1: Midnight Plane to Georgia

1: Midnight Plane to Georgia

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives

Midnight Plane to Georgia

By Jeneil Palmer Russell

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all…

~Acts 4:33

On Friday morning, I began receiving scripted phone calls that my husband’s unit would be arriving at Fort Stewart, Georgia, after a yearlong deployment. There would be a homecoming ceremony late that night. Weeks earlier, we had decided that the girls and I would not attend. We could not be exactly sure when he’d arrive — and it was too expensive to fly to Georgia on short notice.

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 my sister and friends, and they gladly blessed me by caring for the girls. It was a big deal for me to spontaneously leave my children for a whole weekend. But it was important and necessary for me to put us first.

When I arrived, hundreds of people were gathered on the field: mothers, fathers, spouses, children. There was such a sense of excitement and anticipation — understandably so — as these families had been waiting over a year for their loved one to come home. Kids ran back and forth across the field. Babies were bounced and bundled. There were signs, red-white-and-blue balloons, flowers and miniature flags everywhere.

We waited and waited. 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. It felt surreal to finally make it to this point, the deployment’s end. I thanked God for all of the people who had loved us, supported us and prayed for us throughout the year.

At 2:30 A.M., white buses with soldiers leaning out the windows came into view. People lined the streets, cheering, waving signs and flags. It was breathtaking, and I was honored to be among the number cheering for them.

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. Finally, family and friends were ordered to “attack the formation,” and people raced onto the field.

A friend of Brandon’s who had once served with him in Iraq motioned for me to follow him — we had not seen Brandon yet among the 354 soldiers. 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.

The signs at homecoming ceremonies are always colorful, personal and wonderfully decorated. But my sign was simple, and it took me just two minutes to make. 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: WE MADE IT.

By God’s grace alone.

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