For Finn

Three year-old boys aren’t supposed to die of cancer…but in this broken world sometimes they do.

Recently, our family attended a memorial service for a super hero named Finn. Finn’s parents (Dan and Brandi Lee) are very special to my wife and me. We had the opportunity to mentor them during their time in college at Syracuse University. We even had the amazing honor of being in their wedding.

Now we were in a crowded church for a different type of service. As I sat in silence, a question came into my mind, “What if Dan and Brandi Lee came up to me right now and said, ‘John we need you to say a few words’?” What in the world would I say? How could I possibly convey anything that would be worthwhile? What follows was the first thing that came to my mind. My words truly don’t do justice to their love, their faith or the struggle of their courageous boy but it is the best attempt I have at speaking from the heart…

“Jesus wept”.

Those two words are more than just the shortest verse in the Bible. They give us a picture into the heart of God. Jesus didn’t need to cry. He knew he was about ready to raise his friend from the dead. Yet, he looked at all the people in pain around him and experienced the grief of losing someone so close to him and he cried…not just a tear running down his cheek. He bawled his eyes out! 

For those of us here who are following Jesus, it’s not just OK if we weep today. It is a sign that we truly have the heart of the person we claim as our King.

So today we choose to weep.

We weep for Finn. No three year-old child should experience the ravages of cancer. We were not intended to have our childhood ripped away by a devastating disease. Three year olds should be playing with cars, not worrying about colostomy bags. They should be outside soaking in the rays of the sun, not going through rounds of radiation. They should be hopping around their house, not shuffling through a hospital. Young lives were not designed to be shattered like this. I believe Jesus isn’t apathetic toward Finn’s pain. Something tells me that as Finn suffered, Jesus wept. As we think about Finn’s strength in the midst of this horrific battle, we weep too.

We weep for Dan and Brandi Lee. How many of us would have the courage and grace to endure what they have gone through as parents? Place yourself in their shoes for a moment. They were already under the intense pressure of raising three boys, one of whom has special needs. Add on top of that, a cancer diagnosis for their youngest. They gave everything they could over the last couple of years emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. They emptied themselves in order to find healing for their child. In the end, their child was still taken away. How many of us here could still muster the faith to sing, “It is well with my soul”? Dan and Brandi Lee, the level of sorrow you are experiencing is like walking through hell. Jesus knows. I believe he weeps with you. We weep with you too.

We weep for ourselves. Finn was courageous, independent, optimistic, wise and loving. Boys with those qualities grow up to be men with those attributes. As we look around at our world today, who wouldn’t want more men with that type of character? When we lost Finn, we lost someone extremely precious. We didn’t simply lose a boy. We lost a future leader and inspiration. Jesus weeps with us in the middle of our grief too.

The Bible tells us that because of Jesus we don’t have to mourn like people without hope. We cling to the hope that Jesus brings today. For that very reason, we are able to enter into our grief without fear. We serve a king who cried and today we cry too.

*FYI, If you don’t know Dan and Brandi Lee personally, I’d highly suggest visiting their blog. This will give you a firsthand look at their journey. You’ll also get the opportunity to meet the avocado-loving super hero that inspired this post.

Leading is Leasing

Have you ever taken pride in caring for something? Maybe you tended a garden. Perhaps you adopted a pet. It could be you are trying to raise a reasonably well-adapted child who ends up as a functioning member of society. No matter what you cared for, my guess is it got a little piece of your heart and soul.

During this summer, I spent a lot of time in a section of forest that my brother in law and I are leasing from a farmer. It’s not massive but 33 acres of trees, shrubs and unkempt paths can keep a person very busy.

As soon as the snow melted this past winter, I walked through the timber, setting out a plan for the year ahead. With the help of other people, I cleared an area where clover could be planted to feed animals. I also used my trusty saw to create paths through the woods. When the aforementioned clover grew, I mowed it down so it would become thick and lush. Basically, I did my best to make the woods a little slice of heaven on earth. It was a ton of hard work but it paid off!

This past week, I visited the woods to do a couple of final finishing touches before bow season. Contentment and confidence filled my heart as I reflected on everything that had been done over the course of several months. But when I exited the woods, I was surprised to see the landowner waiting by the side of the road.

The look on his face told me something wasn’t right. He explained to me that he had gone through some difficult financial times and was selling the land. As I listened to him, my heart went out to him. I was also hit by another reality… all that effort I put into creating a little sanctuary was going to be enjoyed by someone else. I felt a tangible sense of loss. It was like I was 10 years old and someone took my Optimums Prime Transformer directly out of my hands and decided to give it to another kid.

Have you ever lost something that you cared for? Maybe that garden you planted was invaded by pests, the pet you adopted ran away or that child (you spent 18 years raising) graduated and left the house.

Losing something we care for can be disorienting. I spent the next 3 or 4 days feeling sad.

As I leaned into that sadness, I had a realization…. Leading is leasing.

We never really own whatever we are given to lead. The challenge is ultimately to keep our hearts engaged and caring, knowing that we aren’t building our own kingdom. Our hope is to leave a legacy for others to enjoy.

What are you leading right now? Take time to savor it. Give it everything you have. At the same time, hold it with an open hand, knowing that the best leaders don’t focus on “owning” leadership. They live with the reality that what they care for was never truly “theirs” to begin with.