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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“O, Jesus…”

“O, Jesus…”

When I was a little girl my mother taught me a prayer—the Morning Offering. I write the Morning Offering because at the time I thought this was the prayer that Catholics prayed in the morning, just like the Prayer Before Meals or the Hail Mary or the Prayer to the Holy Spirit. In all honesty I do not know, even now, if there are other versions of a morning offering. I only learned the one and I never saw it written down, it was just something she taught me verbally. Some of the language seemed a little odd and I admit I did not understand everything that went into it.

Here it is:

“O, Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for all the intentions of our bishops, and all the apostles of prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.”

Even as a child I realized it was a very comprehensive prayer. There is a lot packed into those three sentences. But there are also some specific theological concepts embedded in it as well: the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus; coupling prayer with the sacrifice of the Mass and intentions of bishops, apostles of prayer, and the Holy Father. I only vaguely wondered, who were these apostles of prayer? And what were these recommended intentions from our Holy Father?

“I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day, in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world…”

In my school years, this was the clearest and most compelling part of the prayer for me. We prayed it every day on the way to school. And I mean every day. Even when I was in the early, non-driving years of high school and it was a 30-minute commute across town, mom required our whole carpool to pray the morning offering. Over time the words became so automatic for me that they were as much a part of my prayer as the Sign of the Cross. The prayer served as a rote mechanism to center myself and dedicate my day, but also as the opening to more informal, un-programmed conversation with God.

“I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart…”

Mom did not explain the fine points of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the Immaculate Heart of Mary in teaching me the prayer. I am sure it is because I did not ask, not because she does not know. I really did not pay much attention to those phrases. Then, when I arrived at college for my freshman year, I found that the statue located literally at the heart of campus was a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue. It was my first feeling of that cosmic connection across space and time that liturgy and prayer affords us. I had been praying for the intentions of the Sacred Heart for most of my life, and here I found a manifestation of that prayer anchoring the educational institution that would form my vocation for years to come.

the reunion of all Christians…”

I had no grasp as a child of what this meant. Unlike the Immaculate and Sacred Hearts, there is no image or really any talk of the disunity of Christians in your typical Catholic parish. At least not mine. Then after finishing graduate school and getting my first professional ministerial job on a campus in Oregon, I had another profound cosmic prayer moment. At the University of Portland, a Catholic university, I was responsible in campus ministry for all the students that identified as “other than Catholic.” The vast majority of that group were other Christians. One morning soon after we arrived, I was out for my morning run and began my prayer: the sign of the cross and then the morning offering. When I got to “the reunion of all Christians,” it hit me: I had been praying for these students, for this work, for most of my life! Even though I have now moved into a new position far from the Northwest, I still think in a special way of the students at UP whenever I get to that line of my morning prayer.

all the apostles of prayer…”

This year I asked a Jesuit priest to say Mass for our students and join us for a supper that would follow. We had been discussing the charisms of different religious orders over the course of the semester and I asked if he might like to offer some remarks about the Jesuits towards the end of supper. He knew we had already discussed Ignatian spirituality not long ago, so he offered to share a bit about the “Apostleship of Prayer.” He began his comments by handing out a brochure explaining that the apostolate has been around since 1844. Started by the Society of Jesus and under their care ever since, it is essentially a worldwide prayer group dedicated to the Pope’s intentions…wait a second…

When I looked down at the brochure in my hands, I saw the words of their prayer and my jaw dropped open. “O, Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary…” Little did I know that for more than 30 years I have been an “apostle of prayer”— though obviously not a very thoughtful one! But that was about to change.

Josh and I have been praying the Morning Offering with our children every day since we started taking them to school. They, like the young version of myself, likely do not understand all the words, but we had wanted to have a shared way to dedicate our day as a family to God. Now, armed with brochures for each of us, I sat down with Josh and the children and carefully explained what I had learned. Everyone agreed, completely without coercion, to enroll officially in the Apostleship of Prayer. This is really excellent for our shared family prayer life and it closes the loop of my morning offering prayer journey in a beautiful way. But, I have to admit, my favorite development from discovering the little brochure is FINALLY knowing reglularly what the intentions “recommended by our Holy Father this month” actually are!


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