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My Scar Revealed

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I have to start this note with an apology. To my dear children and my wife, I’m so sorry. You didn’t get a choice in who your dad is. I wasn’t a firefighter when I met and married your mom, and I’m not sure I even mentioned it was a dream job of mine before she married me. I chose this career after we married, and I was doing it before you were born. You, my dear children, were born into this. If I’d have known then what I know today…known how I would feel today, right at this moment…I can’t say with certainty I would have still chosen this life path. No one told me when I started my career that there would be days like today…weeks like the past three weeks. I did not have enough foreknowledge to know that this job would be so mentally and emotionally taxing on me…and I did not have the forethought to see how it would affect you, my precious children. I was not able to predict that you would be the collateral damage for the choice I had made. For that, I am sorry. For who I’ve been these past three weeks, I am sorry. For the person I’ve morphed into the past three days, I am sorry. I don’t want to feel this way anymore. And I feel powerless to change it.

I haven’t written much since the day this all started for me. I think part of that is because I wrote something that I haven’t shared yet. I sat down three days after that event and wrote what was on my heart and mind. It was raw. It was real. It was what I felt that day. And it scared the living hell out of me when I went back and read it. I chose not to share it at the time because it frightened me…and I knew it would alarm others. I wasn’t ready to share this scar with anyone who didn’t already know how badly I was suffering. It was just too personal to allow others to know my frame of mind. Today, though, I’m feeling something different. Unfortunately, something much worse. So in an effort to move through this pain, I’m doing what I know how to do. I’m writing. I’m uncovering my scar, and I’m sharing what I wrote three days after the call:

August 31, 2012:

My ears have heard the cries of immense pain. My nose has smelled death. My eyes have seen the unthinkable. My hands have done work that was difficult, but necessary. My lips have tasted the sweat and blood of the burdens I carry.

Daily, I walk through this life with the scars of the emotional and psychological pain I carry. A pain so deep, it threatens to suck me into the depths of my own personal hell. The burden of daily facing the memories I try to keep buried deep within the recesses of my subconscious is more heavy than I can bear alone. When I close my eyes, I see it. When someone says something totally random and unrelated, I see it. When I smell something that is similar to a smell I encountered that day, I see it. And when I see it, I’m right there again…reliving it all over again. I cannot put it out of my mind. I cannot seem to forgive myself for what I had to do to get the job done. I cannot seem to forgive myself for letting this bother me, other incidents have not. I pray that God would take this burden from me…and yet I know that it may be in His plan for me to carry this burden for the rest of my life. I pray it’s not, because at times it seems more than I can hold. If it is His will that I shoulder a burden so heavy, I pray He strengthen me for the task of doing so…because I am weak. Too weak to shoulder it alone.

I’ve cried more in the past three days than I have in the last three years. At the most odd times and in the most odd places, for no apparent reason…just that it’s so much of a burden that my heart is overloaded, and the outpouring of my pain cannot be contained. The rest of the day, I feel like a zombie…like I’m catatonic and not able to move. Honestly, if I could crawl back in bed and just fall into a deep sleep, I would. It seems the only way I can imagine living without constantly facing the memory. And yet each time I close my eyes, I’m right there back in that hole…back in the moment…reliving it all over again. I long for a day when this feeling goes away. I long to find joy in life again. I yearn for a time when I can smile again…and genuinely mean it…to feel the smile within my soul, not just on my lips.

God led me to this passage today, and I believe He did so for a reason. I find my encouragement for today, my “Daily Bread” in the words He’s given me today:

“I will rejoice and be glad in Your faithful love because You have seen my affliction. You have known the troubles of my life and have not handed me over to the enemy. You have set my feet in a spacious place. Be gracious to me, Lord, because I am in distress; my eyes are worn out from angry sorrow – my whole being as well. Indeed, my life is consumed with grief and my years with groaning; my strength has failed because of my sinfulness, and my bones waste away.” – Psalm 31:7-10

And I find encouragement in what the Psalmist says later: “But I trust in You, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ The course of my life is in Your power; deliver me from the power of my enemies and from my persecutors. Show favor to your servant; save me by Your faithful love.” – Pslam 31:14-16

I need your favor Lord. Please save be by your faithful love. Please either lift this burden from me or strengthen me to carry it. Amen.

Love,

Dad

There you go…my scar uncovered and vulnerable. That was then. Today is much different. You can read where I am in dealing with this scar here.

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A Dad’s Reflection – Eleven Years Later

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Today, Americans all across the nation and the world pause to reflect on the events that took place 11 years ago.  It is a time in our nation’s history that changed the course of our nation forever.  It was a time when strangers helped strangers, and everyday people performed heroic acts of valor, honor and courage.  It was a day when the heroes ran toward the danger, like any other day, not knowing it would be their last.  It was a day where some gave all, and all gave some.  It was a day that brought our nation to its knees…not just in awe, but in prayer.  People who called themselves Christians, but who had been walking without God, came back to Him.  People who never knew Jesus personally called out to Him and believed.  People all across the world watched in awe.  And prayed.  Some in private, some in public.  It was a time when prayer in schools and in any public forum was again accepted all across our nation…and more than not, welcomed.  It was a day that brought our nation together, with resolve and passion to seek God and to seek justice.

 

It was a day that we will Never Forget.  What do the words “Never Forget” mean to you?  In the words of a friend and fellow firefighter, I couldn’t have said it any better than he did this morning:  “What ‘NEVER FORGETTING’ means to me!  I am humbled and honored to serve with incredible men and women willing to risk their lives WHENEVER called upon.  To our 343 brothers and sisters lost eleven years ago in New York, rest easy, we will take it from here with HONOR and PRIDE!”
It was a day I remember vividly.  I was working a 12 hour dispatch shift, and we watched as the news broke in with live video from the World Trade Center following the first attack.  We watched live as the second plane hit the second tower.  We watched live as people jumped from the towers, hundreds of floors above the ground, to escape the flames.  We watched as the news reports came in from Washington that a third plane had hit the Pentagon.  We watched as news reports came in from Pennsylvania that a fourth plane had crashed in a field, learning as the day went on that everyday citizens on that plane became heroes by preventing further death on the ground at that plane’s intended target.
We sat in disbelief.  In shock.  In awe.  In fear.  In anger.  In grief.  As we watched the towers collapse, we knew instantly that thousands had just perished…that the loss of life in the first responder family would be catastrophic.  We knew the moment the second tower was hit, that we were at war.  That day at dispatch has been, to date, the slowest day ever.  I don’t know the volume of calls we handled that day, but it paled in comparison to the normal call volume.  It was eerily quiet in that little room…all day.  It was quiet at the 911 center that day, because like millions of Americans all across the country, the people we serve were all glued to their televisions.  No one was out doing what they normally do on a Tuesday, unless you had to be working.  Many of us cried, some of us had to walk away to cry alone.  It was a defining moment…one I will never forget.  I remember coming home that night mentally and emotionally exhausted.  I came home to your mom and SD, and wept as I picked little SD up.  Only two years old at the time, I was at a loss for what the future held for you.  For how to protect you from this new evil in our world.  I’m saddened that you, my dear children, will never know a pre-9/11 America.  As you grow, you’ll only know the new “normal”, and that just seems wrong.
To all those servants who gave their all that day, and to the ones who were lost in the aftermath due to the emotional and psychological pain and trauma they endured in the months that followed, we honor you by remembering…and by not being paralyzed by our fear.  We honor you by living out our lives in service to our communities across this world.  I am honored to be a part of the EMS & Fire family.  It’s an honor so few are given…and an honor I do not take lightly.  To be entrusted by strangers with their life and all they have is more than I can fathom some days.  I am NOT a hero, and I am not comfortable being called one.  But I work alongside a crew of heroes.  Everyday citizens serving our community in the little things…and sometimes the big.  I am closer to my men than some of my family, and the bond we share is one only known to those who entrust their lives to one another day after day.
For those of us who know Jesus as our Lord, we honor you, oh Lord, by remembering the sacrifice you made for us on the cross.  We honor you in our humble service to our fellow man.  And we honor you by living out our lives in a way that reflects YOU alive in us.  We lift the families of those lost on this day eleven years ago to you and beseech you, oh Lord, to show them the love shown to us in Psalms 36…to provide them “refuge in the shadow of your wings.”  Give them a peace like no other…a peace only found in you, oh God.  Calm their hearts and minds, Father, and surround them in your grace, mercy and love.  Lord, help them in their search for answers, and walk alongside them as their hearts cry out.  Father, may YOUR will be done, and may you use all that we face to bring us closer to you.  For your glory.  Amen
Love,
Dad
Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes. - Revelation 21:4   Never Forget

Never Forget

Share Your Burdens

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I had a tough call at work yesterday…one whose images will be engrained in my mind forever.  God has been teaching me lately that I cannot, on my own, bear the burden of what I see, do and experience in my job.  The demons inside me only live there because I allow them to stay.  I’m learning (albeit slowly) that in addition to leaving our burdens at the foot of the cross, we need someone on this earth we can confide in…someone we can bear our souls with.  We are not meant to walk through our valleys alone.

“Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:11-12

I received an email this morning with a link to a video “Dancing in the Mine Fields” by Andrew Peterson.  I find encouragement in this song…to know that my wife is in this “minefield” of life right alongside me.  She may not always completely “get” the pain of what I’m carrying…but she “gets” me, and she’s willing to help carry my burdens with me…if I’m willing to share them with her, so that I’m stronger with her than I am alone.  As a man, I have to fight the instinct to share these burdens with her because as men, it’s engrained in us from birth to be the “tough guy”…to “man up”…that men don’t cry or show emotion.  However, I believe King Solomon knew that the internalization of our emotions and feelings can lead to self-destructive behavior, and he saw the strength we have in numbers.

I’m still working on the HOW part of sharing my burden of yesterday with my wife, your mom…but I know that when I’m ready, she’ll be there to let me.  Because pain and suffering is not inclusive to only those in my field, I pray you boys will one day have a wife…and you, SD, will have a husband…who each “gets” you enough to let you confide the deepest secrets of the pain you will eventually have buried deep within your own soul.  Please don’t carry your burdens alone.  Give them first to Christ…and then share them with your spouse, because we were meant to share our burdens.

Love,

Dad

P.S. If you found this note and are particularly interested in following how I’ve been dealing with this, you can read My Scar Revealed and Looking for Hope

A Garage Fire

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I jumped off the truck ready to go.  We were first in, and the garage was fully involved.  As my feet hit the ground running, I placed my helmet on my head and something wasn’t right.  It didn’t fit.  I instantly remembered you wearing it around the house a day earlier.  I had brought my gear home with me as I was at a different station the last shift, and in the few days I was home you enjoyed wearing it…playing firefighter around the house.  And I instantly remembered The Blessing in a Helmet.  No time to pause for a prayer tonight though.  Lots of fire and not much time before it spreads to the house.  Gotta get moving…no shame in a quick prayer on the go.

So I took the helmet off my head and readjusted it on the go, placing it back on my head just as the nozzle from the crosslay being pulled off the truck fell into my hand. It was a long stretch to the front door, so I went on air as I was walking to the door and made entry with my partner right behind me.  It was dark and smoky.  Visibility was limited…I could see my hand in front of my face and that’s about it.  As I lowered myself to a semi-crawl/walk position it wasn’t much better, but I could make out objects in the room.  I knew the direction I needed to go, and I turned right…toward the fire.

garage fire

I was making my way to the fire from inside the front door about the time this was taken by a bystander.

It took what seemed like forever to work my way through the first two rooms…it was probably 2-3 minutes from the front door to the fire.  At one point I looked to my right and saw the front window…I shouldn’t be seeing that…I should be further back into the house already.  A few more steps.  Why am I at what seems like a fireplace facing the wrong direction?  Another minute.  Man I’m breathing hard…I gotta slow down and conserve my air.  Keep moving forward…I can hear it now.  It’s getting louder.  I’m in the kitchen, I can see what looks like a cupboard.  A few more steps.  I’m in a closet.  No a bathroom.  Nope, a walk-in pantry.  No, this is a mud room.  Either way, it’s small.  And there it is.  Fire above me.

We start pulling ceiling and fire is raining down on us.  What a sight…we found it.  Let’s do this.  Water on the fire.  The guys behind me are pulling more ceiling, and it’s quickly obvious we need to move.  The fire is behind us.  It’s moving the attic behind us and threatening to move beyond our ability to control it.  As I’m backing out, I turn around and with the nozzle still in hand run into someone.  He’s trying to pull the nozzle out of my hand.  I resist and pull it back.  He keeps pulling and is yelling at me to give it to him.  Firefighting 101…don’t ever hand over your nozzle unless you’re prepared to never get it back.  It’s the Captain…I better give it to him.

After he hits the attic behind us I take my nozzle back and move.  We’ve found the door from the kitchen into the garage.  Still lots of fire out here, but I can see crews working it from the outside too.  Below me, just outside the threshold of the door is what looks like a wood platform.  I sound it and step onto it cautiously…yep, we’re good.  Let’s do this.  As I’m moving the nozzle back and forth, I hear a “pop” and see a bright flash to my left when the water hits the side wall.  Must be some live electric wires there…mental note…let’s stay away from that.  (Turns out later it was the main electric panel for the house, and I fried it with that short burst.  I was close enough, and using enough of a straight stream, that I’m lucky it didn’t juice me.)

We’re knocking a lot of fire down when I ever so slightly lose my balance.  Taking a quick step to my right, I put my arm up to catch myself on the wire railing…and it gives way.  I fall off the platform and catch myself on a wall about 3 feet from it.  I’m hanging off the platform, one foot dangling and one arm grasping for a hold of something to push myself up against.  I’m still holding the nozzle, with my left foot still on the platform.  My right foot is not touching the bottom of this hole, so I know it’s at least a four foot drop.  I’m looking down to my right, and I see fire.  Lots of fire.  It’s all I can see, and I know that if I fall off this thing I’m going to land in right in it.

I can’t put into words the various thoughts that crossed my mind in those moments.  Suffice it to say, for a few seconds I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it.  And if I did, it was sure to hurt like hell.  Would my kids still love me all burned and scarred?  Holy hell, I don’t really want to get burned today.  It’s amazing to me how quickly so many thoughts can instantly pass through the mind.  And yet all the while I’m struggling to stay up on that stinking platform.  I start yelling.  And I throw my left arm up in the air and yell for the guy standing on the platform to pull me back up.

I’m glad my partner was paying attention.  According to him, he was behind another firefighter who followed me out onto the platform.  He turned to look behind him and in the instant his head was turned, he looked back my direction and I was gone.  He stepped out onto the platform and saw me struggling.  Saw my outstretched arm and heard me yelling for help.  Moving past the other guy standing there he grabbed my arm and gave me the leverage I needed to pull myself up, as he pulled to assist me.  When I was back on the platform, I was sitting with my legs dangling off the front of it, like a kid with his feet dangling off the dock at the lake.

It was a great position to fight some more fire.  The last fire I fought that night was fought sitting on my butt.  Not for long, though.  The debris on that platform was still  burning.  And within moments, it was burning my butt.  Mental note…protective fire gear will in fact burn.  Might take longer to feel it on your tush, but it does burn.

Afterward, I walked through the house and got to see where we were in a better light.  Turns out my fall would have only been about 3-4 feet, so I easily could have pulled myself right back up.  I was never really in any danger of being hurt, and it certainly was not a close call, by any definition.  Just reinforces to me what’s important…and that when your helmet doesn’t fit, a quick prayer on the go never hurts.

Love,

Dad

The Blessing in a Helmet

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“For man certainly does not know his time: like fish caught in a cruel net, or like birds caught in a trap, so people are trapped in an evil time, as it suddenly falls on them.” Ecclesiastes 9:12

fire helmet, firefighting

Playing Fireman

I’m in awe. I just got back to the firehouse. Your mom brought the three of you…SD, NE and SI…to the station this afternoon to visit me on my second day of a 48 hour shift, and while you were here, we were dispatched to a motor vehicle crash on the highway. You had been here about 20 minutes, climbing all over the ladder truck as usual…playing firemen…wearing my boots and my helmet. When you wear my helmet, it’s so heavy on your little head that when it’s sized for me, not you, it falls down over your forehead, covering your eyes…so you winch it down to your size, so it fits.

fire helmet, firefighting

Playing Fireman

You have been doing this for months now, maybe even a year or more. I always would forget to enlarge it back to my size after you left, and it used to drive me nuts to slap it on my head, and it not fit. So much so that I’ve not let you play with it as much recently…my OCD kicking in. I’m over that now.

I hate the highway…always have…always will. I’ve been saying it for years…I’d rather run into a burning building than work a wreck on the interstate…any day of the week. As I prepared to step off the truck onto the interstate this afternoon, I grabbed my helmet and was putting it on my head as I opened the door. As I dropped it on my head, I realized it was too small…and I immediately, instinctively thought of you. My mind raced back to the laughter and smiles as you played firefighter in the very same seat, not 5 minutes earlier…to the memory of you standing there waving and saying “I love you” as we drove out…to the thought of you standing by the radio desk at the station, eagerly listening for my voice on the radio. And I paused ever so slightly. Not long…just long enough to make a difference. In that pause, a car raced by at full speed, inches from my open door…me still in my seat. In that moment, I instantly realized the blessing in a helmet that was last on the head of a 5 year old boy.

Have you ever given any thought to what you would do right now if you knew with certainty that tomorrow you would die? Would you act differently? Would you treat people around you differently? Would there be something you’d want to say to those you love? Is there something that you’ve put off doing that would quickly be moved to the front burner? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t?

What’s holding you back? Is it that you think you have more time? That your time’s not up yet? That “it won’t happen to me”? Are you afraid of offending someone? Afraid of embarrassing yourself? Afraid you’d be laughed at?

Get over it. The one certainty in life is this: all things die. You and I are no different. And you don’t know when it’s your time, so what are you waiting for? In the first 12 verses in the ninth chapter of Ecclesiastes, God uses King Solomon to encourage us to enjoy life, despite the death that awaits us. Live today like there is no tomorrow, and instead of living a life full of tomorrows, “what-if’s” and “if only’s”, you’ll live a life full of today’s…a life worthy of the admiration and respect of your fellow man…and more importantly, a life worthy of the approval of the Father. Few people on death’s doorstep look back on their life and have regrets for the opportunities they seized. More often, they regret the missed opportunities…those things they should have done but didn’t. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 16 years in EMS, life is too short to have regrets.

Not saying that my experience on the highway today was a close call…but it was closer than I’d prefer to experience. It was close enough to remind me what’s important. Close enough to remind me there are no guarantees that the next call won’t be my last. It was close enough that I’m over my earlier OCD about my helmet not fitting my head, and will instead encourage you to play with it, rather than be frustrated by it. It was close enough that the next time I put my helmet on after you’ve worn it, I’ll pause when it doesn’t fit my head…say a short prayer for protection…and be just a bit more safe in what I do.

“Good to Be Alive” – Jason Grey

Love,

Dad

P.S.  Within a month of this note, I responded to A Garage Fire and came off the truck with a helmet that didn’t fit.  I believe it was a blessing then too.

Just Another Grass Fire

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I’m laying here in bed at work…wide awake after waking from a dream. It was a dream that was partially rehashing a call we ran earlier today, a grass fire on the side of the highway. By the actual definition of “close call”, it was not. It was a routine call, without further incident. However, I quite honestly consider every time I step off the truck on the highway, and live to tell about it…a close call. I’ve said for years I’d rather run into a burning building with little chance of survival than to step off the truck on the interstate.

Let’s just call it what it is…generally speaking, the general public doesn’t give a single thought to the safety of their firefighters, police officers and paramedics. When they’re driving down the interstate and see my firetruck, their first thought isn’t “hey, I’ll slow down…move over a lane…and do my part to make sure these guys make it home to their wives and kids tomorrow morning.” No, they have somewhere to be, and my firetruck blocking a lane of traffic is impeding their progress. They’re distracted with their cell phone…or the cup of coffee in their hand…or with the radio…or…you get the picture. And honestly, I don’t blame them…completely. Until you’ve stood on the interstate in the middle of the night…in the pouring rain…and watched as cars and semis whiz by you at 70+ mph, within two feet of you, you really just don’t get it. Until you’ve been knocked off balance by the force of the wind from a passing car…or sat in the stopped truck waiting to open the door to get out, as it rocked violently back and forth from the semi that just passed within inches of you…or had the smack on your backside from a passing car’s side-view mirror…you just don’t get it.

So as I lay here, thankful that what transpired on the roadside grass fire in my dream is not what I faced on the highway this afternoon, I’m left with a vivid image of a road sign from my dream…a road sign with a peculiar inscription. On our highway call earlier today, it was a road sign that sat 200 feet in front of us and read it’s a state law to slow down and move over when emergency vehicles are stopped on the highway. Ironic, eh? The following is what was written on the road sign in my dream:

“There comes a time in every man’s life when he’s called upon to do something that offers him no tangible benefit in return. How he responds to that call will follow him beyond the grave. The benefit of his decision to act is in knowing that he did so merely because it was the right thing to do.”

Be safe out there, and remember…slow down and move over when an emergency vehicle is stopped on the highway. Somebody is counting on you to do your part to help him make it home to his wife and kids in the morning.

Love,

Dad

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