I was always boy crazy. And I'm still a hopeless romantic. I adore great love stories, I'm a wedding fanatic, and if the television show has anything to do with getting engaged, picking out your wedding dress, and/or planning the wedding, then I am sold. I had several boyfriends in junior high and high school, and I was madly in love with each one, just sure he was "the one," until he wasn't and the next boy was!
And then my accident happened, and I just knew that any chance at romance had just been violently swept off the table. What guy in their right mind would want to marry a girl in a wheelchair when he could marry someone who was able-bodied? I would be the single lady with lots of cats that lived alone and secretly envied all of her married friends.
So when I returned to high school after my hospitalization, and as I moved on to college, I was hyper-sensitive to male attention. If a guy looked at me twice, in my mind, we were headed to the altar. If I didn't get my hooks in the first one that showed even the slightest bit of interest, who knew if I would get another chance? This attitude of low self esteem and being perfectly happy to settle seems to resonate with lots of single girls in our society today, and not just those with a disability. I don't know the actual statistics, but I wonder how many unhappy marriages are out there today because women don't see their worth in Christ and choose to settle for second-best, or worse?
I wasted a lot of time, energy, and feelings with guys I had no business dating, let alone actually considering for a permanent relationship. I was headed towards being one of those statistics when I had an epiphany. If I truly believed that God wanted good things for my life, I had two options. I could be patient, and wait on His timing. Or I could accept that maybe He had a ministry for me as a single woman, whether it was for a time, or for the remainder of my life, and that He had promised to always be enough for me. If this was the case, I begged the Lord to take the desire for marriage and love out of my heart so that I could better serve Him. Either way, I certainly wasn't being of much use in my current state, that's for sure! I felt such peace at this admission, and I finally and unreservedly turned my social life over to the Lord.
I ran in to Russ two weeks later.
Does God have a sense of humor, or what? I honestly believe He was simply waiting for me to surrender the control of my love life, so that He could show me this amazing thing that He had planned for me.
My sister and I were visiting friends in Wyoming in May of 2005, and the church had planned a youth group activity. When we pulled in to the ranch, a young man came and helped me out of the vehicle. He had my chair put together, in the right way, and positioned in the correct place so I could transfer in to it. He proceeded to walk by me across the gravel parking lot, and expertly turn my chair and pull it up the steps into the building where we were meeting. Who was this guy? Most boys I had been interested in seemed to be only out to prove they could throw me in their truck with one arm. In complete contradiction, this guy knew how to help without being told, but still gave me my space and allowed me to be as independent as possible. I was amazed.
I quickly realized that we had met before. Russ' Dad, Kenny, has MS and has been in a wheelchair for many years. He was one of the first disabled individuals I had connected with after my accident, and he had let me drive his van with hand controls several years before, which was the first time I had driven since my injury. (On a side note, he told me he was taking me down some side, country roads. He proceeded to take me right down main street through the heart of town. I cried the whole time. Kenny laughed the whole time. I think we have it on video somewhere.) I had briefly been introduced to Russ the year before, but it was only in passing, and I didn't know much about him. We had actually met the day before my accident back in 1999 at a church softball game, but I didn't remember him. He says he remembered me because I was cute and I wasn't his cousin. :) (Most of the single girls in his youth group at the time were his cousins).
We spent a lot of time together that night, and I saw him again the next day while visiting Kenny, and again at church on Sunday. After the evening service, we (Russ and I, my sister, Russ' brother, and all of the cousins) all loaded up in Russ' new, beautiful pickup truck and headed to the pastor's (Preacher) house to hang out. Somehow Russ and I ended up on the back porch overlooking the river by ourselves, and the conversation took off. I found myself opening up to this guy about things I didn't share with just anyone, and he did the same. It was so comfortable, so right, that we didn't even notice how late it was getting.
Preacher popped his head out, and with a grin, suggested that Russ' brother take his truck to get the kids home, and then Russ and I could continue our visiting, and Russ would have his truck to go home later. Since I was staying at Preacher's, and was leaving with my sister in the morning to fly back to Indiana, this would be the last chance we had to talk. Preacher and his wife went to bed (although he told me later he had his window open in order to remain the proper chaperone :) ). I knew Russ had to be at work early the next morning, so we agreed we shouldn't stay up too late.
We talked on that back porch until 4:00 a.m. By the time Russ got home, he was able to sleep for a few hours before he had to get up for work. I was also up early for my flight, but strangely enough, I was running on pure adrenaline and excitement, and I didn't notice the exhaustion. We spent the next six months emailing, talking on the phone, and trying to visit each other every few months. We met each others families, continued to get to know each other, and started to talk about the future. And on a cold November night, at Kenny's house in Cody, Russ gave me a ring and asked me to marry him.
The next eight months went by in a whirlwind of wedding planning, my first year of graduate school, visits, letters, and dozens of nights falling asleep talking on the phone until the wee hours of the morning. It was amazing. I quickly discovered that Russ didn't love me in spite of my disability; he loved me because of it. The wheelchair was a huge part of who I was, and it had molded me into the woman he had proposed to. Russ had spent several years during college living with his Dad, and I firmly believed that period in his life was God's way of preparing him to be my husband. Although I was fiercely independent and could care for myself, the understanding, compassion, and servant's heart that had been cultivated during those years with Kenny were and continue to be some of the things that I love most about Russ.
We were married on July 29th, 2006. It was the best day of my life. Not just because of the ceremony and festivities, but because of what it represented. That day was a beautiful reminder of the love of God for His children, and of His joy to give them the desires of their heart. It spoke of His perfect timing, and the blessings we receive when we are patient and allow Him lead every aspect of our lives. It was a picture of waiting for His best for us.
Now, here we are, seven years later, and I couldn't be more thankful for Russ. He is my best friend, and a wonderful Daddy to Addison. Although he isn't perfect, and I'm certainly not perfect, we are perfect for each other. Through the good times and bad, I've learned so much about myself, about Russ, and about relationships in general, all of which I will share next week in Part 2 of Being a Wheeling Wife...