One of the most inescapable facts of life is that it refuses to be predictable. As carefully orchestrated and wondrous as our world is, it has a knack for throwing curveballs at the foolish few who think we can control it. In fact, the ability to adapt and respond to adversity is one of the key traits of successful people: in order to thrive, we must learn to recover from that which ails us. Sometimes, whether we know it or not, even the strongest of us need a little help.

“Life really changes really, really fast. We never know where it's going to take us.”

Wendy's life story reads like a movie script. By her early twenties, she had packed her life with excitement and success. In her lifetime, she has met Reba McEntire and been on the set of Walker, Texas Ranger with Chuck Norris. An avid motorcycle enthusiast, she not only attended Grand National Races but also competed in them. Eventually, she caught the eye of a major motorcycle company that offered her a position promoting their brand. Juggling that offer with a new job back home, Wendy was poised for the sort of exhilarating future that young adults tend to experience more in daydreams than in reality.

“Life really changes really, really fast. We never know where it's going to take us. I had just started a new job. I'd been there for a little over a week, probably,” Wendy recalled. “Because I was in the circuit so much, I got asked if I would be interested in being the poster girl for a motorcycle company. I was interested in it, and I was to fly to the headquarters; the date wasn't set yet. But then my car accident happened. They were in town for a race and they did come to the hospital and see me. I was in a coma, but they left their business card. That's how I knew they were there.”

Wendy's daughter put together a scrapbook to help her tell her story. (Photography by Cody Bettis, 6 Stones)

Wendy's daughter put together a scrapbook to help her tell her story. (Photo by Cody Bettis, 6 Stones)

On her first weekend away from the office, Wendy and a friend took a trip to the lake near their respective homes in Keller. Fiercely protective of her own vehicle, Wendy opted to hitch a ride rather than dirty the car she'd labored to clean the day before. On their way back from the lake, her friend's car struggled to perform; losing a belt multiple times and eventually forcing them to pull over and call his father for assistance.

“I remember thinking that I really ought to ride home with his dad for some strange reason. But I thought that would be really rude, so I went ahead and rode with him,” Wendy said. Shortly after they returned to the road, she was being loaded into a Careflight helicopter under the name Jane Doe.

Tests would later reveal that the car's motor mount had broken, causing the throttle to stick open and leading directly to a wreck that killed her friend and nearly paralyzed Wendy. The mechanical failure caused the car to bolt from a dead stop at speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour. With its engine racing and the road wet, the vehicle spun out, collided with a pole and split in two. Because her lap belt wasn't buckled, Wendy was ejected through the rear window. The rear half of the chassis stopped three feet short of hitting her inert body where it lay in the road.

“I had to learn how to do things over again.”

Wendy was laid up in the hospital for over two months, the first nine days of which were spent in a coma. She briefly lost both her short term memory and the ability to feel and express emotions. For the next three decades, she slowly regained control of her body. In the months after her accident, the strength to move a single finger was cause for celebration. Now, she can stand and walk short distances with assistance. As much as her fighting spirit and strong will surely played into her recovery, Wendy attributes much of her healing to something greater.

Not all the hospital memories in the scrapbook are bad. Here, Wendy celebrates her birthday -- and the return of her ability to process emotions. (Photography by Cody Bettis, 6 Stones)

Hospitalized for 69 days, Wendy had lost both her short term memory and her ability to interpret and express emotions. The latter returned on her birthday, the celebration of which has its own page in the book (Photo by Cody Bettis, 6 Stones).

“I had to learn how to do things over again. How to feed myself again. How to brush my hair, how to brush my teeth; even the smallest things that we don't think about,” she said, “You learn how to do what you can do… and that's the most important part, is just not giving up. Because God's got great plans; I know He does. I just don't know what they are yet. And that makes life a little more exciting!”

Citing the long odds of her survival and a difficult but steady recovery, Wendy says that she's been blessed far more than she's been hurt. Once worried that her inability to use regular silverware would hamper her dating life, Wendy is now happily married and thriving. Her most valued relationship remains the one that she has with God; one that she fought against in her youth and eventually embraced with awe-inspiring faith.

“I was raised in a home where Christ was first and everything else fell under that,” she said. “My mother tells me that when I was very small, I used to hide my Sunday shoes, thinking that I was going to get out of going to church. But she'd take me in my socks.”

Thanks to a dedicated rehabilitation program, Wendy has regained a good portion of feeling and function in her extremities. (Photography by Cody Bettis, 6 Stones)

Thanks to a dedicated rehabilitation program, Wendy has regained a good portion of feeling and function in her extremities. (Photo by Cody Bettis, 6 Stones)

“I know that God was with me and I know that He protected me. Through my almost 30 years of being disabled, I've had a lot of returns. A lot of things that have taken time — like my finger moving, like being able to stand up, being able to walk even if it's only a few steps with something to hang onto. Feeling. I remember I couldn't feel my back when I first came home from the hospital. The doctors told my parents that if the feeling came back, it was going to be severe. The pain.”

That pain was, itself, an answered prayer when it came. It meant that she would recover in part if not in whole. After years of little victories, Wendy cherishes the intimate, often-overlooked details: a Dyson cordless vacuum that makes it easy to clean from her wheelchair, a vibrantly colored squirrel that frequents her yard, and the feel of the wind in her hair when her husband takes her out on the open road. Two wedding anniversaries ago, he built a customized sidecar that allows Wendy to ride along on his motorcycle. The scrapbook her daughter made to chronicle her journey is not a tally of sorrows, but a monument of hope detailing every win since the day of the wreck. Counted amongst those little blessings is a team of volunteers who painted her house last October as part of our Community Powered Revitalization blitz.

“You want to keep your home nice, and you want to take good care of it. I can't paint the house and my husband doesn't have time. We really didn't have the money either, so it meant a lot that it got the wood protected and cared for,” Wendy said of the maintenance done for her home of nine years. “When you live in a nice neighborhood, you want to keep it nice.”

CPR Team PhotoWhen her little family moved into their new home years ago, they weren't worried about chipped paint or trees that threatened the roofline. They were just excited to find a house with a floor plan that favored accessibility. Some renovation was needed to outfit the home for Wendy's chair, but the bare bones of the building — with its single level and wide doorways — were perfect. The family rallied friends and neighbors to complete the renovation, but faced another problem years afterward. With her husband working long hours away from home to support them, keeping up with the exterior of the home became a challenge. The yard reached past its borders and the eves of the home threatened to rot. That's when the City of Hurst and a group of 6 Stones volunteers stepped in.

“I felt love, you know? I felt like I was cared about”

Last October, Wendy's home was one of 38 repaired during a two-day blitz that united 1,418 people from around North Texas. They came from churches and businesses, non-profits and schools. They came from private clubs and city governments. As many reasons as they listed for their service, there was one motivation at the heart of everything: they came to love.

“I felt love, you know? I felt like I was cared about; that people cared enough to dedicate their time off to come and help. And I know it blessed them as much as it blessed me, you know?” said Wendy, when asked what it meant to have volunteers working on the home.

That last statement is the most fascinating. The idea that service is rehabilitory is neither new nor revolutionary. In fact, it's a piece of well-circulated wisdom in volunteer circles and religious communities. It's something that almost anyone will reference when asked about their own charitable offerings. Helping people makes us feel more whole and complete, which implies that we are otherwise not so. It's because of that sense of deficiency that asking for help is often harder than giving it. It takes a brave person to allow others access to their most intimate disparities.

Volunteers (and Chik Fil A cows) gather on the second morning of the Fall CPR Blitz in the HEB area.

Volunteers (and Chik Fil A cows) gather on the second morning of the Fall CPR Blitz in the HEB area.

Every one of us is flawed; lacking in some way or another. When we come together, our strengths covering the weaknesses of our neighbors, we begin to discover that humanity was always meant for something more. We were made for love and unity, not brokenness. If we learn nothing else from Wendy, we ought to recognize that there is no shortage of wisdom and strength to be found in the people we often mistake for the neediest among us. Plenty of us can hold a paintbrush. Not many can illustrate faith and recovery the way that Wendy does just by telling her story.

“You know, God's always been with me. He and I are closer because of this, you know? I have faith and I have hope. He is my hope for the future. He is my hope for everything,” she said of the accident and her recovery. “He gives me peace and comfort about my situation… I'm just thankful that He's given me a feeling of acceptance. I'm just who I am, and I'm who I am through Him… I know that He loves me and He has a purpose. Because I could have easily died.”

Faced with dire odds and a seemingly debilitating set of circumstances, Wendy responded in faith and found herself fulfilled. Her optimism, along with her relationship with God, have renewed her. We may have come to paint, mow, and serve, but we walked away with a new standard for trust and dedication. We were all served that day. Volunteers gave what they could, Wendy gave of herself, and everyone's needs were met. That puts everyone just a little closer to being whole.


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