The red and blue lights created an almost holiday-like atmosphere, but this was no celebration. Despite the holiday decor that surrounded them, miles and miles of rescue vehicles joined with miles and miles of civilians lined the roads today as a firefighter who lost his life in the line of duty was laid to rest today. This is far from a rare event. First responders pay for our safety every single day and every time an outpouring like this passes by me, I weep.

As you might expect, I am crying for the loss of a life and for the family and friends who have been left behind. But I’m also crying with feelings of overwhelming gratitude for those who are willing to offer up their lives every single day to protect the rest of us. 

Now, to be fair, I might be a little biased as I have stepsons who have been or are currently in positions where they are protecting the very liberties we as Americans often take for granted. But honestly, as far back as I can remember, I have ugly-cried when even thinking of –  let alone watched depictions of – average people sacrificing themselves for others.

You would think that as a Christian, this should be an easy concept for me to grasp. After all, I believe in and worship a God who knowingly gave His life for me. But to me, this is so different because this man – and all those like him – was fully human, lacking the Godly wisdom and insight that Christ had. 

This man, and all those in similar situations, knowingly placed his life on the line for the sake of others. There is no enormous paycheck to repay him for this sacrifice, no televised award ceremony or national recognition. He just got up every day to try to make the rest of our Iives’ safer and I find myself shaking my head in wonder. Could I do the same thing? What is it about those who choose that lifestyle that allows them to willingly put themselves in dangerous situations so you and I can live more peacefully?

They aren’t super-human. They all struggle with the same things you and I do – challenges with work, with family, with health. But where their lives differ in that these people see the worst of life every day.  They see the brutality we inflict on one another. They confront the tragedies that for the rest of us, only come about once or maybe twice in a lifetime. 

And then they head home, putting the horrible things they have seen throughout their shift aside, and become an average husbands, wives, parents, brothers and sisters. 

As we as average citizens sit back and view snippets of their lives on YouTube or FaceBook and criticize. We write hateful, horrible things about how this person should have acted  assuming that we, in the same situation, would never have done anything like that. 

And I am simultaneously heartbroken and furious.

To sit on the outside of any situation where one’s life is on the line every moment of every day and decide that we could have/would have done it better is crazy. We have no idea what situation this individual had just left; what horrific thing they may have just seen and are trying to put behind them so they can finish their shift.

 So what’s my point? Why am I on this particular soap-box today?

Well, here’s the thing.

It’s the holiday season. We are all scrambling to try to find the perfect gift or create the perfect experience for our loved ones. Or maybe we are buying an extra gift to put in that Toys for Tots box, feeling good about our small selfless act and maybe secretly hoping someone will have seen us and say something to affirm our action so we can feel even better about being a good person this holiday. 

But on the other side of that box is an officer or a soldier or a firefighter who is delivering those gifts for you but may not be able to provide the same gifts for his or her own family. Or maybe the “job” has been more of a burden on them and they have lost their family and are alone trying to figure out why they are continuing to sacrifice their time, their physical and their psychological health for a community of people that spit at them and judge them. 

These individuals are not God. They do not get the blessing of seeing the end result of their actions and knowing that the grace and mercy that they are offering to those around them will be recognized. They are each of us trying to do the unthinkable and each of them deserves the same level of respect as that man received today in his funeral procession.

So as I get down off my soapbox today, I ask just one thing.

The next time you watch that Facebook cellphone bit and start to jump to a conclusion about the officer’s motives or you’re pulled over for “just going 5 miles over the limit” or are irritated about having to walk out of your office due to a false alarm, stop. 

Stop being critical and start being grateful. When you say “thank you”, mean it and when you have the opportunity, offer them grace and mercy knowing that what they deal with every day is far more than we can ever imagine. 

Most of all, include these men and women who sacrifice their lives for us in your prayers. Lift them up and remember that they are doing the very best they can in unimaginable situations. And for those of you who may be reading this and are a first responder, I offer my deep, heart-felt thank you. I have done nothing to deserve the sacrifice you offer, but I am eternally grateful for it.

May each and every one of you have a safe, blessed holiday season.