What’s on your throne?

One morning after pumping iron, I made a pit stop in front of the mirror on my way to the shower. I couldn’t help but turn to the side and flex my arm to see how big I could get my bicep to bulge. I was Hulk Hogan, at least in my own eyes. I fantasized about taking the world by storm in the upcoming basketball game. There’s nothing more delusional than the ego of a 16-year-old guy.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, guarding future NBA star O.J. Mayo would not be the pinnacle of my life
Unbeknownst to me at the time, guarding future NBA star O.J. Mayo would not be the pinnacle of my life

Kicking off in stride in college allowed me to see what else I could set my sights on: the business world. Through a great internship, “saving every dollar for a future of success” became my mantra. I meticulously kept tabs on my bank account each time something entered in. I was putting my hope in my mind and determination to maximize my ability to make money. My professional career was just around the corner.

Until both rugs were simultaneously ripped right out from underneath me.

With a suit and a nametag, I thought I had all I needed
With a suit and a nametag, I thought I had all I needed

Paralysis gave me the ultimate wake-up call. No longer could I rely on my own independence to accomplish the tangible success I had already experienced. Having no control over my limbs, embracing my inner athlete was no longer feasible. Every dollar I had ever earned disappeared in an instant when I was airlifted by helicopter from the side of the highway.

Something was missing and I could not pinpoint it. I knew it went well beyond my physical inability to move. I continued to look elsewhere, holding material things supreme to everything else in my life.

No matter where I looked, nothing seemed to fully satisfy. There was never any peace around decisions I made or how I spent my time and energy. I was bowing down at the altar of sports and money, among other things, and I was forced to realize I was not going to find ultimate worth in any of those places. It was time to look elsewhere.

I’ve noticed that as hard as I try, I cannot find the satisfaction I was looking for anywhere other than in the person of Jesus. Jesus makes it clear that He came to give abundant life (John 10:10) and that the peace He offers is not in the form that the world offers (John 14:27). Sports, alcohol, or Internet perusing may provide a momentary buzz or distraction from the reality I am facing but will ultimately leave me disappointed in the end. Whether it’s food, money, drugs, sex, fashion, etc., the world has a way of offering us goods that we often believe will bring ultimate satisfaction or ease the pain when, in actuality, they are so fleeting and temporary. Tim Keller refers to these empty outlets as “counterfeit gods.” In his book by the same title, he states, “Counterfeit gods if you fail them will never forgive you, and if you get them will never satisfy you…This is the only God that will: Jesus and His resurrection.”

Any time I attempt to run towards something else, I want to be reminded of this truth. In this raw, thought-provoking video, Jefferson Bethke puts it this way: “When was the last time the world promised satisfaction and actually came through?”

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Why it’s time to open up my life Flat on My Back

At 27 years old, I’m not exactly in the position I envisioned for myself back when I was a narrowly focused 21-year-old ready to take the world by storm. Let’s just say life got in the way. Very quickly. A life-changing car accident that resulted in paralysis below the shoulders stopped my story as I knew it. On a dime. In the four years since, I’ve been on a journey hard to put into words. Incredible. Eye-opening. Frustrating. Rewarding. Humbling. Empowering. It would be tough to put my finger on it at any given moment, so I never really have, aside from documenting the journey in the solitude of my computer through my voice software. Sure, I’ve gotten to share my story over the past few years: speaking to groups, schools, and churches on numerous occasions; but it became fairly easy to hide what was really going on beneath the surface, behind a dramatic replay of a graphic car accident and a few Bible verses to make the crowd feel good.

I feel good

I keep tabs on the blogs of a few close friends. One focuses on social justice, one on life in seminary, one on great beer, and another on sports. Each are interesting in their own way, but the other day I came across a blog that really got to me from another guy who also has a spinal cord injury. I could not believe his vulnerability. As I sifted through his writing, I could not help but wonder, “Did he really just put that out in cyberspace?” I knew exactly how he felt and what he was thinking, but in my innermost being I felt it most socially acceptable in the name of “masculinity” to hide behind the facade that I was never fazed by my current physical condition.

About 10 years ago, Craig Gross came to my high school to talk about “the number one Christian porn site on the Internet”  (yes it is suitable to open at work). There was something that really drew me to the guy. The dude was as transparent as I’ve ever seen someone. He describes this critical attribute of vulnerability in his new book “Open“. Throughout the book Gross stresses how necessary it is for each of us as  human beings to be open with others in community. (Sounds like I read the book right? I didn’t. It just said something of that nature on the back cover. Somewhere my high school English teacher Ms. Barron is cringing.)

As my dad churned out devotional-worthy CaringBridge updates throughout my four-month stay in the hospital, my skin crawled as my motionless body laid still in the hospital bed. Even if it was simply generic content shared with family and friends, I would be wary of the idea of my day-to-day happenings being broadcast to the cyberspace world. On numerous occasions, both before and after the accident, friends have called me out for being a “closed book”.Locked book Staying mysterious about what’s going on in my head, and life for that matter, had become my M.O. However, over time, something just wasn’t sitting right. I guess I was missing out on a key element of human interaction described by CS Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, then you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your own selfishness. But in that casket safe, dark, motionless and airless, it will change. It won’t be broken; but it will become unbreakable, impenetrable and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 

This video sped along my thinking that being brutally honest with those around me actually isn’t that bad of an idea:

Jefferson says, “To be truly human is to be truly known, and someone who hides can’t be known.” It looks like I’ve been hiding. I guess it’s my turn. Time to open up. So here it goes…

What initially began on November 20, 2009 as what I believed would be a brief pit stop from the life I was accustomed to, transformed into a journey in which my world was turned upside down forever. I think it’s about time to let others in on my journey of being Flat on My Back.

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