In 1995, after years of working private ambulance for little more than minimum wage, I gave in and tested for a job with the fire department. The decision was mostly financial. I never wanted to be a fire medic. But my wife and I were on the verge of bankruptcy. We’d didn’t manage our finances well. We always spent more than we earned. Fire departments paid a lot more than private ambulance. But the new job didn’t save us. A year after being hired by the fire department we would file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
I was hired with two other guys, who would become good friends of mine. I came onboard with high expectations. At the beginning of every shift, we had to count and sign off for the narcotics in the drug safe with the off going crew. I immediately noticed what appeared to be tampering with the vials. After discussing the tampering with one of the other newly hired medics, we brought it to our Captain’s attention. The Captain informed the Chief and an investigation began. I wondered what in the world I gotten myself into.
During the investigation, I saw what appeared to be an attempt to steer the investigation away from certain people. Only the three of us who were newly hired were given a polygraph test. All of us were given a urine test, but it was delayed three times and wasn’t done until a week later. A week is plenty of time for narcotics to be cleared from your body. The police investigation never revealed who was stealing the narcotics.
A year later, one of the paramedic Lieutenants was found lying on the floor in the middle of the night with a needle in his arm in front of the open drug safe. The Lieutenant happened to be a friend of the Chief, who held him up as a model for the rest of the department to follow. His conviction for narcotic diversion became a hornet’s nest.
I was deeply bothered by what I perceived to be a cover-up during the investigation. On several occasions I got in the Chief’s face over it. Being angry is one thing. But only a fool goes toe to toe with the Chief who has the power to hire and fire him. I was angry, indignant and filled with pride. C.S. Lewis said that pride is like a cancer that will rob you even of common sense. If I had any common sense, I never would have confronted the Chief.
In 2001, the Chief had suffered enough of my antagonism. He did a little creative investigative work and accused me of violating medical protocols. I underwent a long investigation that would ultimately lead to my termination.
I had been a Christian for a little more than a year. My wife was not a believer and we argued a lot about my spiritual views and activities. If I wanted to go to church on Sunday with the kinds, she complained that I was being selfish. She resented the time I spent in bible study. Slowly but surely, we were growing more distant.
My wife became concerned about my activities at work. She was friends with my paramedic partner. They talked from time to time about my problems, including some poor decisions I’d made. When the Chief launched his investigation, she demanded to know what I’d done to violate protocol. I brought home the paperwork from the calls in question and explained in detail everything that happened and showed her that my documentation proved that I had done nothing wrong. She wasn’t convinced.
Although there was no evidence of any wrong-doing on my part, my wife sided with the chief. She was convinced I had to be guilty of doing something wrong.
Her sympathy with my chief made it difficult to want to share anything with her. I felt like I was living with the prosecuting attorney in my own trial. For the next three years, her mistrust toward me would grow. During that time, I would come to know what it felt like to be emotionally and physically abandoned by my best friend and lover.
During those years, I tried to focus on my relationship with God. In 2003, I would lose my job with the fire department and be unemployed for a year and a half. Though we were in dire straits financially, my wife refused to consider working. The stress of not knowing where the money would come from each month forced me to rely completely on God for our financial provision. As my trust in God grew, my trust in my wife quickly eroded.
In hindsight, my professed love for God may have been more of a journey into the depths of religion. Rather than being transformed into a loving and compassionate man, I became a judgmental, bible-thumping zealot. I saw my wife not as my life partner – but as a deceived and wicked person who needed to repent. The fact that I saw her that way legitimized my feelings of disdain toward her. I treated her more as an evangelistic project than a wife. I certainly wasn’t displaying the love of God toward her.
The season of unemployment ended when I was hired by a community ambulance service on the coast, 120 miles from where we lived. My shift started at 7am. It was a 2 ½ hour drive. My shifts were four days on duty and four days off. I awoke at 4am, packed up a huge Rubbermaid bin with enough stuff to last me four days and trekked to the beach.
Every morning on the way to work I would see elk standing in the twilight near the side of the road somewhere along the way. The time away from home allowed me to reflect on what God was doing in my life. It was during this time when I bought my first guitar and started learning to play. I took solace in singing songs of praise to the God who had shown me His faithfulness.
But changes would soon come that would cause me to hide from the God who loved me so faithfully.