3 Leadership Lessons I Learned Through Tragedy

This is a guest post by John Tiller, inspirational speaker and writer. He travels with his family to churches, conferences, and other events sharing their remarkable survival story. Connect with John via his blog, Facebook, or Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

On January 9th, 2003, my life was going according to the plan that I had envisioned. I was thankful for many things. At the top of the list was my healthy three-year-old, Eli. I had no idea that everything could change so quickly.

On that day, our precious toddler pulled a little red Playskool chair across his playroom under an open window. He then climbed upon the chair, hoisted himself over the window sill, and pushed out the protective screen.

Just moments later my wife went searching for him, noticed the empty room and the missing screen, looked out the window and witnessed our only child laying lifeless on the asphalt driveway thirteen-feet below.

Eli had suffered a severe head trauma and was med-flighted to the nearest university hospital. For the next three weeks, no matter how hard I pressed, doctors could not tell me if he would survive.

He did survive, but our lives would never be the same. Here are three leadership lessons that I’ve learned through this life-altering event:

  1. Determine your values before a crisis hits. In crisis, you act on instinct. You default to what you truly believe. John Maxwell makes a case in his book, Today Matters, that we really only make a handful of true decisions in life.

    For example, we might make a decision at some point in our lives to manage our money well, serve our family, live healthy, or live out our faith. In our daily choices, thereafter, we simply manage those decisions that we have already made.

    Crisis creates defining moments because it reveals the decisions we have already made. Upon arriving in the emergency room on the day of the accident, I found my wife huddled in the corner of a small room crying uncontrollably. She explained what happened and it was clear that our son might die.

    I looked her in the eyes and I said, “No matter what happens, we will NOT let this come between us.” She agreed. We didn’t make a decision that day. We were simply affirming a decision that had already been made.

    Eighty percent of marriages fail after the serious injury or death of a child. Today our marriage is stronger than ever, despite our tragedy. I’m convinced that’s because our decision to make our marriage succeed had already been made before the crisis hit.

  2. Work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God. Mark Batterson introduced me to this phrase in his recent New York Times best seller, The Circle Maker.

    When our son was hurt, we worked and we prayed. We did everything humanly possible to make our son well. We invested tens of thousands of dollars into uninsured therapy equipment.

    We received training to administer an intensive home-based therapy program. For three years, eighty percent of our waking hours were spent doing therapeutic treatment. We worked like it depended on us.

    We also prayed consistently, like it depended on God, because we needed supernatural help.

  3. Be willing to burn your old vision and embrace a new one. Despite years of prayers and the best treatment possible, Eli’s brain injury has left him with significant symptoms. Now twelve-years-old, he walks with a cane, the entire left side of his body is weak, he has a severe stutter, and his sight and memory are seriously impaired.

    One of the hardest things that we had to do was to acknowledge, several years after the accident, that it was time to live life with disability. It had become a reality that we could not change.

    Instead of continuing to try to fix what we could not fix, or denying that this new reality existed, we had to develop and embrace a new vision for our child: A vision to make a positive impact on the world, despite his challenges.

    Eli has pushed through his challenges and he has lived into our new vision. He plays Miracle League baseball and participates in one-mile running races. He may not finish first, but he always finishes!

    He now sings, speaks, and races to raise money for organizations that help kids with special needs, such as the Miracle League and Children’s Hospital. He has become a voice that advocates for other kids, some of whom cannot speak for themselves.

This was not my original plan. Some days I still dream about my old vision. But that’s gone. It’s time to embrace our new realities and experience the blessings that come with a new vision.

Question: What have you learned from difficult circumstances in your life and/or business? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Get My New, 3-Part Video Series—FREE! Ready to accomplish more of what matters? 2015 can be your best year ever. In my new video series, I show you exactly how to set goals that work. Click here to get started. It’s free—but only until Monday, December 8th.

Get my FREE video series now!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • http://www.SiaKnight.com/ Sia Knight

    This is one of the most powerful posts that I have ever “experienced”. You brought me right there with you through the horrifying moments that occurred in 2003.
    Another powerful part of this piece is the reference to Maxwell’s work.  It has caused me to examine, “what are the real choices that I have made and how does my life reflect those decisions?”

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I agree, Sia. This post has stopped me cold and forced me to consider decisions I need to make today for unknown circumstances tomorrow.

  • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

    I’ve learned that life still goes on despite the “junk” in our lives.  I feel like I’m still learning this two years after going through some pretty dramatic stuff in our family.  Life may be a little different, but I need to keep going – to keep living life.  Tragedy can often put things in our lives on hold for a time, but at some point, we have to get back up and keep living (even if it’s different than before).

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Well said, Jon!

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt


    • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

      So, if you’re living different than before the trajedy, how do you come to terms with keeping commitments that were made when your life was so very different? This is a topic I have been wresting with and would love the input.

      • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

         Honestly, some “commitments” cannot be met after life’s unexpected “tragedies”.  I would say that this is where grace comes into play.  You need to give yourself grace to let go of the commitments that have become unrealistic as a result of changes induced by tragedy.  You may need to ask for grace from those you made commitments to.  I know this was a hard thing for me to come to terms with following the events that transpired in our family a couple years ago.  – That story is way more than I can type here.

        • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

          So, does this mean that things like marriages can end because life events change so drastically? Or, does the base commitment remain but the way to carry it out changes. Are there commitments that are never okay to break? I mean, I know we will all break commitments and therefore need grace. Yet, should we fight for them nonetheless even in the face of tragedy? Sorry if this is kind of confusing… I am trying to work out of some confusion of my own.

          • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

            Wow, those are some pretty deep questions!  I don’t know your situation, and I’m not a trained “professional”.  I would strongly suggest the counsel of a  Christian counselor or a pastor.  I could tell you my answer, but I don’t think it’s fair based on my complete lack of knowledge to the situation.  Regardless, I believe there is GRACE – no matter what.

            The commitments that I had to break were not nearly as foundational as the commitments you seem to be asking about.

          • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

            Yeah, sorry to hit you with that. Actually, this is not specifically about me (Thank You Jesus!), but stem from a discussion with a friend. She’s not real open to hearing much from anyone, yet she is at leaset reading what I have to say. Anyway, just looking for confirmation of my own thoughts more than anything. I feel a post about commitments coming out of this.

          • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

             I’ll look forward to reading the post.

  • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

    Wow, John.  Powerful post. I agree – the best time to make decisions is before the have to be made. Our family has learned much from tragedy – thanks so much for opening your heart and sharing your story.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thanks, Michael!  I’m really glad that your family has moved through tragedy to a stage where you can learn from it.  Unfortunately, some folks never get there.

  • http://runningwithhorses.wordpress.com/ Steve Hawkins

    Thanks John for sharing your story. I love your timely advice: Work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God. We can only do so much to work towards a goal. And that gap between us and the goal is where faith steps in and God takes over. 

    • http://www.successlighters.org/ Successlighters

       Flesh and blood had not said this through. Honestly speaking, when God takes over, indeed all becomes over. For by strength will no man prevail over any life’s circumstances.

  • http://chrisvonada.com chris vonada

    Through many trials and tragedies in life I’ve learned the power and beauty of these verses:

    “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:1-5.

    Thank you for sharing this story John, how powerfully inspiring!

  • http://www.alslead.com/ Dave Anderson

    I’ve learned through some ugliness in the past to stop longing for the way things were or what I thought they were going to be.  I need to embrace the fact that my life is different from the old life and the old dream.  

    God is sovereign.  That means His plans are bigger than mine.  I have to embrace the life He has me in, instead of the life I had or was wishing for.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Earlier this week a friend said the following to me: “Sovereignty is the salvation of remorse.” Remorse, regret, wishing for what could’ve been can be a difficult prison to get out of.

  • http://www.thegeezergadgetguy.com/ Thad Puckett

    This is such a powerful story.  Tragedy can strike at any point and is no respecter of one’s position or power.  Thank you for sharing your story.  Your son sounds like an amazing person (and his parents sound pretty cool too!).

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thanks, Thad!  Eli really is an amazing kid! 

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com/ Eileen

    What a great post!  The most difficult tragedy I’ve ever faced was losing my mom to cancer when I was a teenager.  That was almost 21 years ago.  One of my “mantras”  I repeat all the time…because it’s a a lesson I have learned from the struggles I’ve faced is to  “look  for the beautiful in the midst of the struggle.”  It’s there.  I’ve watched God heal the pain, redeem it and make it beautiful again.  Thank you for sharing your story. 

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      That’s a significant loss, Eileen. I love how you’ve intentionally searched for the “gain” in the middle of it.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      I love your quote “look  for the beautiful in the midst of the struggle”.   I actually believe that one of reasons for suffering is to have a clearer view of the beautiful.   Thanks for sharing that!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tricia.goyer Tricia Goyer

    Thank you for sharing your story! Parenting is being squashed, smashed, stretched and under intense pressure then realizing later that it’s through this process that we’re being molded into the image of Jesus Christ. Thank you for allowing God to join you and form you. You reflect Christ all over this post!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thank you, Tricia.  Your statement about parenting is so true for all of us!

  • su Soutter

    Wow.  Tears. Powerful writing. .  .that is how I want to write and speak. . share the story only I can share but make it so those listening/reading can pull something out of it for themselves. . .writing that is both inspirational and practical.

  • http://www.peaceforthejourney.com/ elaine @ peace for the journey

    Such a powerful reminder to live life on purpose and with heart and eyes fixed on forever. At the beginning of my adult life, I’m not sure I had a definite plan for my future. At 46, I can say that my life has taken many unanticipated turns, most recently my journey through cancer. There have been huge life lessons/perspectives/gifts afforded me because of this recent season, but here are three major ones:

    1. The capacity and willingness to live within a 24 hours time frame; we all talk about it, but how many of us really live this way?
    2. The important of making faith deposits into my spiritual bank account on the front side of suffering withdrawals. The deliberate acts of strengthening my faith today will, undoubtedly, serve as a firm foundation in my tomorrows.
    3. Time isn’t a gift I give to others, not me “penciling them into my schedule”; time is the gift they give to me, them graciously allowing me a portion of their day.

    There are so many others I could focus on and have focused on in the writing of my new book, but these are just a few. Thank you for taking the time to share your story, John, and for reminding me about the importance of learning from tragedy.

    Keep to those faith investments. Take good care of your heart.



    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Wow, Elaine!  Those are three great lessons!  My favorite is “the capacity and willingness to live within a 24-hour timeframe”.  We’re not promised tomorrow, but that can be easy to forget.  

      I hope you’ll write a chapter about each lesson in your book (or maybe write a book about each one)!

  • http://www.marcythecoach.com/ Marcy Kelly

    Each of us has a different road to travel.  I am so sorry for the tragedy you experienced.  My road has included being widowed twice by cancer.  In my book, From Sorrow to Dancing, I came to similar conclusions as yours.  We cannot determine what happens “to” us but we do determine how we respond.  I have always felt we must walk through the pain to whatever God has for us on the other side of the pain.  Many people allow the pain to stop them from moving forward.  I’m glad your family has continued to move forward.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thank you, Marcy.   I’m so glad that you have written about your cancer experiences!  There are many people going through the traumatic effects of that disease and they need to know that they are not alone.  

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

    John, I have no words for how profoundly your post has impacted me! You’re right on with all three of your lessons. Crisis shines a spotlight on the decisions and character within. Each of us will face some kind of tragedy, many of us more than one. Our ability to respond to it, push through it, and adjust to the new vision will determine whether we survive and even possibly thrive. Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring us!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thank you, Michelle. 
      It’s a privilege to share! 

  • Pegs

    I have learned that no matter how stressful a situation is, you need to treat people with respect and dignity. You can’t take back words spoken in frustration and anger. Get some space between a situation and addressing it. People are more important than succeeding.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      So true!  I have seen many friendships ruined in stressful situations.  Stress is refining fire for our character and our relationships.

  • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

    I had the blessing to hear John’s story in person, and  to meet his incredible wife and son.  Their story of both perseverance and reliance on God (#2 above) was truly awe-inspiring.
    My “difficult life circumstance” was my childhood with a bi-polar, alcoholic and prescription drug addict mother. Growing up “broken,” I learned as an adult that true value and worth can only come through Jesus. I’ve also learned that “If you’ll allow it you can grow exponentially during hardship. Suffering is like spiritual steroids. James 1:2-4.” This is a quote I took from Nathan Rouse on Twitter. He said
    it better than I could, but I had already learned the concept.

    John, thank you sharing your story. See you at SCORRE.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Kelly, it’s been great to get to know you!  It’s very obvious that you are using your childhood pain to make a better life for you and your family.  You’re also inspiring people to do the same for themselves!

      I LOVE that quote by Nathan “…Suffering is like spiritual steroids” , qualified by “if you’ll allow it.” 

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    Wow what a story!

  • Kim

    This is POWERFUL Micheal! This comes to me at the end of my own life dream – my 22 year marriage has ended in the wake of porn addiction, multiple affairs, and total denial of the problem. I am now facing a new reality and God is tenderly leading me to accept HIS best plan for my life and let go of my own efforts to “fix” what only He can do!!

    This rang true in my heart today and echoes my morning Bible study out of Psalms 42! When God sends a message, He sends it in ways you can understand and grasp and PRAISE HIM alone!!
    Thank you for sharing your heart!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Kim, it’s great to see that you are moving on with life past your suffering. 

  • Mary F. Allen

    A powerful testimony to how to handle life’s adversity. 

  • Tim Burroughs

    This August we will celebrate our son’s thirtieth birthday.  At the time he was born 10 weeks early and smaller than expected, we didn’t know if he would live or die.  We, like you and your wife, knew that God had a plan.  Even if we lost him God was still in control.  We had already decided that in our young marriage.  We had already committed to each other that we would stay married and one the same side of the issue with God, instead of fighting each other over the situation.

    Sean had a heart murmur and the area between lungs and heart had not closed because his birth was not natural in timing or the pressure that would typically close that ductus natually during the process.  His pediocardiologist, who had been out of the country on a Mission of Mercy, came back to hear this issue much more so than the staff we had been working with for weeks.

    The doctor agreed to let us take him home if we would bring him back each Wednesday.  We agreed and five and one-half weeks later we brought him home.  The first week there was no change and open heart surgery was discussed to correct the issue, but we believed and prayed that God had a better ending.

    The second week we stopped at church and found a women’s group Bible study in progress and we asked them to pray for our son.  They did and we went to the doctor’s appointment.  The doctor checked him and there was no evidence of a murmur.
    God healed him completely.

    Fast forward, he had some challenges but always putting God first and encouraging out children to serve Him by our example, both of our kids are Christians and Sean was called into active ministry two years ago and is working with City Church, Kirkland, WA and helps runs services at the University of Washington campus where they have a separate campus facility where hundreds of college-age kids come to hear the good news of the gospel every Wednesday& Thursday nights, Sunday morning and Sunday evenings.  Sean is in charge of the Sunday evening service.

    Our attitude and knowledge that God would take care of us, no matter what happened allowed us to come to the hospital with a different attitude than other parents who had no hope.  We know of one nurse who committed her life to the Lord while Sean was in the hospital based on what she saw in us.  Later we helped set up a support group at that hospital to work with parents who had their children in the neonatal ICU and we think it is still there thirty years later, bringing hope to others.

    We have lived in Boise, Idaho the last twenty years and have seen God do miracle after miracle in our lives.  My wife, Debra is a best-selling author and I am working in Men’s Ministry in our church to strengthen the family by having a spiritual leader (the husband) leading his family to God.

    Thanks for sharing your post.  God is good!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Tim, you and your family are a shining example of looking for the good in your circumstances!  Where can I find information about Debra’s book?

  • Shelly

    Thanks for this guest post.  Just this past week I have been writing in my journal about this very topic as we are embracing our “new normal” after my husband’s traumatic brain injury. It almost felt as if the Lord was looking over my shoulder at the computer screen with His hand on my shoulder affirming that we are on the right path. What a blessing. 

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Shelly, I’m so sorry about your husband’s injury.  Not many people understand what it’s like to have a loved one with a TBI and, because each injury is unique, no one really understands exactly what you are experiencing. 

      I’m really glad to see that you are realizing the blessing in the truth that you are not alone.

  • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

    Thank you, and your family, for your willingness to follow after God’s call on your life. It’s one thing to say, “I will follow the vision of the Lord”, and it’s another to do it in the light of extremely difficult circumstances.   Blessings on your day—and fantastic post—my friend!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thanks for the encouragement, Barry!

  • Connie Almony

    I so relate
    to this post. My son has autism and I have tried various therapies and
    treatments with some benefit, but he is still virtually non-verbal. I still
    pray for complete healing for my son, not because I think God WILL heal him,
    but because I know he CAN. And yet, He, in His infinite wisdom may have an even
    better plan. I’ve already seen glimpses of it in the man/boy my son has become.
    He is sweet and gentle and whenever I’m sad and just feeling the tears well in
    my eyes, he runs in (from another room) to stare into them with concern. I know
    I’m loved. Makes the sadness less important. My son doesn’t have the “voice” to
    advocate for people like himself. Instead, I think he can help heal the
    brokenness of those who don’t even know their broken.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thanks for sharing this, Connie.  Eli did regain his speech (though with a severe stutter), however, we have met many non-verbal kids through his treatment centers.

      The tragedy of non-verbal kids is that so many of us think, because WE can’t easily understand them, that THEY are un-intelligent.  The fact is that non-verbal kids’ brains almost always develop and learn in ways that the rest of us are incapable of doing because they are forced to learn alternative strategies.  We can’t do that.  Therefore, the irony is that WE are really the ones with less intelligence!   Let me say to you on his behalf, thanks for not giving up on him.  Otherwise, you might have missed the blessing.  

  • Yvonne Seballo

    Thank you for these wonderful encouraging words. I have a passion for stories on resilience. I am happy to know that your son is doing well in spite of his handicap. God is an awesome God!!   He hears our prayers. Your son has truly blessed the lives of many.

    • Jim Martin

      Yvonne,  as I read your comment it struck how valuable stories of resilience really are. So many of us  go through a crisis, tragedy, hard times, or failure at some point.  How powerful to hear these stories of another’s resilience.  Thanks.  

  • http://twitter.com/MLSchwienD Michele Schwien

    “Crisis creates defining moments because it reveals the decisions we have already made.” Beautiful.  Thank you for sharing. You give people perspective on how to celebrate strenghts and not lament weakness.  Ability is in all disability.

    • Jim Martin

      Michele, I liked that sentence as well.  “Crisis creates defining moments because it reveals the decisions we have already made.”  Very ver true.

  • Kristi Johnsen

    Though tragic, this is a beautiful post about new beginnings.  My niece died unexpectedly at 37, leaving two teens and a loving husband behind.  Through the grief and life altering moment, God has spoken to her husband and called him into a life of ministry.  Her teen boys have clung to God like never before and I can see them growing in responsibility and personal respect.  They are very active in their youth program now and cling to their youth pastor and leaders for guidance.

    Yes, tragic things make us examine our faith like never before but, through these, we can truly grow closer to God and serve Him!!

  • http://dalemelchin.wordpress.com/ Dale Melchin

    I couldn’t even imagine going through something like this.  It makes my previous problems seem small, but I will share mine anyway.

    Back in 2006 I had started a painting business.  I had gotten some training from another painter who lived in our area, but wasn’t our particular market and he knew I was going into business for myself eventually.  

    I struggled with two jobs the first 3 years and in year 4, the business took off like a rocket, however after that year the business failed because for the life of me, I couldn’t get the thing systematized, everything was chaotic and it frustrated me because I am a person who needs a certain level of order in my life to be functional.

    Looking back on on it the business failure was preventable at some level.  I could’ve only had one other person helping me, I could’ve systematized the business more, and invested more time in marketing.

    • http://dalemelchin.wordpress.com/ Dale Melchin

      Long story short, I got an MBA in the school of hard knocks and when I do pic out another business to get into I will get systems in place before launching and make sure I don’t accidentally or intentional break those systems or let anyone who works with me break those systems.

      • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

        Thanks for sharing that story, Dale.  I, too, have experienced business failure.  The key is to “fail forward” using the lessons we learned to improve our future.  It’s good to see that you are doing that!

        It reminds me of Michael’s Podcast #8 on benefiting from failure.

        • http://dalemelchin.wordpress.com/ Dale Melchin

          Yes it does, it ties into that article precisely.  Much of this success thing is psychology.

  • http://bbcjc.com/ Randy Dignan

    Wow!  I am just speechless…  Wow!  Nothing to say except…  Thank you for sharing!  Powerful, powerful…………

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Wilcox/1147778906 Tim Wilcox

    Trials have taught me to look to God for affirmation!  It is easy for me to be concerned with what others think, but ultimately all that really matters is what Christ knows about me.  When I have my Identity in Christ figured out, everything else seems to fall into place.  The “Voice of Truth” has kept me going when others tried to hinder me!  I enjoy the days with sunshine, but I learn more during the storms of life!

  • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

    Powerful story. My wife and I are kind of living through our own catastrophe, but nothing on this scale. I hope we come through as victoriously as you guys have.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Rob, we’ve been forced to look for the hope in the midst of trial.   We are reminded daily by my son’s physical and mental disabilities that we aren’t through it, yet.  Though, we have learned that, when you look hard enough, you will find hope right where you are.  

      I wish you the best as you work through the events in your life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthewsbc Ben Matthews

    Powerful story – thank you for sharing.  I got the same feeling I did when watching the movie “Courageous”.  The quote that stands out for me is “crisis creates defining moments because it reveals the decisions we have already made”.  This is so true and I experienced and witnessed it during my time in the Marine Corps.  Thank you for the reminder that I need to continually reaffirm my critical decisions.

  • CJ Powers

    I have learned that hurt people, hurt people. The devastating pain of my divorce years ago caused me to hurt others without my knowledge. I’ve since learned that loved people, love people. God has brought so much blessing and love into my life that I’ve been able to help others who have struggled with collapsed marriages. In the past seven years, I’ve been privileged to guid over 1,000 people from acting out of their pain to acting from the depths of the compassion and grace received from God. I never planned the walk that I’m in, but I’m looking forward to see how God might use me going forward.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Great quote, CJ:  “Loved people, love people”.   You’ve discovered a key to activating the power of a story … share it with others.   Thanks for sharing!  

  • WilliamJerryGuthrie

    I have learned that problems for us are salvations for God (1 John 5:13-15).

    13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

    Our confidence in Christ

    14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: 15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

    The Savior defines Salvation as Divine Health. Soterion is salvation as is The Greek Text; and Jesus is our defender; our defense our Salvation.  Soteria is to rescue; safety; to deliver with divine health (G4991 Greek). Soter is a deliverer that is from; 
    G4982; a deliverer, that is, God or Christ: – saviour. Sozo is to heal, do well, be (- make whole).

    Please obey and pray (James 5:13-16; 1 John 5:13-15). More miracles are happening in your lives because God loves you. Jesus died for you that you might live forever. Accept in miracles of God that Jesus rose on the third day like He said He would. Accept that Jesus is iterceding for you today. Amen.
    K.J.V.; Strong’s Hebrew and Greek.

  • Dawn Whitmore

    Thanks John for sharing. I have learned through the difficult that my husband will stand by my side no matter what. I am so thankful to God for giving me my husband. 

    • Jim Martin

      Dawn, thanks for your words regarding your marriage.  Testimonies such as yours about marriages that have withstood tough times are inspiring and encouraging.  Thanks.

  • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

    John –
    Thank you for your ministry.  Very cool.  

  • Travis

    Michael-This is a great post and my prayers go out to your family. We had a similar experience in January 2010 when we found out we were going to deliver our secound child as a full-term still born baby. One week before our son, Christian, was due, the doctor told us there was no heart beat. The next few days were horrible as my wife still had to go through the delivery and I had to plan for a funeral. Actually, the next nine months or so were very difficult. Although it was a horrible situation, looking back I could have done things differently. When I finally did snap out of my zombie like stage, our life started to get a lot better. My wife and I are stronger than ever, we gave birth to our daughter, I have a re-focused outlook on life, and even wrote a book, Christian’s Gifts (that will hopefully be in e-book format soon) about how every life matters. The bottom line is a horrible thing happened…there was no changing it…and when I started using the event as motiviation rather than self pitty..my life turned around. Thanks again for what you do.


    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Travis, I’m inspired by your determination to move on with life!  I do not understand what it’s like to lose a child.  My heart breaks for you.  

      It’s really great to see that you have pulled yourself back together and that you and your wife are embracing life.  Every life DOES matter I’m glad that you are telling Christian’s story through Christian’s Gifts!  Please let us know when it’s available…

  • http://www.mentalhealthgracealliance.org/ Joe Padilla

    Great blog/post! We started a mental health org from these vary same principles. It was the trials we went had to weather … the values kept us steady, I worked hard to understand and implement new things outside the box, and grieved until a new vision and purpose became clear. Now, that vision has taken us to impact so many we couldn’t have imagined and even internationally. This refreshed and encouraged me once again … inspired me to keep going! Keep up the great blogs and podcasts!!!! 

  • http://www.15minutewriter.com Sharon Gibson

    Wow, what a story!  How amazing that you and your wife found your wife found your way through it and are using the tragedy for good in order to help and bless others. What a powerful principles.  I think of the growth in character and wisdom you’ve gained. God always compensates us in some way for our losses. I pray He will continue to do so.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thank you, Sharon.  My wife and son are my biggest inspirations!

  • http://www.ninanesdoly.com/ Nina Nesdoly

    Thank you so much for sharing that, it’s beautiful story in a haunting and tragic way. I’m so grateful that you are willing to share what you learned from the event. Your subtitle from Mark Batterson “Work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God.” is an absolutely brilliant quote that reflects a way of living, thank you for that.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Hi, Nina.  Batterson has had a huge influence on me.   I hope you get to read his new book, The Circle Maker, if you haven’t already!

  • Jim Martin

    John, thank you for sharing this powerful story.  Wow!  Thanks also for the three lessons you shared.  All three are incredibly important and inspiring to hear.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thanks much, Jim!

  • http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com/ Cynthia Herron

    John, my heart goes out to you. Thank you for this powerful post and the positive impact you’re making for His kingdom.

    May God continue to bless your ministry.

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    How awesome to hear this story and put things into perspective.

  • http://twitter.com/felicitywhite Felicity White

    Well, I love this. We have a different story but with a similar theme. Our twin girls were born 15 weeks prematurely. Ellery passed on to Heaven. Claire stayed with us here. Now 9 years old, she struggles with cerebral palsy as the result of brain bleeds. She is a light and a joy, but we are also learning to embrace the challenges of physical disabilities, educational gaps, and relational issues. If you need an endorsement on these three lessons, I can verify each one based on my own experience. Well done!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Wow, Felicity!  You are a testimonial to each of those lessons.  I’m sorry for your loss of Ellery.  

      I’m sure that my son, Eli, shares many of Claire’s symptoms because of his brain injury.  If she is anything like Eli, I imagine Claire adds more value to your life than you ever imagined she would.   I hope we can connect them sometime.

      • http://twitter.com/felicitywhite Felicity White

         Yes, Claire teaches us way more than we teach her and she’s a perfect gift even in an imperfect body. I’d love to connect. I’ll keep an eye on your speaking schedule just in case you’re ever close by. Thanks!

  • http://www.setongod.com/ Joshua Tolan

    Wow. God’s plans may not always pan out the way we want, but they are always good and rewarding if we follow him. I commend you for your faithfulness and diligence to prayer and effort John. 

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thank you, Joshua.   

  • http://www.AliveinHeaven.com/ MarkCanfora

    Thanks John-Powerful testimony.
    When our son Marky passed away back in 2005 at the age of 18,  We as a family and our friends made the decision (WE CHOSE) to celebrate the precious gift of life God had given us in Marky for 18 yrs, 10 mos. and 3 days.
    Looking back-
    It’s been seven years now and we are glad we trusted God and His promises of life everlasting through His son Jesus Christ. Receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior is the best decision Marky ever made…as well as all of us. Heaven is our home and that is the eternal perspective we all live by.
    We all truly know we will hug, hold and kiss Marky again one day in heaven. All while knowing God’s word says we will remember no pain, heartache or suffering that we have experienced here on earth. I have been blessed with five children-four here on earth and one that is very much alive in heaven.   

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thank you for sharing that, Mark.  I’m so sorry for your loss as I admire your courage to celebrate his life.  

      To your point that Heaven is our home, Eli is recording three original songs this year, one called “Heaven is Where We Belong”.   As his Dad, there is no greater comfort than to know that he has a full relationship with God.

      I look forward to meeting Marky when that day comes.

      • http://www.AliveinHeaven.com/ MarkCanfora

        Thank you for the reply and the kind, encouraging words John.

        You wrote: “As his Dad, there is no greater comfort than to know that he has a full relationship with God.”

        That is one of the the first things (Marky’s salvation day) that God brought to my mind and my broken heart as I gathered myself in the early morning hours after I heard my Marky had passed.
        My thoughts quickly went to that day,  10/07/00 that Marky, at age 14, received Jesus as Lord and Savior with me in his BR of our home. His words were:  “Daddy, I’m ready to accept Jesus as my Savior.” Joyful tears flowed after we were done. I wrote in my journal what God put on my heart in this question: “Was that better than any business deal or million dollar contract you have signed?” The answer of course was “it was infinitely and eternally greater” to be sure! 
        As we know, God never stops revealing Himself as we see and witness “His good and perfect will done in all things.” Seeing God move right before our very eyes and ears as He gives us strength and heals our broken hearts. 
        Romans 8 says it so very well. 

        God on the move still!
        I have recently signed a film agreement to tell Marky’s life story (His life on earth and in heaven) as inspired from my book “Alive in Heaven!” http://www.AliveinHeaven.com
        I have full Creative Rights (100% say-so in the script, music, etc.) as the Creative Director—I’d love to hear Eli’s songs/his messages of hope and heaven. Please keep me posted.  

  • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

    Commitments can be so difficult to keep, which is why we need to establish right away that we will follow through with what we say we’re going to do. We need to realize that how we carry out commitments may change, but the base commitment (doing your job, marriage, parenting, friendship, etc.) does not change. I have been wrestling with this idea for a couple of days now, and this post is leading me to evaluate how trajedy relates to keeping commitments, among other aspects of commitments.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      I agree, Kari.  Commitments can be difficult to keep, especially when the person you are committed to (i.e. your boss, spouse, child, friend, etc.) is not keeping their commitment.   But that’s a post for another day!

      I really do believe that crisis simply reveals our commitments.  Commitment is a decision process.  By the time crisis happens, there’s no time to make a new commitment, so you must fall back to those decisions you have already made.  

      • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

        One aspect of commitment that I think I need to consider more is the fact that we can only control ourselves and not if others keep or don’t keep commitments. Also, I completely agree that when a crisis happens or feelings of love disappear or whatever happens, the commitment is kept because it was a decision made outside of that crisis. Two very good points that I will add to my notes.

        • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

          Leading ourselves is the first and toughest part of leadership. As I’ve seen your comments over the past few months, it’s obvious that you are challenging yourself to lead well. Big things will surely happen in your life as a result!

          I’m glad you are a part of this MH blog community, Kari!

  • http://www.shannonmilholland.blogspot.com Shannon Milholland

    Funny you should ask, I wrote a post for Katie Ganshert author of Wildflowers from Winter about how God brings beauty from pain. Here’s my story if you’re interested: 

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      That’s a beautiful testimony, Shannon!  Thanks for sharing it!

  • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

    This post just hit me like a ton of bricks. As a father, I can’t imagine what you went through John. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I was losing focus on what is REALLY important and this story is allowing me to refocus. This part really hit home with me- “Work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God”.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thanks for the kind words, Jim!   Give your kids an extra hug tonight for me!

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    I have a 19 month old son who loves to explore and climb and do things little boys love to do. I watched this and my heart sunk. But then as I read your post I was amazed. It is so important to have our values determined, as we can see from the example in your life. Thank you so much for sharing this and may God continue to bless you as you seek out His plan!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thank you, Brandon!

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    Great post John and you have an amazing message. I’ve learned to pray and truly depend upon the Lord. Reading this post has given me some new perspectives.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thanks, Kimanzi!  You, too, have a powerful story.  Keep sharing it!

  • http://www.sensiblyhealthy.com/ Leslie Allebach

    A wonderful post.  You make great points!  Thank you so much for showing the importance of handling tragedy in a way that honors God.  

  • Rosey


  • Al Fekete

    Some years ago we have lost our bussiness,worth one million dollars (Australian ). Our homes (2).
    Our for children had to change school several times, and I have saffered lots of bad health .We have tried everything to stay together as a family .And we did .
    We believed that things are happening for reason ,and this is only one of the lessons we have to go throu life ,and stay faithful to our Maker,our God.
    As a couple we had lots of challenges to overcome and our kids have not being spared.
    Comments people woul make is lake “Manny couple would not survived what you did,they would separate ”
    Maybe so, but we are still married and enjoying our family – children and grandchildren .
    Amongst all our Lord is the one to be grateful to, and we love him to the End.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       Al, sounds like you and your family have been through a lot. I’m glad to hear you and your wife made the decision to stay together through thick and thin and are making it. Congratulations on holding true to that commitment.

  • http://www.fieldofdebt.com/ Jen McDonough

    What an incredibly inspirational story…thank you for sharing!!! My prayers go out to your family that you will continue to motivate, inspire and give hope to others. 

    While our family story is not near as life altering, we had an extremely dark time in our lives when our 7 year old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. We too worked like it all depended on us and we prayed as it depended on God. Within a month of him being diagnosed, I would go through 300+ medical research studies. The closest one we found that he qualified for was in Denver (we live in MN). It was a two year study with 16 visits (48 days total). We were devastated not only emotionally devastated from this life long chronic condition, but found ourselves reeling in debt – so much so that we couldn’t afford the first plane ticket out for his treatments (see our story at http://www.fieldofdebt.com – not trying to advertise, but to give you the full story if you are interested). 

    Long story short our dark, awful time in life has been turned around and is counted as a blessing. We not only paid cash for over $30,000+ worth of medical related expenses in 3 years, finished up the full 2 year medical study, but we also have paid off over $146,000 worth of debt in exactly 3 years!

    I am gearing up my role as a motivational storyteller and freedom debt elimination coach to help people who find themselves reeling from emotional and financial devastation to see that  there is hope. We love to motivate and inspire others who are in similar shoes we once were. We are writing our 2nd book (I am not a writer, but thanks to Dan Miller and the 48days.net group, I am a author) that is on our finance journey. I so much want people to see that ordinary people CAN do extraordinary things with faith, perseverance, and a plan to take action (and to take action).

    John, please pass on my admiration to your son and wife. You all are incredibly strong, courageous people.
    Live Beyond Awesome.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Jen, thanks for the kind words and for sharing your story.  Please let us know when your book comes out!

  • Kurt Swann

    I used to work in law enforcement and I saw Lesson # 1 (Determine Your Values Before A Crisis Hits) play out a few times.  Some financial/accounting employees of companies we investigated were told to do things that crossed the line into unethical/illegal areas.  One or two employees quit or complained but most went along and did what they were told.  I got the impression that they weren’t necessarily “bad” people but they hadn’t really seriously thought about their own values about right and wrong.  So when a questionable situation arose it was too late to develop the strength to push back.  

    Makes me think of wearing a seat belt when driving a car.  The vast majority of the time you’ll never need it.  But if you’re not wearing it and you’re about to crash into another car, it’s too late to buckle up.  

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Those are two EXCELLENT illustrations of lesson #1!

  • Pam Costa

    Michael, your blog is one of a very few blogs that I consider valuable. Thank you for your honest, open sharing with us.  God Bless.

    • Pam Costa

       Thank you John for this post.  It makes me take stock of what is important – God Bless you and your family.

  • Pingback: Where Did We End Up Now …? | THE STRATEGIC LEARNER()

  • Pingback: Learning From Tragedy | Pastor M's Blog()

  • Markbriscoe

    I can relate to your story, for I lost 3 kids myself. it does put things in perspective for sure. Thanks, Mark…

  • Cmnancymom

    I could not agree more! When my husband was diagnosed with a malignant glioblastoma (brain tumor)  in 2005,   I realized immediately that this was where the rubber met the road, that now I would know whether I believed what I said I believed or not. My husband had led me to Christ before we were married in 1972 and for 33 years I had said I believed a certain set of things. Now I would find out, because if I believed what I said I would act in one way and if not, I would act in a different way.

    If I had had to discover in that moment what I believed, I might have reacted differently, based on fear and earthly desires. Because I had already made the decision to trust Christ with my life, I hope I reacted as a strong Christian. Yes, the circumstances were hard and were not what I would have chosen for our lives. But, because of the decision I had already made and that my husband had already made, we chose to live his last 20 months on earth pointing others to God and enjoying the life and time we had together.

    We had jointly made another decision when we were dating: Divorce was not an option. Did we have a perfect marriage? Nope, not a chance. Did we ever talk about divorce? Nope, not a chance. Because of the previous decision not to consider divorce, we knew we had to find other solutions and we worked hard to stay together.

    I loved this post and believe strongly in the principles it teaches :)

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thanks for sharing those great examples!

  • http://www.breathelivemove.org/ Daniel Maldonado

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience, it is powerful. May the Lord bless you and your family.

  • Eagle777warsaw

    I am committed to live life and live my faith regardless of unplanned events.  If God loves me enough to grant His own Son’s suffering and death for my salvation, I can trust Him with my life and family, to always bring about the best end result for all eternity.

  • Pingback: Saturday Evening Post(s) #11 (Five At Five)()

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Thanks John for the powerful story. It touched my heart. It’s true that we may not be able to execute Plan A in every circumstances in our life. We need to go by Plan B which we migh not have planned.

    It is truly painful to go through such tragedies in our life. We are often confounded with “WHY?” when we go through such circumstances. I think it takes courage and endurance to face such inconveniences in life.

  • Raymond

    Incredible story and testimony for an entire family.  Finding a new vision and transferring from the old to the new is great advice.  Thanks for sharing your life John….and we wish the best for your family.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thank you, Raymond!

  • http://www.facebook.com/paulorear Paul O’Rear

    My daughter Ashley died of recurring brain tumors at age 14, a battle that had begun when she was only 9. The courage and grace with which she faced her battle, and the unwavering simple faith that exuded from her life every day, inspired thousands of people to face their own challenges and struggles with faith and courage. I prayed constantly for God to take away Ashley’s pain and suffering, to heal her and allow her to return to a normal healthy childhood. I learned the difficult lesson that sometimes God can accomplish more through our weaknesses, disabilities, infirmities and sufferings than He can through our strengths, abilities, good health and easy living. Life doesn’t always make sense when viewed from an earthly perspective. I am convinced that Ashley now understands God’s reasons for her suffering and untimely death, and I look forward to seeing things from her heavenly perspective some day. Until then …

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Paul, I’m so sorry for your loss.  I can’t possibly understand it.  However, I think your understanding of pain and suffering on earth is spot on.  I’m convinced, based on Jesus’ words, that there are eternal benefits to earthly (e.g. temporary) pain.   We can’t name those benefits until we get to heaven, but that will be a great day when it comes into focus.  

       Meanwhile, thanks for being a great example of hope in the midst of earthly pain!

  • Kathy Harmon

    After losing my job and being unemployed for the first time in 40 years, I had to adopt the slogan:  “When life hand you lemons, you make lemonade!”  I had preached that to my children for years, and then had an opportunity to live it out.  Not easy to make a dramatic change of plans YOU had for the future – but with God – all things are possible!  Thanks!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Now when you “preach” that message to someone who needs to hear it, you’ll be able to help them even more based on this experience.  I think that’s what life before heaven is all about – helping others make it.

  • http://henryfiallo.wordpress.com/ Enrique Fiallo

    John, I am speechless and feel about 1 foot tall. Interesting how all these big issues I had been lamenting about became so insignificant after reading your post and visiting your web site. Blessings to you and your wife, and Eli. You all set an example for us to follow. Great leadership lessons!

    Enrique Fiallo

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Thanks for the nice words, Enrique!

      As I witness Eli living joyfully everyday, despite his challenges, it gives me perspective, too.  I don’t get as upset about the things that used to seem like “big” problems in daily life.  He has taught me to treasure each day.  

  • http://snapshots-bertad.blogspot.com/ Berta Dickerson

    After 21 years as a quad, my husband and I believe the One who saved me carries me. Doctors offered my husband freedom. He remembered his wedding vows. We have good and bad days/weeks/months, even years, and look forward to going home. But we live every day God gives us here.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Living life is absolutely key!  Eli is just now beginning to understand that his life is more difficult than others.  He doesn’t complain, though – he just keeps trying his best and enjoys HIS life.  Not some picture of painted by others.  He’s an example to me!

  • Pingback: 5 for Leadership | Gary Runn()

  • jpwood3

    I have learned through 5 1/2 years of treatment and 7 years of life without my youngest daughter that there is no formula for healing. As M. Scott Peck said, most of us go through life doing everything that we possibly can to avoid pain. Unfortunately, pain is unavoidable and an essential element in spiritual growth and development. There are many who seek to convince us that the answers lie in the 5 steps listed in their book or presented in their presentation. Were it that easy! 

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      I’m so sorry for your loss.

      ” Unfortunately, pain is unavoidable and an essential element in spiritual growth and development”.  That’s so true.  We just don’t believe it until we experience it ourselves.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/paulorear Paul O’Rear

       I’ve learned the same thing. There are so many misconceptions out there about “the grieving process”. Those misconceptions often lead to unrealistic expectations being placed upon those whose hearts are in complete turmoil because of loss. “It’s been six months. Don’t you think it’s time to get over it and get on with your life?” The most unfortunate part of all this is that it often makes the griever question his own mental state, or even the validity of his grief. I don’t believe that God intended for hearts broken by grief to ever heal completely, at least not in this life. That emptiness is a tribute to the importance of the one whose loss is grieved. Interestingly, that emptiness also keeps us longing for heaven, the only place where true healing will be found, because it is in heaven that we will finally be reunited! Until then …

  • Lgonsior

    I have learned that God is so gracious and protective to not let us know timeframes and ultimate outcomes even when we desperately want to know them. We have had a family situation that I considered to be temporary at the time that it began…….had I known then, 13 years ago, that it would still be an ongoing problem……but Blythe grace of God, I might have been unable to face it. What I found is that in the midst of my absolute brokenness…..God retrieved me and pulled me to Himself. I got involved in a very good Bible study after many years away from it. The daily homework lessons in His Word were just what I needed..those times were life changing as I spent time with Him….just the two of us ….working through hurt, feelings, situations…and being reminded of who He is, and what He can do. My plans are not His plans…I’ve had to give up what I thought our family would look like….and trust God to work in each of our lives. I may not live to see the end of His story…but it’s ok because there is a much bigger plan at stake. Thank you for sharing your story…..your openness is helpful to so many, I’m sure. What do we do when God’s plan looks different than ours? I think that we trust, we pray, we believe that His answer is the right one and that the end of the story is never really the end of the story…..and He continues to work within each of us. Blessings and peace and comfort to your family.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Hard lessons, yet important ones.  Thanks for sharing your story!

  • jane claire bigelow-poindexter

    Let me just say that I agree with you – that in a crisis – what we really believe comes to the top.  I just finished a book called LOVE POURED OUT about the adoption of my only child, a beautiful daughter.  I share how God had to grab hold of me and change my parenting patterns and how, about walking through open-heart surgery with her – and then at age 16 walking with her through the diagnosis of cancer.  SHe had wanted to go to the mission field in Botswana that summer – but she turned her heart to being a missionary to the kids in the hospital.  SHe walked out in time to graduate with  her high school class and was chosen to sing for their baccalaureate service.  Then she was onto a Christian liberal arts college – out of state – ….for…two…months before the pain got to her.  I flew her home.  Her cancer was back and there was no more that could be done.  She went through some wild time as a teenager trying to face death – but she came back to what she knew – back to her God and her source of peace – wrote a song in her last hours called “Heart on FIre’  and while barely concious, made arrangements for me to have flowers for mother’s day because she didn’t know if she would still be here or not.  SHe was not, but her flowers came as a comfort to her mama.  So much more!  Your wife might love the book.  LOVE POURED OUT – available on Amazon.  jane claire bigelow-poindexter

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      What a beautiful story!  I just put it on my book list.  Thanks for sharing!

  • jane claire bigelow-poindexter

    2nd thing to share…tragedies vary in size and form and depth but they all have a common answer in the Lord.

  • http://www.dental-management.net/ DentalAccountant

    Amazing story! We are learning in all circumstances  in our lives. Even in our problems we can learn from it, right? But what is more important is we learn to stand up we are full down.Glad you share this info!

  • Pingback: Toolbox 5/3/2012 – Leadership |()

  • Pingback: A Tattoo and a Kickstart (One-Year Update) - Tiller Family()