Tears in Rain

July 23rd, 2010 Comments

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t understand.  I have images burned into my brain – that have wounded and scarred me to the core of my being.  I’ve seen things that no caring person should ever have to see.

The other day, a cop friend of mine was talking about some of the things she has seen.  She mentioned how they joke about using the MIB “flashy thing” when they retire – to erase all the things they’ve seen.

The next day, a paramedic friend of mine told me about a horrendous car wreck he responded to when he was still a “wet-behind-the-ears,” 21 year old, newly-minted, paramedic.  These images never leave us.

It was hard for us to come from a church that was trying hard to serve the community around us, to a church that seemed to be very ego-centric. In fact, even those within the church – regular attenders, and not-so-regular attenders – who were in need of support, were often ignored.  It didn’t help that my own family was going through our own personal crisis.  I was quite frustrated that the people who seemed to have it all together, wanted more; and those that were hurting and broken were being ignored.

In addition to my family’s personal survival struggles, I spent my time reaching out to the unreached, the hurting, and the broken.  As Jesus said, “I didn’t come to heal the healthy, I cam to help the sick.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been plunged back into the abyss of society’s broken people. The folks I see as a paramedic, are terribly broken, terribly wounded, and terribly lost – in many ways.  Due to HIPPA privacy laws and professional etiquette, I am unable to share great details.  But somehow I want to convey the utter brokenness of people in our midst.  While there are a great number of people who live in stable homes, in stable environments, and who have regular medical issues – there are many whose lives are so far removed from our own, that you may actually believe they are from another world.

People so poor, financially, spiritually, and socially, that they allow people into their homes who are abusing their children – just because they need a caretaker, or a companion.

within the fog, something wicked waits People so poor, financially, spiritually, and socially, that they allow people into their homes who are abusing their children – just because they need a caretaker, or a companion.  People so broken, that they lay in their own excrement and urine for days on end.  People so broken, that when you first see them, you wonder how they even survive.

Emotionally, these folks are so broken that you see no soul in their eyes.  Physically, they often look 20-30 years older than their actual age.  Spiritually, they are lost.  No longer wandering, no longer seeking – just hopelessly lost.  They have been abandoned by their families, discarded by their friends, and swept aside by society.  They live in the nooks and crannies of our cities – wherever they can find space.

I’m not talking about the homeless tramps downtown, nor am I talking about the mentally ill who wander the streets.  I’m talking about the people who came from relatively normal homes.  But because of physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual abuse, they have been broken, busted, and discarded.  Nothing short of a miracle could save them now.

As I drove home the other night, my own spirit was overwhelmed by what I’d seen that day. I reflected on the people I’d seen over the past week.  I reflected on people I’d seen over the past month.  They call 9-1-1 for assistance, but they don’t really have an emergency.  They need help, but it isn’t the kind of help a paramedic can offer.  And even though we take them to the emergency department at the nearest hospital, there really isn’t anything they can do either.  A few hours later, these people are discharged and sent home – but they’re just as broken, nothing has changed.

One lady told me she called for a taxi, but because she didn’t have the $10 for the cab fare, the taxi wouldn’t take her to the hospital.  She didn’t need an ambulance, but we don’t refuse people.  So, she called 9-1-1 and within minutes she had three firefighters and two paramedics in her living room.  There was nothing we could do for her, except take her to the hospital.  What she needed was caring family and friends, what she got was an impersonal cadre of emergency responders and a ride to the hospital.  My heart bleeds.

As I drove home the other night, my frustration with the Church, for being so damn egocentric, turned to anger.

We saw a lady the other day who, according to one firefighter/paramedic, had been transported by ambulance over 60 times in the last year. She was lying in a heap outside her front door.  She was so mentally exhausted that she could barely get on the stretcher.  We would take her to the hospital, they would evaluate her, and she would be out the door in a few hours – because there was nothing medically wrong with her.  The “system” is not designed to deal with these people.  In fact, there really is no system in place.  They take resources from those who may be having a true medical emergency, they cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, and they cycle through the system over and over again, until they die.

  • Is it their fault that they’re broken?  No.
  • Is it their responsibility to overcome their brokenness?  Yes.
  • Do they know how to overcome their deplorable condition?  No.
  • Is it a waste of money to send fire rigs and ambulances to their calls?  Yes.
  • Can we stop sending emergency responders?  No.
  • Is their a better way? Probably – I just don’t know what it is.

GenerationsWe walked into the middle of a tornado.  Four generations of women living in one desperate home.  The tragedy that was unfolding left everyone in tears.  It was a painful experience to be there – and yet, it was a privilege.  I held their hands, tried to help them make sense of death, looked them in the eye, and did my best to bear some of the weight.

My soul hurts for those who live lives of constant pain.

Later that night, lying on my bed, I wept. My soul hurts for those who live lives of constant pain.  My soul weeps for those who have the means, but not the will to step into these lives, and share the love that has been so freely shared with them.  I wept, because the pain is great.

Then Jesus wept.” John 11:35

More than a box of food, or a series of Bible studies, people need a friend – a genuine neighbor, who cares about them.  Someone who will listen, without judging – or trying to “fix” them.  Someone who will hold their hand when tragedy strikes, and someone who will walk with them, over the rough patches of life.

People need unconditional love – love on purpose, and without ulterior motives.

People need unconditional love – love on purpose, and without ulterior motives.  The kind of love God shares with us.  We need to pass it on to others, no matter how scary that sounds.

How much worse does it have to get?

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  1. Lisa says:

    As one of these people (I called 911 for help just last week after my mom [my only contact] refused to do anything) I thank you for your compassion and understanding. You are right (I was told this as a teen by a nurse at Emanuel, too) “It was not my fault, but it is my responsibility.” I’m still trying to work on that…

    1. gwalter says:

      Thanks for writing Lisa. I have written other posts on this issue – but since returning to EMS, I have been more exposed to population of people that most people never encounter. Just because it is your responsibility, and I agree with this, doesn’t mean it is easy – or within your means.

      Too often we see people who have a sense of entitlement. They expect others, and the “system” to take care of them. It is this attitude that turns off EMS, fire, police, medical, and other care providers. People in the church too. We want everyone to be humble and eternally grateful for the breadcrumbs we throw their way. We see them as living off the system, constantly calling for aid, and never contributing. But how often do we see it from another’s perspective?

      Those that have the resources to help, are asked to provide – without expectations, without conditions, and as freely as God gives life and resources to them. When struggling with that approach, we need to stop and realize how hard it is for these people – to never be able to pull themselves out of the hole they’re in – or the discouragement of falling in the ditch over, and over, and over again. My heart breaks.

      It’s hard. Whether through poor choices, poor health (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, or social), poor upbringing, poor circumstances, or a lack of resources – I hear Jesus saying, “Lord, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” to themselves, or others.

  2. Gary, I am sitting here with an aching heart and tears on my cheeks as I read “Tears in Rain”….many hugs coming your way!!! Prayers going up for you and your fellow paramedics as you offer what is most likely the only concern and caring many of these people will experience.

  3. Paul says:

    This is a source of tremendous guilt for me. As is true for many people who have attended church their entire lives I can rattle off Matthew 25:35 by heart “for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.” But I don’t think I’m alone in being completely lost in knowing how to do this. I have only myself to blame, but I would love to find a church whose primary focus was facilitating this type of outreach. After all, if this is really the standard by which we are to be judged, why do we spend time at church on anything else? It seems to me that God is saying, the only thing that matters is how you have helped those that need your help. And I don’t think we can do that by proxy either. Sure I might financially support worthy charities, but, as you mentioned there are those that don’t ‘qualify’ and the system cannot deal with. So we can’t leave it to the system, I know I have a responsibility to reach out, not only to help them, but to look outside of my comfortable self-centered world. But where to start? If only I could say, church is the place to start…

    1. gwalter says:

      Me too Paul! Me too.

      As I’ve contemplated this, and wept. I have come to two three conclusions:

      It isn’t my job to save the world.
      I need to offer compassion, love, and support to those I encounter – or those whom the Lord puts in my path.
      I am learning to forgive the Church for their ignorance.

      As Jesus said, “Lord, forgive them for being so selfish, stupid, and shortsighted.” (Luke 23:34 – my paraphrase)

      1. Paul says:

        I long ago gave up on any fanciful ideas I had of changing the world or of even changing my church…. But I should be able to summon up the energy to modify my own behavior and this is where I struggle with the guilt on this issue – I can’t seem to get my priorities in life straightened out. Sure I excuse my lack of action and compassion because I’m busy, but I’m busy with the wrong things. But I had a kind of epiphany about this just a few days before you wrote your piece in fact. And it was that God cares more about how I help those in need than he does about my church attendance, my sabbath keeping, my tithe paying [fill in the blank…]. So the energy expend on ‘being good’ is wasted because of my inaction in not doing what God has asked of us. Raised with that protestant work ethic ‘work hard, obey the law, look after your family, go to church’ seems like the right thing to do, but if this is simply directing my attention away from what really matters is it possible that doing what is ‘right’ could actually be wrong? We as a society are so focused on self-help and improving ourselves but I wonder if we wouldn’t have so much need for that type of thing if we spent a bit more of our energy on helping others? I’m not just talking about an annual mission trip, but learning how to live a life that is open to the opportunities God puts in our path, how to connect with your neighbors, where to find people most in need, these are the sorts of self-help seminars we need in our churches. My desire is to raise my children with these skills, to live a life for others, but unfortunately I am desperately lacking in these skills myself….

        1. gwalter says:

          Right on Paul. But, I can guarantee, that any preacher who tries to preach that message will be fired.

          Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find support amongst other churchgoers?

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gary Walter, Gary Walter. Gary Walter said: New Post: Tears in Rain http://bit.ly/ao18NZ #daddytude […]

  5. Renee Hernandez says:

    As A former RN of over 20years practice in all areas (well just about from Newborn ICU to adult ICU’s to Bone Marrow Transplant Unit & ER). Iknow your feelings & as a victim throughout my life of very serious abuse I have comforted & I have suffered. The Adventist church has thrown me out literally. When I asked for further assistance when my husband abused me & I was in the midst of recovering from surgery & dealing with an exacerbation of my very painful chronic diseases. i struggle everyday to survive on disability & going to food banks 7 yet when I reached out for help from my “church family” i was rebuffed told I was “too needy”. I responded by saying have I asked you to lay down your life for me? What is too needy?

    1. gwalter says:

      Renee – I’m so sorry that people treated you that way. We are all broken, and ultimately, they are the losers.

      Please forgive them as you wander the wilderness of desperation. With God at your side, you will endure. Those that don’t walk with God, will not see the needs – ultimately they lose.

  6. Celeste says:

    There is so much pain and loneliness in the world. People just wanting someone to care to listen and be there for them. Meanwhile, the church is arguing over all kinds of things that don’t matter — at least not in light of Matt. 25.
    I for one want to make a difference in a life — even if it is only the lives God puts in my path. This is my prayer.

    1. gwalter says:

      Right on! That’s what I’m trying to do to. Just that one person, in the back of my ambulance. Who knows what a little compassion would do in their life?

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