Playing with fire

Several hundred kilometres north of me there’s a blazing fire that’s consumed 100 square km of trees, homes, businesses, and memories. We are watching in horror as the news pours out of Fort McMurray, along with all its residents. Families we know are affeced, and we only wish we could open up our tiny home to them; but we’re 1 week out from my licensing exam, and 2 weeks out from my sister’s wedding, and my parents didn’t want to put that kind of strain on us.

Of course, that kind of selfish thinking is exactly what we’ve all been thinking about the past few days, and how God may be putting things in perspective for us. On Saturday we hosted a bridal shower for my sister at our humble abode and thought we would make BBQ chicken as usual. That morning, things were going smoothly as she had gotten through all the shish kabobs really quickly and was one batch into the chicken while I prepped the punch and drinks. I had just filled a jug of water and was squeezing lemon into it with both my parents in the kitchen chatting when my sister ran in yelling, “The deck is on fire!”

For some odd reason, I thought this was a joke. I don’t know who exactly jokes about that kind of stuff, or what would be humourous about it, but I remember shaking my head and scoffing as I looked outside and didn’t see any overt flames. Still, I guess something in me didn’t want to take the chance that this might be serious, and given the fact that my sister had flown back out through the door again, I grabbed my jug of lemon water and got myself onto the deck. Yes, the deck was on fire.

“Where do I throw it?!”

“Just all over, it’s mostly in the back, just throw it all over!”

I did, and most of the flames disappeared, but another flicker or two proved it would be back in no time. Meanwhile, my dad was desperately pulling the BBQ away from the deck railing, but was yelling for scissors since he had indeed tied the legs of the BBQ to the railing to prevent it from being knocked over in the wind. I ignored his plea for a knife or scissors and ran back inside to fill another jug–goddamn that tap was running so horrifically slow, and I seriously contemplated the time it would take me to run upstairs to fill it from the bathtub instead–when my mom handed me instead a big pot that had been sitting in the sink with dirty dish water. But it was still water!

So like this, a few times over, we took turns filling jugs with water and pouring them and making sure the fire was really out, and cutting at the ropes and pouring water again just in case. Turns out my dad had used a large slab of wood right behind the BBQ to prevent air from getting in and always putting out our flames, but this time it had acted as kindling and served as the conductor between that and the deck.

Ultimately everything was okay. The show must go on, and we put on a fabulous shower nonetheless. (It obviously made for a great story at the party.) But we were all deeply shaken when we thought about the few feet, not even, between the deck area burned and our wooden house. We thought about the idea of being homeless 2 weeks before a huge family wedding. We thought about each of the factors that had been at play–what if I had not just filled that huge jug of water and had it literally sitting in my hands? What if I had truly, stupidly, decided she was joking and not acted as quickly? What if all 4 of us had not been in the vicinity, and it was just my sister?

It was a startling reminder of the important things at a time when we are all kind of consumed in our own worlds about shallow things of this life: weddings, dresses coming in on time, who to invite so we look good in front of the community, getting the nicest apartment when I move, imagining having an income… a lot of worldly life, and not a lot of deeper reflection and gratitude.

These reminders are always serendipitous with good timing. Even if our house had burned down, it would be nothing compared to the devastation in northern Alberta today. Whether God is giving us gentle reminders to be more grateful, or just showing us a true glimpse of Hell, either way it’s working.


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