with Stacey and she said “I love you” to sign off, I would respond (with a great deal of comic irony in my own mind) “Bye-bye.”

I give Stacey a lot of credit for putting up with this. Formal, public acknowledgments of relationship are very important to her. She simply saw my farewell as another example of her silly husband, whom she loves because of his silliness.

This is a great comfort to me—knowing that I am known through and through and loved because of what is known, not in spite of it. It makes me feel free to be who I am.

Yesterday, though, as we finished a phone conversation, she asked me if I could say, “I love you” to close a conversation. She said that if one of us were to die in an accident, she would need the assurance that the last words we exchanged were words of love.

I realized I may have never explained why I said, “Bye-bye” in the first place, and simply told her the history and that I find it silly. She said that’s what she thought, but that she needs to hear “I love you.” I said okay and then hung up by saying “bye-bye.”

Mind you, all of this is taking place, from my end, in the office and in the presence of a student worker.

She called back immediately and said, “You did it again.” We clarified a bit more, both laughing pretty hard by now, and then agreed that I would say “I love you, too” sometime in the process of signing off, but that it would be okay to still use my silly “Bye-bye” at the end. I said “Okay, thanks,” she said “I love you” and I said “Bye-bye” and hung up.

15 seconds later she called back and we laughed some more, and by this time, I’m laughing with our student worker as well.

We’ve been finding a lot of humor with one another lately, which is fun. I’m grateful we can laugh with one another, and I’m grateful for a wife who loves me so well.

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How to Talk to Your Kids About Star Wars

How to Talk to Your Kids About Star Wars

If you are a human being who lives on the planet Earth, you know that there is a new Star Wars movie coming out sometime before Christmas.

If you have children, now is the time to have your deflector shields tested—they are about to be soaked in a Star Wars merchandising campaign that will stretch from Tatooine to Dagobah. It will literally rule the galaxy. Mark my words, by January you will be throwing your glass of chardonnay against your brick fireplace if you so much as hear one more thing about Kylo Ren or Poe Dameron or that infernal crossguard lightsaber.

We will all be swimming in Star Wars for the next two months, so it is good advice to get ahead of this curve and talk to your kids about this movie franchise.

I am a huge Star Wars fan, and I plan to relish the new movie in the same way a Rancor would devour a Gamorrean Guard. The youngest of our kids is 8 now, so they are just old enough to dive in to this cultural trend and swim along for themselves. We’ve been re-watching the original trilogy and even the prequels so that we can run into Dec. 18 primed and ready. I even brought home a giant Star Wars coloring book—we’ve been spending evenings coloring Boba Fett posters.

I’ve been unabashedly encouraging these movies with our kids. The Star Wars universe loomed large in my youthful imagination, so this is a way to share an important part of myself with them. I’ve also been encouraging it because the Star Wars story world, at its heart, is about mystery and redemption, and I hope (with all my heart!) that the new film continues this theme.

Let me offer the paradigmatic example of Luke Skywalker’s climactic encounter with his (spoiler alert!) father, Darth Vader, in the last movie of the trilogy, The Return of the Jedi. Luke’s training to become a Jedi will not be complete until he faces Vader. Vader takes him to the Emperor, who conjures the dark side of the Force to electrocute him. Vader, conflicted by the cries of his tortured son, relents and grabs the Emperor and throws him down an abyss, where he perishes in a gale of fury.

What do we have here? A son who is willing to suffer. Suffering that moves a father to mercy. A father who destroys death. Sound familiar?

There are strong parallels with the story of our own salvation. When we sin, we put ourselves inside of the black suit and mask that Vader wears—our sin brings tyranny to the relationships in our lives, and makes us less than fully human.

Jesus confronts that sin through a willingness to be overwhelmed by it. His willing sacrifice builds a bridge: it moves us to convert, to grab with full and decisive arms all that hinders life in us and overthrow it. It also moves the Father to overthrow death itself—to promise new and abundant life beyond death.


Using Star Wars as a Teachable Moment

So, back to the crossguard lightsabers that every child will have on their Christmas list—how can we break open the mystery of our faith that resonates within this Star Wars story world? If you will see the new “Force Awakens” episode with your kids, I would recommend watching the original trilogy (episodes 4, 5, and 6) with them, just to prime their imaginations for where this story has been.

Below are some conversation prompts you might consider using after each episode of the original trilogy to connect the Star Wars story to the mystery of our faith.


Episode IV: A New Hope

Prompts: Who is Luke Skywalker, really? How does he come to know his true identity? Where does this new identity take him? Why does Obi Wan give himself up in his fight with Darth Vader? What happens to him?

Connections: Our truest, deepest identity resides in our baptism, which makes us adopted sons and daughters of God. Knowing this gives us strength to go on adventures—to do things we never thought were possible, even to give up our lives to help other people. It also gives us new life, even beyond death. When we die, we know that we will still live with God. And those who have died before us can still help us with their prayers—they are still with us.


Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Prompts: What is the Force? How does it give people power? What can people do with the Force? What does Luke have to do to feel and use the Force?

(Warning for Star Wars buffs: It is blasphemous to reduce the Force to a function of midi-chlorians, so don’t step in that Sarlacc pit or you’ll never get back out, I don’t care if you have Boba Fett’s jetpack.)

Connections: The Holy Spirit is God, together with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit lives within us and gives us the power to do good. When we pray and do good things—especially when it is hard—we grow in God’s grace, and become even better at using it. The Holy Spirit is always with us and will always help us.


Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Prompts: Did Luke love Darth Vader? How could we tell? What did he do because of that love? How did that love change Darth Vader? How did that love save Darth Vader?

Connections: Love gives us courage to do difficult things, even to face things that terrify us, even to suffer, even to die. Jesus loved us like this—he didn’t get electrocuted, but he was willing to suffer on the cross, which hurt just as much. But he knew that God would take care of him—God gave him new life. When we love that way—without being afraid—it gives us new life, too. And it connects us to everyone else who loved that way.

Think of the party on the forest moon of Endor as an image of heaven—it is a great feast that includes even the departed, who appear through the Force in a kind of communion of saints.


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