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Pre-Plan for the Day of Battle

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Have you been in a battle of your will recently…struggling to flee evil and run toward God? Maybe you’re in that battle now?

I confess that in my weakest moments, I sometimes give in to the temptations of my flesh. I am human, after all. But all too often, I think we tend to use that as our “out”…an excuse to sin. At least I know I do anyway.

It’s as if the argument I have with the devil in my head seems to start like this, “you’re only human; what’s He expect of you? You can’t be perfect. Just give in this one time, and you can seek forgiveness afterward because He is always faithful to give it.

Then when I do fail and succumb to the tempting of the devil, he keeps going by shaming me with my guilt, “you’re not good enough for God. He’ll never accept you back, look what you just did!”

And when I give in to that conversation, I forget what follows one of my favorite verses, Galatians 2:20, in verse 21.

I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

Oh, how often I have treated the grace of God as “meaningless”. For you see, when we I return to our my sin like a dog to its own vomit, that is precisely what we I do. We I cheapen the grace…degrade the sacrifice…minimize the offering…undervalue and render worthless the gift that forgives and cleanses us me in His eyes.

As a dad, if I were to freely give my 6 year old son to die in the place of another person, I would expect the person he saved to live differently…not because he knew I expected it, but because he recognized the gift as meaningful…and as a natural outpouring of his appreciation for the love he was shown first.

Doesn’t God deserve the same from us me?!

A battle for our soul rages within us! We win the battle when we claim Galatians 2:20 as our own personal experience, crucifying our flesh and allowing Christ to live in us.

Speaking for myself here, I often…too often…fail Him in choosing poorly. When I fail to apply Phil 4:13 to my daily experiences during temptations, I take for granted and render meaningless the grace of God. I step off the path He has set out for me…even if only for a moment…and that first step is ALWAYS a slippery one.

When we take that first slippery step off the narrow path during a personal battle, we allow the flesh to succumb to temptation. It’s like we use Paul’s illustration of the battle against the sin within us (found in Romans 7:13-25) as an excuse to sin rather than applying it in claiming victory OVER sin through Christ in us.

Convicted of a recent failure of my own, this verse from Proverbs jumped leaped off the page at me:

Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin. By fearing the LORD, people avoid evil.” – Proverbs 16:6

Wait what?! How do an unfailing love and faithfulness atone for my sin, and more importantly, how do I achieve those two qualities in my character?

In having captured my attention, He hit me with this one five verses later:

The LORD demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standard for fairness.” – Proverbs 16:11

And then again five verses later with this:

The path of the virtuous leads away from evil; whoever follows that path is safe.” – Proverbs 16:17

Which led to a bit of a word study that in summation looks like this

Confused? Yeah, me too. But bare with me for a few more thoughts, and we shall indeed be one blind beggar leading another to a morsel of nourishment.
Let’s dissect verse 6 word by word:

  • Unfailing – constant; everlasting; never-ending; inexhaustible. We see God’s unfailing love for His people defined throughout Scripture, particularly in Psalm 117:2 and Isaiah 55:3.
  • Love – love is so many different qualities that it is a book all its own really. Quickly defined for today’s purpose,
    • Love is obedience (John 14:15, John 14:23-24, 1 John 2:3-6).
    • It is NOT an emotion we feel or express; rather it is a choice me make (John 3:16).
    • Love is God…and God is love (1 John 4:7-8).
    • Because God is love, love is also confident and fearless (1 John 4:16-19).
  • Faithfulness
    • a steadfast loyalty (2 Thessalonians 3:3 and 2 Timothy 4:7)
    • a firm adherence to promises (John 14:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, 2 Timothy 2:13)
  • Atonementforgiveness, reconciliation, cleansing (Col 1:20 and 1 John 2:2)
  • Sin – an offense against God

Simply translated, verse 6 of Proverbs 16 says this…an obedience and steadfast loyalty in adhering to our commitment to sin no more cleanse us of our offenses against God and that people who fear the LORD will avoid evil.

Simple enough…until we question why we should fear the LORD.

Simply put, the answer comes five verses later in verse 11,

The LORD demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standard for fairness. – Proverbs 16:11

We should fear Him because He is a fair and just Judge…handing down discipline to those He loves for breaking His commands. His justness requires atonement for sin, and His standards are fair and balanced…we are all held to the same standard. When we are continually disobedient, we demonstrate that we don’t love Him.

My sin deserves a punishment. I cannot accept the gift of grace and forgiveness and continue in my sin. What just judge would allow that? My debt is paid, but it does not give me free reign to continue breaking the law.

Our hope can be found again five verses later in verse 17,

The path of the virtuous leads away from evil; whoever follows that path is safe. – Proverbs 16:17

  • Virtuousmorally excellent; righteous (Philippians 4:8 and 2 Peter 1:5-7)

But how do we “follow the path” when the temptations come?

When we turn from that which seeks to destroy us and instead seek Him, we keep our feet on the path. When we flee from Satan and draw near to God (in prayer and studying Scripture) Satan will flee us and God will draw near to us, filling us with His Spirit (see also 2 Timothy 2:20-22 about running from anything that stimulates youthful lusts, a study all its own but worthy of honorable mention here).

So the next natural question is, how do we do that…follow the path of the virtuous?

Success in this endeavor comes through proper pre-planning. God tells us to plan, then instructs us throughout the Proverbs that while we make our plans it is He who guides our steps and directs our path.

I’m a planner. I believe in planning for success…not just because God calls us to it, but because I’ve seen firsthand how planning well works in real-life applications.

In the fire service, we pre-plan everything.  I mean…EVERY. THING. In particular, we pre-plan what we call our “target hazards”, our high hazard incidents and locations. Our pre-planning process involves the following:

  • A Goal. What are our mission priorities? What’s the end game? The mission objective? The measure for success?
  • A Response Plan How will we respond? What route will we take to get there? What alternate routes are available if our primary one is not available? What resources will we deploy to assist us in mitigating the problem?
  • An Action Plan  What are the steps we will take to achieve success? What actions will we implement to achieve the goal? What is the back-up plan when the first plan isn’t successful?
  • Hazards. What dangers are out there waiting to entrap and entangle us? Where could we get side-tracked? Murphy says what CAN go wrong WILL go wrong, so how do we avoid those unnecessary dangers and pitfalls?

The saying rings true that “when we fail to plan, we plan to fail.”

Much like our efforts to pre-plan in the fire service pay off, God rewards us when we plan to avoid evil.

Which brings us full circle to find the answer in Proverbs 14:22:

If you plan to do evil, you will be lost; if you plan to do good, you will receive unfailing love and faithfulness.

There are those two qualities again…unfailing love and faithfulness! And it bears repeating because those two words started me on this day-long study.

Proverbs 16:6 says,

Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin…

and when we question how to achieve those two qualities, we come right back to Proverbs 14:22 for the answer,

…if you plan to do good, you will receive unfailing love and faithfulness.

In planning “to do good” we need to develop a plan that:

  • Identifies our goal.
  • Identities how we will respond when temptation comes and what resources we will deploy to assist us in achieving success.
  • Identifies our Action Plan…what steps we will take to achieve the goal.
  • Identifies what hazards Satan has lurking around the corner to ensnare an trip us up.

I encourage you to write your plan out.

Honestly, the entire process of typing this note out was as much for me as for anyone else. I followed the flow and bouncing back and forth of my hand written study because I wrote it out, but in taking the additional time to explain it to you, I better understand it myself. And in better understanding it, I can better apply it when I need it. I pray you can too.

Now, stop reading what I have to say about it and get to studying for yourself what God has to say about it.

Love,

Dad

Have you pre-planned your next response to temptation? I’d love to hear what practical steps you’ve put in place to ensure success in your faith journey.

I Thought About You Today

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 I thought about you today. I can’t help but wonder what your parents are doing today. How they’re coping  on this, their first Thanksgiving without you. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day we give thanks for the blessings God has bestowed upon us. It’s supposed to be filled with family, friends, food and fellowship. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be to be thankful for only three months. 

My day is filled with all those things Thanksgiving is supposed to be. Surrounded by family, we’ve been eating for two straight days. We’ve eaten more food in two days than we could ever need in a full week. We’ve been fellowshipping and making memories that I pray will carry this tired, weary mind well into old age. I’ve been calling and texting friends to remind them I’m thankful for them, and been encouraged in receiving their words of love in kind. It really is a picturesque Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Yes, I thought about you today. As I sit here on the couch, my daughter is snuggled up beside me, my boys are running around playing cheerfully with their cousins, my wife and other daughter niece are in the kitchen putting the final touches on another meal fit for royalty, my brothers and father are sitting around telling stories, other family and loved ones are milling about enjoying each other’s company, and the youngest in the family sits in her momma’s lap across from me. At only eighteen months, she’s a full year older than you would have been today. As I watch her, I can’t help but think of you.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember walking through the front door and laying my eyes on you for the first time. My heart literally skipped a beat and fell out of my chest when I first saw you. I remember scooping your lifeless body off the floor, cradling your limp body in my arm as I leaned down to place my lips over yours. In twenty years on the job, I’ve used a BVM to perform manual respirations on the old and the young dozens of times, but I’d yet to find myself literally breathing my own breath into someone else’s lungs. As I did, your cold lips on mine startled me. I wasn’t prepared for that. No amount of training on a mannequin could have prepared me for that.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember wrapping my hands around your little torso. As my hands fully encircled your chest, my thumbs over your sternum, I squeezed, trying desperately to pump life into your veins. I’ve performed chest compressions on lifeless patients for more than twenty years, but you. You. At just three months, squeezing your chest…I can’t even describe. There just are…No. Words.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember the fast walk to meet the ambulance at the street, jumping up in the back and saying, “we gotta go. Now.” I remember every second of the drive to the hospital, the longest ride of my life. I remember every squeeze. Every breath. Never before that day have I actively prayed over someone as I tried desperately to save their life, and here I was, praying out loud as we worked to bring you back. I remember every word. Every plea. Every cry to God for His healing touch and breath of life.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember the concerned looks on the faces of the ED staff as we walked in the room. Their frantic efforts to revive you. Their defeat an hour later as they also conceded to the reality that it was not up to us to choose life for you. I remember your parents and the desperation in their faces as they struggled to let go of you. Oh, how they loved you…it was so evident in that moment.

It’s all etched so deeply in my psyche that it’s just there now. Always. It’s just become part of who I am now. Every. Single. Bit. Every time I remember you, I relive it. Not part of it, or bits and pieces of it, but every single moment…from the second I walked through the door all the way through the long drive back to the firehouse, four grown men…completely silent…knowing nothing could be said.

Yes, I thought about you today. Again today, for the umpteenth time I questioned what we could have done different, how we could have been faster, worked harder, prayed stronger, believed more. I know. I know in my heart we did all we could, that it wasn’t up to us to choose life for you on that afternoon. But it doesn’t stop the interrogation I face in my own mind…every. single. day. I force myself to find my own portion of peace in knowing we did all we could…that it wasn’t for me to decide. But the memory of that afternoon will haunt me until I, too, take my last breath. 

Yes, I thought about you today. Although the memory of that day will haunt me a lifetime, I have it easy. I can’t help but wonder what life for your family must be like in your absence. This first Thanksgiving without you must be unbearable. As I give thanks today for all that God has given me, I pray your parents either already have, or will one day soon, come to a place of peace in their lives. I pray they will come to a point where they are thankful for the three months they had with you, not resentful for the lifetime they didn’t. It’s unlikely they’ll ever read this, but if by chance they come across these words some day, I pray they can forgive me. Please know you are in my prayers every time I think of your precious baby girl.

Yes, I thought about you today. I think about you every day. May the God of peace and mercy be with your family this day and the next.

Somewhere Between Here and There

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As he sits, nearly motionless, the world is moving all around him…people walking past like he’s not even here. Indeed, he’s not here. He’s nowhere close to where “here” is right now.

Here is a place he longs to be with every fiber of his being. Right here is good. It’s where his family is…and wants him to be. It’s safe. Secure. Comfortable. Peaceful. Relaxing. Oh how good here really is…if only he could be here to enjoy it.

He’s here physically, but he is constantly fighting to stay here mentally. An inner turmoil that rages deep within his soul, the daily struggle to stay here is real. And it wears on him…emotionally, physically, spiritually. Here is a place that fades in and out of reality for him. Reality for him is constantly bouncing between here…and that other place.

“There” is a place all too familiar to him. Every semi-loud sound jolts him back there…a world he’s left behind and returned to so many times over two decades it’s hard to discern which is real and which isn’t. There is a place like no other…where the memories of past runs reside. A collection of all the worst incidents he’s responded to in his 20 years on the job. Many so gruesome he’s wept afterward, then been forced to bury in the depths of his mind so he can run the next one.

No matter how hard he tries to forget, he can’t. Some things can’t be unseen. Unfelt. Unheard. Unlived. Even with his best efforts to forget, they always seem to find their way back to the surface every now and then…often when he least expects it.

Today is the first day he’s had the whole day to spend with his family in awhile…a day that’s supposed to be spent making fun memories. His children are playing nearby, laughing and screaming with joy. An all too innocent scene, but today the sounds bring the pain. They instantly carry him back there.

There, a mother’s child screams in pain while he and his crew desperately work to cut the metal from around them, trying to free his mother and him from a mangled mass of what once was their family minivan. Moments earlier, he was giggling and laughing as his family was off on an adventure. Their first family vacation ended before it ever began, and no family vacation will ever be the same for them again, as his dad lay lifeless over the steering wheel.

Here, as he watches his children playing, he has repositioned the chair he’s sitting in so his back is in the corner, and he faces the exit. Ready to bolt at a moment’s notice, he’s on edge when he can’t see what’s going on behind him. He quickly surveys every room he enters for threats and a quick way out. It’s the same in every situation. He sits on the outside of an aisle. Close to the exit. Every time. If he arrives too late to pick the ideal seat, he’d just assume stand in the back of the room and watch from afar than be confined in the middle of the room. You’ll never see him standing in the middle of a group of people if it can be avoided. Instead, you’ll find him on the edges, just close enough to participate, yet able to slip away unnoticed when his senses overwhelm him and force him to leave.

There, he’s watched colleagues ambushed and killed, and been verbally and physically assaulted by the very people he’s come to help more times than he can count. He’s been hit, kicked, spit on and yelled at so many times he’s become callous and indifferent. He’s constantly wondering what’s lurking behind him. His mind is conditioned to accept the reality that as noble as his profession is, there is evil lurking all around him…an evil that preys on him and his people. He’s come to accept that it’s not a matter of “if”, but “when”.

Here, the boys are talking loudly behind him. His daughter is watching a loud video beside him. Traffic is swirling all around him as he drives the family home. The combination of so many stimuli all at once is all too reminiscent of what he faces every day on the job, and it keeps him there instead of here.

There, he’s consistently multitasking on a level above average, walking into life threatening situations and assessing all that is happening in a traumatic and high-stress environment, processing multiple solutions, weighing the life and death outcome probabilities of each possible one, choosing the option with the hope for the best possible outcome, then implementing those actions to bring order out of chaos. All in just seconds as life hangs in the balance. As much as he wants to be here in this moment, there has ahold of him and won’t let go. 

And he hates himself for it…all this emotional baggage he carries now is the price he pays for what he signed up to do. And he knows it…accepted that long ago. Although never fully able to truly grasp the real cost at the time, he willingly stood when his time came…jumped at the opportunity. He was young and eager. Ready to save the world. If only he knew then what he knows now about the emotional turmoil his new career choice would bring over his lifetime, maybe he’d have passed.

Probably not. Ignorance is bliss. And helping others is in his blood. Serving others is who he is. No matter the cost. He knows the job has to be done, and if not him then who…if not now then when. Even if he knew everything he knew then, he still would have jumped in with both feet, ready and willing. He just hates that his family has to sacrifice so much for it too. He signed up for this…they didn’t. He hates how it’s affected his family, and his ability to enjoy them in the here.

As his family mingles around him, he bounces between here and there. It’s the end of the day now, and they’re settling into bedtime routines. Life is slowing down for the night. Night often brings the nightmares and sleepless nights, but for now he’s content to embrace the night and hopefully a peaceful night’s sleep. Right now, he’s not here or there. He’s bouncing between the two, but not settling long in either. And that’s alright to him, because when he’s somewhere between here and there, he isn’t there.

You Deserve A Better Happy Birthday

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SI,

You came up to the firehouse so we could celebrate your 5th birthday together. As a family. I wish we had taken pictures. I regret that…because I so dearly want to look back on today some day and see a smile on your face at some point during your visit.

I’m sorry that halfway through your birthday dinner I had to leave for a house fire up the street. I didn’t want to go any more than you wanted me to leave. But I’m glad you stayed and waited for me to get back.

I enjoyed watching you open your presents. The smile on your face always brings one to mine. And that laugh…I simply love and adore your laughter, buddy. I enjoyed singing happy birthday to you and eating ice cream cake with you. I’m sorry that halfway through building your new Lego plane I had to leave again, this time for a car accident. I’ve been looking forward to building that together with you since your mom and I bought it last week. I like hanging out with you…doing stuff together. Leaving in the middle of that time together hurt me.

But I’m glad you stayed and waited for me. It was comforting to feel you hug my leg as soon as I jumped out of the fire truck, even over my bulky turnout pants. That feeling was…indescribable. And one I will cherish forever. You didn’t see it, but I cried a little then. And I’m crying now as I type this. Because you deserve better.

I’m so sorry that this job I once loved with every fiber of my being has cost so much. I’m sorry it has left you waiting for me to be present in your life. I’m sorry that I’ve had to put strangers above you on days like today. Your birthday means so stinking much to me, and I love you so, so very much son. So much so that tears are uncontrollably running down my face as I type this…I’m sobbing like a baby, and I’m powerless to stop it. You cannot begin to imagine the depth of my love for you, your siblings and your mother. I pray that you can forgive me for days like today and not hold them against me. And that one day you will also feel the same kind of love, with children of your own. When you do, I pray you’ve chosen a career that doesn’t find you missing the important days in their lives…days like today…leaving you feeling like I do now.

I’m so sorry son. I hope and pray you had an awesome birthday, despite my absence. You certainly deserve it. You deserve better.

Love,

Dad

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

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.

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.

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