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Fireside Cafe

A Personal Testimony

The forest behind the house where I grew up is simply wonderful. There is something unique about the woods of Eastern Canada that make them so accessible. They resemble a groomed park in many ways. The trees are spaced nicely, the underbrush seems to grow just enough to where it doesn't get in the way of its human adventurers, and the rivers and brooks are clean and dramatic.

As a kid, I was always finding a way to ignorantly mess with this balance. My friends and I were constantly hatcheting trees to the ground to build another fort or tree house, and when the river rose in the spring, the most exciting challenges we knew arose out of building a bridge across the churning waters. We risked life plenty in those days. Any one of us could have been swept away by that river, and with all our use of knives, axes, and fire, it's a wonder none of us faced death, or at least amputation until...

It was February of 1984 and, as is common in Nova Scotia, there was no snow on the ground. My friend, Scotty, and I were out at one of our woodland forts doing boy stuff, like pestering squirrels or playing with fire. On this particular day, Scotty had swiped a jar of lighter fluid from his parent's garage and we were enjoying the swoosh of flames each time we would splash more of the fluid on the little campfire we had started.

From the distance, Scotty's name wafted to us through the woods as his mother called him in for evening dinner. He left me there alone with the fire and the jar of lighter fluid. I was used to being in the woods alone, and many years later I returned alone to those woods to walk through the old stomping areas. As I played with the deadly fluid and the fire, the fire began to climb up the pour of the bottle of fluid and when it reached the top it licked my thumb. In a knee-jerk reaction, I dropped the bottle. Had I just tossed it, I wouldn't have this story to tell. As the bottle dropped it flipped over and the fluid soaked my right pant leg. The jar hit the forest floor and all of the left-over fluid burst into waist-high flames. I was surrounded by fire. My leg immediately ignited. Recalling all of those grade school fire safety demonstrations, I quickly tried to remove my clothing. This was taking far too much time and the fire had hit its mark on the lower half of my leg. In desperation, I began to beat out the flames with my bare hands and this proved successful.

Shaken badly and crying, I limped to a nearby creek and submerged my leg in the frigid February current. I returned home and ran a bath, hoping I wouldn't have to confess my accident to my parents and that the burn would heal nicely in a concealed way. My mom found me in the tub and could not believe what had happened. She called for dad to take me to the hospital. The wound had blistered very badly.

When I arrived, they began poking me with needles to determine the degree of the burns I had endured. It was concluded that I had third-degree burns on most of the lower part of my right leg and ankle. A skin graft would have to be done.

45 days later I left the hospital in a leg cast. Three strips of skin, about 16 inches long and three inches wide had been removed from my thigh and replanted on my lower leg. The healing process took a long time. For two years I was not able to expose the graft to direct sunlight, and even after that period I felt very awkward at camp swim-time and at pools where my leg was bare.

While laying in that hospital room, I realized how close I had come to being severely burned and possibly even life-threatened. Everything in life had been coming to me pretty easily. I had a great family and a church where every week I heard about God and knew the message of His life backward and forward. I had experienced the beginning of the salvation process, but was still too young, I think, to fully understand God and how He works in us. I laid there thinking about what might have happened to me if I had not made it out of that fire. Life at 14 is pretty carefree and I was treating everything (school, the future, and God) very nonchalantly. I thought I had forever to take care of those things. Then it hit home. What if I didn't get another chance to take care of those things? What if I didn't get another chance to take God seriously?

I decided I wouldn't fool around about that stuff anymore. I decided that I needed to be more aware of things in an eternal view and treat life more seriously.

Believe me, I still had fun and I still created adventure in the woods, but I didn't take it all for granted anymore. That "accident" was my wake-up call and I'm glad it happened. Two years later God directed me into a work for Him and looking back I can see strong evidence of His hand on my life.

If for no other reason, the accident happened so that I could share the story with you and allow you an opportunity to think about it. Life is a vapor and only what you do for Christ will last.