Sin

Who likes talking about sin? No one that I know of actually enjoys talking about sin. Well, no one likes talking about their own sin. We love talking about the sins of other people; maybe we just like talking about other people in general.

I’m getting ready to preach a sermon on Sunday at Shiloh about our belief in the forgiveness of sins. As i have been pondering that message, I think not so much about what is and isn’t sin but rather I’ve been thinking more about grace. Why you ask? Because, as an old hymn proclaims:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

It’s not uncommon for us to talk about all these “sinners” out in the world but we don’t talk enough about grace and forgiveness that God grants to His children through Jesus Christ. One thing that my fast from Facebook has helped me to understand that many posts – many of my own if I’m being honest – are judgmental. We love to point out the shortcomings – real and perceived – of other people. We love to talk about certain people or groups of people who are bound for Hell, all in an attempt to show off our own righteousness. We attempt to show the world that we are such good Christians that we are willing to condemn people who sin. Many of us think that our “fire insurance” (a term I’ve actually seen and heard) gives us a license to condemn.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that it’s wrong for us to want to remove the speck from someone else’s eye when we have a plank in our own. In other words, we have no right to judge someone for their sin when we have our own skeletons in our closet to deal with. It is not our job to condemn people for their sins when we are sinners ourselves.

You can’t fight sin with sin.

Southland Church is a multi-campus congregation in Lexington, KY and they broadcast their services on one of the local TV stations. I decided to record their service out of curiosity and as I have been watching this sermon I have found good food for thought. Basically we have three common responses to sin: One one side we judge; on the other we join; and somewhere in the middle we remain joyful in Christ. The right response to sin is actually pretty simple: We are to be light in the darkness of this world. Light drives away darkness.

Trying to fight darkness with darkness only brings more darkness.

I know that some might misunderstand me and think that I’m advocating Christians being weak and “tolerating” sin. On the contrary: I believe we should take action. I don’t believe that action should be in the form of protests, revolts or fire and brimstone sermons on the courthouse steps. Instead, we overcome evil with good by our living. Yes, we take action and instead of proclaiming condemnation for everyone except ourselves we instead proclaim the gospel by loving as Christ loves the world.

“Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good” Romans 12:21 (CEB).

Just some thoughts on my mind this afternoon. Perhaps this will take shape better by Sunday. 🙂

Jonathan

Persecution: What It Is and What It Isn’t

PersecutionWhile I am making an effort to “stay out” of the affairs of Mississippi, I am going to write about a situation happening in my home state. However, I’m not going to comment on the situation itself. Rather, I am going to use it as an example of a bigger issue. The term “Christian persecution” gets thrown around a good bit, especially these days. In some instances it is warranted but I have found that often it isn’t. The TL;DR version of my thoughts will be this: We need to stop claiming “persecution” every time something happens that we don’t agree with. When we claim persecution where there isn’t any, we weaken the meaning of real persecution.

The Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) is the largest governing body for high school athletics and other activities in the state. They have had a bylaw on their books for quite some time which states that an athlete or participant in a sanctioned activity must be a resident of the state. They have not been enforcing this bylaw until recently. The main body of the MHSAA voted to begin enforcement much to the chagrin of the private schools who are/were part of the MHSAA. Several of the private schools situated along the Mississippi River have students who commute from Louisiana. By stating that they would begin enforcing the residency requirement, the MHSAA declared these out of state athletes ineligible. In other words, the private schools could only allow students who actually reside in Mississippi to participate in sports and other activities such as band, chorus and debate.

The result of this was that three of those schools – Greenville St. Joseph, St. Aloysius and Cathedral – have left the MHSAA and joined the smaller Mississippi Independent Schools Association (MISA) which does not have such residency requirements in place.  As far as that situation goes, I wish them well. I remember being a student at Philadelphia and hearing about how great these schools were in sports, especially soccer and baseball. I remember a particular time when I was serving as the manager of the Philly High soccer team and we played a game at Greenville St. Joe. Without going into details, I let the referee know that I did not agree with the call he made and I became the first soccer equipment manager in Mississippi to receive a yellow card.

But I digress…

When the Clarion-Ledger posted a story about this event, the comments were quick to be posted. And then it happened: Posts making allegations that the MHSAA was out to persecute the private schools because the vast majority are Catholic or otherwise Christian schools (note: I wanted to embed some of these posts, however they seem to have been removed. I can not say if it was the posters who removed them or the newspaper but I did see some comments alleging persecution in the comments section of the C-L’s web posting).

I don’t deny that Christians are persecuted and discriminated against everyday. I have no doubt that such discriminate exists in the United States. However, persecution this is not.

Webster’s defines persecution as, “The act or practice of persecuting especially those who differ in origin, religion, or social outlook.” Another definition they list is, “the act of continually treating in a cruel and harmful way.” When I think of persecution, I imagine acts that involve some serious harm such as not being able to buy goods, being relegated to a certain place to live, being imprisoned or even being killed. Persecution happens for many reasons: One’s faith, and race are probably the two biggest reasons that I have actually witnessed persecution first hand. When I thin of persecution I think of people who American citizen and pastor Saeed Abedini who is imprisoned in one of Iran’s most notorious prisons. His crime? Being a Christian.

An organization enforcing a rule that pertains to high school athletics is not persecution. Some may view such decision as not being fair, but such is not persecution. When we refer to such decisions and other events as persecution, we diminish the meaning of what persecution really is. We owe it to those who really do suffer for their faith, their race or because of something else similar  to respect what they have gone through by not claiming “persecution” every time something happens that we don’t agree with or whens someone otherwise disagrees with our views.

Recently I came across a list of the ways some of the apostles were killed. From what I can tell, the accounts were mostly true according to scripture references, historical accounts and church tradition. For example: Peter was killed because of his faith. Tradition has it that when it was decided by the authorities that he would be crucified, he requested to be nailed upside down so that his death would not be in the same exact manner as Christ’s (he is said to have felt unworthy).  Andrew, Peter’s brother, is said to have been severely beaten and then tied – not nailed – to a cross so that he would suffer longer. As he hung there for for two days, he was still preaching the gospel to anyone who would listen.

Persecution.

We need to do better. We certainly need to call out and take action on persecution whenever we find it. We must do everything that we possibly can to ensure that people don’t suffer because of their faith. However, we also need to be careful in what we call persecution. Someone disagreeing with our views or making a decision that causes us no real harm is not persecution. When we claim persecution where there is none we weaken the meaning of the word and marginalize those who really endure harm or even give their lives for their faith.

We don’t do Christ any favors by claiming persecution where there is none.

Let’s be salt and light, not squeaky wheels. Let us show grace and mercy, not disdain. And let’s advocate for those who really are enduring persecution.

Jonathan

Randoms Thoughts and Ramblings from DFW

Currently, I’m coming to you “live” from the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport as I wait for my connecting flight to Meridian. I’m heading down there to get the rest of my and Jessica’s things out of storage and driving them back in a Uhaul truck. If you’re finding out about my trip down south by this blog post, you have my apologies. Unfortunately, this is a very quick trip and I’m not going to have time to really do anything besides get things loaded and such. I’ll be driving back to Kentucky on Friday morning. Talk about a whirlwind trip!

A lot of people have asked about my decision to take a fast from Facebook. There were many reasons why I decided to do this but I have honestly found it refreshing. It took a few days to get used to not checking my Facebook newsfeed and notifications constantly (the only contact I’ve had on Facebook is managing my church’s new Facebook page, which you can find here). I have been reminded that it’s OK to not know everything all the time. It’s OK to not be tethered to my  phone seemingly 24/7, waiting for something to happen. It’s also OK to not be bombarded with controversy constantly.

I have to be honest about something but let me preface my comments with a reminder to all of my friends: I love you. I enjoy getting to know more about you, seeing picture of kids, grandkids, vacations and other special times in your life.

What I don’t enjoy is the bigotry I encounter on social media all the time. There are so many posts on a given day that, whether the author realizes it or not, is laced with racism and other bigotry. Quite frankly, it drives me crazy. It also is not Christ-like and it really hurts me to know that many of the posts of this nature that I see are from people who profess to be Christians. It’s not my place to judge whether someone truly is or is not a Christian. I will say that actions and words that demean a race, other faith or any other factor of a person’s identity do nothing for the image of Christ. What it does accomplish is reinforcing the stereotype that many people hold which states that Christians are hateful bigots.

When our aim is just to be right or to defeat a group rather than showing them the love of Christ, we harm our witness. And possibly, we destroy it altogether.

I’m sorry to be so blunt but I have not missed such posts which seem to be non-stop. Don’t misunderstand me: It’s perfectly fine to have convictions and to advance those convictions. It is not alright to demean someone or a group of people. There is a difference. We have to remember that Christ gives us the example to follow when it comes to dealing with people outside of our faith or with whose views, lifestyle or whatever we don’t agree with: We love them just as he loved the people of the time that he disagreed with. When we affirm our faith in Christ we also affirm a calling: We are to love as he, to this day, loves us.

I will return to my social media once my 40 days is over in a few more weeks. And I know that I will once again be exposed to posts that make my skin crawl. However, there will be a change in my utilization of my personal social media. I will not engage in mean-spirited debates. Quite frankly, they do not reflect Christ and they also do absolutely nothing besides raise blood pressure. Instead, I will strive to offer Christ with everything that I post. I will post things that I find funny, insightful and edifying. Above all, I will not be negative. Period. I also will not go out of my way to insult anyone.

I can not expect others to reflect Christ if I don’t make sure that I’m doing it myself.

As I have written these words, my departure gate to Meridian has been changed so I will soon make my way to the new gate (don’t worry, I still have an hour before we board). I ask you pray for safe travel and that I don’t melt in the Gulf of Mexico humidity!

Transition

navigate_crop380wFor those of you who follow me and/or my wife on social media, you know that we will soon be relocating from Mississippi to Kentucky. If you don’t follow us on social media, well, I guess you just found out.

I know that a lot of people have questions about why we’re doing this, will we come back and other things. Our friends can certainly continue to ask these questions but I would also like to answer some of those questions here. I suppose this is some what of a F.A.Q.

First off, the reason we are moving is because I have chosen to attend Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky where I plan to earn a Master of Divinity degree. This is necessary in order for me to pursue ordination in the United Methodist Church. Fulfilling ordination requirements is not my only motivation. I love learning more about God and His word so seminary will enable me to do that. I want to ensure that what I preach is truly correct. While the Holy Spirit certainly leads, seminary education can be used in leading as well.

Some have asked if we are moving because of Hannah’s death. Simply, the answer is no. We have been planning this move for almost two years so Hannah’s death had nothing to do with our decision. We would have moved regardless.

We are planning to come back to Mississippi after I finish school. If I finish in the Fall we will stay until the following June in order for Jessica to finish her teaching contract and for me to finish my church appointment. As for where we will be living when we return to Mississippi, that is really up in the air. That will be determined by where the cabinet and Bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference of the UMC see fit to appoint me; it could be anywhere in the state of Mississippi (as of this posting). We can state a preference but it will ultimately be up to how they are led by God as to where we will end up. With that in mind, we are selling our house in Stonewall.

As for how long we will be gone, it will be at least 3 years but possibly 4. It really depends on how long it takes me to finish my degree.

So those are the answers to many of the questions we have been asked about our move. One thing I ask is that you please keep us in your prayers as I make final preparations for the move. Jessica is at Mississippi State finishing her masters degree and I will possibly not see her again until she drives up to Kentucky next Friday (I will leave this coming Monday). Also pray that the sale of our house goes smoothly and that this is one less thing we have to worry about as we transition.

And please, keep in touch! We want to continue sharing our lives with our Mississippi friends and family as we make new memories and friends in Kentucky. We will also be in Mississippi at least twice a year (once during the Summer and once during the holidays) and we would love to see people if at all possible.

This will likely be my final post until we reach Kentucky. So, until then… Grace and peace to you!

Jonathan

My Last Shift

Dansun_Paramedic
This sums up how I have felt after certain calls.

Yesterday I clocked in for my EMS shift. It started out and progressed just like any other shift that I’ve worked. I checked off my truck and drank my coffee as my partner and I caught up on events since he’s been back from his recent honeymoon. It didn’t take long for the calls to start coming in, a storm that all of us working yesterday expected but also dreaded. We were short staffed, which has been the norm lately. The saying in EMS that is most often used is “adapt and overcome.” And we did. The public who call 911 for their emergencies and the hospitals, clinics and nursing homes who contract for transport don’t care how many trucks are running. The calls came in, the doors went up and the trucks went out.

As far as shifts for me go, it was fairly average. In 24 hours I made seven runs, which is about my average. Three were 911 calls where the mantra was oxygen, Albuterol and saline locks for everyone. The rest of the day was filled with transfers, hospital discharges mostly. My last call was a transfer from one of our hospitals to a hospital in Jackson where the patient could receive a specialty that was not available here last night. As it turns out, this particular transfer would be my final call. We got back to the station at about 11:00 PM and, thankfully, slept the rest of the night. Well, “slept.” One does not actually get much rest when working a 24 hour shift. Instead, you just close your eyes and try to get some relaxation as you also stay alert enough to hear the truck number called out.

When the wake up call went out, I vacuumed the day room and helped empty the trash. After I cleaned my truck and replaced monitor batteries and an oxygen bottle, I cleaned out my locker. Thankfully I did not have much in there besides some miscellaneous things. I mostly used it to hold a 12 pack of sodas, my traffic vest, cap and stethoscope. I turned in my traffic vest, as it was issued equipment and had to be returned upon resigning. I put my scope in my backpack and at the stroke of 0700, I clocked out for the last time and carried my sleeping bag, backpack and laptop (which I did not even have time to use yesterday) to my truck.

And thus ended my career as a full time paramedic.

It feels strange to say that. I have been in EMS since 2009 when I first became an EMT and began working at a hospital based service. A year later, I began paramedic school and I fell in love. I loved learning about medicine, what the different drugs did and how to really help people who were experiencing all sorts of emergencies. Soon after I obtained my paramedic certification I began working at the service I left today, a county owned third service. The variety of any given day was a challenge but one that I enjoyed… Most of the time. But overall, working at Metro was a blessing. I was able to work a schedule that allowed me to answer the calling to pastoral ministry that I finally decided to stop fighting. My leaving today is a step in the plan to more fully answer that call by attending seminary in Kentucky and transitioning toward a higher emphasis on ministry.

Although I left the field today in order to pursue what God has called me to do, I began to realize that even if God had not called me to the pulpit that I soon would have had to figure out an exit strategy. If I’m going to be honest with myself, I have to confess that I have become what I hoped I never would: A burned out medic. Witnessing system abuse, messed up sleep patterns, the violence and the other things that one witnesses while working in EMS had begun to take its toll. One of my crew chiefs told me that I had not been doing it long enough to become burned out. I read a statistic recently that says that the average career expectancy of an EMT is five years. As I have been in the field for seven years, I am already above average.

Seven years. Other than my years in radio, this is the longest that I’ve been in one career field. During that seven years I have seen things that will haunt me forever, things that I will never talk about. There are things that I have seen that my wife does not even know about and never will. I have been in situations where I truly wondered if I was going to make it out alive. I have seen mothers and fathers lose their children. I have met some of the worst people imaginable. I have seen the effects of drug and alcohol addiction. I have seen the ravages of mental illness. I have seen how depraved some people can be, things that would make one lose all hope for humanity.

But it has not been all bad. There are many good things that have happened in seven years. I have made friendships that I hope to have for the rest of my life. I’ve met some truly wonderful people who have touched me in ways that they will never know about. I haven’t saved many lives but I have saved a few. I have been able to administer medication to reverse a drug overdose and keep a family from losing their mother/wife. I have reversed hypoglycemia when a patient’s blood sugar was so low that they were on the brink of death. I have been on the receiving end of a few people telling me “thank you” for helping their loved one in the worst moment of their life.

The best thing is that I discovered an extended family. We aren’t the most functional family but a family none the less. These are people that I have both worked with and who I’ve connected with via social media because of our common bond a EMS providers. These are people who have loved me through some of the worst moments of my life. These are people who have taught me how to be a better medic and a better person. I have grown to love them all and would do anything in my power for them. I will always be grateful for them and I hope they will always be part of my life.

Will I work in EMS again? It will only be on a very part time basis. I am licensed in Kentucky so I may work a shift here and there just to keep up my skills. I worked hard for my patch and I would hate to lose it. But, I know that there will come a day where I will have to let it go. I don’t look forward to that day. However, as I move forward with the call to ministry that God has guided me to, I intend to be available as a chaplain to EMS. Hopefully EMS will not completely leave my life.

May God keep all of my EMS brothers and sisters safe. Know that I am here for you anytime you need someone to talk with or to pray with. When you have that bad call, I will let you talk about it or we can sit in silence. Believe me, I will get that. Sometimes knowing that someone understands what you’re going through is enough.

Onward to seminary.

Jonathan Tullos, NRP

Random Thoughts and Ramblings on Graduation

1gradToday, after many years of putting it off for no good reason, I finally achieved something that has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager. Today, I became a college graduate.

Today was more than about the walk, the regalia and even about how I will soon begin studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Today was about achieving dreams, yes, but it was also about proving people – including myself – wrong. Today was about giving thanks to God for His sustaining and His leading. Today was about being thankful to the many family members, friends and even strangers who prayed for me as I conducted my undergraduate studies. Today was about being appreciative of an amazing wife who has endured my being in school every single year since we were married (except for the first year). Today was about so much more than a simple walk. Today was about many things.

I won’t sugar coat it: This was hard. Completing a degree online may sound like something simple but it was tough. Like classroom students, I had to read, take tests and write papers. I had to really think about what I was learning and discern whether what I was learning matched up with God’s Word (more often than not, the answer was “yes”). While in class discussions, I had acknowledge what I found issues with and discuss it in grace-filled ways when all I really wanted to do is ask the poster of the thread, “Are you crazy?!” But somehow I managed to do it. All of that while working what amounts to a full time job and a half, serving a church, being married and while enduring the loss of our Hannah. And I managed to graduate Cum Laude.

I find this very fitting that graduation happened on the weekend of Mother’s Day. Graduating from college was not only a dream of mine, it was also a dream of my mom’s. When I was younger, I was very sick. For the first several years of my life, I was in an out of hospitals, poked and prodded by specialists, was the subject of experimental drugs and other things that I don’t remember and probably don’t care to. In the midst of all of this, I wasn’t able to attend school like the rest of the kids. There were many in the local school’s administration who felt that I would be a burden, that I wasn’t capable of learning and that they shouldn’t waste their time on me because I was probably going to die anyway (at the time, there was doubt as to whether I would live). This was before we had many of the laws governing special educations that we have today. With little backing, Mom had to fight tooth and nail to get the school district to provide the services I needed in order to learn. Because of her work, I, alone with several kids since me, benefited by being able to be taught in homebound programs. Eventually I was able to begin attending school regularly and ultimately I graduated from high school with honors.

Not bad for a kid who was incapable of learning and on the brink of death.

Mom would have been very proud. I remember after my high school graduation I went up to her and she said to me, “you did it. You proved them wrong.” She was just as proud when I graduated with my two Associate of Arts degrees. I can only imagine how she would have acted today but I imagine she would have been pleased.

I don’t say anything of this to brag. I am proud of my accomplishments but this is about more than bragging. The moral of this story is this: Do not ever let someone tell you that you can’t achieve your goals. Be persistent. Don’t be afraid of hard work. Focus on God and what He wants to do through you. No matter what your calling is, God will equip you to fulfill it. The question is, will you see it through or will you give in to attacks from the enemy?

Next stop: Asbury Theological Seminary. And then: On to ordination. I’ve come this far; I will see this through.

Jonathan

Hello, Shiloh UMC!

Jonathan and Jessica Tullos
Jonathan and Jessica Tullos

If you are from Stanton, Kentucky and have found this site, there’s a good chance that you are part of Shiloh United Methodist Church. If that’s the case, there’s also a chance that you found my little corner of the Internet because you want to know more about your new pastor. So, I say to you: Hello!

My name is Jonathan Tullos and I have been appointed to Shiloh as your new pastor. My wife (Jessica) and I are excited to be joining you all in ministry. Our first Sunday will be June 28th and we plan to move into the parsonage on June 23rd.

Jessica and I are both native Mississippians. This weekend I am graduating with a Bachelor’s in religion from Liberty University and we are moving to Kentucky so that I can pursue studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore. Currently I serve Oak Grove United Methodist Church just outside of Meridian, Mississippi and I’m also a paramedic at the local ambulance service. Jessica is a high school science teacher and will soon be finishing her Master’s degree in biology at Mississippi State University.

Again, we are excited to be joining you all and I look forward to being your pastor. There will be opportunities for us to get to know one another once we get to Stanton and get settled. As we prepare to move, know that we are already praying for all of you as you enter this time of transition. We are also praying for a smooth transition for your current pastor, Derek, and his family as well.

We will see you soon! In the mean time, please feel free to send me a friend request on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter. May God bless you and keep you all.

Jonathan

Random Thoughts and Ramblings from a Living Room in Wilmore, Kentucky

"God hath no favourites but I do. Hail State." - A totally true saying by John Wesley. Totally. I read it.
“God hath no favourites but I do. Hail State.” – A totally true saying by John Wesley. Totally. I read it.

Currently, I am sitting on a couch at my sister-in-law’s house in Wilmore, Kentucky. Jessica and I are up here visiting her sister Sarah and Sarah’s husband Brandon as we make preparations to move to this area in the near future. Sarah and Brandon are currently enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary, which is the seminary where I plan to attend beginning this Fall. If you want to imagine what Wilmore may be like, the closest thing I can compare it to is Mayberry. Seriously, it’s the perfect vision of a small town. The school is great and I’m very much looking forward to being a student here.

It wasn’t that long ago, relatively speaking, that I would have told myself I was crazy for even thinking about seminary.

Answering a call to ministry was the furthest thing from my mind. I knew I was called but I had no interest in answering. And now, here I am a licensed pastor, who is about to finish an undergraduate degree and about to pursue a master’s degree. I wasn’t some specially trained guy or even the most intelligent person I know (my grades certainly reflect that). The biggest thing has been that I finally was willing to say “yes” to what God was asking me to do. I was not equipped when I was called but He has equipped me as I have answered the call. That’s really the biggest thing about any type of situation with God. He simply wants us to be willing to serve Him. I’m thankful that I finally said “yes.” The journey that this has taken me on has been amazing and I’m eager to see what else happens in the future.

In spite of the fact that Jessica and I are on a vacation – which is partly a working vacation – we can’t escape certain things. Yesterday was three months since Hannah’s birth and early departure from this world. We can’t go a day without thinking about her and missing her but it especially seems to be strong on the “anniversary” days. Every 8th day of the month will be such a day. As much as these days will remind us all the more of Hannah, it will also be a reminder of how blessed we have been by people who have loved us through this experience.

As I mentioned, we are on vacation. We will be in Kentucky until Wednesday and then headed to spend a few days in North Carolina with my sisters, aunt and uncle. After that we will be spending a couple of nights at Lake Junaluska and even touring the Biltmore Estate before returning home. Being away and not working on the ambulance has helped me to relax in ways that I had forgotten I was able to experience. I truly have been burned out on EMS and I desperately needed some time away. I had no idea to the degree which I needed that time away. Regardless of what field you might find yourself in, take your vacation time. You will return a much more relaxed and productive employee.

But I also have to admit that being away has made me look forward to hanging up my scope for good.

So those are the random thoughts going through my head right now. Hey, at least the title of the blog is true.

Jonathan

Code Green

tumblr_nhxj2efkod1suxghno1_1280In addition to being a United Methodist pastor, I am also a paramedic. I have been involved in emergency medical services (EMS) since 2009, starting as an EMT and becoming a paramedic in 2011. I am nearing the end of my paramedic career. When I leave for seminary I simply will not have time to attend school, (hopefully) serve a church and be a full time seminary student. In spite of that, I will remain a full supporter of my brothers and sisters who do everything from take elderly patients back to the nursing home from the hospital to perform procedures with standing orders that nurses can not even perform without a direct order from a doctor, all while alone in the back of a moving vehicle.

While I will be leaving the field as an active provider in a few months, I have long felt that advocating and providing chaplaincy for EMS is part of my call to ministry. We recently had an event that reinforced and confirmed this part of my call and has inspired me to make sure that I keep it as one of my ministry missions.

Andy has been described in many ways but one of the ways I will always think of him is as the fun guy. Anytime he worked, the mood around base seemed to be lighter. He was almost always smiling, laughing or making a joke. He pulled his share of pranks and seemed to be overall happy. He was also known for his cooking, especially barbecue. Andy was also a stellar medic who was very knowledgeable about patient care, diseases and how to treat people with respect and dignity. When an off-duty accident sidelined him he tried his hand at teaching and, from all accounts, was gifted there as well (although he enjoyed being on the truck much more). Andy was a prime example of what a paramedic should be.

Unbeknownst to us, Andy also had another battle going on. He was battling demons

The ambulance carrying paramedic Andy Sharp on his last ride as it passes under a United States flag held in place by ladder units from the Philadelphia (Mississippi) and Choctaw Fire Departments. Credit: Brandi Smith-Wyatt
The ambulance carrying paramedic Andy Sharp on his last ride as it passes under a United States flag held in place by ladder units from the Philadelphia (Mississippi) and Choctaw Fire Departments. Credit: Brandi Smith-Wyatt

that none of us had any idea about. While I do not know specifics, Andy was apparently having some mental health issues. Unfortunately, Andy lost this battle when be succumbed to suicide earlier this week. Yesterday, brother and sister EMTs, paramedics and firefighters converged on his (and my) hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi to celebrate his life and career and to take him on his last ride in a Metro Ambulance unit. The chapel was packed and the cemetery was as well. The helicopter EMS company Andy worked for, AirEvac Lifeteam of Demopolis, Alabama, did a flyover. In spite of the sadness, the celebration of Andy’s life was amazing and a very fitting send off for our fallen brother.

I don’t believe that God causes these things to happen. That, however, does not mean that God is not in the midst of people who mourn such losses. As we read in scripture, all things do work for God’s glory. While I will never believe that God caused Andy’s suicide, I do believe that He will use us to make something good happen as a result of this tragedy. This begins with me. This begins with us.

There is a stigma in society in general but especially in EMS about seeking help for mental health issues. One is often seen as weak or as a poor provider for feeling that they need to seek counseling to help process bad calls or other issues. We’re told to “forget about it and move on.” This leads to EMS providers becoming bitter people. This leads to PTSD. This leads to suicide.*

It’s time to end this stigma. It’s time to admit that many of us are walking around with memories of calls which do effect our lives and our careers. It’s time to admit that many of us do need help and it’s time for us to stop telling our brothers and sister that they are less for seeking help. It’s time for EMS agencies to take their employees’ mental health seriously and to help them find the services that can save their lives. It’s time for us to take care of one another and stop judging and criticizing.

We have to have each others’ backs.

I have become aware of an initiative to help EMS providers with their mental health battles. The Code Green Campaign takes their inspiration from the code alerts that we often call in the field for stroke or heart attack and calls one for ourselves. From their website:

The campaign has two main goals. Our primary goal is raising awareness of the high rates of mental health issues, substance abuse and suicide among first responders. Our secondary goal is providing education for responders on how to provide care for themselves and recognize issues in their peers.

The campaign raises awareness by giving first responders an outlet to tell the story of their mental health issues anonymously, and then republishing those stories so they can be viewed by everyone. This allows us to see what each other have really gone through, and allows those of us who are struggling to understand that we are not alone. It also allows those who do not have first hand experience with mental health issues to see that mental health issues can affect anyone, which will hopefully decrease the stigma.

I am now an advocate for Code Green. In addition, I want any of my EMS brothers and sisters to know that I am here for you if you ever need to talk, vent, cry or to just hang out and hash it out. If I can’t help, I will help you find someone who can. Above all, know that you have someone who has your back and is ready and willing to listen. If you don’t come to me, please go to someone. If you need help, get help. If anyone judges you for it, remember that they may be doing it out of their own frustration and fear of getting help themselves. If you know someone who needs help, help them find it. We have to take care of one another. No one else is going to.

For more about the Code Green Campaign, click here.

For Andy and all of our fallen brothers: Your work is done. Rest easy. We have the watch.

Jonathan

* I don’t know that this specific type of situation was why Andy killed himself but I have seen it in other people.

“Paid – No Charge”

Yesterday was a bad day. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t horrible but it started out badly… At least, not in the way I would have liked it to (it’s a long story that I honestly do not want to share the details publicly). I found myself very frustrated and overall very down.

Even pastors have bad days and question the good of humanity sometimes.

Today, however, was a much different story. I was humbled, blessed and reminded of how generous people have been and continue to be, especially in the wake of Hannah’s death. Allow me to recount some of the events.

Today started with the best part of any of my EMS shifts: Coming home. I relaxed this morning while Jessica spent part of the day at the school where she teaches (she is transitioning back to work slowly, with plans to fully return to work in a couple of weeks). I had lunch with my new ministry mentor, Wesley, and our conversation was great. Truthfully, I was looking forward to this event because Wesley and I have been friends for a few years and he was recently named as my mentor as I navigate through the ordination process in the UMC. So I thought, this was going to be the bright spot of my day. The rest of the day wasn’t looking so hot.

The reason for that is because this was the day that Jessica and I decided to go look for a headstone for Hannah’s grave. It was something that we were not looking forward to because we would have to think of her death in a very outward way with someone we had never met. Not to mention that no parent should ever have to choose such an adornment for their child… I digress… We had considered what company to use and I remembered J.H. O’Neal Marble Works in Meridian and decided that we should go and talk to them. When I was a radio personality I used to voice their commercials so I was at least somewhat familiar with them. I had also heard that they were nice people and did good work so we found ourselves headed in their direction.

As it turns out, this was a good thing.

We were greeted by a very nice older gentleman. I hate that I cannot remember his name but it does escape me at the moment. As we were discussing the different options for a headstone, the wording, design and such, he was very patient and put us at ease. When we had decided on a design and what all should go on it, we brought up the topic of payment and how much we should pay today. Let me just say that the price we were initially quoted was very reasonable so we were not worried about it. He wrote something on the invoice and handed it to us. I read it. And then I looked at Jessica and looked at the invoice again. On it, the man had written, “Paid – No Charge.”

I was floored. I was in disbelief. I felt such joy at this generous action that I just didn’t know what to say or do. Needless to say, he got several thank yous and hugs from Jessica and I. By the way, assuming all goes as it should, the stone should be in place in less than a month.

Jessica and I have been humbled and astonished at the amount of generosity that we have been shown since Hannah died. From the care we received at the hospital, the food that was provided, the funeral not costing us anything, the monetary gifts given to both us and Camp Wesley Pines in Hannah’s memory and prayers and visits from so many, the love we have been shown has been overwhelming and such a blessing. I feel that those words are not adequate but I just don’t know how to say it any other way. Simply, we have been blown away.

The generosity has reminded us that God has blessed us with many great people, even some people that we don’t even know directly (several donations to Wesley Pines were made by people we have not met).

In Scripture we are taught in numerous places to be generous with what we have been given. Jesus taught that when we serve others, we serve Him (I actually preached on that last Sunday). The generous acts that have been bestowed upon us have inspired Jessica and I to be more generous. If we can repay even 1/10 of the kindness that has been shown to us, we will have done something truly amazing.

Today has been one of those bittersweet days but with a much sweeter ending than we ever could have dreamt of. We simply continue to be awe struck at the generous acts that have been shown to us. If you have participated in any of these, know that are grateful. And if you need to know some good people to do business with should the need for a funeral or a grave marker arise, please feel free to contact us. We will be glad to send you their way.

Jonathan