Graduating senior completes long-term art project as mural of life

Release Date: April 25, 2008

PLAINVIEW – The journey to a college degree is a memorable one for any student. But for Wendi Vanlandingham, the road has had many twists, turns and detours. Nevertheless, Vanlandingham will be one of 127 graduates at Wayland Baptist University’s spring commencement at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, in Hutcherson Center.

Though the journey has been a different one from many of her fellow grads, it’s one in which Vanlandingham has few regrets. Instead, she sees the 12 years from her first college class at McMurry University to Saturday’s ceremony as a joyful experience filled with great lessons and blessings.

In a sort of testament to that road, Vanlandingham recently completed a large mural in the children’s department at her church, College Heights Baptist. Estimating at least 500 hours of work involved in the project – Wendi admits she really didn’t keep close count – the mural is not only a gift to the church and to the children but also a statement of her belief in the role of faith along life’s often bumpy road.

At the beginning of her mural, which depicts a cartoon-like city, a road sign bears a Bible verse – Psalm 119:35 in the Message translation – which Vanlandingham said has meant much in encouraging her in general and spurring her to complete the detailed project: “Guide me down the road of your commandments; I love traveling this freeway!”

Much like a real highway, Vanlandingham’s life has included on- and off-ramps, detours and blessed traffic jams. Some of those moments and personal touches show up in the mural, while others are hidden in her heart. Still, she wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

“God touched me and changed our lives every time,” she said. “Each step in life is such an opportunity to grow and learn.”

A native of Childress, Vanlandingham attended McMurry on scholarship, though her high school sweetheart, Jeff, was heading to Wayland. After only a semester and many visits to Plainview, she transferred to WBU and continued her education, majoring in art. In November 1998, the pair married, and they continued their education until January 2000, when they were expecting their first child, Lani Belle, now 8.

“We didn’t think we could live on part-time salaries, make it through school and support a child,” she said, noting in hindsight, “We know now that God can do amazing things.”

Jeff took a job as a youth minister in Crowell, later serving churches in Vernon and in Wendi’s hometown of Childress. There, she served as the first director of Pregnancy Outreach Center of the Rolling Plains, a newly formed crisis pregnancy ministry. She also had two more daughters along the way, Joey, now 5, and Lily, now 4.

In 2005, the couple decided to come back to Plainview so Jeff could finish his education at Wayland and cut out the regular commute he was making from Childress. He pursued a degree in education and graduated in August 2007.

While he went back to school, Wendi worked full-time in Wayland’s financial aid office, where she still is employed, and took a few classes per term toward her own degree, only 30-plus hours from completion.

Though Vanlandingham’s degree is in art, she said she knows now her calling is not to teach art but to use her art talents as a ministry.

“Anybody else can teach or preach and I can’t do those things. But if I can use my art to make a place more welcoming for others, that’s what I can do,” she said.

The mural at College Heights is testimony to both her talent and her calling, but it’s not the only place she’s left her mark. Wendi painted a mural at Second Baptist Church in Vernon as well as the pregnancy center in Childress, though she said she has vowed to not paint a mural in her own home.

“Every time I painted a mural in our house for our girls, we’d end up moving two weeks later,” she laughed, noting she and Jeff aren’t ready to move on just yet. Jeff is enjoying his job as special education teacher in Lockney, and Wendi loves working with students in the financial aid office at Wayland.

“Wayland is home to us,” she said. “It’s our family.”

In a way, the mural project parallels Vanlandingham’s journey to the degree. She wasn’t always happy with her progress on the walls, adding the stairwell artwork and a puppet stage in the main gathering room. It was a long time coming, but wrapping it all up has been another rewarding stop on the road. And she admits, she’s pretty proud of the finished project and what it means to the children.

“We want the kids to know they are the future of this church, and God has something great for them they would never imagine,” she said. “If they just follow his guidance, it’ll be a great ride.”