364 days ago (April 11, 2011), I checked into a Navy base in Gulfport, MS. Army uniforms issued, shots given, lots of briefs from benefits counselors, the Chaplain, and others and of course, shipping my Navy uniform home. I would not wear a U.S. Navy uniform again until my return home from war. I still remember that first week. I remember running in the green grass and seeing Mr. Moon high in the sky in the early evening just a few days before my 38th birthday when I’d fly to South Carolina for 3 weeks with the Army where I’d get combat training with Army drill sergeants. Oh joy. I am forever thankful that chapter of my life is in the rear view mirror and hopefully, will never be repeated.
Today, life is new and fresh. I am daily reminded at how fast time moves “over here” vs. “over there”. I literally watched the clock tick away while in Afghanistan and my 6 months in country seemed to take an eternity. It’s hard to believe I’ve almost been home for as long as I was in country because since November, time has moved at warp speed. Since my return, I totally unplugged from news media and television almost completely. I rarely check on news from “over there” and rarely watch a television program. I’m a big “Top Chef” fan but couldn’t stand to sit through an episode once I got back. I just deleted the whole last season from the DVR last week to make more room for family movies that are often on ABC Family, like the “Sound of Music” that my girls have been watching the past few days. So many things that mattered before have no place in my life anymore. I find far more value in taking a walk in the neighborhood, playing a game at the table with my family, having little coffee dates while our girls are at music lessons, or just simply laying down on the couch together while the girls play on the floor. The days of making the most of every second of the day by being productive are gone. Sure, things need to get done and they do, but my family is priority now and nothing is going to trump that. No TV show, no obligation, no community event, no group run…nothing…all of that will have to fit in the new mold and if it doesn’t…it doesn’t. That’s OK.
I often do a self-check of myself and ask: “After I leave for work this morning, am I good with how I’m leaving things if that big 18-wheeler were to take me out? Are things that need to be said..said, and hugs that need to be given out given…and telling those whom I love that I love them? Have I kissed my girls goodbye and told them I love them even if asleep? Did I smell my bride’s hair one last time while hugging her goodbye should it be the last time? Did I look her in her eyes and tell her how much I love her and can’t wait to see her again? Have I fulfilled my purpose as a father, husband, and leader?” There have been days, no doubt, that I haven’t made it out the door on time because things just weren’t right. Late to work or not to work at all…both have happened many times. No regrets, though. While I “run the race set before me,” I run differently than before. I run with strength, endurance, and wisdom like I never had before. What I run “for” is also different and is faced with my first waking breath every morning. I must make the decision every morning to be the father, husband, and leader that I am supposed to be…as my faith has taught me. Houses, cars, Apple products, job descriptions, clothes on my back…all nice things but like I often say, “Will I take those with me to the grave? What will I be remembered for?” I choose to live a life of significance…not by the world’s standards, but by His standards. After all, it is He I will answer to one day. For now, though, I choose to love and love unconditionally those entrusted to me. That’s where true happiness is found.