Editor’s note: This article originally ran on July 3, 2020. 

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). 

I grew up loving fireworks. I loved the bright red, green and purple illuminating the night sky; the anticipation I felt as I waited for darkness to descend; that first robust note from the “1812 Overture”; the final boom of the grand finale. 

Every year on the Fourth of July, my dad and I traveled to watch fireworks with family. Together we planned the best spots to lay our blankets, how to time our arrival to secure our patch of grass, and what to pack in the cooler. With each burst of color, I’d turn to my dad in delight and see his equally bright smile.  

There’s something sacred about bearing witness to the bright array of colors streaked across a dark, night sky. It’s a reminder that, even in the darkness, light can shine. 

The first time my husband and I took our children to watch fireworks, I longed to see in their eyes that same wonder and joy I’d felt as a child. From our spot on the lawn, we talked about the upcoming display. We pointed to the sky showing them where the lights would be. We waited. 

The first boom struck. Both kids looked up. “Up, up, up,” cried our 4-year-old daughter. She lifted her arms to be picked up by her father, then turned away from the fireworks.  

I shot my husband a worried look. “Oh no, this may be a long night,” I said.   

“Charlotte, look at the colors! There’s nothing to be scared about,” I assured her. She peeked up from burying her face in her dad’s neck. 

“I go car. Go home now,” she whimpered between the loud cracks and bursts of color. Then our 1-year-old son started to cry. This wasn’t the fireworks experience I had imagined.  

Afraid to shine 

Just as I had hoped my children would delight in fireworks, I also have dreams for how they’ll live out their callings. I pray that they use their gifts to benefit others. I pray they’ll know just how beautiful and needed it is to bear witness to God’s light. I hope their light will dim the darkness.  

God calls us to let our light shine before others, but sometimes fear inhibits us from taking action. I believe being a light for Christ means acting in faith even when we feel afraid, embarrassed or unsure how to move forward.  

The day a tornado devastated Joplin, Mo., three hours from my home, I felt immobilized and fearful. While watching the news, my phone rang. “Pastor Kim! It’s Mitch. Did you see about the tornado that hit Joplin? We have to do something,” said the high schooler from my congregation.  

And then, because of Mitch, I no longer could stay still. My call as his pastor and my call to follow Christ led me straight toward the tornado’s aftermath.  

Like my children watching fireworks, we’re not alone. We’re being held too. God’s arms encircle us in love and nudge us to step forward in faith. 

In a matter of days, our congregation collected money and donations, partnered with an on-the-ground social service agency and traveled to Joplin. 

One evening my parishioners walked the grounds where Joplin’s Peace Lutheran Church once stood. After quiet prayers and silence, one girl noticed something at her feet. “I saw all the broken pieces of stained glass. I picked up a piece and knew that we should do something with it,” she told me. 

Her admission led us to create a gift for Peace made from the broken pieces of their former building’s stained glass. That night, I was inspired by the courage of our youth. They reminded me that God’s light shines even in the darkest situations.  

It’s this same courage I witnessed in my children during their first fireworks display. Once he stopped crying, my son placed his head in the crook of my neck and sucked his thumb. He watched the beautiful colors from the security of my arms. Even my daughter, in her father’s arms, kept peeking back to look toward the light.  

Like my children watching fireworks, we’re not alone. We’re being held too. God’s arms encircle us in love and nudge us to step forward in faith. 

The next fireworks display we see, I don’t know how my children will react. Maybe they’ll never find the same joy as I do in a crisp, lit-up Fourth of July night. But I will keep taking them to see the fireworks. I’ll be there to hold them tight. And I’ll encourage them to look toward God’s light and notice how it changes even the darkest night into a symphony of color.  

Kimberly Knowle-Zeller
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, spouse of an ELCA pastor and co-author of The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years (March 2023). She lives with her family in Cole Camp, Mo. Her website is kimberlyknowlezeller.com.

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