The middle of the Peruvian Amazon is not a great place for a bonfire.
But that’s where I found myself this summer – sweating next to a blazing fire in rural Peru.
The region of Puerto Maldonado is considered part of the Amazon Rainforest, but most of it looks nothing like what National Geographic displays. The trees are mostly barren, and the “floor” is just dry, red clay that tints the bottom of your sneakers. And it is hot. Always. It is so hot. During my time in Peru, I sweat in places I never knew I could sweat. I swear even my knees sweat. Seriously, how is that possible? Suffice to say, I was not thrilled to find myself sitting next to a massive bonfire. I probably could’ve gotten burnt just by standing within two feet of the fire.
The night of our bonfire, I was exhausted. Mission work is beyond tiring. I was emotionally drained. I wanted to sleep. I wanted American food. My body ached from slathering tar onto wooden fence posts the day before. And my hands were cracked from using gasoline to rub the tar off of my skin. Yes – gasoline.
Do you know where I “washed” my hands with that gasoline? Over the wood and brush that would be used for our bonfire. That’s right. Our “middle of the night – I’m so sweaty – Peruvian Amazon bonfire” was now a “middle of the night – I’m so sweaty – wait this is actually scary – our fire is fueled by straight up Diesel – Peruvian Amazon bonfire.” Yeah. Not exactly safe.
I did not want to be there. Why was I there, anyway? The simple answer is that on Mission you have no control of what you do, or when you do it. You are in the hands of your Mission leaders. The bonfire was not a choice.
I figured if I had to sit there, I might as well try to ignore my blistering skin and focus on something else. But what do you focus on when all you can see is a raging fire?
The people around me began to play guitar and sing songs. Their music filled my ears in the type of damp sound that only happens when you’re intensely focused on something else, but you can still cognitively recognize noise. That damp melody became a beautiful underscore as I gazed at the fire.
I stared at that flame for what felt like hours. Long after other people went to sleep, I was sitting on a plastic chair – which was probably melting – just staring.
I was mesmerized. A fire so grand – so wild, and yet controlled. Not safe, but not unsafe, per say? Raging. Raging is the way to explain it. A flame that ebbs and flows – changing intensity and size with the shifting of the wind.
I finally decided I needed sleep. When I woke up eight hours later, I was surprised at what I saw. The fire was still burning. Smaller, yes, but still burning. How could this be? We put it out? I didn’t make sense, but the flame was undeniable. The pile was on fire.
I stopped in my tracks. Staring at that fire was like simultaneously looking into the eyes of Christ and looking at myself in the mirror. I know, bold claim.
When I was leaving for Peru, I prayed, “Lord, I want to pray for safety – but Lord I know you are not safe – the pursuit of you is constant chaos.” This fire was not safe. It was raging – it was pursuing. As I watched the fire, my eyes were drawn to specific things at any moment: the whole fire, a single ember floating past me, a log bursting into flame. Jesus is like this, too. He shows us different parts of Himself at any given moment.
And I am like the fire, too. My soul is on fire for Jesus Christ. It is not constantly steady – there are moments when the wind stills, and my soul is calm – unfueled, even. But there are also moments when someone pours a little Diesel on my foundation. And then, I rage.
That fire burned for days. But what remained afterward was an enormous pile of ash. A two-inch thick layer of grey and black ash coating the red clay.
I once read that “where there is fire, there is ash.” And this, I think, is what it means to walk with Christ. My soul may be on fire. But we as humans are inherently flawed. That’s why we need the Savior. My soul has its ash, it has fallout. My walk with faith has remnants that are not pretty. The foundation of my flame is often grey and black.
That is what this blog will attempt to process. The ash that comes alongside my fire for Jesus. The ash that people often don’t talk about.
This blog is not meant to “explain” anything, and maybe not even to “teach” its readers anything – simply because I do not know everything. And I won’t attempt to say I do. Because if I did? My fire would exist without ash.
No, this blog is meant to process. To spread my ash out, and sift through it. To get to the bottom of my flame and look at the parts that I try to hide.
I have often felt shame about much of my ashes because I didn’t think anyone else had that blackness in their lives. But that’s not true. Every person has their ashes. Especially people with fire in their souls. So why does no one talk, or write, about it? And, if they do, why are they like forty years old? Don’t get me wrong – I love seeking spiritual guidance through older women who have walked this path. But there are some ashes that young women need to talk about with other young women who walk through these ashes every day.
So, hey stranger! Here I am. Standing upon my pile of ash. Soul on fire, raging for Christ.