Burn Out

It all starts with a simple sentence, spoken by one of the three of us, that causes time to slip away as if we have been abducted by aliens.

“Look at this candle.”

That always begins a session of smelling, comparing, discerning, deciphering, and sometimes gagging as we go along the shelves searching for the perfect one. And just because it is displayed in an attractive jar does not mean that is the pick. We have specific criteria that have to be met.

Not too floral. Not too much like a dirty sock that hasn’t seen a washing machine in years. Not the scent of a deceased relative’s musky perfume. Not anything that resembles something forgotten in the fridge for a while. Or an armpit in need of deodorant.

There’s a whole section to be avoided at all costs. The enticing aroma of cinnamon rolls, sugar cookies, or salted caramel needs to be handled with discipline. If those get lit, we all become ravenously hungry, causing a storm of binge eating and wanting to bake. Anything with the word “grandma” on it usually means something associated with a calorie-laden concoction that will lead us down a diabolical path.

We have rigorous standards, and sometimes none of them meet the requirements. When the sneezing starts and the sinus cavity is burning, it’s time to stop.

We have fallen prey to purchasing specific ones online that, once burned to a certain point, a small jewel is exposed. Just like the lottery, it could be worth millions. So far, not.

On the more conventional side, those once burned can be converted into a wine glass. While the candle is a long-forgotten memory, the jar can be used until it gets knocked off the counter shattering into a thousand shards of glass, and you wish you were not barefoot right then.

“Put a light in every room so you are aware of my presence.”

This was at a time when life was at its height of uncertainty. I was not sleeping, eating very little, and worrying about everything. I told a counselor who I was seeing at the time that I felt like I had jumped out of an airplane and was in a free fall every day, anticipating a crash into the ground.

Panic attacks came out of nowhere as I tried to regain some normalcy even though God remained with me. The shadows would descend, leaving me unable to breathe and wanting to die. When I would return to reality, I would beat myself up for not having enough faith.

So when the simple message came to me while I wrote in my journal, I knew that God was sending me an answer.

I had very little extra money, so I had to find a way to buy inexpensive candles for every room. We had some, but I needed more, and I couldn’t afford to purchase the high-end kind made with exotic ingredients. My existence had become low-budget.

The dollar store was my best friend for things such as this. I placed tall, white, unscented candles throughout my house to remind me that I wasn’t alone. I was aware of them enough to have my daughters help me blow them out at night or when we left, but I often forgot about them until I would come across one burning brightly. This would instantly ground me in the fact that I was protected and God was in charge.

“Help! Oh, no!”

I heard this from the bathroom. That is never my favorite thing, and I must have been out of energy because I did not jump up as usual. When your child yells for you, particularly from that part of the house, you dread what will be asked of you.

“Mom!”

I looked at my older daughter, and she looked back at me. I did not budge. Neither did she.

“Help!” came another plea.

I couldn’t handle another thing.

“What is going on in there?”I said to the one staring at me. She got up to investigate and cautiously opened the door.

I watched the expression on her face go from neutral to horrified in a millisecond. She kept cringing and flinching, not saying a word.

“What is going on?” Now I was on high alert just because of her body language.

“There’s a fire,” she said, staring blankly forward.

“What?!”

Now I was on my feet.

“The rug is on fire.”

My youngest daughter, fully clothed, was standing on the toilet seat, trying to avoid the potential raging inferno going on below her. She had decided to wave a piece of toilet paper over the open flame for fun, thinking she could flirt with fate. When it caught ablaze, she threw it toward the floor onto the rug, setting off a more significant problem.

I quickly threw water on it, and from that moment on, the bathroom went without God’s presence.

While flames can be beautiful, I have seen them get out of hand. My dad demonstrated this quite professionally.

My parents had gotten a fireplace built into their basement when I was twelve. My mom was in seventh heaven, while he wasn’t so much enamored because he had to put in all the work.

“I want you to make a fire,” she would say, and his whole countenance would immediately drop.

This meant his evening would be spent building it, messing with the damper, and keeping it going. For him, it was a chore, and it would infringe on his time to not exert himself.

I knew he hated every minute of it, not only because of the effort but because he wasn’t totally confident in his abilities. A night of tranquility would take a turn when all was going well, and then the smoke would be pouring into the room out of his control.

There would be “why” questions from her, all the lights turned on, and swear words flowing from him.

One Sunday afternoon, I came home from ice skating, and the minute I walked in, I could smell burnt wood. My mom was in her room reading, so I surmised he must have attempted to learn how to use it better during daylight.

The dark haze burnt my eyes the minute I started going down the stairs. It appeared that no one was there through the heavy air, but then I saw him lying on the floor as if he had suffered from smoke inhalation.

They say where there is smoke, there is fire. In his case, there were barely glowing embers.

He was sound asleep just below the thick fog. Now the hard decision. To wake or not to wake. He never liked it when his nap was interrupted, but I threw all caution to the wind.

“Dad!” I said. Nothing. “Dad!”

Still no response. I had seen him sleep like this many times, so I knew he had not died.

I shook his shoulder.

“Wake up!”

“Chris! What do you want!” Yelling before his eyes were even open.

“The room is full of smoke.”

He blinked, trying to see me.

“You need to get up.”

Now I knew first hand the misery my mom went through every morning trying to catapult him out of bed for work.

He looked at me like I was a ghost materializing out of a mist. He committed to sitting halfway, came to, and suddenly realized that he had made a fire. That’s when the swearing started, and I left to do my homework.

The final straw came when the entire family was over, and he started a fire outside the fireplace. He always used a small propane torch to get it started. He set it aside, not realizing it was still on. While he frantically poked and stirred up the kindling, a vase filled with dry, ugly weeds that she thought were decorative went up in seconds. He was oblivious while everyone yelled to get his attention.

That was one of the last fires I ever saw him attempt; he was over it.

Our walk with God can be just as contentious. A burning light in every space in my house brought me peace, but the same element made my dad highly frustrated. When things start to go wrong, it’s easy for some to turn on the One who would offer the most help. But it’s vital to remember 1 John 1:5:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all. (NIV)

When you start to believe that God isn’t on your side or has your best interests in mind, that is when resentment or distrust can begin to take hold. And the lie has to be dismantled.

Romans 8:28 states:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (NLT)

When you find yourself feeling as if all things familiar seem out of control, apply this: 1 Peter 5:7:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (NIV)

Instead of carrying the weight of what seems like a burden, give it to God, so you can go on being a glowing lantern in the world and never burn out.

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