Jana Morrell is poised and ready. She inches toward home plate with a bat resting comfortably on her shoulder. She stares down the pitcher, who in this case happens to be her older sister Jodie. At first base, another sister, Jill, is waiting. In the outfield is Jana’s father and her older brother, Jason. Waiting on deck is Jana’s mom. Dinner has been served and eaten. Now it’s time for baseball.
Jana lets the first pitch go by. “Outside,” she says. Since there’s no umpire, they all take her word. Jodie winds up and delivers the next pitch, which Jana fouls off. The count is one ball and one strike, but in this game, it doesn’t even matter. No one keeps track of the count, and there is no striking out. You bat until you hit, which Jana intends to do.
When the next pitch is delivered, Jana makes contact and sends the ball rolling toward Jodie. Jana takes off for first base, going as fast as she can. Jodie gets to the ball and throws it to a waiting Jill. Jana beats the throw and is safe. She then leans back in her specially made cart and smiles. Instead of running to first base, Jana “pedaled” with her hands to get down the baseline.
Jana Morrell suffers from spina bifida, a condition that prevents the spinal area from developing and results in lifelong paralysis. But it hasn’t stopped ten-year-old Jana from becoming involved in the family’s activities. The same can be said about the family’s involvement with Jana, especially Jana’s two teenage sisters and her teenage brother.
“I know when we play baseball, it makes Jana feel good knowing she can do the things we do,” says Jill, 14. “We don’t play the games for the competition.” Obviously, who wins and loses isn’t the point of the Morrells’ backyard baseball games. Playing together as a family is.
“Sometimes I wonder how our family would be if Jana wasn’t handicapped. Would I be this close to everyone else?” asks 15-year-old Jodie. She stops and ponders her question for a minute, then says it doesn’t need answering because Jana is handicapped and it’s something they have all gotten used to.
The Morrells have also gained much comfort from the counsel of Elder Boyd K. Packer when he said, “Spirits which are beautiful and innocent may be temporally restrained by physical impediments. If healing does not come in mortal life, it will come thereafter. Just as the gorgeous monarch butterfly emerges from a chrysalis, so will spirits emerge” (Ensign, May 1991, p. 9).
“When Jana came home from the hospital, we felt a special close feeling between her and the rest of us. We had already decided as a family that even though Jana would not be able to do some things like other children, we were going to enjoy her a lot,” says Jodie. “She would always have care and love in our home.”
And outside the home too. Instead of going off with friends after school and hanging out with them, 16-year-old Jason spent his spring taking Jana to her swimming lessons. Just before her tenth birthday, Jason was right there when Jana got in the water without the use of her water wings, the flotation devices she placed on her arms to help keep her afloat. “It’s been great realizing how far she’s come with her swimming,” explains Jason.
Examples of the three oldest Morrell kids helping Jana are apparent, but it’s Jana who has also helped Jason, Jodie, and Jill better appreciate the plight of the handicapped.
“Whenever I see someone with a disability, I tend to get more sensitive about it because Jana is my sister. When people are saying things or making fun of people I tell them it’s not very nice to do,” says Jill. “A lot of the time they’ll ask ‘Why not?’ Because of my experiences with Jana, I always tell them to put themselves in the handicapped person’s position. When they think about what they’re doing, they usually stop.”
For the first month of Jana’s life, Jason, Jodie, and Jill didn’t see their new sister. When Jana was finally able to come home after a four-week stay at the hospital’s intensive-care unit, her brother and sisters were elated. “When we brought Jana home from the hospital, a special bond developed immediately between the other children and Jana,” says Sister Miriam Morrell, their mother. “I knew right then that Jana would never lack for care and love.”
By the time Jana began attending elementary school, Jill was in fifth grade. It became her responsibility to see that Jana got off the bus and into school safely in the morning, and then back on the bus at the end of the day. “Jill immediately gained a feeling for Jana’s needs as a student,” Sister Morrell continues. “She took the wheelchair, the walker, Jana, and her book bag to and from the bus each day. The school, as well as Jana, really depended on Jill.”
At home, Jason carries Jana up and down the stairs, and loads and unloads her wheelchair into the car. “Jana would not have made the progress she has without the help of the three older children,” Sister Morrell explains. “I would never have done as well as a mother without these dedicated teenagers who have taken their responsibility seriously.”
“Jana has taught me a lot about myself, and I feel good when I can help her,” Jason says. “Sometimes I’ll have a lot of homework or something, and I’ll end up giving up my study time to help Jana. That can be frustrating, but when I stop and think about what I’ve done I’m really glad I can help. And after the resurrection, we know that Jana will be able to use her legs. That really says something to me.”
And Jodie is quick to answer. “We often think about all the things we do for Jana, but it’s really the other way around.”