I’m not the girl I used to be

Twigs + logs + matches + newspaper = fire. At least for a girl who spent the first 17 years of her life growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where I’d wager that many kids learned the skill of how to build a fire amongst other skills like ice fishing, downhill & cross-country skiing and how to swim in Lake Superior just long enough until your toes feel numb.

Say yah to da U.P. eh!

Recently my friend and colleague Grace spent a weekend in a lovely log cabin, tucked in the back of a generous person’s property, overlooking a stream and surrounded by woods. Though the two of us usually run the gamut conversationally from what’s happening in our respective jobs as regional coordinators with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, to our kids, to what the latest celeb fashions are, to what we’re reading on blogs or in books, this weekend was set aside to spend some time in silent reflection, journaling, prayer and listening to what God might have to say to each of us. Bonus to not have to be woken up in the morning by our children and be able to enjoy coffee and omlets together!

When I saw that the cabin had a fireplace I envisioned sitting in the rocking chair, reading or journaling while letting my thoughts drift as I gazed into the dancing flames of a fire, I of course would successfully build.  Though it was a little damp that day, I gathered twigs for kindling, brought in logs from the stack outside the cabin to dry off a little and got the fire going in the late afternoon so we could enjoy it as the sun set.

yesss, perfect on a damp spring evening!

I got to work crumbling newspaper, building a web of twigs under the logs and strategically lighting the newspaper so that everything would catch, which it eventually did flaring up into yellow flames.  And then it flickered out. Repeat newspaper, twig web, log shifting. At least four more times. As I’m hunkering down sticking my head into the fireplace to try and help the back of the fire catch, I mumble an apology to Gracee for how loud I’ve been building the fire as she’s been silently journaling. With a slightly concerned look on her face, she simply remarks, “uh, no problem, it’s actually kind of fascinating watching you do this.”

At last the fire seems to catch. “Success!” I exclaim as I settle into the rocker with my book and mug of tea. “I’m impressed” Gracee nods as she looks up from her journal. “White girl skills!” I reply to my bi-racial friend who grew up in Detroit and once told me that she thought werewolves were simply a breed of wolves.

The logs burn for awhile, but all the time I’m thinking- “this fire looks like it’s about to go out any minute. Mother of pearl, I just want to sit here and enjoy it and now it looks like I’m going to have to get up every 10 minutes to stick in some more twigs, shift the logs and basically keep this thing going.”  And because it’s a silent prayer retreat I start asking, “Is there some deeper meaning here Lord, like, it takes continual effort to follow you or something like that?” Because when you’re on a silent retreat, you start wondering if there’s meaning in a splenda packet because you go expecting to hear from God. So when the fire starts to fizzle after about 20 minutes, burning the log only in one place I decided to concede, just let it go and look at those stupid ashes in the hearth reminding me of what a failure I’ve become at building fires. I eventually moved to another couch so I wouldn’t have to look at the charred logs.

stupid half-burned log.

Though in high school or even awhile into college I could successfully blaze it up with the right tools those skills seem long gone.  On our drive to the cabin, Grace and I talked about how when you get reconnected with someone or something from your past it can spark nostalgia and even an urgency to want to reconnect with who you once were or the things you once did.  In my fire fail, it made me think about all of the skills I’ve left behind in becoming who I am today. While there might be some sadness that I’m not a wilderness mom, I’ve traded those fire building skills by choosing to focus on a lot of other areas in my life that I’d rather see bursting into sparks and igniting into flames.

It’s thrilling to see a light dawn on a student who begins to realize how much God loves them and begins a relationship with Jesus. It’s amazing to see the spark of an idea of helping to raise awareness about and money for human trafficking on the college campus turn blaze across InterVarsity nationally to help students live out and speak about their faith in holistic ways.  It warms me to see my son’s eyes squinched up as he prays before meals, “God bless the food, bless the people in Japan whose houses got washed away and cars got washed away” after seeing video footage of the destruction in Japan.

Have you had any of those nostalgia moments recently? Where you wonder- how the heck did I change so much? Why the heck can’t I do these things I once was good at any more? How did you respond?

Next time I'm getting a duraflame log. Or just bringing my woodsy husband along.

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11 thoughts on “I’m not the girl I used to be

    • Werewolves- glad we didn’t see any of those this past weekend, I don’t even think there was a full moon out!

  1. I’ve lost my farming skills, I know that. And it makes me sad. I consider those life skills! What kind of country girl can’t even grow CARROTS in her backyard???

    It also made me a little jealous last weekend when my metrosexual brother told me he used his old calf-roping skills to help his buddy break into his apartment after he locked himself out. Lowering your friend 25-feet off the roof of a 4-story apartment complex using only a rope you got at Home Depot would have resulted in disaster if it weren’t for his previous work experience.

    I know those weren’t deep thoughts I shared there. Nor am I aware of any new life experience that has taken the place of what I’ve lost. Perhaps I’ll ponder this tonight as I lie in bed, wishing that 9-month-pregnant ladies could sleep like everyone else.

    P.S. JB says I should be thankful that I have a husband who can make a fire as if he were half-dragon. (Which is what someone called him once.)

    • yes- you will never be at a loss for fire with your amulet-wearing, half-dragon dungeon master 🙂 I do think that even if you have lost some of your farming skills think about the ones you have gained- you know how to make an awesome quilt! you know how to keep a toddler entertained, well-fed, and alive! I don’t know that anything can take the place of skills lost- but there are lots of things you have gained probably without even realizing how skilled you’ve become.

  2. Fun post, Jessica! I would especially love to hear how the Lord could work in your life through a Splenda packet. 🙂 Maybe something about being real in a world of fake things. (Totally not saying that is a lesson you need to learn. 🙂

    I should say, fun and thought provoking post. Let’s see…I used to be able to stay up really late, get up early, and still function without a nap. I really did not take advantage of those days…I could have gotten so much more accomplished in college. In my rural upbringing, I was a crack-shot with any weapon you could give me. A real Annie Oakley. I haven’t shot a gun or bow lately and now I REALLY want to. I am guessing, however, those skills may have atrophied a bit.

    • Sarah- there is something about being married for awhile AND having small children that occasionally makes you want to discharge a firearm.

  3. I have definitely been hit by the nostalgia stick lately. Part of it is due to my aging body! Also, as I connect with high school friends on FB, I cannot get over how far I am from them vocationally, geographically, politically, experientially and maybe intellectually (as far as interests and such). But, I am very close to them because of the experiences we share by going to school together in a very small rural town that had one flashing light in the county. Your post brightened my day both by the store of the fire and by knowing that someone else shares a bit of my nostalgia for the wonder years.

  4. In a season of life where a duraflame log would be much appreciated… you named it for me- as you have a great ability to do.

    • Whoo! Way to comment on the post! I wish I had the equivalent of duraflame logs for a lot of areas in my life these days 🙂

  5. Great to reflect on this– there does seem to be a bit of sadness when I look back and see how I’ve changed- and at the same time, gratitude. We do grow up, and have to choose where we focus our time, energy and passion- because as we both know they are limited resources…especially these days 🙂 It makes me feel thankful for how well God leads us…even though we may not be as great at some things as we used to be, there are certainly treasures beyond compare that we can enjoy now. Thanks for the opportunity to reflect. Love you!

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