Along with two other hooligans, I enjoyed the experience of “roughing it” in a large patch of “almost wilderness” near our hometown on many weekends throughout High School. One of our favorite activities was the construction of torches. We would take bark from birch trees, which is highly flammable, and wrap them at the end of sticks. Upon ignition, the bark would roar into an inferno.
Fortunately, for Smokey the Bear’s sake, we would be careful to play caveman near a lake so we could extinguish our flames–by sailing them through the air, like enflamed javelins, and letting them sizzle into the water before they set the forest ablaze.
Easy, clean fun.
The predicament of one particular camping trip wasn’t deliberate–just a symptom of youth. Fire has a way of keeping the attention of all but the most severe cases of ADD. Needless to say, its hold on a 17-year old male is paramount. Dusk had fallen and the three of us sat around the campfire. With no torches left, my friend decided it was a good idea to light matches and throw them around at random or simply watch them burn down. Apparently the campfire wasn’t enough to hold his attention.
A KISS tribute band happened to be playing in the nearby town that evening, so we had a “relaxing” evening of enjoying the delightful sounds of night-fallen nature intermixed with the screaming lyrics of: “I want to rock ‘n’ roll all night! And party every day!”
Once the sounds of KISS faded, we watched the campfire dwindle before we weaseled into our individual tents. As usual, I fell asleep with the fear that the curious bears of MN would be bold enough to eat our food–or mistake our sleeping bags for human corn-dogs.
At dawn, obviously glad to be alive, I emerged from my tent and relished the crisp, cold autumn air. The morning sun seeped through the pine tree branches and gave me some warmth, but I still shivered. I gathered firewood to start a warming fire (this was before we decided it was a good idea to purchase PocketRockets), which would also be used to boil our breakfast of “omelets-in-a-bag.”
My camping compadres, the hooligans, were still nestled in their sleeping bags, dreaming of hot showers and flush toilets, so I silently let them be as I did my morning chore. My stomach growled in anticipation for the yummy meal that awaited, so I hurriedly finished piling the firewood and then searched for the matches…
Where are the matches?
I scrambled through the campsite paraphernalia, but the little red box was nowhere. Recalling the match-lighting of my friend the night before, I whipped open his tent with a not-so-cordial, “Where are the matches?! WHERE ARE THE MATCHES?!” I invaded his bags, frantic and desperate.
My friend then unveiled the horrid fact: “I burned them all last night.”
That was our only box of matches.
None of us had skills in primitive fire-lighting, so if we wanted a fire, the only option was to hike back to my car, parked a half-mile away, and use its cigarette lighter to…MAKE A TORCH! My friends laughed at the idea, touting its implausibility, but I insisted it would work.
Since it was my car and my idea, I was the chosen one. After finding a good piece of birch bark, I constructed my torch and headed off.
I soon found myself seating in the passenger seat of my ‘91 Plymouth Acclaim, repeatedly using the cigarette lighter in an attempt to ignite the birch bark. The process proved difficult, since the lighter failed to output enough heat to ignite the bark. I tried a dozen times, each time failing.
Despite the failures, a large volume of smoke was produced from the continual attempts. As I coughed and swatted at the plumes, I saw a familiar truck slow down on the road nearby. It was my Dad’s work truck.
What were the odds? He and my brother in-law were on their way to work and happened to drive by as the pillars of smoke seeped out of my car. They came to a stop, rolled down the window and watched me exhale a draught of smoke. So, obviously, my first order of business was to convince them I wasn’t a closet smoker, indulging my habit while away from home.
I told them about our predicament. Fortunately, there was a spare lighter in the truck’s glove box, and they gave it to me, but they were wary–apparently unconvinced I was a nonsmoker.
Along the way back to camp, I concocted a devious idea. It was now within my power to prove my camping compadres wrong about my torch-lighting abilities.
Now they would get a taste at what I was made of.
With a wide smile, I walked back to the outskirts of the campsite, stopping behind a large ridge of bedrock–out of view from the hooligans.
I ignited my torch using my Dad’s lighter. Once the flames grew to the proper height, I unleashed my inner Olympic-torch-bearer, climbed the ridge of bedrock and sped towards them with the flame roaring beside me.
The first thing the hooligans saw was smoke, followed by the flame, then, with a spectacle of unparalleled grandeur, with the morning sun to my back, my gallant physique emerged with the glorious torch in hand. I strode into the campsite like a triple-crown stallion, showered with laud and praise. In that moment, I was their savior, their flame-bearer, their breakfast-bringer. I welcomed their cheers and their exclamations of disbelief as I laid the flame at their feet.
Of course, I couldn’t take the credit. I was humbled in needing help to start the fire, so I admitted to the hooligans that I was not the true source of the flame.
But what did we, the hooligans, learn from this? To bring more matches next time? To be wise about our camping gear? No. We learned that God provides. We were hungry, and God orchestrated a way for us to cook our food.
I consider trivial predicaments like this to be little “schoolteachers” that prepare us for the more difficult tumults of life. Mild predicaments allow us to soak in the principles that they’re trying to teach us. Then, once those difficult trials come, we can draw on those principles as a way to be reminded that we can, in fact, “take heart” because our Lord has overcome the world (John 16:33). God is indeed eager to prove this to us in every chapter of our lives, whether our eyes are open to see it or not. I pray we learn keep them open because life is too short to keep them shut.