At 1:59am, I dreamt that I woke from a dream. In this dream, I thought that I’d woken up just a few minutes before my alarm. In reality, my alarm had been set early so I could chaperone camp the next day. So at 2:01, I got up and quietly made my bed—this I actually did, though it was all still a dream. I sleepwalked across the hall. The light I turned on in the bathroom jolted me awake enough to walk back to my room and check the time. Three hours later when my alarm did go off, I woke up cynical. I trusted neither myself nor my alarm. But then I heard the singing of the birds and truth was restored.
I’ve found myself too quick to wake up to news cynical about this country we call America, about this freedom we call just.
The first chapter of Romans lays out the plan for the destruction of a civilization. It happened to Egypt, it happened to Rome, and it seems the question I keep encountering on this Independence Day 240 years after the country began is that is it happening to America? I’m back in first grade and the fireman has come to give us a demonstration, to tell us to escape, to yell when the smoke (fog machine) is too thick. I want to escape from the news and destruction instead of somehow feeling bolstered that my society is on the path to destruction.
I did escape to my favorite spot in my country, Emerald Isle, North Carolina, with sixteen treasured family members. We spent the summer solstice admiring the strawberry moon. On one of the last days, a sudden storm forced us to follow the crooked boardwalk to shelter. The rain untangled my hair while the wind attempted to knit it into a braid of a hundred knots. Lightning forced my eyes to blink, even though I’d rather stare at its powerful flash. The thunder, such a different sound from the wind chime song of shells when touched by waves, cracked its knuckles.
Just an hour before the storm, I’d taken a turn with the kayak. I’d gone out so far that I could hardly hear the roar of the shore. Up and down, I stared at the logo on the front of the bright blue kayak. “Lifetime” it reads. I realized I had to strain my neck to look up at it.
Matthew 17:20 says faith can move mountains. It is often easy to read and yet nearly impossible to actually imagine a mountain moving. Yet, as I sat upon the sea, a little paddle in my hand with which to ward off nature’s power, mountains moved underneath me. They left me in the same place, the rush of tides in and out following the ancient pattern of the moon.
As we sought shelter from the storm, I asked my aunt and my uncle how they met. They told stories of twists and turns that go all the way back to the month my aunt was born. Because she was five weeks early, she started school early and met a friend in fifth grade that would eventually meet another friend who would become friends with my uncle. On our last night, I walked to the shore with their youngest daughter to kiss the ocean goodbye. Together with our cousins, three nine-year-olds danced away from the sea, products of love and story. These are the singing birds of the morning, the light waking me up, and they remind my cynicism of the truth.
This is my home. To me, America isn’t just politics and culture I don’t always understand. It is the reflection of the campfire in the eyes of friends as we share stories in Tennessee. We smile because we’ve just seen a magnificent waterfall, and we laugh because we’ve seen a lot of life together here in America. America is the way my puppy skips across the green backyard. She chases a butterfly under the shade of the trees that have grown up with me. America is the singing birds at a camp in Kentucky, the splintering pews in a little white church in Virginia, the sunset clouds floating beneath me as I ride through space with a plane full of stories.
An idyllic story has taught me to call this place of canyons and caves, trees and tornadoes home. History has taught me that corruption and confusion are nothing new. And truth has taught me, even in the celebration days, that this isn’t actually my home. Someplace Real awaits.
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” –Philippians 3:20-21