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Undaunted and Pressing On: Kendra Winchester

Kendra Winchester

Kendra drifted in and out of post-surgery fog. And she was cold—very cold. “I felt as if I had been left out in Alaska with just a thin hospital gown,” she remembers. “I began shaking, almost spasming, because I was so cold.”

“Three to seven days,” the surgeon told her. “You’ll be out of the hospital in three to seven days max.” But she stayed for 11 long days.

“At one point, I thought I would never leave that bed,” Kendra says. But she had just completed her junior year as a creative writing student at BJU—and she knew she had to get back to school to graduate. She was too close not to finish.

For as long as she can remember, Kendra has struggled with chronic illness. “The other day, I was trying to figure out what I would be like if I weren’t sick,” she says. “But you cannot separate my sickness from the rest of my life, because most of my life is spent managing it. It has affected everything about me.”

A Lifelong Dream

Because Kendra grew up sick, she stayed inside when most other children would have been playing outside. She read voraciously and wrote prolifically—and basically “lived inside my own head,” she says with a laugh.

As a 4 year old, she wrote her first book—several chapters about a boy and his best friend catching fish. And she was thrilled when her mom typed it out, bound it with cardstock, and took it to their local librarian.

When she was 10, she wrote a newsletter filled with stories and articles for the other kids in her church. But then she found out that the other kids were pointing out all her mistakes. (Grammar and spelling were always a struggle for her.) Mortified, she gave up on the newsletter. But she never gave up writing.

When it came time to choose a major at BJU, Kendra knew she didn’t want to study English. That would mean learning all the nitpicky things about spelling and grammar, right? But creative writing—that she knew she could do.


A Newfound Love — And a Roadblock

During her sophomore year, Kendra found out—much to her dismay—that the creative writing program was being revamped to include more English courses. “I tried to get them to let me keep the old program,” she says. “But in the end, I was glad they didn’t let me.”

What she didn’t realize was that those English courses were actually literature courses. “A lot of creative writing majors, we live up in our heads anyway, and we don’t understand the practicality of literature. But to be a writer, you have to read,” she says. “And I thrived in literature classes.”

Before long, she discovered the literature that most resonated with her. “I was sitting in Modern Fiction, which covers works written from around 1900 to the end of WWII,” she recalls, “and I was reading things like ‘To the Lighthouse’ and ‘The Good Soldier,’ and they’re all about people who are lost. And I think reading about people’s search for God, even if they don’t know they’re searching, is very valuable.

So I discovered this genre of beautiful, longing depression, and I was like, ‘I love this! This is my thing!’”

By the end of her junior year, with this newfound love for modern era literature, Kendra knew her next step would be a master’s degree in English.

But at the beginning of that summer, she began having intense pains in her abdomen that ended in emergency surgery to remove a twisted portion of her colon.

“My first thought was, when horses’ colons twist, they shoot them!” she says. “Obviously, they didn’t shoot me. They gave me an epidural instead.”

“When I ended up in the hospital, I was thinking, what am I going to do with my life? I didn’t think I was going to make it out of the hospital.”

“It might have jeopardized my going to grad school, because I might have had to sit out a semester. But it didn’t, because God worked it out where it happened at the beginning of the summer and I had the whole summer to recover.”

Pressing On

She returned to BJU for her senior year with renewed determination. And she took another class that changed her life: Fundamentals of Publishing. “I just fell in love,” she says. “You have the art of writing and the study of literature. And you have the business of books. They’re very different, but they work together.”

So in May 2012, when Kendra graduated with her BA in creative writing, she accepted a graduate assistant position at BJU Press and dove into her master’s program.

Looking at the rotation of courses, Kendra mapped out her class schedule to fit her personal interests and career goals. “I knew I wanted to do a Modernist emphasis,” she says.

“So I took Naturalism (which is right before Modernism), The Rise of the Novel, Contemporary Fiction (which is right after Modernism), a James Joyce seminar, a Virginia Woolf and other feminist writers seminar. Literary Theory: The Modern Era was also a very influential class for me.”


Continuing Struggle

However, as much as Kendra loved her classes, her health continued to deteriorate. After her surgery, Kendra says, “everyone said that I was cured, that all of my health problems were gone—of course, that wasn’t true.”

“The surgery just fixed a symptom of the overall problem. When I figured this out, I was devastated. But I knew it was no excuse to give up my dream, my calling.”

So she fought to keep up with her schoolwork and her job. “It’s very difficult to keep going and keep doing it,” she says. “When you are chronically ill, you are sick every day. There are worse days than others, but it’s still like having the flu for the rest of your life. You have to go to bed and wake up and do it all over again.”

“Sometimes I’m like, I don’t want to do this anymore,” Kendra admits. “But then I’m like, no, all the work I’ve put into this, all the tests, all the papers.”

“And God has blessed me. I’ve never struggled with grades. I’ll be throwing up at 12 and have a test at 1, and I might get a bad grade on that test, but overall, I get good grades. That’s part of the reason why I know God has called me to this.”

Along the way, she’s been comforted to see how God has gone before her, smoothing her path with a work supervisor and professors who believed her and helped her as much as they could.

“What makes BJU special is that they have faculty who care for their students as people and are able to make judgment calls based on how they know the students,” she says.

“BJU is not its programs or its arts or its buildings. It’s its faculty. I am very thankful for them.”

Path into Editing

When Kendra’s GAship at BJU Press ended last summer, she started an internship with another local publishing company—an experience that turned out to be even more valuable than she expected.

In addition to the smaller jobs an intern typically receives, she ended up doing an entire style edit for a book in publication. The publisher liked what she did so much that they hired her as a freelance copyeditor and ghostwriter. Currently, her biggest project is ghostwriting the memoir of a Vietnamese man who escaped to the United States with his family in 1984.

Although copy editing, style editing and ghostwriting aren’t what she wants to do long-term, she knows they’re a step in the right direction—a step toward her dream of becoming either a developmental editor or an acquisitions editor.

“With development or acquisitions, you get the best of all worlds,” she explains. “You have to be both reader and writer. You’re shaping the future of literature, even if it’s just in some small way.”


Something to Live For

Without her love for writing and literature, Kendra doesn’t know where she’d be. “For me, I have to have something to live for. Some people are like, you have to get up because God loves you! Yes, that’s true, but I need something to do!”

“Despite everything—every new food allergy, every migraine, or inflamed joints—I know that God still has something He has called me to do. A purpose. And God has used my illness to show His love and grace to me more than anything else in my life. I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

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