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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.

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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.

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.

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

I Like it Here

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The last week or so since I wrote Welcome to My Vulnerability has been pretty good.  I’ve been staying pretty busy…very busy actually.  This time of year gets pretty hectic with all of you in school and the Upward Sports season starting up.  Throw in some of the other ministries I’ve committed my time to, and I just don’t really have the time to sit down and spend much time writing.  I miss it.

As I write this, I’m watching Bubba play cars on the chair beside me before we leave for school.  I was clearing memory cards from the camera last night, uploading pictures and making room.  We had pictures dating back to the fall of 2010 on there, so I was getting a first glimpse in several years at what life was like back then  So much has changed since then.  Life is pretty good right now…even for all the hectic nonstop action we have going on during any given week.  I often think back on the times when y’all were kids and wish we could go back.  To a time when you were still learning to walk and talk.  After browsing through pictures last night, I realize I’m good.

Perhaps it’s because I have been so focused on preparing for the basketball season…so wrapped up in my rather large and ever-growing to-do list…that I just haven’t had the space in my head for much else…for any negativity.  I like it here.  I like being right here.  Right now.  In the moment.  I don’t want to live in the past.  Or dwell on it any longer.  The funk I’ve been in for much of this past month has kept me from truly enjoying every moment for exactly what it is.  Our life.  I’m ready to push the memories of that incident aside and move forward.  I like it here.  I like the present.  I like watching you play.  I like playing with you.  I look to the future with hope and confidence.  And with one eye on the future and one eye on the present, I have no eye left for the past.  And I’m good with that.  I like it here.

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

The Storm Within

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It’s dark in here. The darkness is soul-piercing. It’s an evil kind of darkness, that has enveloped me. The cold that lives here in the dark is alive. It moves and sways around me. I cannot escape it, though my soul yearns for warmth and light. My mind cries out for it, and I cannot find the refuge I seek in it. The light, and the warmth it provides, has escaped me. I so desperately need your warmth and light Lord.

As I sit here in the dark, my emotions are painfully at the forefront of all I do. I do not like dealing with my emotions, and I am now swimming in a sea of them. They churn around me, tossing me to and fro, like a small boat in a turbulent ocean. They crash over me in waves, threatening to capsize me with every toss. They are never ending, and ever changing. In one moment, I’m sad and grief-stricken. In the next, I’m angry and filled with rage. In the next, I’m isolated and alone. The constant barrage is endless, always hitting me when I least expect it. Throwing me off balance in the least convenient of times.

It is wearing on me. I’m tired. Physically, I feel like I’ve run a marathon, knowing another marathon awaits me. And yet I feel somewhat catatonic. Disassociated. Like I’m walking in a fog. Apart from the reality of the life going on around me. Mentally, I’m done. Exhausted. Emotionally, I passed the point of exhaustion long ago, and yet I carry on because by your design, my emotions have to go where I go. I long for peace and cannot find it. I search for joy, and it hides from me. My mind and soul desire rest, and it escapes me at every turn. I don’t think I have much left to give. I do not want to be short-tempered and without compassion toward my children any longer. I do not want to be lacking in patience and gentleness. It’s not by any fault of theirs that I am here, and I struggle to not take it out on their precious, trusting and innocent little souls. Lord, I cannot continue on like this.

Father, you knit me together in the womb and knew me before time began. You held me when I was without form, and you made me who I am. I believe with all my soul that I am here for a reason. I do not know what that is, and I don’t think I could handle knowing it right now if you revealed it to me. But I know and believe that you have a plan for this. And for me. I know you are still working on and in me, molding me into the child you want me to be when I return home to you. I know that this life holds grief, loss, and struggles. I believe in the power of your name. I believe in the shelter and protection provided in your embrace. I believe in the grace and mercy you provide through your Son. I am not worthy of your love and affection, Lord. I ask only this Lord.

Help me to find peace within the chaos of my soul. Help me to ward off the devil, as he is so very much at the root of the evil stirring up within me. If I am to be here in this present darkness for a spell, Father please strengthen me for the journey. I pray my spiritual preparation before now is enough to carry me through. If my journey in this valley is to endure, please light a glimmer of hope within me so that I may walk toward You. Please help me to learn what you would want me to learn through this. My suffering is nothing in comparison to what you endured on the cross for me. Forgive me of my sin so that my prayer may be heard.

I draw upon your guidance, found in James 1:2-3 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Lord, help me to find the joy you speak of. A joy I remember feeling once. A joy I know only comes through you.

Father, calm the storm within me and help me to seek you daily. I know that I am not alone, that you are carrying me. That I can find you when I stop and look. Help me to be still, Lord, and listen for you. To watch for you. To allow you to speak to me. To be still and know that you are God, and I am not. To seek your Light. For it’s only by your Light that I will be saved from this storm within.

Love,

Your faithful child and servant

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