By Patrick Hawthorne
During my rookie year as a firefighter, I was assigned to one of the busiest fire stations in the city. My captain, the last of the old smoke eater generation (the generation who fought fires without a breathing apparatus), was a hard man who had little tolerance for anyone who appeared weak.
When I first walked into the station, straight out of the academy, it was instantly apparent that I was in for a wild ride. Being a Christian, I had put aside many of the negative habits common to the fire fighters world. This is not to say that I was (or am) without fault, but was simply doing my best to live the kind of life that allowed others to see Jesus through me. To my captain this was apparently a sign of weakness.
For many months I endured harsh criticism, anger, and abusive attitudes from this captain. More than once, even though I remained respectful of his position, I let it be known that I was no happier with his attitude towards me than he was with me in general. Still, my goal was to remain positive and to be a light unto a dark world.
Over time, as we made medical runs and fought fire together, the captain saw that I was not one to back down from hard work or from a challenge. Slowly his attitude began to change and the hard shell of his exterior began to crack. The harshness began to disappear.
One day, while I was helping another fire fighter prepare the evening dinner, the captain came into the kitchen and began to talk to me about church. After scooping my jaw up off the floor, I silently thanked God for opening the door that allowed me to talk about my friend Jesus.
As it turned out, my captain had grown up in church and had even played guitar in the band. However, time and the cares of the world, like a tug-of-war match, pulled him away from a close relationship with God. I believe this is how I entered into the picture. The Lord had strategically placed me on the captain’s rocky path so that I could be the beacon needed to point him back home.
Eventually I was sent to another station and lost contact with this captain except for an occasional run together. When I heard that a group of his friends were giving him a retirement party, I wanted to be there. As the accolades died down and all were preparing to leave, the captain walked over to me. In his simple way, he thanked me for pointing him back to the Lord by the way I lived my life.
To this day I wonder what would have happened if I had let my circumstances overshadow my witness. Yes, there were some hard times and, more than once, my initial thought was that I had missed the Lord by leaving my old job. However, by sticking it out I learned that I was on the right path all along.
You see, sometimes the rocky road will get us to where we need to be while the paved road just leads us around in circles. And…sometimes to reach a stony heart, we must go down a stony path. Be blessed.