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The Nature of Fire

An urgent call from my husband set me in motion. “Get the kids ready. I’m coming home. We need to leave now.” Flames raced down the mountainside across from his office towards our city. Too close for comfort. He could see it was moving in an unpredictable pattern with uncontrollable speed.

Five days before, a single plume of smoke reached into the sky above the top of the mountains here in Colorado Springs. We were heartsick to learn it had started at our favorite hiking trail, but news reports indicated it would likely be contained before it reached any homes. Relieved and distracted, my mind was on cake baking and gift wrapping as it happened to be our oldest daughter’s birthday. That afternoon, as we entered her favorite restaurant, I saw the smoke plume growing in width and height above the mountain range. An hour later, we walked out to see the grey column had become a blazing red tower.

Still, our week went on like most others. We went to church and prayed earnestly for rain and for our brave firefighters. We saw C-130’s from our local air force base drop orange fire retardant — 2,700 gallons in less than 10 seconds. But each day the smoke grew worse and soon the situation had escalated far beyond what we all thought possible. With record high temperatures and no air conditioning, our windows were open and as I’m six months pregnant, we began to worry about smoke inhalation. Even amid calls, texts, and FaceBook messages about friends, ministries, and businesses that were evacuating, I naively thought, “Surely, this can’t get any worse.”

I was wrong.

The fifth day of the fires dawned and smoke along the mountain range that separated our town from the blazing forest areas seemed worse. We spent most of the day in our basement escaping the summer heat. That afternoon, I took the kids to cool off in their plastic, backyard pool. A foreboding sky was filled with dull grey smoke clouds tinged with a very strange rose, purple and orange color.

My husband’s call came as ash began to spit out of the sky.

We learned later that firefighters working to contain the combustion to a particular region were shocked when the fire defied all predicted patterns and behavior. With wind gusts up to 65 miles per hour, the blaze dove down a canyon, jumped the ridge and raced down the other side — exploding with force onto our beloved city.

Smoke enveloped the entire region like a snow globe dome. Sections of the interstate were shut down. Cell phone lines were jammed. Texts and calls that did come through brought more bad news. A 60-year old working cattle ranch, also a favorite tourist attraction, had burned to the ground. Students and staff at a ministry I had worked for were evacuating. Dozens of friends were loading up their cars to do the same. Though our neighborhood was not slated for evacuation and was thankfully safe throughout the ordeal, we knew we had to get to a place where we could breathe. It took us six hours to reach our destination — a location that was normally two hours away. The scene that night was purely apocalyptic.

Weeks later, these memories seem almost surreal. Yet, the ash heaps and burn scars are a constant reminder that they are not. Others are living with the constant, heartbreaking destruction of their lives. Three hundred and forty seven homes destroyed. More than 18,240 acres burned. Two precious lives lost. It was the most destructive fire in Colorado history and it will take time to sift through the wreckage, to rebuild, grieve, and remember.

As I’ve reflected on all of this, this verse has come to mind.

If any man builds on this foundation [Jesus Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his will work will be shown for what it is, because the Day [when Jesus Christ returns] will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

It is the physical and spiritual nature of fire not only to consume, but to reveal value. Eternal value sometimes seems like a far-off concept. As a mom with little ones, life often progresses like one never-ending to do list. Diaper changes, spills, cleanups, constant behavioral correction, homeschool lessons, and meal making. What does all of this look like when my heart is submitted to Lord and eternity is closer in view?

The tasks themselves are consumed and clarified by truth and I see my job differently.

I am not just changing a diaper. I am serving the least of these. I am learning humility. I am living out what it means to unconditionally love and I am pouring myself out — modeling what Christ has already and more fully done for me.

When I discipline my child for the umpteenth time for the same infraction, I am not simply, or not so simply as the case may be, enforcing good behavior. With eternity in view, I recognize that I am doing so in order to guide and prepare their heart to hear and obey God’s voice. I am learning patience and I am demonstrating the same kindness God shows me when I mess up over and over again.

When I want to pull my hair out over another homeschool math lesson gone awry, I must pray for vision beyond regurgitating times tables and solving word problems. When it is challenging, as most math lessons are for my oldest and me, together we are learning to persevere with patience and that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

I went to a homeschool conference recently where author Bev Bradley encouraged moms to look beyond our child’s educational achievements to the eternal truths and values we’re depositing into their hearts. After homeschooling her six children who are now grown and gone, she noted that though education is important, preoccupation with performance is often part of Satan’s plan to take our eyes off the things most valuable to God. She added that all the records, workbooks, and paperwork of her years homeschooling are now lying in an ash heap in a burn barrel in their backyard.

Eventually, all things spiritually temporal will wind up there as well.

Life is not about what we do. It is about who we are becoming in Christ. When we as moms and as women listen to, are convicted by and obey the voice of the Lord, His cleansing fire purifies our hearts, brings forth the valuable and presents it as building material for the kingdom of God. And we can do this one diaper change, one time out, one school lesson, one meal, one sippy cup refill, and one mess at a time.

Julie Neils is passionate about living a real life in a fabricated world. Digging beneath the surface in her relationship with God and with others is the thing that gets her up out of bed. That and fussy little ones. And a big ol’ cup of coffee. As a media relations and branding consultant, she has spent more than fifteen years advising ministry leaders, policy makers and authors on relevant, out-of-the-box communications strategies. She and her husband, Brian, live in the Rocky Mountains where she homeschools their five kiddos.

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How To Change Your Life In 10 Minutes

Here’s how you can change your life with a simple 10 minutes a day.

High expectations and low ability almost always lead to failure. When you let those go, here’s how you can really change your life in 10 minutes.

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There are two things I know to be true. One, there are things that need to happen in my life and, two, I never seem to have enough time.

I need to read more. I need to clean the house. I need to work. I need to play with my kids. I need to cook dinner. I need to pack lunches. I need to build my relationship with my husband. I need to exercise.

There are so many things that need to happen in our lives yet I never seem to have enough time. I find myself at the end of the day regretting the things that I never made happen during the day and committing to making them happen the next day.

Here is something I think is true when it comes to the tension between our time and the things that need to happen. I’ve found that high expectations and low ability almost always leads to failure.

Your jeans are tight so you think if you cut out sugar for one day, then they will fit again. Or maybe you see something on Pinterest, give it a shot and expect it look like something Martha Stewart whipped up. Or maybe you want a clean house, but with a toddler who takes out what you just put up, you are left feeling paralyzed.

This can even happen in our relationships. There’s distance and the gap seems too large to bridge so we just don’t make a move. We choose to stay silent. We want great things to happen—quickly—and we also don’t have superstar ability. I set out to exercise every day for 30 minutes, yet after the first time, I am clearly not in shape like I used to be so I stop.

High expectations + low ability = failure.

What the Time We Use Says About Us

And there are just some things that I honestly don’t want to do. I don’t like exercising. I don’t want to put away the dishes. I definitely don’t want to clean bathrooms. And because I don’t want to do these things, it’s easy to feel like I just don’t have time for it. “It just didn’t happen today. I simply ran out of time.” Have you ever said that?

But the reality is that we make time for things we want to do.

I want to drink coffee ALONE in the morning so I wake up a few minutes early before my people wake. I want to look at Instagram so I opt to not read that book that’s been sitting by my bed for months.

So when it comes to the things we really don’t want to do, we make excuses. I find a million other things to do in place of it that somehow seemed more important at the moment.

But here is what I’m discovering: Doing something for 10 minutes a day can change my life and my perspective.

In fact, time is one of your most prized possessions and we get to choose where we spend it. I’ve learned in life that doing some things over time brings the result I wanted. As a child, I wanted to learn how to play the piano, so I practiced for one hour every day for years and I learned to play beautifully. I wanted to drop the baby weight after my child was born. It didn’t happen overnight, but with making consistent moderate choices, over time the weight came off.

How Making Time Can Change Your Life

We have to learn to manage the tension between what we want to do and what we need to do but don’t really want to do. And I believe that if you can give those things 10 minutes a day, you will see change.

You may not change your life in simply 10 minutes, but you will start a change reaction. Doing something over time will eventually bring change. You change your mind and that will ultimately change your life.

Ten minutes of burst training won1t give me a six-pack in my abs but 10 minutes of burst training over time will create a healthier me. And in the meantime, my thoughts towards myself change. Knowing that I’m giving a little bit of my busy day towards my health helps me to not judge myself harshly.

I want you to try it. Set a timer for 10 minutes and …

  • choose one space to pick up
  • put away the clean dishes
  • put the dirty dishes in sink
  • clean out one cluttered drawer
  • read your bible or a devotional or pray
  • choose to pack lunches
  • sit down and play Legos with your child
  • sit outside and enjoy creation

There is power in doing something for 10 minutes every day. And giving something time consistently will eventually bring change. What can you do for 10 minutes today that over time could change your life?

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5 Strategies for Developing Lasting Love

These practical and biblical strategies can help you develop lasting love.

Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels

Unrealistic expectations in marriage can affect your satisfaction. Here are five biblical strategies to help you define expectations and develop lasting love.

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As a writer, words are important to me. I try to weigh how I use each one, what they are conveying, and to whom they are speaking.

So it’s no surprise that with each selection of a card expressing love for my husband, the greeting’s words go through a biblical filter, somewhat like this.

The card proclaims, “You make my life complete.” Well, no, Colossians 2:10 says that “in Him you have been made complete.”

Another one states, “Didn’t know love before you.” Not exactly. 1 John 4:19 tells me, “We love because He first loved us.”

Still another, “You fulfill my every need.” Ah, will pass. After all, Matthew 6:8 states, “…your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him.”

Why Expectations in Love Matter

Eventually, my endless rummaging through cards results in my finding a sentiment that more fits my understanding and experience of holy matrimony.

“We’ve had our ups and downs.” More like it.

“I’m glad we’re on this adventure together.” Adventure, that’s one way to describe it. Smile.

When I finally find one of these heartfelt cards, it reinforces what marriage has been teaching me through the years. Such as:

  • My husband can’t and isn’t equipped to meet my every need, as I’m not able to meet his every need
  • He is going to disappoint me at times, as I will him
  • Love is not a feeling, it’s a moment-by-moment, daily choice

More and more, I’m realizing that my expectations for marriage can affect my satisfaction. Unrealistic ones will cause me to feel disappointed because being married hasn’t meant that I’ve never felt lonely, grieved, unappreciated, or fearful.

5 Strategies for Developing Lasting Love

Below are five biblical strategies to help define expectations and develop lasting love.

1. Use the Buddy System

Long-term matrimony can bring numerous unexpected turns in life and Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 states that, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will life up his companion.”

It reminds me of times when my husband and I are both employed and able to enjoy the extras that come with the two incomes. As well as, the times when my husband was in school full-time or unemployed and I helped to provide needed finances. Or, where I’ve been at home full-time and he’s been employed with sometimes two or more jobs to provide for us. It also brings to mind the times when we’ve experienced losses, disappointment, caring for aging parents, and more and how we have supported each other through the challenges.

2. Look Ahead

When looking beyond my present marital situation is needed, Philippians 3:13-15 offers straightforward words about pressing on, reaching forward, not looking back but looking forward to what lies ahead.

This passage is especially helpful when hurts from the past try to paralyze and prevent me from forgiving and moving forward in my marriage. This strategy is especially helpful during these types of struggles by directing my thoughts to the future, to enjoying our growing family together, and what our staying together means to us and them.

3. Lean on Christ

At times, daily challenges can wear a couple down. Philippians 4:13 encourages me that, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” and staying married does take strength, more than I’m capable on my own, especially when I’m feeling lonely, forgotten, tired, angry, unhappy, or disappointed. This strategy aims to refocus my source of strength so that I look beyond my own capabilities.

4. Know Your Source

Philippians 4:19 assures me that God will supply all my needs according to His riches. So no matter what our current employment or financial situation is, it’s not dependent on only our own efforts or situation. As well, this verse also speaks to emotional and spiritual needs like companionship, comfort, joy, contentment, encouragement, and peace. Over the years, I’ve been learning that God does often work through my husband to meet needs in my life but he isn’t the source. God is my source for all my needs in life.

5. Be A Help Mate

Commonly referred to at the “Proverbs Wife” passage, Proverbs 31:10-31 provides me with practical insight as to what my participation in marriage might look like on a day-to-day basis. It addresses my willingness to be a help to my husband in meeting everyday, hands-on needs in our life together.

Just like running card sentiments through a biblical filter, I’ve found it’s vital to base strategies for developing lasting love on scriptural principles, ones that help keep me on track towards a lifelong marriage. These strategies include fine-tuning my expectations with biblical insights and godly guidelines.

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Articles

The Messy Beauty of Big Change {And How We Can Better Help Each Other Through It}

Even big change of the traumatic sort produces a kind of messy beauty.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Big change comes with big emotion. We could do one another a favor by allowing each other the room to express all the messy beauty of big change.

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The air smelled like stinky feet, and I cried.

Infamously dubbed “Tacoma Aroma,” the rotten-egg-ish odor sometimes wafted from the Tideflats up through our windows. On this particular day, it brought me to tears.

As a new mom and just one month into a new city thousands of miles from familiarity, I sat rocking our newborn back and forth, wishing the stench away. The irrationality birthed from sleep deprivation coupled with insecurity had me convinced that the breathing in of Tacoma’s aroma would bring inevitable demise on our child.

Actually, I lived in constant anxiety thinking that just about everything would bring demise to our child. Losing weight and described as “failing to thrive,” our daughter was prescribed formula to supplement her breastfeeding diet. I was unreasonably sad, thinking that I was polluting her body with chemicals that would slowly kill her.

I cried when the doctor prescribed nystatin to combat thrush and simple infant’s Tylenol for teething because medication seemed (ridiculously) like poison to her pure form. I cried because I didn’t want to sleep, thinking that in my slumber, our daughter might take her last breath. I cried because I so very much needed to sleep, but couldn’t. And, I cried because when she cried, I couldn’t figure out why she was crying.

I was a crazy-haired, dark-circle-eyed, wrinkly-clothe-cladded shadow of my former self. And worse, I was embarrassed to share my disheveled new-mom reality with anyone.

Why Big Change Is Often Both/And

Long past are my days of new-mom malaise (thank you, Jesus!). And I’ve learned that most big change will be delightfully harrowing, frighteningly joyful, and exhilaratingly terrifying.

Because becoming a mom? It’s not either delightful or harrowing—it’s both.

Getting married? Both frightening and joyful.

Changing careers? Both exhilarating and terrifying.

Even a big change of the traumatic sort produces a kind of messy beauty. (I’m actually convinced this is God’s specialty!)

I look back on my brother’s tragic death, for example, with a bittersweetness as I recall not only the terrible circumstances but also the renewed faith (for many!) born out of it.

I’m learning to expect that even the happiest big change will have pockets of sorrow and that even the most wretched of life turns will have moments of redemptive joy. It’s why there can be laughter seconds after a brother is buried or sadness weeks after a baby is born.

How to Be There For Each Other in the Messy Beauty of Big Change

I think we could do one another a favor by allowing each other the room to express all the things—the harrow and the delight, the fright and the joy, the terror and the exhilaration—no matter what life change we’re facing.

Christ’s brother James tells us that “whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17). May we be the kind of people who cry at a funeral, but who also point out (and join in with) the gift of laughter lilting over the fresh grave. May we be the kind of friends who love on and draw attention to the gift of a beautiful baby, but who also hold the hand of one anxiously stumbling through a new life stage.

Because no one should be embarrassed to share her disheveled reality in the midst of big change—especially with fellow believers. Amen?

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The Nature of Fire

by Julie Neils time to read: 5 min
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