Your Call as a First Responder

Your Call as a First Responder

I have had the privilege of serving in public safety for twenty-five years. I started in the Adult Probation Department and then transitioned to my city department where I have served for almost twenty-two years. I have embraced the label of being a “First Responder” significantly over the years and with different applications. There is no greater profession in existence than public safety. We are entrusted with the commitment, concern, and care of the community. We stand on the precipice of a cliff staunchly ready to turn away society’s rush to decline every day. In my time on the job, I have watched too many people to name spend twenty or more years in this work leaving bitter, angry, and misguided. They have allowed the evil in the world they rushed to fight with their whole heart to consume them. People who said when hired they would serve in any way, any place, any shift, and at any time have forgotten what it means to live their interview. And the culture in policing just accepts that as reality. We have failed if that is true. No other job anywhere in the world promises longevity of twenty or more years to end up an emotionally broken, mentally fragile, and physically decimated version of the person you started as in the beginning.

Why would anyone want this life? That is a question recruiters around the country are battling in the elusive hunt for qualified applicants. The answer lies in the truth my senior officer on my squad offered the other day in briefing. As a formerly active Marine, he told the room that the Marine Corps training regimen and lifestyle were excruciatingly difficult and held each person to the highest of standards. You were tested daily physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. There were no exceptions made for anyone for any reason. You knew before you enlisted how difficult this would be. And people keep signing up. Why? The transparency of “the life” eliminated the fear of the unknown, and the allure of the Esprit de Corps stirred something deep inside people’s souls making the challenge worth it. There is a direct application between what he said for the Marines and how we can view law enforcement.

What Do I Mean by “Call”

Specifically, I am addressing the call as a First Responder for people to embrace. It is a stirring in someone’s soul to willingly take on a job where the threat of physical violence is real, the trauma mentally of wading through the worst times of people’s lives is present, and the “reward” is measured in the intangible metric of service. And people keep signing up. The “why” has nothing to do with these peripheral results but with the internal call felt pulling people into a life of service. Officers relate they do not really know specifically when they wanted to be in law enforcement, but they felt compelled to be a part of something greater than themselves to help others. We were created to be this way!

Words matter, and the specific words you use convey specific meaning. So, I define “call” as an undefined pull on someone’s soul drawing them to mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally commit to action precipitated by that pull. As a Christian, I believe in that definition as a starting point, but I have come to learn over my career with Christ the pull is not undefined – it is a purposeful positioning by a sovereign God intentionally and exactingly facilitating my life in the best possible way to let other people see Him as the point of it all while enriching me personally through the relationships made along the way with others to be an example of how police work brings God glory.  

My call as a 1st Responder needs to be grounded in this way. It is not some altruistic vibe where service to others trumps it all. Being a “First Responder” really implies my first response to the pull in my life is in obedience to the God who made me and loves me. It’s about service through that obedience that generates the definition of success and worth that so many law enforcement professionals struggle to find. Your rank never determines your worth. Neither does your bank account. WHOSE you are is infinitely more important than WHO you are. Who you are changes parts of your life. ‘Whose’ you are changes your eternity.

Your call to serve as a First Responder is not done in isolation. Many have gone before, and many will come after. This is an infinite game, as Simon Sinek would say. There is no solution set which defines a win using the metrics we have always seen. However, obedience to the call for service to God as a First Responder is its own win. Remember that. Men like Jeremy Wade with Mission First Alliance certainly do. Connect with the alliance and join a nationwide community of people centered on this call to obedience!

White Stones

White Stones

There are a multitude of reasons people pursue a career as a first responder. Whether to be a Police Officer, Corrections Deputy, Firefighter, or other; for many of us it starts off by answering a call to service. Whether that call comes from a loved one to follow in their footsteps, a member of our community asking us to give back, or just the excitement a career in that field can offer, nonetheless, a call was made, and we answered. And after the months-long hiring process finally reaches its pinnacle and we receive that coveted ‘conditional offer of hire’, one of the first things we’re given is a badge. It’s held up in ceremonial fashion and pinned to our uniform on our chest above our left pocket as if it was always meant to be there. There’s handshaking, and clapping, and pictures being taken, and smiles, and hugs, and it’s an unforgettable experience. Our family is proud and so are we. 

In the Beginning

Then it’s off to the academy where we train and study day and night, night and day for months on end. Bringing our minds and bodies into subjection in order to become the best version of ourselves possible so we may bring the utmost honor and respect to the name on that badge. And with that in mind, they cut the cord and set us free. “Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed”, we pin that badge to our uniforms and set off with honorable intentions and a cutthroat allegiance to the job and to the men and women who wear the same badge we do. The same men and women we will soon call ‘brothers and sisters’. Because you see, not long into our careers we find ourselves spending more time with those ‘brothers and sisters’ than our own family members. More than our own wives, our own husbands, our own sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, moms, and dads. Chasing overtime, in-service training, writing reports, testifying in court, special assignments, special training, critical incidents, promotions, callouts, you name it. But it’s exciting! We’re honing our craft and fine-tuning our skills every step of the way. And it’s the call we answered. And it’s the same call our ‘brother and sisters’ answered. 

That’s the reason we don’t complain to our peers when we get held back on overtime for the third or fourth time that week; because our ‘brothers and sisters’ have worked the same overtime shifts we have. We stay professional, keep our composure and our resolve remains strong. And so, the years go by and we earn stripes on our sleeves. As first responders, we’re constantly putting out fires, both literally and figuratively. And we take pride in our skills and ability to handle situations under immense pressure. In fact, going through a critical incident becomes a badge of honor and a sort of twisted way of validating our own skill set to our peers. Those who haven’t experienced that next-level critical incident in their careers are usually viewed negatively by others. “Their mettle hasn’t been tested yet”, and “their soft,” we say. The more battle-worn we are, the more unspoken respect we seem to get from our peers and the more validation we give ourselves that we’re solid, and thus keep advancing forward. And so, we run into burning buildings, towards the sound of gunfire, or into a disruptive unit. Meticulously evaluating the scene, instinctively assessing threats, and intercepting danger without regard to our own well-being.

A New Name

We continue the grind and work hard to provide for our families and keep our communities safe. We work to bring honor to the name on our uniform. In fact, we work in a culture that freely gives out plenty of names. Some of which we really don’t care for, others that boost our egos maybe too much. We give “nicknames” to our colleagues. The closer we are to those individuals the more personal, however odd, those aliases can be. As George MacDonald put it, “The only names which have significance are those which the popular judgement or prejudice or humour bestows, either for ridicule or honour…” (Unspoken Sermons, p.40). The name we are all called by, notably more so with nicknames (regardless of if we want to answer to it or not), has an intimate relation to who we really are, or better yet, who we are seen to be in the eyes of those who give us that name. 

Those names have real meanings that symbolize our past experiences and who we’re seen to be. Things we did and things we said. They personify something that the people who give us those names wish to draw out of us. Even if only in confidence, they hear the name out loud, but it’s kept a mystery to those outside our inner circle making it even more personal. Whether for ridicule or honor, those are the names that have significance. Those are the names that slowly shape us, like it or not, into something or someone else we didn’t see coming. It’s the name that becomes part of our identity. They create a facade. A guise that, at a certain point, we feel we must uphold and defend at all costs, right or wrong. Sooner or later, however, the constant state of mind that we must maintain to keep ourselves and those around us safe takes hold. There’s no “on and off switch” anymore. It’s just always ON. What’s more, the only name or rather identity that eventually matters isn’t the one on our nameplate, stitched to our uniform, or the name we went by from our childhood. Not even the nickname our partner calls us anymore. It’s the name engraved on our left chest above our shirt pocket… Officer… Deputy… Sergeant… Chief… One way or another, sooner or later, it becomes not just a name but rather our identity. An identity behind the badge. An identity that we often struggle with. One that, if our identity isn’t rooted in the right place before we start our careers, will surely take over indeed. But we’ve worked hard, and we like this job. It’s fun and exciting. Some of us are even drawn to the dangers of the job. So, we keep training and press on.

The Toll it Takes

We’re trained to uphold the law, enforce rules, investigate, respond, and save lives.  We’re trained to do all these things and get very good at them by doing them day in and day out. By constantly extinguishing the little fires we’re also preparing ourselves for when the “big one” hits. But when the “BIG ONE” comes, and it will come, it inevitably leaves an impression behind on our heart and soul that changes us forever. Over the course of a career, we will encounter many, many critical incidents and there is never really much time to recover or cope in a healthy manner. In between the overtimes, the trainings, the special “this and that’s”, and the “oh don’t forget about your family’s”, we rarely take or have the time to reflect, to be still and cope with the critical incidents. We can’t talk to our families because we know they won’t understand. For the same reasons we won’t confide in our colleagues about stress or overtime, we also won’t confide in them when something inside of us is off. 

It’s our pride. And our pride defines us. As Type-A personalities, we’re reluctant to acknowledge something our culture views as a weakness: asking for help in moments of genuine struggle. This stubborn pride becomes a barrier. Our foolish pride gets in the way, and we refuse to ask for help. Even among our closest allies—those we share the most challenging moments with, those with whom we hold the line and run into danger, THOSE WE’D LAY OUR LIVES DOWN FOR—we find it difficult to break through this barrier and seek the support we truly need.

So, we retreat. But not from danger! We retreat from ourselves back behind the badge and assume the identity we’ve been so, so good at upholding. Years continue to pass us by and the overtime, trainings, and specials’ continue and we become someone our peers admire for it. We’re “SOLID” or “HARD”. But the real truth is we’re trapped. We’ve been slapped with the golden handcuffs and some of us are masters of a skillset we’ve been told is practically useless outside of our current field. Someone once told me, “We’re really good at keeping it all together… until we’re not.” The inner conflict finally boils over and we come to a point where our loved ones don’t even recognize us anymore. The evil we’ve been keeping at bay all these years is all we can see in the world anymore. We’re hyper vigilant, hyper controlling, hyper pessimistic, have trouble with anger, possess zero desire to be a part of our community anymore and are jaded to boot. Although things at work may look first-class, we’ve lost our identity.

Who Are You?

As Christians, this identity behind the badge is often completely contradictory to how we’re called to live our lives as followers of Jesus. We need to train ourselves in a new light. We need to consider ourselves servants to the Lord, not the badge. Discipline our bodies and bring them into subjection (1 Cor. 9:27) for a new purpose and a new calling. A calling where we strive for an imperishable crown (1 Cor. 9:25), not brass on our collar or chevrons on our sleeves.

Whether you’ve been a follower of Christ your entire life, just recently saved, or have yet to walk in faith, I implore you to hear me, “YOUR IDENTITY MUST BE IN CHRIST!”

When our identity is in the hands of Jesus, we know where we can go to cry out. We know who we can lean on and who we can speak to without fear of judgment, recourse, or retaliation. Our credibility won’t be at risk when we get on our knees and pray. We know who to look to as an example of how we should be living our lives. When we willingly submit to obedience and our identity is in Him, we can approach the throne and lay all things at the feet of our Lord and know that when we are seeking His Kingdom first, everything we need will be provided (NKJV, 2018, Matthew 6:33). 

The Book of Revelation 2: 17 says, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (NKJV, 2018). Manna is food. During their 40 years in the wilderness, God miraculously provided a supply of manna, or food, to the Israelites when there was none. The hidden manna referred to is a symbol of God’s word. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (NKJV, 2018, Matthew 4:4). When our identity is in Jesus, we can overcome this world and God will give us all the sustenance we will ever need.

The white stone is a symbolic expression of our freedom in Christ. Thousands of years ago when someone was tried for a crime and acquitted, they were given a white stone as a representation of their innocence. White stones were often gifted to gladiators who were victorious in battle. It was also used as a ticket to gain admission into events. Immanuel means “God with us”. God is surely with us, but we still must put in the work. It comes down to our acceptance of His free gift of grace and the acknowledgment of the work done by Jesus Christ on the cross. We only get this “ticket” because of what Christ did for us. So we must train in a new way. With the same sense of duty and cutthroat allegiance, we had early in our careers through disciplining ourselves by way of prayer, reading scripture, and fasting.

Once we make a conscious decision to not lean on our own understanding but to trust in the Lord with all our heart (NKJV, 2018, Proverbs 3:5) we are able to overcome this world and overcome the obstacles of our career. Overcome suffering, overcome pain, overcome the unknown. And to those who hold the line steadfast and do not lose heart, we are rewarded. Not in the end but in the “New” beginning, with all the sustenance we’ve ever needed directly from God our Father and with the gift of freedom in a new name etched on a white stone. Let us become who we are seen to be through the eyes of our Lord, NOT the eyes of this world. The name that God spoke us forth to be before the Heavens and Earth were formed. The name that God foreknew us into existence before we were created. The name we as Christians strive to be in our walk with Jesus. Our real name. Our true name. The only name of real significance we’ve ever had or will ever have. The name that truly symbolizes who we are and where we’ve been. One that illustrates all the suffering, pain, sorrow, loss, disappointment, confusion, happiness, joy, elation, fun, pleasure, cheer, comfort, and love we’ve ever endured.  Honoring all our memories, past experiences, relationships, and decisions we’ve ever made, culminating in a triumphant entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. The name that reflects our relationship in the body of Christ and as children of God the Father.

So, to this I leave you with two questions. The first, ‘Where does your identity rest?’ Behind the badge on your cleanly pressed uniform. Or in the loving arms of the One who always has and always will carry you and never forsake you? My next question is ‘What name will you answer to?’ An endearing name from your childhood; perhaps the last name on an embroidered patch or nameplate that you pin to that same uniform. Maybe the nickname your buddies on shift gave you after that crazy incident. Or rather, will you answer to the name given to you before time started? A name you worked hard to earn through a life of perseverance in failures and victories. The name that God knew you could become, knew you would become. The only name of value or significance you’ll ever go by. The new name that only you and God know written on the white stone. The name God spoke you forth to be in this world.

MacDonald, G. (1867). Unspoken Sermons (p. 40). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Alone… But Not Alone: Jeremy’s Story

Alone… But Not Alone: Jeremy’s Story

This article was originally published in Law Enforcement Today Nov. 27, 2023

How do you cope with the realities of law enforcement? My career in the Seattle Police Department quickly became a reality check when I was faced with this very question. It didn’t take long before I hit really high highs and really low lows, and although I enjoyed most of the 13 years in the department, the reality was, the job had changed me. 

As a young police officer in a major city, I grew accustomed to responding to the critical calls, but when the danger of the job hit close to home, it became real. In 2009, Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton was ambushed and murdered in my assigned patrol area just hours before my shift began.

Then, one month later, four Lakewood Police Officers were ambushed and murdered in a coffee shop south of Seattle. The suspect was later located while attempting to ambush another Seattle Police Officer. These tragic incidents confirmed my calling into the profession, but it was coming at a cost.

I struggled in my faith, there was tension in my marriage, I was rarely around for my kids, and I was losing hope that any of these would improve. I felt isolated and alone in these struggles, and while my faith was important to me, I had come face to face with my problem. My identity was in the badge. I had allowed this job to take priority over everything else in my life. 

Serving in law enforcement was difficult. The critical incidents were overwhelming, shift work was exhausting, and I didn’t have anyone I could turn to. As I questioned my purpose, the Lord was gently asking me, “Jeremy, who are you serving?” The reality was, I was only serving myself.

The Lord was showing me I had a decision to make. Who was I going to serve? 

When I fully surrendered my life to Christ in 2011, I made a decision to put my identity in Christ, to stop pursuing my desires, and instead say, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8). I had this new hope and identity but who could understand and relate to the things I was seeing and experiencing?

I struggled to find other Christian officers in law enforcement to follow, and when I searched for resources, I found very little. I had officers tell me, “I don’t know how anyone can be a police officer and be a Christian.” To which I replied, “I don’t know how anyone can be a police officer and not be a Christian.”

How do I balance and prioritize my life in this profession, when the pressures of the job are relentless? This was the defining moment, and as I prayed and asked the Lord for help, He began to open my eyes to see I was not alone. My mission had become clear, and a new burden began to grow (Galatians 2:20). I found rest, peace, joy, and purpose in my life again. 

My resolve to pursue the Lord changed how I related to those I served alongside, and it changed how I saw the community I was serving. I no longer desired promotions or career advancement opportunities, nor did I serve for awards, accolades, pay or benefits.

The Lord had changed my heart and given me a burden for something much greater: A burden to share the real hope which can only be found in Christ.

I began to see every 911 call as an opportunity to share hope with the community I was serving. I started to recognize that other first responders around the country were struggling in the same way. Feeling hopeless and alone. They didn’t know who to turn to. The Lord began to open opportunities for me to share hope with them.

Through this journey, God was growing me to step into His greater plan. He was sending me and my family into the first responder mission field.

First responders are mission driven. They serve selflessly and sacrificially. These qualities were attractive to me when I applied for the Seattle Police Department. But early in my career my mission was clearly defined in the job, and not in serving the Lord. Something was out of balance.

When my heart changed, my mission changed. I began to live Mission First for Christ.  When we live Mission First for His Kingdom, He can sustain us through the challenges of the profession. There is nothing in this world that can carry the weight of this career. If we attempt to put our trust and identity in anything other than Christ, it will fail us in the end.

When the Lord says, “Go,” are you willing to listen? The Lord had clearly opened doors and opportunities for us to encourage and unite isolated ministries around the country, bring awareness to the pressing officer wellness issues, challenge the chaplain status quo, walk alongside churches to better understand the culture, and disciple other first responders.

He had given our family a burden to love, support, and reach our nation’s first responders, and their families with hope in Christ. When the riots hit the Seattle Police Department in 2020, we understood our mission. When the City gave up the East Precinct, my former precinct, we understood our mission. When the vaccine was mandated as a condition of employment, we understood our mission and our family stepped out in faith to “go.”

All of this led us to move to Tennessee, and in 2023, we launched a national, nonprofit organization called Mission First Alliance.

There are around 4.6 million first responders serving our communities. How do we support them all? We realized we can’t do it alone.

We see ministries and chaplains working independently from each other. We see churches struggling to understand and connect with the culture. We see first responders and their families struggling to find any supportive resources. We need to come together as one and be unified in the effort. We need a gospel-focused first responder alliance.

Through Mission First Alliance, we are uniting and equipping all who have a heart for our nation’s first responders. They need hope, just as I needed hope. Together we can have a greater Kingdom impact. Now is the time to support them in this meaningful way. We invite you to join us!

If you feel alone, you are not alone.