Tiny American flags line the driveway; base is buzzing with eagerness and joy; banners wave in the wind shouting, “Welcome Home Daddy!” Nails have been painted; little boys’ messy hair has been slathered down; celebratory drinks are sitting on ice.
Homecoming Day is here.
210 days we’ve waited, marking off squares on the calendar one by one. But now the day is finally here.
Under the hangar is a sight to behold. Sweet smelling wives in pretty sundresses, excited children scurrying around in their Sunday best—holding signs, waving flags, biting their nails in nervous anticipation.
As the clock ticks down, the time has come. The sun shines through the cloudy grey sky, so calm and still, before it is broken by the sound of roaring jets flying overhead in proud celebratory formation, as if to say: “We made it! We’re home!” The tears peak from underneath oversized sunglasses, rolling down the cheeks of wives and mothers who have held their breath for the past seven months, but can finally exhale in grateful relief.
Homecoming Day is here, everyone.
The jets land just as boldly as they entered, parking gracefully one through nine. Out they come. Distant green figures steadily walking toward the crowd, anxious themselves, no doubt. And there go the kids, racing towards Daddy, just like they imagined they would each night while drifting off to sleep.
As the cheers of families reuniting ring in the background and the flashes of onlookers’ photographs shine bright, I pause.
7 months prior, on a beautiful October day, my boys and I dropped their Daddy off at the airport, not knowing when we would all be together again. I sobbed in the driver’s seat as Needtobreathe sang, “God of mercy, sweet love of mine. I have surrendered to your design” through the car’s speakers. Those words have been stuck in my mind ever since.
Missed birthdays, family trips, sleepless nights, first steps…there is simply no way to adequately describe the experience of voluntarily forfeiting these precious experiences for the service member or his family that is left behind. A decision that is chosen and accepted, but certainly not fully understood until it is lived.
The Lord, in His infinite goodness and mercy, walks with these military families, though, if they let Him. He certainly did with ours—deepening our appreciation for each other, emphasizing what is truly important, and bringing new meaning to even the most menial of tasks. He helped me find strength and peace when I needed them most, and absorb memories that I would have otherwise taken for granted, not only for myself, but even more so for my husband who didn’t have the privilege of interacting with our kids firsthand.
I tried to imagine watching everything my boys did through Ben’s eyes, and suddenly the sting of deployment washed away. God was providing.
Deployment is hard. Looking into your child’s eyes and not having answers to his questions about why Daddy is gone and when he will be home is painful; there is no choice but to surrender and trust in the Lord’s plan in those difficult moments.
The joy of Homecoming Day overcomes that pain, however, like Easter morning after a grueling Good Friday. “Let me never forget this feeling, Lord,” I pray. The reward that comes from trusting in God and giving way to His plan, even through the most challenging of circumstances, is almost too much to bear. A warm embrace and kiss on the forehead bring me back to the moment.
Welcome home, Ben. We’ve been waiting for you.