Excerpt for Tragically Transformed: How God Turned Struggle to Gift by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Tragically Transformed: How God Turned Struggle to Gift is a first chapter more than a biography. Kendra Wriston's heart is so clearly open to God that I know there is more to come. The book is honest and brave. I approached it wearing two hats– one, as a friend who has seen the transformation, and two, as a pastor-counselor who daily works with people facing life's harsh realities. In both capacities, her transparency and vulnerability rang true, and made me anxious to share it with many who will draw courage for their journey from it. It's a book that will captivate women– men need to read it, too. It gives courage and guidance to all who must embrace a new normal.

Pastor Brenda Mason Young,

Cornerstone Church

“I have always been amazed how much or how little people rely on their faith to get them through tragedies. Having been a small part of both Kendra’s joyful and dark seasons, I am amazed and inspired by her deep reliance upon God. Her resilience, honesty, and faith make up a powerful story that not only needs to be told but shared with others. You can’t help but be changed for the better once you hear her story.”

Jeff Hanna, Director of the Fishfactory,

Des Moines, IA

“Filled with pain and promise, this book is a must read for anyone dealing with life’s most difficult heartache. With God continually by her side, Kendra traces the steps of a journey no one wants to take. Her story is tragic, yet encouraging as she paints a vivid picture of how precious life is while strongly relaying on the gift of God’s love and mercy. I was moved and inspired by her heartfelt honesty, grace and courage to share her story in an effort to give others the gift of hope and healing.”

Kelly Kotch, Associate University Registrar,

Akron, OH

“As written on their website, Psychology Today states, “Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger

than ever.” I can’t think of a better way to describe Kendra! Having been her friend and colleague for the past 10 years, it is obvious to see that she has a definite purpose in this world to use her own life experiences and challenges as a testimony that can add value to others who her read her story.”

Elaine Barkan, Gifted Education Consultant,

Stark County, Ohio

“Kendra's first few weeks of marriage came with hopes of a bright future until it was torn from her grasp by a drunk driver. The love of her life gone and fighting for her life, she found herself in the valley of weeping. Plunged into an excruciatingly painful emotional, physical and spiritual recovery, she made the courageous decision that there was more to life than her pain. No one wants to find themselves in the valley of weeping; we fear it will completely destroy us. Kendra's story is a shining beacon that says, ‘Come and see with me that your valley of weeping can become a place of springs. I know, I've been there.’”

Annelyse DeBellis, MA, LPCC-S

Copyright ©2018 Kendra Wriston

Tragically Transformed: How God Turned Struggle to Gift / Kendra Wriston

ISBN: 978-1-947671-97-3

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed at the address below:

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Chapter 1: Daddy’s Girl

Chapter 2: He’s the One

Chapter 3: Mr. & Mrs. Wriston

Chapter 4: Home

Chapter 5: Moving Forward

Chapter 6: True Transformation

Chapter 7: Forgiveness

Chapter 8: Purposeful People

Chapter 9: Truth to the Myths

Chapter 10: Keeping an Eye on Life


Appendix A

About The Author


This book would not have been completed with- out the unending support of my family and friends. Dad, Mom, Kasey, Troy, it has been a true blessing traveling the ups and downs of life with you. Your care, encouragement, grace, support, and unconditional love are a true blessing. We have traveled this journey together and I have been grateful for you every step.

Thank you to my friends I consider my sisters. You have loved me through my darkest and brightest days. You have prayed and cared for me; supported and encouraged me. I am grateful for our shared laughs and tears. I am undeservingly blessed to have you in my life.

I would like to extend a special thank you to my Pastor, Brenda Young, for your writing mentor- ship, spiritual guidance, friendship, and encouragement. Jim loved you, and I continue to love you. To my counselor, Annelyse DeBellis, you have helped me grow through the trauma and grieving process. Your support, wisdom, grace, and spiritual knowledge have helped reach a place of healing I would not otherwise have achieved. You are a treasure. There is not a day that I don’t praise Jesus for the many medical professionals involved in this journey. I am literally standing here today because of you.

For my Jim, who loved me with all he had until the day he went to heaven.


I’ll never forget the moment I received a return email from a publishing company stating they would be honored to work with my book. Of course I was out with friends and cried as I read the email aloud. It was such a bittersweet moment. The obvious truth is, this isn’t the story I wanted to write, nor the journey would I have chosen for the past seven years. When I married Jim on November 12, 2011, I was hoping our story would be filled with children, a dog, white-picket fences, and many years of being married to each other.

Sadly, our story did not unfold that way. I never dreamed we would be in a car accident, hit by a drunk driver. I never dreamed I would be a widow after only five weeks of marriage. I would never wish my heartbreak, loss, physical pain, rehabilitation, or struggles through grief on anyone.

As I look in the mirror today, I see a completely different person than I did seven years ago. God has done amazing work in me. He has restored and rebuilt. He has loved, healed, and comforted. God continues to transform me from the inside out. You will never hear me say I’m glad the accident happened, but I will sing all day about the good God has done since it.

Throughout this book, I granted myself permission to be the most authentic me. I work hard, play hard, love hard, grieve hard, heal hard. I’m equal parts head and heart, action and thought. Life can be funny, so go ahead and laugh at it. I make mistakes, I learn, I grow. I’m a life-long learner and a relational-introvert. Through God, I’m more than just a sad story.

Loss, of any kind, is unbearable. Grief is not for the faint of heart. Some days during the last seven years it seemed if my body didn’t breathe on its own, then I would surely suffocate. I miss Jim so much and long to be with him. I rest in the comfort that he is in heaven with our Savior and I will be reunited with him someday… But today is not that day!

Grief has taught me that I’m alive, and I’m alive for a purpose. It teaches me to live better than I have before. It teaches me to love more deeply. Grief helps me intentionally choose what I participate with, look at, and hear. I’m encouraged to no longer give life’s obstacles undue power—and I want to encourage you in the same way.

Significant prayer has been offered over this book. Despite concern it was too large a task for “little old me,” I’ve truly never been so honored as to write this book. To see the world through one word at a time, watch it form sentences, then paragraphs, and pages, has been a blessing. I am thankful for you, my Reader. I pray you always know God loves you and you are not alone; that you will believe you can grow through struggle, coming out better and stronger on the other side



A girl’s first true love is her father.”

– Marisol Santiago

Minerva held that small town, close knit com- munity feel that one familiar with small towns might expect. The town of Minerva and my family are key to who I am. As a child I loved hearing stories told by my high school teachers who taught my parents before me. Sadly, I wasn’t given permission to share any of the good ones! Apparently my father, Ken, was a little more school-oriented, and my mother, Kay, was a little more socially-oriented. High school sweethearts, they married at 21 when my dad was still in college and my mom had joined the workforce. They are a great team, even 41 years later. I am in love with the way they are in love with each other. My dad is a leader—strong, emotional, athletic, encouraging, serving, a deep thinker, wise, driven, and an amazing husband and father. He thrives as provider and protector. He retired from teaching after 36 ½ years and had served as a long term, multiple sports coach. It pleases me to have followed in my father’s footsteps as a teacher—and I even coached for eight years. Dad now has a second career as a church pastor.

For many years my mother worked outside of the home in the business arena, but has spent the vast majority of her time as an amazing homemaker. She is a cancer survivor, strong, supportive, nurturing, emotional, tender-hearted, serving, organized, intelligent, and is the ultimate caregiver for all of my family. She is an amazing wife and mother. Seeing her embrace and excel in the role of a pastor’s wife during this season fills me with joy. I value her profession as a homemaker, not only be- cause of the pride she has in it and the joy she gets from it, but also because I am still hoping that more of it rubs off on me. I am naturally more like my father, but I’ve al- ways been told that daughters turn into their mothers as they get older. I’m so glad I’m finding that statement to be true.

Kasey, my sister and only sibling, is 4 ½ years younger than I, is very similar to my mother in so many ways. I love her dearly. Kasey is one of the most joyful, easy going, accepting people I know. She met her husband, Troy, in high school, married him a few years later, and they still have a thriving relationship. Secretly, I nurture some resentment that she acquired all of the cooking talent in the family. I joke at her expense at times, but if you say anything out of turn about her, this big sister bear goes into attack mode.

As a family, we have lost our share of loved ones and faced our own health scares. We’ve had our own private, personal struggles. We have our flaws and disagreements. When one person hurts, we all hurt. When one celebrates, we all celebrate. We are better together. We may not always like, but we do always love. For all these things, we are stronger and closer. We are a family that works hard, plays hard, moves forward, enjoys all, and chooses to minimize the bad and maximize the good. And yes, we are a family of Ks!

Growing up a tom-boy in the 1980s, I had fun toys like He-Man, Star Wars, and a variety of sports equipment. Most of my limited TV time was spent cheering on the Chicago Bears, laughing at sitcoms, and wanting to be Wonder Woman…Full disclosure: I’m still half-convinced I AM her! Many days I went with my dad to two-a-day football practices, or I wrestled my sister—and any- one else who would indulge me—on the wrestling mat. I don’t think my sister enjoyed that time as much as I did. I had an imaginary friend named Wilma. She and I used to play outside for hours at a time. I’m thankful that my parents believed that was creative play and never assumed I was crazy. Secretly, I’ve always thought the world inside my head was always larger and better than the one that played out in real life. I was involved in the church youth group and Vacation Bible School. Summers were for family time, sports, outdoors, beach vacations. Mini-brag moment: I was one of the first girls in town to play boys’ fast pitch baseball. I always had this feeling the world was bigger than just me, and I had a lot to offer it. I was just a bit stubborn, a leader, driven, too smart for my own good—or at least I thought I was. I generally recharged from time spent alone. I’m sure some of the areas in my life that frustrated my parents as I was growing up were actually God instilling groundwork and strengths necessary for this journey. I credit my parents so much, not only because I appreciate the way they raised us, but also because I view parenting as the toughest of all jobs. I guess one tends to see that as they get older.

Going through school in the same district where my father taught definitely helped keep me on track. I was still ornery; I got caught from time to time. I enjoyed school and earned good grades. Some subjects demanded that I work a little harder than others, but perseverance is definitely a positive family trait. Even though I quietly desired to be popular and please all people, I wasn’t and I couldn’t. I played sports, sung in choir, participated in band, performed in drama, joined various clubs, and socialized with a diverse group of friends.

My family lost our house to a fire during my school years. I am thankful for the hard lessons I learned through it. It was the first time I realized that some things just couldn’t be controlled or fixed. It was also the first time I experienced beauty rising from the ashes. During this time, I began to develop goals for the future. I knew early on I wanted to go to the same college as my father, and I desired to be a teacher. Rather than spending my time getting caught up in the usual drama of high school, I built my resume to get into Mount Union College, now known as the University of Mount Union, a good school near home.

I loved my Mount Union College experience and re- main a grateful alumnus. I would not want to go back and do it again, but those years were filled with fun and a variety of experiences. I think experience can be a great teacher, and I learned a lot over those four years. Like in high school, I enjoyed learning, earned good grades, and worked hard. I loved being out on my own. I joined a sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, a great group of women, and eventually became president of that sorority. I played intra- mural sports and received a scholarship to play trumpet in the band. I worked on campus during the school year and over summer. I was still involved in multiple clubs and had a group of good friends. I started to date more and realized that I wanted someone serious with whom to share my life. My boyfriend asked me to marry him during my senior year and I said yes! Student teaching felt like a real life job that I enjoyed. I was hired to teach at Canton Local School District soon after graduating in 2001 and was excited to be planning a wedding. Things were coming together nicely. Exactly according to plan, it seemed.

…Until a few months later when I called off the wed- ding. It just didn’t feel right, and deep down I knew I wasn’t supposed to marry him. I’m pretty sure he felt the same. Even though we both had doubts, pride and anger got in the way and it ended badly. My parents welcomed me back home for a few months before renting an apartment on my own. But my doubts didn’t settle. “Aren’t you ready to get married and have kids yet?” I was asked that question repeatedly. The expectation seemed huge— and I had failed. The picture in my head looked so much different than the reality I was actually living. I was a bit lost and wandering for the next six years.

I loved teaching, being independent, and I had good friends; however, something was missing. I dated numerous Mr. Wrongs because it was easy and they were there, but nothing ever progressed to the next step. It was discouraging at the time. Now I see it as a blessing. I did not realize that my relationship with God was slowly deteriorating like a plant I never watered. My exterior image said things were great, but secretly my interior knew better. As an introvert, my family always said that I am able to mask how I really feel if I choose. I found it easy to take the path of comfort and convenience. Somehow I imagined if I kept walking on that path, it would eventually get me to the desired destination. I was wrong. I know now what I couldn’t see then: I was making unhealthy choices to cope and navigate through life.

And then, a change was offered to me, a defining moment. A friend invited me to church with her one Sunday. I hadn’t consistently attended church in a few years, but I figured it would be good social time at least. We traveled to Cornerstone Free Methodist Church in Akron, Ohio. I felt like the woman pastor was speaking directly to me—I loved it and needed it! Nearly seven years later, I am deeply connected in this church community, growing in fellowship, becoming more involved, being challenged, and growing in Christ. Eventually, this same church would be the scene of my greatest joy and share my deepest sorrow. God’s hands were weaving some- thing I could not have imagined.

Heavenly Father,

Please help us to trust that your hands are weaving something for us that we are not yet able to imagine. Thank you for instilling the groundwork in us that we will need throughout our journey.

In Jesus name I pray,


Chapter 1 Questions for Reflection

1. Which parent do you identify with most?

2. Think about your family traits that have been passed down through generations. Identify the traits that you think have been beneficial to your life.

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