SALT LAKE CITY — Mason Wells remembers waking up in a Belgium hospital and wondering if he still had all his limbs.
"My hand, my foot — do I still have them?" he wrote in "Left Standing: The Miraculous Story of How Mason Wells's Faith Survived the Boston, Paris and Brussels Terror Attacks" (Cedar Fort, $14.99). "My eyes shot open as I braced myself to be an amputee."
To his relief, both were still attached, although he had bad burns on his hand and serious wounds on his foot. His next concern was for his friends.
Wells was one of four Mormon missionaries injured in the March 22, 2016, Brussels airport terrorist attack. Despite the trauma and a long painful recovery, it was the reassuring peace that he felt after many prayers that he remembers most about that fateful day.
"The irony is that March 22, a day filled with so much pain, horror and uncertainty, ended up being one of the most peaceful days of my life — a fact that I can only attribute to God," Wells wrote. "Despite the pain and horror, I felt his presence telling me that it would all be OK and that I would survive to see another day."
More than a year later, Wells is sharing his account of survival and faith in "Left Standing" — a book co-written with Tyler Beddoes, who shared his own story in "Proof of Angels," and journalist and author Billy Hallowell — which includes a foreword from Christian actor and producer Roma Downey. His story and the book were featured Tuesday in an interview with Today.com.
For a while, it was a project Wells wanted nothing to with.
"When I was injured, I just wanted to go back to life as normal. I didn’t want of any of the attention associated with a story like this," Wells told the Deseret News. "There was a number of people who influenced me, one of which is Tyler Beddoes. They essentially helped me realize my story could actually help people. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and ultimately decided that even if my story could only help one or two people, then it was worth writing."
Wells had the unique experience of witnessing the Boston and Paris terror attacks before he suffered third-degree burns and emotional scars with the Brussels bombing.
On April 15, 2013, his family was cheering on his mother in the Boston Marathon when terrorists detonated two bombs near the finish line. Fortunately the family was not injured.
Two years later, on Nov. 13, 2015, Wells was a missionary in France when terrorists killed 130 people and wounded hundreds of others in Paris. At the time he made regular visits to Paris but that day he was miles away. Nevertheless, the experience was unsettling and traumatic, Wells said.
As part of his own recovery after the Brussels blast, Wells underwent skin graft surgery in the burn center at University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. Writing about everything was challenging yet therapeutic, he said.
"It’s not easy bottle up your life and throw it down on pages," Wells said. "But it helped me to reflect on the good things that happened to me. ... It’s a book about finding help, a book about finding faith when you feel like your world is falling apart. Going back and writing those things down was actually a blessing to me because I was able to remember all the good things God has done for me. It reminds me of how lucky and privileged I am to be where I am at."
In the book, Wells describes the events of his life leading up to the attack and his survival. In the days and weeks that followed, he wrestled with questions like, "Why did God allow him to live when so many others died?"
"The blast taught me that God loves all of his children unconditionally — something I believe as much as I know the sun will rise tomorrow," Wells wrote in the book. "I've learned that God's love extends far enough to allow us to experience hard and even tragic events in our lives, while coming out on the other side refined."
To Wells, one of the most powerful aspects of his book-writing experience was penning a letter to the terrorists in which he forgives them for what they did. Finding forgiveness and hope amid chaos and panic helped him to heal, he said.
"I'm far from perfect, but choosing to forgive has made me a happier person, helping me to move on and reclaim my life after facing the most unimaginable of circumstances," Wells said.
The Utah native also tells about not being accepted into the United States Naval Academy before his mission. After his mission, Wells realized his lifelong dream after his mission when he was accepted to the Naval Academy. Having met head Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo, a fellow Mormon, Wells, a former high school football player himself, is looking forward to cheering for the Midshipmen in the annual Army-Navy game on Dec. 9, he said.
Wells hopes his experiences can bring hope to readers dealing with their own trials, whether it's an illness, the death of a loved one or a broken home.
"It's easy to get stuck in the holes of life and forget our potential. This book is about proving our potential, proving our ability to believe in something higher than ourselves and helping people realize they can get through unscathed," Wells said. "If my story can go even a small way in helping someone who is going through their own significant challenges, to find hope and forgiveness, that's why I did it."