Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Traditions...Fires...and Things of First Importance

Last year, I started a new tradition for myself. I decided to celebrate Advent – which is basically a weekly (or for some - daily) remembrance/celebration/looking forward to Christmas. Though it was my first go at it, I decided to give the Daily schedule a try. I got on-line and read Noel Piper’s book on Traditions (she is John Piper’s wife) and then went to our local craft store and bought the supplies I needed to make my very own and first ever Advent Wreath. I have to say, it was beautiful. Given the story that follows (and because it was the beginning of something I hope will be a part of my life from here on out) I wish I’d taken a picture of it…but I didn’t.

Hindsight is always 20/20.

Each evening in December, I’d come home from work, light a candle (or candles), read portions of scripture related to the coming of Christ and His birth, then pray and blow out the candle. Because of my schedule, this was often done late at night and just before bed. One evening (a Monday to be exact) our small group meeting went typically late and I was very tired. I had to wash dishes, but wanted to do my Advent thing first. So I went through the routine, and remember it being especially meaningful for me, then I got up, washed the dishes and collapsed into bed.

Somewhere around 3 am, I woke to the smell of burning plastic. I got up to investigate and saw flames coming from the wreath in the middle of my kitchen table. They were bright orange and nearly licking the ceiling. In my half-asleep stupor, I ran to the sink and got a glass of water and poured it on the wreath. This served only to splatter wax on the floor. Finally, now a little more alert, I grabbed a blanket and threw it on top of the wreath. I then ran out the back door as smoke and soot filled the room. Had I been a bit more alert, I would have used the blanket to grab the extinguished wreath and bring it outside. Since I was not so alert, the smoke and soot soon spread throughout my apartment and covered every surface.

So, it’s 3am, I am outside (in my nightgown) watching the smoke continue to billow and pour out of my opened back door and I realize I have to go in and rescue my cockatiel and open all of my windows. I had to do these tasks in shifts…and grab a phone to call in to work…as I couldn’t be in there for too long without choking. Once the smoke cleared enough for me to be inside for a few minutes, I put some clothes on and ran to Wal-mart (which was open 24 hrs pre-Katrina…ah…those were the days!) to get cleaning supplies, face masks, gloves and new filters for my air conditioner.

When I got back, the sun had come up and I was thoroughly overwhelmed by what had to be done. I didn’t even know where to begin. Everything was covered in tiny black flecks and there was a soot stain on the ceiling over my, now charred, kitchen table.

But, I got to work (with the help of a few friends) and, unbelievably, my home was cleaned and ready for a visitor that evening.

I had previously planned to have a friend over for coffee and dessert that evening…and come she did…to a home that (according to her) didn’t look or smell like anything had happened.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Three Hebrew Boys who emerged from the fiery furnace without even the smell of smoke on them.

Come bedtime, I was exhausted yet fully aware of the awesome grace of God throughout this whole ordeal. I didn’t have to wake up…the fire didn’t have to be contained to the table…the damage could have been more than could be cleaned up in a day…I didn’t have to have a “spare” kitchen table in my storage room. I could hardly think about the grace and providence of the Lord without tearing up…for days afterward.

I was sad about losing my wreath though.

My advent tradition had become the highlight of my day and the Lord had shown up in such a powerful and unexpected way…and all I was doing was being a bit more purposeful, a lot more expectant and lighting candles.

The purposefulness and expectancy of celebrating Advent was what attracted me and part of my prayer during my evening times of worship was that I wouldn’t have to have a wreath and candles to be of that mind in my “normal” times with the Lord.

It was my first Christmas, perhaps since my first Christmas as a believer, that I felt like I really got and appreciated the intention behind setting aside a day and a season to remember our Savior’s birth.

Growing up, Christmas was about presents and parties and decorating. It wasn’t until I was school age that Jesus was even introduced and by then (to my way of thinking…and again with the benefit of hindsight) the damage was already done. Christmas in and Christmas out, as an unbeliever and as a believer, my thoughts typically center on and naturally gravitate to how am I going to decorate, what I am going to buy for whom and what I would like to cook. To follow me around and see my thoughts leading up to Christmas, one would think family celebrations are the “Reason for the Season.”

I am not dissing Family Celebrations or the American Traditions associated with Christmas…I am only saying that as a believer, I know that the intention of the season is supposed to be remembering, reflecting on and celebrating the birth of Christ and thus, the beginning of the road leading to Calvary…and my own personal salvation and fellowship with the Lord.

Last year, I tried to be purposeful in centering my thoughts on the Lord, and purposing to reflect Christ and celebrate Him with whatever I chose to decorate, purchase or cook and in my times with family. The whole year, really, was about making Christ of first importance…but I think I was just more aware of it and active in it at Christmas.

Christmas morning, I got up early and went to my “new” kitchen table, lit all 5 candles on my replacement Advent Wreath and read Luke’s account of the birth of Christ. I then prayed for my family, thanked Him for the gifts He gives each day and especially for the Gift of Salvation…then set out for a day filled with family traditions, gifts and food, ever mindful of the great gift I had received…and how desperately I wanted my family to receive. I was also filled with gratitude for how the Lord had protected me and provided me from my tradition gone awry.

As if all that weren’t enough, just after we finished eating dinner it began to snow…in New Orleans!

“though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;”

“pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap… Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…”

Lord, during this season, let us…let me…make you of FIRST importance and the true reason, motivation and cause for joy in all I do and take part in. As Moses prayed, Lord if you do no go before me…let me not even desire to go. Expose my heart, and help me to be purposeful and expectant during this season…today…every day.


  1. Wow.wow.Wow...good thing ya woke up there eh? Yeah I have had 2 housefires in the last year. In one next door to me my neighbor lost his wife and kids and the entire house, which scorched mine. It is now fixed but not the memories...and when my wife and I were still together she lit our basement on fire trying to clean bike parts with gasoline right next to the natural gas water heater...house still has soot that has not been cleaned. How do you get soot off anywhoo? Water appears to do absolutely nothing to it...My wife cleaned it part way, but then left me for another guy...I have never really got around to finishing it for obvious reasons...all this to say...I know a bit about fires...I have had enough to last me 5 lifetimes. I am really skittish of candles now. They gotta be in a metal thing floating in water triggered to the fire department practically before I light one now...anywhoo should go here...this is a long comment :) Bless ya. -Moose

  2. That year for Christmas, friends in my small group gave me a fire extinguisher. Since then, I have a few near misses...I've left home with pans/pots on the stove twice and just yesterday morning (can't say or type that without hearing Fire & Rain by James Taylor) I filled my apartment with smoke baking Monkey Bread for work. The joke now is that I am a pyromaniac...but its no joke to me. I now have a note on my door reminding me to check to make sure ovens and candles are off/out before I leave the house!

    As for getting soot out...well on the walls I used hot bleach water and a lot of elbow grease and I washed curtains in hot water and steam cleaned my carpets. I still find areas I missed...but it comes up pretty well when I try to clean it.

  3. Hey...was that "friend over for coffee" me? It seems like I remember this...or am I mistaken? I'm so glad you were alright.

    Miss you!

  4. Actually...no. It was my friend Ellen from covenant group. I think I even baked for her...yes, (sing it with me) "I'm every woman!" LOL!

  5. It's so sad that Christmas has become such a retail event! I want to make sure that my kids know that Jesus is the reason we celebrate!!

    About your near misses...be careful - fires are scary! Candles are great, but you have to make sure to blow them out before bed. One suggestion is every time you light a candle, set a kitchen timer for so many hours. That way you know you will hear the timer beep and it will remind you to blow out your candles! :)