Growing up, every single Fourth of July holiday was spent at my grandparents’ house on Lake Conroe. It was a big, beautiful home sitting right on the lake in Montgomery, Texas. My entire family packed their cars full of children and bags and then set course for Montgomery. The drive there was set amongst beautiful pine trees and winding hills. The closer and closer we got to the house, the more restless I would become.

Once there, family members would quickly claim various rooms and immediately head outside for the sprawling green lawn that rested right by the water. The younger half of the family (myself included), would dive into the backyard’s spacious pool and swim until it was time to help make dessert.

Perhaps my favorite Fourth of July tradition was making a Jell-O parfait with my lovely grandmother. I helped her with this recipe for longer than I can remember, and it only seemed to improve every single year. We would bond over talks of family, newspaper clippings and our sticky hands. She was the most godly, beautiful and patriotic woman I have ever known.

At dinner, the family spread out all over the property, from the lawn chairs to the picnic table to the veranda. It’s a tradition in my family to always sit next to someone you havent talked to in a while, and this holiday was the perfect time to leisurely catch up. Before we ate, we would all gather in a circle and join hands for prayer. I come from a very patriotic family, so no Fourth of July is complete without a reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Next on the agenda was a trip to the marina to watch fireworks. We would gaze in awe of the colors and the piercing sounds, and I distinctly remember lying on my blanket just thanking God for all that I had. It was a very special, profound time for me. I still remember the smell of bug repellant that would linger in the humid summer air. Despite the mosquitos and the dewy grass, I was free from all distractions.

The last event of the night was lighting sparklers in the backyard. My cousins and I would grab every sparkler within reach, light them, and wait for the fire to start eating its way through its thin stick. We ran around the pool and out to the dock, waving our hands in every direction. We called to the yachts and the ferries that made their way across the glimmering water. Sometimes my mother and grandmother would join us, a sparkler in each hand and a fire in their eyes.

It has been nearly three years since my grandmothers death. The Lord called her home a few short weeks before the Fourth of July, so that entire summer was an incredibly hard one for all our family. It felt profoundly different without her there. The house felt a bit bigger, the backyard a bit emptier and the fireworks a little duller. I found it difficult to enjoy the little things quite like I used to.

Eventually, through patience and prayer, I was able to enjoy this holiday again almost as much as when my grandmother was still here. The warm fuzzy feelings returned, because I knew that she would want me to embrace every aspect of her favorite holiday. I would imagine her reading the Declaration of Independence to me, or showing me old photographs from summers past. To this day, I still make our parfait, complete with red and blue Jell-O, whipped cream and blueberries that resemble her deep blue eyes.

For me, the Fourth of July is about more than just celebrating Americas birth. It’s about memories. Its about spending time with my big, precious family. It means a new appreciation for what I have, and for a taste of summer magic.