"Da-da!" Eli yells with his arms stretched in front of him and his tiny feet racing to the front door. "Da-da" he says again with his arms now reaching straight up, pleading to be picked up and hugged and loved. He picks him up with just as much excitement as this one-year-old has shown. It's an adorable moment - so very sweet - so much love, so much admiration, so much joy when he walks in from work. Tears fill my eyes as I witness it all because there is one small problem: The man walking in the door isn't Eli's Daddy, he's mine.
When C first left again after R&R, Eli said "Da-da" every time a door opened. No matter what he was doing, he whipped his head around and headed to that door his sweet, little voice calling for "da-da" the entire way.
I cannot explain how fortunate I am to have a father who is so beautifully in love with his grandchildren. He is so involved, so supportive, so amazingly hands-on it has made these last several months far easier than they could have been. I am blessed - amazingly blessed to have the great support of my parents during this trial along the way.
We all quietly ignore it when Eli calls my dad "da-da" (maybe responding "Poppa, baby, Poppa") and wildly praise him when he calls C the same. 'Yes, you love your daddy," my dad usually responds, or "Yes, your Daddy misses you." Eli knows his daddy. I know he knows his daddy. I know because he calls out to him when Skype is up and because he recognizes him in pictures and because his face beams when he hears his voice on the phone.
I know he knows his daddy because I have done everything I can possibly think of to keep C here. To raise this child to know this man, to know his love, to know how very much he wants to hold him. I know he knows his daddy because that is my final prayer every night - a desperate, determined prayer. It's what I strive for, it's what pushes me.
It is my biggest fear, my greatest hope, my most fervent prayer - that these children get to always know their daddy.
So I am holding on to what is to come to get me through today. Because in a short amount of time that boy will drop his toys and jump to his feet when that key turns in the door. His tiny feet will try to keep stride with his brother's as he barrels forward with waiting arms and a glowing smile - his tiny hands pinching empty air as his knees bend up and down, just waiting to be love. And his little voice will say it, "Da-Da!" as those strong arms lift him from his sandy boots up to his chest and they will return that unconditional, innocent love that this precious child needs. And this time the tears will sit in my eyes again, because this time it will finally be the one he's been running to.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.