May 5, 2012

Dadalogue Deployed: Our annivesary and secrets to a happy marriage

May 3rd was our fourth anniversary.
I can still vividly remember the way my bride looked walking down that isle. I can still remember my reaction. Tears filled my eyes as I whispered,


You know the cool thing? I still say that about her. Not just because she’s beautiful to look at. Her beauty transcends looks. She has a Godly heart. Willing to serve, willing to do what needs to be done for the family, and willing to sacrifice her needs for those of others. She does it all without complaint, although I know every day of this deployment presents its own challenges.

I’m trying to remember the exact moment I knew she was the one I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I do, however, firmly believe in the old adage “when you know, you know.” There was no doubt in my mind, not even for a second, that she was who I was meant to marry. I had interpreted feelings incorrectly too many times before to know that what I felt around her was truly love instead of something else.

I think it was more a combination of events that led to the decision to ask her to marry me. Not only did we spend a lot of time together, but I couldn’t stand it when we were apart. When I was going to school, she would come over and hang out on the couch, reading, while I studied or worked on a project. She didn’t have to, I didn’t really ask, but it was that level of comfort that defined how we were around each other.

I could be myself. I didn’t feel like I had to pretend to be anything other than who I was. I didn’t hold back on my quirkiness or my odd sense of humor (she puts up with it), or my thoughts about God and faith. We have the same morals and views on the world. We agreed from the beginning on important topics like how to raise children.

So many people say opposites attract. I disagree.

Opposites can be attractive, but so many people fall into that trap that it’s okay to disagree on things like faith. I’m not saying there aren’t marriages that don’t last a lifetime that have this viewpoint, but you’re not giving the relationship much of a chance.

I didn’t marry my wife to have arguments with her (they happen occasionally, sure – but mostly about petty things). I married her because she could be my refuge from the rest of the world. I want to be able to come home and know there is someone there who relates to exactly what I’m saying. And because I trust her unconditionally, she can help steer me back to center when I’ve gone off track. I believe she feels the same about me.

Why would I want to come home knowing that the conversation we were going to have was only going to challenge my viewpoints to the complete opposite direction? I need someone to agree with me sometimes. She’ll call me out when I’m wrong – she’s no “yes” woman – but I trust her because I know her heart is in the same place mine is in.

I’ll say it again. Opposites don’t attract. We have our differences, but they provide balance to our relationship. She’s more serious about things, and I’m a little goofier. I cook, she cleans. She’s a planner. I’m spontaneous. These things, however, are not fundamental differences in what we believe. These things are personality traits. Big difference.

We’ve only been married four years. Not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but I think we’re doing pretty well. I think we’ve figured out the secret. It’s pretty simple.
It starts with God. We prayed – together and separately – about our relationship. Actually, I’ve been praying for Becky since I was 10. My mom has been praying for my wife since the day I was born. It goes to show if you pray for 28 years for something, God’ll get tired of hearing about it, and just give it to you.
But seriously, once we started dating and things got more serious, we asked God to be in the center of our relationship. You can’t go wrong with God in the lead of it all. We still pray for His guidance and wisdom and for our marriage to be Christ-like.
We study. We read and worked through “Love and Respect.” There are tons of great books out there about marriage and relationships, and it doesn’t hurt to read one or two. Premarital counseling is also a good thing. We’ve read through more books since we’ve been married. Learning about relationships doesn’t end just because you’re in one.
We’re committed. We make a conscious decision to love each other every day. People weren’t kidding when they said marriage is work. We have to back up our “I love yous” with meaningful actions. What I do has to show her my love for her. I can’t ignore the relationship, and neither can she.  
This deployment is certainly challenging our relationship. Not that anything has been bad, per se. It’s just that we are seeing if the foundation we’ve built our marriage on is solid. Like a weightlifter who carefully trains, the only way he gets stronger is put straining and tearing the muscles. He’ll be able to something others can’t because of the time he took to condition himself. That’s not unlike what we’re going through now. We’ll be stronger at the end of this ordeal.

We did, despite being apart, have a good anniversary. She sent me a wonderful photo and video montage of our children and a message from her at the end. I was sitting in my office here, crying. I don’t cry much. She put so much love into putting it together and it’ll be something I watch over and over for the months I’m out here. I sent flowers, of course. I also sent her a letter several weeks ago. It hasn’t arrived yet, but hopefully it’ll get there soon. We talked for a while on the phone too.

The real celebration will come when we’re together again.  We’re going to celebrate all of the missed milestones and holidays. Like we do every anniversary, we’ll champagne toast our marriage then.

And, like the day she walked down that isle – beautiful as ever – I’m sure I’ll look at her and say,


April 28, 2012

Dadalogue Deployed: The future?

Eleven years ago this past Friday, I left for Marine Corps boot camp.

I was almost 21, joining after a failed attempt at college and a few jobs waiting tables. At the time, I needed the Marines. I wasn’t a misfit. I wasn’t bad. I lacked direction – just like most other 20-year olds.

I met a Marine reservist in a community college class I was taking. I had really never met a Marine before, and it intrigued me that this guy carried himself differently than most. Plus, he had options. Practically broke, living in a tiny apartment with two other roommates and desperate for the next phase of my life to begin, I decided to hear what this guy’s friend – a recruiter – had to say.

Some people may think my decision to join was rash. I was the kid who hung up on recruiters when they called my house during my high school years. I fit no mold that you would put a Marine into; I was lanky, not very aggressive, and a bit of a goof ball. I was 20, but I looked every bit of 15. But when I walked in to the recruiter’s office they didn’t have to do much convincing to get me to join.
I’m not sure exactly what sold me so quickly. It could’ve been all the cool posters on the wall, the sharp uniforms, and the lava monster commercial they showed me (I hope that’s the right link – YouTube is blocked here). Realistically, it was God banging me over the head, saying “THIS IS WHERE YOU NEED TO BE.” I signed the dotted line pretty quickly.

I’ve been serving for a third of my life now. The Marine Corps has done a lot to shape and mold me into who I am today. The opportunities I’ve had and the things I’ve seen most people don’t see in a life time.

The far-from-complete list:

I’ve have interviewed countless 4-star generals, two secretaries of state (Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice), two secretaries of defense (Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates), traveled to Africa and saw what we’re doing to help tribes in Ethiopia, stood on an oil terminal in the Persian Gulf where most of Iraq’s revenue flowed (at the time, the terminals there generated $18,000 a second), climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan, flown in a helicopter over the Alaskan wilderness, landed on and launched off an aircraft carrier, patrolled in Afghanistan, responded to Hurricane Katrina, jumped out of an airplane, hung out with music and movie celebrities, flown on Air Force Two (twice), received three Emmy nominations, and met the woman who is now and forever my wife.

I’ve met people and developed friendships that will last a lifetime. The people who serve and those civilians who work with the military are some of the most caring, genuine people I know.

I could’ve not signed the contract. “Do you want fries with that?”

It’s not all a rose garden though.

The hardest part is the separation from my family. I’ve missed Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthdays, and in a few days, an anniversary. In 11 years, I’ve moved 9 times. I am missing out on watching my kids grow up. I haven’t had a hug in 2 and a half months.

I’m thankful for the opportunities, the experiences, and all the wonderful people I’ve met, but I’m starting to think it’s time to go. I used to live for the experiences I listed above. I used to beg to be sent on trips to go cover stories. I didn’t want to stay still. I wanted to LIVE.

That definition has changed for me.

Living now is waking up on a Sunday morning and making breakfast for my family. Living is a hot cup of coffee and good conversation with my wife – face-to-face, not on FaceTime. Living is tickling Grace until she and I laugh so hard it hurts. Living is seeing the smile my son makes. Living is saying goodnight to someone and then waking up next to them to say good morning.  Living is “I love you.”

God is calling me in a different direction, I believe. Unlike the clarity He gave me when I joined the Marine Corps 11 years ago, this time, I’m not sure where. There’s so many gaping holes in a future post-Marine Corps, and that’s scary. I know that’s why many people stick it out until retirement. Some are afraid they won’t make it anywhere else.  I feel the same way. Why would I give up all I’ve earned to start at the bottom somewhere else in a civilian job without the security and benefits the Marine Corps affords?

Who’s to say that the qualifications I’ve developed over the years would even translate fully into a civilian career? Sure, I write, I produce, I create, but I have no degree. I’ve focused too much on the cool experiences the Marine Corps offered that I didn’t listen when they offered college. Am I foolish for even thinking starting anew is a wise decision? I wrestle with that daily now. Isn’t putting food on the table and shoes on their feet more important than seeing my kids every day? Six-month and year-long deployments only come up every few years, anyway.

I serve in an organization that protects the right to the American Dream, yet I feel it’s just out of my grasp.

I am a different person than the kid standing in the recruiter’s office 11 years ago. Priorities and desires change. The Marine Corps has given me a lot, and I feel I’ve given a lot in return.

I’m just wondering if it’s time for us to shake hands and go our separate ways.

April 21, 2012

Dadalogue Deployed: Care package!

I think the excitement of getting a care package here in Afghanistan is similar to a 6-year-old on Christmas morning. 

There’s anticipation when you see that shipping box all taped up – don’t look at the customs form though, or you’ll ruin your own surprise – wondering what’s inside. You tear the tape off the top, not trying to save the box, just what’s inside. And then there’s the burst of joy when you see that you got exactly what you wanted.

I got my first care package from my wife and kids this week, and it was a happy day.

There was coffee of the Dunkin Donuts variety, a set of sheets, a nice pillow, a motorcycle magazine, and a card.


There were a couple things even more special.

Grace and Timothy both made artwork for me. First, it was flower painting where their hands and feet were the buds and leaves. Grace’s didn’t have leaves because she wouldn’t put her feet in the paint. But she also did an abstract painting with a “We miss you Daddy” message included. Even the wife got into the art projects, sending me a page of a coloring book that she had colored herself.

The final item was one that will continue to grow while I’m out here. The wife started a scrapbook of everything happening back home with her and the kids. Every month, she’ll send a new page. The first one was photos of the kids playing with each other and doing their daily routine – Timothy learning how to crawl, and Abigail working on her best Rembrandt impersonation.  It’s great to watch them grow. I wish I was there to see it in person.

After going through everything in the box, my day, which wasn’t that bad to begin with, ended on a great note. The thoughtfulness and, well, care that went in to the care package I got is another example of how I feel like the most blessed man in the world.

April 14, 2012

Dadalogue Deployed: Another week down

Another week down in Afghanistan.

In some respects the days seem to be going by faster. This week and the last have flown by. In other respects it seems like I’ve been here an eternity. The reality is it’s only been 2 months.

I think this phenomenon comes depending on what time of day it is. If it’s the day time, and I’m working, I stay so busy and focused that when I look up, 12 hours have passed. I go back to my tent, hop on FaceTime (when the Internet cooperates) and try talking with the wife and kids.

I see Grace dancing around the house, singing songs, and talking a mile a minute. Her vocabulary and ability to communicate is far more advanced then when I last saw her. Timothy, the little baby boy I held in my arms and who did little more than slept all day, is now crawling and trying to keep up with his big sister. He’s not so little anymore. Grace looks more and more like a little lady and less like a baby every time I see her on during video chats. Timothy waves and sits up on his own and feeds himself.

Two months. And that’s all happened.

It is fun to watch though. The Wife has sent plenty of pictures and videos. She even caught Timothy’s first crawl on video. Even though I wasn’t there, I was still happy to be able to see it. I probably watched that short clip a dozen times when I first got it. Way to go, kiddo!

Yes, my family is doing great things. Growing, learning, and handling the separation as well as anyone could expect. True, I am a little jealous that I’m physically not there to see everything happen and be a direct part in it, but I am happy that time hasn’t stood still either – everyone is trying to be as normal as possible.

I just hope though that when I close my eyes tonight and wake up tomorrow, 10 months will have passed.

April 7, 2012

Dadalogue Deployed: Easter Sunday

He is risen!

Happy Easter to everyone.  It’s the day Christ rose from the dead after being crucified on the cross - a magnificent sacrifice so that we may have eternal life. That is never far from my mind, Easter Sunday or not.

In Afghanistan, most don’t hear about this Good News. A little Internet research shows the Christian population of Afghanistan to range between 0.02% and 0.05%. Full disclosure: This was a quick search. I didn’t dig very deep. However, my educated guess is that, that percentage is pretty accurate.

Still, in the midst of a Christ-less country, there is a safe haven for Christians. A place we can go and worship. Nearly every base here has a chapel. They’re multi-denominational, but each Sunday chaplains hold a Christian service. This past Holy Week, there were several services, including one on Good Friday.

If it’s anything like the past, today, there are probably chaplains all over this country flying to remote, dangerous locations to provide Easter services to troops who don’t have the luxury of a regular chaplain.

 I think it’s great how the military cares so much about our spiritual wellbeing. But what’s even more fascinating is that there are people who are called to serve God as chaplains. Chaplains risk their lives to make sure we have the opportunity to worship God in a communal setting. They preach the Word while the fight goes on around them, yet they are not armed with a weapon. They don’t have to be here – they could be back in the U.S. standing behind a pulpit that isn’t made out of scrap plywood. They could be going home to a comfortable bed every night, yet they’re here with us, living out of the same tents we do. They could have easily picked a safer way to answer God’s call to serve. But they didn’t. They heard God speak, and they obeyed.

And, here we are - standing, singing, praising God in the middle of a country where 99.95% of the people don’t know that Jesus saves. We hear the Word, and we are fed. It’s refreshing, recharging, and encouraging.

So while I may not have an Easter egg hunt and a basket full of chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and Peeps this year, I’m certainly getting what’s most important: A chance to corporately worship and celebrate the fact that Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed!