I didn’t blow up the house, available at: ForYourMarriage.org

Happily Even After

I didn’t blow up the house

November 17, 2011

I fixed our gas fireplace without incinerating our home.

In my eyes, this was a major accomplishment—worthy of a celebratory end-zone dance in the living room.

The decorative fireplace has a wall switch that ignites the flame. For some still-unknown reason, two weeks ago it ceased to ignite. This caused much worry as I imagined natural gas building up in the glass-enclosure and then suddenly blowing a hole in our home that a Schwan’s truck could drive through.

I called some maintenance and repair companies and we were looking at $150, at least, just for someone to step foot in our house. And they were booked through November.

So, I cracked open our owner’s manual and did some reading. It took several efforts, but after a few hours I had the wiring figured out and I had removed the glass and fake logs and was inspecting the ignition module (“part that starts the fire” in layman’s terms). I was doing what service technicians call “troubleshooting” and, let me tell you, I shot trouble to tarnation.

You are not incorrect if you detect a touch of triumph in my tone. I called Stacey, and, like a good wife, she was impressed. I relished her adulation.

It is curious what a “high” I get from fixing things around the house. Stacey and I typically don’t fall into strict gender roles—I clean and cook and Stacey washes the car, for example—but I really, really, really like to fix things.

It is gratifying to be able to make something work that was not working, to put it very plainly. A gas fireplace that doesn’t work is a waste of space, at best, and an incendiary bomb at worst. I turned that into something that entices my kids to get out of bed on winter mornings and serenely snuggle as they await breakfast. Who wouldn’t gloat at that accomplishment?

I reflected on my playful gloating this week, and it led me to wonder about the power we have to fundamentally shape our lives. In family life with small children, it is easy for me to think that I have very little power to shape my life. Nearly all of my available free time and energy is absorbed into caring for these three young people. Something as simple as getting out for a beer with friends takes an amazing amount of planning.

Yet, when I step back and see the big picture, I realize that I am profoundly free. What an amazing gift to be able to create and shape a life for our family, and Stacey and I get to do that in big ways and small. We get to define how our children ask for a glass of milk, and we get to choose where and how we live. We wield enormous power, and it is terrifying to think of what we’ve missed or the mistakes we’ve made.

The catechism describes how God unites a man and a woman in marriage and enables us to “cooperate in a unique way in the Creator’s work.” This refers to our capacity to participate in the creation of new life, which is a mind-boggling capacity: we have the ability to help bring a new person into the world.

Cooperating with the Creator means participating in this mystery of new life, but in a smaller way, it also means that my work and labor means something, even when I work though a household “to-do” list. Applying my intelligence and energy to a task is also a cooperation with the Creator—it acknowledges and honors the gifts I was created with, and it shapes the world to suit human needs, like snuggling before breakfast.

Reader Comments (1)

  • Very nice reflection. That’s a great way to look at a to do list.

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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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I didn’t blow up the house, available at: ForYourMarriage.org
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