I love Independence Day. The barbecues, the swimming, the fireworks. The colors–red, white, and blue. The songs that warble all day long. Driving through neighborhoods and seeing the Star Spangled Banner hung on most homes. The flags lining the sidewalks. The solidarity. The pride.

This year, Independence Day is really hard for me. I see Old Glory, hear the songs, listen to the speeches and sermons, and it all reminds me of the tremendous sacrifice I am making for what all of those symbols represent.

I stood in the back of Mass this morning with a very fussy toddler, not feeling my best because of the baby kicking me from the inside. I was counting down the minutes until Mass was over, could take my screaming daughter home. “Sorry, Jesus.” I thought. And then I looked down and saw her hand snake under his arm and enter his. My heart hurt.

I miss that.

“Remember the sacrifices that are being made so we can keep our everyday liberties. The love for this country, and the responsibility that goes with it…” the priest encouraged.

I understand that.

“What’s that?” The older lady asked her grown daughter, pointing to it. “Her husband’s gone–it’s a Daddy Doll.” She whispered back.

I love that.

“How are you holding up, sweetheart?” Our parishioner-friend gathered me into her arms. “Fine–hanging in there.” I replied, attempting to maintain my image. “Really?” She could see right through me…and held me a long time.

I need that.

It’s different this year. It’s all a very painful reminder of the man who I’ve sent off twice now to go defend the flag, the songs, the fireworks, the people. The solidarity and pride. It’s an achy reminder of the girls he left behind, missing their lives while we miss his. It’s the getting up every morning and fighting my way through another day, it’s staying strong as we journey through the doldrums. It’s striving to find the joy, the happiness, the peace God places in our daily lives despite what is temporarily absent.

I’m proud to be an American where, if nothing else, at least I know I’m free. I will not forget the men and women who have fought far away, some even dying, who give this right to me. I may wake up in an empty bed, but I have a bed inside a home. I may eat at an empty table, but I have a table in a kitchen. I may sit in a pew with a cranky toddler, I may lie awake at night, I may shed hard tears when no one is looking. But that is my God-given right, those are my God-given blessings. And it is my husband who provides those blessings, first by his job but moreso by fighting for my freedom.

As you sing along to the songs this year, as you bite into your burgers, as you enjoy your day off, remember the men and women who have given so much for your very freedom. Remember the families, spouses, children, babies they leave behind. Remember those who, after having given all, are laid to rest under marble while their families look on.

It is not the fireworks, the anthems, the food we celebrate this year. Instead, we celebrate victory, and the constant battle for it. We honor those who fight for this, and we remember those who have died for it.

God bless America.

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