A stranger could have gotten lost on the winding dirt roads, amidst the river-oaks of Misti’s lifelong oasis. Growing up in these southeast woods of the United States had birthed moments of fleeting pleasure amidst a lifetime of hard knocks, but walking barefoot on familiar back roads usually brought a sense of peace to Misti’s troubled heart. Today was different.
The fire burning around her this morning was blistering the deepest part of her being. She had tried to keep a safe distance between herself and this fire. She had walked to the edge of the flames before, but had never stepped too close. Avoiding questions regarding her soul had been easy, until last night.
Branches of the river-oaks came together and formed a cocoon arch over the sandy-brown, narrow road ahead. The comfort of those enclosed branches could not reach Misti’s burning conscious today. Her calloused feet continued to leave small footprints as she passed under the arch, oblivious to the peaceful setting.
A tiny path veered off the sandy road, along the edge of the woods. It led Misti to a gently flowing, rock-bed creek beneath an old wooden bridge. Here she was hidden from any unlikely traffic on the road above. Here she could sit at the water’s edge and explore the increasing heat of fresh flames.
At twenty-four, she had already lived a hard life. Working to avoid the surrounding trap of poverty and drugs had been her goal. That goal had gotten her through high school. There had been no help from her single mother, who had been caught in the local trap long before Misti was born.
The dinosaur-type shell of a snapping turtle was visible for a moment, before slowly slipping into the shallow current of the muddy stream. Misti never noticed. She was lost beside the heat of a raging fire beckoning her to step closer.
She had worked her way into management at the local Hardee’s since graduation. The pay wasn’t much, but it had kept food on the table. Her mother had been staying sober enough to keep Misti’s daughter during late shifts. She could still hear her mother’s thunderous words when she had admitted being pregnant. “I can’t believe you made this mistake.”
The local church group had fanned the fire she had been avoiding. They kept a whole section of the fast-food chain full on Sunday evenings. She longed for the joy surrounding their presence. The peace they carried with them seemed even greater than the serenity of her wooded back roads.
A gentle breeze blew a strand of long, brown hair over her nose. Misti raised a hand to push the wayward strand in place and watched as an old Ford crept over the creaking, wooden slats of the bridge above. A cloud of dust rose for a moment as the Ford moved past the bridge and on down the dirt road. While the dust settled, Misti thought of last night’s conversation.
She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but the church crowd seemed to be a magnet for her. They had been discussing a sermon about trials through fire. Misti knew about trials.
One young man had said that when he chose to live right and asked Jesus into his heart, he had walked through a cleansing fire and came out a new person. Misti would love a chance at a new beginning. She had wondered if it was possible.
The young man had seen her listening and asked if he could talk with her. She had been unwilling to discuss the condition of her soul, but could feel the burning desire to understand what he meant about being a new person. He never asked for details about her life. He only spoke of how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Misti longed to feel the comfort she sensed in the church crowd. She wondered if there would be anything left of her old self if she walked through the fire the young man had described. Yet the flames still beckoned her.
With one foot making tiny ripples in the creek’s current, Misti took a step of faith. She asked Jesus into her heart. She walked into the flames.
***This story was inspired by Nicole Nordeman‘s Album, Wide Eyed, track 7, Burnin’***
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