Faith, acceptance, and resilience are the waters the Werne family swims in daily.
While many would be overwhelmed by the adversity and challenges they have faced and continue to face, they bear it with a view on the eternal found in their trust in God.
A new book written by Laura Seger McAninch through extensive interviews with Gail Werne and her daughters, Allison Werne and Korrine Whitehead, was recently published. “Able: How God showed two physically disabled sisters what they are able to do through Him” covers the challenges the three have faced and overcome while constantly pointing readers to dive deeper into their faith through prayer and pondering questions.
The undercurrent of the new book chronicling their lives is a testimony to who they are as well as an exploration of understanding our own shortsightedness and perceptions when it comes to individuals dealing with apparent disabilities.
Laura writes through the eyes and words of each woman individually in each chapter, allowing them to tell their own stories and moments of triumph and failure.
“They tie their faith into each chapter’s topics,” Laura explained.
Gail’s voice and the fork in her journey through life open the book, but the first chapter is as much about Alli’s beginning as it is about Gail’s new path. Local readers will recognize the common characteristics and shared experiences of living in Dubois County as they read about what was supposed to be a joyous day for the Wernes. Until a bad reaction to an anesthetic stopped her heart while she was in labor with Alli.
You can sense the acceptance and resiliency as she opens the chapter with the simple statement that Alli likes to joke about the pair sharing October 7, 1981, as a birthday. Gail died on that table for 20 minutes before being reborn with the jab of epinephrine to her heart.
Alli entered the world moments later, but her life forever changed with the diagnosis of cerebral palsy a few months later. Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects many aspects of an individual’s physical abilities. In Alli’s case, she has trouble balancing, sitting up straight, controlling her arms and legs, and speaking.
But behind this seemingly broken facade is a sharp, curious, and adventurous woman who wants to be heard. She details explorations and mistakes she’s made in her growth and moments in which she was wronged but remained silent.
In one chapter, Alli outlines a moment with a teacher in which a misunderstanding led to a confrontation. Rather than point out the teacher’s errors, Alli writes that she submitted to the teacher’s authority. “I was obedient because it was the right thing to do,” Laura writes through Alli’s voice. “Sometimes it is far better to not be right, but to still be at peace with our fellow mankind.
“I can rest in the knowledge that God knows everything. I could be obedient to the teacher because I knew that God saw the whole story.”
As we journey through each chapter, we learn about Alli’s struggles to communicate and deal with her physical disabilities. We also learn of her sister Korrine’s determination to strengthen and support her younger sister. And we see Gail’s dogged determination to give Alli every opportunity to grow to her full potential.
Korrine also wanted her sister to excel. So she would push Alli to use her body and strengthen her physically. Alli swam in the Special Olympics, and for training, Korrine would take her sister to the bottom of the family pool, expecting her to kick herself back to the surface. Over and over.
Alli worked so hard, and in the book, she discusses the conflicts she had with her sister when she was too tired to continue at Korrine’s pace.
In a way, the circles of Allie and Korrine’s lives have overlapped, and within the beautiful mandorla, the almond-shaped point in which their lives intersect, the sisters have come to a shared moment in their wheelchairs.
Korrine, who pushed her sister so hard to do more and be more within those boundaries created by her body, is slowly losing control of her own body due to multiple sclerosis. And for Allie, the advent of new technology and innovation has given her a voice to share her human experience with those around her.
Korrine, ever one to take life as it comes, the progression of the disease is one she takes in stride through her faith and the persistence she learned watching Allie’s struggles.
And Allie admires so much in Korrine. Her strength and character inspire her. “She is an amazing woman with a positive attitude, determination, and persistence,” Allie wrote in an email. “She is always there to help anyone at any time, even if that means she has to go to the back burner.”
The heartbreaking reality is that the two sisters are seemingly passing each other as Alli gains new freedoms from her CP, and Korrine’s body continues to betray her, sometimes suddenly and other times gradually since the 2004 diagnosis.
The book outlines these struggles and sends a clear message of consistent hope and faith despite them.
Laura’s unique talent captures the women’s voices individually. Gail’s consistent love and patience shine clearly through her words and her daughter’s stories. Korrine’s matter-of-fact acceptance and can-do attitude tempered with love for her family is apparent. And Alli’s beautiful mind and adversity-formed character shine through in her stories and thoughts on her life, relationships, and faith.
The three complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And Kate, the youngest sister who makes a couple of appearances in the book as well, is the glue that holds them all together, according to Korrine.
“A lot of people would wallow in these circumstances, and these ladies, not one of them does,” Laura said.
That is what attracted her to the project. She saw their character, and when Korrine reached out with the idea of writing a book, she knew she had to be involved.
Korrine explained that the thought to reach out to Laura came out of nowhere as she was sitting on her porch at home one evening. She was thinking about Alli wanting to write a book and how Laura was a writer. She just decided to send her a text with the idea.
Laura received the text with tears. She had been working through a calling to write something for two years.
“I had a call in my heart to write for God behind the scenes to bring others to God,” Laura said. “And the calling was so vague. I wrestled with it for two years, trying to figure out what this calling meant.”
When Korrine’s text came through, Laura broke down.
What ensued were months of conversations, emails, and texts as the group of women not only formed the basis for this book and built a beautiful friendship.
“Every time we met, we prayed,” Alli said.
The project began more than four years ago. They met and worked during the summer when everyone’s schedule calmed down. They were led through their developing friendships, their faith and these amazing women’s stories as they formulated the overarching message of faith that resounds through each chapter.
“We felt that it would be God’s timing when it was done,” Gail said. “We were in no rush.”
The developing relationship also allowed Laura to change her perspective on her role as the author. She had originally written it in the third person. She was compelled to allow their voices to be heard above her own, to remain in the background as a ghostwriter. But when she found herself immobile after tearing her ACL, she decided to rewrite the entire book in the women’s voices in what she calls a Holy Spirit-led moment.
“Able” provides a perspective on several levels. You could read it as a simple story about the struggles and triumphs of this local family and likely be moved to tears and laughter. You could read it as a guide for helping people with disabilities — Gail and her husband, Terry, did so much to help Alli. You could read it as a devotional. Each chapter begins with some scripture or prayer and ends with prayer and questions to ponder in your own faith. You could also read it to open your eyes to what disabled individuals are “Able” to do and learn how to better interact with them.
Regardless, the book takes you on a journey and opens your eyes to others’ struggles around you.
The group worked with a hybrid publisher to print the books. They can be purchased on Amazon.com as well as from local businesses like Around the Corner, 407 N. Main Street in Huntingburg. They will also have books available at a popup stand during the Huntingburg Stroll next week. They will be at Mischievous Mutts on Fourth Street on Saturday, November 12 and Sunday, November 13.
You can also follow them on Facebook here.