I remember it so well.
Sitting in a brightly lit, cold, children’s hospital room late on a dark Saturday evening, looking at a very sick little boy, named Mason, who had just been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of leukemia.
And I had no words. None. A family’s world had just been shaken to its very core. Wise pastors, I’ve observed, stay quiet in these moments. No grand sermons required here. Just presence. And tears.
This was the youngest son of a good friend and fellow leader at the church I serve as Lead Pastor: Taylor Neufeld. Taylor and I began a discipling relationship about 3 years ago when he and his amazing wife Cori joined HighView Church. Over the last few years since Taylor and I had shared many cups of Waffle House coffee and a few hundred waffles while discussing life, leadership, and Jesus. Taylor is one of the most naturally gifted servant leaders I’ve ever been around. Ever. Watching that gift emerge and confirmed in our local church has been a joy to behold. When nominations were made by the elders and the church for the office of deacon it surprised no one that Taylor was nominated.
As I drove home from the hospital that night I prayed. I cried. I lashed out a bit. I hurt for Taylor and Cori. I remembered Cori, just a few months prior, bringing a home cooked meal to my wife and I the day we had experienced a terrible loss of our own. When I went out to help Cori carry in the meal she had brought, Cori stopped and hugged me. She had no words. She didn’t need them. She was there to serve us in our suffering and that was more than enough. Wise Christ-followers, I have observed, stay quiet in those moments. I remembered Taylor, checking in on me in those days, several times per week. Praying for me. Praying with me. Being a friend.
All of these rushed through my mind as I drove, bleary eyes and all, back home that night. One of the prayers, I remember praying that night of the diagnosis, in particular, sounded a lot like: “God, help Taylor lead well in his suffering. Help him point others to you, the Great Suffering leader, who suffered well for the sake of others and the glory of your name”.
God answered my prayer.
Over these many months since Mason was diagnosed with leukemia I have watched a leader suffer well. Taylor did not flee from the presence of Jesus but ran directly into it. He did not shut down and disconnect from Gospel-community but instead dove headlong into it like never before. Rarely did Taylor and his family miss a church service, though certainly who would have blamed them if they did? No, instead, Taylor in leading his home to be committed to staying deeply attached to Christ’s body even through unbelievable suffering, began to increase his influence. People watch how leaders suffer and they love, respect and follow leaders who suffer well. Taylor’s influence at HighView Church has never been greater as it was marked with mind-blowing, unwavering faithfulness and service for others. Taylor and I spoke regularly, sometimes talking about the latest medical updates with Mason, but often talking about football, or a new visitor he noticed the previous Sunday, or a new family he invited to his Community Group. One conversation stands out to me and I believe properly captures Taylor’s remarkable leadership in the face of tremendous suffering. Late one night driving home from the church I gave Taylor a call. His work schedule meant that often our phone calls occurred late in the evenings. The conversation began with Taylor asking about the needs of a widow he was aware of. (Seriously). Taylor wanted to find a way to raise money for a widow to be able to supply her with enough propane gas to heat her home through the winter. I’m amazed but not shocked by this mind you. That’s Taylor. A force of servant spirit and energy that you can not stop but only hope to contain (love you buddy – Chad). Then, towards the end of the conversation, I ask. “So how are you doing buddy”? “I’m ok”. “No, really.” “Well, Chad, its kind of like this, I figure I am either gonna believe everything we say about the Gospel and the goodness of God or I am not. I believe it”.
And his life and leadership in the face of suffering proved that.
Today, I received the joyous news that Mason has just been declared 100% cancer free. I screamed and yelled on the phone with Taylor. Taylor asked Mason if he could hear “Preacherman” (that’s what the whole family calls me – long story.) being silly and he responded with sweet laughs. I cried a little and hung up.
Then I prayed. I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. Thankful for Mason’s healing. Thankful for prayers answered “YES!”. Thankful for a leader who has modeled what faithfulness to Christ and His church look like, even in the midst of unspeakable suffering and thankful that God used that suffering to expand and increase one godly leader’s impact for the Kingdom of God.
And I thanked God for Jesus. The Jesus, who models for Taylor and for you and for me, what it means to pray: “Not my will, but yours”.
(Taylor read and approved this blog post before posting)