Let’s say tonight something supernatural happens. As I am in deep sleep, my snore is reverberating throughout the room. Meanwhile, my body starts coming to life. Sensation starts to run up and down my arms and legs as I slowly come out of sleep. My brain starts to comprehend what is occurring and I begin to bend my fingers and wiggle my toes. “It’s really happening,” I think to myself as excitement continues to build.

I start to move around, realizing what I’m now capable of. I sit up and look around at my functioning body, now fully awake and ready to take on the day. I hop out of bed and stroll into the shower for the first dose of hot water I can feel trickling down my body in six years.

The possibilities would be endless.

But first of course, I would kick the wheelchair to the curb.

wheelchair

Would that be awesome? Absolutely.

For six years I’ve held onto hope that one way or another, that day will come. It used to consume me as a 21-year-old desperate to get back to college life.

While the belief still remains, over time it has become less of a priority. I’m realizing now more than ever that my ultimate hope is not in walking again.

There’s a verse that I have been focusing on lately, which may seem obscure at first glance:
“Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.” (Acts 13:36)

David is one of the heroes of the Bible. Esteemed King. Great conqueror of the giant Goliath. The Bible states that he “fulfilled his purpose” and was a man after God’s heart. I sure would like that to be my epitaph. Yet, despite all the amazing things he saw, did, and conquered, this man’s life still came to an end. He still died. His body went into the ground. And it decayed.

Mine will do the same.

Recently I experienced the first weekend of 2015 where I was actually able to be sitting up in my chair for the entire weekend, rather than spending at least part of a day in bed. It was amazing not spending one more afternoon staring at this:

Ceiling

On top of that, I have been pretty excited about just about everything going on right now. This summer I got engaged. I’m having a great time with the high school guys who meet at my house on Sundays. I’m back up in my chair. I’m nearing graduation from the University of Cincinnati.

All this, and yet my physical status will just not improve. I’m immobile, my muscles are tight and uncomfortable, I’m sleep deprived, and the majority of time I’m stuck inside while it’s a nice, sunny fall day outside.

The fact is, nothing’s ever going to be perfect on this earth.

Even if I get miraculously healed tomorrow- as exciting as that would be- I would not be immune to another car accident, debilitating sickness, or, at the very least, growing old and losing the impossible battle of sustaining my physical body over time.

Regardless of the state of my physical body, as long as I’m on this earth I’m still going to experience pain. I’m going to experience loss. I’m going to experience heartbreak.

If you’re staring at your device thinking, “Wow…what a depressing way to look at life,” bear with me. I’ve actually found great hope in this.

I can almost hear Jesus’s good friend John reassuring me I have even greater reason for hope: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:14)

There is just no getting around the fact that my physical body will eventually end up decaying in the ground. If I jump out of bed tomorrow with fully functioning legs and my circumstances continue to be smooth sailing, it is still going to come to an end.

That’s too small a thing to put my hope in.

However, I take great comfort in knowing that I will one day live again fully in the presence of Jesus. On this day there will be no more pain. No more sickness. No more tears.

No matter how good stuff gets here on earth, it’s not even going to come close to that.

Maybe that’s why we have to endure hardship during this short life. To make sure we don’t get too comfortable. To make sure we don’t mistake this earth for our true home.

Nothing’s going to be perfect in this lifetime, but one day it will be. As the song below alludes to, there will be a day when I’ll come face to face with my Creator and everything will be made right.

Forever.

Now that’s something worth putting my hope in.

– –

Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com

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Writers block

I’m not a big fan of writing.

Considering I have posted 42 blogs since launching FlatOnMyBack.com in September 2013, it took a while for that to dawn on me.

I enjoy posting what I have written (and thankfully my fiancée has edited), sharing it on social media, and interacting with readers ranging from friends to people I have not spoken with in years, and to some across the country who I have never met.

But the writing? Not so much fun.

It may be the voice software (which has been awesome for helping with independence, but frustrating having to repeat myself multiple times when it confuses words). It may be the resurfacing memories of cranking out essays in high school late into the night, looking forward to the day when my work would be rooted more in numbers and equations rather than sentence structure and grammar.

It may be a mix of both. Or something else.

While the process of writing may be frustrating, I still enjoy the satisfaction of completing the endeavor.

So I won’t do away with the blog.

But in the meantime, between occasional posts, I decided to launch a YouTube channel.

My first attempt is below.

To subscribe to the videos CLICK HERE

– –

Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com

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It was June of 1997 and I was completely dejected. The girl of my dreams was just not that into me. Summer break could not come quickly enough. My mom’s van pulled out of the school parking lot as I tried to distract my mind from my unsuccessful endeavor to make this girl mine.

Life sure is hard on an 8-year-old.

Sharing the stage as the lead characters in the school play did not win me any points

Sharing the stage as the lead characters in the school play did not win me any points

Shortly after breaking my heart, Stephanie and I went our separate ways. Stephanie switched schools, not to be heard from again until high school. A new social media site created by a Harvard dropout enabled a message to pop up in my inbox from the girl I’d had my eyes on 10 years previous.

Was there really a question I would end up anywhere but UC?

Was there really a question I would end up anywhere but UC?

The conversation ended quickly. Little did we know how significant the words “Maybe I will see you again” would be. We ended up going to the same college, parking in the same garage throughout freshman year, and, regardless of the fact she walked by my dorm every morning on her way to class, we still never ran into each other. (May have had something to do with me neglecting my alarm clock every morning.)

That is, until the car accident in 2009.

Thirteen years after starring in the Clever Turtle play together, the same girl walked into my room. I had just returned home from my four month stint in the hospital and Stephanie was now in massage therapy school. After seeing the news of the accident on Facebook, she had reached out to my family to offer her therapeutic skills in whatever way she could help, regardless of the fact that we hadn’t seen each other in over a decade.

The relationship started off professionally. She would come over a few times a week to massage the tightness and knots from my body that had formed as a result of going through the grinder of car flips, ventilator weaning, and months of hospitalization. This gradually turned into a friendship and one day she brought over one of her assignments from our second grade class that she just happened to stumble upon:

What I learned about the Bible and following Jesus…
“I learned that God did many miricals. I like the one of the parelized man the most.”

Click here for previous blog about the project above

As I would come to find out over time, it could not have been mere coincidence that the two of us shared a page in her project with my future diagnosis. After a couple years of friendship, our relationship progressed to dating, and as time went on I became certain I wanted to make this girl my wife.

2015 seemed like the year to take the next step, but a seven month stint getting stuck in bed delayed my plans (click here for context to this story). Each day she sat at my side as we waited and prayed. As soon as I was healthy enough to be upright for an entire day I knew I was going to propose. Little did she know the plan that was hatching in my mind. It was time to put a ring on the finger of the girl I was chasing around the circle in second grade.

Trying to make moves

Trying to make moves

Now it was time for execution.

I didn’t tell anyone except for the most trustworthy crew known to man: a group of 16-year-old boys.

2017 huddle 8-17-14

Each Sunday when I met with them for a Bible study, we game planned a strategy to catch her off guard. The final plan was a scavenger hunt proposal, in which they would play a role.

My paranoia increased as the day got closer. Could she see it on my face? I deleted text messages with high school guys and disguised preparation emails with subjects pertaining to my college Real Estate courses in case she were to see over my shoulder. I did not want her suspecting anything and I was not taking any chances.

To avoid the risk of Stephanie making plans on my projected proposal date, I teamed up with her mom to get the day booked weeks in advance. With two little sisters, her mom got creative and planned a “half birthday party” to take place during the day. I put a mock “double date” with another couple on our calendar for later that same evening.

The day arrived and the high school guys huddled around in my parents’ living room with all eyes on me, waiting on assignments for each of the four scavenger hunt locations to be divvied up.

IMG_9431

Not too many years from now they will be in my shoes, making the same step forward. I took this opportunity to explain the importance of what was about to commence and how they should conduct their own search in the coming years. We opened up to Proverbs 31 in which the ideal wife is described in detail. Finally, it was time for them to go help me lock mine down.

Before leaving, the guys shouted “I do!” on the count of 3. Wrong occasion, guys…but I guess it works.

Before leaving, the guys shouted “I do!” on the count of 3. Wrong occasion, guys…but I guess it works.

We rehearsed our assignments and I sent out four teams of guys with roses, letters, and clues in the form of poems, and they were off. The entirety of my engagement plans were now in the hands of 14 high school boys.

And they're off

After months of planning and a morning of barking out orders to these guys, my healthcare providers, and my family, I was finally able to take a deep breath. I headed down to the basement to relax for a bit with my sister and wait for the text message updates to begin.

IMG_9449

As soon as the guys assumed their positions in each of the four nearby locations, a series of photo confirmations were sent in a group text message to confirm to me they were where they were supposed to be.

Guys texts

As soon as all four groups were situated, I gave Stephanie’s mom the go-ahead. The hunt was officially now in motion.

Gina text

Meanwhile, 20 minutes north at a “half birthday party,” Stephanie’s mom interrupted the festivities to share that Ryan was disappointed he had not been able to make it, but wanted to still play a role in the action with a scavenger hunt. Stephanie opened a box with a CD and instructions for the scavenger hunt.

2

Her dad then proceeded to read her the first clue from yours truly.

unnamed

To which she responded…

Stephanie text

As she attempted to get her family to join her, they shoved her out the door, insisting she head out alone. The first clue was leading her to her childhood home.

IMG_0952

She arrived to find four high school guys waiting in her former driveway, dressed in shirts and ties despite the 90 degree weather. The guys handed her a rose and read her a letter I‘d written. As per my scavenger hunt instructions to Stephanie, she texted me a photo from the location of herself with the boys so I could keep tabs on her whereabouts. The guys then proceeded to read the next clue which led her to her favorite childhood park. They gave her another CD to listen to on the way, consisting of a recorded message from me and a song.

unnamed-4

The same process with a different group of guys ensued at the park. As she took the rose and CD from this second group of guys, who began yelling and cheering as she walked back to her car, it dawned on her this may be a little much for a “half birthday.” Her suspicion heightened as she proceeded to location number three: the elementary school where we met in 1996.

unnamed-3

This group of seven guys wanted to arrive at the last location before Stephanie, so she was told to listen to the CD in the parking lot before heading to the next spot. Tears flowed down her face as everything sunk in as she looked at the building where we met 19 years prior with one of our favorite songs playing in her car. She dashed off to the park where we have spent quite a bit of time together, wondering what awaited her.

unnamed-2

The last clue let her know I was waiting back at home. Stephanie then made the final 2.3 mile trek down Snider Road, into my neighborhood, parked out front, burst inside, and made her way down the steps:

Stairs

And into the basement…

IMG_9499

As she walked in the room, I caught a glimpse of the smile on her face as my heart was pounding. Her beauty glowed as I waited for her to approach me. With Red Lobster takeout waiting in the kitchen (a throwback to our first date), and our families on call to arrive for a celebration later that evening, I directed her to remove the sheet covering my feet:

Ring

And after all that, I’m thrilled to announce that…

IMG_9545

SHE SAID YES!

– –

Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com

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It’s been seven months since I last blogged. I know droves of readers have been waiting anxiously, refreshing their inboxes and wondering why a Wednesday “Flat On My Back” update has not come in awhile. I just wanted to individually apologize to all parties involved that noticed the lack of reading material.

Sorry, mom.

2014 was coming to a close and I could not wait for what 2015 held. I was back in class. My future plans looked a bit more concrete. I could not wait to start the year.

Then this happened:

flat on my back2

Now, I realize a picture of me flat on my back fits nicely with the name of this website. But the name of the website is meant more to convey where I spend quite a bit of time. I did not envision the phrase to encompass where I spent ALL my time. For six entire months.

On December 25th a pressure sore was discovered. (Merry Christmas to me!) It was caused in large part from sitting in the same position for too long. The only remedy is to do the opposite.

Which means lying in bed.

For a long time.

I was left to stare at the ceiling for hours on end each day waiting for skin cells to grow back, which I can now vouch is a much better play on words than watching paint dry. The treatment called for no more than two hours in the wheelchair between extended periods in bed.

The fact that the start of the year kicked off my first time being back in online classes at the University of Cincinnati meant that nearly every precious minute I had upright was spent rushing through a textbook, writing an essay, or studying for an exam, while obsessively glancing at the clock watching my two hours dwindle as if it was a time bomb.

This healing process would not have normally taken so long, but other factors came into play extending the process. A few other health-related conundrums popped up, one after another.

The months involved multiple doctor appointments. A couple of trips to Urgent Care. A hospital visit for a procedure that consisted of a team of five people essentially dropping me while manually transferring me out of my wheelchair.

I canceled plans one after another. Missed friends’ weddings. Rarely could respond to email or the phone. Sequestered in my room in my bed for months on end, I felt more isolated from the outside world than ever before.

On top of increased pain and mental gymnastics, my body would shake throughout the night as if I was being electrocuted. This left me awake night after night staring at the ceiling, wondering how much longer this could possibly take, if I would go crazy before it ended, and dreading the next day of this view:

Ceiling

I never thought anything could rival the four-month stay in the hospital after the accident when my world was turned upside down. That may have been grueling, but my memory of it is foggy at best thanks to being drowned in medication. The first half of 2015 tested me like never before.

Jesus never promised life would be easy, but I found myself thinking, “Can’t I catch a break?” Lying on my back in the middle of the night, I contemplated the truths of the Bible: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial…” “Consider it pure joy when you encounter trials of various kinds.”

Joy? Seriously?

I knew my perspective needed to change. James 1 promises that these trials develop perseverance and make me mature and complete. As these trials would move into the rearview mirror I could trust God was using them for my ultimate good.

Thankfully however, slowly but surely healing began to take place.

Is everything perfect now?

Hardly.

I’m still mostly unable to leave the house, thanks to my body’s intolerance of the jostling of a car ride. The tightness in my body, especially my chest and shoulders, often leaves me tense, on edge, and unable to concentrate on the person in front of me or the task at hand. I’m still frequently left staring at the ceiling for hours in the middle of the night which leads to sleep deprivation and zoning out mid-conversation as my eyes drift shut on the person in front of me.

But you know what? I’m thrilled. I do not have to lie in bed all day anymore.

My perspective is much different and I’m incredibly thankful. Plus, it’s been a great month.

Here are a few of the highlights…

I’m enjoying being able to focus my time away from the ceiling and more on classes that actually interest me. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have loved plugging away this summer on Microsoft Excel for my Real Estate Finance class. (Cue the nerd jokes.)

Excel Spreadsheet

I finished off the school year meeting with 16 high school guys, culminating in what was one of the most rewarding days of my life.

Comissioning as men 5_3_15

After being isolated in my room for the better part of the year, I have finally gotten to get outside and enjoy some sunlight, often with my sister who is back home after finishing up her junior year of college.

Blog pic Ryan-Laura

I reconnected with high school friends in town for our 13th annual fantasy football draft.

Draft night 7-11-15

My grandparents were in town for a week and I got to spend hours talking with my grandpa. I heard about old family stories, his time serving our country in World War II and the Korean War, and received some in-depth lessons on the stock market.

Grandparents_6_9_15

And then this happened.

Stephanie with Ring

But I’ll save that story for the next blog…

– –

Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com

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This post is my open letter:

letter_writingTo the guy who is a few years removed from college, opening this email in his cube at work.

To the guy who saw this post on Facebook but chose not to like or comment, preferring to remain anonymous.

To the guy who is curious why I am still blogging and how I still feel like life is worth living.

To the guy who has been uncomfortable to talk to me because he doesn’t know what to make of me: immobile, living with my parents, and not exactly on the same life trajectory as most guys our age.

To the guys who have shed tears in my room, shaking their heads, distraught, as if I was terminally ill.

Anonymous guy in his 20s, I’m talking to you.

There’s something I want you to know.

I’m okay.

Really. I’m okay.

From what a few guys have shared with me, I know many are wondering, “Why does Ryan seem to have joy? Why does Ryan still put in the effort to get out of bed in the morning? What does Ryan even have to live for?”

You want me to be honest? For a period, I envied you moving on into the life I had planned out for myself. There was a time I felt resentment and bewilderment over what made you more deserving of moving on with life than me. Then a phase of spiritual pride set in, leading me to think that by missing out on all of that and enduring hardship I was somehow more holy or special than you.

All three stances were downright wrong.

Thankfully, I soon realized the void that existed. The void that cannot be filled with the path to success or even fully functioning arms and legs.

Jesus tells a story about a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field. When he finds it, he hides it again, and then excitedly returns home to sell everything he has and purchase the field. No one else seems to realize what this guy sees in this field. But the man is willing to give up everything to encounter the treasure within.

hidden-treasure

I often feel like that man when I see the look of gloom and doom emanating from a fellow man’s face as he ponders my circumstances.

I just want to emphatically declare how rewarding the things I’ve gotten to experience have been. I wish you could know what I was feeling. I wish you could feel the deep humbling satisfaction I get when I think about the small role I’ve been given in God’s redemptive plan.

Not being on the same life trajectory as other guys my age may seem disappointing on the surface. However, a padded bank account, a brand-new car, and that ripped CrossFit body are not going to last in the long run. They’re not going to be there to save you when you get that phone call diagnosis or your heart ripped out or your dream shattered.

On Thanksgiving Day 2009, 35-year-old Matt Chandler collapsed to the ground with a tremendous seizure. On Monday it was revealed that he would need a tumor carved out of his brain by the end of the week. With no chance to reach his church before the following Sunday, he recorded this quick YouTube video to update those he loved in the midst of the most tension filled week of his life:

I want my attitude to be like that.

I can learn much from this example of trusting God in difficult circumstances and realizing he is enough.

Jesus is enough, and I’m saying that now.

Five years without the physical miraculous breakthrough I’ve been waiting for.

No medical cure on the horizon while battling constant discomfort and sleepless nights.

Not only is he enough, but if this is what it takes for my eyes to be opened and to profoundly encounter the person of Jesus as a result, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So you guys don’t have to feel sorry for me. You’re off the hook for feeling like you need to walk on eggshells around me. In the midst of the most difficult season of my life, I have found true joy, hope, and fulfillment in a place I may never have looked otherwise.

If that sounds crazy to you, I urge you to contemplate what your hope is in.

– –

Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com

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*With Thanksgiving looming, no better time to re post this from 11–27–13 with a great new added video below for the “Generation of idiots: smart phones and dumb people”*

During a fraternity meeting just a few months before my accident, our president made it mandatory that all phones be placed in the middle of the table during a meeting. I grumbled to myself, “What is this, junior high?” Guys in the house razzed him for apparently losing sight of the fact that we had joined a college fraternity and not the Boy Scouts. He held his ground though, even going as far to quote his mother who always emphasized to “Love the one you’re with.” There is nothing that ups your cool factor more with your fellow fraternity brothers quite like quoting your own mom.

One year later I found myself in the basement of my parents’ house in my current physical condition. Five guys sprawled out on the couch as I sat adjacent, motionless in my wheelchair. I began to share a story but stopped shortly thereafter, realizing my lack of an audience. Looking around the room I only saw the top of five heads looking down, ferociously typing away on their cell phones. My natural reaction would have been to grab my own phone to idly pass the time, but my arms laid still on the armrest of my chair. So I just stared ahead, waiting my figurative turn in the pecking order and feeling rather insignificant.

It looks like there was some substantial truth in the wisdom bestowed by my fraternity president’s mom. This has been one of many subtle yet valuable lessons I could only have learned on the four-year journey I have been on. Preaching “put your phone away” may paint me as a technologically inept, old-school person who is not up with the times, but actually I was up there with the worst when I had the option prior to my injury. I would rarely look up from my phone, regardless of who I was talking to. I would keep it on my lap back at my parents’ house for dinner, much to my mother’s dismay. While always attempting to put on the illusion that I was listening, I could not have been more oblivious to my indiscretion.

With no choice but to look straight ahead, I find myself recognizing more and more how frequently the situations portrayed in the video above are displayed with those around me. I once paused in the middle of sharing a story with a friend to see if he noticed I had stopped talking. After a few seconds (while still looking down), he told me I could keep talking, assuring me he was still listening while pecking away at his phone. I smirked and facetiously responded saying, “Thanks for your permission.”

However, situations like this got me thinking. Could trying to hold a conversation with a guy who’s focused on something else with his head down be similar to how God feels when I’m too distracted in the world around me to pay attention to Him? The fact that sometimes I can’t read the Bible or just sit and pray without being tempted to distract myself with something else makes me realize that just because I don’t have use of my hands right now doesn’t mean I can’t revert back to old habits. Fortunately, it’s not too late and I’ve been made aware of it thanks to the idol our culture has made of the cell phone. While currently not having use of my arms isn’t how I would prefer to learn simple life lessons, it was a lesson learned nonetheless.

Whether I can hold a phone or not, I want to be present in the moment. The person I am with is infinitely more important than the latest text message, Facebook update, or Twitter feed that can be attended to later. With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I recognize I have a lot to be thankful for. Five years ago I laid in the ICU on a feeding tube while my family and other visitors took turns eating turkey out of my sight. Not only am I able to breathe and talk now, the eating will be fantastic. I’m looking forward to enjoying fellowship, food, and football with family. Thankfully, the phone will not be part of it.

– –

Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com

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Five years.

Nearly 20% of my life has occurred since the dark, cool Friday night in southern Kentucky in November, 2009.

My view of the action at a wedding last week

My view of the action eight hours away

This past weekend a close friend of mine officially tied the knot with his bride. Unfortunately, the wedding was eight hours away and I was unable to attend as the best man. I whipped up a video camera to record my speech to be delivered over the course of the wedding weekend via YouTube. Since the process of donning a button-down shirt may be one of the most physically uncomfortable tasks to take on right now, I wanted to make good use of the spiffed up look in front of the camera before I was back to pliable athletic shirts that are easy to stretch while putting on while I lay flat on my back.

With today marking five years now complete since a car accident changed the direction of my life, I thought this would be a good opportunity to attempt replacing writing with video.

Five 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. Thanks for being with me along the journey. I could not have done this without you.

– –

Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com

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Sleeping
The Bernie Madoff saga played on the screen as I drifted off to sleep. I caught bits and pieces of it in between excusing myself for a snore. The Accounting Ethics professor concluded the class with a lecture but as hard as I tried to focus, the information just wasn’t sticking. It was a nice change of pace getting back into the familiarity of college courses and reengaging my mind into the world of business in the summer of 2010, just a few months removed from what seemed to be an endless hospital stay. But something wasn’t quite right.

Through lectures I had a hard time focusing. I couldn’t go very long without falling asleep. But a sense of panic did not set in until I started my first quiz. As a friend held up the paper for me, not only did it feel weird to have to relay my answers to someone else to write down, but I was realizing the self-doubt that began to creep in.

Why was I having such a hard time reading, processing, and remembering everything? Was it the high amounts of medications I was on? The sleepless nights staring at the ceiling wondering what was next in this journey? Or had my brain actually endured some type of undetected trauma that did not come to light until exercising it in an academic setting? I kept my fears to myself, unsure of their validity.

School had always come so easy to me and I figured a loss of mobility of my limbs would have no effect on my aptitude in the classroom. But it persisted. The panic associated with feeling as if my intellectual abilities had taken a hit only added to the anxiety surrounding how to balance maneuvering around campus in a 300 pound chair while needing someone else take notes for me. This array of emotions made me realize one thing: this was not the time to jump back into classes.

After that initial summer course, I held off on going back to school for the next few years as other opportunities presented themselves. Then, earlier this year some time freed up so I started the process of looking into finishing the business degree I started in 2007. Class kicked off this fall and I re-acclimated myself with the likes of Business Management and International Business.

Good thing I got to class early for this seat

Good thing I got to class early for this seat

Here are five things I learned during my hiatus from school:

Each step in the road is vital to the entirety of the story:

Interacting with a few people regarding starting back to school has left me feeling as if they’re saying, “Oh good, you’re finally ready to move on with your life.” I don’t believe any of the time I wasn’t in school was wasted. In fact, the break was crucial.

With more time available to read, write, and contemplate life, speak, meet with high school guys, start this website, etc., these last few years have turned out to be the most important season of my life to date. I found out who I am. In many ways I’ve better understood what my role is. And most importantly, I discovered who God is.

We each have our own race to run:

It hit me when I was signing up for classes… I’m going back to college with students almost 10 years younger than me. Taking a class that my peers completed nearly 5 years ago can be humbling. Not to mention that on top of that, the same peers are well into careers while I still share a hallway with my parents. Comparing myself to others can leave me depressed…which is why focusing on the race God has marked for me is all I need to do.

Trying to please others never ends well:

“Are you taking classes yet?” became what I heard more than anything during my break from school. Many times I was left wondering, “Is that what I’m supposed to be doing?” Was I looking to find approval from people rather than God? Over time it became abundantly clear that entertaining the idea of doing something just because it fit in with the social norm was ridiculous. This begged the question, who cares what anyone else thinks?

What excites me isn’t always going to excite others:

I may enjoy learning the nuances of the business world but you can bet that I am much more excited for Sunday afternoons and what is to come of the hearts of my high school guys. When I express my excitement about this to some people I have often gotten a blank stare or the deflecting response, “That’s nice… Are you taking classes yet?”

Regardless of the response of others, I love getting to witness firsthand God propelling the transformation process from boyhood to manhood. Sunday meetings have undoubtedly become the highlight of my week. And if others don’t get excited about the same things? That’s completely okay.

It’s never too late to finish what was started:
Cincinnati_Bearcats
I really was not trying to use a cliché. Too late. Finishing a college degree in nine years may not make me sound like a high achiever, but you better believe I’m going to have that degree from the University of Cincinnati eventually. It’s never too late to take the next step. It’s not too late to finish strong.

Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com

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It’s been nearly a year since I launched FlatOnMyBack.com. It was initially meant for family and friends, to give a little more insight into what’s been going on in my life. Then it picked up steam.

There was something about being open and honest that resonated with people regardless of whether or not I knew them. Soon enough there were a few thousand people coming to the site each week.

Then Chanel 9 asked to interview me and I was featured on a news segment:

Then I started getting asked to speak. I spoke to a small men’s group. Then to a group of 100 women. Then to a few hundred college students. Then an entire high school. Then I spoke to nearly 20,000 people over the course of one weekend.

crossroads speaking

A few months of churning out raw weekly blog updates opened up a platform that allowed me to connect with thousands of people not only in Cincinnati but across the country. Emails would flood in. New opportunities would arise. I felt like I was on the brink of something big. What could possibly be next?

Throughout the process though, there was an empty feeling left. While I expected each new and bigger thing to be more gratifying, it was never quite what I was looking for. I couldn’t figure out the problem.

There was a constant sense of disappointment because no matter how many blog hits or seats in the audience of a crowd I spoke to, it was just never enough. I was getting to do some really cool things while meeting some awesome people but at the end of the day it still felt like I needed to be doing more.

In the meantime, I continued to spend time mentoring high school guys. I enjoyed it and felt like I was making a difference, but the numbers and recognition were not the same so I thought success and validation would have to be found elsewhere.

In the book “Go Small,” Craig Gross makes the case that God doesn’t care about our size, status, or success. For me, it has been a message that has brought a sigh of relief. As he says in this video, it’s the little ordinary day-to-day activities that go unnoticed by the world around us that God can make extraordinary without us having to point to a number to justify success.

Jesus spoke to thousands, healed the masses, raised the dead, and accomplished more in three years of public ministry than anyone in the history of the planet. However, I would bet that there was nothing more enjoyable, nothing that made him laugh more, and nothing more fulfilling than seeing his 12 closest friends grow.

Sure, they would frustrate him. Getting in their grill for unbelief and calling Peter “Satan” showed that much. But they knew he loved them. He saw their potential. He never gave up on them.

Looking to Jesus’ example, I have slowly begun to realize the importance of the one-on-one relationships, and how irrelevant the numbers are.

These high school guys are real people with real stories. Their lives are just as important as a newscaster, pastor, or businessman. I have felt so much joy and fulfillment as I have developed relationships with these guys that I will carry on with me for the rest of my life.

2017 huddle 8-17-14

I’m realizing that numbers-based success can have me in chains and that God has true purpose for me right where I am. This allows me to move my focus from success to significance.

There’s not going to be a write-up in the newspaper. I’m not going get a huge award. No one’s looking to write me a fat check. But seriously, could I ask for anything more than a dozen teenage boys being attentive as we dive into the Bible together, share our passions and struggles, and then get to witness them beat on each other like cage fighters?

Maybe God has not designed me to get satisfaction out of status, size, or success. It seems to me that he couldn’t care less about those things. Maybe if I don’t go big…I don’t actually have to go home. Maybe bigger isn’t always better. Maybe it’s about something deeper. Maybe going small has been the secret all along.

Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com
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Want to know how I am doing? “I’m doing well,” with a smile on my face, is my usual response. Even with all things considered, most of the time it’s true. But lets be real, as hard as I try to convince the inquiring party of my bliss, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies.

It’s often easy to hide behind wanting to appear tough and full of faith, but the truth is, my body is nearly always uncomfortable these days.

I feel as if there’s a knife penetrating into my left shoulder for most of the day.

I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to get away from home this summer thanks to the intensity of my body spasms caused by the slightest bump in the road.

Mine is the hairy one

Mine is the hairy one

Not only can I not feel my girlfriend’s hand when I hold it, now it’s often “don’t touch me” or it will shoot my body into an intense series of spasmic shaking. (Talk about romantic.)

One of my best friends is getting married soon and I’m frustrated that a 500 mile road trip stands in the way of my presence as the best man by his side on his big day.

Regardless of what I believe, it gets old having to sit through doctor appointments hearing the prognosis of never moving anything below my shoulders again for the rest of my life.

I’m exhausted from waking up in the middle of the night and staring at the ceiling for hours unable to fall back asleep.

It’s hard not to feel like a burden on the people around me, being dependent on them to take care of my every need throughout the day.

I struggle fighting against comparing myself to my peers moving full steam ahead in the post-college world without me.

The icing on the cake is that I’m 25 and live down the hall from my parents. Not quite what I had envisioned growing up.

I know storms can be relative. I’m aware enough to be thankful about what I do have. A loving family. Great friends. A roof over my head. A full stomach at the end of each day. Regardless of how worn down my body may seem, I’ve remained healthy. While that is great to take inventory of, it doesn’t necessarily mask everything. When I think of promises God has made, sometimes they seem so distant and almost too good to be true…especially as time goes on and my body continues to feel worse.

Years ago a ship sailed into a storm in the Mediterranean Sea. The winds were of hurricane force. The crashing waves were daunting. The crew gave up any hope of being saved as their food supply ran dry. A man named Paul stood up, claiming an angel from God had spoken to him ensuring that the group would weather the storm and every life would be spared. He boldly proclaimed, “Keep up your courage men, I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me!” I can imagine his fellow shipmates rolling their eyes whispering among themselves, “Is this guy nuts? Doesn’t he see what’s happening?” Sure enough, soon after speaking this, things did not get better. They got worse.

boat in storm

Often I feel in the midst of that storm. I want to give up. I wonder if God has forgotten me. Was believing he had a promising future for me just a pipe dream? It gets harder and harder as my physical body continues to decline and just causes more discomfort and frustration. It’s easy for the prevailing thought to be, “It doesn’t look like there’s much hope left.”

This was likely what the men on the boat were thinking. They were about to come upon some rocks and the crew was not keen on listening to this man who was waiting on God’s provision. The ship struck a sandbar and began to split into pieces. Panic arose. This man who believed God would save them urged them again not to give up. Soon thereafter daylight came and in the distance they saw a bay with a sandy beach. What seemed impossible was now a reality. Eventually, just as Paul had said, everyone on the boat safely reached the island of Malta just south of Italy. (For the full account of this true story, click here.)

While the situation only seemed to look worse for Paul, he kept his faith while those around him wanted to give up and accept their fate. Am I going to look at the storm around me? Or am I going to focus on the God who is with me in the midst of it? Even in a storm there is still a silver lining. Hope still remains. I still believe I have a great future ahead with a purpose that I could not have imagined just a few years ago.

I want to keep my eyes fixated on God himself rather than my circumstances, believing the daylight and the shore are just around the corner. It may not see always seem like it, but I know he is there. I want my cry to be in tune with the song below, understanding that, “As the thunder roars, I barely hear you whisper through the rain, ‘I’m with you.’”

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Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com
To connect via Facebook: Click here.
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