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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.