Nick's story undergoes a transformation as he shares his journey to conquer a traumatic brain injury. Nick's experience unveils a fresh perspective on vulnerability, a profound reliance on faith, and a profound shift in his outlook on life, making it a testament to the transformative power of leadership.
Welcome to this month's Greg Griffith Leadership Podcast. Join Greg Griffith as we, together, learn what it means to be leaders of our world as we faithfully love and faithfully lead. Like, share, rate and review this podcast with your friends and others of influence, for they too are looking for people like you to help them lead and love day to day. Now further ado. Here is your host, greg Griffith.Speaker 2:
Hey leaders, thanks so much for being back here, and I know today you're going to be just completely blown away by our guest today. But before we get to him, I want to invite and encourage you once again to do me a favor Like, share, rate and review this podcast. Get that out to someone you know that is also faithfully living and faithfully leading and faithfully loving. And as you do that and as we continue to do this into the world, let's also just always remember that God has positioned you for this and for where you're at to do greater things in his kingdom. So, even though you may not see it, as you're faithfully living, faithfully loving and faithfully leading, god is working and doing that. Listen, today you are going to be excited. You're going to say I wish there was more, and there probably will be, because I can talk with our guest today, nick, all day long, and it's going to be great. We've got a guy new to the Omaha area, but not new to living out his love and his life for Jesus, and so it's going to be really exciting. Nick Topland is here with us today. Nick, welcome. Thanks for being here.Speaker 3:
Thanks, greg. I'm so honored to be here. So, I'm going to be so great.Speaker 2:
Nick, let's just start. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and more to just your faith formation. How did you come to know and love Jesus?Speaker 3:
So I grew up in the Twin Cities. I was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I spent a couple years there, a couple years in Des Moines my dad was working for GE and then made it up to the city. So I spent the majority of my life there, Grew up in a faithful home. I think that it's pretty safe to say that my grandmother, on my dad's side, was definitely the spiritual leader of that family and just forever pointing back to Jesus. So I had that modeled for me, with cousins and aunts and uncles and certainly my parents, my folks. My mom was a nurse. My dad worked in corporate America, CEO of a large company by the time he retired. So I got to watch how people faithfully live out vocation in spaces that aren't explicitly ministry. Corporate America is not a place where you find quality folks living for Jesus all the time, and so I observed my dad making really hard choices on behalf of families for the better of families, but at the end of the day they're still shareholders, and so when he couldn't speak it, he lived it, and so I got to witness how it is that you can live a discipleship life without always having to use the words. So that's kind of my upbringing, Grew up going to church in Excelsior, Minnesota, and church was always a constant for us, regardless of how big life got for my mom. My mom had started a lactation department at a hospital that was her calling and my dad, like I said, was growing companies they always had time for church. They always had time for the Lord on special events, whether it's birthdays or holidays, we had our common table prayer that we would say as a family, but when it was, when dad was going to pray, we knew that there was something important about to happen and there were some constants in my dad's prayers. It was always something that was brought up at every holiday. If it was Thanksgiving, Christmas, it didn't matter, Just keeping our family mindful that there are people deployed around this world faithfully serving and they choose to do that over the top of being with their families on those special days. So and that's certainly important still in my life but we're not a military family. So that stood out to me and I poked at that for a while and it seemed like it was more of a lesson in staying mindful of the people that represent us and the people that we represent, even if we don't know who they are. So my dad, you could tell my dad and my mom were shaping my brothers and I I'm one of three. On the middle child I absolutely fit to a T the description of middle child. I'm sure through our conversation today that'll become pretty evident. But my folks were shaping us by the way that they lived and the way that they spoke Halfway through my freshman year. I was a public school kid until halfway through my freshman year and had a really challenging time. School was not always a significant challenge for me, but I was not in a community that was interested in affirming anything unique about me. It was more trying to help me figure out how I'm like everybody else and that it runs so counter-cultural to what I believe Jesus tells us we are, or uniquely His and Jesus died for you and for me and for us, but first and foremost our names. On a list it hangs on that cross and he died for us individually. And I couldn't. I could not connect why it was that a space that was supposed to be nurturing young people just wasn't allowed to acknowledge that and I fell into a pretty. I had a really really tough emotional run. Mental health became a real thing pretty quickly. I was 15 years old and it was. It was clear when I was at church on Wednesdays and Sundays I was an entirely different person, not because it was me, but because of what was being called out of me and in constantly consistently being reminded who I am and whose I am. And I came home one day after school after a particularly troubling day and I said to my mom I can't go back. So I don't know what that means, but we got to be somewhere else. So my folks started looking around. There was a new Christian high school being built in town. It was actually operating out of a Nordic track building, so Nordic track was based in my hometown. They turned that factory into a school for a while. So that you know that as a 15 year old kid. Not a great kind of pitch, because there were no athletic fields, there was no stage. Yeah, I just couldn't imagine life there. There's a Catholic high school that had gone up, tremendous education, but I had already. I was leaving a group of people who I didn't align with them, I couldn't figure out. We love the same and serve the same Jesus, but I needed to be around folks that were. That made it. That made a little bit easier for me. So we went out to a country school. It was about 25 miles from home, Mayor Lutheran High School, and, gosh, do I have stories about that. I showed up the first day and one of my very, very best friends from grade school happened to be in the classroom that they took me to the tour. I hadn't seen his face or even heard of it, heard his name in years, but as soon as I walked in the door I saw his face. I saw his eyes looking at me and I just, I just knew this was the place where the Lord was going to have me. So we did what we needed to do to get transferred and head to Mayor Lutheran, had just a wonderful experience there, Just such formative years. All of the things that I wished for in affirmation and relationship at my public high school was there. We had it, and so it was poured into every day. We received a great education, but more than that was really encouraged and trained and taught by faithful folks who take their vocation extremely seriously. It's a high call to serve in a Christian school and they took it seriously and I'm so glad that they did so. That was high school. For me, my journey through college education not typical. I prioritized maybe the wrong things, the relationships that I had fostered at Mayor. One of them in particular was actually that same kid His name is Jake and I couldn't imagine leaving Jake after what we had gone through in high school and just the way that the Lord had rekindled that brotherhood. So we went down to Dukora together for a year and I was studying pastoral ministry down there and I very quickly realized that everybody in the rooms that I'm sitting with is exactly like me Upper middle class to middle class, you know, largely white kids who come from strong Lutheran backgrounds. And quickly I figured out I'm not really going to have to ever defend this here and if there's anything that I think our kingdom needs right now, it's the practice of apologetics. If we can't defend the things that we believe, if we're not prepared, we're not prepared to do this, to be brothers and sisters in Christ. So I left and transferred. I went and at the time the University of Minnesota still had a comparative religion program. So I went to the U of M, studied comparative religion and that was a trip. And it wasn't too long before the Lord sent me on into a space just like my dad's. I had a buddy who was leaving for Ireland for a study abroad trip. He said I think I got a job for you at Apple if you want one. He said they need somebody to fill my spot while I'm gone. That'd be kind of cool. So I went and started working for Apple and very, very quickly I was launched into a discipleship role. It was a great ride. I spent about three years working for them and then the ride ended, because when you work for a big corporation like that, you either go where they asked you to or you just go away and where they wanted to send my wife and I just wasn't an option. China was emerging and that was probably the road. So then the Lord opened an opportunity really quickly to step into ministry. I needed an internship for my degree. My sister-in-law has been a long time youth minister in La Crescent, Minnesota, just across the river from La Crosse, Wisconsin, and she gave me an opportunity to come down and lead their junior and senior high ministry for about a year. So I went and lived with my brother and sister-in-law my now brother and sister-in-law and just was captured, reminded again about the power of community, the power of shared vision and was called into it. So after that internship it was just ministry appointment after ministry appointment, largely serving youth and family. Near the end there was some crisis intervention work. That was pretty formative in my life, understanding those vulnerable spaces that people invite you into. If you're going to come in and try and witness to folks and be pastoral in those spaces, you should be prepared to have some pushback, because life's really hard and meeting people in those hard moments. I would love to encourage everybody that that's where Jesus is going to meet you. We've seen it. We see it in His Word all the time. But when you're feeling that it's sometimes the last thing, even faithful people want to hear right Because they have to wrestle with that question of why bad things happen to good people, that forever question. And then from there, that was where my ministry appointments ended because of an injury.Speaker 2:
Yeah, you mentioned why bad things happen. Right, and you're heading off, you're getting rekindled back into the ministry. You're loving Everything's happening. You know you're kind of going yes, I'm doing work for the Lord. It's kind of the dream that you've been having from 15. And again, hearing this just that reminder again of the influence we have over young people, but also that young people will lead when we give their voice a hearing. Amen, and that is so important. But you're heading there and then you have this injury. Tell us about that.Speaker 3:
Yeah, it really was. I've never felt I like to describe it to folks that you know. If you know the Gene Wilder version of the Willy Wonka story and my contention the only Willy Wonka story there's a scene where Mike TV gets shrunk down right and they come and grab him by the scruff of his neck and put him in mom's purse. Right, that's where I was. The Lord had picked me up by the scruff of my neck and put me into a really, really safe place Happened to be a Catholic church. Why the Lord decided that it would be right for an evangelical, forever evangelical, lutheran guy to end up in a setting. That's anything but only he knows. But, my goodness, I'm convicted now that it's because he needed to remind some folks that he's in control, and so he did a mighty, mighty work. A ministry grew exponentially in just a short period of time. I pretty much washed my hands of any leadership. I didn't need to. Students were leading everything and it was the youth pastor's dream, and so, on the backside of it, it's no surprise to me when we do good work in his name, there's another out there who gets a little bit uncomfortable and sometimes finds their way to intervene. So we had a ministry event, and this is the Posh and Tony Southwest Metro of the Twin Cities. So we had collected food, a bunch of food, for a local food shelf and after the kids had done just an unbelievable job, the parents said don't you think we should celebrate this in some way? And I'm the well, what's next guy? Right, I have trouble stopping to pause. And so I was encouraged and I said well, great, if you all wanna run with that, let's do it. But I don't even begin to think of what you're trying to get to. What they designed was a progressive dinner, like the old school 1980s progressive dinners, except we were gonna do it in Hummer, limousines, and we were gonna go from fast food place to fast food place, eating each meal, each course of the meal, at a different place, and we're gonna end up bowling and playing laser tag, all the fun stuff that happens, and that's what they put together. It was a great event. We were on our way back and we came out of the bowling alley and this is middle of March in Minnesota. It was a freezing rain day. We had thick, freezing rain. Whatever it hit instantly, just glare ice. So we made our way back to church. If you ever seen a Hummer Limousines, they're real tall, so these things had several stairs running boards that came out of the side of the car. When you opened the door Because that freezing rain they were locked in. So the last thing that I remember is swinging the door open and looking down to see where I had to kind of jump out of the car to get. When my feet hit the ground, one side of my back of my head hit the door frame. That knocked me unconscious. So then my unconscious body fell and landed on the curb. My back of my head on the other side landed on the curb. So concussions are recoil injury. Right, it's not the first impact, it's the recoil that concusses you. Well, if you get enough of that back and forth, you can multiple concussions from one impact right If it's hit with enough force. I spent the next several weeks sitting in the dark. I had such photosensitivity I really light in of any type was just glaring in my eyes. I saw two of everything still do and vertigo, really consistent vertigo, and then migraines that I wouldn't wish on my absolute worst enemy. And then cognitively, speech was hard. I would have a hard time coming up with words, so word choices was really, really challenging. I had a stutter when I had real cognitive drain. I stuttered pretty badly and so they put me on pain medicine, managed pain medicine for about six weeks and that was the answer is we just got to get him through the recovery period. God bless mothers I'm 27 years old at the time and my mom still be in my mom advocating for me, calling doctors saying you're not doing enough for my son, we need to get him into a specialist. She wormed our way into a neurologist of all people and that's quite the specialty to not wait for and she got us in and from there I spent the next two years in full-time neuro rehab, multi-service. I couldn't drive, so my dad would drive down from the northern part of the cities and pick me up, drive me all the way down to Minneapolis about a 50-minute drive stay with me all day and then drive me back home, out to my wife and my apartment at the time, and then he'd be done for the day. Had friends, a lot of people from church who were willing to also help do that. So two years in rehab and gosh, I learned so much about the importance of vulnerability and blessing people by letting them help. We rob so many people in our lives of the blessing of how they want to support you because we think that we're going to tax them too much or we're asking for too much, and sometimes it's pride. It was that for me in parts. So I learned a lot. You know there's still challenges. There's permanent disability associated with it. For me it's a daily reminder of the reliance that I need to have on the Lord. Without him, modern medicine is unbelievable. But there's one great physician. He did work that only he could do in that healing process and continues to. I still believe I could wake up tomorrow and be able to see only one of you across the table. It could happen, but since it hasn't yet, it's just my reminder that I rely on him every day and I wouldn't change it. I wouldn't give it back. Most people have a hard time believing that, but the perspective that you gain by going through something. I have a absolute rock star of a wife who, if she would have said, nick, this is just too much, this isn't the life that we imagine for each other, for ourselves. I just don't know how we I would have said I love you, I love you enough to say, go find that life. Then she stood by my side and insisted that we don't stop living. We had a child in the midst of those two years. Our eldest boy was born during that time while I was still doing rehab. We were making absolutely no money. I was on disability from a youth pastor's job. So you know you're getting a fraction of already a pretty modest income. And Jen was working at a daycare center and I remember just a few short weeks before our son was due I am panicked. It's about 14 grand to send a kid to daycare in Minnesota. We couldn't sniff at 14 grand and the Lord taught us that provision comes in ways that aren't necessarily paychecks. So a couple weeks before Cole was born and we were going to have to start footing this bill, the ownership group of the daycare center that Jen worked for said we'd like to have you lead here and as a leader here, we'll just take care of childcare. You come and serve here and that'll be our gift to you. So for nine years we had two children in nine years and didn't pay a cent. The childcare we're paying for now in Omaha is the first time we've ever had to pay. So Lord's provision was there and it has shaped how we think about provision in a really profound way, and the injury taught us a number of things. But again, more than anything else, it taught us that the more we lay at his feet, the more we put it across and just say I trust you with it. Whatever it looks like, however, you'll have it, not my outcome, but yours. You know better than me, you know better than us, so I trust you, and that has been our posture since 2013. And it's the same reason why we're in Omaha today.Speaker 2:
Wow, you know this is the second time I've heard that story and I still find myself just amazed at your faithfulness to hold to God, your faithfulness and insight through that. Let me ask you a question. First is this was it diagnosed as? Is it a traumatic brain injury? Yeah, is that what? Okay, so it's a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury. 27 years old and, for all intents and purposes, for two years, you're now homebound just doing rehab and that's your unpaid job. In that and now out of the career that you had seen yourself going. I think every single one of us can say we know that unforeseen things happen. We never believe they will, amen. And so when they do and let me first start with how did you, when you walk through the valleys, right, and I think this is something that's so important for Christians to understand, because we often want to say we want to live on the mountain top most of our lives, but the reality is we do live in our valleys the majority of time, and I always like to think about the fact that it is in the valley where you see the flowers and where you see growth. The mountain top is actually pretty sterile. It's a beautiful view, but you can't live up there. But when you were in the valleys, how did you get through that? How did you stay focused with Jesus? How did you wrestle with God? You know.Speaker 3:
I had the opportunity as a young guy to travel to the Holy Land with my parents, a couple aunts and uncles, cousins and my grandma, my spiritual foundation. Grandma got a double knee replacement, replaced both of them at the exact same time so that she would be well enough to walk around the Holy Land. If she was going to go where Jesus walked, she was going to walk, nobody was going to push her. And when you go to that place, you know Psalm 23,. That is the vision of the valley, the mountain top and the valley. And when you go to that place where those writers are writing about, it's hard for a guy from the flat prairie land of the Midwest to understand what valleys and mountain tops are actually like. But when you see those Bedouin folks driving their sheep across the lands, moving from the summer fields back home for winter, the picture just comes alive. And the only way to arrive at the grounds where those sheep are going to graze for that really, really important time where they're fattening up for that summer, the only way to get there is to go through the valley. You can't possibly reach the place that God has supplied for you, that green grass. He can't give it to you unless you're willing to walk with him through the things that he just says. You need to trust me. I will bless your life in ways you can't imagine. I'll bring you to the mountain tops and beyond, as long as you're willing to walk with me. I'm there, lord said. Lord's already there. He's just just meet me. Meet me in the valley and walk with me through it and I'll bring you to the promised place. And I can't tell you how many times during that two years that that mental picture was just. It was my grounding, jen and I. That was a picture that we used a lot, and there is beauty in the valleys, but those walls can be real tall and the passageways can look really long. But if you're willing to walk, the promise is really rich at the end of it. But it's not forever. That's the thing is by the when you come back down from the mountaintop to make it back home. The only way to make it back home is to go back through the valleys, and so that picture of how shepherds work in that part of the world is so perfect for how God calls us to rely on Him. So that was a really important picture for us. The other part of it is. You get to a point where you have to ask what's the other option? The other option is to become spiteful. It's not without its doubts. The word is full of doubting people. And that's okay, we're not Him. So to believe that we could be entirely faithful in every moment, sure, we can aspire to it. I would never hold you to that standard, greg. Right, doubt creeps in. He has a way of calling us back. And so when doubts came up, when challenges looked really insurmountable, there was a long time we had been doing rehab, for probably 18 months, when the doctors said I think this is probably it, we're just not seeing improvement. As a matter of fact, the more we push, the further you regress. Cognitive load was just a really, really hard thing and I'm a thinker that's not good for people with a brain injury. I need to breast that brain. And I came home just terrified to tell Jen I think they're going to discharge me and I think they're going to discharge me at full disability, fully disabled. That would have limited my ability to pursue so much in my life. We came home and we just prayed. There were tears, there was a lot of fear in those conversations and that is not something that's normal for Jen and I, people of vocation. There's no room for fear in discernment. But we were fearful. But we took that fear to the Lord as well. And wouldn't you know it Within maybe, I don't know a month's time a critical time we started to see some improvement that we hadn't seen for a long time. Methodologies changed a little bit. Doctors were doing their very, very best by us. We owe our lives to the TBI Center at Hennepin County Medical Center. We weren't at Mayo, we weren't at a brain specialty clinic. We were at a county hospital, minneapolis' biggest county hospital. Those are servants. They do their job with a ton of heart. A lot, many, many of them are believers and witness openly, and that place was so special. By the time I was discharged they were just about ready to open a brand new clinic. Jen and I had the opportunity to go and cut the ribbon on that clinic alongside their leadership. It's an amazing group of people. We saw the movement. That's all we needed. We needed just a glimmer. You know, in those moments of fear and those moments of doubt, I don't need a miracle. I just need the reminder that movement's possible, that the valley that we're in doesn't have a wall at the end of it. Right, it's not a fjord, it's a valley. You can walk through it. You just got to keep trucking, and so the glimmer of that open end at the end of that path was enough for us to just buckle back up our bootstraps and say, okay, we're getting to the end of this tunnel and the Lord's going to deliver us to a place where we get to make some choices. And we had not made any choices in that two-year period, so we were living off of the direction of other people.Speaker 2:
I didn't need a miracle, I just needed a reminder. Wow, I mean just such great, great conviction and reminder in that I think we live so often in the midst of our deepest, darkest valleys saying I need a miracle, but really we just need the reminder Wow, that is that will never leave my life. Thank you for that. You said something that I think I'd like to flush out, because I think a lot of people probably heard it too and said wait, what? And you even alluded to that. You said I don't wish this didn't happen. Flush that out a little bit for us. In that fact, I think that it is a reminder for us that God does call us to be thankful for all things, and that doesn't necessarily mean that we are wanting all the bad things to happen, but we are thankful for what God does out of them. And so flush that out a little bit for us.Speaker 3:
I am anything but an artist. I have very, very little artistic skill. When I went to mayor, I was encouraged to spend some mentorship time with the art teacher, mr Dorn. I didn't know why, but one of the teachers who I had developed relationships, said I think you're a Mr Dorn guy. I want to know what that meant. So I signed up for ceramics. Never had touched a lump of clay in my life, maybe a pinch pot like in elementary school, but nothing on a wheel. Mr Dorn gave me a picture of my life through clay that I'll never forget. You can't throw a bad pot. It's impossible, because all you have to do is fold it back in itself again and start over. It's the same clay. You're not. You're not replacing it, you're just remaking it, and the Lord will do that for our lives. As often as we let him, he'll squish that clay back down to a ball and he'll form it into exactly what he needs. Not what we need, but if we're putting ourselves into his service, then what? What we, what we're called to be, is what he needs in order to accomplish the work he's trying to accomplish through us. So I don't I don't wish any of the moments of my life when the Lord took that ball, squished it back down and threw it into something else. I don't, I wouldn't wish any of that away. Those moments make me more secure in who I am, where I am and whose I am Then anything else. I get uncomfortable when I'm the same vase or pot for too long. It makes me wonder am I following the way that I'm supposed to be following, because you haven't squished me down in a while? Here we just got squished. Here we are. We're in Omaha. That's. That has just been the story of my life and my relationship with the Lord. When I allow him to be the potter, he brings me to places I could have never imagined arriving.Speaker 2:
Wow, thank you so much. I like to end with this question and I'm really Looking back now At everything, through everything. What would you tell let let's go to this, I usually say your 20 year old self, but what? What would you tell the, the guy sitting in the classroom With your friend Jake and looking around and seeing everyone like you? What would you tell him today?Speaker 3:
I would. I'd beg that he not sell the creativity, the authorship, the authority, the, the usefulness and just the mastery of the Lord. Just don't dismiss it, because until you Until in a relationship, you are known and noticed by the other, and until you're in relationship where you know and notice the other, I Just don't know why we cast judgment. I don't know why we try and assess our likenesses, are our differences, until we're at a point where I notice the times in your life that aren't consistent right when we're in relationship with each other. Part of part of my call, part of my Grateful burden, is to is to point out to you that help me understand how this lines up with all of this that I'm seeing in your life. You're investing in people. People are investing in you. You're stepping out in the ways that are that are honorable and worthy. You're investing in family but this over here, I'm not sure where that fits and earning the right to ask that question of people, instead of just assuming that that's broken, this or that sin or you can call it whatever you want to. Until you're in that relationship where you can know somebody enough to notice, I would just beg him, please give it. Give these things time, all of this relationship, give it. It's it's full. Do I'm not? I'm not a brilliant man. Lord's gonna. It's. Will take a lifetime for him to fill me with any wisdom, so I don't know why we don't allow that for each other.Speaker 2:
That's good, nick. I Every, every moment I have with you, I find myself just Richly going even deeper and learning so much today I can honestly say I think everyone who's listening to this Fully knows that faithfully living, faithfully leading and faithfully loving is simply Walking one step at a time very patient. So thanks so much. Thanks everyone for listening. Once again, I would invite you to rate, review, like and share this with somebody who needs to just see what it is to faithfully live, love and lead, walking with Jesus through the valley, as we did today. So thanks a lot, thank you.Speaker 1:
Thank you for being a part of this month's Greg Griffith leadership podcast. Join Greg next month for leadership insights to faithfully love and faithfully lead. Now go beat sarrith and today.