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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A Moving Proposition

A Moving Proposition

We bought a house by accident this summer.

We had been saving up for a down payment with plans to purchase a home next summer, but thought it wise to dip our toes in the market this year, just to see where things stand. We figured that we’d have a better idea of what we would be looking at when it matters next year.

We walked through a home and found parts that we liked and parts we didn’t like. Another home was for sale across the street, so we thought we’d better check that one out, too. When we walked through this second home, we found very little that we didn’t like. We especially fell in love with the spacious backyard, half of which was thickly wooded.

We had an overcrowded summer that included nearly six weeks of continuous travel, so why not throw the purchase of a new home on top of all that? The one thing we learned from our last house transaction, however, was to take things one step at a time—that it is a long process that unfolds over months.

Every new step we came to made the way clear for us, so we kept proceeding, and here we are—we closed on the house last week and have moved everything in (thanks to some hard-working and generous friends). Most of our rooms are still packed in boxes, but we have transitioned to a new living space.

In 16 years of married life together, Stacey and I have moved ten times. By the second or third move, it was clear that we are at our worst when we are moving. Some situations call the best out of us, but moving is not one of them. Our personalities and communication needs are at their most oppositional during a move, and the stress of the transition makes things worse.

Knowing this helps some, but does not alleviate the problem that our communication patterns conflict. Despite what we know about it, that factor remains. As is the case in anything that comes up after vowing to love and honor each other all the days of our lives, we simply keep at it and do our best. What else is there to do?

We find that whenever we keep trying to communicate, though—no matter how unproductive and maddening it might seem—we always learn something new about each other.

For example, we had a week to move into our new home after closing. We had six rooms we wanted to paint, and a split-rail fence to build to keep our dog in the yard. All of this on top of packing up one house and unpacking in another.

During the painting, we found that I had much more patience to handle the detail work of cutting in the edges with a small brush. But if it hadn’t been for Stacey’s initiative and motivation to push on through the work, we would never have finished it all. When it comes to painting, Stacey is all about the quantity of the work, and I’m all about the quality. Both aspects are important—in fact, once we discovered this fact, we did our best to play to our strengths.

Another example: when it comes to packing, we are just the opposite. My idea of packing is to open the biggest box I can find and literally dump shelves into it until it is full. I simply want to get everything out, so we can organize it in the new space. Stacey had every room organized and packed up in neat and tidy boxes, each with its own label. Again, both approaches were needed—I had the drive to move the work forward, and Stacey was all about doing it well.

The biggest challenge we faced in all of this was simply having time to stay on the same page and figure out all of these communication needs. Both of us have spent every evening for the past two weeks working, painting, packing. We are doing the same work in the same house, but not in the same room. We collapse into bed, exhausted. Trying to find time to communicate well has been difficult.

I wish I could say that we put our backs together and faced this transition like heroes. The reality is that the only time we had to share with each other in a day was in the bathroom at 11:30 p.m., brushing our teeth, working through conflict while trying not to raise our voices as the children slept.

Heroism in lifelong marriage comes down to sticking with the time-worn, difficult conversations, wading through them together, and seeking and giving forgiveness. While that would not make a good plotline for the next Avengers movie, we came through the experience richer for it because we learned more about each other. Our lives have grown together in yet another new way.

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