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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Generation of idiots: smart phones and dumb people

During a fraternity meeting just a few months before my accident, our president made it mandatory that all phones be placed in the middle of the table during a meeting. I grumbled to myself, “What is this, junior high?” Guys in the house razzed him for apparently losing sight of the fact that we had joined a college fraternity and not the Boy Scouts. He held his ground though, even going as far to quote his mother who always emphasized to “Love the one you’re with.” There is nothing that ups your cool factor more with your fellow fraternity brothers quite like quoting your own mom.

One year later I found myself in the basement of my parents’ house in my current physical condition. Five guys sprawled out on the couch as I sat adjacent, motionless in my wheelchair. I began to share a story but stopped shortly thereafter, realizing my lack of an audience. Looking around the room I only saw the top of five heads looking down, ferociously typing away on their cell phones. My natural reaction would have been to grab my own phone to idly pass the time, but my arms laid still on the armrest of my chair. So I just stared ahead, waiting my figurative turn in the pecking order and feeling rather insignificant.

It looks like there was some substantial truth in the wisdom bestowed by my fraternity president’s mom. This has been one of many subtle yet valuable lessons I could only have learned on the four-year journey I have been on. Preaching “put your phone away” may paint me as a technologically inept, old-school person who is not up with the times, but actually I was up there with the worst when I had the option prior to my injury. I would rarely look up from my phone, regardless of who I was talking to. I would keep it on my lap back at my parents’ house for dinner, much to my mother’s dismay. While always attempting to put on the illusion that I was listening, I could not have been more oblivious to my indiscretion.

With no choice but to look straight ahead, I find myself recognizing more and more how frequently the situations portrayed in the video above are displayed with those around me. I once paused in the middle of sharing a story with a friend to see if he noticed I had stopped talking. After a few seconds (while still looking down), he told me I could keep talking, assuring me he was still listening while pecking away at his phone. I smirked and facetiously responded saying, “Thanks for your permission.”

However, situations like this got me thinking. Could trying to hold a conversation with a guy who’s focused on something else with his head down be similar to how God feels when I’m too distracted in the world around me to pay attention to Him? The fact that sometimes I can’t read the Bible or just sit and pray without being tempted to distract myself with something else makes me realize that just because I don’t have use of my hands right now doesn’t mean I can’t revert back to old habits. Fortunately, it’s not too late and I’ve been made aware of it thanks to the idol our culture has made of the cell phone. While currently not having use of my arms isn’t how I would prefer to learn simple life lessons, it was a lesson learned nonetheless.

Whether I can hold a phone or not, I want to be present in the moment. The person I am with is infinitely more important than the latest text message, Facebook update, or Twitter feed that can be attended to later. With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I recognize I have a lot to be thankful for. Four years ago I laid in the ICU on a feeding tube while my family and other visitors took turns eating turkey out of my sight. Not only am I able to breathe and talk now, the eating will be fantastic. I’m looking forward to enjoying fellowship, food, and football with family. Thankfully, the phone will not be part of it.

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