3 lessons I’ve learned from women

Competing in intramural sports. Yelling, screaming and chest bumping at football and basketball games. Drinking beer. Hiking. Whitewater rafting. Paintball. Poker. Wrestling around the house. Arguing over nothing of substance whatsoever. This was the testosterone laden world I knew as a 21-year-old living with 26 fraternity brothers under one roof. If it involved adventure or the slightest trace of an opportunity to one-up someone else in the name of friendly competition, we made it our duty to partake at full throttle.

Pike

I never could have fathomed how drastically different the makeup of people around me would soon be upon returning home from the hospital after the accident. One evening, I reflected on the people I had interacted with that day. Nurse. Mom. Physical therapist. Girlfriend. Sister. Neighbor. Aide. Three middle school girls for tutoring and their moms. I counted 12 females in one day. With my dad out of town for the day, the closest I had come to male interaction was a talking head on ESPN.com. It suddenly hit me: my social circle had taken a seismic shift towards being exclusively females in any given day.

Aspire 4-2 2014 group

Don’t get me wrong, a great mix of guys have been around me since the get-go and plenty have played a pivotal role in my journey. However, it’s almost humorous when I look at the contrast from my life before the accident. Due to the female dominated nature of the caretaking community, it’s not uncommon for a portion of my day to be spent hearing those around me talk with each other about husbands, boyfriends, worries about their kids, The Bachelor, sororities, shopping, and getting nails and hair done. Not exactly the fraternity house conversations I was accustomed to.

This past week I had the opportunity to speak to a group of women about my story. I couldn’t help but laugh when the lady interviewing me posed the question, “What can we take away from your story as mothers?”

A weekday morning spent speaking to a group of moms. Who would've thought?
A weekday morning spent speaking to a group of moms. Who would’ve thought?

I often wonder to myself if the days of being in a house full of 27 guys actually happened. It seems so distant. However, regardless of the current lifestyle alteration, I feel incredibly blessed for the role that women have played in my life. God has allowed me to grow in ways that I never could have if I’d simply stayed around guys 24/7. I would be amiss if I did not take time to evaluate the blessing so many women have been in my life and what I’ve learned along the way.

The top 3 lessons that have come from being surrounded by women:

I do not have to be a tough guy.
Recognizing the power in being vulnerable has been a huge part of my journey over the past four years. Observing vulnerability on display in the countless women around me has played a significant role in letting down my walls and experiencing a key element of human interaction. In addition, while every fiber of my being wants to remain a closed book in the name of masculinity, getting drilled with questions from women encourages (and forces) me to open up. (Although, it is highly unlikely I will make a dent in the fact that the average man says 13,000 less words per day than the average woman.)

A new outlook on dependence.
In general, I’ve seen the women around me being the most likely to go straight to prayer in times of need. Through this example, I’ve developed a strengthened relationship with God through dependence on Him. I’ve learned that going to God is not a sign of weakness, it’s actually evidence of realizing that I cannot do it on my own- and I don’t have to.

Crash course on listening.
I’ve learned the hard way…sometimes people simply just want to be heard rather than having something fixed for them. Spending time around women in particular has revealed this to me and has stretched me in new ways. It’s always a nice reminder seeing the deep truths interwoven in this classic YouTube video. Take notes gentlemen:

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Iron sharpening iron

josh pre-accidentA 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.

josh hospitalLittle 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.

josh awakeheadrestThis 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.


Click here for more info on Josh’s CaringBridge site

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The all-time greatest influence on my life

This past Thanksgiving, I came across the gratitude experiment below. The video kicked into gear new insight for me on the importance of actually taking the initiative to express gratitude:

There is one person who has had a greater influence on me than any other human being and who I have looked up to since I was a kid. The experiment in the video above is great to think about it, reflect on, and even talk about it. But what about actually following through and putting into action what I saw, with one of the people I’m most thankful for? Challenge accepted.

Dad,

Thank you for the dad you have been in my life for the past 25 years. Day after day, you continue to demonstrate your drive to provide for the family, to help me with whatever I need, and to continuously stick by my side. I’ve enjoyed experiencing how God has used this current trial to strengthen our relationship by growing us closer.

I have learned so many specific things from you over the years. Just a few include:

You set an example by always ensuring your career took a backseat to your family’s priorities.

Dad UC as a kid During weekly morning breakfasts at First Watch throughout high school, you taught me the value of setting clear goals and laying out the framework to work hard to reach them. (All while demonstrating immense grace when I arrived at breakfast well past our scheduled time every single week.)

You instilled in me the value of how to treat women after the time I hit my mom during a temper tantrum as a four-year-old. (I’m not sure if the lecture you gave me after setting me on top of the car is something I actually remember or if I have just heard you proudly retell your teaching method so many times over the years.)

While your passion for business has rubbed off on me, the years of witnessing you go about decision-making with integrity sticks out to me more than anything.

I’ve enjoyed bonding over sports with you, from road trips to Cincinnati Bearcats games to just taking in a game together in our basement. In order to help me avoid major pitfalls in life, you were extremely intentional about giving me the All-Important “Talk” reenacted in this video:

(I’m thankful you didn’t turn me down the wrong path to root for a school such as Ohio State or Xavier)

Never has your love as a father been more evident than over the past four years, down to the simplest of tasks. Coming into my room in the middle of the night if I need a sip of water or to turn the fan on. Getting up early before work to help me with range of motion. Being intensely focused on making sure I have had the best rehabilitation opportunities and adaptive equipment to help me continue to Dad Pike banquetmove forward.

I am thankful for the opportunity to have this chance as a 25-year-old to be with you on a daily basis, knowing that it has fortified our father-son relationship, which is something I will continue to cherish for the rest of my life.

I’m thankful to enjoy life with you. I am proud to be your son. I am proud to carry on the family name. I love you.

Ryan

Writing an open letter on a blog for anyone on the Internet to see doesn’t have to be for everyone. It could be a phone call, a handwritten note, or even an email. Who is someone that has influenced you greatly? Have you let them know? I’m grateful I took the challenge presented in the Gratitude Experiment video. By doing the same, you will be too.

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