I debated this entire blog post. Honestly, because I thought it would be just a little too honest and a little too close to home. But I realized that the 4th of July is upon us and in the same second I realized I haven’t written a blog post in a long time, and then I thought: “Why not put the two together?”
I also wrote 384 words of a disclaimer in the first draft of this post before realizing that I didn’t need to. So, I’m skipping to the actual thing.
I have plenty of reasons to like the 4th of July. Most of the time I get to see some family that doesn’t live here locally, and I always enjoy that because they are great people, we laugh tons, and we play lots of board games. I also have a soft white shirt with navy blue stars on it that I got from Old Navy years ago, and I only want to wear it on the 4th of July (which is why over the years I’m wearing the exact same shirt in every single photo). The 4th of July is really close to my dad’s birthday as well, so it always seems like he gets a country-wide celebration with fireworks and everything all week long. How cool is that?! Last year was particularly fun too because two of my best friends were in America with me and got to celebrate their first 4th of July. We took photos out in the backyard with an American flag, dressed up in red, white, and blue, played with sparklers, watched the fireworks once the sun set, got french fries on the way home, and spent time catching fireflies in the backyard before we got too sleepy.
At the same time, the 4th of July has been a day that’s hosted some pretty tough things. I’m not going into them all (‘cause good grief, who needs that?) but most recently, it was the day before my friends flew back home to England and my college way of life beside them in the same house/city officially ended.
I know, right? Honestly, I feel a little bit bad for the day now. Like, my condolences to whichever date had to be the day that my college days came to an abrupt (yet expected) stop and my best friends and I were separated. The 4th really got the short straw on that one.
Let’s just say that it didn’t make my list of favorite days. I wanted to enjoy that last day 100%, but we all knew what tomorrow was bringing. We made each other laugh while we took photos and knew it was the last time we would be able to do that for a really long time. I watched the fireworks sparkle in the night sky in what seemed like such defiant celebration on a day I really didn’t feel like celebrating. It was the perfect end technically. Kind of like the beautiful credits that wrapped up an adventure-filled summer that I would not trade for anything.
But after that?
We had to get potatoes. (Best comfort food, hands down. Cheez Its are second only to really salty potatoes.) We went home and refused to let “the last day” be over because it just couldn’t be yet. I watched my friends and my sisters catch fireflies in the backyard (I don’t actively participate in touching things with more than 4 legs), while I stood there in the grass with them and honestly hated every single time that clock insisted on telling us the next day was rapidly approaching.
We sat upstairs in my room and stayed up as late as we could, trying to process and converse with that giant elephant in the room, because even if the clock said it was tomorrow, it wouldn’t actually be until we fell asleep right?
But tomorrow comes y’all. Whether we’ve been on the edge of our seat waiting for it or dragging out the last few minutes of yesterday as long as we can, if God is set on painting another sunrise and giving us another day, it comes. And with it, His Word says, comes Joy.
That day, among others, is what confirms in my mind that Joy is not something that you feel. It’s something we have to actively choose to receive straight out of His hands. And if we choose to let it, it can become our strength.
And now it’s coming up on a year. A year since they’ve been here. And a year since they’ve been gone.
I’ve realized I don’t think there will come a day any time soon when I don’t grieve for the days we could be in the same house or even the same city (or HALLO even the same continent). But I’ve also realized it’s not okay to set that time on a pedestal and claim nothing will ever be as good again. The enemy so cleverly twists that first sentence into the second one, and I didn’t notice the deception for a long time.
The previous three years were so fun. So hard. So challenging. So out-of-my-comfort-bubble. So life-giving, confidence-building, and ultimately life-changing. I know a large portion of all that was due to the people who came alongside me in the midst of it all. It could have been so different, and yet God gave out of an abundance I could have never dreamed about.
To think that time of learning and growth and becoming could in any way exhaust the Lord’s ideas for my future days is an insult to His character and creativity. To say that nothing will be as good again is to point to something over and over and insist that He is incapable of repeating that kind of joy. That He can’t top that one.
I am not proud of the childishness present in that particular attitude in me sometimes.
I don’t believe God is in the business of repeating what He has already done in the exact same way. Ever. His character is unchanging. He is generous and patient. He saves us, defends us, and provides for us. But the moment we highlight the way He chose to do those things previously and try to insist it be the formula for our joy, we’ve just put God in a box. A very pleasant box to us perhaps, but a box all the same.
It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to really understand that. But I am continuing to wrap my head around the concept as more and more time passes, and while I do I’m finding that He really is very skilled at giving us Joy in places we wouldn’t expect if we give Him the freedom to.
I’m also finding that He loves it when I remember the gifts He’s given me, like wonderful friends, fantastic memories, and traveling experiences all around the world, and praise Him for it.
Even in the midst of the bittersweet that comes with missing it.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away – like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”
“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice, dear one. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”
Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.
“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”
-C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
He’s not afraid of me telling Him about how much I miss those girls or those ham and cheese paninis from Costa. Because they’re good. Summers in America are good too. Road trips to Florida are good too. There are so many things He has been so generous to give. And telling Him I remember and thanking Him for that is a form of worship all on its own. And I don’t have to be feeling all sunshine and daisies in that moment to worship Him.
So this year, I’m remembering. I’m remembering what it felt like to dread tomorrow so much, and I’m remembering when God showed up that day, and the next, and the next, even when I told him it was going to be “horrid” before the day even began. I am thanking God for all those times His crazy girls made me laugh until my belly hurt, sang karaoke with me on my back porch, and hopped in the car to drive to the nearest place with french fries after church on Wednesday nights. I’m remembering that I will get to spend all of eternity with Him and them, and the least I can do is share them with the world for a little while. I’m remembering that I will see them much sooner than it seems.
Bittersweet, I’m learning, is kind of beautiful in its own way. And that hiding it away inside rather than telling Him about it is actively choosing to hold His comfort at arm’s length rather than be embraced by it.
I don’t know if you have a day that brings back bittersweet memories, but I hope that the next time you wake up to it, you embrace the comfort that is waiting. Because when you do, He who knows all things will give you His joy. It won’t take the bitter parts away, but it will help you be thankful for the sweetness of the things you cherish, and that will make you stronger than you’ve ever been before.