Standing Tall with a Heaven-Sent Spouse

It didn’t matter to him whether she walked down the aisle as long as she met him at the altar.

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- Posted on Dec 4, 2012

Janet Lynn Mitchell and her husband, Marty

I stood in the back of the church, arm in arm with my father. “Are you ready?” he asked as the processional music began.

I looked down at the flats I was wearing, concerned about my balance. Mom had put a stool near the altar just in case. I’d had 10 surgeries on my knees, and gone from wheelchairs and waist-to-toe casts to polio braces. I hadn’t walked on my own in more than three years.

Now here I was, about to walk down the aisle into the arms of a most incredible young man.

Marty and I met in a Georgia hospital, 3,000 miles away from home. I’d been born with a congenital hip problem, and corrective surgery during high school left me wheelchair-bound.

Doctors in California said there was nothing more they could do, but my father found a doctor in Georgia who held out some hope for me.

Alone and barely 20, I’d been recuperating in the Georgia hospital for almost two months when I felt desperate for something to break the monotony. One night, three other girls in wheelchairs and I finished up a pepperoni pizza and rolled out of the cafeteria to the elevator.

The door opened to reveal a young man holding a box of chocolates.

“For us?” one of the girls asked.

“Of course, Darlin’. Just for you. I’m Randy, by the way.” The young man offered us some sweets. For fun the girls and I made up fascinating stories of how we had ended up in the hospital.

I pretended to be a famous skater who had fallen on the ice. Amused, Randy promised to return the following day with some friends.

The next day brought another surgery. I didn’t wake until that evening. Terri, my roommate, stood over my bed, but I saw we weren’t alone. Randy and two of his friends were there to greet me! I gave my visitors a half smile, and warned Terri that I was going to be sick.

Hearing this, the guys made their exit. “Reckon we’ll see ya tomorrow,” one called.

It was too bad I’d missed their visit, but when I felt better I asked Terri all about it. “I know which one is Randy,” I said, “but who are the other two?” Terri told me about Steve, and Marty, who she called “the quiet one.”

“He’s twenty, a college junior,” she said, “majoring in accounting, with a minor in computer science. Plays for a church baseball team. Seems to me that he says ‘ya reckon’ after every word. And oh yeah, did I mention he thinks you’re a Rams’ cheerleader?”

“What?”

“Yep, Randy got our stories all mixed up and has it in his head that you’re a cheerleader.”

Randy, Steve and Marty visited again and again. Soon it was daily. The girls and I looked forward to their company. I told my parents I was certain they were God-sent. But they were just friends, I insisted. Nothing more.

Over the next few weeks we got to know the guys pretty well. But to me, there was something special about Marty. He stayed long after the others were gone, talking mostly with me. When he answered a call from my parents one night, he chatted with them, sounding as if he’d known them forever.

My social life was improving, but still I wondered if I’d ever be able to walk again. “Ya know,” Marty said one afternoon, “I think it’s about time you got out of this hospital and enjoyed a fun night out on the town.”

Before I could answer him the nurse came in. “I think Janet needs some fresh air,” Marty jumped in. “Would it be possible for me to check her out and take her on a date? I promise I’ll bring her back.”

What? I thought to myself. Who wants to go on a date with a girl in a body cast? Of course, he did think I was an NFL cheerleader....

The nurse assured Marty she would take care of his request. Within days, the doctor talked to my parents, talked with Marty and gave his okay. The nurses helped me get ready and waved me off as Marty rolled me to the elevator. I felt anything but ladylike when Marty lifted me into his car.

We planned to see Grease, but we never saw the picture. Anything that could have gone wrong did. And yet Marty and I had a wonderful time. Afterward, back in my bed, one of my girlfriends stopped by my room.

“Did he kiss you?” she asked. “Kiss me? Why would he do that?”

“He adores you,” she said. “Everyone can see it.”

I explained to her that Marty and I were just good friends. Best friends, maybe. But I couldn’t give him my heart. I couldn’t walk. There was no certainty I ever would. I was no Rams’ cheerleader and I never could be.

My friend challenged me to think beyond my limitations. On her way out she looked back at me from the door. “Marty is a great guy,” she said. “And by the way, he’s known for weeks that you are not a Rams’ cheerleader!”

I closed my eyes. God, I dont know what to do. Open my heart to what you have planned for me and my life. Help me see your blessings.

Part of me knew I was falling in love, but I was scared. Finally one night, when we were alone in my room, I motioned Marty closer. “Marty,” I said, “you’re a terrific guy, a girl’s dream. You deserve so much more than I can ever offer you.”

Marty hushed me and cupped my face in his hands. “Janet, I know you can’t walk now. I know you’ll never run. But it’s not your legs I’ve fallen in love with. It’s your laugh, your smile. It’s what you are inside. You’ve offered me more than I could ever imagine. Walking or not, I love who you are.”

In the church, the organ swelled with “The Wedding March.” I nodded to my dad. “Ready,” I said. He gripped my arm and held me tight as I took my first steps down the aisle. Seeing Marty waiting gave me all the strength I needed.

When we reached the altar, everyone applauded. They’re clapping for all God has done for me, I thought. And for this angel he put in my life.

All those nights stuck in hospital rooms, I wondered if I’d ever find love. And here it was, right beside me. After the ceremony, Marty and I walked down the aisle and out into the sunshine together.

Thirty-one years later we’re still in love. My challenges continue, and there’s more surgery in my future. Yet together, Marty and I are certain we can face the unknown, as long as we walk arm in arm.

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