Hold on to me
I’ll hold on to you
Let’s find out the beauty of seeing things through
~Loving A Person, Sara Groves
“I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not…
It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go…”
~ Song of Solomon 3:2-4
Friday morning I began receiving scripted phone calls that my husband’s unit would be arriving at Fort Stewart, Georgia with a homecoming ceremony scheduled for 11:35 that night. I was not surprised to get the calls – I knew Brandon was making his way through Iraq and Europe because I had not spoken to him in days. Weeks earlier we had discussed the homecoming and decided that the girls and I would not attend. We could not be exactly sure when he’d arrive – it was too expensive to fly to GA on short notice and just too hard to plan for.
But as the calls came in, I suddenly knew I had to be there.
It meant booking a last minute flight, making hasty arrangements… and asking for help. I called on friends to make grocery store runs and take 4-hour shifts of babysitting throughout the weekend. They gladly blessed me by caring for Rhema and Hope – (Thank you so much Gail, Amalia, Melissa and Yoon!). My sister spent the nights with the girls at home so as not to disrupt Rhema’s routine.
It was a BIG DEAL for me to spontaneously leave my girls for a whole weekend. But it was important and necessary for me to put us first. Those of us who are blessed to be married – whether you’ve been at it for 5 days or 50 years, whether you’ve been apart for a year or you think you see way too much of each other – we all have a chance to do something new. Show more grace, serve in love, build up instead of tear down. (Thank God for second, third, fourth, fifth chances.) For me, this day, it meant finally letting go of some things and running to my man.
I made it there just in time, only to learn that the group of three hundred and fifty-four soldiers had been delayed and the ceremony would not begin until 1:05 am. Around 1000 people gathered on the field: mothers, fathers, spouses, children. There was such a sense of excitement and anticipation – understandably so – as these families have been waiting fifteen months for their soldier to come home. Kids ran back and forth across the field, babies were bounced and bundled. There were large, homemade signs, red-white-blue balloons and flowers everywhere. A not-so-good band played patriotic tunes, and murdered hits like “Mustang Sally” and “Superstition.” But we danced anyway. Someone handed me a flag.
We waited. And we waited and waited. My toes grew numb from the cold and I had to use the bathroom but I dared not leave. Instead I walked the Warriors Walk – a memorial to Soldies killed in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom- that surrounded the field. I prayed for the families of soldiers who’d been lost. I thanked God for keeping this husband and father safe and bringing him home. I thanked God for the long, hard year. It felt surreal to finally make it to this point, the deployment’s end. I thanked God for all of the people who have loved us and supported us and prayed for us these past many months – I named every one I could name, knowing there are some whose names I don’t even know.
After my walk, it was announced that the buses carrying the soldiers were minutes away. I turned and saw people lining the streets, cheering, waving signs and flags. It was 2:30 am. White buses with soldiers leaning out the windows made their way down the streets, and they received a hero’s welcome. So many young ones. They had done their duty, and they were home. My heart was gripped, and I was honored to be in the number cheering for them. Lonely, painful scenes from the past year filled my mind, but I wasn’t bitter. I thought, maybe just maybe all of the hard stuff was worth it. For this moment.
The buses pulled around the back of the field, out of sight. There were tears and cheers as everyone waited for the soldiers to get in formation and come onto the field. The not-so-good lead singer crooned “Soooooldier. Get on off that bus. I said, get on off that bus.” Finally they marched onto the field, and the crowd went wild.
Someone sang the National Anthem. Men and women in uniform on the field and in the bleachers stood at attention. An older man standing next to me, in his Harley Davidson leather jacket, doffed his hat and belted out the words with tears streaming down his cheeks. The chaplain prayed. The general gave a speech. The Army song was sung. And then family and friends were ordered to “attack the formation”, and people raced onto the field.
A friend of Brandon’s who had served with him in Iraq for a time motioned for me to follow him – we had not seen Brandon yet. I spotted him first. His head was down slightly as he walked quickly off the field. I saw a mixture of emotions on his face – relief, exhaustion, happiness, a little sadness that his family was not there. His friend embraced him. Then he said, “Hey, I’ve got someone here to see you…”
The look on his face when he saw me…
well, then I knew it had all been worth it. All of it.
One of the things that has always moved me are the signs at homecoming ceremonies. They are always colorful, personal and wonderfully decorated. When Brandon came home from his first deployment in 2005, there were signs that said “God Kept You Safe”, “You’re Our Hero”, “Job Well Done”, “We Love You, We Missed You”, “Your Country Thanks You.” At this ceremony, a little girl wore a shirt that said “Outta my way, I’ve got to get to my Daddy.” Another rather busty woman wore a tight T-shirt with hearts and lips all over it that said, “Welcome Home, Baby.” A little boy, about five or six, carried a sign that read “Welcome Back, Mommy!” (That one got me). The Harley-Davidson dude held a poster that said, “I’m So Proud of You, Son!”
Last week when I thought I wasn’t going to be at the ceremony I made a simple sign and got my sis to take a picture. It’s not colorful or fancy at all, it took me 2 minutes to make. But it means everything in the world. Believe me, more than you can know. And so I carried it with me on the plane all the way from Massachusetts, and when I saw ‘my soldier’ I stepped back and held up my sign.
To every one who has prayed for us – specifically for our marriage – and encouraged us on this journey – THANK YOU.
By God’s grace alone,
Brandon will stay in Georgia for another couple weeks, and then he’ll be home for good.*