Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
Growing up in a small town, we celebrated the Fourth of July with a community festival, a parade, a family cook-out, and watching fireworks at night. We dressed in red, white, and blue and ate our hamburgers and hot dogs on paper plates decorated with flags. We celebrated our God, our country, and our family and loved ones on Independence Day the same way every year. It was a simple celebration that marked the climax of the summer.
As I got older, the magic of the day got lost in the midst of friends, social outings, and growing up. No longer was getting close to the sidewalk at the parade to catch candy thrown by firefighters and community leaders a concern. The family cook-out became more of an obligation that had to filled before I could go hang out with my friends. The fireworks were just a backdrop to a social gathering. I might have carefully chosen a red, white, and blue shirt to wear for the occasion but in my teenage and young adulthood years, the Fourth of July was more socialization than celebration.
One year, all of that changed. I had recently suffered a devastating blow in my personal life and was finally starting to put the pieces back together. I enjoyed spending time with my family and I was having a great time with my friends. I put some past mistakes behind me and started a new chapter in my life. My priorities were back on track and I looked forward to a new beginning. My friend invited me to a gathering on the evening of July 3 and I agreed to go, even though her intentions were to introduce me to her nephew and I had just committed to long-term singlehood.
We sat around a big table that night in a small town pub and talked, laughed, and shared stories. It was a simple night and a start to the weekend celebration. The following day, we attended a cookout with all the burgers, hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, fruit salad, and cookies you could want. Some children were in the pool, adults were playing horseshoes and volleyball, and relatives that hadn’t seen each other in a while found a shady spot to catch up on family happenings. It was a weekend straight out of a lifestyle magazine highlighting small town America.
After that picnic, I was excited to meet up with another friend and tell her all about the guy I just met. I was also looking forward to a night out with my friends. We drove downtown and headed to the celebration. There were food vendors and bands and lots of people. We found a spot on the ground and spread out a blanket. We sat on the blanket, talking and laughing, eating too much food, and listening to some bands that should have hung up their microphones years ago. We had a great time.
The sky was darkening and the crowd was growing. The band played their final song and the announcement was made that the fireworks display would begin in 10 minutes. The lines at the food trucks dwindled as people rushed to make their selections and settled in for the show. I found my spot on the blanket and looked around. The ground was a sea of people, young and old, from all walks of life, gathered together on a patchwork of blankets. The food trucks and vendors were lining the edge of the park and the lights on the trucks blinking and flashing. The stage crew was clearing the instruments from the stage as patriotic music played over the loudspeakers. The night sky was still hanging on to that dark blue of dusk and a few stars were starting to appear.
I took in my surroundings. My heart was still spinning, thinking about the great guy I just met and looking forward to our date the next day; but in those quiet moments waiting for the fireworks to start, I allowed my mind to recap the last few months. It had been a time of endings and beginnings, love and loss, betrayal and support. It had been a time of losing the person I thought I was, but finding the person I was meant to be. It was a rough road I had just traveled but I finally felt like it was going to be a smooth ride ahead.
In that moment, sitting in the middle of the massive yet hushed crowd, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. It was the first time, in a long time, that I took a deep breath and a cleansing exhale. The hurt I had felt was lifted and the hope of a new day filled my heart. I thanked Him for that night, for that moment, surrounded by a few of my friends and a couple thousand others, anticipating a fantastic show.
Finally, that indigo blue faded from the sky and the clean, dark slate appeared above us. The announcer welcomed us and asked us to please enjoy the show. I had every intention to do so. It started with one rocket streaming high in the air and exploding into a starburst of red, then blue, then green … a sizzling downpour of white lights that left a trail behind them … a scattering of purple lights that looked like they were popcorn kernels exploding in the sky… one glorious explosion after another.
The colors were mesmerizing as they filled the sky above us and flashes and booms punctuated the carefully crafted light show that was synchronized with a soundtrack of patriotic and popular songs. I looked up at the immense sky and felt so small down below on our small blanket. Sitting in the middle of a massive crowd, I felt like I was by myself and this show above was just for me. With every light shower, with every flash, with every sizzle… I said a quiet prayer thanking God for getting me through such a difficult time and for helping to heal my broken heart. I thanked him for my family and my friends and for all the support I had received. I thanked him for opening up my eyes so that I could see that great big world out there and all that it had to offer me. I thanked him for closing doors that I didn’t want to be closed but reassuring me that new doors would be opened. I thanked him for that peace that he poured into my heart that night.
I closed my eyes for a moment and felt the flashes and the booms and that magic that sizzled in the air. I felt those lights trickle down into my soul. My heart filled with gratitude, thankful for the blessings and the future that I knew to be bright. Each of my thoughts was punctuated with one of those sonic booms and it echoed deep in my heart. All those small town celebrations, those family gatherings, those good times spent with friends flashed like the fireworks inside my head.
Life was hard sometimes, but life was good.
Something special happened that weekend. The man I met that Friday night… he became my future husband. That man forced me to break that promise to myself that I would remain single for as long as possible. That man changed my life. On that Fourth of July weekend 18 years ago, I met the man who would sweep me off my feet and put all my pieces back together again. That Fourth of July, I watched the fireworks, excited about our upcoming date the following day and knowing that it was going to be spectacular. I was at a crossroads and this firework celebration was my introduction to my new path. I felt like God was letting me know that everything was going to be alright.
The Fourth of July was one of those holidays that used to come and go. It was a day for a hamburger and a sparkler or two. Now, the Fourth of July is a holiday I looked forward to every year. It was a day to celebrate God, our country, our families and friends … but also a day to celebrate all the blessings in our lives and all the hope we had for the future. I celebrated the Fourth of July differently now…
As I gazed up at that dark sky, in anticipation of the light show to come: I said a prayer of hope, knowing that even when I found myself in the dark, I knew the light was coming.
As I watched the fireworks dance across the sky, in an explosion of different colors and different shapes, I counted my blessings … every single one.
As I felt the vibration of the booms and the bangs, I knew that God was affirming His presence in my life and exclaiming over and over again that He was most certainly there, in both the light and the darkness.
Wishing you all a very Happy Fourth of July.
God bless The United States of America.
God bless you.
Enjoy the show!