Excerpt from Play with Fire by Bianca Juarez OlthoffBy
Prologue: The Legend of the Phoenix
The caterpillar into the butterfly. The duckling into the swan. The peasant into the princess. Since childhood I’ve been obsessed with the idea of transformation. Perhaps it was because I wanted to shed my skin and emerge something better than I was, but at the core of my soul, I believed change was possible.
In college I read “The Rising of the Phoenix” as part of a project on Greek mythology and a spark ignited within me like a match to dry fodder. There was something about the story of this bird that moved my soul and gave me hope. The legend permeates more than Greek tradition and has been told and retold over years and cultures. The origins of the bird can be traced back to Greek, Egyptian, Japanese, Chinese, and Persian cultures. But to early Church fathers like Clement and Lactantius, this bird was a symbol of resurrection, rebirth, and renewal. As I read the story, however, the Phoenix was more than a far away fable or symbol of faith . . . it was me.
My life was up in flames and I had nowhere to turn.
Perhaps it was the bird’s loneliness or the isolation or the hiding or the silence or the desire to be transformed, but I lost myself in the prose of ancient times. Soaring above my life, I had a bird’s eye view of a story that was to be my own. As the exhausted bird traveled out of desperation to an isolated desert, I caught a glimpse of my life and turned each page for the promise that one day I—like the Phoenix—would be made new.
Reading the mythological story awakened the reality that so many of us will face. There will be proverbial fires and flames that threaten our lives; moments that make us feel like all hope is gone and nothing can or will change. But I remind you, the fire that boils and softens a potato is the same fire that hardens an egg. It’s not about our circumstances, but simply what we’re made of.
In the loneliest of times, we have a wondrous opportunity to discover a deity who is not far away, but close; not silent, but speaking; not incapable, but incredible. It is that God who took me through the fire like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego to reveal His presence.
This legend is shared with you, dear friend, because I believe we have the ability to be transformed in the midst of chaos, exhaustion, and confusion. From the deepest fiber of my being, I believe when we go through life’s fires we will rise transformed. No, our transformations won’t happen through mythical fire from a silent sun like the Phoenix, but we will go through the fire like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and experience the presence of the one true God who created fire. Unlike the gods of mythical times, our brazen and bold requests for transformation will be heard by God who will resurrect us to new life through the power of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Rise from the ashes . . .
Bianca Juarez Olthoff has seen her dreams go up in flames. The ambitious 21-year-old Latina had moved back home to help care for her mother (diagnosed with cancer) and look for a job. “I went through months of diet pills, an expensive car purchase, countless Bible studies, vacations, serving at church, and retail therapy – nothing brought me peace. I created gods that I thought could rescue me from my loneliness, but my self-solving was coming up empty and draining any hope (and money) I had.” Like the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, God met Bianca in the fire. He transformed her from the inside out.
Bianca’s very first book, Play with Fire: Discovering Fierce Faith, Unquenchable Passion, and a Life-Giving God (Zondervan) recounts how God walked with her through the flashpoints of life — and she reminds readers that the God who made fire can use it for transformation. The book kicks off with a launch party on August 30 in Los Angeles (livestreamed globally).