Twigs + logs + matches + newspaper = fire. At least for a girl who spent the first 17 years of her life growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where I’d wager that many kids learned the skill of how to build a fire amongst other skills like ice fishing, downhill & cross-country skiing and how to swim in Lake Superior just long enough until your toes feel numb.
Recently my friend and colleague Grace spent a weekend in a lovely log cabin, tucked in the back of a generous person’s property, overlooking a stream and surrounded by woods. Though the two of us usually run the gamut conversationally from what’s happening in our respective jobs as regional coordinators with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, to our kids, to what the latest celeb fashions are, to what we’re reading on blogs or in books, this weekend was set aside to spend some time in silent reflection, journaling, prayer and listening to what God might have to say to each of us. Bonus to not have to be woken up in the morning by our children and be able to enjoy coffee and omlets together!
When I saw that the cabin had a fireplace I envisioned sitting in the rocking chair, reading or journaling while letting my thoughts drift as I gazed into the dancing flames of a fire, I of course would successfully build. Though it was a little damp that day, I gathered twigs for kindling, brought in logs from the stack outside the cabin to dry off a little and got the fire going in the late afternoon so we could enjoy it as the sun set.
I got to work crumbling newspaper, building a web of twigs under the logs and strategically lighting the newspaper so that everything would catch, which it eventually did flaring up into yellow flames. And then it flickered out. Repeat newspaper, twig web, log shifting. At least four more times. As I’m hunkering down sticking my head into the fireplace to try and help the back of the fire catch, I mumble an apology to Gracee for how loud I’ve been building the fire as she’s been silently journaling. With a slightly concerned look on her face, she simply remarks, “uh, no problem, it’s actually kind of fascinating watching you do this.”
At last the fire seems to catch. “Success!” I exclaim as I settle into the rocker with my book and mug of tea. “I’m impressed” Gracee nods as she looks up from her journal. “White girl skills!” I reply to my bi-racial friend who grew up in Detroit and once told me that she thought werewolves were simply a breed of wolves.
The logs burn for awhile, but all the time I’m thinking- “this fire looks like it’s about to go out any minute. Mother of pearl, I just want to sit here and enjoy it and now it looks like I’m going to have to get up every 10 minutes to stick in some more twigs, shift the logs and basically keep this thing going.” And because it’s a silent prayer retreat I start asking, “Is there some deeper meaning here Lord, like, it takes continual effort to follow you or something like that?” Because when you’re on a silent retreat, you start wondering if there’s meaning in a splenda packet because you go expecting to hear from God. So when the fire starts to fizzle after about 20 minutes, burning the log only in one place I decided to concede, just let it go and look at those stupid ashes in the hearth reminding me of what a failure I’ve become at building fires. I eventually moved to another couch so I wouldn’t have to look at the charred logs.
Though in high school or even awhile into college I could successfully blaze it up with the right tools those skills seem long gone. On our drive to the cabin, Grace and I talked about how when you get reconnected with someone or something from your past it can spark nostalgia and even an urgency to want to reconnect with who you once were or the things you once did. In my fire fail, it made me think about all of the skills I’ve left behind in becoming who I am today. While there might be some sadness that I’m not a wilderness mom, I’ve traded those fire building skills by choosing to focus on a lot of other areas in my life that I’d rather see bursting into sparks and igniting into flames.
It’s thrilling to see a light dawn on a student who begins to realize how much God loves them and begins a relationship with Jesus. It’s amazing to see the spark of an idea of helping to raise awareness about and money for human trafficking on the college campus turn blaze across InterVarsity nationally to help students live out and speak about their faith in holistic ways. It warms me to see my son’s eyes squinched up as he prays before meals, “God bless the food, bless the people in Japan whose houses got washed away and cars got washed away” after seeing video footage of the destruction in Japan.
Have you had any of those nostalgia moments recently? Where you wonder- how the heck did I change so much? Why the heck can’t I do these things I once was good at any more? How did you respond?