Hot summer days can get boring in a trailer park. My best friend Sean and I had filed away our Grade 2 diplomas in our School Days albums (well, our mothers did that) and faced down two months of freedom. Throwing ball, playing tag, exploring the forest, picking crab-apples, riding our bikes; it was all fun for the first four weeks, but now it was all getting a little old.
Sean saw it first. Well, we all saw it – the huge pile of broken-down boxes stuffed away behind the neighbour’s shed. Someone bought new appliances. Our parents complained about the eyesore (yes, trailer park people do care about their property appearances!). But Sean saw that heap of cardboard through a creative mind. He saw it as building material.
We dug into the pile like those cardboard pieces were free nuggets at a gold mine (or Mickey D’s). We had walls! We had a roof! We had a fort! We cut out windows; drew pictures on the walls with crayons; and furnished it with cushions from my mother’s couch. We ate our lunch in there, brought in board games, marbles and Pick Up Sticks.
So. Much. Fun.
We enjoyed our cardboard playhouse for one week before we were told in no uncertain terms that the fort had to go. Garbage Day (a.k.a. Fort Destruction Day) was just around the corner. What do adults have against fun? Where we saw a castle, they saw a pile of trash.
We spent the entire day in our hot, stuffy fort, knowing it would be our last. We may have used some creative adjectives to describe our parents and their unfairness. We may have even written a few of them on the walls.
Just before dinner, we reluctantly returned the cushions and the toys to their rightful homes and sat on the grass to say goodbye to our creation. I fought the inevitable tears, realizing that anger wasn’t going to change the reality that our fort was going to be curbside in a matter of hours, ready for the morning trash pick-up.
I glanced at Sean, expecting to see a similar sadness reflected on his face, but my friend had a gleam in his eyes rather than tears.
He grinned, which seemed the strangest expression to make at such a mournful time.
“What?” I repeated.
He glanced at my trailer and the one next door before responding. “They think it’s garbage, right?”
I squinted at him, not knowing where he was going with this. “Yeaaah?”
“Let’s get rid of it ourselves, then.”
I rolled my eyes. “I think they’re expecting us to take it apart and bring it to the road, Sean. My Dad said we have to clean up our own mess.”
He looked around again, causing my heart to speed up a little. He was making me nervous.
I threw my hands up. “What?!”
He shushed me and whispered his idea in my ear, even though there was no one within listening range. “Let’s burn it.”
My eyes bulged. “What?”
“Let’s set it on fire!”
I was suddenly looking around too. “You’re nuts!” I hissed. “How are we going to set it on fire?”
PAUSE STORY HERE – How? I asked how? That was my concern? Let me remind you, I was only seven. CONTINUE.
Sean ran home and returned with a box of matches from his kitchen drawer. We weren’t finished having fun with our fort after all.
He showed me how to drag the tip of the match across the side of the box to create the flame. It made me jump every time, and I was too scared to try it myself.
“I might burn my fingers,” I said, as he lit another and held it to the bottom of the fort. Walls 1 and 2 were already burning slowly.
“You won’t,” he said with a pyromaniac’s confidence, even as I waved off the opportunity.
There wasn’t much wind in that corner of the yard where the fort stood, wedged between the side of our shed and the neighbour’s trailer. Therefore, the fire creeped upwards at a snail’s pace; nothing to worry about. It was small and contained, but was creating a lot of smoke.
Sean waved a window-square of cardboard at the fort to try and get rid of the smoke. We didn’t know anything about fanning a fire.
But it was a learn-by-doing experience, as we watched the flames grow bigger. Heat was mingling with the smoke which stung our eyes and made us cough.
Sean wasn’t smiling anymore, and my own heart was pounding frantically. We both took a step back as if we were tied together for a three-legged race.
Suddenly, the neighbour whose trailer bordered the back of ours blasted out of her side door with a bucket of water, screaming, “Fire! Fire!” She doused the fort with the water, pushing both Sean and I out of the way. So much yelling.
“Get your mom!” she screamed as she ran back to her trailer for a refill.
My mom? I couldn’t tell my mom. She’d kill me. She was feeding my baby brother, and there was no way I was troubling her with this.
Sean was pulling on my arm. Away from the fort. Away from the yard. But I was frozen, wondering what I should do.
“Let’s get out of here!”
I stared at my friend. We couldn’t just leave, could we?
He yanked on my arm again, and suddenly we were running down the road like arsonists, criminals, escaped prisoners; laughing and hooting that we had gotten away with it.
Seven. We were seven.
The fire was put out. The shed was saved. The neighbour’s trailer didn’t burn. Yet, I wasn’t allowed to play with Sean for a long, long time. Parents can be so unfair.
Not my proudest moment on Val’s Stage, but we’ve all had those, I’m sure.
While I do love a scented candle, a nice bonfire, or fireplace flame, I’m not a pyromaniac. Yet, fire is intriguing, isn’t it? This intense energy holds the power to take down a building in minutes or rage through a forest, destroying everything in its path.
Humans didn’t create fire, though. They didn’t even discover fire. That powerful, intense energy was here long before the Earth was populated with humans.
The God of Fire
Look up fire god on the Internet. Wikipedia lists 102 fire gods originating in areas all over the world. Oddly, the God of the Bible doesn’t make that list, even though He was involved in an exciting fire contest between gods which is recorded in that ancient book. The story (found in 1 Kings 18) goes that a bunch of prophets wanted to prove whose god was the greatest by asking them to rain down fire on their altar. So, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah cried out, danced, prayed, and cut themselves with their swords, requesting their gods to light their altar sacrifices. They spent the whole day carrying on like this while the flies buzzed around their rotting meat.
Elijah, the prophet of God, finally took his turn. He raised the stakes. Elijah soaked his sacrifice and wood with 12 large jars of water, creating a moat all around the altar. He prayed the following simple prayer:
“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”1 Kings 18:36-37
Do you know what happened? The fire of God fell from Heaven and not only burned the offering; it burned the wood, the stones, the dust and all of the water. That’s an intense energy of power!
This same God appears as fire a few times too. He spoke to Moses out of a burning bush, led the people of Israel through the wilderness as a pillar of fire at night, and His Spirit appeared in flames of fire on the New Testament believers. Now, that’s a God of Fire!
I’m on Fire!
Think of the ways we use the phrase, “I’m on fire!” I say it when I’m doing really well at something. I just slammed the tennis ball outside of my opponent’s reach – “I’m on fire!” I had a great idea that proved successful at work – “I’m on fire!” I prepared three outstanding meals in a row – “I’m really on fire!” I’m usually proud of myself when I say it. I’ve accomplished something great; I feel full of energy and power.
Did you notice how many ‘I’s that involved? It’s all about me.
What would change if I added two words to that phrase: for God? “I’m on fire for God!” What would that mean?
That would mean exhibiting more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It would mean offering forgiveness. Who do those things benefit? Myself? No. Being on fire for God is taking the focus off myself and looking for ways to serve others.
That’s worth investing in with some intense energy.
I want to be on fire for God. Don’t you?
“No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”1 John 4:12