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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A second grade love story

It was June of 1997 and I hopped in the back of my mom’s blue minivan. I was completely dejected. The girl of my dreams was just not that into me. To make matters worse, she was all about my best friend. Summer break could not come quick enough. The van pulled out of the school parking lot as I tried to distract my mind from my unsuccessful endeavor to make this girl mine.

Life sure is hard on an 8-year-old.

Sharing the stage as the lead characters in the school play did not win me any points
Sharing the stage as the lead characters in the class puppet show did not win me any points

13 years later I lay in bed flat on my back after just returning home from my four month stint in the hospital and the same girl walked into my room. Stephanie was now in massage therapy school, and after seeing the news of the accident on Facebook via a mutual friend, she had reached out to my family to offer her therapeutic skills in whichever way she could help, regardless of the fact that we hadn’t seen each other in over a decade.

The relationship started off professionally. She would come over a few times a week to massage the tightness and knots from my body that had acquired as a result of going through the grinder of car flips, ventilator weaning, and months of hospitalization. This gradually turned into a friendship and one day she brought over one of her assignments from our second grade class that she just happened to stumble upon:

What I learned about the Bible and following Jesus…
“I learned that God did many miricals. I like the one of the parelized man the most.”

My mind was blown (and not just at how big my head was compared to the rest of the picture.) How was this possible? What were the chances? She could have picked from any of Jesus’ miraculous wonders; from walking on water to feeding 5000, any physical healing from blind men to raising the dead. Of all the acts from Jesus’ three-year ministry before being crucified and rising again, she had picked the healing of the paralyzed man (click here for the story). Not only that, there just happened to be a picture of the two of us on the adjacent page. Stephanie had also just happened to save her project and then come across it again 13 years later. She also just happened to be the one person from that second grade class that I now talked to. Could this all really be mere coincidence?

Time and time again, I would look back at that picture trying to wrap my mind around every intricate detail that had to align for the pieces of this picture to sit in front of me 13 years later. It spoke of, looked like, and seemed like God’s hand, but that would only lead to more questions. Did God use an 8-year-old girl who I would run into later in life to write down the exact injury I would sustain at 21-years-old just to show that He already knows everything that’s going to happen? Was it to encourage me as one of many confirmations over the past few years of Jesus healing me? An interesting twist was added three years after the accident when Stephanie and I began dating. Was that predetermined as well?

    16 years later, the flame rekindles
16 years later, the flame rekindles

Rather than focusing on trying to figure out how this picture came to be and what it could mean, my attention turned to what all this may say about God.

Psalm 139: 16 says, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

It sure sounds like He has everything under control. As time went on, I began to see how God has been and continues to be creatively involved in every step of my life, from the time I was born, to my second-grade classroom, to lying on the side of the highway unsure if I would survive, to providing supernatural peace in the time since. I can rest with confidence knowing God cares about small details and apparently even has a bit of a sense of humor.

While I am grateful for what has come about with Stephanie and for what I believe is one of many confirmations of the physical healing to come, I am most comforted by the fact that in some mysterious way, God has absolutely everything under His control. All the way down to the pencil in the hand of an 8-year-old, unknowingly prophesying the days to come.

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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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