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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Hugging the Porcupine

Hugging the Porcupine

A couple of months ago we took on a large extra project that will last through the summer. It is a project we believe in, that pays well, and that will allow us to work together. What could be better?

Back in early June, we had just completed the first phase of the project, and had enough work under us to get a sense of what was left. The kids were just getting out of school, and I looked at Stacey and said warily, “This thing is going to eat our summer whole.”

What’s more, working together hasn’t been the dream we thought it would be. We like to think we work well together because we shared a job for seven years, but the reality is that we split our responsibilities in that job. We actually have severely different working styles.

Different styles of work added with an unusual amount of stress has shortened our patience and made us both a little distracted. Yet, after nearly 16 years together, we’ve come to understand that life has seasons. There is a time for everything, and stressful times pass. We knew we just needed to get through this season—preferably in one piece.

Taking an attitude of service towards each other and family life goes a long way towards framing our conversations in a more gentle light. At times, I’ve been able to do this by initiating conversation with Stacey, checking in with her about how the work was going, and making sure she knew how I was feeling. In those moments, we feel like we’re battling this thing together.

Stacey’s expressiveness is one of the things I love most about her. In a normal time, she literally jumps for joy when things work out well. I never have to guess what she is feeling, and she uses that expressiveness to connect to other people very well. She jacks up our family fun by a factor of four, easily.

But when she is under stress, she becomes like a porcupine—prickly all over. And those barbs are what make me keep my distance; my stress reaction is to become like a turtle. Yet the distance I seek makes her even more prickly. Porcupines can’t physically shoot their quills, but under stress, Stacey can. And turtles don’t stay in their shells for long, but I can camp out there for days. The lesson for me is to remember that when I perceive her turning into a porcupine, when I most feel like protecting myself, that’s precisely when she most needs me to come out of myself and offer generosity and love.

This is how marriage trains us to participate in divine love. Human love is much more sensible—it follows the path of least resistance. Many days, human love is more than enough to get us by. But divine love carries us when we are sick, or scared, or under stress—“for better or worse,” indeed.

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