On this particular hot summer afternoon, I found her backyard full of tables, tents and toys, along with balloons, decorations, food, meat on the grill, presents and cake – a large birthday cake – because this was a birthday party. The guest of honor? Her son, who was today now one year old. Something to celebrate. One whole year of life and growth. And many there were of us who showed up to rejoice in this little one’s life being now a year on this earth with us.
We mark our years with birthday celebrations, while hopefully remembering that each day of the past year has been a gift from God, even though some of those days may have contained sickness or sorrow or some other setbacks that life here on earth cannot help but contain for each of us at times. On this day, memories came to my mind of birthday parties past for my own children, now grown, memories of similar celebrations marking their passages from year to year with the pomp and circumstance befitting their advancing ages.
Locations, themes and decorations changed throughout the years (from ninja turtles and princesses to more sophisticated themes) but some things remain constant no matter what the age – the cake, the candles, the singing of the birthday song – these are the indispensables of any birthday celebration. As I pondered birthdays, my grandpa’s one-hundredth birthday party came to mind. That was a big event. There were many years to remember and to give thanks for at that time. And so we did.
Birthdays are basically at their core, celebrations of life. Whether one or one-hundred years old, the miracle of life is a gift that is worthy of our gratitude and the giving of our thanks for the one whose life we are celebrating. There may have been tough times over the past year, illnesses, accidents, etc. which may have called into question if there would even be another birthday to celebrate, making the milestone of another birthday all the more precious and remarkable and worthy of throwing a party in order to remember and rejoice over the precious person’s life whose birthday it is.
My grandpa overcame way too much to tell in this short space, in order to reach his one-hundred years of age. Likewise, many one-year-olds, maybe because of premature birth or other health hazards, have also overcome enormous odds just to reach that one-year milestone in their lives. Every birthday is a milestone. Every birthday is a miracle. Every birthday represents three-hundred and sixty-five days of God’s goodness, provision and protection in the life of the one whose birthday it is.
Birthdays mean we have survived, even overcome what lies behind us. Birthdays are filled with promise and possibility for the one who makes a wish and blows out the candles, hoping for a brighter future as they continue to grow and change. Birthdays become even more meaningful with age it seems. We can look back and see what impossible things God has brought us through and so gain courage to face what will surely lie ahead. Having learned from our mistakes, sustained by the courage of our convictions, we continue to grow, as all living things do.
I thought my grandpa’s birthday party had the oldest guest of honor of any party I had ever attended. But today, I realize that has never been true. Today, decorations are out, grills are heated, food, family and friends are gathered in backyards and parks across the country, while fireworks light up skies from the Atlantic to the Pacific, proclaiming freedom for one and for all. Why? Because today is a birthday. It is the birthday of our nation. The cake needed is a big one because today we celebrate the two-hundred forty-sixth birthday of our country.
With fireworks for candles, and Overture of 1812 or “My Country tis of Thee” or “God Bless America” for a birthday song, cherry pie for cake and flags flying everywhere for decorations, we celebrate another year of freedom with parades and outdoor concerts and cookouts. Today may we look back and acknowledge all that God has brought us through and all that He has blessed us with as a nation. May we know that all we have received has been from His gracious and merciful hand.
“The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. . . . The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:13-16)
“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)
From this self-reflection as a nation, may we gain the courage to face the challenges of today and those that lie ahead. I pray that those who have given their lives over the years will not have died in vain – those that died in the Revolutionary War so that we could be a free and sovereign nation, no longer a colony of a crown, subject to a royal ruler – nor those who died in the Civil War so that everyone would be free in this country, not just some, they believed this so deeply they died to make men free, – nor those who died in either world war, in the second dying so that those in the death camps could be freed – we did not allow Freedom’s ring to be silenced then – nor can we remain silent now, allowing Freedom to die while we are busy doing other things. What could be more important than acknowledging the God from whom all our blessings flow and all our freedoms?
When we celebrate the birthdays of our children, friends and family members, we celebrate the good in their lives while helping them to overcome whatever needs to change in their lives so that they can reach their full potential. As we celebrate our country’s birthday today, let us do the same for her. Honor and hold fast to the good in her, passed down to us over the past two-hundred forty-six years, even as we continue to grow more fully into that city on a hill, that beacon of light for the rest of the world, as we rest and rely on our faith in Almighty God and on the constitution, together they are our nation’s firm foundation. Our constitution guarantees us our God-given rights. It has stood the test of time and will continue to do so as long as we continue to honor it and do not ignore it.
I pray today, on this birthday of my beloved country, that, “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” (Gettysburg Address)
Happy Birthday U.S.A.!
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance.” (Psalm 33:12)
sincerely, Grace Day