They’re telling me I say this every year, after every celebration. (“They” being my kids.) But it’s true: this past weekend was “the best” 4th of July ever!
It’s true because although we had some really amazing times when our children were young– picnics, parades, fireworks over Plymouth Harbor, BBQ’s, fireworks over Cayuga Lake while flares outlined the whole lake at dusk– now we have a bigger, even greater family, and six-going-on-seven wonderful grandkids to share all the excitement with.
It’s true because I’m very conscious of how, when all of our kids married and left home there was a brief chapter when Dan and I celebrated many of these times quietly alone together.
It’s true because even now as life keeps changing, it still isn’t easy to get the whole family together at one time anymore, with various work schedules, consideration of extended families’ schedules, and responsibilities– though individually we’re all in and out of each other’s lives alot.
But this year, we suddenly realized that all of them, plus an extra family friend, had made plans to be here at the same time– a first for us on a July 4th weekend! Consequently, it turned out to be the best July 4th ever!
I quickly scribbled out some easy menu ideas, loaded up on paper plates, and filled a big basket with red, white and blue craft supplies– construction paper, flags of various sizes, a variety of star-studded ribbons, star-shaped cookie cutters, red and blue balloons with stars, pipe cleaners, strings of sparkly red and blue stars, tape, scissors and glittery red letter stickers. For five consecutive days, our house was filled with giggling little grandkids, tons of food, and amazing fun.
When they arrived, my little grandgirls enthusiastically ran from one thing to the next, trying to squeeze everything into a single day– playing dress up, baking cookies, decorating something, running out to the playhouse… In a flash, the dining room table, the outside deck, my front garden, and the Red Flyer wagon were all adorned with ribbon and flags. The girls helped me hang big red paper lanterns above the deck and string star-shaped patio lights, set out lots of red battery-operated candles and trim the outside tables with red, white and blue decor.
We packed a lot into the weekend, from seeing a live performance of The Sound of Music in the gorgeous outdoor Ski Hill amphitheater, to getting the kids’ faces painted at the children’s festival downtown. They loved the festival booths and watching a clown juggler on a unicycle, writing thank you notes to send to soldiers overseas and, of course, eating cotton candy and snowcones.
On Sunday we all gathered at the park in town and worshipped along with so many others from the local churches for this combined 4th of July service. The speaker had grown up in a Muslim home before his dramatic conversion to Christianity, and arrested our attention as he shared not only his amazing testimony, but also as he expounded the Scriptures. Later, over lunch, we all talked of the many thought-provoking ideas we’d just heard. For days, I pondered the idea the speaker had shared that King Saul, who sinned, lost his throne because he continued to make excuses for his sin, while King David, who also sinned, cried out in repentence, appealing for God’s help and thereby became a man after God’s own heart.
Back at home again, Aunt Annie braided strings of red, white and blue stars into the girls’ hair, then helped them attach ribbons to sticks. I watched, breathless, as she and the little children ran around the yard giggling, with beautiful flowing ribbons swirling around them.
There were the expected sparklers, and a fire in the firepit with S’Mores, games of Hand and Foot with Papa Eby on the deck on the warm summer nights, and picnics in the park. Then, as suddenly as it all began, everybody was gone, our house was quiet again and I was back to doing laundry while silently re-living special memories as I wiped little fingerprints off the windows, picked up game pieces from the floor and smiled over six-year old printing on a sign taped to the playhouse door: “WELCOME TO OUR CABIN. NO CATS OR DOGS ALLOWED” (which would have been a very useful idea if dogs or cats had been able to read it.)
July 4th. The best celebration ever. Even though the economy has dropped through the floor. July 4th. Even though the house next door is empty because the owner gave up trying to sell it, stopped payments, locked the door and walked away. The best July 4th ever, even though morality all around us has plummeted and many are struggling with unemployment, losing homes, keeping food on the table. The best July 4th ever, even though one of the first articles I saw the next day was called, “Why I don’t celebrate July 4th anymore.”
It was still the best July 4th ever, and yet my head is not in the sand. I’m aware of what’s going on around us, even as we celebrate. I’m aware of how July 4th is difficult for many, because inevitably life consists of very high highs and very low lows –which both take place at the same time. Though I understand many of the premises that the writer of the article stated as to why he doesn’t celebrate July 4th anymore, remorsefully focusing so intensely on the national freedoms we’ve lost is not the correct response we’re to have. For sure, bad things come with good. They always have. But we have to remember– especially when we’re going through these really tough times–that there’s still good along with the bad. There always has been.
The Bible is rife with its command for us to give thanks, even (and maybe especially) in the hard times. God is still Sovereign over all. “Be filled with the Spirit…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
I’ve always been incredulous that Paul and Silas sang hymns while in prison, or that David could praise God even as the Philistines seized him in Gath or that Jeremiah gave Israel God’s command to build, plant, marry, celebrate and pray for the welfare of Babylon, even while they were in exile there. Like these, we’re not called to emphasize the problems in our nation to the neglect of giving thanks for the freedom we have internally. Regardless of what’s going on around us, there are still many reasons to rejoice. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17.) John 8:32, “The Truth will set you free.”
Freedom begins with the Spirit of God ruling within the heart of man before it can ever be reflected in the nation. Instead of retreating, we must continue to celebrate the liberties God still grants us, because our liberty is always first internal, a matter of the heart– and pray for a national return to acknowledging the Spirit of God as our foundation, because that’s the only hope we will ever have for a return to national freedom. It will never be found externally if it isn’t found first in the heart, which only God can do.
My freedom comes from God, not man, not government. So, I celebrate the freedom that I have in Christ, and the freedom that our family understands can only come from God. I’m so grateful for the strength and support of the family God has given to me. I treasure a moment this weekend when our son Joel picked up his ukelele and started to play, “What a Wonderful World.” Two, then three, then more of us began singing along, spontaneously breaking into harmony in several parts. Grandchildren silently stared transfixed by what they were hearing! Three-year-old Sadie subconsciously began to strum along on an imaginery ukelele. When the song came to its end, six year old Jakob broke into enthusiastic applause!
I treasure a very early morning when my daughter-in-law Annie came downstairs after she heard me get up. Six months pregnant, she was too uncomfortable to sleep, so we both got coffee and sat outside on the porch talking for an hour and a half as we watched the sun break into the canyon. I am so grateful for the ones that God brought into our family through marriage!
I treasure seeing three-year-old grandson Ethan handing a pretend “ticket to ride on the train” to 92-year-old Papa Eby because it’s normal in Ethan’s life experience to have a 92 year-old man inside his family circle.
There are things of infinite value that I treasure so deeply– the blessings of a Sovereign God Who keeps me focused on His sustaining power regardless of the tough times in our nation today. I treasure memories that will stay with me the rest of my life. They’re memories, for sure, of the very best July 4th. Ever.
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