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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The Book of Life

The Book of Life

Halloween had all the markings of a disaster in our town this year: snow was falling and the wind was gusting up to 45 mph.

Our family looked out the window and decided to throw in the towel. Oscar is getting too old for trick-or-treating, anyway, and Simon and Lucy are too temperate to risk pneumonia for some Tootsie Rolls and Sweet-n-Sours. We did want to mark the holiday with a fun family outing, so we decided to go to a movie, and allowed the kids to pick out their own theater candy. We saw the new animated feature, The Book of Life.

There are moments in family life when a plan goes terribly, terribly wrong—that happens often, and is good fodder for blog posts for us. But occasionally, there are also moments when everything clicks to produce a beautiful experience. Thanks to this film, our alternative Halloween was one of these beautiful experiences.

The story for the movie has to do with the Latino tradition of the Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos), which draws upon the feasts of All Saints and All Souls in the Church to celebrate the communion of saints. The plot line has characters entering the afterlife in pursuit of love, encountering deceased family members, and confronting evil. It was a funny, exciting, and beautiful film.

Most of all, though, it was a thoroughly Christian film, even though the only overtly religious figures—a priest and some nuns—served as only background characters. The characters moved through a Christian world in the presentation of death and the afterlife. Finding deceased loved ones in the “land of the remembered” was the ultimate fiesta, for example, and this communion of love beyond death colored everything—it freed the main character to live fully and authentically and fearlessly.

We all came out of the film uplifted, and the experience utterly recast the feast of All Hallow’s Eve for us. Halloween has its origin as the vigil for the great feast of All Saints (“all hallowed” refers to “all the holy ones”), so I was very grateful to avoid all the zombies and superheroes wandering the streets in search of free candy, and instead consider death through the lens of faith and love.

After the movie, we used the opportunity to call to mind those in our own family who are in the “land of the remembered.” We had the kids recall the grandparents they have known who have passed, and Stacey and I spoke about the grandparents who we remember, but who died before the kids could get to know them. We even recalled two special lives in our own family who were lost to miscarriage—it was a nice moment for the children to call to mind their siblings who are still a part of our family, even though we cannot see them with us now.

November is a good time to turn our minds to the end of things. The natural world is passing away before us in preparation for winter—trees are diminishing before our very eyes and even the daylight is dying slowly. Soon it will be time to recall the source of our hope and to prepare, through Advent, for his coming into our lives. But for now, we remember the faithful departed, and draw courage from our communion with them and the continuity of life beyond death.

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