A 6’4” musclebound guy that looked to be about my age outstretched his tattoo covered arm, unsure of how to shake my hand as many often are. “Hi, I’m Josh,” he said before taking a seat near me. That was about the extent of our conversation over the course of the next few weeks in early 2012 during a men’s Bible study before going our separate ways.
Nearly a year later, I was wheeling into church when the leader of our group approached me asking, “Do you remember Josh?” Barely, I thought. I was then informed that Josh had recently had a drug relapse and was now in a coma with a serious brain injury. Due to the fact that I barely knew the guy or anything about him, this information exited my mind fairly quickly. However, I found myself thinking about it again later, not only that morning but for days following. I sensed the two of us had not seen the last of each other.
Little did I know how much of an understatement that was. Our two worlds were about to collide. Within a few weeks Josh and I were sitting motionless in our wheelchairs across from each other at the hospital where he was staying. Josh’s eyes were shut, and not a sound was coming from his mouth. I wasn’t quite sure how to interact with someone who I wasn’t sure could even hear me. His parents had initially been told he could be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.
God had other plans. Within weeks Josh unexpectedly began opening his eyes, formulating sentences, and even asking me to bring him Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. His progress has been miraculous. Over the next few months he went from being in a coma to the progress seen in this video:
After Josh’s speech returned the rest was history. We quickly developed a friendship. While our injuries were different, our battles were similar. Through hours of talking with Josh, I came to intimately know the truth found in 2 Corinthians 1:4: “God consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles.” Initially I had thought I was going to be the one to encourage Josh but in fact I always left inspired at the way he went out of his way to interact with and encourage fellow patients.
In the Cincinnati Bengals weight room, the words of the wise King Solomon stand above: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Whether in the world of sports or in the trenches of similar trials, Josh and I were able to empathize with one another, connect in the unlikeliest of circumstances, and in the process attempt to bring out the best in each other.
I cherished the six months we had together in Cincinnati, but this past summer Josh was transferred to a brain injury rehabilitation site in Illinois. Our communication is limited to the mail and interacting on the phone via a third party. I miss seeing him on a weekly basis but know it will not be our last time together.
Josh and I shared with one another an understanding of the challenges of relying on others for nearly every daily task. We were able to joke around about trivial matters while also celebrating the forgiveness Jesus offers for the lives we used to lead. We shared our passion for seeing how God will write the rest of each of our stories. There were conversations that will remain between the two of us in the four walls of that hospital room that I will cherish for years to come. Overall, we were able to share about the sweet rewards, realizations, and perspectives gained on the road of trial.
This story is not over yet. I conclude every letter to him telling him that I am looking forward to the day when we stand next to each other for the first time. An unfinished handshake from the first day we met still needs to be completed.
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