The end of July and beginning of August has always been a season of celebration. 

Weston was born on July 28th, 2014. We brought him home from the hospital on July 31st, which also happened to be Amanda’s birthday. We woke up a few times through that night to feed and burp him and got to experience the sunrise together as new parents while he drifted back to sleep. It was August 1st—our 6th wedding anniversary. 

The end of July and the beginning of August has always been a season of celebration. 

A year after Weston was born, on July 31st, 2015, we brought 18 teenagers home from a massive summer camp in Daytona Beach. Eight of them had received Christ at the camp and were getting baptized at our church that Sunday. Amanda and I stood side by side and watched as families showed up to our church in what seemed like droves. It was the first time we felt like this little church we had started with four people in our living room was actually going to take root and make it. 

The end of July and the beginning of August has always been a season of celebration.

But now, as I write this on what would have been our 9th wedding anniversary, the end-of-July-beginning-of-August is a season of mixed emotions. Sorrow for the reminder of the empty seat at our dinner table. Nostalgia as I think back on all the great memories at the turn of the summer. Gratitude for the years of end-of-July-beginning-of-August seasons I got to share with Amanda. Tall green stalks of Indiana corn usher in memories of our wedding, anniversary trips to Chicago, birthday scavenger hunts, and adjusting to an infant at home. 

This past Sunday evening, Weston and I drove to St. Joseph, Michigan to eat dinner at Silver Beach with Amanda’s family. Silver Beach, located on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan, was Amanda’s favorite childhood beach spot. I’ll never forget the first time she took me there when she graduated high school. She told me we were going to the beach and I laughed at her. As a southern boy growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, I spent summers at Gulf Shores and Panama City. I poked fun at her notion that a lakefront could even compare to the white beaches of the Gulf Coast.

And then I saw Lake Michigan and Silver Beach. It was amazing. Clear, placid, fresh waters spilling over wide sandy dunes. Amanda and I spent the entire day and evening there with friends in her graduating class. We played beach volleyball, jumped off the pier, took walks, napped, grilled out and finally capped off the evening watching the most beautiful sunset I’d ever seen in my life. It was a perfect day.

This past Sunday as I sat on the beach with the Byars family, all I could think about was that day. Amber and mom set up a table on the beach with white balloons and a white table cloth. Dad and I snickered at their romanticized notion that they could keep in tact a beautifully decorated table through the gusts of beach breeze. They adorned the table with some of Amanda’s favorite foods—pizza, watermelon, and Twizzlers Pull and Peels. The kids rolled around in the sand and splashed about the shallow shores, oblivious to the real reason we were there that day. The joyful giggles of Weston, Audrey, Raegan, Hudson and Rowen helped ease the crushing weight that sat on my chest.

As the evening drew to a close, Amber laid out three towels side-by-side and we all sat and watched the sunset. Golden and pink hues mixed with wisps of white and blue to form beautiful skyline. It was Amanda’s favorite time of day—the few fleeting moments before the sun disappears below the horizon to signal the end of another day. “Golden Hour” is what she used to call it. 

I peered over the horizon and thought about the significance of the sunset in front of me, a symbol of the closing of a perfect day. I silently begged the sun to stand still right where it was. If I just stared straight at the sunset I could almost imagine being there 10 years earlier with Amanda. I wanted to freeze that feeling, but as the sun continued to fade that feeling fled from me. 

A kind of sadness creeps over you when you realize you’re not sure when the next perfect day is going to come. Perfect days are hardly planned. They’re just experienced. And the troubling thing is it’s nearly impossible to truly enjoy a perfect day in the middle of it. You almost don’t realize it’s been a perfect day until it’s nearing a close. 

And yet I realized in that moment that if one perfect day doesn’t come to a close it’s impossible to experience another. The dawning of a new day is completely reliant on the dusk of the previous. The great thing is we know dawn will come. There’s not been one day that I’ve been alive that the sun has failed to come up. Certainly there are dark days where the sun hides itself behind sometimes ominous clouds—but the sun still comes up. Every day. Without fail. And a new day begins. And with the promise of a new day we have the hope of another perfect day.   

C.S. Lewis writes in A Grief Observed about losing his wife:

“It was too perfect to last,' so I am tempted to say of our marriage. But it can be meant in two ways. It may be grimly pessimistic - as if God no sooner saw two of His creatures happy than He stopped it ('None of that here!'). As if He were like the Hostess at the sherry-party who separates two guests the moment they show signs of having got into a real conversation. But it could also mean 'This had reached its proper perfection. This had become what it had in it to be. Therefore of course it would not be prolonged.' As if God said, 'Good; you have mastered that exercise. I am very pleased with it. And now you are ready to go on to the next.”

Amanda passed a few months after we celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. Seven. The number of completion. The number of perfection. And true to it’s meaning, it was a perfect year. The best year we ever had together. 

I sat on that towel as the sun dipped below the horizon and the last pastels gave way to dark navy. I thought about how the sun setting on that season of my life kills me. It hurts more than I could ever describe to know that I will never share life with Amanda Grace again. But I also thought about how in a matter of time a new season of life will dawn. "Though weeping may tarry through the night, joy comes in the morning.” And I will once again have another chance for another “perfect” day.  

I dropped my head as one final thought came over me. The most important birthday in Amanda’s life was her re-birth day—the day she gave her heart and life to Jesus as her Savior and she was reborn. This was the day the Author of her faith began penning her faith story. Likewise, the most important wedding anniversary in her commemorates the wedding ceremony between her and her Savior groom as she walked the aisle of Heaven for King Jesus. That was the day he perfected her faith. And for both of those days I have reason to celebrate this end-of-July-beginning-of-August season. Not only that, I have reason to look forward to the last perfect day that will never come to a close—eternity with Jesus and Amanda.