When Ben Woody decided to become a firefighter, he and his wife Pam had been married for 10 years.
"I didn't really anticipate that the career would be life-changing," Ben says. "We were grateful to have a long-term plan for employment." He looked forward to helping others through "some of their most painful experiences."
Pam foresaw basic changes to the couple's life together due to shift work and the critical nature of the field, but "there was no way to really understand how a job that dealt with crisis every day would affect my husband and ultimately our home."
Fifteen years later, Ben is a seasoned firefighter and EMT. Some of his most painful and harrowing memories include experiencing a violent city riot and discovering the burned corpse of a 12-year-old girl at the scene of a house fire.
"There was a brokenness that took about a year to get over," says Ben, referring to the house-fire incident. "I withdrew emotionally in order to process and protect all that I was feeling.
"I've dealt with depression. I realize that in running so many calls related to violence, addiction, broken families, pain and the suffering of death, my heart has become hardened to those kind of social issues."
Watching Ben suffer emotionally has been no easy task for Pam.
"As a spouse of a first responder, I've felt the responsibility to help keep Ben grounded and his heart tender at times when it would be easy for him to just shut down and become cynical about people," she says. "I often feel unable to help him wrestle with what he's been through at his job."
In attempts to help him, Pam has sharpened her listening skills. She's also committed herself to "creating a peaceful home environment" so her husband feels "safe and secure" when he's home. She does her best to let him decompress when he returns from a shift, and she attempts to stay involved with the families of his crew members.
The couple's greatest lesson? Ben and Pam have learned the depth of God's provision, protection and providence, as well as the power of prayer.
"Marriages have tough times regardless of a spouse's career choice," Pam says. "After 25 years together (15 years in the fire department) and exposure to national fears like 9/11, Ben and I continue to learn about trusting God with our lives and our family due to the threats that surround us both on local and national levels."
Ben's advice to first responders?
"Find people on your shift or crew that have the same family values so you can encourage each other," he says.