Wartime Reflections: The Sovereignty of God and the Goodbye Do-over

by | 18 Aug, 2017 | 6 comments

At 22 years of service I can say that I love the United States Air Force, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I love ‘em…except when I hate ‘em.

Anyone who has deployed may know where this is heading.

As I prepare to lay down my sword and embark on my final deployment before retirement, I am reminded once more of the unique pressures of military life and the unique stressors placed upon military families. Military life taxes families in unfathomable ways. The goodbye do-over is but one excruciating example of such a burden.

I almost hate the goodbyes more than the deployment itself. I hate the days and weeks preceding the goodbye, the inevitable march of time toward the dreadful day.

The Switch

I’ve got a switch. I discovered it several years ago. Ami and the girls drove me to the airport. For a reason I cannot remember, I was deploying via commercial air this trip. After checking in, I lingered with Ami and the girls for a few moments. I held Ami tightly as the girls, not quite knowing how to act, misbehaved a bit. I struggled between wanting them to settle down and not wanting my last words to them to be a reprimand.

At some point, a man came over and asked if I was a deploying soldier. Perhaps he sensed the gravity of what he witnessed. I informed him that I was at which point, he thanked me for my service. I thanked him in turn, gave Ami and the girls one last kiss and squeeze and got in the security line. A minute later, I turned and somberly waved goodbye.

Immediately after clearing security, I found an isolated area behind a sign and sat down and wept quietly—don’t judge me—for just a minute. No one saw. The I flipped the switch. Time for business. The task at hand beckoned and I could finally punch the clock on the countdown timer until I could be in the loving arms of my beautiful bride once more.

Once I flip the switch, things are okay. Once I cross the threshold from goodbye anticipated to goodbye complete, all is well. It is the hours, days, and weeks leading up to the flipping of the switch that tear at my soul, the dread, the lump in my stomach. When I look at my little guy sleeping soundly and know he won’t understand where his daddy is the next day. That’s what eats at me.

Sovereignty, in Theory

I’m so thankful we worship a sovereign God.

God’s sovereignty is codified by His authority. He has absolute authority over all things. Everything! From the smallest to the greatest. From the simplest to the most complex. Not a single word is spoken, not a molecule moves, not a gust of wind blows, without His ordaining. This may be difficult to reconcile with the sheer breadth of creation, but true difficulty arises in reconciliation with moral free agents exercising independent will.

Yet Scripture speaks clearly to the issue, that it is though it doesn’t necessarily explain how it is.

Acts chapter 28 describes Paul’s shipwreck onto the island of Malta. He is under Roman custody already, facing an uncertain future, likely death. He and his shipmates nearly starve to death prior to running aground. Paul is bitten on the hand by a viper. It is literally hanging from his hand so that the natives think he will surely die. These things, not good things, had to happen. And why?

The chief’s father had fallen ill with dysentery. Paul visits him, prays, lays his hands upon him and heals him. Verse 9 records that after this, the rest of the sick people on the island came and Paul cured them as well and the people honored them greatly. These horrific things—the storm, the starvation, the shipwreck, the viper bite—these things had to happen that Paul might heal these people of their diseases. You can bet he shared the good news of the Gospel, as was his custom.

How many came to know the Life-giver, Jesus Christ, because of Paul’s misfortune?

Solomon writes “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a) God is in the business of making all things beautiful, in His time! It’s what He does. He heals. He reconciles. He mends. He sets free. Allow me to repeat, it’s what He does!

Well I can’t see how that would be the case! The things that have happened to me are just too horrid.

O’ short-sighted man, let not your purview limit your trust. Solomon further affirms that man “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b) We are limited in scope and time, finite in our grasp. Scripture well affirms that He is about the business of working all things for the good of His people. (Romans 8:28)

Sovereignty, in Practice

The Air Force left me hanging. Not the first time but, prayerfully the last. I had showed promptly at 6:30 a.m. to be told after two hours that the plane was hard broke at its point of origin. Twenty-four-hour bump at least, likely longer.

The good news was that I got to go home and see my family again. The bad news was that we had already crossed the threshold, issued our tearful goodbyes and now must retrograde back across the threshold and do it all again. For half a second, I contemplated going to get a room to spare the agony of the goodbye do-over.

However, I quickly headed home, calling Ami to inform her of the change. Two things happened as a result:

1) I had promised to take my boys fishing the previous day but due to my poor planning, had been unable. This delay allowed me to make good on a promise to my boys. As a bonus, my little granddaughter caught her first fish ever!

2) My wife and I had been struggling to reconcile some personal issues. Our goodbye had not been on the best of terms. That evening, the Lord worked a veritable miracle in our relationship, as an outpouring of healing, love, and tenderness overtook the two of us as the Lord shattered the strongholds that held us captive. It was quite literally a turning point in our relationship, an amazing reconciliation, perhaps the sweetest time in our nearly 17-year marriage, all but for a delayed flight courtesy of the United States Air Force.

God is in the business of healing, reconciling, mending, and freeing…and He will even use the Air Force and a broken C-17 to accomplish this very thing.

The next day, I showed promptly at 1330 and still no aircraft. I returned home a second time. Expecting another 24 hours, this time I only got four, just enough to time for a few more hugs and kisses, one last trip through the Starbucks drive-thru, and one more round of goodbye do-overs, which I hated.

God is so good!


  1. Rick

    Thanks brother. I truly appreciated reading this. It brought back some sobering memories but it also reminded me of God’s goodness to Team Cotto. Be safe on your final trip before the opening of your glorious 2nd Chapter.

    • Bradford Smith

      Brother, miss you and your family and pray that you are well!

  2. Rob Whittington

    He was, He is, and He is to come! Always and forevermore, in Christ Jesus our savior, our redeemer, our LORD, and our friend! – Rob

  3. Ben Chlapek

    Well done, Sir. You put into words what many of us struggle to explain. God is great. He works in ways that are not always evident to us until we are ready. Thank you for sharing.

    • Bradford Smith

      Yes Sir. thanks for the feedback and God bless.


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Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

Author - Founder

Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).


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