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.

Click here for Cincinnati Channel 9′s feature on “Flat On My Back” from earlier this month

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13 comments
  1. Joni lipsey said:

    quit making me cry.. i totally admire the Jesus in you… the strength, the courage and the realness are qualities I so admire… thank you thank you for allowing us to have glimpses of your journey.

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  2. Bob Buck said:

    Ryan, The Lord must give you the words you write, because the words are perfect! There is a great Christian song, ‘Word of God Speak’, written by Mercy Me. If you get a chance, please listen and you will know what I mean. When you write, I believe you are delivery messages from God. I believe He is using you to teach us deep things about life and HIS ways. Love, Bob Buck

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  3. Anne Hoffmann said:

    Ryan, Thank you. You are a light in the world.

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  4. Jerry Atkins said:

    Ryan……..our dear son and brother, you are superman. I have told so many that since this day four years ago when they ask about your spirit with a sense of sympathy, “Ryan has not had one bad day……not one”. No one really gets that concept given the circumstances. Perhaps as the song says “Maybe it’s God speaking…..” You have been inspiring, patient, grateful, resilient, hopeful, kind, loving, caring, humble, hard working, and more than anything else, faithful. God has blessed you with an incredible faith that transcends understanding. You have provided your family and friends with so much strength. Your character is a light to all those who love and know you. In our many Friday morning breakfasts, we talked about the ideal of the modern day knight—to be honorable, faithful, hard working, kind hearted while living a life of purpose and intent. You are a living and breathing example of living life with purpose and intent, whether it is in ministry, relationship building, mentoring, or working with me on real estate projects. Circumstances have changed but I could not be more proud of you. You are my knight and my hero. As one of our dear friends told you at your bedside in Lexington, Kentucky four years ago, “Ryan, you are only at Chapter 21, there are so many more chapters in the book of your life, stay strong and know that we all love you and want to read the rest of the book”. Four more chapters have been written and there is such anticipation for the next chapter, and everyone after. We too are grateful for your life today and your life ahead. The best is indeed yet to come as we all share your great expectations and optimism. I love you with every last breath in me, Dad

    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZI2gOBvBHkn)

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    • Josie said:

      Jerry, you and Carol (we went to school together) must have done an amazing job raising Ryan to have produced someone with such strength of faith and character. I am blown away each week by this blog and I’m sitting in my living room right now sobbing uncontrollably at the beauty and love that I feel from your amazing family. Ryan is making such a huge impact on so many- thank you all for sharing your experience. Josie Charnigo Zayac

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  5. Sally Barnhart said:

    Ryan,

    Thank you for sharing your gift and serving others in your writings. Your words are inspirational to each of us that share in reading your blog. We pray for you and your family each day. I agree with your Dad, that the anticipation of your next chapter is a gift to your family and friends. There are many many Bible verses to mention concerning Spirit and Gifts, which I am sure that you have read over and over. However, you, Ryan, are a living example of the gift that the Holy Spirit has given to you and how you are wisely using your talents. You are a special young man. A gift to all that know you!

    With much love,

    Norm, Sally, John and Thomas Barnhart

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  6. Sue said:

    Wow, Ryan. Not only have YOU blessed me (and I am so grateful God allowed our paths to cross at that Remnant Ministries conference a couple years ago, and allowed to continue to share your journey through your blog!) :-) But reading your dads message to you above also MASSIVELY blessed my heart. Obviously, it appears that God is using your whole family during this journey. There is a “world” (your family’s sphere of influence) that is watching, learning, being inspired, and growing. No man is an island. Your words of thanks and gratefulness are a gift of a loving heart. Your dad so eloquently expresses the heart of our Heavenly Father toward all of us – always noticing, calling out, and celebrating the beauty He sees within us.
    Keep shining my dear brother, and continued blessings upon you and your family. Eph. 3:14-21!!!
    Sue

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  7. yanick said:

    Hi Ryan, today on your 4th year of courageously living Gods plan for you, I just want you to know that I am glad to have been one of your chosen disciples walking down this road faithfully with you. God Bless!

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  8. Bill McAdory said:

    Ryan, your life is your life as an example of God’s power in you through Christ Jesus. You challenge all of us to glorify God through our life journey. Glory to God and his blessing to you.

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  9. schro907 said:

    Congratulations on 4 years, what a blessing, God really is great:D I’ve decided spinal cord injury anniversaries are kind of weird things, so bittersweet. I celebrated 6 months of life post SCI today (http://samschroth.wordpress.com/) and I can’t believe what I’ve learned already and what I look forward to learning.

    I’m glad I found your blog and look forward to your new posts and perusing some of the archived posts:)

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  10. Just heard you on DAB and looked up your link. I was so blessed! I am in the midst of concern over media response right now in my own story of “JoyThroughAdversity.com” and your faith in letting God use it as he will is a great encouragement to me! I spend time weekly with a 13 year old from our situation, in a wheel chair and tube fed, and sure can relate to the joys and challenges!
    Terri!

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