Mr. Randall lifted the lid of the grill and began to place frozen hamburger patties on the grates. The hot grate sizzled and smoked. After each patty was in place, he closed the lid and took a seat in a camp chair.
Closing the door to the shed, Amber came over to stand beside her dad.
Mr. Randall looked up with a smile. “Are you excited about the picnic?”
“Yes, I am, but I’m really looking forward to the fireworks.” Amber looked down at the bag of sparklers in her hand. “I’m going to put these in the van to make sure we don’t forget them.”
“Sounds like a plan. The burgers shouldn’t be much longer, and then we can go if Mom and Ruby have the rest of the food ready.”
A few minutes passed, and Mr. Randall lifted the lid and deftly began flipping the burgers. Juice was dripping through the slats, making the flame intensify.
Snap! Pop! Snap, snap! Mr. Randall whirled, spatula poised in his hand. Mica stood next to the patio, a huge grin on his face and a little yellow box in his hand.
“Scared you, didn’t I?”
Mr. Randall exhaled and laughed. “You sure did. It sounded like the grill was blowing up and not just a few poppers hitting the concrete.
Mica chuckled and threw another handful of poppers onto the slab. “I didn’t know if there would be anywhere hard to throw these at the picnic, so Mom said I could go ahead and do some now.”
“Smart thinking.” Mr. Randall turned back to the burgers.
In the house, Ruby snapped the lid on a dish of macaroni salad and set it in the ice chest. She took a quick peek into the wicker picnic basket. Chips, plates, cups, utensils and silverware, buns, and napkins. I think that’s everything.
“Are we ready?” Mrs. Randall took off her apron and hung it on a peg before putting the fried zucchini into the basket.
“I think so!”
It was a short drive to the field where the fireworks show was being held, and the Randalls were soon settled on a blanket. Other groups of people were gathering in clusters around the field. The yearly fireworks show for the town always brought out a crowd.
When the Marshalls’ vehicle pulled in next to the Randalls, Ruby went right over, unbuckled the twins, Priscilla and Phoebe, and helped them down.
“I’m a big girl now and don’t need any help getting out,” four-year-old Rhoda announced, unbuckling herself and climbing out of her booster seat.
“Yes, you are a big girl now that you have three younger siblings, aren’t you?” Ruby gave Rhoda a hug before looking over and smiling at Luke. He had his head turned to look at her, making it more difficult for his dad to lift him from the car seat. Ruby set Priscilla on the ground and then took Luke when Mr. Marshall offered him to her.
“You’re getting so big,” she told him, going back to the blanket and sitting down with him on her lap. “Before you know it, you’ll be running around with your sisters.”
Amber and Mica were setting up a bubbles station on a small table for the little girls, who were eagerly helping.
“Come and eat,” Mrs. Randall called a little while later. Rhoda came running toward the picnic blanket, leaving a trail of bubbles in her wake.
“You don’t need your bubbles again until after we eat,” her mom told her, taking the bubble wand the little girl held out. “Bubble burgers probably wouldn’t taste very good.”
After prayer, everyone started eating except for Mr. Randall. “I thought before I eat I would share a little devotional. I didn’t want to keep the little ones waiting for their supper.” He smiled in the direction of the twins who were eating with gusto.
“I just wanted to remind us why we celebrate the 4th of July. As Americans, this is a time when we celebrate the freedoms we have to live our lives the way God directs us. But as Christians, we know that we are really only free to live our lives the way God directs us through the power of Jesus. Just having freedom in our laws is not enough. Without Jesus, people are all slaves to their sin. And, even once we have accepted Jesus, unless we continue to seek Him and let Him live through us, we will not be free. True freedom is a personal decision each one of us must make.”
But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
Mr. Randall read a few verses before picking up his loaded plate. After everyone had eaten as much as they had room for, and even the whole watermelon in the cooler had been sliced and devoured, there was still time for some more playing before the summer sunset. Ruby gave Amber a turn with the baby and joined the girls in blowing bubbles.
“I can blow a big one. Watch this!” Rhoda blew as hard as she could through the bubble blower, and a multitude of little bubbles sailed into the air.
She turned to Ruby with a frown. “I blew hard. Why aren’t they big?”
“Because that bubble blower only makes tiny bubbles. Let me show you something.” Ruby picked up the big bubble wand, dipped it in the bowl of bubble soap, and spun around in a circle with her arm extended. A huge bubble formed on the wand and finally broke free to float lazily through the warm air.
Rhoda clapped her hands. “Can I do it? Please?”
“Sure!” Ruby handed her the wand and smiled at her excitement. It took a little while for Rhoda to get the hang of it, but soon she was sending giant bubbles out over the pasture.
By the time it was dusky, the girls were happy to settle down on the blanket with the others to watch the fireworks. Ruby lifted Rhoda onto her lap, and the little girl laid her head against Ruby’s shoulder.
“Tired?” Ruby asked.
“Well, the fireworks will start any minute, and then you’ll be awake.”
Less than a minute passed before a pop sounded and a shower of red, white, and blue sparks descended. While they were still fading from sight, a man’s voice broke over the loudspeaker, singing the national anthem.
Ruby put Rhoda on the ground and took her hand as she stood with the others. At the end of the song, she joined the applause of the many groups of picnickers.
Everyone hardly had time to settle on the blanket before the fireworks began in earnest. Silver stars and purple glitter danced in the air. A white rocket twirled right through them as if they weren’t even there. For half an hour, it was a continuous banging and popping as brilliant lights sparked through the sky.
When it ended, Mr. Randall and Sterling pulled out lighters and began lighting sparklers. Jasper distributed them as they were lit. Everyone left the blanket and waved their sparklers in the sea of sparklers all over the field, the perfect way to say thank you for the fireworks production.
Ruby shook her sparkler and watched the red, white, and blue sparks shower to the ground. A feeling of gratitude overwhelmed her. She was free. Not just as an American, but even more importantly because Jesus had set her free from sin.
Raising her sparkler higher into the air, she looked up at the stars shining overhead and whispered, I’m free. Thank you.
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
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What do you think of when you hear the word freedom? What are you thankful for about freedom today?