One year ago, Brandon sat on the couch with Rhema before she left for school. He held her and explained that he was going away for a while. Rhema seemed completely oblivious – it was just another day. She had no idea that she would not see him for so long. Brandon was thinking ahead to when she would realize he was gone. He wanted her to know somehow that he had not left her.
When her school bus came, I let him take her out. I stayed back, not wanting to intrude on his goodbye to his girl. But I know he was praying that God would keep her safe. I heard the driver call out, “You’re in our prayers!”, and the bus pulled away.
I cannot pretend to know how difficult that goodbye was.
The night I went into labor with Rhema, I was alone in a bedroom in my parent’s house and I journaled my way through contractions. Brandon was deployed then to Iraq for a year, and I was concerned that he would miss out on key bonding moments with his firstborn. I wrote a prayer in my journal:
May she be the apple of her father’s eye. As he is apart from us, Lord, give him a supernatural, blessed connection to Rhema that will always be. Thank you, thank you, oh thank you my Lord for giving her to us.
Despite the frustrating barriers of autism, the lack of spoken language, and two years now of separation, God has honored my prayer. Rhema and her father have a uniquely special bond. Sometimes I think she understands the idea of father better than anyone simply because of who he is. He settles her, and in an unpredictable world that does not often make sense, she trusts him. If he is there to love her, she’ll be o.k.
They always just pick right back up where they left off – as if no time has passed between them. When he came home last May for two weeks of R & R, we met him at the train station. I let Hope run ahead to greet him while I stayed with Rhema in her carseat. Rhema was fiddling and fighting with her buckle, ready to bolt. For a moment she did not notice the hands trying to help her undo her buckle. But then she stopped, looked up and saw him. A wave of laughter overtook her; she threw her head back and giggled herself right into his arms.
That morning a year ago, Hope and I watched Brandon load his bags into the car. He had already explained to her why he had to go away for a while – “To pre-tect us!” she would squeal enthusiastically. To us, Hope has always been like a prized exhibit in a museum. Too precious. A rare, irreplaceable gift. She brings us inexpressible joy, and when you’re away from her you feel like you’ve missed out on something. I don’t know how to go a day without her Hope-ness.
I didn’t know how my husband was going to manage a year without it.
When it was time to go, he said, “Give me a hug, Hope,” arms outstretched.
She came running, and as she wrapped her arms around his neck as tight as she could, she said,
“I’m giving you a big DINOSAUR hug, Daddy!”
And I watched the man hold her and weep. In over a decade of marriage I’d never seen a hooah-hooah-fly-helicopters-jump-out-of-airplanes-soldier cry like that.
This past year Hope had her first first day of school – lost her baby fat and grew tall – turned three – had asthma, swine flu and pneumonia – learned to write her name- learned to swim – turned into a princess and became a fashionista – prayed for her Daddy everyday.
This past year Rhema changed schools and medications- turned six – learned to ride a bike – healed from lead poisoning – learned to say many new words – learned to trace the letters R and H – lost her first tooth – matured into a lovely young girl.
We cannot wait for the day when he comes home to stay.
B, I thought you might like to see how much your girls have grown up to this past year: