(No, I’m not engaged again. This happy couple unknowingly entered a video conference that would conveniently tie into my blog post.)
I got called out again.
Recently a friend pointed out that I was taking the conversation by the horns. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with asking a lot of questions, but he and I both knew what else was going on: My frequent tendency to deflect all conversation away from myself.
Why do I keep doing this?
When I launched this blog four years ago I was all about opening up. Letting others see behind the curtain. Doing away with the façade. However, carrying this over into real life relationships has always been a struggle. Even the most authentic and vulnerable blog post allows for careful editing. Authenticity with others in face-to-face conversation is another story.
However, this is a crucial part of relationships. The book of Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This doesn’t work if I’m not willing to open up and be real with other men in relationship.
So I began praying for more opportunities to do so, having no idea what it looked like. For a long time I have been at a loss about how to get connected to more like-minded men. As it turns out, my current physical challenges around getting out of the house (let alone the bed) are not exactly conducive to developing or sustaining many new relationships.
This summer my prayer was answered.
A video posted on social media by a guy I hadn’t talked to since high school caught my eye. After further investigation I learned this series of videos was the product of a group of guys from Inner Circle Cincinnati; an organization of men joining together in the mission of following Jesus and living out the concept of iron sharpening iron.
Rather than meeting in person, ICC groups gather via video chat. This has been the perfect layout for my current physical status. Video chat not only allows me to project the guys onto my ceiling, but has also opened up opportunity for camaraderie to extend beyond the Cincinnati area.
I’m thankful for the door that has opened. It continues to push me in the art of being vulnerable and experiencing how much deeper relationships can go as a result. On top of that, it has been another reminder of God’s creative way of answering prayer, especially in a situation where I had no idea where to turn or what the end result could look like.
If you’re interested in more info on ICC, shoot me an email or visit www.InnerCircleCincinnati.com
Each morning a different guy in ICC sends out a video to spur on the others as we journey life together. Here’s a recent video that I shared with the group:
After swearing off all sorts of social media, I had fallen into the trap once again. Here I was, mindlessly scrolling through photos that offered glimpses into the lives of my 1,000 closest online friends.
I admired the scenic views. I salivated at the perfectly prepared gourmet meals sitting on the table posing for pictures. Travel logs documented where flights were going all over the country, complete with photo albums from worldwide vacations. Pictures of new little ones entering happy families permeated my newsfeed.
Celebrations, milestones achieved, and smiling faces all decorate the internet for outside observers. From the looks of things, everyone else is living a utopian life.
It leaves a sense of wanting to join the party.
I recently thought I should fulfill my cyber duty, as if to fill an imaginary quota, but I was lost for something that fit the above criteria. I checked my history for when I had last posted something to find that my wedding video from eight months ago was the last time I had shared any part of my life.
While the wedding was a blast, it was just one night in the midst of months of remaining bedridden due to pain and spasticity. I joked with my wife that a real-life Instagram feed from the last few months would look a lot more like this:
Seeing everyone’s highlights posted on social media can raise the question, am I the only one struggling?
We all long for our lives to reflect the comfortable, carefree, and exciting lifestyles depicted by our peers; yet it feels so unattainable when the majority of photos we post are exceptions and do not accurately represent the overall status of our lives.
Why don’t we see selfies of Netflix binging, the ride home after losing a job or hearing a bad diagnosis, struggling in the midst of addiction, or a lonely Friday night? What about posts that depict the mundane or feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, inadequacy, or fear?
While Jesus promises to ultimately turn the suffering of his followers into joy, he assures us we will have trouble in this world (John 16:20, 33). There is no avoiding it. There’s no filter on Instagram for it either.
At the same time the Bible tells us to “rejoice in our suffering” (Romans 5:3). This is a difficult enough command to follow while in the trenches of life without being bombarded with photos of everyone else’s summer nights out on the town, fun vacations, and carefree evenings.
Studies have shown that the more time we spend on social media, the less satisfied we become with our own lives. Personally, I have noticed this to be true. How can I expect to be content with God’s plan for my life if I am busy coveting the highlight reel of every distant acquaintance I’ve ever known?
Social media can be a great outlet to share the highlights of our lives with our friends and communities, but if we’re not careful, we can get swept up in envy and dissatisfaction.
This is something I want to avoid at all costs. The truth is, even if our lives were nothing but a series of fun events and beautiful photos, it could never be enough. Deep down, we all know that as great as a particular season of life may be, something still seems to be missing. This is why when hardship arrives, the hole that was there all along becomes that much more obvious.
While I may often desire that picturesque lifestyle, it’s important to remember how much I’ve been able to grow through trial and, most importantly, recognize my need for Jesus, which would not have been possible any other way.
I guess it’s a good thing life isn’t as perfect as it seems on social media.
I sat in my wheelchair in the middle of the football field in front of 35,000 people. University of Cincinnati alumni filled the stadium for the 2010 Homecoming celebration. My heart pounded
as we waited to hear the revealing of the Homecoming King and Queen.
Though I was one of the finalists, being crowned King was the last thing on my mind. I had been confined to a wheelchair for nearly a year and continued to believe God was going to do something miraculous to restore my mobility. Could this be my moment?
I envisioned myself stepping out of my chair onto the field in front of thousands. Clearly I had thought up the perfect PR move for God.
However, the day ended without any physical changes. I went home with a crown in the same paralyzed body I had arrived with that morning.
Was I disappointed? Not exactly. While it seemed like an amazing story in my mind, I just assumed an even better one was right around the corner.
My hope in the end of the story was unhindered. I saw example after example of miraculous healings in the pages of Scripture. I also noticed that the healings always seemed to have a greater purpose beyond the physical wellbeing of the individual, demonstrating God’s power to the masses.
Whether it be Jesus healing a paralyzed man in front of his biggest skeptics or waiting four days to raise his good friend Lazarus from the dead, the storyline was always epic and would be retold for generations.
Encouraged by these stories, I remained on the lookout for the next potential opportunity for God to perform an epic miraculous healing in my own life.
Admiral James Stockdale was a POW in Vietnam and spoke of how his hope fueled his coping strategy. He recounts, “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life…”
My thought process was similar. In the months and years following Homecoming, numerous occasions presented themselves as opportunities in which I thought God may be lining up the puzzle pieces for a modern-day miracle.
At various speaking events, I wondered if the current audience would be the one to be able to say that they witnessed a paralyzed guy suddenly begin to walk. When people would lay hands on me in faith for healing, I considered that I may be just one prayer away from witnessing someone see their faith rewarded.
Would it be through a skeptical friend praying over me? Or when a dozen teenage guys pleaded with God to restore my body? Surely this would be a life-changing event to increase their faith for decades to come.
Year after year, I convinced myself there was no reason to accept my current physical reality as long-term. Healing was certainly right around the corner. Would it correspond with a significant milestone? Would college graduation coinciding with the start of a new job be how the story would unfold? Or would I be healed just before my wedding as Stephanie and I prepared to start our lives together?
Each year angst would creep in as I concluded that surely it was going to be the last birthday or anniversary of the accident in which my body remained in this state.
The same Vietnam POW who inspired me to never give up gave profound insight when he was asked about those who didn’t make it out of Vietnam:
“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
Is that what I was doing? Was I being naively optimistic concerning a specific timeframe? Was I conjuring up my own “ideal” outcome with the limited view I had at a given time? Was all this just setting me up for disappointment?
I began to realize that somewhere along the way, my faith had shifted into reasoning. Rather than simply trusting God as Healer, I was constantly putting Him into a box that conformed to my logic. I was writing my own script for how my life should be going and wondering why He wasn’t reading the lines.
This was now the time to remember the vital truth of Isaiah 55:8-9:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
In hindsight, it’s always easy to see how God’s plan has been better than my own. As previous scenarios have failed to play out exactly how I envisioned, I have subsequently continued to learn and grow and get glimpses of a bigger picture.
So does this mean giving up on healing, or can a healthy balance be found?
POW Stockdale’s concluding thought on his circumstances is the balance I want to be cognizant of:
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Maybe taking inventory of my current predicament would be wise. Are there areas I need to face head on in order to be able to move on to others? With the latest and biggest milestone in the rearview mirror, is it time to desperately grab hold of the next one or would some self-reflection be better?
I can still pray, I can still believe, while at the same time moving forward with life with its current obstacles. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
In the meantime, I continue moving forward, keeping in mind God’s faithfulness of the past and trust that his plan for my future far surpasses my own limited view.