What's in Your Backpack? A Story About a Texas-Sized Fire

It was the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, 2011. For most in the country, it is the winding down of summer, and the last hurrah of picnics, swimming, and celebrations before kids went back to school.

In the state of Texas that year, we experienced a historic drought. No rain, coupled with daily 100-degree temps made for a miserable yet dangerous combination. The National Weather Service later decreed that 2011 was indeed the driest year on record. Austin broke its record with ninety 100-degree days. It was miserably hot with water restrictions and burn bans strictly enforced. If there were windy conditions, everyone was on high alert.

We are used to the burn bans every summer, and this year was no exception. Small fires did break out in different areas of central Texas, but because of the attention of Texas residents and quick response from firefighters, things stayed relatively under control.

We made it through the summer and was looking forward to a peaceful Labor Day weekend.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. 

This holiday weekend, three major fires broke out, fed by severely dry kindling from trees and brush from the weeks and months of drought. One of these fires was ten miles away from our neighborhood and growing. While firefighters were immediately on the scene, it was getting harder to restrict the fiery spread as embers flew from tree to tree as winds refused to cooperate.

The largest wildfire was already roaring in Bastrop, east of Austin. Acres and acres of the majestic pine trees, which the area is known for, were destroyed.  Winds carried the fire, and firefighters could not catch up with the spreading horror.  Hundreds of people lost their homes.   

Tensions were high all weekend, and firefighters were working at their limits. Our neighborhood was one of those on standby for evacuation. As we got reports, we knew that one turn of the wind could change the course of the fire, and maybe our entire neighborhood. 

We needed to make preparations and pack our minivan with what we needed so that when authorities told us to go, we were ready.  We gave each of our boys a small suitcase and told them to fill it with three changes of clothes, toiletries and some items they couldn’t bear to leave behind.   

My husband and I packed our clothes and grabbed essential papers. We quickly took photos inside the house for insurance purposes.  I packed a box with non-perishable food and snacks and a first aid kit.  

The preparation seemed only to take mere minutes. What else should we take?  There were many things we could take, but it was hard to decide what was more important. As I looked around, I knew that we could replace those items. We couldn’t replace people and memories.

The wait was agonizing on that Sunday. We hung out with some of our neighbors, waiting for updates. Would we have to leave? We watched the flags at the front of our neighborhood to see which way the wind was blowing. If it changed direction, our community could be next. 

Thankfully, our Sunday ended without an evacuation. However, in many areas, families lost everything. People learned valuable lessons that weekend. Be organized. Know where your important papers are. Trim brush on your property. Have insurance.

After the scare, it was interesting to see what my youngest, then eight years old, decided to pack.  My son didn’t even think about his Nintendo DS.  He had a precious stuffed animal shoved in the suitcase.  My 13-year-old teenager couldn’t think of anything other than filling his school backpack with items for daily use.

When faced with a crisis, our priorities changed. Possessions didn’t mean as much. Family and being safe had preference.

Another priority is eternal: 

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them
and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.
 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot
destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your
 treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
 (Matthew 6:19-21 NLT)

How quickly material possessions can be taken from us, whether by fire or another disaster. What is the purpose of collecting or hoarding things that will not last? That’s not to say that we can’t have nice things, but we are to be good stewards of what we have in this world. “Because we are in this particular role [as responsible managers], it is especially important that we are people of fidelity and integrity.” (1 Corinthians 4:2) And Jesus asks, “If you are unworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?” (Luke 16:11)

There is a book on my shelf called “The Treasure Principle” by Randy Alcorn, where he explains this concept. He states that where we spend or allocate our money, that is where our heart will concentrate its affections. If we spend too much time on material things, we are moving farther and farther away from God. “Nothing makes a journey more difficult than a heavy backpack filled with nice but unnecessary things. Pilgrims travel light.” (Alcorn)

We, as believers, need to store up treasures in heaven. One way to accomplish that is by giving to others. It is more meaningful when the entire family is involved, and kids are taught by example that giving to others is better than always saving for the next new toy or video game. For instance, when at the grocery store, pick up a bouquet to give to a neighbor. Instead of buying another pair of jeans, pick up a few t-shirts and drop them off at the homeless shelter. But remember, “God doesn’t look at just what we give. He also looks at what we keep.” (Alcorn) We are to be good managers of what God gives us here on earth. Randy writes:  “The act of giving is a vivid reminder that it’s all about God, not about us.”   

So, the maxim is true: The best things in life aren’t things. We need to travel through life without heavy burdens and hordes of stuff. “Nothing makes a journey more difficult than a heavy backpack filled with nice but unnecessary things.  Pilgrims travel light.” (Alcorn).

What is your backpack filled with today?

References:  CBS News, KVUE News, National Weather Service

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