Bustling farmers markets, crowded local eateries, cozy coffee shops, and beautiful panoramas make up the quintessential Portland experience for many living in and visiting the city. But working twelve-hour nightshifts as a paramedic in Portland, Holly Kay sees a very different side of the city—and of humanity—than most people. And there, in some of the darkest moments of pain, brokenness, and even death, she shares God’s love as a skilled healthcare worker and dedicated follower of Christ.
How did you first come to know Christ?
I grew up with a solid theological understanding but no real relationship with Christ. Throughout my preteen years, I had a sense of emptiness and insecurity as a result. I was just going through the motions; all of my friends and family went to church and believed the same things, yet I never truly took them to heart.
Around this time, my older sister committed to read her Bible every day. Even on our family backpacking trips, she lugged her massive study Bible along wherever she went. I started following her example for the wrong reasons—I was really impressed with her, and I wanted people to be impressed with me too.
But as I plodded my way through God’s story, I came face-to-face with Jesus. One day I found myself sitting in my closet, the only quiet place in the house, reading Isaiah 49. Verses 15–16 read, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Those words struck me—my name is engraved on his hands! Christ did not just come for the entire world, but for each one of us. From that moment, my faith took a totally different turn, as I finally understood what it meant to have that personal relationship with Christ.
How has your faith grown and changed since then?
After that, I entered a difficult season in my life that tested my newfound faith. God said, “I’m going to be with you and show you that my faithfulness can stand the test of this trial.” My faith grew so much in that time of loss as I realized that he is trustworthy, no matter what you’re going through and no matter what trials you may face.
What led you to the paramedic profession?
That season of trial was really the springboard for my journey into paramedicine. I feel strongly that we should not waste our pain. The best expression of praise is a life that reflects the grace and mercy that God has shown to us! He walked with me through profound loss, and I wanted to extend that same grace to those who are experiencing incredible pain or the loss of a loved one.
2 Corinthians 1:3 offers praise to God, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can minister to others “with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” When you’re going through suffering you receive comfort from the Lord, and then you can turn around and pass that comfort onto other people who are walking through hard times.
Pain has reason and purpose! God gives you grace and mercy for your trial, but he’s also giving grace and mercy to everyone your life touches, because you can extend his love to many people. I’m excited every time I have the opportunity to do this as a paramedic.
What are some ways you go about showing that love?
In our world, facing emotions can be intimidating, and there are very hard, raw emotions that you witness and experience as a paramedic while you stand by patients during their most vulnerable moments or prepare to tell people that their loved one has died. I always try to make eye contact, acknowledge my patients as people, recognize and alleviate their fears, and support the people they love. It’s much easier to be distant and put up professional boundaries, but I think there’s a lot to be said for allowing your heart to break. It’s difficult, but Jesus wouldn’t hide from those moments. Our Savior wasn’t afraid to feel pain.
The most impactful moments to me as a paramedic are not the dramatic calls when you bring someone back from the brink of death. Rather, I love the little chances to love people the way Jesus loves them. Cradling an infant in a dark nursery at 3 a.m., reassuring a new mom that her baby is acting normal. A late night call for an elderly patient who just wants help climbing into bed. A meaningful conversation with a suicidal teenager. These are the moments that make me feel beyond privileged to be in this profession.
What challenges have you faced as a paramedic?
I’m naturally a follower who loves order, structure, and most of all, beauty. Yet God called me to a field that has nothing to do with those things and requires me to take charge. That was difficult to reconcile!
But in my work, I’ve found that our comfort zones are often limitations we put up ourselves. God wants to stretch and push us into living for him in areas that we otherwise wouldn’t choose. He said, “Holly, it’s not a mistake that I gave you desires for structure, beauty, and peace, and also called you to this job. I have called you to chaos so that you can bring peace. And I’ve brought you to the ugliest situations so that you can bring beauty into them.” It finally made sense! God made me to love those things so that I would feel the absence of them, and I would try to bring them into the ugliest of situations.
How have your experiences as a paramedic changed your understanding of God?
More than anything, I’ve learned that God doesn’t waste his people. If he has me on a call, it’s because he wants me on that call. You’re his child, and he wants you wherever you are.
I remember the first time I had to tell parents that their child had died. I prayed, “God, give me the words. I need your presence here.” He spoke in my heart, “My presence is here through you. I brought you here specifically for this moment so you can spread my grace and love in the midst of this tragedy.” There is something so raw and unfiltered and real about interacting with people in their most painful moments. Those tragedies used to overwhelm me, but I’ve learned to see so much of the Lord’s sweetness and grace in those moments. Even in a world that seems overrun by tragedy, he constantly spreads so much grace.
Whether from the church pulpit, from the office cubicle, or from the barista counter, God calls his followers to minister to others in whatever field they find themselves. Holly finds her mission field in the streets of downtown Portland, in the homes of Portland residents, and in the back of her ambulance, ministering to people during some of their most dire moments of crisis.