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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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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I don’t want to care what you think

Upon arriving home from my four month stay in the hospital in early 2010, there were a few organizations that asked permission to share about my journey. I initially thought no problem. However, after several different versions were shared, I realized I was not being perceived as I would’ve liked.

Each time I was left with a similar feeling. Were people just looking for a story? I felt as if I was constantly getting painted as this pitiful paralyzed guy who should make you feel better about your current situation, because at least you can move your limbs. Though there would be a few people who said they were encouraged by hearing my story, my mind would fixate on those who would come up to me afterward and insinuate how bad they felt for me.

Even when I had the floor in an unfiltered speaking engagement at a school or church, there was still a limited amount of time and certain questions I was supposed to answer. My skepticism began to grow toward any form of sharing my story in a public setting and I eventually decided it may be best if I was the only one with jurisdiction over what details of my life were shared.

Speaking at my high school with sister Laura
Speaking at my high school with sister Laura

That is where the blog came into play. I could say exactly what I wanted, however I wanted. No filters. No outside agendas. A computer screen in between myself and any potential negative comments. It was the perfect solution.

So when someone at Channel 9 News Cincinnati caught wind of Flat On My Back and wanted to do a story, you can guess my reaction: Thanks, but no thanks. I was not about to be part of another demeaning “feel good if you’re not paralyzed” story. Plus, how exactly would that news line up look? “A guy was shot. The store got robbed. The Bengals lost. And in other news… a guy with a spinal cord injury started a blog.”

However, something slowly began shifting in my mind with this new opportunity. I had become fixated on not wanting people to feel sorry for me, not wanting to hear negative comments, and a fear of what people would think. I began to realize that, by being so concerned with how some people may respond, I was actually doing a disservice to those who were truly seeing God in a new light through hearing my story. Why did I care so much what the others thought? Why was I so uptight about how my situation “looked” to others?

In “The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness,” Tim Keller makes it clear that this mindset will not be of much benefit to me. As defined by Keller, a “self-forgetful” person does not think any more or less of themselves than they should- they just think of themselves less. I don’t need to worry about what the take-away of others’ is from my situation. I can leave that to God’s hands. The gist of 1 Corinthians 4: 3 – 4 is this: “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t even care what I think. All that matters is what God thinks.” Being a self-forgetful person sounds mighty freeing.

Rather than hiding, I believe it’s my job to share what God has done in my life in the midst of the trial. In order to do this, I cannot be concerned with what others think. Galatians 1:10 poses the question, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” After pondering the idea of being unconcerned with how a story would be presented, I went ahead and did the interview.

The Channel 9 team invading my house
The Channel 9 team invading my house

When it airs tonight* at 6 PM on Channel 9 (WCPO Cincinnati), I should be able to sit back and relax. I’m deciding to be unconcerned with the fact that they are editing everything I tried to get across in the interview time down to a 60 second piece and choosing their own introduction. I have no control over how people will leverage my story or how those around me will view me as a result. I once heard it said, “We owe it to the world to share what we learn in the midst of trial.” With that in mind, it further reinforces the need for me to let go of worrying about what people think and trust that God will use my story exactly how He sees fit. Most of the time it may be easier to say than truly believe, but honestly, who cares what people think?

*Blog was posted November 5, link to Channel 9 video can be found below:

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