Whenever a year draws to a close, many of us question the way we’re living our lives and what we’d like to improve about ourselves. Lt. Col. Mark Weber faced that question too. But it wasn’t in relation to a new year.
In 2010, Weber was told he had Stage IV gastrointestinal cancer. Surprisingly, that was good news. His initial diagnosis had been pancreatic cancer, with the prediction that he would die within months. Considering that Weber led an active life and had been scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan, the news came as a major shock to him, his wife Kristin, and their three sons, Matthew, Joshua and Nick.
The gastrointestinal cancer diagnosis was a tiny point of light because, though the disease was still terminal, it was more treatable than pancreatic cancer. Weber became determined to live the rest of his days to the fullest by writing down the life lessons he’d learned to give to his sons in book form. It would be his way of being present for them as a father long after he was gone.
As Weber explained on “Christopher Closeup,” he initially wanted to keep the book within the family. After meeting with Minnesota chaplain Col. John Morris, he changed his mind. Morris told him that people need stories of wisdom and inspiration, and “You need to look at this as a charge of responsibility.”
Weber self-published the book under the title Tell My Sons and used it to reveal many formative experiences. One occurred when he was 14 years old, and started caring for his grandmother who had a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. He believes his grandmother’s example of enduring suffering with grace and dignity helped him deal with his own periods of debilitation: “When I can’t do something, I find it much easier to accept offers of assistance. Pride is not a barrier for me.”
Weber, a lifelong Catholic, also came to see the miraculous in the ordinary, marveling at the human body and how it works. He didn’t expect to be directly healed by God; he said the mere fact that he was alive at all was miracle enough for him.
Weber’s story spread, so he created a Facebook page on which people could connect with him. He wanted to name it something special because he was an Army man in the fiercest combat situation of his life. When a friend suggested he call the page “Operation True Grit,” Weber (a John Wayne fan) knew he had found the words that combined the spirit and message of what he wanted to accomplish.
Tell My Sons grew so popular that it was published by Ballantine Books. When asked what he hopes readers get out of the book, Weber answered, “Perspective about life. There’s a compass on the cover. You’ll notice that the compass doesn’t point in any particular direction. It’s a tool for you to use the way you want to, depending on your purpose and direction in life. You [need to] use that compass to help answer the question, ‘What am I gonna do when life doesn’t go the way I want it to?’”
Life didn’t go the way Weber wanted it to. He passed away in 2013 shortly after our interview. However, he died in the knowledge that he used his days in the very best way he could: loving his family intensely, growing in humility, and opening himself up to the next life with God.
If we could all live that way in 2014, it would be a very promising year.
Tony Rossi is Director of Communications for The Christophers.