I am 10 years old, maybe. I am pulling at my t-shirt and trying not to cry. I remember that my throat feels like cotton and my stomach roils like grief. Like loss. I can sense sadness in my mom, but she is brave. She doesn’t let us see her cry. She brushes my hair behind my ear, waves at the ship as it pulls farther and farther away until my dad’s wave becomes a tiny speck in the sky.
“He will be back,” she says.
Six months feel long, but it’s not all bad. We go to Toys ‘R’ Us after deployment day. Dad says we can pick out whatever we want. Mom lets me sleep in her bed. We eat ice cream with pretzels and watch William Shatner. We pore over my dad’s Naval Academy yearbook and letters from this ship.
We were lucky. He always came back.
There is nothing like a military homecoming. We hear the planes rumble in the distance. The tiny specks that felt so lost six months become bigger; they materialize in the sky; they grow wings. The hum grows louder and louder. Butterflies alight in my bones when the planes land. I tumble into my father’s arms. We were lucky. He always came back.
It is 25 years later, and I’m grasping tight my mom’s hand. The upholstery is stained with tears, and rain is falling softly in the dark. We had woken that Saturday morning to the worst headline imaginable: “Two missing after Navy helicopter goes down in Philippine Sea.” The words are so stark and unfeeling. My brother is lost at sea. So we wait. It’s four hours, but it feels like years. Finally, a news update scrolls across the TV in a tiny banner. He has been rescued. He will tell us later that the ocean was dark and angry and cold that night. It was a miracle.
A week later, I am at church listening to God’s people raise their voices to heaven:
“I was sinking deep in sin,
far from the peaceful shore,
very deeply stained within,
sinking to rise no more;
but the Master of the sea
heard my despairing cry,
from the waters lifted me;
now safe am I.
Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me.”
I think of my mother’s words, staining my heart in hope so many years ago: “He will be back.” And yes, our Savior will be back too. He’s coming to set things right. He is coming to lift us from the waves of this grief and suffering. Every tear wiped away. Death will die. There is a homecoming ahead of us, and it will be more beautiful than we can ever imagine.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 (NIV)
“Love Lifted Me” by James Rowe (1912)