I grip my father’s arm and wait for the doors to open. He knows, I think, that my extra squeeze on his tuxedo jacket means both I love you and don’t let me fall. The church smells of roses and wax, and I know that Rob is waiting for me, only thirty steps away. I know because I’ve practiced this walk and counted the steps, noting that I’ll plant my cane on the floor twice for each ribbon-bedecked pew. Some of Rob’s family and friends have traveled many miles for this day, and they have not yet had an opportunity to meet me, his unsteady fiancée. Will they whisper as I walk slowly toward their golden boy?
I close my eyes for just a moment. Thank You, my Father, for this man who sees me. Just me. Only me.
The music swells, the church doors swing open, and I am gliding, floating—pulled gently toward Rob by the cord of love that binds us together. For the first time since the accident, I am not conscious of the careful placement of each foot, each step.
To my left, I see the doctor who has known me now for six years…
“Jessica, you’ve got a long road ahead of you. I’ll be perfectly honest—I don’t know if you’ll ever walk again. Your injury is severe, and life-altering. You’re going to have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. Do you think you can do that?”
A few steps more—Angela is smiling at me with glistening eyes. Angela, the physical therapist who I hated as much as I loved…
“I know you despise this orthotic device, Jessica. It’s bulky and uncomfortable, and you can’t wear cute clothes with it. Deal with it, darlin’. Now let’s try that again—I think today’s the day you’ll push yourself up to a standing position. Work those canes, Biceps Girl!”
Near the middle of the church now, and I seek out Kerri, my college roommate. There she is, leaning into her husband and winking at me. She’s wearing the same shade of blue that she wore to the homecoming dance…
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jessica, of course you’re going to go. I’ll put your wheelchair in my car, and you can use that if you want to, or I can prop you up against the wall. But you’re not moping in the dorm room all night, when there are cute guys out there just waiting to meet…me! And I won’t go without you, Miss Pity Pants…”
I count off three more paces. Rob is just a few steps away from me now, his face pale but full of joy. He shifts on his feet, ready to move into place and transfer my hand to his own strong arm. But first, I glance over at Roy and Patsy, worship leaders for my tiny congregation…
“Will you sing with the praise team, Jessica? Please say yes…no one cares about the braces and canes. If it takes you a bit longer to walk up the platform, well, we have a few more moments to prepare our hearts for worship. Use your gift, Jessie.”
I reach the front of the church, and there is one more memory I must confront before I leave my parents and cling to this man. I remember my mother before the accident…
“Dance with me, Sunshine!” We link arms and perform silly swing dances in the kitchen, a chubby mom and a gawky high school student. Performing this occasional little ritual dissipates our tiffs and celebrates my teenage triumphs.
As she leans in for her hug, I hum a few notes of “In the Mood” into her ear, and waggle my behind ever so slightly. She is holding me up in her embrace, so I raise my index finger in a jazzy, circular motion in time to the melody. We are dancing again, my mother and I, and when she releases me I turn to see that Rob is holding back laughter. He gives me a thumbs-up sign, and I take my father’s arm for the remaining two steps that will bring me to Rob’s side.
For the rest of the ceremony, my spirit skips, leaps, dances. Rob and I run together into the presence of the Father…
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
Isaiah 30:21 (NIV)
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