I answered my cell.
“Hey Mom! The barn’s burning tomorrow. We’ll be there at 5:45. Everything’s going down except the house which we’re doing later. Are you coming?”
“Of course! You know I wouldn’t miss it!”
Zach, our nearly 22 year-old volunteer fireman, was about as excited as his pyromaniac mother.
My friend Nancy and I planned the party weeks ago when we first learned of the burn. I’d bring munchies. She’d mix up a pitcher of “Courtyard Coolers”—some lemonade and carbon dioxide-infused beverage—and bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies. And we would pull her patio chairs onto her front lawn, directly across from the barn.
That old barn, built in the 1800s, was going down. That barn our whole family explored last spring, along with our dog. We knew. So we went to pay our last respects. We walked through her interior, shell stripped by people wanting her skin, vultures feeding on her decaying carcass.
The old girl had seen better days. And she was about to make way for something new . . .
A parking lot.
Right here in the country.
Right here on the edge of a restored prairie.
Sounds so suburban, so Joni Mitchell . . .
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
But it’s for good purpose, this pavement coming after the burn . . .
Old Farmer Krier, he died this year. Lost his long battle with cancer. Early 60s. Not that old, really.
I met his large family for the first time, there by that barn, the night of the burn. They told me of their brother’s wish—the legacy he wanted to leave—the one some of my family helped him realize before he passed on.
Old Farmer Krier loved his land. Wanted it restored to times long ago before corn, soybeans and winter wheat rotated with each growing season. Spent years planning and planting native grasses and wildflowers, acres and acres of them. Used bulldozers and backhoes to create scrapes where rains would fill, inviting waterfowl.
And he wanted other birds to come back—those that need prairie to survive and reproduce.
Ultimately, he wanted to create a place where kids could come and see wild—where no developer would gobble up land and build subdivisions. He wanted a place to remind us all of what once was before farmers tilled the earth and developers built houses.
The parking lot will bring school buses full of kids pouring out. They will see, hear, touch, smell, even taste a slice of God’s glory . . .
Grasses like Big and Little Bluestem, Northern Sea Oats, Tufted Hairgrass, Canada Wild Rye and Switchgrass sway with the gentlest breeze.
Milkweed cradles monarch eggs that hatch into crawling caterpillars devouring leaves, spinning chrysalis, waiting for the push of transformed life that takes wing on the wind.
Flowering plants—Sky Blue Aster, Coneflower and White Clover—that one plant our horses love to eat though it makes them foam at the mouth! And the yellows announcing summer’s end—Black-Eyed Susan bursting like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Goldenrod making some sneeze and rub eyes. The whole landscape dotted with aster, both purple and white.
Those who come will spot birds—the come-back Bobolink warbling like R2-D2 from Star Wars, telling all to keep their distance. The hawks and peregrine falcon diving straight down for the field mouse. The redwing blackbird’s trill. The wild turkeys that think they own the fields because they pretty much do! The Sandhill Cranes feeding, nesting, flying, their elongated bodies and legs a sharp arrow in the sky. The mallards and Canada geese floating on those Krier-cut scrapes.
And all the animals! And all the evidence of them!
They’ll find deer beds on patted down grass. Maybe they’ll see the red fox with his tail dipped white, trotting on one of the trails. Perhaps the kids will turn up their noses at the smell of a skunk. And if some come at dusk, the kids might just see an opossum who makes it across the road alive—or a raccoon! Maybe both! Maybe the animals will challenge them to a stare-down like they do to me when I’m driving and I stop and wait while they take their good old time walking across that man-made asphalt into their God-made field.
All this LIFE!
That’s why Old man Krier’s buildings need downing. To create space. To bring people to a place—a place that soothes and expands and helps us see God’s hand at work in the circle of life—in OUR lives.
So we set up our front row seats on the lawn and we watched as four fire departments rolled in their tankers, lights flashing, filling portable pools in the street, huge hoses plunged to the bottom, ready. A controlled burn. Always a controlled burn . . .
And flame touched fuel.
Soon, fireballs rose. Smoke churled, spewing east. A few small explosions from heat hitting flammable.
I watched the men I knew—the son we raised—stepping up to the 250-degree growing inferno with huge heavy hoses, controlling the burn.
That’s all they’re allowed to stand by such intense heat. Then they strip off their fireproof outerwear, all sweating underneath and soot-faced. EMTs check vitals, give them water, offer them food. The next group takes over. Then they switch. Over and over. For hours.
I watch my once Russian orphan work the burn. I think of his 19 year-old mother who tried to rid her womb of him at 24 months. God only knows what she was thinking, feeling—what was burning inside of her. But he survived his first “flames”, threatening to snuff him out. And he spent his first two months of life in a Russian neonatal intensive care unit before being transferred to the orphanage where he would wait FOUR YEARS until finding a home—a family—a refuge—a future—a hope.
Now, here he is. Burning barns.
Now, here I am, watching him burn, thinking of how God has burned me—how he has burned us all.
All He loves he holds to holy flame. All He loves meets refining fire.
I’ve felt the scorching of fingers tightly holding all but Jesus. He has burned my idols to the ground—my God-replacements, my God-substitutes—all I’ve tried to fill my empty soul-holes with—the achievements, the intellect, the people in high places, the kids, the husband, the friends, the family. Even the things I once thought so noble and holy. Yes. Even all those good works done really for my glory, not his.
All is chaff blown away with the wind except what glorifies God.
There is only one magnificent obsession who gives abundant life.
So the burning comes and it hurts. But it’s necessary. For all who want to walk the distance with Jesus.
My flesh has howled pain and complained, though my spirit still gives thanks. Because his plan is perfect even when painful. He allows only what will bring about growth for all. I tell my soul this truth . . .
God’s burn is always controlled. I need not fear even though I might writhe with pain.
And just when I think I can’t stand one more moment?
I’ve felt him fan the flames in my own life and in the lives of those I love. I’ve felt the intensification of heat. ‘Til I thought I’d die. ‘Til I thought I’d rather die. ‘Til others cried to die.
And then . . .
When the burn accomplishes the holy, relief comes. Those plumes of drenching after the release—the letting go—the saying “YES!”—the “yet not MY will but THINE!”—the burning off of all dross.
Within the tears have always been his arches of comfort covering.
I know my Redeemer lives.
When walking around in fires filling my lungs with smoke, obscuring my way, I hold onto the only thing I know.
And he has proved his promises true to me every—single—time . . .
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you; when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned: the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3
Holy fire is refining fire.
Holy fire burns away all that doesn’t belong in us—all that clings to the soul and drags it down—all that keeps us half-alive.
Holy fire nurtures new life.
That’s why Old Farmer Krier burned his fields each spring ‘til earth turned black and all covering was gone with the wind.
What still needs burned in me? What chaff needs blown away? What needs to die so new life can grow?
Let it be, in you and me.
Let us trust the holy burn of God and watch what his hand will raise from our ash.
The hard is holy. Because without all the testing, without all the trials, without all the fires, we would never know what we are capable of, nor would we grow more intimate with our Maker, our God.
Do we really want Christ?
Beware. He will melt our hearts.
But it’s only so he can raise us up to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of his love. We will rise transformed, praising the one who stands with us in our fires.
Whatever we lose to God, we always gain something greater. That’s God’s way.
I look around at all these people, some whose stories I know. What I know is that everyone has a story. I hope when we all encounter our flames, we will all allow Jesus to bring us through ‘til we can stand stronger and sing louder his praise—the Faithful and True.
Then, a broken and burning world will see a beacon of hope shining through, spotlighting our God who holds us all in the fire, promising we will not perish but inherit true life with him—forever—starting right here, right now—in whatever patch of earth he has planted us.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. Isaiah 48:10
“But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” Daniel 3:25 (ESV)
He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of sliver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Malachi 3:2b-3 (ESV)
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Revelation 3:18