“They must be crazy!”, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

“They must be crazy!”


March 9, 2010

“They must be crazy!”

The priest repeated this refrain in his homily at our wedding on May 9, 1998, at the church on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. We were technically still college seniors, celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony the day after finals.

The priest recalled for all present that the novelty of the news of our wedding had spread across campus. When our fellow students heard that we were finishing finals on Friday afternoon, holding our rehearsal and dinner later that evening, and getting married at 1 p.m. on Saturday, they thought we were out of our minds.
 
We both will admit that our GPAs suffered that spring semester of senior year, but it was worth it. The wedding served as a fitting culmination of our relationship, which had grown entirely within our time at Notre Dame.
 
We met on the first day of classes when we shared a humanities seminar together and by spring of our junior year, we had asked our parents for their blessing and had a date to be married. We may have been crazy, but we weren’t stupid–all of our friends were on campus and finished with classes and ready for a party. Our Irish and Polish family and friends celebrated with the fullness of joy that only weddings can manifest.

Yet, sacraments are starting lines, not finish lines, and we’ve hit our stride as a married couple of 11 years and counting. We crossed the continent when we lived in Alaska for a year, serving as Jesuit Volunteers, and then moved to Florida for the birth of our first son, Oscar (9 years old). We returned to Notre Dame as the first married couple to work through the Masters of Divinity Program together.

After earning our degrees in 2005, we were graciously received by the University of Portland in Oregon to serve as campus ministers, sharing one job, and we’ve been here ever since. The university allows us to share one full-time position, so one of us can be at home with the kids during the day. We each take two or three days on campus during the week and have a very highly coordinated calendar.

Two more children arrived along the past five years here in Portland: Simon-Peter, who is pushing 4, and little Lucy, who is two and a half.

In some ways, our married life is atypical: we share a job and an income; we shared the formative parts of our lives together, including the turn to specialize in a career; and we both see our vocation as a married couple intimately tied to our vocation to serve the Church as lay ecclesial ministers.

In many, many other ways, though, our lives are very typical: we worry whether our kids get enough to eat when all that seems to go into their bodies, despite our best efforts, are fruit snacks; our solitary car needs a new transmission, probably, and the rear window wiper doesn’t work; and any given Friday evening has us renting a movie and turning in early.

Our goal in this blog is to simply share with you glimpses into our married life and what we do to sustain it. After being married nearly a dozen years, significant moments and insights continue to come to us throughout a typical week. Our hope is that, perhaps, sharing these will be useful. At a minimum we are most grateful for the opportunity for some intentional reflection.

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Restorative Niche Activities

Restorative Niche Activities

Winter is just sitting on top of us like a mean big brother who does not really care how “un-fun” the game has become. He is bigger than us and we just have to deal with it. I am an only child, so this is an entirely made-up scenario – but it seems plausible.

It is hard to wake up each day to another dark, cold morning, get children to school on slick roads or through snow, then off to work, only to pick up children, hope to get home before dark, make supper, do homework, bedtime routine, and then repeat. Granted, this is more or less what 75% of the year looks like, but somehow it is harder in February and March. As parents we can just feel devoid of energy and inspiration—empty.

That emptiness makes it very hard to be at out best for our children and our spouses.

We often tell ministry students, “You can’t minister from an empty cup,” meaning you have to attend to taking care of yourself and then minister from your overflow. Otherwise you are working from a deficit that will never be replaced (Bernard of Clairvaux).

In marriage and family life we do not always get the opportunity to fully attend to ourselves—to fill our cups. We rarely have the time and energy to exercise as much or even when we might want to; to pray as much, when, or even in the manner we might feel called; or to meet up with friends, go on retreat, or travel. We don’t even get to dictate our own sleep patterns!

One of the ways Joshua and I have begun to help one another in this regard is to carve out space for “restorative niche activities.” This is a phrase used by Matt Bloom, a sociologist whose research helps ministers flourish in ministry. It describes activities that meet two criteria: they are activities that we do well enough to pursue a sense of mastery; and they are activities that we do out of intrinsic motivation—simply for the joy we experience in the activity itself.

A variety of activities can be restorative, such as knitting, golf, painting, gardening, or model railroading. Bloom advises that for a restorative niche to really contribute to our flourishing, we need to engage in it regularly. Regularly, for him, means at least once a week.

Now if you are like me, one of the hardest parts of practicing restorative niche activities is just finding out what yours are. Josh’s is easy—baseball. He is part of an informal league that plays during summer, and he likes to make it to the batting cages when he can in the “off-season.”

I was happy to find an activity that suits the winter weather: ice-skating. I love playing on the ice. It is something that I do well enough that it is fun, and something that I would enjoy doing even better. When I am on the ice trying out new things, I totally lose track of time. That is one of the hallmarks of a true restorative niche—losing track of time.

This winter, Joshua has encouraged me to carve out a day or two each week to ice skate during the noon hour. It really is a lovely break from the day. It is refreshing in a way that has nothing to do with exercise and everything to do with clearing my mind and focusing on something for its own sake, not for a specific outcome.

The busy-ness of contemporary family life and its attendant stressors make it almost impossible not to be focused on goals and outcomes. We often need to plan our days out minute-by-minute so that everything fits. Our lives would be a mess without some sense of order and effort at planning and execution.

Restorative niche activities remind us how to play. How to just do something for its own sake and find ourselves in the fun of it. One of the ways Joshua and I support each other in marriage is by encouraging each other’s full flourishing. Just because the demands of parenting can easily become all-consuming does not mean that we should entirely lose our identity as individuals.

When we are whole in ourselves, when our “cups are full,” we are able to give not from a deficit but from our overflow. Such is the abundance of God’s love.


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“They must be crazy!”, available at: ForYourMarriage.org
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