88: What a Young Life Can Teach You

88: What a Young Life Can Teach You

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


What a Young Life Can Teach You

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.

~Helen Keller

My husband and I were living the American Dream. We had two beautiful children, nice cars, great jobs and a big house with a pool, until one day four and half years ago, that all changed.

When our third child Bowen was born, we didn’t know he had a fatal kidney disease. Bowen went to Heaven after living thirteen days.

After Bowen died, we tried to go on living our lives the way we had been. We thought building a house would help us “start over” without him. It didn’t take long to discover, life without Bowen was going to be hard and a new house was not going to change that.

Most days were spent cleaning and taking care of all the stuff that went inside our new house. The more time I spent cleaning, the more I realized how much time it took away from what I really wanted in the first place, which was to be with my family and spend time with them. The more stuff that came into our lives the less time we had with each other.

After a year in our new house, my husband and I started having serious conversations about the purpose of our lives. Was making lots of money, owning a big house and all of these things what our lives were all about? Something was missing; there was more to life than taking care of that big house and maintaining all of our stuff.

At the time my husband was in a thriving oral surgery practice, at the peak of his career. Running his practice became more like running a rat race, keeping up with the competition, keeping the overhead low and the production numbers up. It was like running on a treadmill with no stop button. He desired to have more meaning and purpose in his career — to do something that was bigger than himself.

One January day in 2014, he came home and said, “I want to walk away from all of this and join the United States Air Force. What do you think?”

I said, “Yes! Let’s do it!” On September 21, 2014 my husband became Major John M. Gillis of the United States Air Force. He would still practice as an oral surgeon in the Air Force, but be serving men and women who serve our country, serving something that was bigger than him, not running the treadmill of life. It took a lot of courage to walk away from a thriving nine-year oral surgery practice, and I am proud of him for doing so.

To the world, it didn’t make sense that we walked away from a lucrative practice and the American dream. But some things in life cannot be bought. Walking away allowed a door to be opened for so much more. We were able to fill our lives with what mattered most, to live a life that was truly rich.

The day my husband was commissioned into the Air Force, we received our orders. We were moving from Arizona to Alaska. Right when my husband told me the news, a beer delivery truck wrapped in an Alaskan Amber ad passed right in front of me. It was like God had sent me a confirmation that our life was heading in the right direction.

Things fell into place quickly after that. We put our newly built house on the market and it sold in four days. We moved to a house half its size on the military base, so we donated fifty percent of our clothes and shoes to Goodwill, and gave away half of our children’s toys and some furniture.

Our lives are so different now. We traded our travertine floors and granite countertops for a military house with white walls. Our children gave up their own rooms and bathrooms to now share a room and a bathroom. I sold my luxury vehicle to buy a Subaru, which I love! We traded in our resort vacations for camping trips in an RV. Trading in all of these things was the best decision we ever made. It helped us get back to our roots and become a tighter knit family.

We make less money, live in a much smaller house, and have a lot less stuff, but we are so much happier. Our lives are not focused on taking care of the house, making more money and acquiring more stuff, but building lasting relationships and making more memories. Life is focused now on what we are putting into our hearts and not what we are putting into our closets.

Losing our son was devastating, but his death taught us to cherish and treasure every moment that life has to offer and to live life with more intention. Bowen showed us what was really in our hearts and gave us the courage to move forward after his death with more clarity and purpose.

~Heather Gillis


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