God and Country Rally

Outdoor amphitheater, hills wrapping around, stage cupped in the center. Already, an hour before the preshow is scheduled to begin, the shady side of the amphitheater is covered with blankets and the sunny side is beginning to fill. We arrive and find my sister has saved us seats in the shade.  We spread blankets by her.  Younger kids gang up with cousins.  Older ones hang out with sister and her friends.   My sis is on the brink of leaving for Ethiopia to work for two years, so we talk about the extra baggage she will have to pay for, her progress in packing, and whether or not it would be worth it to pay an extra $120 to ship her guitar there.  I vote yes, my argument being that music is good for the soul.

Musicians play on stage, words indistinct with the sound system cranked not quite loud enough.  Shade creeps forward and the evening cools a little.  More people pour in, and the roar of many people talking gets louder.  Kids walk around with snow cones, inciting a powerful thirst in others.   We take a break in chatting to take kids first to the drinking fountain, then to get ($3 each!) snow cones, then to the bathroom.

The music gets louder, more encompassing, more skilled  — church worship teams in the valley, some blessed with performers we’ve heard on the radio.  Hillsong music is a common theme and is played with various degrees of skill by various groups. My 17 year old son rolls his eye indulgently at me each time another Hillsong song comes on.   I’ve played it and played it at home and he is rather tired of it, preferring instead Relient K and Skillet.

A woman behind me raises her hands in the air, eyes closed, during several songs, oblivious to noisy conversation swirling around her.  A plain looking middle aged woman in front of me stands up and performs graceful, gorgeous sign language during several other songs, body swaying in time with the music.  I am enchanted by her.  I sing along with a few songs, voice barely audible even to my sister sitting next to me.

I get text messages from Erika, just off work, and then newlyweds Amanda and Ben, who arrive and want to know where we are sitting.  We direct them our way.  The patchwork of blankets on the ground around us snugs up, and we scootch over, glad to make space for our new arrivals.

My oldest kids are clumped together, chatting companionably.  My sons alternate drumming on their knees with trying to sneak bits of trash into the hood of their sister’s shirt. They move on to engineering a tiny basket out of a cup for a helium balloon to carry off into the sky.  I veto the idea of filling the cup with water, not liking the idea of it dribbling on spectators as it rises.  That notion is exactly why my sons so love the idea, but they goodnaturedly dump out the water- over their sisters, who brush it off with equal humor.

An announcer rouses everyone to cheer for members of various branches of the military who are being honored tonight.  men and women all over the crowd rise, some bashful and some dignified as clapping and cheers surround them.   Up on stage a group of young people have just decided to enter the military and are sworn in.

Up in the sky, a man with a parachute jumps out of a plane and drifts down towards us along with a truly enormous American flag.  A woman sings the Star Spangled Banner and we pledge allegiance and for a minute I think of the blessing I have living where I do.  Most of my kids have to be reminded to put their hands over their hearts and hush up, however.

When Brandon Heath comes on, the music is louder and more people are paying attention, standing and clapping at times.  I realize I like quite a few of the songs he sings.  I catch the eyes of some of my younger kids and grin as they sing along with songs they’ve heard on the radio many times.  Fireworks are part of his rather impressive stage show, and my big boys are dancing by the end.  The atmosphere all around is a party, plain and simple, and I feel utterly blessed to be surrounded by some of my favorite people, and knowing that my kids are having just as much fun as I am.

By the time Brandon Heath comes off stage, it is getting dark, almost time for fireworks.   Kids all over wield glow sticks and light sabers.  Some, including a couple of my kids (with their own money), have sprung for fake teeth that glow in crazily brilliant colors.  They can’t outshine the fireworks when finally they come, though, lighting up the night with satisfying thunder and brilliance.  Adults and children alike are awed.   I get the fun of holding my 2 year old nephew on my lap.  He points out each new burst with an excited “OH!!!!” that never wanes in its fervor for the whole 15 minute show.

When finally the show is over, we shake out our blankets and gather our people and shuffle with the crowd out to the dark parking lot, where it will be another hour before we even make it out of the lot to the road.   But the glow of a lovely evening stays with me and lasts til we get home, and the memory of the fun makes it almost certain that when the God and Country Rally rolls around next July, we will once again be there.

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  1. Sounds like a wonderful time. I love family moments like that.

    Happy 4th!
    Julie

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  1. […] Last year I was in Ethiopia, and even the American Embassy wasn’t celebrating!  Although my celebrating already started, I look forward to spending more time with friends and family tonight.  This morning, though, I […]