Being paralyzed sucks, but it’s totally worth it

Jason made his way out the back doors of the building quickly before hopping in his car and heading home. On the way he suddenly broke down in tears. He stopped the car, jumped out onto the side of the road, and declared, “I don’t have any excuses anymore. I want my life to matter. I want to finish strong.” Then, right there on the side of the road looking out into the dark night, Jason committed his life to Jesus.

man in car

I’ve spoken at numerous venues over the past few months, including the group Jason was leaving. Each time after sharing my story, I can’t help wondering what the take away was for the group that I spoke to. Considering “You’re an inspiration!” is something I often hear from strangers who know nothing about me aside from the fact that they see a dude in a wheelchair smiling, this particular sentiment doesn’t necessarily give me much insight as to what’s going on in someone’s mind or if anything whatsoever that was spoken resonated.

miami yl class

When I heard Jason’s testimony, I was speechless. I had never met this guy prior to this particular evening. Hearing the way that God had spoken to him through my story reinforced more than any other time over the past four years that, in some mysterious way, God continues to use a bleak position for great good.

Jail-cell

Many people look at me and use the word “tragedy,” because from the outside all they can see is a rough situation. I want to insist on the opposite, as I’m sure Paul did when he was sitting in jail tied up in chains after numerous beatings writing to his friends, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12) I am humbled that God has chosen to use my life as a means to make His name known.

God undoubtedly uses our struggles and sufferings to advance His Kingdom. Paul goes on to explain that people are coming to Christ because of the fact that he is suffering. Because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Philippians 1:14)

Paul makes it clear he has learned to be content in any situation and is completely willing to be used however God will use him- even in prison. However, he asserts that he still longs to be free (who wouldn’t?) and see his friends in Philippi. While he spends an exorbitant amount of time focusing on the good that is coming as a result of being imprisoned, he still has faith that he will not remain in chains, adding, “And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.” (Philippians 2:24)

What an example for me to want to live out in my own life. This is the attitude I want to have. I’m continuing to learn to look for the good that God is doing throughout this trial and yet, I still have faith that my own current “imprisonment” in my own body is not the end-all.

chains broken

You will never find me thrilled about paralysis itself. I think Paul would likewise say “Hey, it sure wasn’t fun getting sucker punched in the face and then getting thrown in this dungeon.” However, it is worth every minute of frustration, struggle, and moment of uncertainty to see how God is using my situation to draw others to Himself. That’s what I want to be about, while still remaining confident in faith that in His perfect timing, God will deliver me from my own chains.

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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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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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