God’s Gracious Gift

December 18, 2005

I have been sorting through ALOT of papers in my office room lately. Most of them have something to do with the four and a half years we spent in the Army. As I look at the enormous stack of paper and manila file folders, I have to agree with Michael, the Army does kill ALOT of trees!

At times I am tempted to throw all the papers in a box and forget about them for a very long time but instead, I was plodding through a rather thick pile the other night and came across a single sheet of paper that reminded me of a very special gift that God gave us two years ago.

On November 15, 2003, Michael was notified of the Stop Loss put on his Unit which would require him to be deployed to Iraq for a year and then spend several more “recovery” weeks in the Army before he would be allowed to get out. This was going to add an unexpected year onto our time in the service. Upon hearing the news, Michael said that if it was at all possible, he wanted to go home to Bristol for Christmas before heading off to the desert. I really did not think it was going to be possible with international plane tickets costing so much, especially on fairly short notice and during the Christmas season. I did my best to find the cheapest flights I could and they were still about $2800 for all four of us and going up by the minute. That was about $2800 more than we had but I didn’t let that stop me, at least at first. I looked into every possible option to try to make it happen for Michael.

Finally, we realized that it was not going to happen. Every door we had tried to open was promptly shut. So, we were trying to trust God even though we couldn’t see why He was doing what He was doing. One evening during this time, Michael called to tell his guardian parents in Bristol that he was going to be deployed. When he called, they told him that Bob, his dad, was going to be having serious surgery on his neck on December 23. This just made it that much harder for Michael to be so far away, without a chance to go home.

We were trying to make the most of another Christmas in Germany and so we walked the three blocks from our apartment building to the little German grocery store and picked out our tree. We took it home, set it up, and began untangling and stringing lights. In the middle of this, our phone rang. It was Michael’s 1st Sgt telling us that a Red Cross message had just come in, requesting Michael’s presence during the surgery since it was a critical and possibly life threatening procedure. It took a couple days for all the details to be worked out but on Tuesday, December 16, Michael came home from work with 4 plane tickets from Frankfurt, Germany to Knoxville, TN–completely paid for by the Army Emergency Fund. We could hardly believe it. It was one of those situations that seemed totally hopeless but then God provided in an amazing way at the last minute.

Michael had almost 3 weeks of leave and then he was going to return to Germany to prepare for the deployment. We knew those days would be very hectic with him hardly at home so we made the decision that the kids and I would not return with him at the end of his leave but stay in Bristol. So, I had two days to prepare to be gone for an unknown length of time. On Thursday night, December 18, we went to the Battery Christmas party and then came home and tried to sleep. At 2 am on Friday, December 19, our good friend Jon came to our apartment in an Army vehicle to drive us to the airport. (When you travel due to a Red Cross message, the Army even provides your transportation to the airport. Jon was an approved driver and he got permission to take us.) We left our apartment around 3 am and drove the two hours to Frankfurt. Needless to say it was a long and tiring day with two layovers and three flights. We finally arrived in Knoxville where my family came to pick us up. The weather was bad and it took us a long time to get back to Bristol but we were so glad to be home!

We went to the Branson family Christmas on December 22 and then Bob Branson had surgery the following morning. He made it through okay and was released on Christmas Day, I think. A night or two later, he aspirated in his sleep and had to be rushed back to the hospital. He was in the hospital for several days, hooked up to machines and the entire family was in the waiting room for hours at a time, waiting for a word of improvement. Emotions were high and differing opinions were abundant but finally on January 1, 2004, Bob Branson passed away, shortly before his wife had to make the difficult decision to turn off the machines. We spent the next few days in the activites that accompany the death of a family member, thanking God again for his gracious gift of bringing us home. Another reminder that God does “accomplish what concerns us” Psalm 138:8, and He does it so much better than we can!

The paper I found the other night was a copy of the Red Cross message that was sent by Bob and Connie Branson. It reminded me once again of the gracious gift that God gave to all of us, but especially to Michael, in making a way for us to be home not only for Christmas that year but also to be there for his family in their time of sorrow before facing the hard days that were ahead in Iraq. God is good.


3 Responses to “God’s Gracious Gift”

  1. Dad said

    I remember marveling at the time at God’s provision for your family’s travel at a seemingly impossible time. It was really great to have you all here then, and for Michael to be here for Bob’s surgery and then his death. You are absolutely right. God is good!!!


  2. Heidihttp://guinan.blogspot.com said

    I remember driving with Jeph in the awful snow to come get you guys because I was so glad you were coming home!
    We brought you and Liam (he was so little then!!) back to Bristol, driving very slowly 🙂 I love reminiscing!!

  3. Mom said

    Tara, I am sitting here writing through tears remembering all the wonderful gift of God to our family…and this being one of the big ones! Why do we so often think that God is not going to take care of us when he has always done it in the past! God help our unbelief! I too remember that treacherous drive home from Knoxville to Bristol. We were in 2 separate cars which meant even more chance for accidents, but we made it fine and it was great to have you all here with us and safe! Thank you God for your amazing gifts to your children. Help us to trust you more! Love, Mom

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