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 returned to school.

In the state of Texas that year, we experienced a historic drought. No rain, coupled with daily 100-degree temperatures 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 under control.

We made it through the summer and were 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 quickly spreading fire, ten miles from our home.

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

News photo of the major fire in Bastrop, Texas

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 our entire neighborhood. 

We needed to prepare and pack our minivan with what we needed so when the 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 of non-perishable food, snacks and a first aid kit.  

The preparation didn’t take long, as we knew the urgency. 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 material items. We couldn’t replace people and memories.

The wait was agonizing on that Sunday. We spent time together 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. Many others learned valuable lessons: 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. I thought he would certainly pack his Nintendo DS. Instead, 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 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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