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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Sweet Nothings

Sweet Nothings

This past August marked 20 years since Stacey walked into my life.

We were college freshmen, and she argued for an adjustment to her schedule that placed her in the same first-year seminar that I was in. The moment she walked in the door, I knew I wanted to get to know her more.

Her natural beauty struck me first—she wore no makeup and did not wear flashy clothes. I also noticed her manners—in negotiating the schedule adjustment with our professor, she was polite and clear and humble.

So, when the anniversary of this date rolled around last August, I wanted to celebrate it as the watershed moment it was in my life. God’s providence was at work in the first week of classes of the fall of 1994 because our meeting changed my life in an utterly unanticipated, transformative way. I wanted to renew my appreciation for that mystery, and I wanted to share with Stacey something of the grace-filled surprise she has been to me, so I committed myself to writing her 20 poems. That would be one poem for each year our lives have touched, and I told her she’d receive them all by our anniversary date (which is this week, May 9).

I’m pleased to report that I’ve been able to keep my promise—I have 20 poems written and shared. They took every form—limericks, free-form, sonnets, ballads, rhyming and non-rhyming alike. There are more than a few haiku, my favorite form to write and the most convenient for their brevity.

After composing each poem, I found some way to surprise her with it—dropping it in her work items, or under a pillow, or in a shoe. I wanted her to come upon them in unexpected ways.

I had to stretch a bit to find new subject matters, but I was glad for the challenge because it gave me a chance to draw upon important memories and impressions from the past two decades to share. Some made her laugh, some made her blush. All made her smile.

I had been feeling a little humdrum in our relationship—after 20 years, the routines and rhythms of interaction are very familiar and predictable, which is a great comfort in many ways, but also can lead to monotony. I found myself “settling” for less in some ways—not always giving 100%, or falling a little too easily into selfishness. I thought this would be a good way to shake things up—to keep things fresh. It was a discipline that had me reflecting on our relationship and offering affirmation to Stacey in a regular way (to stay on pace, I had to write a poem every other week).

And this poetry project has accomplished that end. One pillar of virtue ethics is the notion that virtue is not inherited or learned, it is acquired through practice. That is to say that if we want to be brave, we must act bravely in large and small ways until we become a person who is brave in all situations. I found that reflecting on our relationship in this creative way has grown my capacity for loving Stacey, and appreciating the gift she is for me.

Theology defines a mystery as something that we cannot come to the end of understanding. In other words, it is not that we know nothing of a mystery—it is that we can’t come to the end of knowing a mystery. The 7,400 days that we’ve known each other have not worn off the sense of wonder that struck me when I first saw Stacey—they have only deepened it.

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