Trees of Grace

by Colleen Hammond

It promised to be a busy Saturday. My husband Dennis, our children and I were going to plant trees that morning on our farm, I had my radio show to do in the afternoon, and then Dennis and I were picking up friends for dinner and the Symphony that evening.

I bounced out of bed early, said my morning prayers, and then headed to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for my family. As I tied my apron on over my nightgown, I gloomily surveyed the damage from the previous few days. The children and I had been so intent that week on trying to do all of Dennis’ outside chores while he was out of town on business so that he could spend more time with the family on the weekend, that the details of keeping the kitchen spotless had been neglected.

I heaved a sigh and started breakfast. The kitchen disaster would have to wait one more day. Or two.

The children gradually woke up and shuffled groggily into the kitchen, giving me a kiss and sitting down to eat. No sign of Dennis yet, as I flipped the last pancake on the platter. The children were discussing the viscosity of cold maple syrup on hot pancakes as I scurried down the hall to take a shower and find my husband. Ah, there he was. Still under the covers. I shook him, and then hopped into the shower.

When I reappeared in the kitchen, there was my beloved husband; slaving over three-day-old dirty pots and pans. Bless his heart! I had never felt so loved as I did at that moment. Instead of fixing his normal pot of coffee and eating breakfast, he had obviously recognized that we had done all of his outdoor work during the week and he was repaying the favor by cleaning the kitchen. What a guy!

I put my arms around Dennis and gave him an affectionate kiss, then told him that I would run to the store for him and get the peat moss for the trees. He didn’t say anything, but he normally doesn’t in the morning. I grabbed my purse and keys and headed out the door — happy that I could do this favor for my Knight in Shining Armor who was scouring our pots and pans.

I returned home to a sparkling kitchen — and a surly husband. What could the children possibly have done in my absence to upset Dennis? He gruffly instructed us on tree planting, and we succeeded in getting a number in the ground before I headed out to do my radio show.

On the drive to pick up our friends for dinner and the Symphony, Dennis was downright disagreeable. I wondered what had happened that morning in my absence, but knew better than to bring it up at that moment We had a delightful time with our friends that night, but Dennis and I didn’t get a chance to talk about his foul mood until Sunday evening when the children were in bed.

“Why were you so aggravated yesterday morning? Didn’t the children leave you any pancakes?” I chided.

He looked at me with his eyebrows raised. “That wasn’t it,” he replied.

“Well, didn’t you get your coffee, then?”

Dennis burst out laughing. “No, I didn’t get any coffee, because I couldn’t get to the coffee maker. I had to clean the pots and pans to find it!”

“And I thought you were cleaning the kitchen to thank us for doing all your outdoor chores so you wouldn’t have to do them this weekend!” I giggled.

We both sat there laughing, then I prodded Dennis for the details. We had obviously mis-communicated and I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again.

“The way I looked at it was that you escaped to the store and left me with the entire family’s mess to clean,” he explained. “I know it doesn’t make sense now, but at the time…”

Dennis felt unloved and unappreciated for all the hours he put in at work providing for our family, only to come home to a dirty kitchen — and a coffee maker that was missing in action. It wasn’t until the following morning before Mass that he realized that we had done all of his outdoor chores that week.

“I was being selfish,” he said. “Instead of seeing all that you and the children had done for me, I saw the dirty kitchen, couldn’t find the coffer maker, and felt taken advantage of and unappreciated.”

After 18 years of marriage, you think we would have figured it all out by now. Yet the disobedience of the first human couple in the Garden of Eden left all of us in confusion. Now that we are out of Eden, we struggle with the disorder that comes with Original Sin. Thankfully, God raised marriage to a Sacrament, replete with the abundance of graces available. Married couples need all the grace we can get in order to have the humility to recognize that our differences — our separate roles and functions — are given to us by God to complement each other, not compete with each other.

By our very physical nature in the marital embrace, women receive love and men give it. Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote in Marriage, the Mystery of Faithful Love that, “(Husband and wife) are made one for the other in a special way, and they can, purely as spiritual persons, form a unity in which they reciprocally complement one another.” The key in marriage is to allow our complementarities to form “one flesh” (Gen 2:24 and Eph 5:31).

Through grace, men learn to “receive” love by giving to their wife. A woman feels loved when she is receiving love from her husband — especially when he does the ‘little things’. Dennis felt that he had to do big things in order to win my love, which was nice, but I just needed him to do the little things. Often.

Dennis asked me to make a list of the things he could do that would make me feel cherished. I limited my list to 25. Some of the items on my list were: finding me and hugging me the very first thing when he gets home, complimenting me on how I look, offering to help when I’m tired, making eye contact with me when I’m talking to him, telling me “I love you” several times a day, opening doors for me, letting me know he misses me when I’m away, and by cleaning the kitchen for me.

Then I asked him to make a list. It was very short, sweet, and to the point: trust, accept and appreciate him.

I pray for the grace to remember to trust Dennis’ instinctive tendency to focus all his energies into one big thing — protecting and providing for the family — and that he tends to minimize the importance of the little things. I accept him for who he is, and who he is becoming. I also try to let him know repeatedly how much I appreciate the little things he does for me, and to thank him that he works so conscientiously to provide for our family. And if I’m not receiving what I feel I need, I also remember to ask for things in a clear manner (see my column in issue #14).

Dennis had felt unacknowledged for all the hours he spent at work providing for our family, and all the time he spent in the kitchen cleaning. Suddenly I realized that I never even told him, “thank you”.

Every time I look at the trees we placed in the ground that day, I thank God for the graces available to us in the Sacrament of marriage that have allowed us to develop our unique capacity for complementing each other. I make a point of thanking Dennis for all the hard work he did planting those trees that are growing — as is our marriage.

And I thank him again for cleaning the kitchen.

Copyright Colleen M. Hammond 2001

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