We become our best in community

In one month, my eldest son will graduate from high school. It’s an exciting, overwhelming, and humbling time of transition for our family–and it’s causing me to reflect on, well, just about everything in life. One thing that keeps bubbling up in my mind and heart is all the people who have walked with us along life’s path and their influence on so many aspects of our family. Some of those people have been with us through every milestone through the past 22 years. Others have come and gone from the daily rhythms of our lives. But each has left lasting impacts.

We humans are meant to do life in community. We all need others to join our hearts with–in love, in friendship, in faith, in vocation. I am abundantly blessed that I have had those relationships in spades. My soul overflows with joy when I recall the many individuals who have supported and encouraged me, challenged me, corrected me, pointed me to God, brought out my best, and stood by me at my worst.

I know my boys have had those relationships, too. With the obvious folks, like parents, grandparents, and extended family. But also with teachers who recognized what was special in them and nurtured that. The parents of their friends, who provided a safe and welcoming place to hang out. Other adults at church who’ve taken an interest in their activities week to week. Scout leaders and coaches who have challenged them to work hard and reach for the next level. YoungLife leaders who have shown them what living out your faith can look like. And good friends who have been playmates, teammates, confidantes, and sometimes partners in crime throughout childhood and adolescence.

We have been complimented frequently in this season on our boys’ accomplishments and told that they have become delightful young men. Those words warm my heart tremendously, but I know we can’t take full credit. The generous gift of community we have experienced in so many ways has shaped who they are as much as we have. And I’m excited to think about the individuals who will form their community as they venture off to college, start careers, and raise families of their own. I pray for those individuals now, and I pray that my sons will be positive influences on the people they encounter along life’s way.

Reflections on the Citizens Fire Academy

When our boys were little, we often visited fire departments. In fact, on many vacations, we poked our heads into a fire station garage to see if we could look around. Our boys climbed into trucks, put on helmets and coats, and held the heavy tools. The boys’ eyes were wide as we toured stations and shook hands with these real-life heroes. They were awe-struck by the shiny big engines covered with chrome and lights and hoses. They listened intently as the fire fighters told them about their jobs.


Fast forward 15 years, and now I’m the one touring fire stations. I’m the one who gets to climb into trucks—but more than that, I get to ride along on calls, with sirens blaring and lights flashing. I get to wear the helmet and hold the tools—but more than that, I get a full set of turnout gear and actually use the tools. I’m the one staring wide-eyed at fire fighters as they tell us about their jobs—but more than that, I’m trying to commit to memory the details of every task I’m shown, because I know I will soon have to DO those things myself.

Such was the Citizens Fire Academy—the CFA. Run by the fire departments of Mt. Lebanon, Castle Shannon, and Dormont, the CFA is nine weeks of learning what it is to be a fire fighter. Not with lectures and demonstrations alone, but with hands-on experience. Cutting apart a car with the Jaws of Life. Donning an SCBA for search-and-rescue in a smoke-filled building (theater smoke, but still). Hydraulically ventilating a room to clear it of smoke. Climbing a 100-foot aerial ladder. Wrestling a charged fire hose. And standing in a 1,000-degree room while a fire roars in the corner and flames lick across the ceiling.

It was all incredibly interesting, often intense, and loads of fun! And being able to do these tasks was personally satisfying.

Now that it’s over, I am going to miss the weekly excitement and challenge. I’m going to miss being in situations that require me to engage my brain, my body, and all of my sense at once. I’m going to miss the folks in my platoon. And, I’m not going to lie, I’m going to miss my turnout gear—heavy and hot as that stuff was, I felt invincible and powerful in it.

But even more, I’m going to miss the fire fighters who led this program, most of whom are volunteers. They gave so many hours of their time to put the CFA together—on top of the hours they devote to training each month and whatever calls they respond to—and they all seemed happy to do so. Their passion for the job was contagious. Their eyes twinkled as they told stories of past fires and rescues. Their laughs boomed through the fire station bays. Their patience in answering our many (many, many) questions, both technical and mundane, was admirable.

Perhaps most meaningful was the welcome into their brotherhood/sisterhood for this short season. They included us in the joking and ribbing that so naturally flows within this extended family, encouraged and helped us, and celebrated our accomplishments as most of us operated well outside of our comfort zones. They earned a special spot in my heart. I’ve always looked up when a fire truck went by. But now I look extra closely to see who’s inside… and I smile when I recognize some of them.

The CFA provided a perfect mix of adventure, intellectual and physical challenge, and the satisfaction of belonging to something bigger than ourselves—if only for a couple of months. The memories of this experience will stick with me for a lifetime.



In our town, there are lots of old, stone churches with bells. The bells chime and peal every Sunday and at various other points throughout the week. And every time I hear them, I have to stop and listen.

Something about that sound, ringing out and carrying on the wind, tugs at my heart.

The bells I hear today also rang out in those very church steeples 50 or 100 or more years ago. In fact, the sound is the same as what’s been ringing out in nations around the globe for centuries. It connects me to generations past, to traditions that originated in ages gone by. To think of all the meetings and masses, weddings and funerals, baptisms, confirmations, and first communions!

The bells serve to call people together—at least they did, before we all wore watches or carried cell phones to give us the time. Folks around town would hear the bells, and stop their chores and other activities to join together in a common purpose—to worship, mark a friend’s passing, or maybe conduct town business. As the bells toll, I am reminded of the importance of community and grateful for the sense of belonging that comes with it.

And the bells make me more aware of the passing of time. Each hour marked by the bells’ peals becomes a moment in the past that cannot be reclaimed.

The bells stir in me a nostalgia about the past, while reminding me how fleeting life is, how precious each minute ought to be. I cannot help but give thought to how my life has been shaped over the past four decades, even as I wonder what will transpire before the next time that familiar sound floats on the breeze through my window.