First Responders

When we know someone in crisis, we often hold back, uncertain just what help to offer. Will we do the "wrong" thing if we act? Marie Guthrie pushes us forward to act as the "first responders" that we really are.


Thanking my first responders

By Marie Guthrie

The ground rumbles and the foundation of the earth cracks. Shaking, a large building is about to crash and become a pile of rubble. A couple of people run into the collapsing building. “Stop!” we yell, “Don’t go in. You’ll get killed.” They don’t listen.

They run toward men, women and children trapped in a difficult circumstance. They are courageous and daring. Fearless and selfless. They are the first responders.

We honor first responders.

And yet, what would we say about a fireman who calls the front desk receptionist to ask her if he can come in and rescue her from a collapsing house or a blazing fire? We’d say that’s insane and ridiculous. Unthinkable. The first responder goes in fast, not waiting for an invitation.

So why do we often wait for an invitation before helping people who are in the first moments of a personal crisis?

Yes, there’s another type of first responder. This activator is the person who gets the phone call, email or text message that says: “hurt in car accident,” “served divorce papers,” “lost job”, “diagnosed stage 4 cancer,” … and within minutes, this relational first responder is on the move, acting with compassion.

Running towards me with care and resources, my first responders during our family tragedies have contributed to salvaging our foundation.

Here are a few first responder memories that I treasure:

  • Within the first days of sharing my daughter, Leah’s cancer diagnosis, we received an envelope in our mailbox that included multiple restaurant gift cards.

  • While Leah was having her second surgery, a group of friends spontaneously showed up at the hospital to surround us and pray for us.

  • Within 20 minutes of Leah’s death, a dear friend and pastor was standing next to us as we cried over the lifeless body of our daughter.

Each of these actions has something in common. Each person didn’t telephone and wait for me to return the call. They didn’t ask, “What do you need?” or “Let me know what I can do for you.”

He acted. She acted. And quickly – in the moment the care was needed.

I imagine each first responder had feelings of potential awkwardness and fear of rejection, but they overcame those doubts and acted. The primary concern was to care for our family – to enter the collapsing circumstance of our lives and hold us up as our world crashed. Their outreached hands and fingerprints have touched my heart forever.

I have learned from these first responders:

  • As a giver: It’s of critical importance to show care and concern quickly when people are in the first stage of an emergency or crisis. Don’t overthink kindness. Just do it.

  • As a receiver: It’s ok – and good – to accept help. Pride is useless. Especially in a crisis.

I tell you that I will never, EVER forget the many first responders in my life. The examples I share here are only a few of the acts of kindness extended toward me and my family. These brave people reflect the best of humanity. They reflect the hands and feet of God.

When has a first responder run toward you? What did his/her action mean to you? When have you been a first responder to others?

As a marketing and communications consultant, Marie Guthrie is a strategist and storyteller at heart. Having tragically lost her teenage daughter to cancer, Marie blogs about grief and restoration at “God Wins…but Can I?” As an advocate for supporting one another in crisis, she’s been part of her church’s prayer ministry for nearly 15 years. Marie has co-authored the book Crazy Enough to Care: Changing Your World through Compassion, Justice and Racial Reconciliation. She lives in a suburb of Chicago.

© Elisa Morgan 2020

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