Nelson has always loved fire. I remember catching him lighting matches in his upstairs bedroom when he was about eight. “What on earth are you doing?” I said, alarmed at the prospect of a fire in our very old, all-wooden house.
“I’m testing stuff,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Seeing what burns and what doesn’t.”
He proceeded to tell me he’d cut a tuft of his hair, which burned “real good” in a bowl and had tried to melt a plastic truck, which was “no good.” When I saw a black smudge on the closet door, I asked if he’d tried to burn that, too.
“Yup,” he said, without emotion. “I couldn’t get it to go.”
My heart was pounding, but I tried to stay calm, suggesting his experiments might be better performed outdoors. Over the years he did a great deal of that, learning valuable lessons: fire crackers can explode before you’re ready, and all burns hurt.
Now, in his thirties, Nelson is a master fire-builder, and our old stone fireplace has had inviting fires in it every evening. He loves everything about fire-building, starting with finding dead wood in the forest and hauling it home. Sawing it into log-lengths then hand-splitting it with an ax is rewarding for him, and when the fire is aglow, it’s satisfying for the rest of us, too.
Tonight the fireplace is dark, because Nelson is five time zones away at the University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii. He’s on his way to New Zealand where he’ll start with another group of YWAM students for 12 weeks of spiritual training followed by a three-month mission outreach.
Although Nelson made sure I had a big pile of ready-to-burn wood before he left, I haven’t made a fire. I don’t get the same kick he does out of arranging, lighting and coaxing a fire into full flame, but the real reason is that he’s not here to sit in front of it with me.
On a cold winter evening, a wood-burning fire invites people to gather for conversation. Sometimes a fire’s attraction is so strong, chairs get pulled into a semi-circle around the hearth, close enough to see firelight dancing on each face.
This winter we’ve shared many meals and scores of meaningful talks in front of Nelson’s fires, beginning last September. When the house was full of family, we’d look forward to baby bedtimes, then congregate in front of the fire with ice cream or brownies, enjoying loving camaraderie at the end of busy days.
But all 14 of them are gone now, and my quiet cottage has only me in it, which is OK. Tonight I’m especially missing Nelson, who was the last to leave, just yesterday. When I got home from the airport and found his touching thank you note on the kitchen counter, I bawled like a baby.
But he’s doing exactly what God called him to do, which brings me deep satisfaction. As a matter of fact, each of my kids and kids-in-law are right where the Lord wants them. Their determination to follow his direction “lights my fire.”
And I don’t even have to go to a cold woodpile to feel its glow.
“Love is as strong as death… Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame.” (Song of Solomon 8:6)