If you’re the kind of person who prefers to go unnoticed, then you best stay clear of Wendy. She’ll have you in a metaphoric embrace and pronounce you as part of the family before you can say “hello!”
Wendy understands the profound need for connection that folks around Haywood Street have. And it’s clear now that her presence is a gift to this community that searches for something flowing so naturally from her.
Her knack for hospitality and kindness isn’t the usual “welcome, we’re glad you’re here,” kind of thing. It’s a genuine “I want to know you”—which is maybe a little scary if you do, indeed, prefer to go unnoticed. Nevertheless, if you’re curious enough to hang around, you’ll be quick to realize that she is glad you’re here.
Wendy describes her story to me and some friends as we sit on the Respite’s recently screened porch. “It’s a sad story with losses and mistakes but there’s hope in it because it led me here,” she says.
Wendy’s initial visit to Mission Hospital was a few months ago when she first met Pastor Brian and learned about Respite. “He was a glowing face in the middle of a bunch of zombies. I knew I needed to go talk to him and that’s when he told me about Respite. I wanted to go there so I asked the nurses to call. All they said was that they had a discharge place planned, but they wouldn’t tell me where I was going.”
It would be many months and a broken ankle later before Wendy would arrive at Respite, a journey she believes God unfolded for her.
After a fall that severely damaged her ankle, Wendy ended up back at the hospital having to have surgery. When the fall happened, she was at the Rescue Mission working as a core volunteer and putting in 50+ hours a week. It was no wonder her body buckled on her, saying “no” in the only way I imagine Wendy would have listened.
I later learn that this incident was the culmination of a series of physical and emotional traumas that Wendy experienced over the years. “I had the greatest mother and father and a super great childhood,” she says, ‘but it had a lot of issues, you know. My dad was an alcoholic and was verbally abusive, unfortunately.”
Wendy understands the toll this abuse took on her, now. “I think a lot of who I am today is because of that,” she shares, adding that she also believes many of her choices stem from that trauma.
As we sit together, she unearths the most poignant events of the more recent past. She shares about being a big-time marketing director and living it up in LA—eating Thai food and going out with friends—and then losing it all virtually overnight. A head injury and undiagnosed mental health issues were the beginning of what Wendy describes as a “series of bad decisions.” Along with the material losses during her time of crisis, Wendy also lost friends who didn’t know how to be present for her.
She began running out of money at the time her father passed away. That’s when she decided to pack up with her cats and head to Hendersonville, where she had family and an inheritance left from her father. It didn’t take long for Wendy to sense that she wasn’t welcomed by her family, though. Just like a wound that hasn’t healed, the familiar ache of unmet, very human, core longings for love, significance, and belonging rose to the surface.
“I thought we were going to be brought together as a family after my dad died. But they only wanted money from the inheritance.” Wendy shares remorse for the loss of her grandparent’s land. She remembers visiting as a child and picking apples and berries with her grandmother. Rather than feeling that love and warmth, though, she began to feel like a burden.
As she goes on, Wendy reveals that an abusive relationship she was in at the time played a big role in her eventually losing her cats and her home. I decide not to question her reasons for staying with this person. For better or worse, we are relational creatures. So, we tend to stay with what’s familiar to us, and we tend to believe about ourselves what we’ve been told to believe.
There are so many pieces to Wendy’s story—some she mourns, some bring shame, and many others put a smile on her face.
She shares how the sense of community and kindness experienced at Respite has been healing for her. “All the rejection from family and friends destroyed every fiber in me until I came here. This is like the precipice of a garden that everything good stems from. And the roots are strong.”
With a hint of humor, Wendy says she thinks God broke her ankle to get her into Respite. I don’t think God breaks anything, but I do think God will take broken things, and with some tenderness, craft something extraordinary. Because that’s what’s happening with Wendy.
The people placed around us are often the tender, purposeful hands that God uses for crafting works of art—the people who speak life and worth and acceptance into us, and who help us to realize our humanity profoundly and tangibly. Because we are relational, and we do believe about ourselves what we are told to believe.
Wendy isn’t her past mistakes or choices. Wendy is a work of art that is being handcrafted. And each connection made during the process is a salve on the old wounds that couldn’t heal. A salve for her and for each person fortunate enough to get caught in her embrace.
–Written by Lead Storyteller, Melanee Rizk