FIRMLY PLANTED ◽ ENCOURAGEMENT
Whether by necessity, happenstance, or design, I’ve had a wood burning stove of some kind in all but one house I’ve lived in over the last forty years. Over time, experience has taught me a few things about fire. Building a fire from scratch, tending it, and keeping it going 24/7 is an exercise in observation; couple that with a wise, softly speaking teacher…I would say fire can speak mysteries.
My very first wood stove came as a gift. This was early on in “the second twenty years” of my life. (Read my story "The Next Twenty Years" in the February 2020 THYME archives.) We had “upgraded” from a school bus to a mobile home on two acres. Someone in the wonderful church I belonged to at the time had a store that sold wood burning stoves and accessories. As a house-warming gift (no pun intended!), they gave us a choice of a $500 gift certificate or a wood stove. We chose the wood stove (one made for mobile homes)—one of the few wise choices we made during that time. That stove witnessed and participated in many stories I could tell, but that’s for another time.
The second and third stoves came with the two historic houses I lived in several years later. If you’ve ever lived in an old house that hasn’t been sufficiently renovated, you know they’re drafty. Wood is a welcome supplement to any kind of heat—it gives you something warm to back up to.
My current house has a heat pump—efficient for cooling, but, when temperatures are in the 30’s, it doesn’t heat well unless you switch on the (expensive) electric heat strips. I bought the house in December 2006 (without a wood stove) and I was cold all winter. It seemed the heater ran continually but I didn’t feel warm, ever. I determined not to go through another winter like that, and the next Fall I bought my Homestead soapstone stove. I’ve had it now for fourteen years—it’s by far the best of all and I consider it one of the best investments I’ve made.
That’s my wood stove history--but what about Fire? That’s the real substance of my story. Fire is a fascinating natural phenomenon. I can’t begin to explain it—scientific minds can do that—I can only experience it, appreciate it, and learn from it. There are very real dangers with fire—I’ve had a couple of scary moments—but those aren’t the moments I’m talking about. It’s the moments fire speaks to my soul…when I’m staring into the depths and suddenly, or sometimes slowly, I begin to see…
A fire begins small. A layer of balled up newspaper, next, kindling placed crosswise, then two or three bigger sticks crossing on top, then a little bigger piece on top…the key is air flow between them all and graduating sizes. Air feeds the fire and each layer provides fuel for the next. Once it’s burning, I carefully lay bigger pieces of wood on top until it catches, progressing to logs that keep the fire going. Too big a piece on top too soon will smother the fire. Some friendships are like that…probably most of them, says Fire. Start small, be patient, build trust, give room to breathe. Don’t smother with too much too soon—heavy burdens of expectations, unnecessary opinions, or unsolicited advice.
Once the fire is going strong, I have to keep feeding it and adjusting the airflow--sometimes by poking it a bit. A bigger log can last awhile, but it will go out if I wait too long before adding more wood. I can build it back up if there are still coals, but if it goes out I have to start from scratch again. Fire lovingly reminds me: a strong friendship can handle the big stuff, but don’t just drop it and leave it. Adjust the “airflow” by communicating and have that difficult conversation to clear the air. Don’t ignore signs of tension or distance, and be kind, sensitive, and attentive. A good friendship, like a good fire, needs to be fed and tended.
One of the clearest messages I remember was during a time of isolation from my Christian brothers and sisters. Going through a period of “I can connect with God on my own, thank you,” I wasn’t plugged in anywhere with others who could encourage and support my walk in the Way. One day, staring at the fire burning just one log—mostly black, glowing red on the edges, about to go out for lack of coals to bolster it—and I knew that was me. A log alone can’t sustain itself. There has to be a solid bed of coals underneath to keep a log going, and it’s best to have at least two pieces of wood burning together to keep the fire going. I don’t think that needs any explanation, and I can testify it’s a FIRE FACT and a LIFE FACT—upper case in my book.
Just a taste of messages from Fire…is it just common sense, or do we think that Fire can speak mysteries through the voice of its Creator? In my humble opinion, a personal message is both profound and a mystery. I love that, and I also love the toasty dry warmth of wood heat. I guess I’ll keep using my wood stove as long as I can lift a log.
The king said to Daniel,
“Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries…
( Daniel 2:47)