A common exchange over the past 12 months….
“Chaplain, what are you going do when you retire?”
[shrug] “I don’t know; hang out, enjoy the family, explore new opportunities.”
“But don’t you have a plan?”
“Nah. I’m taking time to let it all sort out.”
In true military fashion, dates play an important role in the mission. In late fall 2014, Tim had his retirement date: January 31, 2016. Taking into account accrued leave days, he earmarked Monday, November 16, 2015 as his final day in uniform. To me and the kids, fajitas for dinner on Tuesday was the pressing concern. But for Tim, the consummate planner, this date set in motion a complex Rube Goldberg machine aimed at getting us successfully into retirement.
While the retirement tale is primarily about Tim, I keep inserting myself in the starring role (Look at me!) I reframe every experience from my own vantage point…how will retirement look on me? And every time Tim admitted he didn’t know what he was going to do, a little ogre rose up inside me to say, “Hey, buddy. You’ve got a wife and kids, and a dog, to think about. You owe it to us to figure this thing out.” I was behaving like a spoiled princess. What I didn’t want to do was act like a reasonable, invested partner in the decision-making process.
I’m not sure how it all transpired, but it was Tim who first noticed an advertisement for a Church Mission Catalyst at a church in Southern California. We weren’t quite certain what the job demanded, but we knew we were attracted to the strange and novel and this seemed to be something that had promise. Tim said, “This is written for you, Kristen.” And from that moment, I took small but significant steps in our partnership and allowed a delightful community of Christ-followers at Crossroads Church to woo us.
Fast-forward to June 2015, 6 months closer to retirement. The Carolina rental house was packed up and we loaded the car with essentials for beginning a new life in Southern California, including the last 12 bottles of our wine stash from Italy. I left Tim behind to close out his military career alone, which seemed like something a good Army wife would never do. Perhaps harder, was to begin a new career without Tim by my side. The kids and I arrived in early July and began to collect the building blocks for a new life: friends, school, hobbies, church. I threw myself into work, making appointments and forming a network to create something “meaningful.” Always compelled to prove and achieve; I’m an excellent brick maker. On my very best days, I came home exhausted but satisfied. More likely, I came home wishing Tim was here.
Half a year later, retirement is upon us. I flew to Dallas last week to join Tim on his Westward Ho! Trip. We spent time in the car talking about the important things in life: politics, religion, world domination. We also swapped stories about new players in our lives; wondering who our friends would be, where we would find rest and renewal and listing places we’d like to visit before it’s too late. Often, we sat in comfortable silence. I brought along a beach novel and a playlist of podcasts. We relished the evening…finding a hotel and someplace to have a quiet meal. We splurged in Tucson at the Silver Saddle Steakhouse…prime rib, T-bone steak and a tall glass of Malbec. Cowboy hats and snap shirts the décor.
The kids were their normal–“Hey! Dad’s home!”–selves; just enough hoopla and dancing around to make him feel special. Over the weekend, we busied ourselves with preparations for a special worship at church. It seemed fitting to devote ourselves to the work at hand, a kind of distraction from the upside-down life retirement presents us.
It may be the random suitcase and pile of clothes to be washed, but I can’t shake the feeling that he’s going to have to pack up soon and leave. Today, the beginning of Thanksgiving Break, all is quiet and calm in the house. So, this is how we do it. A cup of coffee, scribbling a grocery list for Thanksgiving dinner, spending way too much time on facebook.
And that pesky pile of clothes. Tim’s uniform, Velcro patches removed, rests at the bottom of the basket.
Me: “Hey, what do you want to do with this uniform?”
Him: “Oh, Lindsey asked if we can keep it for the dress up box.”
Tim got to play soldier for 20 years. When I look at that camo pattern, I remember drop zones, deployments and tons of adventure. I’m glad we’re not ditching the uniform entirely. I can’t wait to share this part of our story with the next gang of world changers.