By Major Nancy Helms
Spiritual Care Director – College for Officer Training
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2: 3-7
Some of the greatest lessons on leadership have been passed on to me from my son Cameron, who has special needs. Cam was born with profound deafness, cerebral palsy and cognitive delays – none of which have stopped him from achieving mammoth milestones throughout his life journey. I was recently taking a walk with Cam, and about halfway through our walk we ran into one of his martial arts friends and mentors on her way to class (we live on the grounds of the campus his class is on). I totally spaced out and forgot it was karate night (insert facepalm to the forehead). In my brain I’m going back and forth – “should I run ¾ of a mile home, get his stuff and meet up with him to get him changed, or just forget it?” I knew he would be devastated if he missed his class, so I decided to hurry home and retrieve his gear.
Much to my surprise, Cam walked in the door of our house right behind me. No joke, that’s the fastest ¾ mile he has walked in a very long time. He was sweating profusely, and we still had to get him dressed. It takes me quite a while just to get his gloves on, as his left hand has little dexterity, and as soon as I get one finger in, another pops out; but together we made it happen.
I wish I could transport all of you to his class that night so that you too, could see the greatest lesson on leadership I have ever witnessed. His instructor had him demonstrate for the rest of the group some of the moves they had been working on – a solo, so to speak. The instructor also had Cam come up in front of everyone and proceeded to have him lead the group in tandem with him, which empowered Cam beyond what you can imagine. Cam was a step behind in his moves and somewhat clumsy compared to most, which is to be expected with someone that has cognitive and physical delays; but he nailed the moves in his time and with his individual ability. The best part was when the entire class, children and adults, cheered with passion, while giving Cam the American Sign Language applause (hands raised in the air and waving). As I watched from my parked care, tears welled up. I thought to myself, “this is Church and leadership at its best – teaching, encouraging, loving, equipping and including.”
“This is Church and leadership at its best – teaching, encouraging, loving, equipping and including.”Major Nancy Helms
I went to bed thanking God for those in Cam’s life who have noticed him, invited him and included him – those who have recognized his abilities, rather than his disabilities – those who have realized that Cam, too, can lead and influence others. I thanked him for his martial arts buddies, who take turns coming alongside Cam on Monday and Thursday nights, sacrificing their personal training to focus on him. Then again, when we take time to teach and serve others, perhaps we are gaining skills and growing as leaders in ways could never imagine.
For just a moment that night, Cam was a leader – he had a place at the table where he belonged 100 percent. It was powerful experience for this mom to witness. I know without a doubt it is a moment in time he will tuck away in his heart and mind for years to come. He will feel empowered from the memory and encouraged from those around him who cheered him on. When I thanked his instructor for his part in nurturing Cam, he said, “When my life plan was to own a martial arts school, I planned to have a special needs inclusion program for students exactly like Cameron. It’s funny how God reworks our dreams to be better than we could have imagined them ourselves.” His instructor is now training to become a minister of the gospel in The Salvation Army, and I have the privilege of partnering in ministry with him.
“When my life plan was to own a martial arts school, I planned to have a special needs inclusion program for students exactly like Cameron. It’s funny how God reworks our dreams to be better than we could have imagined them ourselves.”Cadet David Culley
This experience reminded me of how Jesus often led, making every individual feel as if they belonged and had a seat of influence. One of my favorite books is, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was well known in the academic world, having been a professor at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. He left his notoriety to serve in a home filled with disabled individuals. He said, “Their liking or disliking of me had absolutely nothing to do with any of the many useful things I had done until then…These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self – the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things – and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments…I am convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.” That is the epitome of a servant leader!
I’m so glad I decided to hurry home and get Cam dressed for martial arts that night. It’s one of the best decisions I have made in a long time. Not only did I get to see Cam lead; I also saw a great example from Cam’s leader, as well as those around him, on how to lead from a posture of humility – allowing the student to become the teacher. It was a humbling moment and a teaching moment, for sure.