Chaplain's Corner: Here Am I, Send Me
Chaplain Bill Wolfe / Llano County Sheriff's Department
Hi and welcome once again to the Chaplain’s Corner. Probably a lot of you have heard the NetFlix commercials on the radio, so you’ll get the joke when I say “I’m going to have company, but no one is coming to the house. Who is it?” The answer is Chaplain Dave Gardner is coming to join us at The Chaplain’s Corner and will be sharing his heart with us. Dave has some admirable qualities and some not so admirable. He’s from way up in northern Illinois and is a Cubs fan! Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t hold that against him just because I’m from Missouri and a big Cardinals fan. Joking aside, I just recently learned that a while back Chaplain Dave sacrificed his civilian job in order to minister to a LEO family during an officer’s very serious illness. I think that says a lot about this man and I respect his dedication to his officers. I’m happy to welcome him to the Chaplain’s Corner. You’ll be hearing from him soon.
For our first “Memorial month” together here on PL, I wanted to share something special. I’ve decided to share with you a story I wrote a couple years ago as a tribute to the sacrifice LEOs sometimes make. As I pondered what to share that year, I was drawn to God’s calling of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. What didn’t hit me until some 12 hours later was the form that message would take. What I share with you now is fiction; any resemblance to real families is coincidental. Hanky warning: You may find the content of this story emotionally moving.
To briefly recount the Biblical passage: God had a task that He needed performed. He had prepared Isaiah for service and then He asked “Who will go?” and Isaiah replied “Here am I. Send me.” It wasn’t until after Isaiah volunteered that God told him what the task was. (Isa. 6:5-9a) Kinda like what dispatch does to us…”Any available unit, I need you enroute to Highway 71 East.” “763, Llano…I’ll be 10-76 from County Road 116. Llano, what’s the nature of the call?”
I guess it began that day about 12 years ago. I wore my dress blues; my wife and children were in their Sunday best even though it wasn’t Sunday. As we walked to the car, our son asked where we were going. I told him we were going to say good-bye to a friend they had never met before. He asked why we were going in the police car. I told him this was a special kind of friend and it was a special kind of good-bye.
We drove to the next county over and turned down a city street lined with police motorcycles. Our son marveled at all the officers and their shiny machines. A few more blocks and there was a color guard and a parking lot already filled with myriads of cruisers and emergency vehicles. Flags were flying at half staff in front of the auditorium. Our son and daughter read the names on the doors of the various patrol cars: Texas Department of Public Safety, Abilene Police, McLennan County Constable, Woodway Police, Maypearl Police Department, Dallas County Sheriff, Harris County Sheriff, Waco Police, Baylor University Police, among many, many others. They wondered out loud how to pronounce “Bexar” and “Mexia.”
Townspeople were parking as far as ½ a mile away and walking to the auditorium. As we made our way winding through officers, fire fighters, paramedics and EMTs, the kids’ questions started anew. “Why are there so many ambulances and police cars, Daddy? Why is that man wearing a skirt and what’s that funny-looking bag he has, Daddy? Daddy, are all these people here to say good-bye, too? Daddy, why does everyone have that black thing on their badges? Daddy, why are those police ladies crying?” I explained they were crying because they’d never see their friend again.
Once inside we were ushered to our seats with others from my department. When we were seated the kids asked more questions. “Daddy, why do those two men have rifles? Why are they guarding the box?” I explained that the men were part of the HPD Honor Guard, that the friend we were saying good-bye to was in the box, and it was called a casket. Suddenly, they figured out that we were here for a funeral. “Why did he die, Daddy?”
Wow. How do you explain running Code-3 on wet streets to a child? I told them that he had been rushing to help some children who were in danger and he had an accident with his patrol car. And again the question came: “Why?”
I paused, took a deep breath and collected my thoughts. “You remember last Sunday when Pastor talked about a man named Isaiah that lived a long time ago? You remember the story? God had a job that He needed someone to do. When He asked who would go, Isaiah said to God: ‘Here am I, send me.’” They nodded their heads, indicating they remembered the story. “Well,” I said. “A call came in that some children were in danger and our friend said ‘Here am I. Send me,’ just like Isaiah did.” “Who asked him to go, Daddy?” “Well, no one exactly asked him. The Dispatcher called for ‘any available unit,’ and he said, ‘I’ll take that call.’” “Did he know he would die, Daddy?” My wife lost her composure. “No, he didn’t know he would have an accident. He only knew that he had to go and try to help.” The kids were quiet then for the entire service, and my wife held tightly to my hand as she cried.
I was reminded again of the Pastor’s sermon as the Chaplain and others spoke of our friend’s sense of calling and desire to respond to any and every call regardless of the uncertainty of the situation. As they related story after story, they reminded us that we are but humans trying to do a superhuman job.
As we came back out of the auditorium and joined the procession to the cemetery, we again passed all the motorcycles. This time the streets were lined with people, some saluting, and some waving US and Texas flags. Some carried signs saying: “God Bless” “Thank You” “We’ll not forget.” The kids asked “Were all these people his friends?” “Yes,” I replied, “and all the officers were very close friends even if they never met him.” “WOW! I hope some day I have that many friends,” they said.
At the graveside, the kids jumped and covered their ears at the 21-gun salute. And I choked up when the piper played “Amazing Grace.” Then came “Taps” and the placing of his unit number out of service. Then I really lost it. Yes, real men do cry. I was not the only one. Big men hugged and cried on each other’s shoulders, and no one thought less of us for it.
The drive home was quiet until my daughter asked: “Daddy, are you going to work tonight?” “Yes.” “Why?” “Because, dear, our friend cannot. Now, it’s my turn to say, ‘Here am I. Send me.’” “Daddy? Are you gonna die too?” My wife stifled a cry, burying her face in her handkerchief. “No, son, not anytime soon.” “Daddy? When I grow up I want to be just like your friend, I want God to send me.”
Now, tonight, we sat here in this auditorium, proud parents and sister watching our son graduate from the Academy and be commissioned as a police officer. Just as I was thinking back to our friend whose dedication inspired my son those many years ago, something unexpected happened. They called our son to come up to the podium. That wasn’t in the program.
“Mr. Mayor. Chief. Honored guests…” he began. “My class has asked that I might be granted a chance to say just a few words tonight even though it’s not part of the program, and I am truly honored that that request was granted. I come from a family of peace officers and preachers, and as such I was given the honorary title of Class Chaplain. During our time in the Academy I had shared with my classmates a true story from my childhood that has brought me to this place tonight. And my classmates asked that I share it with you.”
With a tear my wife hugged my arm and I was dumbfounded as he told of that funeral we attended so long ago now and the pastor’s sermon that I’d forgotten. He told about how it was a pivotal event in his life and how he felt God had called him into this profession.
“Now, in memory of the men and women from this department and many others across this great State who have fallen in the line of duty; as spokesman of our class and on their behalf I say: ‘Here we are. Send us.’”
A finer sermon I never preached in all my years of lay ministry. There was hardly a dry eye in the house and, of course, there was a standing ovation. I have never been so proud and so humbled in all my life. And, yes, those are tears in my eyes, too.
“Daddy?” “Yes, dear?” “Will they let me in to the Academy when I’m 21? I want God to send me, too.” “Now, you’ve gone and done it,” I said as I hugged her close and more tears followed. “I’m so proud of you guys.” With tears in her eyes, my wife simply bit her lower lip and mumbled something about praying more with three of us in uniform.
May we never forget those who have gone before us. May their stories continue to inspire the next generation of officers. And may we not forget the families that loved them and shared them with us.
Blessings to you and yours.