Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Finding Peace with What I've Seen

"I wish my mind could forget what my eyes have seen" is a quote I've seen going around in the first responders and veterans communities. I can honestly say that I used to feel that way about some of the things that I've seen. During a career as a Firefighter/Paramedic I was directly involved in caring for over 10,000 sick and injured people. Much of that was unpleasant. There were also some extreme situations that I just wasn't prepared to deal with. So I didn't. Or at least I tried not to. I just suppressed the emotions and pushed the memories aside and kept busy on the job. That helps a lot because along with seeing the pain and suffering you see the very best of humanity. People from all walks of life will do everything they can to help others in need. Some of the finest examples of this are the ones who pursue helping others as an occupation.

I have had the privilege of working alongside some of the best people on earth in situations that I wouldn't otherwise care to remember. I remember them - the helpers. I have heroes who don't know they are my heroes. They impacted me with their professionalism and compassion and they showed me how to make a difference. After all, that's why I got involved. I wanted to make a difference. That isn't always easy and sometimes it just isn't possible. It involves personal risk and just because you do everything right never means everything will work out right. It's all just life. But it's a part of life that most people have very little exposure to. It's also a part of life that can be very difficult to effectively process and cope with.

The things my mind couldn't forget did start to take their toll on me. In retrospect I see the signs more clearly now. At the time I really only became aware when the vivid nightmares became more frequent and various things would trigger horrible memories. It all came to a head one evening with a crushing recollection of a particular situation. It was one I had pushed way back and locked up tight because I couldn't deal with it. But there it was. This recollection happened, in all places, at a church service.

One would think that if God apparently brought up a painful subject with a rather deep emotional and spiritual wound associated with it that maybe He would miracle the whole thing away. He didn't. I was left to confront the whole thing and work out something I hadn't been able to work out at the time, years before. It was almost as if God needed for me to really face this. In fact, I know now that's why it came up.

There is a world of difference between the happy Sunday school songs and Bible stories played out on flannel boards that made up the Christianity of my childhood and the realities of life I experienced later. They were two completely different worlds and they had become very separated in my mind. How could the God of Sunday school exist in what I had seen?

As the week progressed following the Sunday when my emotional wound was opened I found myself prayerfully considering the very heart of what Christianity is truly about. It struck me in a whole new way that the symbol of my faith is the cross. This wasn't originally an honored symbol or a piece of jewelry. It represented judgment, justice, sin and death. This is where my worlds collided and became one. Jesus came to embrace the very worst of humanity and to take it all on Himself, so that we could be restored to God because He loves us. God didn't miracle me out of the harshest realities of mortality. He showed me that this is what He Himself embraced and overcame. He showed me the cross.

I hope to never forget the things that my eyes have seen. While it is true that I have seen how bad things can get, I have also seen the good in people. And, most of all, I have seen amazing grace.


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