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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Big Fish

Big Fish

I had a really crappy day last week.  Not a catastrophically crappy day—just a preponderance of small, seemingly simple things going less than smoothly. It was like the slow drip, drip, drip of water—one drop by itself is no big deal, but add them up over time and it really wears on you.

There was some printing trouble that really should have been routine. There was the coffee shop forgetting to put coffee in my coffee. (I wanted a mocha and ended up with a hot chocolate.) There was me choosing to make healthy decisions by venting with Joshua—calling him on his cell, not getting him; calling him at home, not getting him; texting him in caps with exclamation points, not getting him.

When we did get to talk (only two minutes after my texting breakdown) he wisely commented, “You must have a big fish on the line.”

This phrase is one of those marital codes we have developed over the years. It comes from a religious sister who commented that when something goes really wrong before a retreat, it means there must be a “big fish” on the line for the weekend—i.e., God must have something important in store, and this is how other forces are attempting to derail that plan using our most human foibles.

I am highly susceptible to human foibles. So I particularly appreciated Josh’s comment because it was a call back to my center. It was a call to set aside the distractions and focus extra hard on looking for God around me.

And not surprisingly, God was there. God was there when I ran into a former student, now a colleague, who checked in with me about how my day was going. God was there in the sincere, encouraging hug I received from another minister. God was there in the little toddler girl touring campus with her family who stared deeply at me even after she was well past me on the sidewalk. Her sweet innocent eyes just felt like God looking back at me, seeing me, seeing my struggles that day and inviting me in turn to see and know God was there with me, that all I had to do was look.

So did I have a big fish on the line?

Maybe.

We have had an unusually full summer. I avoid using the word “busy” because our pace has been just fine and even relaxing. But there are two particularly big projects that have taken over our time: one that has the capacity to impact a lot of folks for a good while into the future, and another that is just about our family.

In both cases, Joshua and I did not so much decide to take these things on, as much as had the option presented to us and followed those leads.  We feel like our investment in these projects was far less an act of our will and much more an active looking and listening for God’s will.

We had invitations extended to us and—thank goodness—rather than attempt to decide if we felt like doing them or had the time to fit them in or if we would benefit personally and professionally from them, we prayed about them. We took a hard look at the gifts, skills and resources we possess and asked ourselves if we thought God was calling us to apply them in this direction at this time.  In both cases the answer we received was yes, so we took a step forward.

At every frustrated, exhausted, or nervous moment during the summer when we looked back at the choice to say “yes” to the opportunities presented to us, we have found peace in knowing that we did not force these developments. Rather they were the product of sound discernment. We do not have a full sense of how far down these paths we will go, but we rest with confidence that we are on the right track when we are staying in tune with God’s will.

We know that there are forces opposed to goodness, and given the scale of the projects we have been involved in this summer, it is not surprising to find opposition to their development. When the water gets muddied, though, we always find clarity when we return to the source and cling to our trust in God.

That is part of what was so challenging and important in how my crappy day unfolded last week. In our lives there are SO many ways we can be distracted or put off of staying in tune with God. But it is essential to look for God in the little things so that we can see and hear God all the more clearly in the big things.

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