Celebrating the Fourth Away from Family

American flag
Year after year, my Fourth of July started like this: I’d jump out of bed, heart hammering, ideas racing — excited to welcome the best day of the year after Christmas. I’d sprint upstairs to ask my mother if I could call my grandma. Then I’d ask my cousins to come out to the farm to play.

Aunts, uncles and cousins from Nebraska and Colorado made the annual trip to South Dakota to visit Grandma, see friends, enjoy the Missouri River and launch fireworks. I always looked forward to spending time with all 12 cousins from one side of my family.

But that all changes this summer.

I’m living in Colorado, and I won’t make the trip back to my home state for the Fourth. Holidays and traditions are like the tide — they come and go and wait for no one. My extended family has made the trip back to South Dakota and will be enjoying the usual festivities — without me.

Remembering traditions.

Fourth of July is the one day a year that it’s socially acceptable to wear as much red, white and blue as possible. My family goes all out, especially for the Fourth of July 5K. We have many family traditions that have been around for as long as I can remember. Shooting fireworks, rodeos, spending time on the river, the parade, picnics and the carnival.

Fireworks are a must, if there isn’t a fire ban prohibiting them. There is something truly special about lighting a firework, sprinting away, watching it tip and shoot directly at you (talk about adrenaline). It must have been truly special to watch the fireworks shot July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia to declare our independence. In my hometown, there is always a big fireworks display after the annual Sitting Bull Stampede Rodeo.

But this year I won’t be attending a rodeo with a firework display.

Apart from fireworks, the Fourth of July in my small town is characterized by time spent on the Missouri River. When we were kids, our uncle had Jet Skis and gently pulled us on tubes. Now, my father and uncle have boats that most of our families squeeze onto to spend a day on the river. Rather than gentle tube rides, we now enjoy tubing as a full contact sport involving high speeds, multiple tubes and people, big waves, death whips, jumping, pushing and fighting — a competition to see which tubers can last the longest and tell the story of victory.

But this year I won’t be spending time on the Missouri River.

We’d spend the afternoon sitting on the curb side, catching tootsie roll after tootsie roll as we watched floats, firetrucks and horses pass by in the parade. I’d stand in line with my cousins, waiting to ride the treacherous Zipper. Then there’d be large meals with all 21 members of the family, and we’d drive ATVs around the farm and watch movies late into the night.

But this year I won’t be at the parade and carnival. I won’t be eating meals with my family. (Though on a positive note, I won’t be exposed to second-hand smoke or sketchy carnival characters.)

Life moves on.

Yes, it’s hard being away from family and traditions. Yes, it would be great to be with my family this year, but I can experience the joy and peace that Jesus offers in any stage of life. Even when missing out on family traditions.

For me it’s easy to become anxious in the face of the unknown, especially knowing what I’m missing out on at home. But in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus reassures us that just as God takes care of the birds, He will take care of us — who are of much more value. Feel free to look into the rearview mirror, praising God for what He has done and the blessings that family brings, but then run forward in confidence, knowing that God cares for you.

And maybe most of the feelings of missing out on adventures back home are actually coming from the phone in your pocket. Quit looking. Stop scrolling. Delete the app for a week. Kill the Snapchat streak. Be present where you are, with the people around you, and make new memories.

I won’t see fireworks at a rodeo, but I hope to watch some fireworks with friends here in Colorado. I won’t spend time on the Missouri River, but I plan to white water raft down the Arkansas River. And I won’t be eating meals with my family, but I plan to attend another family’s barbecue and meet new friends.

Life changes. It’s that simple. But we’re left with a choice: Accept where God has us or long for the past.

Remember this entire world is passing away, and so will holidays, family and traditions. So live in the moment, love those around you, and embrace change.

Have a happy Fourth of July!

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