Leadership Learnings after my Daughter’s Sixth Brain Surgery

I spent this Thanksgiving at my daughter’s bedside as she lay in the hospital recovering from her second brain surgery in two weeks. The doctors confined her to bed to allow a slender tube they had inserted into her spinal chord to drain brain fluid that had begun to leak from her first surgery’s incision.

It all began twenty-three years ago.

We had left a cushy job in a church in Oklahoma to begin a new church in a dance study in the Atlanta area. My wife and I lived in a drafty rental with orange, shag carpet with our three preschoolers, all under the age of 4. And our financial support totaled $100 a month plus a gas credit card a friend allowed me to use for 6 months. We had felt God’s call to begin a new church that we assumed would make us famous as I would pastor a future Saddleback or Willow in the south.

I was so successful that after 6 months, the 51 who attended our first service dwindled to 17.

That was hard enough until we realized that a sinister brain tumor lurked deep within Tiffany’s brain, ready to take her life unless we took action.

Fast forward 23 years.  This journey has taken us through six brain surgeries, radiation, and an experimental brain implant. Now, I sat next to Tiffany this Thanksgiving grateful that she was alive.

As a type ‘A’ person, I’m most happy goal setting, dreaming big dreams, and accomplishing something tangible.

But as I sat next to Tiff, although I was accomplishing little from a metrics perspective, God was teaching me much about  true servant-leadership.

Here’s what I learned as I sat in room 831 of Rush Hospital in Chicago.

  1. Servanthood is the essence of leadership. Helping Tiff shuffle to the bathroom, pouring her a cup of water, and covering her with a blanket wouldn’t make the front page of ‘Outreach’ magazine, but I think heaven took notice.
  2. The ministry of presence, just simply being there, may appear to accomplish little at the moment. Yet, my presence nourished the soul of a precious daughter of God.
  3. The complete leader must realize that the sum of leadership is not just vision casting, developing other leaders, correcting mission drift, etc. but includes faithfulness in the simple, mundane experiences of life.

As I continue down this journey with my daughter, I look forward to God’s gentle reminders about true leadership.

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