The past few weeks I’ve often found myself contemplating the refiner’s fire. That’s no surprise, given the extent of upheaval in our lives. We have been feeling the heat of late! I can almost hear my Aunt Bea proclaiming, “We’re really in it!” Well, yes; it’s become quite toasty.
Among a series of unfortunate events the most dramatic, by far, was a barn fire in mid-April. It was devastating, leveling an entire barn and milking facility, damaging two silos beyond use, disrupting operations for months to come and creating an immense mess on the property. Oy.
Yet it could have been so much worse! We are grateful for tremendous community support in fighting the fire and recovery thereafter. We’re especially thankful for no loss of life. Even so, dealing with the aftermath has been overwhelming.
For the first few days, farmers moved in a sleep-deprived daze of disbelief, the smell of fire acrid in the lingering haze. A smoldering pile of debris reignited periodically, requiring continual observation and occasional attention. Hundreds of cows had to be relocated immediately, some to another property we own and others to neighboring farms. It will be very late in the fall before all the cows come home.
Meanwhile, everything the Hubs and our boys thought they knew and were on the verge of implementing in strategic innovation (a.k.a. Plan A) had to be reconsidered. They scrambled to realign plans and goals, to reconsider their aspirations as farm owners and operators. After multiple facility tours and extensive consultation they solidified a new business plan (a.k.a. Plan B).
This then required weeks of testing to confirm feasibility, detail components, and secure support. Unfortunately, as the U.S. dairy industry slump continues, each decision point and delay are extra weighty. In all of this, there has been no respite from the stress. Insurance claims are slow to resolve. Financing is complicated. All-consuming planting and harvesting seasons progress and overlap with urgency. Open questions and unknowns loom like dark clouds overhead. Numerous loose ends taunt us, wagging wildly in summer’s hot winds. We pray for wisdom and favor. And for expediency.
Our bodies and spirits sag under oppressive heat and humidity. We pray for a reprieve. Dirt turns to dust. The corn begins to shrivel and brown. We pray for rain and more rain. We pray for livestock and crops and farmers to endure; sometimes the strain seems almost unbearable in our little corner of the world.
Global and national news stories lend some perspective. There are so many “hot spots” that it can be overwhelming. We empathize with west coasters living under the threat of wildfires burning wildly out of control. We pray for those in the path of fierce, fiery destruction of all types. We pray for fire-fighter safety. With all of this heat — both literal and figurative — it’s no wonder the refiner’s fire has been on my mind.
Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel. Proverbs 25:4
This is not the first time I’ve experienced an extended period of “heat” from exceedingly difficult circumstances and concluded the master refiner was at work in my life. To me, that is a hopeful thought: I am clearly not able to control this mess! Experience tells me that I can trust him in this.
A refiner has selected raw material and uses a carefully controlled flame for precise purpose. A refiner’s fire doesn’t destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire or barn fire. It does not burn out of control, consuming everything within reach. The refiner’s fire consumes the extraneous, removing impurities. A refiner clarifies and purifies until all that remains is beautiful and pleasing.
Most importantly, the refiner is always near. In the midst of turmoil, in the heat of the flame, the refiner is attentively present. He manages the process with care and confidence that the end product will be worth the effort.
And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” Zechariah 13:9
As much as God wants to reveal us as his own — the refiner’s fire is nothing if not such a process — he also wants us to acknowledge and call on him. I’ve no hesitation to do so but in the midst of the heat I call more frequently. I need to know he’s near. I want to feel his presence. I long to hear him say, “I’ve got this.”
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2
It’s been three months since the barn fire and there is hope on our horizon. New facilities are rising. Many questions have resolved as solutions have surfaced. Searing temperatures have lessened. Thunderstorms brought much needed relief last weekend. There’s more rain in the forecast. May it be so!
I awoke today with the song, Still, sing-ringing in my brain. I received it gladly, as a gift and affirmation that God is near. He has been here all along, just as he promised. I was encouraged. I hope you will be, too.