It was when the woman leaned back to watch the fireworks.
When the kids, full of strawberries and ice cream, sprawl about her in the grass, waiting in the thickening dusk, waiting in the sea of blankets spread out and tilted lawn chairs and balding men with bare hearts sit near the elderly, white crowned women whose lives had birthed glory.
It’s when her husband unfolds on the ground beside her and finds her hand there in the dark.
When they both sit there with their fingers laced and pressing into the damping grass, into the steadying earth under them, and the first set of sparklers goes off on the other side of the bleachers — that’s when she tastes something sweet and full of light in the back of her throat…. like an ache for all this grace.
For all these dirt-worn faces of honest farmers, the strong backs of willing vets, the lights there on the highway of every long-haul truck driver who just keeps working on.
That’s what it was — a love for the kids who run bases on a thousand ball diamonds, the teens who bag a million bags of groceries, the doctors who catch a whole country of squalling babies, for the mothers over stoves and the fathers over garbage bags.
For the sheets of rain out across the lake in the muggy swell of a summer thunderstorm, the wind rippling glory through waving fields of golding wheat, for how many trains rolling through how many towns and on until they are memories in how many horizons.
The sky keeps blooming light.
And the shade of a country of maples stretches.
And a land of winding rivers carves through forests and fields, and generations of voices carries over yards and campfires and front porches and somewhere a radio mutters a song and the night fills with a whole a nation of steeples proclaiming their thanks to the skies.
The woman could feel the dirt like a homecoming under her.
She knows what she is made of and where she’s from.
And that we all feel this undeniable bond with the land of our birth, and she knows it: we are all born of the dust of the earth and the breath of God.
And this is what makes us bound to all the earth’s people and to our homeland of heaven.
And she looks around at the dads rocking babies and the kids curled in blankets and she feels it like a work of fire in her: Heavenly patriotism is this belief that all human lives everywhere are worth the same.
That we’re a country of countries, a world of families, a earth of one human race, and that was it — the essence of this great land she lived in.What really unites a great land is more than a flag — it’s an idea. The idea that all peoples under heaven are the idea of a Great God.
That all peoples under heaven, in our back alleys and in our hospitals, in our prisons and shelters and headlines and every person in our far-flung world, are flagged as the handiwork of God, the dream of God, the art of God.
Everywhere she looked, there it was — “I was the stranger and you welcomed me in.”
It was strange and glorious, how it was happening in her, for her nation, for all the nations: Heavenly patriotism makes you patriotic for all of humanity.
And under fireworks, she watches them all.
The mothers stroking the hair of drowsy ones and toddlers clapping awed for every color eruption, eyes reflecting every blooming of the sky. And the old men with arms around their elegant wives.
And there’s a nurse somewhere who keeps watch.
And a clerk who keeps a gas pump open and a farmer stays up in the barn with a sick calf and a youth group giving it their all a million miles away from home and there is a whole world of people and glory and life could be about the liberty of all. You are doing something great with your life – when you’re doing all the small things with His Great love.You aren’t a citizen of here working your way into heaven. You’re a citizen of heaven working His Way through here.
And it was there in every flag: the stripes that went on like a road, like The Way of Love that goes everywhere and always welcomes the wanderer in.
All those stars like a Love that can’t be contained by the walls in this world.
There under the bloom of fireworks, you could feel it —