I watched on the news as a city became a ghost town. Nearly 100,000 people fled Fort McMurray, Alberta, running a gauntlet of flames all around them.
Firefighters called the wildfire that engulfed the city "a beast." Residents turned refugees called it "apocalyptic" and "hell on earth."
Thankfully, no deaths or serious injury! But homes were gone, neighborhoods unrecognizable piles of rubble and mangled metal.
But the people were saved.
My mind flashed back five years to those folks from another Alberta community, Slave Lake. They were at a conference I was speaking at. Many of them didn't know if they'd even have a place to go home to. Because the Slave Lake region was ablaze.
But in the midst of that devastation, there was inspiration. In the amazing choice one lady made as the flames approached.
Nancy Larocque had time to pack her valuables and a vehicle to put them in. But she didn't. Instead, she left her stuff and loaded up with people who didn't have vehicles.
Later, at a church where evacuees gathered, she tearfully told them, "On our way here, I actually had joy in my heart that there were people able to come with us." Then, her bottom line:
"People are what matter."
Four words that raise, for me, a couple of probing questions.
1. What matters most to me when things are burning down?
When there's "incoming" from every direction. When I'm fighting battles on multiple fronts. When my "to do" list is screaming. When bad news hits hard. When I feel like just looking out for me.
My natural tendency? Be all about me. More concerned about taking care of "my stuff" than the people around me.
Then I think of the Savior I say I'm trying to follow. Who, as He was agonizing on the cross for my sins, was still thinking about the people around Him. His grieving mother, His shell-shocked cousin John, the thief on the cross next to Him - even forgiving His crucifiers.
He said the second Great Commandment was, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." And He did - in the darkest hour of His life. And, as my Bible says, "He is your example. You must follow in His steps" (1 Peter 2:21).
Which means there's something that matters more than my project, my pleasure, my pain. "People are what matter."
2. What's the legacy I'm investing in most?
A lady who was facing the loss of everything in the approaching flames knew what she wanted to carry out when she left.
Where we deploy most of our energy, most of our passion reveals what we really value. What we'll have to show for our short time here. A truckload of trophies? Money? Accomplishments? Great reviews? Great house? Community applause?
Or people who felt loved and listened to and important when I was with them. People whose need I stopped for when I had no time to stop.
More importantly, I really want to have them in heaven with me. Like my Jesus, who reached out to the dying criminal next to Him - to "be with Me in paradise." When it's all been said and done, it's not my list, it's not the loot that matters. It's the lives.
I cannot let my busyness or my excuses keep me from telling people in my world about my Jesus. To "snatch others from the fire and save them" (Jude 23). They're what I want to take with me when I leave.