When I purchased my tickets to FDIC last fall I had no idea what to expect. I knew I was going to Indianapolis and taking some classes. I knew that I would be doing my radio show on Monday afternoon (which you were probably listening to or are going to download). Other than that I really didn’t know what else was going to be headed my way. Tammie and I landed on Thursday night and spent the next three days seeing the sites and enjoying some time away. On Sunday afternoon, I walked into the convention center and my first word was “Wow”! I was surprised by the sheer size of the venue, the quality of the signage, the level of customer service, and the anticipation of what was to come. At my first class I had the privilege of hearing from Chiefs Salka and Lasky. My only complaint was the class wasn’t long enough. I had the same experience with Chief Goldfeder, Chief DeGryse, and Gordon Graham. Taking notes was almost pointless because there was so much information that I couldn’t keep up with it all. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every class I attended was amazing. There were some instructors and some topics that weren’t as vibrant, dynamic, and professionally presented as these I listed. However, I learned something at every class.
When I was in college, a mentor of mine told me that you can learn something from every class no matter who the teacher is or what topic is being covered. He said, “If you don’t try to learn something from every class you take, you are not making the most of the opportunities given to you. Pride is what keeps you from learning from someone you don’t think is a good teacher. A humble person will try to learn at least one principle.” I have taken that message to heart since then, and I was reminded of that during this conference. There were great principles in every class! The other thing I noticed was that every teacher connected with at least one person in his or her class. Just because I don’t connect with an instructor doesn’t mean that someone else can’t or won’t. That was a great reminder that as a chaplain, I don’t have to connect with everyone to be effective. I came to the brutal realization recently that not everyone in my department thinks I am amazing! Can you believe that? J I assumed that when you are acting out of a genuine concern for others with no compensation that people would believe the best and assume that you are serving others in their best interest. Most people have been hugely supportive, but I have found that some people simply don’t like the role of chaplain and feel it is an unnecessary position within the fire department. I realize that often this has nothing to do with me. It has to do with the role I am in and certain individual’s experience and interaction with faith and religion. If I predicted my ability to be effective in ministering to my personnel based on each person’s view of me or the chaplain, I would miss out on the opportunity to help some. However, if as a chaplain I am focused on helping everybody I can and at least offering chaplain assistance to each individual in need, then the choice for help is left with that individual. After doing this for a while I have found that even the people who choose not to take me up on my offer have come to me later and thanked me for the assistance: another example of how the “ministry of presence” works.
I didn’t know what to expect at FDIC, but what I have found above everything else is that I am reenergized and refocused! I am ready to go back to my department and be a better firefighter, a better officer, a better employee, and a better chaplain. There is something about mingling with 35,000 firefighters that gets you pumped up to go back and be better. I chose to focus this blog on this topic simply to encourage all of us: chaplains, instructors, firefighters, emt’s, medics, drivers, first responders, officers, etc. Don’t get discouraged when you don’t connect with others. Do your best to connect, but don’t allow the success of that connection determine whether you can make an impact on an individual. Keep caring for that student. Don’t stop treating that repeat patient with respect. Put that firefighter’s needs above your own needs as an officer. Continue praying for that individual that says she doesn’t need your help. Eventually your persistence will pay off. It may come in the form of a connection with the person you are trying to help. It may come in the form of a change in the attitude of the personnel with whom you are working in the trenches. Regardless of the other outcomes, you will begin a tradition and leave a legacy of caring that will affect everyone who comes into contact with you, and that’s what we should all be working to attain.