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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Stupid bumper stickers only go so far

I sat in front of the mirror one morning after my shower. The same big head with thick sideburns that I’ve gotten to know pretty well over the years stared back at me. But as I started to look down, I could not help but notice how vastly different everything looks below my neck. A deep scar rests at the base of my neck from having a ventilator tube pump air into my lungs for two months. Lines above my heart mark the incision where a pacemaker was placed to keep me alive after multiple episodes of cardiac arrest in the initial weeks after I broke my neck. The gaping hole that I like to refer to as my second bellybutton sits above my stomach as a reminder of three months on a feeding tube. My bones protrude from my shoulders and lead down to skinny, muscle atrophied arms. Let’s just say my abs are pretty far from absolute steel. I’m not one to worry much about how I look, but the reflection echoed more than just a physical look. Rather, it was a reminder of the radical lifestyle transformation that I’ve been forced to acclimate myself to over the past four years.

It’s on occasions such as this in front of the mirror, or when someone can’t help but stare in public, that I’m reminded of how utterly hopeless my situation may look to an outsider. Multiple people have asked me with full sincerity if I would rather have died in the November 2009 car accident than live in the physical condition I do. (Nothing says “Your life must really suck,” quite like this question.) I sure don’t feel that way, but sometimes when I take inventory of my life I wonder if I’m processing correctly. The doctors said I would never move anything below my shoulders for the rest of my life, I’m dependent on others to take care of my every need throughout the day, my peers are moving full steam ahead in the post-college world without me, and the icing on the cake is that I’m 25 and live down the hall from my parents. And yet…there still seems to be a silver lining. Hope still remains. I still believe I have a great future ahead. I still have confidence that a bigger purpose than I can even fathom is occurring.

I hear it all time: “You’re so optimistic. You have such a positive mindset!” As if I wake up each morning and start chanting pithy bumper sticker-worthy clichés to get me revved up for the day.

bumperstickers

Give me a break. That may work for a few days, but let’s be real. After four years, thinking happy thoughts is just not going to cut it. In the same way that I am unable to overcome the physical mountain on my own, putting my hope in myself to stay pumped up mentally does not have the power to last day after day. I firmly believe I’ve had a first-hand encounter with the peace described in Philippians 4:6 – 7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

While I believe there is value in keeping a positive attitude, I’ve noticed that as hard as I try, I cannot find this peace mentioned above anywhere else. Jesus makes it clear that the peace He offers is not in the form that the world offers (John 14:27). When I begin to feel the weight of my less-than-ideal circumstances, “positive thinking” doesn’t get me very far. However, when I press into Jesus, He provides me with peace that truly does transcend all of my understanding. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve become numb or if I am in denial. The peace is truly supernatural.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I always take the words of Philippians 4:6-7 to heart and am beyond getting anxious. It’s not as if it’s this warm and fuzzy feeling that has me thinking, “Time to put on a smile, it’s a great day to be paralyzed!” There are still days when my patience runs thin with those who love me the most, out of sheer frustration that I’m relying on them for tasks as simple as scratching my nose. My body may jolt into a spasm at 3 in the morning, leaving me wide awake to stare at the dark ceiling flat on my back for hours, calling out to Jesus to remind me that He hasn’t deserted me.

Instead of trying to fool myself into believing the mirage of positive thinking or looking elsewhere for an escape, I want to continue to press into the peace that Jesus offers that is sustainable, life-changing, and downright supernatural.

Often times when I sense the angst, this peace helps remind me of the distance traveled and remember that a rough moment today is only a snapshot (as defined in the song below) of my entire life and does not define my future. As Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning”

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