I am continually struck by one inescapable fact, that being that I am blessed far beyond anything I have ever done to deserve or earn such a bounty. I look around at my life, past and present, and I can only arrive at the conclusion that I have been given more than I could ever repay. There is no logical, physical or spiritual explanation for all the goodness I have now and have enjoyed throughout my life.
It has not always been apparent to me that I was blessed. Certainly, there were hard times in my life, there were failures and failings, disappointments, let downs, anger and sadness. There was even a moment around 2009 when I was depressed and wanted to end it all, I wanted to walk into the desert and never return. I, just like so many of other Soldiers and veterans almost succumbed to the darkness and depression of deployments, failing marriages and a sense that perhaps we were the failures.
In my particular case, my walk in the desert was a direct challenge to God himself. I prayed before setting out on what I intended as my last journey with an angry prayer. I challenged my Creator to find a way to lead me out of that dark place and show me I had a purpose, else I was not coming back. Three days later, somewhere along the Mojave trail, out of water and exhausted, an Army helicopter found me. My first thought was to escape and evade, to hide and run. A mere second later it dawned on me. Despite all the precautions I had taken not to be found and no matter how large the desert was the fact remained there was a helicopter filled with folks looking for me.
I realized at that moment that my prayer had been answered. There was no good reason they should have found me, but they did. I assumed at the time that I must have been saved for my children, perhaps I was supposed to live to ensure they got through college. My fear that my marriage would not improve and would eventually end proved true but I came away from that event believing that I had one more mission.
I was blessed last month to run into my old boss from that time. Back in 2009, once I was recovered and brought back in (and after the San Bernadino County sheriff deputies determined I was not a crazed armed madman) my boss was there to hug me and tell me it was all going to be ok. They had looked for me to save me. It was good to see him again, we hugged more, he smiled big and I expressed the love and thanks I have for him and what he and the Army did for me in my dark time.
Much has happened in the last nine years. There were other deployments, I finished out a military career and retired. At times and in some positions after that event, while I was still in the Army, I found an inner freedom to do and say what I thought was right without fear, after all, what was left to be afraid of? I had been to the abyss and looked down upon it already.
Later, I got divorced and then met a girl that needs and loves me as much as I need and love her. My children are in college, my son is about to graduate. That event changed me, it freed me to see things differently and it put life, troubles and difficulties in perspective and it made me cognizant of how precious the gift of life is.
Slowly, I have come to realize there must be more to why I was found and saved. Much of the way I treat people that I encounter and work with stems from my perspective formed on that hot desert trail. Life is too short for drama – kindness to others, a smile, a good word and showing love to others has meaning and importance.
My relationship with my Creator has improved since that moment. Perhaps not miraculously and not overnight. I am and remain a sinner saved by grace, an imperfect man. However, I have a constant awareness and understanding that there are things bigger than me that are unseen. I talk to God freely now, give thanks and understand that I do not know everything and do not understand everything. I am certainly not perfect and I do not always outwardly show what is in my heart, but I am changed.
In retirement, I have been blessed with the opportunity to pursue three different career options. I am thankful to Augusta University for the chance to work there as a project manager. To be certain we were never going to mesh culturally and I realized this long before they did that but they were kind and welcoming to me. It was, in retrospect, a good experience. I am likewise thankful for the opportunity to perform defense contracting work, to see what that world is all about. The money was nice, the salary I was offered to stay was flattering and the chance to go back to the desert and do real work was exhilarating. I am also thankful for people within the Department of Defense that called me one day whilst I was at Lowes trying to be a retired guy to offer me a GS position. It is rewarding to know people think well of you and want you on their team and it will be an interesting journey to see what the civilian side of government service is all about.
I have a beautiful home, I love it so much I do not really like to leave and vacation has something of a diminished flavor to it. My wife is my best friend and partner. I have all of the material things I could ever need. My retirement check is more than sufficient to pay the bills and extra money is just that, extra. I am healthy and happy.
I have done nothing to deserve this. I am blessed.
At times, when I feel particularly blessed and thankful I wonder how I will ever live a life that justifies my bounty. I am still working to figure that out.
What I will say, is that in the world right now it seems we need to collectively and individually find a way to connect and reconnect with our Creator and with real and permanent things. If I could do one thing for my profession it would be to articulate that ethics must be tied to true morality and true morality can only come from the writer of Natural Law, I made a feeble attempt to state that argument a couple of years ago in a paper called “The Moral Underpinnings of the Military Profession” . In reality, the same principles apply to our culture in general, I wrote about that in “Manifesto of Old Men and Simple Preachers“.
Those, however, are just my meager words. If you are struggling through life, seeking purpose and wondering why you are here and what it all means I challenge you to read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity“. Lewis does fabulous work of demonstrating in an almost inarguable fashion how connected we are to an obvious Creator. If you lack and are seeking purpose, Lewis is a good first step toward finding answers.