This is a story I find difficult to tell. It happened last July, when I was studying to be an emergency medical technician (EMT).
As part of our training, we accompanied firefighters on their emergency calls. I loved these “ride-alongs” and did many more than were required. Once I got my EMT certification, I planned to enroll in Fire College and become a firefighter myself.
“Don’t Let Me Go Back.” One day I was sitting in the fire station, and a call from the dispatcher came up: “Female child, fall from a tree.” We piled in the ambulance and hit the road, sirens blaring—one of my favorite activities in the world. We got to the house, which did indeed have trees in the yard, but no child to be seen. A woman waved us inside. Lying on the couch was a six-year-old girl who looked like she had been crying. But she had no apparent broken bones, scrapes, or dirt on her clothes. This girl fell from a tree?
A brief physical exam, and the problem was obvious. The child was covered in bruises, some shaped like fingers, in different stages of healing. Some areas were tender when I felt them gently with my gloved hands. It was the father’s doing, the mother said. He had gone to the liquor store but would be back soon, so could we take the girl to the hospital quickly, before he returned? The mother had bruises too, so we decided that both should get medical attention.
In the ambulance, I befriended the girl, and after checking her vital signs, held her hand the whole way. Her name rhymed with mine, which we both thought was pretty cool.
“Mr. Jamey, please don’t let me go back to my daddy,” she said. I squeezed her hand and told her she was okay now.
Once at the hospital, we transferred her from the stretcher to a bed and reported exactly what we had seen. Legally, that was all we could do. It was then up to the hospital staff to notify the appropriate authorities.
“Give Mr. Jamey a big hug and tell him thank you,” said the mother before we left. So the girl did, and though I was a bit sad because of the situation, I had a big smile the rest of the day.
I rode the same shift again later that month and asked the guys about the girl. Turns out, the father went to the hospital later that day, checked his daughter out, and took her back to the house. He killed her that night—beat her to death. “She was an annoying little b____,” he apparently said afterwards.
I couldn’t sleep for a few nights after that, and I sure couldn’t talk about it. Who would understand? I was so sad and full of burning hate for that man. Later I asked advice from some of the guys, but they said to drink a lot off duty or just find my own way of dealing with the pain. But I had never experienced anything like this and had no way of dealing with the loss or the hate. I eventually just buried it and moved on—but, I’ll admit, not without crying. I mean, I’d been right there, holding the girl’s hand. You should have done something, I told myself.
Dreams in the Night. Fire College began, and I loved it. Physically, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. The morning workouts were worse than military boot camp. After that, I might be running around for hours, carrying a six-hundred-pound ladder with two other trainees, or chopping wood while on an air pack, which feels like breathing through a snorkel. Difficult as it was, I was excited. It was great to progress, push myself further, and discover how it felt to put my whole being on the line for someone in need.
But then the dreams began—dreams about that little girl and what her life must have been like when the outside world wasn’t looking. A few times, I woke up crying. And dreams about other gut-wrenching situations I had only heard about—things I would undoubtedly face as a firefighter.
I had to ask myself: Did I want to be in this career for the long haul? Could I deal with the emotions? Some day, I would marry and have a family. I would want to be a good husband and father—engaged and attentive when I came home at the end of the day. If I couldn’t deal with these things now, how would I do it down the road, when I would have a house full of people with my last name?
In the end, I withdrew from Fire College. It was extremely hard because I wanted that career so much—but not at the possible expense of my future family life. Though I still wanted to help people, I would have to find another way to do it.
A New Life. I had prayed all my life, but mostly out of habit—not really from the heart, as if my life depended on it. Now, for the first time, I offered myself and all my circumstances to Christ. I prayed that his will might be done, not mine. This was a true leap of faith, a decision to let the Lord direct absolutely everything in my life.
God soon showed me his mercy, turning my situation around so quickly that I’m still amazed. Within just one week of my prayer of surrender, I realized I had the gifts and desire to pursue a degree in physical therapy. Not only that: God provided me with a car and a house of my own—with no rent and no mortgage—and only a mile from the college where I wanted to study.
Every day since then, I have felt more and more blessed, more and more drawn to the Lord. I’m excited about my studies, which are teaching me how the body works and moves and how it is injured and healed. And you know what? After I finish that degree, I’m going back to Fire College to finish firefighter training; then I’ll train to become a paramedic so that I can provide more extensive pre-hospital care.
I can’t wait to hit the streets again and be the best Fire Medic out there! I now know I can do it without any fear of what the job might bring, because God has been at work in me. Whatever happens, I can stare fear in the eye and defeat it with his love.
Vocation to Love. Some time ago, sitting alone in church, I had something of an epiphany. As I thought back to that little girl, God helped me to see that I really had been there for her. Maybe she had never had her hand held before, had never known what it was like to be loved. But I smiled and talked and squeezed her hand—she knew I cared. At just the right moment, I was there. Suddenly I was filled with great peace and felt honored to have been given that opportunity.
I also realized that, in a way, this little girl had been there for me. Through her, I received the greatest gift I could have asked for: I discovered my calling to be God’s loving presence to people in emergency situations—all people, even those like the girl’s father. I don’t hate him anymore. In fact, as I’ve entered more deeply into God’s love for me, I’ve found love for him as a human being created in God’s image, however shrouded by evil.
Jesus died and rose so that everyone could be saved and brought to glory. His Sacred Heart is burning with love for that man and those like him. It is my privilege and duty to join Jesus in the fight for their souls, using the weapons of love and prayer. I want them to be empowered to defeat the sin that enslaves them, as I have been empowered, and to realize that they, too, are God’s beloved children.
And so I look forward to swooping in on the big red truck, responding to emergencies in a way that shows the love and compassion that God has put into my heart. I want to be a beacon in the deepest, darkest places of the world, to the suffering, the neglected, those who have been written off as hopeless. If people who live in darkness are exposed to God’s saving love, who knows how many might become children of light? n
Jamison Luten works as an Emergency Medical Technician and is studying for a degree in sports medicine at Florida Community College at Jacksonville.