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  • Writer's pictureJane Wheeler


The thought of a fire is not something we anticipate. I am not talking about a fire in the fireplace or a campfire, but a forest fire or a house fire. Fire that destroys and burns. Fire demolishes and eats up everything in its path. Ask anyone who has experienced a fire and the words destruction and loss are the synonyms it conjures up.

My son works closely with the fire department and last week the Fire Chief told him that older houses take a lot longer to burn. He said that the newer houses take approximately 12-15 minutes to be totally lost to fire. 12-15 minutes, not much time for everything to be devoured by flames. Not much time to get out safely. Not much time.

Fire. Scary. Intense. Hot. Unyielding. Burns. No favorites.

Can any good come out of a fire?

I saw the effects of a forest fire that had happened a few years back. This town, where the economy thrived on forestry and its beautiful lush treed mountains. This time, it was different, the lush green treed mountains were now black and barren.

Tall, blackened sticks stood where once a forest had been. These sticks were now lifeless standing there on the hillside looking lost and helpless. Nothing grew on those sticks, nothing seemed to grow on the whole mountain.

The Lodgepole and Jack pine trees wait for fire. These trees bear pinecones with a hard-prickly exterior that is glued shut by a resin like substance.

While I was out at a campfire this summer, we did a science experiment.

We placed a pine branch with 4 tightly closed pinecones (top picture) that looked quite dead, still attached to the branch and placed them around the base of the fire and watched. When the fire burned hot enough, approximately 2 hours, the pinecones started to slowly open up and I was then able to dump out the pinecones treasured seeds that it had been fiercely hanging on to, possibly for years. (below picture)

The heat from the fire melts off the resin which allows the pinecones to slowly start to open up.

“In experiments, more than half of the seeds from cones, more than twenty years old were able to germinate. Only the heat of a blaze will open jack pinecones, allowing burnt-over areas to be dusted with a layer of jack pine seeds.” Jack Pine Fire Strategy

In this case, fire is the catalyst for growth. While a forest fire changes the landscape for a few years with black and soot being the norm, the pine trees are waiting to reseed the ground, fireweed will start to blossom, growth is inevitable.

The charcoal and ash from the fire makes a great soil bed for the new little pine seeds and they start rebuilding the forest naturally.

Can good come from devastating life changes? What do you do when you get burned?

I am not talking skin burn, but burned from a relationship, a job, a financial set back, family, an event that scars and maims you. Those life situations that can change your world in an instant.

Those little pinecones look dead, they were hard, prickly, and hard to handle, they hurt your hands. You only grabbed them once and then knew not to do it again, the little prickles imbedded into your skin.

People can become hard like that. I have found that tragedy or wounding or getting burned by other people can either make us more like Jesus or take us farther away. Life has dealt a tragedy, sometimes with tough blows and we can react more like the Lodgepole pinecone. Tuck in, get a tough shell so nothing and no one will hurt us again. We vow not to trust, not to talk and not to hope, becoming hard little shells of people hurting on the inside but tough on the outside, we prickle others so they cannot get close.

I know I have been there and done this.

What will it take for our shell to soften, for our heart to start opening, to engage in life? How hot does it have to get before we open up?

The Bible portrays ashes as a time of sadness, mourning and grieving, but it also portrays that it is a season. Like all seasons, this too will change, and a time of renewal, growth and beauty will follow if we allow it. Isaiah 61:3, Ecclesiastes 3:1

I believe that nature teaches us a lot about life. Just like the lushness of nature after a fire where the ground prepares for a new crop with the nitrogen richness of the burnt forest. We too can use loss and tragedy to allow us to become good ground to help others in our future.

A loss can prepare us for the next season. A season of change, growth and beauty if we will embrace it.

The lesson of the pinecone is that we will either become hard and crusty, void of life, clinging onto the past for possibly years or we will embrace the heat, find healing and use our new circumstances to go forward with the life that the heat created.

We get to make the choice.

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