Last Thursday was the 4th of July. This wasn’t just any 4th of July. This was a day to check off a pretty big item from the bucket list. And that was to spend Independence Day in the Capital of the United States, Washington D.C. while seeing the fireworks and listening to the music from the National Mall. Since we live just about 3.5 hours away, this was totally doable for us. We drove up early that morning, went to a Washington Nationals’ baseball game, explored one branch of the Smithsonian, and then dutifully set up our camping chairs in preparation for the main event. After we made it through the long line of security, we found a really great spot on the steps of the Capitol Building. I hunkered down to save our seats underneath my umbrella to fight off the harsh rays while my husband set off on the quest to find us dinner. Unbeknownst to us, that was not where we would be spending the rest of our 4th.
While David was searching for a food vendor, I began to take in the remarkable sights before and behind me. Before my eyes was a canopy of thousands upon thousands of people who had come to celebrate America’s birthday. I gazed out over the National Mall to see the stage for “A Capitol Fourth,” which I had watched on television many a year throughout my life, and the Washington Monument peaking out accompanied by masses of people, standing tall as if to salute our nation’s birth. Behind me was the U.S. Capitol Building that hosts our Senate and House of Representatives. My mind drifted back to my high school senior trip to Washington, when our Congressman gave us a tour of the building. That had been an amazing opportunity, but my heart was slightly sad because my husband had never had that experience. Nevertheless, it was an amazing feeling to be celebrating America from that vantage point.
As I waited on my husband for nearly an hour, I remembered that my friend, Krystal, had mentioned she and her husband would be there with his family as well. His dad is a marvelous Congressman from Wisconsin. I gave her a call and we followed the clues of my polka dot umbrella, which I pumped up and down in the air and scanned the crowd for her fedora- clad head , we finally spotted each other. I waved to her and who I thought was her husband. Turns out the Congressman was the man waving along side of her! Then she texted back and asked if we would like to join them on the Capitol Patio. Stunned at such an amazing offer, I called David who was just as eager to hear such news. I called Krystal and she said to bring all our stuff with us and just tell the guard that the Congressman had invited us up.
When David made his way back to meet me at our seats, he had run into some trouble with security because they had closed off our section after he left to get food. Not only did he have to go through security all over again, but the guards to our section very adamantly told him he could not go back in because he did not have a stamp on his hand. After much debate, he was able to get one of the guards to see that I, his wife, was indeed waiting with our chairs there and reluctantly, he let him in. So, we packed up all our belongings and headed further up the Capitol Steps. When we got to the guard of that section, we stammered that the Congressman had invited us up. He looked at us like we were lying lunatics. We felt like lying lunatics too. I mean, how bogus did our claim sound?! The next thing we knew, though, the Congressman was running down the steps to meet us and called over to the guard, “They’re with me!” And with that, we were on our way up.
We hugged and said our hellos to Krystal and Jared while meeting the rest of the family. Then, just as quickly as we got up there, the Congressman instructed us to put our seats down along with David’s backpack and that it would be perfectly safe because there were armed guards all over the place. He then said, “Come with me! I’m going to give you a quick tour of the Capitol Building.” I’m pretty sure our mouths fell open as we were completely shocked that we were getting this unexpected opportunity…on the 4th of July no less! We gazed with wonder as he showed us the beautiful Rotunda filled with statues and giant paintings depicting our nation’s history (my favorite was The Signing of The Declaration of Independence), the old House Chamber where he showed us where Abraham Lincoln’s writing desk once sat, and lastly the very center of the city which all of Washington was planned around that had been intended for a burial ground for George and Martha Washington, yet refused because he did not want to be buried like a King.
And from there, we went back to new seats with their family and enjoyed the entire concert and firework show. They didn’t just put us off to the side, they included us in their own family’s celebration. I mean, there we were sitting on the Capitol patio with a Congressman and his family jamming out with the rest of the National Mall as we all joined in the chorus with Neil Diamond and his iconic song, “Sweet Caroline.” When the fireworks began, however, a holy hush came across the entire sea of people.
My heart leapt as I watched the rockets’ red glare behind the Washington Monument that 4th of July. I couldn’t help but treasure that moment in my soul. We wouldn’t have been there celebrating had the building whose patio we were perched upon not come into existence with the purpose of housing governing groups to protect our liberties. But we wouldn’t have had that Capitol Building if it weren’t for the crowds seen and unseen from the National Mall and far beyond its boarders. Those crowds consisted of both people who have defended the freedoms which are ever sought to be protected in the U.S. Capitol Building and also of civilians who depended upon that very protection for their liberties. We were all there because of each other.
When the grand finale concluded, we said our thanks and goodbyes to the dear Congressman and his family, packed up our stuff and began to make our exit down the stairs we had originally hiked up. The crowds were somewhat chaotically scattering by this point, so we stopped by the guard at the steps and asked if we could go down the blocked off stairs we had come up. He said, “No, you actually need to cut through the building and you’ll come out on the other side.”
With our big bulky lawn chairs over our shoulders, bouncing backpack, and sweaty selves, we looked at each other, then looked at the building and hesitantly proceeded We felt like we were doing something we shouldn’t. We just knew we didn’t deserve to cut through that sacred building along with the brains of Washington. We had this sickening feeling that at any moment, some police man with a machine gun was going to jump in front of us and tell us we weren’t supposed to be in there. But we went forward, this time, unescorted by the Congressman.
We held our breath as we walked through the marble hallways, in hopes of avoiding knocking anything over with our protruding lawn chairs. As I approached the exit of the building, I was struck with a very powerful thought. Our exit was much grander than our entrance. We had a new way out. And it was because of the one who let us in.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve been given a new way out. On October 4, 1988, I accepted the invitation from the only One who can give me a new way out of this world, Jesus. Much like the Congressman, He came down to the skeptical guards of Heaven and said, “Hey, she’s with me,” and I was granted passage to the most remarkable celebration of new birth ever presented to mankind. I haven’t gone through those gates yet, but when I do, I know I’ll have no trouble.
And the best part about it is, I won’t be dripping with the sweat and toils of the hardships of this world and all my baggage will be left behind. When I walk through those gates, I’ll be fresh and clean as I absorb the sweet aroma of the city that needs no sun or moon, the city who’s light stems from One much brighter than the fireworks that lit up that 4th of July…Jesus, the Light of the World.
We all have been offered the invitation for a new way out. It’s far sweeter than the way we came in. My friend, it’s there waiting for your acceptance. Look nowhere but to the Light of the World for your new way out and when you hear Him say, “(S)he’s with me,” simply put one foot in front of another and follow Him.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19