“Love first chooses you, then it’s our choice to continue to love. I met my husband in the unlikeliest of ways.
Our love story actually began 7 years before we met, in 1998. I was a junior in high school and Chad was a junior at the University of Minnesota engineering program. Growing up 20 minutes from one another, we had no idea the other existed, yet.
Chad was driving on a quiet country road in southern Minnesota on a cold fall day. He was just miles from his parents’ home, he had driven the road a thousand times. However, this night it was late and he was tired. He had been up late the previous night studying for finals. Overcome by fatigue, he found himself off the road, into a ditch, and upside down in his car. My 16-year-old self had no idea the man I’d call my husband was being airlifted to Mayo Clinic on Thanksgiving morning.
Chad’s life had changed in the blink of an eye. He woke up in the hospital with countless challenges and an unknown future. Chad was paralyzed from the chest down, fighting for his life, on a ventilator, and learning to adapt to his new reality. After 4 ½ long months of surgeries and rehab, he was strong enough to come off the ventilator, drive his own power wheelchair, and leave the hospital to live with family.
Life was now different for Chad. Where he once loved doing things on his own, he would now need to rely on others to help him with many daily tasks. Though this was difficult, he never lost his drive to live a normal life. Depression and self-pity never swallowed him up. He recalls always seeing others in a worse condition than himself and being grateful for what he had. This positive attitude would be one of the lights that would draw me to him years later.
Graduating from college, he landed his job with the Minnesota Department of Transportation which allowed him to build his own home. PCA’s were now a part of the normal routine in Chad’s life. They would come each morning and evening to help with things like getting him in and out of his wheelchair, brushing his teeth, and stretching his body to avoid his muscles growing tight from lack of use.
Our stories begin to intertwine here. Twenty-two, with a college diploma in my hand, I thought the dream job would follow. The ramen noodles were done and I would be completely free and independent from my parents. I went out and purchased my very own place in a town where I didn’t know anyone. It was a foreclosure. I could afford it and I wanted to breathe life back into it.
With only a part-time position available teaching high school math and a house payment to make, the money was tight. Ramen noodles were back, and since I couldn’t afford a contractor, I was relying on my Dad to help me on my fixer-upper. All I wanted to do was teach, but I was looking for any extra work to make ends meet.
My mom’s friend mentioned a man was looking for part-time help just a few blocks away. Knowing I needed more money, I decided to check out the opportunity. Seven years after Chad had his accident, I walked up to his house. I had never done work like this before. I was young, nervous, and had no idea what to expect. All I knew was he needed help and I needed work.
I found the courage to knock on the door. I saw a good looking guy with ice blue eyes drive himself over to the button near the front door and hit it. As it swung open, Chad had a quick smile and introduced himself. He assured me I could learn the ropes in no time after I told him I was a ‘newbie’ to PCA work. He had an easy way of conversation that made me feel completely relaxed and at home. I was captured by his smile, dry humor and eye contact.
In those first few weeks of learning how to be his PCA, I was definitely awkward, unsure, and shy. I had been told by the agency that processed my application I was never to share personal information or build a relationship with the client. So as Chad asked questions about my life, I often turned them around and asked him instead. My heart was saying yes, but my head told me to remain cautious. Falling for my boss was certainly not on my list of life plans.
As weeks passed, I couldn’t help but see him differently. He ticked the way I ticked for the same things. We both loved learning, jokes that require thinking, deep conversation, and he was the first guy I’d ever met that actually thought I was funny. God was beginning to write our love story and I began asking for more PCA shifts.
One afternoon and a few months into knowing Chad, while helping him organize his office at MnDOT, he shyly asked, ‘Are you hungry?’ In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Is he about to ask me to dinner?’ The man I work for was asking me out and my heart was thumping out of my chest. ‘Yes!’ As we sat down at the table in a crowded steakhouse, I remember asking what he needed help with, but not wanting to embarrass him in front of the strangers who were inevitably staring at the two of us. I knew how to help get him out of his wheelchair at night, but now I was navigating through waters of learning how to ‘do life’ with Chad. At dinner that night, while cutting up his pork chop so he could use his own fork attached to his wrist splint, I was able to begin imagining what life alongside Chad would feel like. And I couldn’t get enough.
Shortly after this, my heart needed to know where this relationship was headed. During each of my 3-hour shifts, we had connected, not physically, but intimately on an intellectual level. I had butterflies, unending smiles, and a feeling of anxiousness to see him more and more. I had a feeling Chad was experiencing similar feelings as he would find random things for me to do around his house to keep me there as long as possible. I worked up the guts to ask, ‘So what are we? Friends or something more?’ He paused and then did something we laugh about now. He put it back on me with, ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’ Now feeling unsure, I played it safe and said, ‘just friends,’ but we were both secretly hoping to hear the opposite.
Days passed and we continued connecting over stories, experiences, common interests, and a strong and similar outlook on living a positive life. Without looking for it, I was falling in love as we shared our dreams, goals, and our outlook for the future. I wanted ‘just friends’ to become more. With each conversation, my love for him deepened, and the wheelchair disappeared. Two short weeks later, four months after we first met, I got my wish and he asked me to be his girlfriend in December of 2005. Yes!
Because I fell in love with Chad, not simply a man who couldn’t walk, I found it alarming to begin receiving stares and probing questions from others. It brought concerns to my head I never considered. You see, Chad is a catch. A real gentleman. He’s kind, handsome, smart, and in my eyes could have his choice of any girl to date, but his chair poses a roadblock for many. After much prayer, I mustered up the courage to show immense vulnerability and ask Chad a very difficult question. ‘Are you dating me because you are afraid no one else will come along? Are you worried your wheelchair means you should grab the first girl who shows interest?’
I needed to know – are you choosing me for me or do you think this is the best you will get? His answer blew away any doubt he would choose me no matter what. My question didn’t offend him; he was grateful I opened such a real part of my heart to him. When he said, ‘Andrea, I’d choose you every day for the rest of my life, regardless of our capabilities. I’m blessed you choose me,’ it solidified my devotion and love for a man who came into my life at the exact right time.
Over the next nine months, we grew closer. Each date brought new experiences and new normals. We often would find a hiking trail and see how far we could make it on the unpaved path with his chair before it got too treacherous. We both longed to live life to its fullest, so as long as there weren’t stairs, we attempted each mile with wonder and gratitude to be adventuring together. A particular State Park visit became a little more memorable in September 2006. Traveling about a mile into the woods, swatting mosquitoes the whole way, we came across a small clearing of trees, alone. I found myself sitting on his lap, overlooking the St. Croix River, and Chad pulled a ring out from his wrist splint as he asked me to be his wife. A thousand times yes!
I never had cold feet. I know to my core we are a match. Today, over 12 years into our marriage and blessed with our daughter Mari, we are both grateful God used a tragedy to bring us together. Love is strengthened through challenges, Chad and I both believe this. The more you let this attitude drive your life, the more He showers His love and goodness on you in the good and bad.
I am thankful I didn’t listen to others when they questioned if I should commit to the challenges Chad’s wheelchair may present. Challenge is a relative term. To me, the things I have to help Chad do are just a part of regular life, not obstacles to overcome. I get to be his hands and feet while he brings stability, love, and joy to my life daily. And the reality is all relationships are challenging and require hard work. Many couples live in their struggles privately, and our ‘challenges’ are merely more visible to others. As Chad teaches me constantly, life is lived well when you remember you have 100% control over how you choose to view the world. Attitude is everything.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Andrea Hanson. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear about your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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