Last spring, a hollow root, twenty yards from the maple tree it once supplied with nutrients, caught fire from the small brush pile burning in our front yard.
The fire followed the dry root as if it were a buried rope dipped in gasoline, scorching its way up the base of the century-old maple until the fire began burning the tree from the inside out.
My husband was the first to notice this phenomenon. He stood at the storm door of our farmhouse, watching the smoke weaving around the branches. He couldn’t believe the tree was actually on fire because of the distance from the pile, and because the ground was wet.
Nevertheless, he went outside to inspect and heard the flames inside the tree. He ran and got a garden hose and a ladder. I put on my rain coat and went outside to help him. Smoke poured out of the maple tree’s numerous holes, like an irregular chimney.
He held the ladder, and I climbed. The heart of the tree was on fire, glowing embers crackled and popped. Water from the garden hose gushed out of another hole around the base.
My husband looked over at me, rainwater and soot speckling his face. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Green wood won’t burn, so the tree must’ve already been dead.”
I could hear God speaking to me through that quietly burning maple, as if it were my own burning bush. I stared through the screen of rain up at the tree’s branches, blooming with life, and yet I knew from the smoke pouring out of the holes that it was standing-dead. Parched.
At the end of 2014, mere months before that tree caught fire, my husband had an emergency craniotomy to remove a rare, benign tumor that was causing pressure to build up in his brain. I didn’t realize, until that surgery, how spiritually parched I actually was. It took God dramatically realigning my focus to help me see I had taken my eyes off Him.
Each of my three novels is like a stepping stone on my spiritual journey. The Alliance uses a dystopian storyline, set in an Old Order Mennonite community, to delve into the fear-to-faith walk I personally took that year, along with the reality that, when the refining fires begin to kindle, only with God can our broken society withstand the heat and not be consumed.
For if that beautiful maple tree’s roots had been healthy, the fire could have never traveled up through its core, burning it from the inside out.
If our spiritual roots are not connected to the source of life, when the refining fires come, we will also be consumed from the inside out, until we are nothing but standing-dead humans.
But if we, as Christians, remain connected to the giver of all life, we will be able to rest in perfect peace—even if the entire world is breaking down around us—and then the inhabitants of this broken world will want to know how they might find perfect peace too.
Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Outcast, which Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. That book also became an ECPA, CBA, and Amazon bestseller and was featured in Huffington Post’s Fall Picks, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and the Tennessean. CBA Retailers + Resources called her second book, The Midwife, “an excellent read [that] will be hard to put down,” and Romantic Times declared, “Petersheim is an amazing new author.” Jolina’s nonfiction writing has been featured in Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, and Today’s Christian Woman. She and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but they recently relocated from the mountains of Tennessee to the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, where they live with their two young daughters. Jolina’s third book, The Alliance, released on June 1, 2016. She blogs regularly at www.jolinapetersheim.com and with other bestselling authors at www.southernbelleviewdaily.com.