Background and details for those unfamiliar:
In 2018 I began driving the ambulance for the Short Gap Volunteer Fire Company. Through various circumstances it did not take long for me to become the primary driver for the daytime and overnight hours due to the fact that. as a pastor, I was around the church a lot in the daytime (and I can usually sneak a nap if I am up overnight running calls). Brenda Long, the primary EMT, had the same flexible schedule I had. So we became a team helping Short Gap reach a 90% response rate for the ambulance for the last three years. Brenda probably ran about 1,000 calls the last three years and I was likely with her on half of them. With the exception of my wife Diane, I spent more time with Brenda the in that time than anyone else in the world. She would always say that she knew God had a sense of humor because He put the two of us together on the ambulance. On the rides home from the hospital she shared some of her past with me… enough for me to know she had some “bad hands” dealt to her. Like all of us, she has had her highs and lows. Like all of us, there were some things she would have done differently. Like all of us, she did the best she could.
Brenda had always been very gracious to allow me, as an untrained driver, to be involved with the patients. She would always explain things and show me what she was doing. She taught me to use the equipment. She made me so comfortable on the ambulance that when I felt called to begin EMT classes in October of 2019, I had the confidence that I could do it. I had no clue why I was supposed to take the classes, I only knew I was. So Brenda and I kept running calls together and she kept teaching me, only now I was asking her questions about things we were covering in class. She also was the preceptor for me, signing off on my calls for my class.
Midway through 2020, Brenda found out she had colon cancer. There was talk of surgery and limited ambulance runs. Even though she was sick, she continued to run calls and help me, meeting me at the department to help me train for the practical test, the hands on part of the EMT testing that you have to pass before you take the written test. I passed that and then I took and passed the written test to be an EMT, and in God’s timing -it was the day after Brenda’s colon cancer surgery. She continued to run after her colon cancer surgery, this time with me as the EMT and her looking over my shoulder to get me signed off to EMT by myself. Then more bad news. She found out she had more cancer and there was talk of chemo and a four to six month break from the ambulance. Eventually, she was diagnosed with bone cancer and it was all through her. Colby Simpson told me this morning that every bit of news and every diagnosis for Brenda through this whole ordeal had been bad – that nothing has gone her way. As I reflect on what Colby said, I am thinking Brenda is pretty used to that. She has lived a life of adversity.
At this point, Brenda’s time is short. She is in the hospital at this very moment. We do not know if she has a month or six months or a year left to live in this life. God only knows. This morning Diane sent me a text after I told her Brenda was in the hospital again. Diane told me she had a special prayer time for Brenda and asked me if I was OK. I am OK. But Diane’s text inspired me to take this opportunity to write to Brenda repeating many things I have said and the things left unsaid as we spent all those hours together. In Acts 20:27, the Apostle Paul says to the Ephesians, “I have told you everything God wants you to know.” I want to make sure I tell Brenda everything God wants her to know.
I can not thank you enough for all that you have taught me and done for me. I would not be an EMT without you. I would have never had the confidence to try. The background above barely scratches the surface. You taught me so much more. In the time I have known you, I witnessed a life of sacrifice – a life lived for others.
Since I have known you there is nothing you have not tried to do to help your family and your kids. Your trips running them to Keyser, giving to them and going without yourself, forgiving over and over, taking them out to eat when they asked even though you could not afford it… you have been the picture of unconditional love. And I know you have done the best you can. If they do not all realize it now, take comfort in knowing one day they will. And regarding your family, one example is when your nephew had health problems, you were there for him on trips to Morgantown and organizing a blood drive in his honor.
There is also nothing you would not do for the community as an EMT. Your commitment to the upper end of Mineral County is appreciated by the 1,000+ people you have cared for on the ambulance. You put others first even when your health was poorer than some of the people you were caring for. Your kindness and compassion usually made them feel better even when the medical interventions didn’t.
Your behind the scenes work at the SGVFC is irreplaceable: From going over the ambulances to keep them stocked so we had what we needed on calls, to paperwork, to working and organizing fundraisers, to what you did for Fire Prevention Week, to the community Christmas party at the fire hall – – – you did it all. Again, I am barely scratching the surface.
You will be one of the legacy list of people who carried the Short Gap EMS for a season and I know I speak on behalf of the department and the community when I tell you that we are grateful for all you have done.
Now for what I cannot left unsaid:
I cannot close without witnessing to the most important thing. While your remaining time on earth is likely short, and I will always wonder why it went this way, I am certain that this life is not the end. I know you know it, too. I am sure that God had more than humor in mind when He put us together. He had this letter in mind. And if it does not help you, and by that I mean if you do not need to hear it because you already have peace with God through Jesus, it will be one more way you have been a blessing to someone else by allowing me to publicly write it for them to hear (not that I asked your permission, lol).
The most common mistake people make when it comes to God is believing that if they do more good things than bad things that they will have earned God’s approval and a golden ticket to heaven. The Bible says that is not the case. The Bible says there is one way to heaven and that is through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Though you have done all these good things, and sacrificed so, you are not perfect. (Insert joke here). None of us are. Knowing that we would all fall short (insert short joke here), God made the way for us to be made right with Him by sending Jesus to live the perfect life we could not live. And when we ask Him to forgive us, no matter what we have done, He will do it. It comes down to this: When we ask Him, we get credit for His perfect life and He takes the punishment due in God’s eyes for our imperfect life. I pray you have asked Him to forgive you for the things you have done wrong. I pray you know that He has. I pray that when something happens to you and to me, that I will see you again in heaven and we will have a lot more time together in the presence of the One who made us and put us together on the ambulance.
In the meantime, I thank God for you and pray that He would be your strength and your shield, your rock and your refuge, and that He sustains you until that day He calls you home. You know I will do whatever I can for you.