Tonight I laid in bed hearing the boom of fireworks, and I wondered how far away they were. Could I actually be hearing the fireworks from protesters downtown, more than 15 miles away*? Or worse, are there people throwing fireworks close to my home? For the past five days, the news has repeatedly shown images of fireworks being thrown among protesters in a way that I can only describe as too close for comfort. Lying there in bed, I chose to be honest with myself and admit what I did not want to: I don't like fireworks.
Fireworks represent closure. When I visited Disneyland as a child, someone would always ask whether we could stay for the fireworks. I can't recall how many times we went to Disneyland, but I know it wasn't more than a few times. I remember how the park felt different after the fireworks show ended, as we walked away from Sleeping Beauty's Castle and toward the front gate. Every shop on Main Street called to me. I had not explored enough. I wanted to know every detail that was available to be known. Can we go in this store? How about this one? Eventually we would cross under the train tracks and out through those final barriers. I knew something had ended that would not happen again for a long time. In those days there was no California Adventure and certainly no Downtown Disney. When you left Disneyland you were in a parking lot. You had to either wait for a tram or make the seemingly never ending walk to your car in the cold night air. The magic was over.
Fireworks evoke feelings of rejection. I missed being born on the Fourth of July by less than two hours - one hour and fifty eight minutes to be exact. Growing up, my sisters loved to tell the story of how I ruined their Fourth of July the year I was born. Since our parents were at the hospital, my sisters were left in the care of our grandmother. Grandma would only let us do sparklers. Would it be too dramatic to say the words still echo in my ears? I know they were teasing, but I've connected fireworks with the special kind of bullying that only a sibling can do. More than that, most years I have been presented with a red, white, and blue birthday cake. Whether at a church picnic or my parents' house: Since we're going to be together for fireworks anyway, let's celebrate your birthday too. I'm sure that's convenient, but it's never been very meaningful for me.
Fireworks are correlated to loneliness. When I was about fourteen my mother worked for a doctor that had a cabin in the mountains. We stayed at his cabin a few times while she worked for him. During one stay we visited the home of my mother's boss's friend. Their cabin was multi-story and was situated in such a way that it had a breathtaking view of the city. We were promised fireworks like we had never seen them before. It's true; I cannot recall ever again having such a good view of fireworks. As we stood on that cabin's balcony and the evening sky was illuminated over and over again, I was mostly aware of how cold it felt and that I wished my friends were there to experience it with me.
You'll never read these stories on the cover of a newspaper, and there will never be an episode of 20/20 exploring why fireworks distress me. However, they are powerful stories. They are powerful because they are lies that I've heard - and believed - and allowed to steal joy from me. The truth is:
Some days are big days, Disneyland days. Some days are small days. In the work of rebuilding the temple, God told Zechariah, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things?" (Zechariah 4:9-10, NASB) It takes a lot of small days for the temple of God to take shape. It takes a lot of small days to for me to be shaped into the person I am called to be in Christ. If I allow Him to, Christ will shape me because He has chosen me. Scripture tells me that I am a chosen person (1 Peter 2:9), I was chosen before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4), God has prepared good works for me (Ephesians 2:9), and I have not only been chosen but also appointed to bear fruit that remains (John 15:16). No earthly rejection - real or perceived - can negate the good things that God has in mind for me. Me personally. Me. I don't have to be afraid of knowing me. I don't have to be afraid of being alone with me. Alone doesn't have to mean lonely. Some people can be alone and never feel lonely, but I've struggled with this for a long time because in those quiet moments I hear the lies the loudest. I will no longer allow myself to be moved by anything but the truth of God. As Jesus himself prayed for his disciples, may I be sanctified in the truth (John 17:17).
*A quick internet search returned that fireworks can be heard up to 50 miles away. I still don't know where the booms and pops were coming from, but at least I know that random fact.