Dr. Lee Warren served as a combat brain surgeon for the U.S. Air Force in Iraq. He describes his deployment as a time of personal crisis, as he faced not only the grueling toll of being combat medical personnel, but also a crumbling marriage and the serious illness of a family member on the homefront. He also talks about his concerns for the children he had to leave at home when he felt they needed him most. His is a story I know many other veterans will relate to, as life at home rushes onward while we do our duty abroad. Like so many deployed men and women who face hardships at home, Dr. Warren says that his faith in God was in shambles, until he began to see how the Lord was working in his life.

In today’s interview, Dr. Warren tells us how he has come to view his deployment as a period when God was refining his character. He has insights we can all learn from, including his perspective on hardships, and the importance of allowing God to work on us and through us.

Now a writer, blogger, and podcaster, Dr. Warren shares his story with others. I highly recommend his first book No Place to Hide: A Brain Surgeon’s Long Journey Home from the Iraq War, and very much look forward to his upcoming book I’ve Seen the End of You: Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know coming out in 2019. His experience as a combat surgeon and scientist offers an important veteran perspective we don’t hear everyday, and I know you’ll enjoy his story.

Where does your story begin?

I grew up in Oklahoma, and went to medical school on scholarship from the US Air Force. Years later, I found myself deployed to Iraq as a combat brain surgeon.

What are some of the defining moments in your life that have led you to where you are now?

I think the things that most define us are those that challenge us the most. The beautiful things: finding love, having children and grandchildren, watching your family grow and learn and succeed and start their own families. These things add value, create permanence, give us a place and a people to call our own, a squad with whom we’re always safe, and make us appreciate how great and kind God is. The good stuff gives us aspirations of being enough to deserve it. My wife Lisa and our family have shown me how blessed I am, and made me want to live up to what God has done for me.

But the hard things, the scary stuff, that’s what either exposes or defines our character. Those battles don’t show us what we need to be, they reveal who we really are. They present us with opportunities to be called out, exposed, challenged to either step into our destiny or fade into our weaknesses.

For me, I went to the Iraq war in a time of personal crisis: first marriage ending, faith in shambles, my brother very sick and my grandfather dying a few weeks before I deployed. The war seemed too much for me at the time, but somehow God showed me that it was exactly where I was supposed to be. Isaiah 48:10 says, “I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.”

I have two pictures that are hard for me to look at, but they tell a lot of my story. One is from December 26, 2004. I’m on the C-130 heading into Iraq. I look scared, naive, and young. I have pain in my eyes, but it’s from life.

The other is also on a C-130, but this time it’s months later and I’m heading back to al Udeid air base in Qatar. I look older, very tired, and like I’ve seen a lot. My eyes look hardened, and it’s because I’ve not yet shed the tears that would come years later when I finally let the war come out of me.

But God used war, definitely the furnace of suffering, to refine me and to strip away my need to control everything. He put me in a place where I could control nothing—not the rockets and mortars, or the wounded soldiers, or my marriage ending, or being 7,000 miles from my kids when they needed me most—and taught me to rely on Him to get me through.

What I didn’t know then was that He was preparing me for bigger, and sometimes harder, things. He put my heart back together when He gave me Lisa, and we’ve now been married for thirteen years. Her love and support helped me heal from the war.

But God used war, definitely the furnace of suffering, to refine me and to strip away my need to control everything. He put me in a place where I could control nothing—not the rockets and mortars, or the wounded soldiers, or my marriage ending, or being 7,000 miles from my kids when they needed me most—and taught me to rely on Him to get me through.


What or who motivates or pushes you forward?

My wife and my family. I work hard every day to make them proud of me, and I never forget the great blessing they are from God. Family is everything.


What is the main mindset shift you’ve had to alter or take on as you’ve gone through life and its bumpy roads?

I had to learn that all of God’s promises hold true, no matter how dark life’s path can sometimes be. Even Romans 8:28, the famous “All things work together for good for those who love God,” proves out over time. The problem is, the blessing from the hard things we go through often takes years to reveal itself.


What is your advice for someone in the throes of hardship or significant change?

Hang on. Never give up. Remember that there are people who need you—that the story you’re living now will help someone else later if you’ll rise up and let God refine you through it.

Is there a quote or verse that has encouraged you?

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the broken hearted.”
Luke 12:48 “To whom much is given, much is required.”

I learned that God is always there, wherever we are, no matter how hard it seems. As long as we just look for Him. And that Luke 12:48 sometimes means that even if He’s given you a lot of hard things, it’s because He’s going to redeem them in your life to help others in a mighty way if you’ll let Him.

And Scotty Smiley’s book, Hope Unseen is one of the best examples of what I’m talking about.


Dr. Warren writes an inspiring weekly newsletter and blog, and has a podcast. You can learn more on his website http://www.wleewarrenmd.com 

Showing 2 comments
  • Kate Sharp

    Dear Dr. Warren,
    I would like to extend my personal and heartfelt thanks it has been selfless Neurosurgeons like yourself that have kept me alive for the past 20 years despite having endured 21 VP and LP shunts little is still understood about idiopathic intracranial hypertension. As a Registered Respiratory Therapist I also dedicated my career to medicine until MRSA positive Bacterial Meningitis became a foe I battled twice I still miss my profession daily, but now try to do my own research from the safety from my home. Without Neurosurgeons dedicated to their work day in and day out people like myself would perish. Long term lumbar punctures are not a viable option and very few physicians can grasp living day in and out with a headache so severe that sometimes we fail to even acknowledge it exists because our normal is so abnormal. I can’t tolerate the acetazolamide. My dream prior to IIH was to go to medical school and I was close before my diagnosis I endured a spinal tap a week all through Respiratory School before my first VP shunt was placed. I have now had 14 my ventricles are collapsed and I now have my 7th LP shunt. I desperately want to help find a better solution for the men and women suffering with this disease process you are an amazing and compassionate surgeon that is clear. I thank you for your Service and for your selfless work as a Neurosurgeon Lord knows my life has been saved many times! God Bless! Happy Holidays

  • Finch Allen, Jr.

    Hope is faith in action. I have seen this in person as an RN working alongside Dr. Lee Warren as in an ICU in Alabama. I have never met a more gifted and caring surgeon. I know this from personal experience. Dr. Warren even operated on me when all other doctors had “given up.” God is using my friend for great and wondrous things right now. . Please, read his books, and if you get a chance to meet Lee and his beautiful wife Lisa, you will be blessed. I promise. Finch Allen, Jr. Lt/NC/Navy/Ret.

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