The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.
- Kalu Ndukwe Kalu
A good friend of mine and military wife, Jodie Bailey, shared a photo on Facebook with this caption a couple of weeks ago, and I just can’t get it out of my mind.
Looking back I realize this was the way I tried to live while our son was in the Marine Corps, especially after his first deployment. I had plenty of time to think about the what-ifs during that first tour in Iraq. It took a lot of work not to dwell on the regrets.
The litany of missed opportunities scrolled through my mind when I least expected it. Why hadn’t I taken more pictures, made more trips to see him on base, spent more time with him on his brief visits home? The list was long, and if I spent too much time on it, I might have crumbled under the weight.
Those regrets I felt, did have an upside. They led me to become much more deliberate about the time I spent with Jimmy when he was home. I consciously carved out time to spend with him, doing the things he loved. I realized he also felt those regrets, so I became more sensitive to the things he wanted to do.
Carrying out this plan wasn’t as easy as it seemed, though. As I may have mentioned in other blogs, I’m a bit of a control freak, and that led to a steep learning curve for me. At first, I tried too hard. I over-planned, over-controlled, and over-anticipated. I almost alienated those I was trying to include.
I eventually learned the difference between forcing good times and just letting them happen. The best times were always the spontaneous ones. That frustrated me even as it freed me. It led me to learn the art of becoming an opportunity maker.
I laid the groundwork, like a cookout or family dinner, then stayed open to how God would use it to make a precious memory. As soon as I got out of the way, the magic happened.
Now we’re several years out from Jimmy’s service in the Marine Corps, but these lessons have stood me in good stead. Our other sons have grown up and are no longer home as much. I use my expertise as opportunity maker to keep the memory-making on track.
So live today like he’ll deploy tomorrow, but don’t hold on too tight. Give life room to happen.
Edie Melson is a leading professional in the publishing industry. She also knows what it’s like to send a loved one off to war. Her oldest son went from high school graduation, to Marine Corp boot camp, to Iraq; where he served two tours fighting on the front lines as an infantry Marine. Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle, is Edie’s heart project. Look for her two newest books for military families debuting in 2014: While My Son Serves and While My Husband Serves. You can also connect with Edie on Twitter and Facebook.