Keith rose earlier than usual to start the sprinkler on the blueberries so when the sun hit them as it climbed behind the trees in the eastern woods, the frost would be washed off and the blooms left undamaged. He also built a small fire in the fire pit beside them, pulled together from the remains of a fire we had enjoyed the night before with a cup of hot chocolate.
Ever since we moved to this plot of ground we have had a fire pit for hot dog fires and marshmallow roasts. Now with the boys gone, we still like to sit there on a cold night and talk. We sit there in the mornings too, if coals remain, and some did that day, so, thanks to a considerate husband, I had a fire to warm me along with my second cup of coffee.
The world was waking up. Wrens warbled loudly in the shrubs, in between perches on the suet cage. The hawks cried out as they flew overhead, hunting breakfast. A neighbor’s cow bawled so loudly I wondered if it needed milking or was just hungry. Frosted off brown grass may be crunchy, but probably doesn’t offer much nourishment.
I watched the small fire and scratched Chloe’s furry head. Suddenly the wood shifted, and the whole fire lowered a bit as the wood beneath completely lost its framework and became nothing but ashes. Slowly and surely the rest began to burn and fall, and within a few minutes only a twig or two was left glimmering in the white debris beneath.
One morning recently, when we were sitting by a similar fire planning a camping trip, we suddenly realized that we could no longer plan “twenty years from now” with any reasonable expectation. I suppose it hit me first when I did the math and thought, if Keith makes it twenty more years he will have outlived all of his grandparents and his father. Twenty years will still have me five years short of my mother’s current age, and nearly forty years short of one of my grandmother’s. Then I realized that I take after my other grandmother more and that would give me only fourteen more years.
I am not being morose. After all, for a Christian, it means the reward is closer, but I think the day it hits you can suddenly change everything you say and do from then on. It needs to hit you sooner rather than later—life is short, a breath, a wind, a shadow, the grass, the flowers—all of these things are mentioned in scores of places in the scriptures.
We are just like that small morning fire. Only half the size of a normal campfire and built on the half burnt remains of the night before, it was gone in moments. But it still accomplished two things.
It provided some warmth in the early morning chill. The thermometer next to the house said 37 that day, but Keith said the car thermometer, which was not next to a warm wall, registered between 29 and 33 as he drove to work. In a nightgown, sweatshirt and denim jacket, I needed some warmth while I sat there. So does the world. It’s up to me to provide that warmth, which translates as comfort and compassion, to everyone I meet. As Paul said in 2 Cor 1:3,4, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. God gives us spiritual life so we can give comfort to others, not just for our own joy.
The morning was still dim that day, and the fire provided me with the light to see around me. God appeared as a pillar of cloud to lead the Israelites during the day. What about travel after dark? And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. Exodus 13:21-22. Isn’t it in the dark of trial, indecision, and despair that we need guidance most? And when do our neighbors need our help the most? God means for us to be a light, a city set on a hill, bright enough for all to see even at a distance.
And then we gradually burn down and the light and the warmth disappear. Or does it? Don’t you still remember people who have helped you along the way? Don’t you still recall their wise and comforting words and their kind deeds? It only looks like the fire has died, for underneath those feathery white ashes lie smoldering coals that will still warm you and give you light.
That’s what God expects of this small morning fire we call our lives, and the fire that keeps on giving will be the one that springs to life again on that bright and glorious morning to come.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom, Psa 90:12.