Yesterday, it was. No. Longer ago than that. It just seems like yesterday to me. On a hot summer’s night, with other young men at the summer camp, I stood near a roaring fire. Each one of us lit a branch in the fire and, speaking of our vision and intent for the future, promised to always play a vital and active role in sharing our faith and hope with the world, tossing our blazing brand into the fire to join with all the other branches from the other participants. Like the blazing fire, we would yield warmth and light to a world that desperately needed both. Looking into the faces of the guys around me, I was confident that they meant every word, just as I did, and that we would keep that promise. It was a powerful moment in shaping the man that I would become.
Decades have passed. As the boy became a man, and spring turned to summer and then fall, at times the fire has faltered–at times it has turned nearly to ash, barely even warming the hands that reached out toward its warming glow. It turns out that there is a good reason we describe our environment as a cold, cruel world. We don’t live in perpetual hot summer nights.
Blazing fires use a lot of fuel; especially so in the cold of winter. And, fuel is hard to come by when so many demands are made on the supply. Family members have need of comfort, friends borrow kindling when their fires have also burned low, the business world sucks the oxygen out of the environment. In short, the cares of life have done their part to douse the flame. Like cold water from a bucket, they scatter the live embers, which glow brightly for a moment and are extinguished.
None of this is news to anyone. It is the human condition to experience hardship, to know want. Like many others, my life experience has been an ebb and flow of the inner fire burning brightly and, sooner or later, almost not at all. I am not surprised, but still I am disappointed.
I have walked into homes in the dead of winter, chilled to the bone. Seeing a glowing fire, I walk near and hold out my hands to the warmth, only to find that there is none. These so-called electric fires are cheats and frauds, holding out hope of heat, but yielding an almost anemic level of comfort. Give me a roaring fire in the fireplace any day!
I wonder, is that what other folks think of my personal warmth? Do they think that I am a cheat and a fraud? It is possible. What I do know is that, in spite of the periods of ebbing warmth and comfort, there has always been an ember of promise glowing. Even when it feels as if there will never be a blazing conflagration again, there is yet that kernel of energy burning in the depths of my heart. Hardship can’t extinguish it; disappointments fail to smother it; disaster has yet to overcome this burning ember.
Several times over the last few weeks, I have felt the fire blaze up brightly and then, almost without warning, drop down to the point where there was almost no sign of energy to be seen or felt. Yet still, even in the darkness and the chill, hope flames up once more. That is the ember–hope. The Apostle speaks of it, reminding us that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character. Most of all, character produces hope, which will not disappoint.
I’m blowing on the ember of hope tonight, giving it a fighting chance to blaze up again. Perhaps, by morning there will be a full-blown flame on the grate. Time will tell.
If anyone has an extra log or two to throw in the fireplace, now would be as good a time as any.
“We fall down, we get up.
And the saints are just the sinners
Who fall down and get up.”
(“We Fall Down” (gospel song)~Bob Carlisle~American singer/songwriter)
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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