Looks like we’ve turned the page on 2020. It’s a new year and I’m experiencing the first few hours of 2021. I know that many of you are holding your breath, hoping, wondering, and praying that relief is on the horizon. Will things change soon? Others of you are too plagued by exhaustion to even notice or care about the date on a calendar. You may be waiting on test results, or this may have been your first holiday season without the freedom to spend time with loved ones. It might be your health, or the passing of a loved one that has kept you from enjoying people you dearly love.
If by chance you are experiencing grief and emotional fatigue, I send you the prayers and support of your chaplains. If you’ve tested positive, were, or are currently quarantined, if you are working more and home less, if your favorite room at home is now a class room, if you’re experiencing financial crisis, business loss, or…the chaplains are here for you and available to share your burdens. In the meantime, we are praying for your comfort, relief, sanity, and for better circumstances in 2021. But should things remain unchanged or if circumstances start moving from bad to worse, I gently, respectfully, and positively want to offer you hope!
Out of proper respect I want to pause and extend the condolences of all chaplains to the families, including coworkers of our active members recently passed. The virus has reached into our ranks and taken some of the strong and courageous members of the LAFD. We also acknowledge those of you currently struggling with side effects – you have our prayers.
With that painful backdrop it doesn’t take too long to discover the reality that even in the best of times, circumstances can flip and life becomes daunting, even cruel. That being the case, when you factor in the unpredictable ups and downs of a prolonged pandemic, it’s understandable that daunting can quickly become overwhelming. Just yesterday, through the pain filled experience of friends, I was reminded of the challenge our need and the blessing of being able to see one’s circumstances through eyes of faith. My faith in God has been encouraged and challenged by the example of how this relatively young couple have been able to meet and walk through a horrible situation. This couple are the proud parents of three young boys. They have strong family ties, enjoy many friendships and are quite the team. Then a virus came to town and impacted all of us. They and we had to adjust and make do as we experienced a new “normal.” Not long after the pandemic was declared the mother noticed subtle changes in their toddler’s behavior – something was different, and something was wrong. Long story but six months ago tests results showed a fatal disease. Screech! Everything stops! Immediately all necessary attention becomes trained on treatment to kill a disease… before it kills. This is any good parents’ worst nightmare. And yet in the midst of a most severe trial happening in the midst of an already trying year and in spite of struggling with an unknown outcome, at the end of the day this couple has fought to remain faithful and thankful. Really? Yes! They are thankful for meals prepared by others, for gift cards, for toys, for friends who applied a much needed coat of paint to their home, for volunteer drivers to and from Children’s Hospital, for the husband’s employment, insurance and support, for caring-competent medical professionals trained in children’s medicine, for prayer…for a four year wedding anniversary, for their three sons, and above all they are thankful for God.
This morning I was thinking about a topic or theme for a Chaplain’s column. Having lived through such a difficult year and entering a new one with little relief in sight I was asking God for some form of encouragement (for you). I had also just finished reading my friend’s update on the progress of their two-year-old and in my mind, what began to rise to the surface was the theme of hope. “Hope in the midst of pain.” Soon after the theme and lyrics of a song came to mind. In simple English its theme or message can be summed up in the following seven words; “Because he lives I can face tomorrow.”
“Because He Lives” was composed in 1991, here’s the full refrain:
Because he lives I can face tomorrow;
Because he lives all fear is gone;
Because I know he holds the future;
And life is worth the living just because he lives.
What if you were granted the ability to apply God’s promises and heaven’s strength to any and every one of life’s circumstances? Would you be interested? How would the ability to not only face but see beyond: fear, injustice, riots, protests, unemployment, loneliness, a pandemic, a contested election? What troubling issues are weighing you down? Is there something in your life about to pull you under one last time? Are you tired of overseeing daily staffing issues? Are you routinely being detailed across the city and responding to calls with people you’ve never trained with? Are you quarantined? Have you been quarantined? Have you been to too many critical incidents? Is there someone in your household distance learning…yes, the rhythm of life, often without rhyme or reason seems to march toward difficulty.
I thank God that in the midst of our own personal crisis LAFD members have a long-standing tradition of serving one another. In addition to the person sitting next to you at the kitchen table you also have solid organizations, organizations like the Relief Association, the credit union, the union, peer support, mental health professionals, EAP, the Stentorians, Women of /in the Fire Service, and don’t forget you have access to your very own LAFD chaplain corp. We are on call 24/7. While that’s all good, let’s not forget that every individual and every organization mentioned has and have their limits. But God! I am sure that none of us believe we are a fitting substitute for faith and reliance on the almighty – right? If you haven’t already done so, it’s my prayer that you would make it a daily practice of looking to and depending upon the (only) One who holds the future. Born in a manger, died on a cross, rose on the third day and seated at the right hand of the Father. His name is Jesus. On our behalf and for his glory he overcame sin and death. He’s (already) overcome every calamity that might come against us. Because he’s alive, we can face tomorrow and life is worth living, because he’s alive. That’s good news!
I’ll close with a couple of disclaimers; realistically an article this brief, in this format, on a topic so complex will only scratch the surface. Honestly, volumes could be written about what I’d like to communicate. With that in mind, if you have questions keep this phrase and these three letters in mind; “AAC” – Ask a Chaplain. Got it? Good. Or as one of the recently passed mentors of our Department used to say: “lock and load.” If this article leaves you scratching your head and you would like to have a dialog simply; “AAC” – simply ask one of your chaplains.
Next, I want to speak to two possible common and understandable reactions triggered by what you’ve just read. First, I want to acknowledge those of you who have already walked this terrible road. I do not and should not speak glibly about such a painful circumstance. I know you’re out there and I know that for some of you the battle for healing and life was lost, for that you have my forever condolences. Quite often you’ve graciously allowed one of us chaplains to join you in that most painful journey. For that I want to thank you and once again offer my condolences. I’ve been told that after losing a child, while it’s possible for a parent to experience significant, they never really get over their loss. If you are in this camp, if you’ve experienced the loss of a child, I pray that today the God of all comfort will visit your heart with tender comfort and supernatural love.
There’s also a group who want to know, or even demand to know how a good, all powerful God could allow, or even cause such terrible things to occur. Brothers and sisters, yours are good and valid questions. You and I have been created with a sense of right and wrong and a sense of justice on our hard drive, so these are natural questions. Some questions have answers, others we accept by faith. If you’re interested, why not “AAC.”
With love and respect, Brother George Negrete on behalf of your LAFD Chaplains *btw; after completing his chemotherapy, baby Ben was declared NED; no evidence of disease! Most recently in five- and one-half weeks of radiation he (and his parents) endured twenty-eight sedations. January’s calendar is full of multiple tests and procedures to measure and monitor his development. His parents are thankful for your prayers. Oh, btw and FYI; one of Ben’s grandfathers is a retired fire captain from another department.
By Chaplain George Negrete