Learning From Tragedy

Read this powerful story by John Tiller an inspirational speaker and writer who blogged on Michael Hyatt’s blog (one of my favorite bloggers – the blogpost also includes a video). Thought it was worth sharing!

John has what I call an ‘old fashioned faith’. By that, I mean in the best possible way, that he is one who has faith in God regardless of the inevitable storms that life hurls. We always have a choice when life happens. In words spoken a couple of thousand years ago but still as fresh and relevant today, Jesus said… ‘in this world you will face trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world’.


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 Leaguebaseball 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.


7 responses to “Learning From Tragedy

  1. Some events in life bring a percpective to life that only God can unfold. And He is faithful to take us through it. In the end it makes sense.

  2. God is truly God. Some events in life make us lose our balance and fall flat. But during such times we come to know God and his purposes for our lives not as a community but individually. Am sure their faith in God grew exponentially after this landmark event and 9 yrs later the boy is a blessing to many. Let us take his lead and lean on him only not our understanding.

  3. Dear Pastor M,

    Thank you for this article.I am writing you because in my life’s journey I have encountered many broken people and I dare add have been broken myself so I strongly feel the church as the body of Christ needs to reach out to people like us.Let me specifically talk about my widow/er pal(s).Is there a chance that as Mavuno we could talk/co-operate with other churches so that instead of each church replicating the ‘same’ ministry we synergise? For instance,ICC next door have a widows/widowers fellowship that specifically looks out for people that have lost their spouses.This can be a very dark season.Because I have some pals like these,I picked up the phone and called ICC.Their administrator advised that one of their Pastors (she mentioned Pastor William) is in charge of this ministry.So I got thinking,maybe our members going through this kind of loss can find a ‘brotherhood suffering the same sufferings’ they could walk with next door..?

    In another incidence,I got introduced to someone we’ve only spoken on phone with who is currently going through a divorce.We all want spouses and marriages that last forever,however life happens.Again,I learnt that Nairobi Baptist has a GOLDs (God loves the Divorced and Separated) ministry/fellowship that meets the morning of last Sat of each month.Sometimes they have a speaker eg they were addressing How to cope with Anger in Divorce in September 2012.They had invited a Pschologist to address that topic.One of their members also shared how she found Christ-like online support at http://www.divorcecare.com and I was able to pass on the info to my new tele-pal.She said the daily devotions they send have helped&encouraged her as they address her current painful phase or season. Mavuno doesn’t have these specific ministries and I know LG is designed even destined to provide support and care.Sometimes though,one needs specific fora such as these.

    I realise you are on sabbatical with your family so my apologies for raising this now.Please indulge me.

    What would your take be on this?

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