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If Not You, Then Who?

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Son,

If yesterday’s note wasn’t sufficient to caution you to the emotional turmoil that comes with the job of a firefighter, let me be clear in helping you see that.  Not to bring attention to myself or the battles I face, nor to glorify myself at all.  Not for any other reason than out of a desire that you never have to say “why didn’t someone warn me?”

The job has its rewards, there’s no argument there.  But…

One day you’ll wake up at 2am and find a teenager impaled on a guardrail, blood still dripping from his body after having been ejected from the vehicle…head crushed from going through the windshield…brain matter lying on the ground beneath him…while his “friend” sits on the curb laughing as if nothing happened because he’s too drunk to know he just killed his friend. Your frustration will seem more than you can bear. You’ll want to beat some sense into him, but you’ll bite your tongue and try to forget. You won’t be able to.

One morning while your breakfast sits on the table waiting for your return, you’ll hold the hand of a woman whose husband lies dead on her living room floor…your hand still sweating after having spent the last hour pumping on his chest…the feeling of his ribs crushing under the weight of your thrusts still fresh on your mind.  You won’t have the stomach to finish breakfast when you get back.

One night you’ll crawl on hands and knees searching with gloved hands through a darkness you can’t see through for a man who’s trapped in his home as it burns down around you.  You won’t find him in time, and you’ll be forced to leave him…only to realize later that unbeknownst to you, he had already burned up and you were crawling all over the top of his burned corpse…his melted skin now covering you, hanging from you like the memory of that night will hang with you…forever haunting you. The smell will be like you never expected…the memory of that smell will ruin many future meals for you.

One beautiful, sunny, warm morning you’ll send your own kids off to school and come to work.  Your first call of the day will be a seven year old boy who’s just been run over by the school bus, his body split wide open from gut to knee.  Still alive, the look in his eyes as you scoop him into your arms will haunt you until the day you die.  You’ll know you did all you could for him, but even knowing that is not enough to keep his mother’s screams and the cries of his friends on the bus from jolting you from your sleep fifteen years later.

Some day you’ll have to experience worse than all that.  Things that can’t be described.  Things that you’ll have to bury deep in the recesses of your own mind just to keep moving forward.  Things that can’t be shared with someone outside of the brotherhood who’s lived it with you.  You’ll hear people say your job is great, that the schedule is nice and the pay makes it worth it.  To that, you’ll force a fake smile, grit your teeth and just walk away…because it’s just not worth it.  You’ll  want to say, “yeah, it’s got its good days, but here…let me dump a career’s worth of memories from the bad days on you and we’ll see how great you think it is then.”  But you won’t.  Because the people who’ll say those things to you don’t know…and they’ll never know.

It’s a rewarding career whose rewards come at a price.  If you’re willing to pay that price, then follow your dreams.  If your wife is willing to pay the price alongside you, then follow your dreams.  If your wife is half as selfless and loving as your mother, then you’ve got a great head start in getting through your career with your sanity intact.  With God leading you and Jesus walking with you, you’ll have what you need to survive it.  I honestly don’t know how someone without Jesus can do it.

Don’t get me wrong…it’s got its good days too.  You’ll watch a man die right in front of you and you’ll have a hand in bringing him back to life.  You’ll carry a woman out of a burning building and hand her off to medics while you run back in to put the fire out.  You’ll hold a lifeless child and be the hands of God that breath life back into her.  You’ll do lots of good things that go unnoticed and unrewarded.  And that’s fine…because you won’t be doing it for recognition.  You’ll be doing it knowing what you got into.  You’ll be doing it because not everyone can.  You’ll be doing it because the guy next to you is counting on you.  You’ll be doing it because if not you, then who?  And that’s why we do it.

Love,

Dad

Future Firefighter, firefighting boys

Future Firefighters

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What Do You See?

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What do you see when he passes you, red lights flashing and siren blaring as he clears a path to his destination? Do you see the pain and suffering he will see when he gets there? Do you see it? No? Open your eyes…it’s there.

It’s a darkness that swallows him, pouring over his soul like a raging sea.

It tosses him back and forth, churning him up in a blender that’s mixed with all the pain and sorrow he bears witness to.

He tries to escape the fury of its wrath,
but its grip on him is unrelenting. It crushes his soul and takes away his breath.

He’s sinking into the pits of a darkness that won’t let him go. The raging fire that engulfs his once vibrant, green and thriving soul leaves in its wake the charred remains of destruction and death…each memory of the terrors that haunt him as fresh today as the day they first burned him.

Oh, how the memories that haunt him are more than he can bear. At night they startle him from his sleep in a cold sweat that finds him grasping for breath and fighting to break free from the chains that bind him. At dawn, there is no reprieve as they follow him throughout his day, lurking around every corner and down every path…a constant reminder that they will follow him all the days of his life. His heart grows callous to protect him from the pain of it.

He had no warning, no friend to say “wait!” No idea that what he once loved would become something to hate.

Every day, people pass him by and utter under their breath, “he’s got it made. His job is easy. He’s well paid.”

If only they’d stop and explore his eyes…it wouldn’t take long at all for them to realize

He’s begging for mercy, crying out from the pits of his own hell, “Someone help! Throw me a rope. Where is my hope?”

Is there no reprieve for this man? No light at the end of his present darkness? No one to offer him hope? Will no one come to his side and offer to save him from this misery? Who is able?

I claim Your promise in Psalm 121 today, Lord. I lift my eyes up. My help comes from you LORD. I reach for Your outstretched arm and grasp it with what little life I have left in me. Pull me from these depths LORD. I long so deeply to embrace You and rest my weary head on Your shoulder. What is seen and felt now is temporary. Come now and bring me home.

It’s Time

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Doing what I did earlier today was never part of my original plan.  An array of emotions are coursing through me today…it’s certainly a bittersweet day for sure.  When you give fourteen years to something, I suppose there’s a part of you that just doesn’t want to let it go.  But it’s time.

Fourteen years ago, I walked through the doors of a 911 dispatch center for the first time, completely ignorant of what I’d just signed up for.  No one can adequately prepare you for the job of a 911 dispatcher.  There’s just no way to prepare someone for the stress and range of emotions that you’ll face from moment to moment during any shift.  It’s something you just have to live to understand.  I’ve lived it.  I’ve loved it.  I’ve hated it.  I’m going to miss it.  I’m not going to miss it.  I’m done with it.  It’s time.

resignation, God's Plans, stepping out in faith

My Resignation Letter

The saying goes that when one door closes, another opens.  I’m blessed that God opened the next door before this one closed.  This decision has been many months in the making as God has been preparing me for awhile now for this step of faith.  To walk on the water, we have to get out of the boat and take a step in faith.  I’m excitedly (and with some nervousness) taking my first steps in faith through this new door, looking forward with anticipation to what He has in store for me on the other side.  I’m excited and blessed beyond words to be a part of His plan.  Today might not have been part of MY original plan fourteen years ago, but God’s plans are bigger and better than our own…and it’s time.  More to come…

“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.'” – Luke 9:23

Love,

Dad

The First Rule of Holes

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It was the best of calls. It was the worst of calls.

A recent 24 hour shift day is reminiscent of that similar opening of Charles Dickens’ famous novel A Tale Of Two Cities

An early morning residential fire came in at shift change. My crew and I were first on scene and were fortunate to have been notified early enough to arrive in time to effect a rescue (a liberal use of the term ‘rescue’ for those who are reading this who have fire service experience). We assisted a person from the residence, partially under her own power. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to look back on that particular incident and not have a little pride in my colleagues’ performance that morning…knowing that everyone on scene that morning came together in such a way that we changed the immediate course of life for one individual. The best possible outcome.

Fast forward about seventeen hours. The initial call out was for breathing problems. Within the hour, she died right in front of us, despite our best efforts to revive her. The result of an apparent and alleged overdose…with young kids in the next room. The worst possible outcome.

I’ve often said, “if you only knew ten percent of the sins I commit just in my head, you’d be ashamed to call me friend.” In the aftermath of a recent poor choice I made to be willfully disobedient to God’s law and will for my life, I’ve been wrestling with the ensuing guilt. In my confession and prayer time since then, He has revealed three things to me:

1. I have been internally judgmental of the people whose lives touch mine daily through my job. Not so much outwardly judgmental, though some statements I tend to make now and then are indeed judgmental…but the conversations I have in my head that are just between me and God…those alone separate me from a true fellowship with Him.

When I open the doors of some stranger’s house who’s called me and my colleagues for assistance, it’s not for me to judge their ability and choice to live ankle deep in a house covered wall to wall in empty liquor bottles and bags filled with remnants of fast food leftovers, all covered in urine and feces. Nor is it for me to question how someone reached the point in their life where doing crack cocaine in front of kids as young as 4 years old becomes acceptable to them. It’s certainly not okay for me to openly make these observations around my colleagues or support their similar observations, but equally important, it’s not okay for these thoughts to remain in my own thoughts. It’s for me to do my job…and to do it through the lens of a disciple of Christ. To approach every situation looking through His eyes and finding ways to shed His light into the darkness.

2. The recently ‘single’ poor choice that finally brought me to this point of confession and repentance was not a singular choice at all…rather it was a choice made in a long succession of a similarly small choices I’ve made daily over time to not make Him the center of my life.

I have not been walking with God for a couple weeks now…not been in the Word daily like I’ve grown accustomed to in recents months. And it has affected how I act and the lens through which I see those around me. You see, when I’m in His Word daily, praying in faith regularly and fellowshipping with other believers, I fully recognize the truth found in John 15:5…that without the power of Christ living in the center of my life, I can do nothing. When I’m walking as a disciple of Christ, hiding the Word in my heart and mind, I am fully aware that I can do NOTHING of my own power…that I am completely reliant on God to get me through days like this. That I alone cannot win the fight against the devil’s temptations to pull me away from a real relationship with my LORD, Jesus. And I see the world and those around me differently, through the lens of Christ’s eyes, not my own.

3. I am no different from many of the individuals that I meet in any given day at work. I’m not going to go into details about what that means, to be respectful of any privacy issues that shouldn’t be brought to light here…but I’ll say this.

I didn’t wake up on this side of my addiction to pornography one day and look back over 30 years to find one singular incident that brought me here. It was a lifetime of daily choices to make my addiction a priority.

It’s easy to stand on the outside of someone’s life and look in with some level of objectivity and ask the question, “how can someone live like this?” It’s easier when the person into whose life we’re looking is a stranger to us. It’s much different to look into our own life with that same set of eyes and sense of objectivity.

You see, we don’t get to the bottom of the hole we find ourselves in by simply jumping in the hole with both feet and the knowledge that the hole is so deep we won’t be able to crawl out on our own. No, we get there one scoop at a time. We shovel some dirt out from under our feet and stay put. We look at our situation and say to ourselves “It’s just one time.” Then we take another scoop out from underneath ourselves and say, “I got this.” Scoop. “It’s just this one last time.” Scoop. “I’m in control still.” Scoop. “That was the last one, I promise.” Scoop. “This doesn’t control me.” Scoop. “I’m okay.” Scoop. “It’s not that bad.” Scoop.

Gradually. Slowly. Over time. Often most of our lives. This process repeats itself until one day we wake up to find ourselves looking up from the bottom of a hole we can no longer climb out of alone. It’s too deep now. And we wonder, “how’d I get here? How’d it get this bad?” For some, that realization never comes, and they’ll live the rest of their lives in their own personal hole of self destruction. The end of their days on earth will come at the bottom of that hole.

For others, the realization will hit them, but they’ll either be too proud to ask for help or have exhausted their relationships over the years to the point that they have no one to turn to for help. For others, they’ll realize the situation they’re in before it’s too late and ask for help. Not a handout, but a hand up.

The small choices we make daily are what put us where we are. For a believer such as me, it may be a swear word here. A laugh at an inappropriate joke there. Stealing a glance at that pretty woman. Not removing ourselves from a conversation that becomes gossip. Not standing up for someone who’s not there to defend himself. A few words snipped in anger. A white lie to a colleague on the job. A prideful thought or comment at the breakfast table. Not waking up to start the day in prayer and the reading of Scripture. Missing worship service when we’re tired. Skipping a Bible study when there’s a conflict in our schedule.

The seemingly small and minuscule decisions we make daily not only reflect the level of our integrity, but can gradually and slowly accumulate over time to the point that we find ourselves in too deep…wondering how we got here at all. The priorities we choose, while in the moment may seem like decisions that won’t have long-lasting affects, do indeed begin to change who we are and how we live.

I’m fortunate enough to be blessed with a group of Godly men as friends. Men I can turn to and share my failures with. Men who will not say to me “it’s okay…you’re doing the best you can.” Men who will instead say, “I know where you’re at. I’ve been there.” And then ask the tough questions, “What are you going to do to fix it? How can I help hold you accountable?”

I’m fortunate to be loved by a woman who seeks God with all her heart and who extends to me a level of grace and love that is beyond what I deserve. A woman who holds me accountable and keeps me in check in more ways than I can count.

I’m fortunate to serve a God who knows my failures and accepts me for who I am. He is just and does not allow me to continue living in my sin. He extends forgiveness and grace to me when I humbly and fervently fall at His feet in repentance, turning from my sin toward Him. He strengthens me when I am weak. He guides me when I follow Him. He lifts me when I’ve fallen. He carries me when I need Him. He fills me when I am empty. He humbles me when I am prideful. He awakens me when I am asleep at the wheel. He renews me when I am weary. He feeds me when I am hungry. He is an endless fountain of living water when I am thirsty. He heals me when I am broken. He empowers me when I connect with Him. He reveals himself to me when I seek Him. He befriends me when I talk to Him. He defends me when I am attacked. He saves me when I am lost. He lights a path for me in the dark. He provides a stable foundation when I am shaken. He blesses me when I humbly serve Him. He is constant and unchanging when I waver. He is always present, even when I am absent. He seeks me when I turn from Him. He waits for me when I run from Him. He is there when I return. He is faithful to me when I am unfaithful. He loves me when I am unlovable.

It’s my prayer today, that if you’ve found yourself reading this note and are in your own personal hole of self destruction, that you are filled with a godly discernment to see it and a godly strength and endurance to overcome it. If you’ve crawled your way out of your hole, I encourage you to look around you. Someone within your circle of influence is in their own hole. You may just be the one single person who can pull them up.

Love,

Dad

P.S. Your mom would add this gem of wisdom…and thus the title of this note was born. Remember the first rule of holes? When you’re in one, stop digging.

No Longer Bound

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I close my eyes and the darkness envelopes me
I open them so I don’t have to see
that which lives in the dark…the memory
that crashes over me like a wave at sea.
 
 
Sleep evades me in the dark of night
as the fire inside threatens to ignite
an inferno that is too big to fight
alone…I need to stay in the Light.
 
 
In this pain, I feel isolated…alone
and every fiber of me…my every bone
longs to forget…to dethrone
this thing that makes me groan.
 
 
I asked for this…signed on the dotted line
never believing the things I’d see would haunt and confine
me to a state of paralysis…like standing on a land mine
waiting to blow me into the divine.
 
 
I don’t ask for pity, not gonna continue to go on
I have a Savior who loves me enough to have gone
to the cross and been raised on the third dawn
that my sins…and this pain…would one day be gone.
 
 
Wiped clean by the blood
of the Lamb, I pray come and pull me from the mud
of my past. Come over me now like a flood
oh Lord, and create a new life that will bud…
 
 
Inside me and push to the ground
all of me…so that when I look around
all I see and feel is You, crowned
with all authority and no longer bound.
 
 

Love,

a Dad and a child of God

Early Retirement…Passing the Torch

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The fire service, is rich with tradition, many rooted deep in our history. When we start the job, we’re issued a compliment of various Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that only we wear. Over the course of many years on the job, this gear provides for us a degree of protection…keeping us safe from injury…and yes, even death. It’s not uncommon to grow attached to this equipment, as it quite literally becomes an extension of ourselves.

The tradition I mention above is that we wear our gear…particularly our helmet…as a badge of honor. Tradition says that as the helmet has protected us while fighting what others fear, it becomes scarred. Dented. Smoke-stained. Seasoned. To clean a battle-scarred helmet is to dishonor it and the profession.

The seasoned helmet serves as a reminder of what we’ve faced. The exciting

Garage Fire

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and the not so exciting.

It reminds us to watch our six.

And it reminds us of our blessings

Blessing in a Helmet

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So, it’s a bittersweet day at the firehouse today. After almost ten years, I’m retiring helmet #2. Mind you, not by choice…technically it has 5 months before its ten-year life span is reached. Nonetheless, this baby is moving into retirement, making room for a new one to usher in a new era in my career. This piece of equipment representing ten years of life on the job will one day be passed to you. Whatever you do…don’t clean it. It’s done its job and kept me safe…protected me. It’s earned the right to stay dented, scratched, and stained.

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A Last Ride

Now a new helmet will don my noggin through the next decade of my career…

Passing the Torch

Passing the Torch

As my old helmet passes the torch to the new one, so I will one day pass the torch of manhood to you…pass to you the sum of my experiences…not just on the job, but in the life I’ve lived. It’s my life’s goal that what you learn from me not be in the words I share, but in the way I’ve lived. That’s primarily why I’ve not written any notes here in awhile…as I am trying to spend more time WITH you and less time writing TO you.

It’s my hope that when I’m old and living in retirement, you can look at my scars…my dents…my stains…my wrinkles…my frailness…and proudly see the man of my youth who did his job and protected his family…kept them safe…and raised them up in the Truth.

Love,

Dad

Welcome To My Vulnerability

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To my friends and family in the EMS community,

Thank you for taking a moment from your day to drop by. I am honored and blessed that the creator of our Facebook page “EMS for Christ” allowed me to become an admin for the page. It has been a blessing for me to step out of my comfort zone and share some of my walk of faith with you. And I’ve enjoyed watching the “fan base” grow to just over 900 at my last check-in. I have been reluctant to share my personal blog on our Facebook page’s wall much, because I don’t want to come across as though I’m pushing my blog for my own prideful gain. I just don’t want to come across that way at all, because it’s not who I am. Most of what I write here is written as notes to my children, so they’re not things that are necessarily “appropriate” to share on our Facebook page, given the mission and goal of the page. But I’m having such a difficult time processing my emotions following a recent incident at work, that my last four blog entries have been devoted to this alone, and not really addressed to my children. Which brings me to why I invited you here today.

There was some great discussion on our recent post about dealing with on-the-job related lost-traumatic stress. I’ll be honest, I asked that question somewhat selfishly. I responded this incident about two weeks ago that started affecting me almost immediately, and the last two weeks have been a whirlwind of emotion…emotions I’m not comfortable with, and feelings that are overwhelming. My partner and I were on the confined space entry team to perform this recovery, which is about all the incident-related specifics I can share here. I posed the question on our Facebook wall, in part because I’m looking for some reinforcement for myself…but I also know that with over 900 followers on that page, there are others out there who are dealing with this too, or have dealt with it in the past. My goal was not only to help myself a little bit, but to maybe help someone else who’s in a similar season, or will be in the future.

You see, although I feel isolated and alone, I know I’m not. I know others in our “family” have gone through their own post-traumatic incident-induced stress. And I believe in drawing upon the strength of those who have walked through a similar valley. We who work in this field, be it EMS, fire, police, dispatch, hospital, public, private or military are unique. The people around us don’t get it. Honestly, I don’t blame them. Until you’ve walked side-by-side with death, you can’t understand. We truly are a family of our own, regardless of whether we work together or not. Quite honestly, I’m closer to my crew than I am some of my own flesh and blood family, not counting my wife. Love ya’ baby. 🙂 But there are some things I can’t share with her. I can’t share the specifics of my incident with her, for her own sake. She and I have talked in general about my battle, and she’s completely on board with supporting me in whatever capacity I need. But our EMS “family” can help each other in ways even our spouses cannot.

For me, I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, and I’m plowing through this minefield of emotion in several ways. I was able to seek guidance from my senior pastor two days afterward. The perspective offered by a neutral friend, who is also a believer is priceless. It didn’t hurt that he served in the field prior to being called to pastor. I’m also good friends with a new pastor who recently left our department after over ten years as a firefighter to answer God’s call to pastor a church nearby. I’m blessed to have these two great resources. I’ve also tried running to burn through the stress. Exercise helps me to focus my mind and my thoughts into something understandable. And I’ve blogged. About this topic and how it’s affected me, I’ve blogged a lot in the last two weeks.

I’ve been encouraged to share my writings in a wider circle. And I believe some of what I’m dealing with during this time of my life may resonate with someone out there on the job. I could be way off here, but I hope not. You should know, though, I’m certainly not the man with the answers. I am the WORST of the worst sinners, and I don’t consider myself worthy to help guide a fellow believer along his own path, because more often than not, I’m the one that needs the guidance. I am who I am only through the saving grace of my Savior Jesus.

I don’t like putting myself “out there”. My site here is pretty simple and quaint. I have a small following, mostly family and friends. And I’m comfortable like that. The thought of opening myself up to a bigger world is scary. I don’t like being vulnerable. And yet I believe God is asking me to do just that. To allow strangers into my little world, so someone somewhere can see that they’re not alone either. Because trust me, I feel alone and isolated in my feelings right now. I know I’m not, but that doesn’t change how I feel.

So here goes a leap of faith. If you’re walking through a post-traumatic stress-filled world, you are NOT alone. Seek the help and support you need. Reach out. To someone. I know reaching out to people at work is not always feasible. I get that completely. I haven’t shared what I’m going through with any of my coworkers yet. I think only one or two might actually take time to read my little blog, which is fine. This is part of the scary part of opening myself up like this, because I do know that several of my coworkers “like” the Facebook page, so they’re seeing this for the first time, and I’ll be honest…I’m not sure I’m completely ready for this next part of the ride. But it’s a leap of faith for a reason, right?

Whether you are in the valley now, have been there or will be in the future, I hope you can find God’s voice talking to you in what I’m sharing. Remember, I’m not the man with all the answers. But I know the man who is. He suffered everything we’ve ever suffered and more…endured everything we’ve ever endured and more. Felt everything we’ve ever felt and more. Walked everywhere we’ve ever walked and more. His name is Jesus Christ, and you can know him too if you don’t already. You can catch up with me on where I have been, and see where I’m going, by visiting my new page dedicated to this new part of my life’s journey.

Thank you for stopping in and allowing me the opportunity to share my most personal, vulnerable thoughts and emotions with you. If you are walking in the valley right now, seek support. You can comment or email me through here. You can comment on our Facebook page, or send a message to the page’s admins. You can share a general prayer request or be as specific as you want to be (and can be in a public forum). We are here for you. We are in this together. We are not alone.

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:12

I will continue to share my walk along this particular path with you on our Facebook page, for as long as you’ll allow me. I pray you don’t see it as a selfish pride for me, but as a desire to 1. Help in my own healing; and 2. To be an encouragement for someone else’s healing. Have a blessed day and be safe out there.

Jay

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