Hallucination or demon? Time to go to war

The man would not go away. His presence made my skin crawl. I lay flat on my back with tubes in my body as the machines continued to provide life in the intensive care unit in the days following my accident. I couldn’t get a look at the man’s face because he was standing behind my hospital bed but he seemed to be wearing a black trench coat. In a panicked state, I would alert a family member and ask who this was. I was told not to worry, that no one else was in the room. I sensed people were writing it off as yet another hallucination brought on by the morphine and other drugs being pumped into my system. It felt different than that but I reluctantly agreed, attempting to ignore the fear that gripped me.

trench coat

A few years later as I was reading through the Bible, I flashed back to my time in the ICU. I was convinced that what I saw was not a hallucination. In fact, the more I read about the schemes and tactics of Satan and his army of demons, the more I was convinced that what I experienced in the ICU was an exposure of God’s enemy when my body was in the weakest and most compromised position it has ever been.

Not quite this guy
Not quite this guy

It’s a taboo subject. Talking demons, angels, or supernatural in our science and reason based culture will cause people to look at you with a questionable glance. However, Satan and demons are unmistakably, absolutely, and unequivocally real. In fact, the Bible tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against a spiritual enemy (Ephesians 6:12), a thief that comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), and a roaring lion roaming around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). This sure doesn’t sound like somebody with a pitchfork or the smiling red demon that sits on your shoulder.

What does this look like practically? It’s the series of lies that echoes in my mind in the middle of night, telling me that I don’t have what it takes to succeed, that this trial is too big for me, that my best is behind me, and that it would be easiest to just throw in the towel and give up.

I was overlooking the staircase on the two-story deck in my backyard one day when I first noticed what seemed like foreign thought: “Just roll down the steps and end it now, it sure would make everything easier.” The thought surprised me, as I have never actually felt the desire to do something like this. (I do, however, enjoy rolling my wheelchair close to the edge to freak people out for my own amusement.)

Jesus tempted

I hesitated sharing this with anyone until I started hearing from a few others that my thoughts were not that foreign. One friend shared of constantly getting a notion to crash his car intentionally off the side of the road, another frequently finds himself thinking of ideas on how to end his life. These are not depressed individuals with obvious struggles looking for an easy way out. In each case the person is completely mentally healthy and has an excellent outlook on life. Are we crazy? I don’t think so. In fact, Satan tried to get Jesus to commit suicide by jumping off the top of a building (click here for that crazy exchange ).

The enemy’s plan is not only to try to get us to harm ourselves but to harm others as well. Seeing the massive ramifications for all parties involved in marital affairs, sexual abuse, and various acts of violence has made me understand more than ever how the enemy carries out his mission to steal, kill, and destroy marriages, families, and lives by getting people to agree with subtle lies or temptations.

So is all hope lost? Absolutely not.

Satan is not an all-powerful being like God. It can be tempting to attribute too much power and importance to Satan, but there frankly is nothing to be afraid of. The Bible says clearly that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). Jesus conquered Satan, death, and sin when he busted out of the grave with the keys to hell in hand. He also promises that He is faithful to strengthen and protect us from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

How should I respond to all of this?

I will fight, knowing full well that anything in my life that the enemy intended for bad, God has and will continue to use for good. I will rely fully on the heavy artillery that the Bible speaks of:

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world…

gun

…On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

The YouTube video below elicits goosebumps every time I hear it. It’s a fiery battle cry I like to go back to often as a reminder of the fact that deciding to follow Jesus ushered me into the battle of epic proportions. “I’ll never turn back. I’ll never give up. I’ll never settle. I’ll never stop short. I will press towards the mark for the prize that is already mine… I will fight.” Time to load up my weaponry and go to war.

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Four years later: Thank you

I stared at the ceiling through groggy eyes in the ICU. I sensed someone had just arrived, but thanks to the neck brace stabilizing my head, I could not even look up to see who it was. After a brief pause, I heard someone say, “Superman…” I broke into a smile, immediately recognizing the voice of a close friend who had a knack for Denzel Washington impersonations from “Remember the Titans”. While he would hilariously recite various other lines from the movie in the apartment we shared at the University of Cincinnati the year prior, we never could have imagined replaying this dramatic scene from the same movie in real life:

Today marks four years since the day my life flipped upside down along with my car on November 20, 2009. Sometimes it feels as if it was just yesterday I was waking up in my fraternity house bedroom. Sometimes the four years seems like an eternity. Regardless of how it feels in a given year, the date does not merely suggest, but actually demands some type of reflection.

“Superman” being uttered in the walls of the intensive care unit was only a slight glimpse into the immense support that I would receive in the coming days. In addition to my incredible parents graciously taking in a new roommate after they probably thought they had gotten rid of me after high school, friends have demonstrated various selfless acts since day one; from sleeping in my hospital room, to driving me from place to place, to taking time off school or work to help out with my day-to-day needs. Family friends have stuck by our side bringing meals and helping out financially at opportune times. Medical professionals of all sorts have taken a genuine interest in providing quality care. A vibrant community has surrounded me since day one from the church of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy and The University of Cincinnati.

These examples just scratch the surface of those going above and beyond the call of duty. Philippians 4:19 tells me, “God will supply every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” I have never experienced this more blatantly than I have since my accident. Without the people God has provided along the way, navigating this journey over the past four years would not have been possible.

Prayer candles  from community lining my front lawn
Prayer candles from community lining my front lawn

With that being said, I don’t quite think I’ve said thank you enough. This may result from being forced to be on the receiving end of the goodness of others time and time again, which often makes me feel as if I need to ashamedly put my head down as I figuratively accept the gift. I believe it is human nature to feel as if an exchange needs to take place. You scratch my back, I surely need to scratch yours. A friend was interacting with the homeless and said one of the major dynamics noticed was the propensity of those receiving food to stare at the ground and sheepishly take the food, visibly ashamed or uncomfortable that they are in need of reliance on others. That describes exactly how I feel at times.

To receive has been a challenge as a 25-year-old guy wanting to hide behind the façade of pretending I don’t need anything and I can do it all on my own. Without being able to return the favor often times leaves one feeling unworthy of receiving. It’s interesting how this mirrors how I feel when it comes to Jesus and the sacrifice He made. So many times I feel as if I need to try harder, do more, and be good enough in order to be worthy to receive from Him. Thankfully I know that forgiveness is a free gift and when He hung on the cross and exclaimed, “It is finished!” He actually meant it. In the same way, there are no strings attached or debt to be paid for the help that I’ve received from many over the past four years. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

Four years later, I’m thankful for each of you that God has placed my life. Some for a short season, some still today. I’m thankful for every prayer, email, card, note, meal brought (and fed), ride given, leg stretched, and a laundry list of other blessings along the way. I hope one day I get the same opportunity to emulate what so many of you have demonstrated to me. I could not have done this without you.

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I’ve come a long way since being in a coma

Earlier this month I sat around the TV in my basement with a group of guys watching the Cincinnati Bengals game on Monday night football. The food was great, the camaraderie even better. Nothing like arguing over an array of pointless sports-related issues with guys during a football game. In the moment though, I couldn’t help but notice how much of the evening had to be catered toward me due to my physical limitations. I would have preferred not having to rely on a friend to feed me. It would be nice to join in the high-fives after a touchdown rather than leave my motionless arms resting in place by my side while others jostled around the room. It also would have been ideal to not be restricted to my parents’ basement since my wheelchair cannot get into other friends’ houses.

Then the thought hit me like a wrecking ball: I should be on a feeding tube.

Multiple times along the journey over the past few years I have been reminded of a quote that became embedded in my mind after seeing it each day at the the spinal cord injury facility, where I had physical therapy when I returned home:

“Do not focus on the road ahead without remembering the distance already traveled.”

On November 20, 2009, the night my car flipped off the side of the highway and I was airlifted to the hospital, the emergency room doctor on staff was quick to tell my parents that I had sustained a Christopher Reeve type injury. The ensuing medical prognosis was that I would be dependent on a feeding tube and a ventilator to breathe, while being unable to move anything below my shoulders…for the rest of my life. Talk about instilling hope from the get-go.

This picture gives a glimpse into how bleak my situation may have looked to an outsider. This was taken over two months after the accident, exhibiting immense weight loss, muscle atrophy, and skin as white as a ghost:

While I gained a great amount of weight and muscle back I still haven't found the answer for the paleness four years later
While I have since gained a great amount of weight and muscle back I still yet to find the answer for the paleness

For weeks after the accident, I was not only unable to move anything below my shoulders; I could not talk, I could not eat, and I could not breathe on my own. For those wondering, I enjoy doing all three of these things quite a bit.

After two months, I managed to get off the ventilator, but it was a round-the-clock marathon as respiratory therapists put me through the ringer to strengthen my lung power in order to enable me to breathe independently. After three months of being unable to eat, doctors and speech therapists had no explanation for a miraculous event that took place over a weekend in which I went from struggling to get ice chips down on Friday to enjoying Eggplant Parmesan the following Monday. (Hospital food never tasted so good).

I was told that any movement I was going to regain would return within the first few weeks and that after this brief window closed there wouldn’t be much more hope for any physical recovery. However, immense breakthrough has continued to take place nearly four years after the hopeless prognosis. A few portions of that are recorded in this video:

This progress has been nothing short of miraculous. While this movement is far from complete restoration, God says to not despise small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10), and in fact to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18.). “All circumstances” includes the simple joy of being around friends watching football while not losing sight of how far God has brought me to this point, regardless of whether or not I can yet feed myself or exchange a high-five.

It’s interesting how so many times in life, I will focus on what I don’t have, what I can’t do – instead of what I have, what I can do, and what I’ve been blessed with. While I currently may be limited with what I can do physically, I do not want take for granted basic life luxuries such as talking, breathing, and eating.

It may not always be easy, but when I am able to genuinely thank God for the distance traveled rather than worry about what’s ahead, what is missing from a physical standpoint in the moment begins to minimize. Giving thanks in all circumstances keeps my focus on God and how far he’s brought me, and doesn’t allow me to fixate on what’s lacking. However, this doesn’t mean that I just sit content and accept my physical circumstance as permanent – as the doctors may have said. I know nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:26) and he is still able to do far beyond anything I can imagine.

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