Me and fire…we’re old enemies and the best of friends. It’s been a lifelong relationship and one that I’ve gained a reputation for. The closest of my friends caution others to either have plenty of firewood or keep the poker away from me. It’s an irresistible force, I just can’t stop nudging it to life, feeling in control, carving through the coals and then coercing it to send a million sparks into the night sky. I’ve been known to randomly gather sticks from the yard and light them on fire, just because. Just because there is a peace and a calm of experiencing something that can be so out of control. I’ve always been more than a little bit in love with fire.
The first memorable ‘moment’ I had with fire was a tremendous analogy for the situation in which I experienced this epiphany. We were breaking the law…something my boyfriend at the time had no issue in doing. We had an open fire inside the city limits with no attempts at all to clear it with the fire department. The memory of the moment is as clear to me now as it felt in the tiny speck of time over 12 years ago. The analogy is that with him, and on that evening…. I was literally playing with fire and destined to get burned.
We stared into the fire saying little when I shocked the silence by announcing, quite adamantly ‘fire is like life’ and then proceeded to explain my new found brilliance with just a sentence. The exact words escape me now, but it was all about the ever-changing nature of the glow. Like life, it is always evolving, just when it calms and seems under control… a gentle breeze can kick up and change the direction. It’s blue hot in one moment yet calm, warming and soothing the next. And given a lit bit of gentle encouragement can combust into a raging inferno. I fell even deeper in love with fire that night.
Fast forward to several years later, and life had kicked me in the pants. My home required expensive repairs, a dear friend of mine betrayed my trust and to top it all off, I’d just been given notice that my job (the first thing that felt like a true career to me) would be ending in 2 months and I was just angry in general. I was a fire on the verge of raging beyond containment and that feeling…well, it calls for actual fire. But the only firewood I could muster came in the form of branches that I’d just cut. A lot of them. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t use a chainsaw when angry either…but alas, the result was multiple fresh-trimmed trees and a large stack of green brush. Green brush requires fuel. The fuel, in that case, was gasoline and the spark was a match.
God dressed me that day. He knew that I’d need protection, so He made me don both a hat and shield-style sunglasses before going outside. When I dressed for outside, I really didn’t have any plans other than to just breathe, maybe pull some weeds and pray. But the fire that raged inside me led me to the massacre and torching of innocent trees. Had it not been for the hat and sunglasses, I may have ended up with more visible scars, instead of just the emotional ones trying to form inside me. The odd skin tones where my arm felt the ‘WHOOSH’ of an instant inferno have nearly faded but the memory of God intervening in my near disfiguring, lives on. That day, I learned to respect fire.
Fire also set in motion a friendship that will likely be with me for a lifetime. On a weekend getaway with 15 perfect strangers, I gravitated toward two who seemed friendly and similar to me in age. I carpooled out to what would become my favorite deep woods retreat with Linda and Joe, chatting happily in that way soon to be friends do. By the time we reached our hike, we felt like great new pals. Dancing, laughing and talking around a campfire later that evening, we became even more familiar friends. At some point, being a kindred spirit in the love of fire, Linda tried to break a stick, but lost her footing and fell hand first into the fire. The skin of her palm was instantly seared into a charred, fleshy mess. Being a mile into the forest, on foot, there was no way out until morning.
With the help of some nurses who were in our group and the medicines they carried, we kept her reasonably calm overnight. It was a long night and a somber journey back home the next day. Not knowing Linda very well, I went on about my week, worried about her but resisted the urge to hover or mother. I gave it a couple days and sent an email to check on her. It took her a couple more days to respond and when she did, her text began with “Hi Stephanie, it’s your new friend Burnt Paw” and in that moment, I knew that Burnt Paw and I were destined to become old friends.
Fire, I dare say, also changed the course of history when someday, someone, some number of years ago made this ‘little’ discovery. I can’t help but continue in my belief that fire… is just like life. In the calm moments, we must learn to appreciate its warmth and peace. Yet, all the while be slightly prepared for the winds to change and blazes to rage. Like fire, life is ever-changing and can turn into an uncontrollable force in an instant. Whatever fire rages in your life or in your heart, we must know that God does have control of the blaze, and if you’ll let Him, He will absolutely prepare you for the times when the flames get too hot to take.
* This view is of the last remaining embers of a great fire in the very same firepit that attacked me once. Very accidentally artistic.