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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The rewards of exposing myself

It was September 18, 2013 and I stared at my computer screen. Panic set in as I prepared to click “send.” My blog had been live for days…I just hadn’t told anyone. Staying mysterious about what was going on in my head (and life, for that matter) had become my M.O. The last thing I wanted was for my day-to-day happenings to be broadcasted to the cyberspace world. Opening up? I was not exactly keen on the idea.

However, I had been sensing over the past few weeks that God was giving me the nudge to share my story. Despite my “closed book” personality, I chose a domain name, started a WordPress site, and began typing out my innermost thoughts to be exposed for anyone to see.

On the afternoon of September 18th, I finally clicked send on the email informing some friends of my blog’s URL and held my breath in silence, as if a bomb was about to explode. Nothing happened. However, throughout the day texts, emails, and blog notifications began to rush in. Realizing my openness was now a reality, my anxiety continued to amp up and I wanted to shrink back into a hole. I was more comfortable hiding behind the façade of “masculinity.” Why did I ever think it was a good idea to let people know what was going on in my head?

False alarm
False alarm

After realizing getting vulnerable would not be the end of the world, posting on the blog each Wednesday began to get easier. Four months later I realize that acting in obedience (however begrudgingly) and kicking off Flat On My Back was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The more I opened up, whether it be through sharing my struggles of acclimating to a new lifestyle, the frustration of being completely dependent on others, or the journey God has taken me on of finding purpose in the midst of suffering, the more vulnerable others began to get with me as well. Old friends, current friends, and even complete strangers began opening up via email. Relationships formed that I never could have fathomed. As a result of letting people in, emails like the following examples began to pour into my inbox:

Unlike this guy, I've embraced hearing from many with different struggles
Unlike this guy, I’ve embraced hearing from many with different struggles

“I have some spinal problems and lupus and have recently started using a chair. I’m still trying to figure out who I am without my old career. I want a purpose. I have gotten so much more reliant on God than myself lately, so emotionally I am healed, but physically I need a miracle. I don’t feel like God has forgotten me, but that I am facing this to somehow give him glory. But it is hard to remember that some days, when everything seems stacked against me.”

“Today marks 6 years since my spinal cord injury and I have not gotten to talk to many people in our situation. I have an 8 year old son that lives across the country and I am hoping one day to move closer to him but as you can imagine the move has been difficult. I just want to make this move a reality to be closer to my son. I miss him terribly.”

“I recently fell into a dark place in my life. When I needed my friends and more importantly my BEST friend; there was no one there. The feeling I had was so lonely and to be honest I was scared….trapped almost. I hit rock bottom and I was lost. My family and others have been behind me and very supportive and I am now on my way to a MUCH better life. Through this ordeal I have found a closer relationship with God and my faith has never been this strong.”

No longer a closed book
No longer a closed book

Galatians 6:2 makes it clear that Jesus wants us to carry one another’s burdens. Through sharing my struggles with others, I’ve gotten feedback detailing emotional and physical battles including depression, cancer, dementia, loss of loved ones, sexual abuse, drug abuse, and the list goes on. I have been blown away by the interactions, conversations, and relationships that have taken place as a result of stepping out on a limb and getting vulnerable. I never could have envisioned God using this platform to open up such richness in conversation and relationship.

There is just something different about an email stating, “Nice blog,” versus one containing intimate life details. I believe we all have a deep longing to get beneath surface level conversations about sports, work, current events, or the weather. Everyone has something hidden beneath the surface that, once unearthed, gives a little glimpse into who they actually are. What’s the one thing in your life that no one knows about? What’s the one dream you’ve kept to yourself, in fear it does not become reality? Who are you being open with?

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To follow Ryan’s journey via e-mail, click “follow” at the top of the page