It was Sunday morning, and like every Sunday morning I sat in front of
the computer waiting for the beeping sound that announced my dad's arrival on Skype. He was 6,630 miles away from Hartford, Connecticut - in Afghanistan. I know, because I Googled it last year, the day he left.
Mom pulled up a chair beside me. She was every bit as excited to see and talk to Dad as I was, but she always let me have center chair, and let him greet me first. She sat there combing my hair with her fingers as we both stared anxiously at the screen.
When the Beeps came, we both leaned forward in our seats. On the computer
screen popped up three colored icons - one red, two green. I clicked the green
circle with the image of a video camera in the center and immediately my dad's upper torso and face appeared. I quickly adjusted our camera until Mom and I were centered in the small rectangular box at the bottom right corner of the screen.
"Corporal Samuel Rogers reporting for duty, Ma'am!"
Dad started our Skype session every week with the same greeting. I always came back with the same response: "At ease, Corporal."
"My goodness, Mary; I swear, you've matured since last week. Don't grow up
too fast. I need you to stay my baby girl."
"I'm not a baby, Daddy! I'm ten years old!"
"I know, honey, but you'll always be my baby girl. Don't I still call your
mommy Baby Girl? - and look how old she is."
"Hey - watch it!" Mommy shouted with the biggest grin on her face.
Daddy laughed and looked straight at Mom. "You are so beautiful when
you're mad. I miss you so much."
"I miss you too, babe." Mom's eyes glistened with moisture.
"Hey Dad, did you ask Sarge if you could come home for Christmas? It's
only a week and a half away you know. Mom and I put up the tree Friday - see?" I turned the camera so the tree was visible to my dad.
"It looks beautiful, sweetie. How come I don't see a star on top?"
I turned the camera back to Mom and me. "Because, we're waiting for you to
come home and put it on. You always put the star on."
Now Dad's eyes glistened. His smile disappeared. "Honey, you know there's
a very good chance I won't be coming home for Christmas. There are a lot of
guys who have been here longer than me. It's not fair if I get to go home
before they do. You understand that, don't you?"
My head dropped, and now all three of us were teary eyed. "I guess
so," I murmured.
In reality, I didn't understand. I had prayed the night before for his sergeant
to approve his leave. I wasn't sure who I was angrier with - the United States
Army or God. They both were ruining my family's Christmas.
Mom leaned over to whisper in my ear. "Put on your happy face, Mary. We
don't want Daddy feeling sad way over there in Afghanistan by himself."
I lifted my head and gave him a huge grin. I changed the subject and told him
about school, my friends, and the funny movie I watched the other night. As
always, Dad listened intently and hardly got a word in edgewise. When I ran out of things to talk about, I gave the center chair to Mom. She and Dad talked for a little while about the household finances and such, and then started ending the session with "I love you," "I miss you," "I can't wait to hold you in my arms." Once they finished with the mushy stuff, I came back into view and said my "I love you" and "Goodbye, Daddy."
As I walked toward the stairway that leads to my room, Mom called to me.
"Mary, wait. I want to talk to you for a second."
I stopped and turned around to face her. "Yes Mom?"
"Honey, you have to stop pressuring your dad about coming home for
Christmas. He feels bad enough as it is. You know if he had the choice he'd
come home in a minute. There are a lot of men over there that want to come back to the States to see their families. Your dad is not the only one. He has to wait his turn. It's important work they are doing in Afghanistan, and they
can't be short-handed. Now, if a few of the men can't make the trip home, he'll
probably be bumped up in line and get to come. But, we can't count on that
"Yes, I understand."
That night, before going to bed, I dropped to my knees to pray.
"Dear Lord, I want to start by saying I'm sorry for getting mad at you
earlier. I just know you can get my dad home for Christmas. I do understand now that he has to wait his turn; but, maybe you can cause some of the other guys in front of him to not be able to come home so he can get bumped up. I miss him so much and I need you to use your power. Thank you for listening. Amen."
I had a hard time falling asleep that night, as I imagined my Daddy coming
through the front door on Christmas morning; dressed in his army camouflage.
He'd take off his matching cap, throw it on the couch and lift me over his head
while twirling around and around. It would be such a happy reunion. I dozed off somewhere between picturing Dad opening my present to him and Mom bringing him the hot chocolate she went to make for him.
The next morning Mom pulled the van into my best friend Julie's driveway as she did every school day when it was her turn to carpool. Julie's mom came out of the front door and walked toward the driver-side window. It was clear she had been crying. Mom rolled her window down.
"I'm sorry, Peggy. I would have called you, but we just got off the phone
with Tom. He's not going to be able to make it for Christmas. His unit has been given a special mission and all leave is cancelled. Julie's too upset to go to school."
"Oh Sylvia, I am so sorry. I know how much you were looking forward to
this. If there is anything I can do for you, don't hesitate to call me."
I could see Julie standing at the window crying. I waved to her, but she never
waved back. I wanted to stay with her and comfort her, but I knew Mom wouldn't let me miss school. My stomach hurt I was so sad.
"Mom - is Julie's dad one of the men in front of Daddy in line for coming
home? If he doesn't come home, does that mean Daddy gets bumped up?"
"No honey. Tom is in a different branch of the service altogether. Daddy's
in the army, Tom is in the marines."
"Why is that good, Mary?"
"Because I would feel real bad if God made Julie's dad not come home just
so my dad could."
"Oh, I see. Is that what you asked God for - for him to stop the guys
ahead of Dad from being able to come home?"
"Yes, but I didn't mean my friend's dad."
"Well honey, just about every man over there has a daughter or wife back
here that is dying to see them. All of them will experience the same sadness
Julie and her mom felt if their soldier doesn't make it home for Christmas."
Mom's words stayed with me all day, along with the look on Julie and her mom's face. What terrible thing had I prayed for? Several times during the day I shut my eyes and asked God to forget about what I prayed for the night before. But, as soon as I got home that afternoon, I ran upstairs and knelt at the foot of my bed.
"Dear God, I changed my mind about what I prayed for yesterday. I don't
want some other family to lose out on seeing their father or husband just so I
can see my Dad. I still want to see him, but only if it works out right. Please
just keep him safe and bring him home as soon as possible. Thank you. Amen... Oh, and can you help Julie's dad to get home so they don't have to be sad? Please? Amen again."
When the next Sunday came, me and Mom sat waiting in front of the computer. After the Beep, I clicked the green video icon and up popped my dad's big smile.
"Corporal Samuel Rogers reporting for duty, Ma'am."
"At ease, Corporal."
"Well, I have good news and bad news, baby girl. Which do you want to hear
My stomach knotted a little. "The bad I guess."
"Sarge says I won't be going home for Christmas."
I hung my head. "Oh Daddy, that's-"
"Don't you want to hear the good news?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Well, because I'm not getting to go home for Christmas, my Sarge is
approving my full thirty days of leave next month. That means I'll be home from January eighteenth to February seventeenth. Isn't that great news? That means I'll be home for your birthday, baby girl - and Valentine's Day, pretty
"A whole month? For my birthday? That's a lot better than the ten days
they were going to give you for Christmas! Oh Daddy, I can't wait!"
I looked over at Mom; she was grinning from ear to ear. She reached over,
wrapping her arms around my neck. It must have been like riding a bucking
bronco the way I was bouncing up and down in my chair.
"Now, girls, I do have one more bit of bad news. My unit is going on a field mission tomorrow and won't be back until the day before I come home. I
won't be able to Skype with you again before my leave. The next time you see my face you'll be able to touch it."
Mom, who had been letting me do all the talking, leaned very close to the
camera and half-whispered, "Touch it - I'm going to kiss it all over!"
"Yuck Mom! I'm only ten!"
They both started laughing. I did too. We were all so happy. I surrendered the
center chair to Mom while she and Dad discussed household things and his time of arrival in January. At the end of the session, I ran upstairs and found a
calendar that showed the next month's dates. I took a red permanent marker and circled Saturday, January 18th. I would use the same marker to check off each day that passed before that date.
The next morning, Julie's mom pulled into our driveway and beeped the horn. I met Mom at the door and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"Now, remember honey, don't go on about your dad coming home in front of
Julie. It'll only make her sadder."
"I won't, Mom. See you later - love you!"
"Love you too, baby!"
I ran to the van, waving to Mrs. Fisher as I passed in front. I slid the
passenger side door open, expecting to see the same sad-eyed best friend I'd
been riding to school with for the past week, but Julie reached over and pulled
me in and started chatting faster than I could listen.
"Guess what happened last night. Well, I don't know if it happened last
night, but that's when my dad called and told us about it. He's still not
coming home for Christmas, but he's coming home next month -- guess for how long..."
"Thirty days?" I shouted back at her, causing her jaw to drop.
"How'd you know?"
"My dad Skyped yesterday and told us the same thing. It must be a decision
the military made that if they didn't get to come for Christmas, they'd get to
come later, but longer."
Julie and I looked at each other and just screeched with joy. Her mom, smiling
into the rear view mirror, directed us to put our seatbelts on. We did, and
then we screeched a couple more times.
While helping with the dishes that evening, I talked about the prayers I'd been
praying for Dad to come home.
"Mom, how does God know which prayers to answer and which ones to not
"What do you mean, Mary?"
"Well, at first, I asked God to let Dad's sergeant approve his leave in time for Christmas; cause I wanted him to be here to open presents with us. Then I asked Him to cause men that were ahead of Dad in line to come home to
not be able to so he could be bumped ahead. But then I saw that that wasn't
right and I prayed that Dad could come home as soon as possible and so could Julie's dad, and that's when God answered. That's three different prayers. How did God know which one to answer?"
"The truth is Mary, God waited until you prayed with the right heart before He answered. The first two prayers were prayed with a somewhat selfish heart. You wanted your dad home no matter how it affected our country or other
families. Your third prayer was an unselfish prayer. Even though you still
wanted your dad to come home just as bad, you weren't willing that others would suffer in order for that to happen. God looks at the heart we pray with before answering. Does that make sense?"
"Oh yeah, but there's one more prayer I want God to hear, and I'm going to
pray it right after we finish the dishes."
"Why wait? Let's go up and pray it right now. If you don't mind, I'd like to join you."
"Okay, come on!"
Mom and I climbed the stairs and knelt beside my bed.
"Dear Lord, I just wanted to thank you; not just for letting my dad come
home next month for thirty days; and not just because you let Julie's dad come home too; but mostly because you waited until my heart was right before you answered my prayers. You must really know what you're doing. I love you. Amen."
Mom echoed my Amen and we both went back downstairs to finish the dishes, all the time laughing and singing Christmas carols.
The next several weeks dragged on. The night before Dad was to come home, Mom and I were sitting on the couch watching television. The sound of the doorbell ringing startled us.
"Who could that be at this time of night?" Mom asked.
We both walked cautiously toward the door. Once there, Mom peered through the peep hole.
She yanked open the door to reveal my dad standing there in his army camouflage uniform and matching cap. He stood perfectly still, at attention. While saluting the two of us, he said; "Corporal Samuel Rogers reporting for
I shouted while lunging toward him, "At ease, Corporal!"
He removed his cap and tossed it across the room at the couch, lifted me up by the waist over his head and started twirling - just as I had imagined. When he finally put me down he threw his arms around my Mom's waist, pulled her to him and planted his lips square against hers. They stayed like that for five
minutes I think.
When things settled down, Dad looked over at the tree. Noticing all the
unopened presents under the tree, he asked why we hadn't opened them.
"Because we wanted to wait for you, Dad. If you couldn't have Christmas on
Christmas day, we weren't going to either. We'll have it together tomorrow
morning. Oh, and by the way..."
I walked to the table next to the Christmas tree and picked up a small box and
handed it to my dad. He smiled as he opened it and took out its contents. With
Mom and I hanging on either side of him, he stretched out his arm and placed
the gold star on the top branch of the tree.
"Now, it's Christmas!" I said.
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