LAYING A FIRE by Cynthia Ruchti

A midsummer night’s dream–sitting around a campfire at the water’s edge, listening to the loons calling, “Where are you?” to their mates.

But the fire roared in the fireplace inside the house. A sudden cold snap made us face a question no one wants to entertain in late July. “It’s either crank up the furnace or light a fire in the fireplace. Which do you want?”

We opted for the romantic warmth of the fireplace. Furnaces aren’t known for their romantic side.

My husband collected an armload of kindling and “laid the fire,” as they say. You know. They. They say a lot of things.

As I watched the kindling catch flame, I complimented my husband on his fire-making skills. “Those survival shows on TV could learn a lot from you, honey.”

“Matches help,” he said, without missing a beat.

It takes more than matches. A well-laid fire will catch quickly, burn with a minimum of smoke and soot, and burn long and strong. A poorly-laid fire will struggle and die out too soon. He’s had a lot of practice with campfires and our garage-sale fireplace, but that’s a story for another day.

Heat, fuel, oxygen–fire’s necessities.

Most amateur fire-starters err in the oxygen category. They start with logs the size of the final product they want and pile them tight. Frustrated when the logs won’t catch, they fuss and worry any lisping ember until it gives up in exhaustion.

I read a novel last week that stopped me at a scene where the characters started a fire on the beach…with fat logs piles high and no mention of kindling or airflow or letting smaller sticks get established before adding larger pieces of wood.

Patience and oxygen. Key elements of fire-building.

In what other areas of life are we impatient to get to the end result without considering the project’s basic needs, the most effective way to lay the foundation, and the value of starting small?

Parenting? A new business? Friendships? Education? The workplace? Publishing?

“Don’t despise small beginnings,”cautions Zechariah 4:10.

As I watched my husband lay another beautiful, efficient fire, my thoughts wandered far beyond the confines of the fireplace. Whatever the project, do I understand its basic needs? Am I laying the foundational elements in a way that it will be easy for it to catch fire? Is there room for it to breathe? Am I letting the small pieces get well established so they become the source that feeds the larger pieces?

I don’t know what kind of project came to mind for you. But if it’s struggling to take off, ask if you’re smothering its chances or patiently fanning it into flame.

I’d love to hear the story of how that kind of thought has played out in your life in recent days.

Cynthia Ruchti is an author and speaker who tells stories of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark. Her recent releases are the novel When the Morning Glory Blooms and the non-fiction Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People’s Choices, from Abingdon Press Fiction and Abingdon Press Christian Living, respectively. See what else is catching fire at, or