On Anniversaries

Some days of the year are not equal. Just when Spring reaches an undeniable fullness, when the newness of life is palpable, just near the end of April--the 21st to be exact--our minds and our senses are flooded with reminders of death. The smell of the ICU room's hand soap. The feel of the cracked vinyl seats in the waiting area. The rhythmic, mechanical exhalation of the life support machine. The sight of my wife, moments before so vibrant, then reduced to a battered, bruised, and swollen mound of flesh. Today, the brightest sky outside seems a bit overcome with an unexpected rain cloud rolling in from nowhere, just like every year.

6 years ago today, right about now, Katherine nearly died--out of the clear blue. Despite her "resurrection" of sorts, many other things died that day. And yet, in a very sobering way, life is a series of these little deaths, calling us to really live.

Those days, those anniversaries, rip through the flesh of our stories and wound us deeply. They create a line of demarcation, a scar, between a life that is and one that will never be. 

If we expect time to heal all wounds, then what are we to do with the scars that remain? 

Our scars have not faded all that much over 6 years, and honestly, they probably won't fade much more over 60 years. No amount of reconstruction and healing can ever bind together flesh or make it whole, the way it was before, but perhaps that is the point. We are not to forget, even when we want nothing more than to do just that. Maybe it's by our scars that we track the real boundary lines of our lives and find that they are good.

When Christ re-appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, his perfect body still bore the scars that had saved us all. Perhaps his will be the only scars in heaven, but I wonder if our own scars, both without and within, might be on full display in our future, perfected bodies too, as holy reminders of the pains of life that brought us home. 

One day we will see. One day the arc of our stories will all make perfect sense. One day we will trace the lines of our scars and find them to have fallen in the most pleasant of places, to see in them our great inheritance. Until then, we will look up at the calendar and on those certain combinations of letters and numbers our stomachs will still flutter and our hearts will still feel a bit heavier. And that's OK. 

And for us, when this day ends and the next day begins, the smell of death will have wafted away on a breeze of new life, and we will remember why we are still here, and we will get out of bed and we will try to really live.

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Yosemite // A PHOTO ESSAY

Earlier this Summer, my in-laws lovingly planned and shuttled me, Jay, and James to Yosemite--a trip that was literally 5 years in the making.  The astounding beauty of Yosemite paled in comparison to the beauty of a long-hoped-for idea finally come to fruition.  It was certainly a place, by all accounts, that I should never have been able to see, but I did because Jay stayed, and he waited, and he took me with him...for which no words can express my love and gratitude, but thank you, my Jay, for all these adventures and many more.

{these are some of my FAVORITE photos that Jay has taken recently; the love, the longing, the beauty, and the hope are so apparent in them all} 

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Painted Symbols of Hope

We take symbols very seriously.  In fact, we've mentioned the importance of Ebenezers (here, here) on Hope Heals before as memory devices in our lives that call us to remember just how far God has brought us and to correspondingly encourage us with hope that He will continue to bring us even further in the future.  For us forgetful people, it seems we need all the symbolic memory triggers we can get! 

When discussing this artistic collaboration for Hope Heals Art, we shared with Lulie several symbols that serve as important "Ebenezers" for us--we have them in our home or on this website or somehow wear them.  Incredibly, Lulie incorporated them all into "Flowers for Katherine".  Seeing this beautiful painting alone just makes us smile, but to see it embody so many promises that we hold so dear inspires something much more...it inspires hope.  We think it will do the same for you!

 {PURCHASE "Flowers for Katherine" LIMITED-EDITION, SIGNED PRINT HERE}

1) FLOWERS -- flowers remind us of God's provision for us, while also highlighting the fleetingly beautiful nature of life itself--asking us "what will we do with this one wild and  precious life?", knowing it will fade as quickly as a beautiful bloom.

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." MATTHEW 6:28-29 

"As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. " PSALM 103:15-16

{* the flowers in the painting include some of my favorites: peonies, ranunculus, and hydrageas

2)  FIG LEAVES -- fig leaves remind us of our attempts to cover our pain (think Adam & Eve) but even more they remind us that through the pain there can still be joy.

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. " HABBAKUK 3:17-18

3) STARBURST -- stars represent God's immense glory and in comparison our smallness in this universe, but amazingly, we find the same God who flung the stars in the sky cares about us!  Even more, stars remind us of a promise on the outset of an inexplicable faith journey (think Abraham), a promise that will one day be fulfilled...

"He heals the heartbroken and bandages their wounds. He counts the stars and assigns each a name. Our Lord is great, with limitless strength; we’ll never comprehend what he knows and does."  PSALM 147:3-5 

"I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.GENESIS 22:17

{* look a little closer on this light blue background of Hope Heals' website--starbursts

4)  WAVES -- the ocean waves represent the breadth and depth of a God that our minds cannot fully comprehend. Those waves are also reminders of the storms of life that threaten to topple our us, unless our foundation is firm.

"Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me." PSALM 42:7

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, maybe compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock." MATTHEW 7:24-25

5) ANCHORS -- you may have already noticed our fondness for this ancient symbol of hope :)  The anchor represents our link to the true hope that is Jesus Christ, the one who has gone before us, the one who embodies our future reality of hope that we might live lives of hope in our present moments.

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf." HEBREWS 6:19-20

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A Short Story of Hurt and Hope

 

Tuesday night, we crawled into bed early.  After returning on Monday from a weekend trip to Omaha, we were tired.  Sleep came easily as the fan softly whirred overhead.

 

The next conscious moment was lived in disjointed flashes--my brain frantically trying to contextualize dreams with reality, sound with sight.  I don’t remember even turning on the light or getting out of bed, just being above Katherine.  She lay face down in the corner of our bedroom, legs splayed out unnaturally, wrapped in our bed sheets, her head jammed down between the bedside table and the wall.  I gingerly wrapped my arms around her torso and carefully lifted her up, now suddenly conscious of her scream. 

 

I turned her toward me and her face was covered in blood.  My measured tone belied my quivering nerves as the source of the blood seemed to be coming from her eye, her “good” eye.  I helped her up and calmed her.  I quickly ascertained the wound was on the eyebrow bone, not the eye—THANK YOU LORD!  But when the gash opened and I could see the bone, like a ravine through the flesh, I briskly walked to the bathroom as I felt I might pass out myself.  I splashed some cold water on my face and took a few quick deep breaths, then jumped back into the bloody fracas, bringing ice and towels and a single Band-Aid that seemed almost comical.

 

Katherine, in typical self-effacement, wondered why I was making such a big deal about it all.  She began to weep at the thought of waking James and shuttling him to our neighbor’s house for an impromptu sleepover.  The ripple effects of her issues on her family are always the most deeply troubling to her.  I somehow convinced her to come with me to the ER as James would actually love the midnight, bed swapping adventure and my at-home sewing skills might actually give her a Spock-like, perma-raised eyebrow.

 

We made it to UCLA’s ER in no time, quickly traversing the usually-busy interstate.  Going to this particular place might make a normal person’s pulse quicken and stomach alight with butterflies, but for us, going to a hospital strangely feels like going home.  It is a place where we can find safety and help.  And if the worse thing happens, like it did, all will be well if we are there.

 

The waiting room was dimly lit and quiet, save for a few sporadic, disheveled inhabitants.  We surprisingly made it to an examination room within half an hour.  When the on-call doctor arrived, I took the lead explaining Katherine's history and what I ascertained had happened.  That perceived-forcefulness, as well as an ill-timed joke from Katherine about me pushing her out of bed, resulted in the doctor asking me to step outside of the room.  For a moment, I felt slapped in the face.  I was the one woken up from a dead sleep for an ER visit, and now, the insinuation is that I might be to blame.  Like the logical thought-process involving airport security, I realized such precautions are founded in real threats.  Even those of us who are innocent must be subjected to the same scrutiny as those who are to blame, all for the greater good.  My heart suddenly broke for those women forcibly brought to that same ER by men who don't feel the same unstoppable goodwill for them that I feel for my wife. 

 

As I re-entered, Katherine was engaging conversation with her nurse and the doctor, both of whom were amazed at her post-stroke recovery, having read her medical history.  These are the opportunities that our story allows, the personification of intangible hope in flesh and bone, in story.  We gave our “Hope Heals” card to these new hearers, and directed them to our short film.  “I might cry,” the nurse lamented.  “Maybe”, Katherine said, “but wait for the end.  It’s the best part…the hopeful part”.

 

As they began stitching back together the broken place, I instinctively turned on our I-pod and began rubbing Katherine’s feet to bring some level of distraction.  A song called “Beautiful Things”, by Gungor, came on.

 

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

 

Not one to sit with awkward silences for long, Katherine told the doctor,  “We’re Christians, in case you couldn’t tell by the music, is it OK if we play this?”  To which the doctor replied, “As long as it’s not hate-filled, of course.  I want you to be comfortable”. 

 

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust.

 

The song ended, and Katherine’s eyebrow was now re-defined with a row of stitches nearly spanning its full length.  Broken places mended.  The doctor whispered, “That was a beautiful”.  And it was.

 

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

 

Our paradigm on suffering continues to shift and grow more nuanced.  As we find sacrifice to be more and more the central theme of love and the gospel, we must ask ourselves how they all connect.  We must move beyond the tips of our own noses, not even just to those we ourselves love but to the world that God loves.  What if the major good resultant from our pain inures not to our own benefit but to the benefit of a stranger?  We see humanity with different eyes when we recognize that we may be asked, like Christ, to sacrifice things we hold dear so that someone else, perhaps someone we will never know, might find the hope that they need.  Are we willing to lay down on altars or hospital beds, enduring all manner of loss, so that something truly lost might be found, so that someone might be beloved?  This is our calling—to play our role in divine appointments, to be vessels overflowing with hope.

 

Just three days prior, we spoke at a church in Omaha, and that same song played before we shared.  We spoke about the nature of hope through suffering.  Katherine said, “what is true in the light, is true in the darkness” (full sermon--here).  Those words were not so much TESTED a few days later as they were PROVEN to be trustworthy.  "Hope does not put us to shame", says Paul, and we are given more and more chances to have the words of our mouths transformed into authentic, real-life opportunities to trust God.

 

We drove home on the even quieter interstate around 3am.  We pulled through a 24/7 drive thru for an ice cream cone to share.  We settled back into bed, but sleep hardly came as easily as it had much earlier that night.  I subconsciously wrapped my arm over Katherine with a steely, seatbelt-like resolve—not the most comfortable but perhaps the most comforting, for us both. 

 

We know all too well that none of us know what tomorrow holds, but in reality, none of us even know what tonight holds, while we sleep.  It’s unnatural, against every animal instinct in our bodies to release ourselves into that reality, but God calls us there to that place where He is.  “Lose your life and your will find it”, Jesus said.  As life continues and with it struggles and with them hope, we find ourselves losing our grips on the things we don’t even know we are holding so tightly.  And yet, we finally find our rest, secure in arms more capable, more loving, more alive than our own. 

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Explorers

" 'Are you parenting the right way' is not so much the question, but rather, 'Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?' " (Brene Brown)

Earlier this Summer, James and I joined a group of dads and sons for an overnight camping trip, the first for many of the kids. From hot dogs and s'mores to exploring a dry river bed, a nighttime park ranger talk to a bee sting, it was worthy of the designation "camp-out". 

Those times of collectively living out this messy parenting journey, especially among just fathers and sons, are few and far between.  That night, as we sat around the bonfire under a canopy of stars with our sleeping ones tucked in the tents, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.  We are not alone in the struggle to be something more for our sons than we know we are. 

After 12-hours of mosquito spray and sleeping bags, we packed up the mini-vans and thought, "That was so great; we should do it more often...in like, a year or two".  Maybe that simple, little jaunt will actually communicate something deep to our boys, that their Dads are explorers, just like them.

Dads are caught in a strange tension--we know our huge influence on the well being of our kids but we don't know how best to exert that influence given our own limitations--our lack of patience, our lack of time, our lack of worthiness.  As a Dad, I feel so burdened to set up the right parameters for James and instill the right ethics.  Ironically, sometimes in the process, I fail to demonstrate those same parameters and those same ethics in my own life.  Maybe, in sort of a reverse logic, I should focus my highest efforts not on James' behaviors but on my own.  Then perhaps I will have done something really transcendent for him--I would have given him a flesh and bone picture of the man he might want to be someday.  Rather than a list of rules, I might have given him a far more enticing model for living...a flickering reflection of his heavenly father, a life-long exploration of goodness and love.  

This is all fine in theory, but most of the time, this intention snaps like a twig in the face of 5-year old irrationality, messiness, and, bad moods, not to mention my own 31-year old irrationality, messiness, and bad moods.  And yet, as in all relationships, we get to experience something altogether undeserved in the process...grace.  As parents, we are offered not only a chance to uniquely connect our children to God but a chance to really see how God experiences us.  Ultimately, we should come away humbled and changed but are we?  And that is where we should explore.

(BTW, Katherine was also "exploring" while we were camping--here

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Our Time with the Tadas -- Part 2

Arriving at the "Joni and Friends" International Disability Center (IDC) was strangely like going home without ever having been there before.  This is no ordinary corporate headquarters--this place is a handicapped girl's idea of Heaven!  The IDC overflows with the love of God, personifying that radical ideology of the "upside kingdom"--the last shall be first.

I'm not sure we've ever been to a place where handicapped parking spaces proudly flank the main entrance, almost obscuring the view of the grand front door.  Nor have we ever entered the lobby of a professional structure to be confronted head-on by the cross, cut out of the chapel that is also directly centered in the entry, wrapped like a present with one of the larger, longer wheelchair ramps we've ever seen.  This place communicates its purpose plainly--it shows the love of God to those who are weak, so that in their weakness God might be glorified.  Absolutely breathtaking...

A kind and lovely docent toured us through the facility, detailing the birth and growth of this international missions factory, all from the tragedy of one young woman on the opposite side of the country, over 45 years ago. 

Photographs and stories of life-giving hope brought us to tears.  The two largest ministry focuses at the IDC are the "Family Retreats" and the "Wheelchairs for the World", in uniquely ways, both of these ministries strongly communicate the message of hope to individuals and families struggling to live life with their disabilities.  Beyond meeting those physical and social needs, these ministries connect these people, all over the world, to the source of true hope and healing--Jesus Christ.

Just hearing about the work that Joni and friends does for this hurting world moved me so much.  To see a woman and couple choosing to glorify the Lord through their pain and weakness, then to encourage so many in the process--what an inspiration to us! I couldn't slow down my racing pulse--and we hadn't even seen Joni and Ken yet!  WOOHOO!!!

They graciously hosted us for lunch, and they are so delightful. Because of our own story, I have a tremendous heart for other couples where a spouse cares for another spouse.  They make it look effortless, though they are quick to share their struggles, as well as their hope.  Jay and Ken would hold open the doors as their blonde, fast & fabulous :) (and very chatty) wives would roll right through them on wheels.

We shared a meal and rich conversation and some great laughs.  Above all we shared about how our infirmities give us a deeper desperation for God.  We chatted about our marriages and details about our little budding ministry.  We wanted to talk about Joni & Friends' ministry the entire time, but the Tadas were so gracious and wanted to hear every detail about ours.

They told us more of their story and they even gave us a copy of their new book, Joni and Ken (which we can't wait to read!) 

After lunch, we were invited back to Joni's office where we were shown a number of unforgettable things.  I have so many vivid snapshots of memories in my mind's eye.

Joni signed her new book on marriage for us WITH HER MOUTH.  Now, I grew up as a child knowing about this phenomenal woman who writes and paints with her mouth.  To see it done up close was amazing!  She quickly told us how she painted before her accident and how she still painted (until pain halted it very recently) -- "painting is from the heart, not the hand". 

I have had that same thought so many times.  Not about painting, but about mothering or encouraging others or helping at the school or FILL IN THE BLANK.  Joni is a testament to the glory of God that is within us that needs to come out.  There is an overflow that happens (Romans 15:13).  Our cups runneth over.

We ended our time together in prayer.  How grateful were we????  How could we begin to tell God what this means to the Wolfs?  Our hearts were so filled. As we drove off, I felt like I'd just been at Buckingham Palace and seen the Queen! 

Recently, Jay and I have begun to write a FOR REAL (this time) book.  (I've been writing them in my head and even some on paper for years), but this time it is with the law school grad who actually finishes his tasks. 

As we have thought through our story and all the events in our lives as a result of my terrible stroke, we both know something deep.  I imagine both Ken and Joni know it too.

God's plan can never be thwarted.  period.

ALL THINGS. YES, IN ALL THINGS there is good because God is good.

I knew from a young age that I would spend my life telling others of God's power and His love.  Joni may have known that too.

....and we are. 

(and we are beyond blessed to have two remarkable men called to leverage their lives for something greater than anything that could ever be possible if they had merely "normal" wives!)

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5th Anniversary in Malibu // A Photo Essay

As we mentioned, the 5th anniversary of the stroke hit us a bit hard.  After a wonderful screening of the short film, an all-nighter launch of the new website, and more Mexican chocolate pie than we'd like to admit, we decided to break away for the night and go back to Malibu, just the 3 of us.

We have occasionally stayed on Pepperdine's campus in recent years at their business school's executive hotel (the best deal in Malibu).  We enjoyed a blessedly simple night eating our favorite take-out in bed and watching "Matilda" on Netflix, snuggling with James.  The next morning we lingered at our favorite vista atop campus--Heroes Garden--a memorial in honor of the victims of 9/11.  As we looked down across the ocean and our old married housing apartment building below, the place from which Katherine was removed by paramedics five years ago, the words of a 9/11 widow rang even more true, "We can in the midst of tragedy find God".  I'm deeply grateful to say that we can and we have. 

Later, I walked up to our first home, that old married housing dorm, the familiar smell of the eucalyptus tree outside the door instantly forming a lump in my throat.  It looks like a dorm now, not a home, and life has moved on in that place. 

Though the memories there can hurt, the ability to return at allinspires hope inside us, and the ocean will always be one of the most healing places.  Malibu and Pepperdine will always be a part of our story, and they not only remind us of the lovely times we had but of even lovelier times still to come.

{click on images to make them bigger}

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Motherhood In Bloom // A Photo Essay

Perhaps one of a husband's most sacred observances is watching his wife transform into a mother.  Likewise, watching his wife lose her motherhood, in whatever form that might take, has to be one of the most devastating.  That has been my experience over the last 5 years.  Motherhood has been tinged with a bittersweet longing.  I am so grateful for all James' "supplemental mommies", but my heart bursts with thanks for God's greatest gift to our family--the gift of Katherine's motherhood blooming again.  It is different but it is hers and it is beautiful.  Her journey...

{click pictures to englarge}

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Say Goodbye, Say Hello

Forus, these past Winter months have in many ways been a time of putting things to bed, a time of saying goodbye.  It's been a season to make peace with letting go of certain things in our lives, things that we have loved.

As James started "big kid" school this past Fall, it only seemed natural that he would transition to a "big kid" bed.  He was still technically sleeping in his original baby crib, though we had converted it into a daybed.  Out of the blue, our dear friends, the Stovers (the same who kept James for months after the stroke), offered an extra twin bed frame that they were getting rid of.  Andy even came over and helped me quickly disassemble the crib and set up the new bed.  I posted the pictures on Craigslist and sold the crib the next day.

A few days later, I rounded the corner into James' room, and nearly felt the breath knocked out of me.  The room looked completely different.  All the sudden it hit me.  The crib was gone, and somehow with it, our baby was gone too.

Around the same time, Katherine finally upgraded her well-loved cellphone to an I-phone.  Her friend had taken her to the store and helped her set up the new system.  I called her to check in, and it went to voicemail.  I expected to hear the long-standing voicemail message of the Katherine from 2007, before her stroke.  We never had the heart to change it.  Even a year after her stroke, hearing it gave me butterflies in my stomach, but over time, it's become a comforting memorial of sorts, a reminder of a different Katherine with a different voice in a different life.  But that day, to my surprise, I didn't hear Katherine's old voice on the voicemail, but rather I heard James' voice say, "this is my Mom's phone, leave a message".

When Katherine arrived home, I felt a little stupid for feeling upset, but I asked her what happened to the old voicemail, why she hadn't saved it.  She earnestly replied, "My voice doesn't sound like that anymore, so I decided it was time to move on".

For a moment, I was so pained at the thought of letting go of this seemingly mundane but priceless recording--this auditory snapshot from an old life erased forever.  Maybe all the more so because after years, I find myself not being able to easily remember the sound of Katherine's previous voice.  I swallowed the lump in my throat and resolved that she was right.  After all, fully embracing a new life is impossible without letting go of some of the remnants of our old lives, even dearly loved ones.

Not long ago, James told me out of the blue, "Dad, I don't like hearts."  "Why James?" I asked confusedly.  "Because hearts break", he said matter-of-factly.

As a parent, those are the moments that sting the most--when you know that your child has glimpsed the reality of this world a bit sooner than you would have liked.  Nonetheless, James and C.S. Lewis had it right, "To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken."  If the alternative to a broken heart is an "unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable" one, then I suppose the choice is clear, but when our heart has been broken as the result of loving something then having to say goodbye to it, we can't help but question if the love was worth the pain.

Today, Katherine and I kneel beside James' big boy bed, and say our prayers.  He closes his eyes and smiles contentedly.  He is a boy now, and it is so beautiful to see.  Yet we must both fully love these moments and still hold them loosely because these moments will pass quickly too.  Katherine prays over her son, in her new, lovely voice, rich with joy and sorrow, and I know it was all worth it.

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Happy Birthday Katherine -- "The Jesus Year" in Review

{* This is a surprise birthday posting for Katherine!}

Today, March 8th, Katherine turns 31.  Happy Birthday to my spectacular wife.  In many ways, the struggles of life have not gotten any easier, but amazingly, life together grows more lovely as we continue to experience love through those struggles.  Each year is more unexpected than the last, and each one with you is the most precious gift.

Recently, a friend referenced turning "the Jesus year" (aka 30 years old, the year Jesus started his ministry), and I was struck at the thought of what had transpired during our own "Jesus year".  Not to give too much weight (or too little weight) to a thing like a birthday number, but God, the ultimate artist, seems to have a thing for numbers, pictures, parables, stories, and symbols.  Just check out, well, pretty much any page of the Bible.  For us, this 30th year signified some significant transitions in our lives, relationships, and ministry.  It was hard not to draw a few meaningful parallels in my mind between our past year and Jesus' 30th year.

{Just to be clear, we don't have a God-complex and Jesus' own "Jesus year" certainly trumps ours times infinity, but if we are seeking to be like Christ, it's never a bad exercise to remember those times when we were kind of like him.}

As a little birthday gift to Katherine and myself (as my 31st birthday is in a few weeks, on April 1st, so our "Jesus years" were pretty much the same), here is a little "Jesus Year" in Review for the Wolfs...

we started the year off sharing the good news (posting here -- and funny enough, we'll start off this one doing the same! -- here)

we revisited places that had once been home to tell what God has done in our lives (postings here and here)

we spent some time away, resting and celebrating life, in order to return to our mission re-focused and refreshed (postings here/here/here and here)

we were thrilled to share our story of new life on a particularly special Sunday (posting here)

we were given "water" by a kind woman, and returned the favor  (posting here)

we attended a wedding where we were vividly reminded of the ultimate wedding (postings here and here)

we began a new "Season" of telling the story of God thru the story of our lives (postings here and here)

we wandered in the "wilderness" a few times but refused to be tempted into self-reliance and found a deeper trust in the Lord (postings here, here, and here)

we experienced real-life liberation of captives and were humbled and grateful for our own freedom in Christ (posting here)

we were given the opportunity to speak from totally new platforms, encouraging healing and hope for the body and soul (postings here and here)

we were deeply encouraged by new friends--saints who have gone before us, so to speak (postings, here and here)

we found new and deeper ways to minister to our own family (postings here and here)

we even witnessed a few miracles along the way (postings here and here)

AND we were inspired to continue stewarding our story, finding creative ways to be "missionaries of hope" (postings here and here)

Who knows what this next year will bring, but I do know that the story, the love, and the hope will continue.

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My Leg is Broken But Not My Spirit

Thanks for all the prayers, well-wishes, and love in many, many forms sent my way this past week.  Just so you know, I am alright.

Now, that being said, the reality is, this is a terrible setback in my recovery.  There is no way around that fact.  I have been working in physical therapy for several years to try to get my right leg to take my bodyweight while I step forward.  Now, I will spend a minimum of three months trying NOT to put any weight on it at all.

I'm in pain.  Even with all these heavy duty pain killers, it still hurts pretty badly.  I'm stuck in a hospital bed, and I can't even sit up without intense throbbing.  I am officially a burden to all those around me since I can do nothing myself, which possibly pains me the most.

This is awful.  Absolutely awful in just about every way.

However, I have to share with you a strange "blessing in the storm" as my friend Naja from Bible Study always says.  My RIGHT leg is the broken one -- the affected, weaker, very-messed up side of my body.  In one sense, this is devastating.  How awful for my "bad" leg to now be further crippled? 

Nonetheless, "God winked" here, and it was a pretty big one.

The bone was broken so badly--a spiral break shattering it--that the surgeon had to insert an 18-inch steel rod into my leg to hold it all back together.  This rod will be a permanent part of me from now on.  You follow?  While I never in a million years would have signed up for some procedure to get a rod installed in my leg to make it stronger (I don't think they do that anyway), my weaker, right leg is now going to be re-inforced with steel!  Kind of cool, huh?

I was clearly not able to make it to the Seasons event this past weekend in person, though I actually Skype'd in, which was neat; however, the Lord worked it out just perfectly, last-minute, for Jay to go as our representative (more on that later).  The Seasons team dubbed me, "the Steel Magnolia".  I like that one, and I think it just might stick.

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Guess what?  This nightmare has inspired my mom to blog again -- another "happy" to come from this yuckiness -- check out her past 2 blogs about our crazy last week here at (a modern day) Margery Raves On!

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THREE YEARS LATER

3 years already? Time flies when you’re having …. well, even for the eternal optimist, that’s a strong word. No, I can’t say this journey has been fun, but I can say that it has been real. Perhaps the journeys that truly impact us in life are the ones that are hard, painful, gritty, and real and that we never would have chosen for ourselves. I’ve never known anyone who developed a deepening of character without going through something hard. We all go through hard things in life. So far, this has been my really hard thing. I think what matters most is how we choose to deal with the hard things. I’m coping with mine, and I’m sharing my story of hope with the world. I feel blessed that I can do that.

I can only use my left hand to type, but it is all I really need. I see two computer screens as I type this and my eyes get worn out pretty easily, but I’m so glad that I can write and that I have a computer at all. When I speak, my voice is weakened and distorted, but I am so thankful that that does not prevent me from gabbing about my story of redemption all the time. In fact, I think my deficits make my story more interesting and more captivating. They are actually a blessing.

I read recently on my friend Hillary’s blog that hard things either cause you to cling or crumble. I said last year that trials make you bitter or beautiful. Upon another year of thinking about it, I’ve decided that hard things you go through in life are either problems or they are potential. I’m looking at my stroke as nearly limitless potential. Inspiring others is just about the coolest gift a person could ever give to another. It is second only to pointing them to the living Hope I have. Now that’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning even if I don’t love the reflection I see in the mirror.

Speaking of that, yes, I still don’t like it. I miss my old face. I miss a lot of things about my old life. I miss my handwriting most of all actually. I hear a recording and I miss my old voice or I see a picture and I miss my old face. I miss being able to drive. I really miss a good powerwalk or breaking a sweat in an aerobics class. I miss spontaneously driving somewhere alone and getting something I need from a store or going through a drive-thru line for a coke. I miss independence, self-sufficiency, and autonomy.

Before those thoughts even fully land in my mind, I am reminded that I have the best team in the world helping me to operate “normally” in a situation that is anything but normal. Jay is the greatest man who ever lived (along with Brooks Arnold). Our love story reminds me of this one, except we don’t have burned faces. But we were burned pretty badly actually. Jay wrote on our anniversary the year of my stroke (read this if you haven’t – it’s very moving) that we are “battered but not broken”. We are battered AND burned, but we are not beyond hope…

“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” - Psalm 71:14

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TWO YEARS LATER

Has it really been 2 years? I’ve been so busy rehabbing, I’ve hardly noticed. A few days before the moment that changed my life forever, I put a swimsuit on James (he was so cute in it) and we took him swimming for the first time. I remember how little and cute he looked in it. That mental picture of mine showcases the passage of time in our lives. James has grown so much since then. He’s talking and running all over the place now, a far cry from the little doll in his first swimsuit. I’ve grown, too. Jay is different now. My family has changed. We’ve all been taken to the brink of death and survived. We ALL survived though it has not been easy on anyone. It’s been sad; it’s been hard, but it’s been our reality, and we’ve come out OK.

I heard recently that challenges either make you bitter or beautiful. Symbolically, with a face that is paralyzed on one side, I’m choosing to be beautiful. Gorgeous in fact. We cannot control what happens to us in this world. Control over anything is just an illusion. What we do have control over is our response to what happens to us.

For all of the 11 months I did not eat, I wanted food. I wanted the taste, the texture, and the feeling of food. It drove me crazy. My mouth would water when I fed James baby food. If I was watching television and a commercial came on for food, I would salivate and epic cravings would follow. It was terrible. In those dark moments (I think not eating was the worst part of all this), I would take a deep breath and think that this was all part of something bigger than I could understand. I had to believe that God was using my suffering for good. I still believe that.

I would be lying if I did not tell you that it has not been terrible. It has been worse than anything you could ever, ever imagine. So much is different now. It’s really heartbreaking. However, nothing (not even this) is stronger than God’s power working through this broken vessel. I am getting better. A year ago I was in a wheelchair. I could only eat certain foods on an approved list, and my right eye still pointed in to the middle. What a difference a year makes!

I’ll keep this short (mainly because my double vision makes it so hard to see), but the bottom line is that I am so grateful to God. I have a wonderful family, a wonderful home, and a wonderful life. Above all my earthly blessings, I am so grateful for such an amazing husband. While this has been very hard on me, it’s been harder on him. So, I’m grateful. That gratitude leads me to a deep contentment as I sit here at the 2 year mark. Things may not be perfect, but I am content with where I am. Thank you Lord. That’s sufficient. Yes, that’s plenty.

P.S. I had a fantastic day yesterday. My amazingly sweet and pregnant friend Anna pushed me all over Beverly Hills in a wheelchair! We spent the afternoon in two of my favorite places on Earth – Sprinkles Cupcakes and the PaperSource Stationery shop. It concluded with a wonderful, final Esther Bible Study here. My sister, Amie, is in the study and she made us all laugh ‘til we cried. The 21st could be a sad day, and yet it was so happy! God is so good to me.

P.P.S. CaringBridge readers, after today, I will only be writing my updates onwww.katherinewolf.info . Please go there if you would like to continue to follow my progress. That site now has all the features that CB has, including email updates, the same pictures, background story and links. A big thanks to Charlie Saliba (a stranger to me when all of this started) who has selflessly managed that website for 2 years now!!!

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ONE YEAR LATER

(feel free to pass this on to anyone who wants/needs to hear this) It’s astonishing to realize a year ago today my life was turned upside down. One year ago, I was a part time Model, full-time Mom residing in gorgeous Malibu, California living out all my wildest dreams. I had a precious 6 month old baby and an adoring husband in law school at Pepperdine. We were leaders in our church and soaking up all that Southern California had to offer. I was incredibly blessed in almost every way, from my abilities in public speaking to my appearance to my intelligence. I had always won everything and achieved most any dream I had put my mind to. I married my prince Charming and thought I would live happily ever after. I ‘had it all’ in a way, and in an instant, it was all gone.

Almost the worst thing imaginable happened to me. I was in perfect health. I did not even have a general doctor. I had just turned 26 yrs old, had no family history of health problems, I had had a baby naturally 6 month before, and I had no hypertension. I worked out almost every day, and had no signs that a brain injury was even a possibility. Despite all those indicators, on April 21, 2008, I collapsed as a result of a massive bleed in my brain. The bleed resulted from the rupture of an AVM in my cerebellum, as well as a number of aneurysms, which began forming a hematoma around my brainstem. The blood flowing into the small spaces surrounding my cerebellum began to literally squeeze my brain down into my spinal column. After 16 hours of microsurgery, I was left with less than half of my cerebellum and untold damage to my brain stem and most of the intracranial nerves that control my body, but I was left with my life.

I almost died a year ago today. I really almost died. I do not believe in happenstance. I believe everything happens for a reason. I do not know everything, but I know that God is real and that He saved me on April 21, 2008. I can say this to you even in the place I am in now, which is still pretty bad off. As you may know, I cannot walk at all (I now own a wheelchair), my face is paralyzed on one side, I have severe double vision, I have been pronounced deaf in one ear, I have a severely weakened and distorted voice, and I cannot take care of my baby boy. Thank God I am finally starting to eat some food again after 11 months on a feeding tube. My entire right side has been severely weakened and even as I type this, I can only use my left hand. There are many, many other issues, but I will spare you the details.

Don't feel too sorry for me... There have been a few perks throughout this time. Since I now have a handicap decal, I never have to look for a place to park at the mall. Since my face is paralyzed on the right side, it’s like getting free Botox in half my face. From all the physical therapy, I am in the best shape of my life. I have a six pack, bulging biceps, and killer quads. Because I have been incapable of taking care of my son, I have not changed a dirty diaper in a year. Since I am now eating, but cannot walk, I have breakfast in bed every morning! Because I have been severely underweight, I have to eat Sprinkles cupcakes and Stan’s doughnuts to try to gain weight. Above all, I have stumbled upon the greatest way to lose those last few pesky pounds of baby weight!

In spite of the deficits, I acknowledge the many, many miracles that have kept me here. I had a severe brain hemorrhage, the location and size of which almost always result in death or worse. My husband unexpectedly came home for lunch right before I collapsed. He happened to be home to call an ambulance and be there for my 6th month old baby who was napping when I collapsed. I was taken to UCLA, which happens to be the third best hospital in the country. Dr. Nestor Gonzales performed my 16 hour brain surgery and he just happens to be double board certified in vascular neurosurgery and radiology. His skills were specifically useful for my situation. My husband just happened to take out a PPO Catastrophic insurance policy for us over 3 years ago.

The worst thing happened at the very best time. Jay was almost finished with law school. I wonder what would have happened if this had been his first year. He has been able to be my primary caretaker. He was even allowed to graduate law school between hospital runs. This also happened at the best time for the baby. What if he was a new born or a teenager– what would we have done then? I happened to win $50,000 on a game show (Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?). The check came in the mail after I was already in the hospital. That money enabled Jay to care for me full time. Lastly, my youngest sister justhappened to graduate from high school right after this happened to me. She elected to go to college out here and my mom has been able to live here part of the time to help care for me.

I had spoken to several groups about the notion of “Identity” before this happened. Even then, I knew enough to know I needed my identity to be founded in something beyond myself. I had no idea I would have this happen a few weeks after speaking on Identity to our treasured Young Marrieds group at church. I think one reason I was so ‘into’ Identity was because God was preparing me for this season – I needed to know what my real identity was and what it was not. I had already researched and prepared all the information and spoken on “Identity”. Now, I was living it. How would I respond? I think in this life, there are no mistakes and nothing is wasted. I know God was preparing me for this. I even mentioned to friends that I felt God was preparing me for a change when James reached 6 months. In a weird way, it was as if I knew this was going to happen.

I had memorized the words to the song “You Never Let Go” because of the natural birth. (The lyrics are at the end of this Essay). I had also memorized more scripture in the last year than I ever had before. I now know that was because I would not be able to read or write, and I needed to know the truth about who I really am. I had told my girls’ discipleship group that they needed to memorize scripture in case they were put in prison, I just did not know then that that prison could be one’s own body!

My ordeal has been long and full of drama. I spent 40 days in ICU, 2 1/2 months in Acute rehab, and I am still in therapy a year later at Casa Colina in Pomona, California. I lived as an inpatient in hospitals for over 6 months before being able to come home to my husband and baby.

Today I have severe deficits and many unknowns in terms of my future. Life is not easy. BUT I am alive. God spared my life for a reason. While I cannot yet walk, passing a swallowing test was a huge boost for me. The taste of food was enough to fill my soul and make me smile. At one point, a medical professional even told Jay I would likely never swallow again. Now, I can eat some softened foods - even mac n cheese! I cannot eat most raw vegetables or breads. I cannot eat most meat either, but I am happy to be a Vegetarian if it means I can have something.

The honest truth is that I am still scared. I want to walk and have a face that looks normal and a voice that sounds normal. Above all, I want to take care of my own baby. I want so many things for my life. This is all so hard to endure. You know what, though? A month ago I wondered if I would ever eat again. I thought I might never pass a swallowing test. BUT I DID.

There have been so many blessings throughout this nightmare. Above all (tears fill my eyes as I write these words) my cognitive mind is completely intact. My memories, my personality, and my faith are all as strong as before. Having been in a neuro-rehabilitation unit for almost a year now, I have seen that this is not normally the case. I can still tell you our frequent flyer miles numbers, our credit card information, and even Jay’s grandparents address with the zip code in Florence, MS. I’m not kidding. I believe that everything that is currently a physical deficit can be healed in time through hard work, prayer, and surgery. I am expected-one day- to make a full recovery. This could have been a very different story.

I have seen the movie “Evan Almighty” many times. Jay’s 1st cousin, Johnny (an actor), plays the oldest brother in the film. In it, there is a question posed that I20find fascinating now. God (played by Morgan Freeman) says: “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous?” I had always prayed for more patience because I am so impatient! My prayer went something like this: ‘God, give me patience and make it fast!’ When praying about having James, I prayed for Courage. I have always been impatient and wanted things done RIGHT NOW! I have always been a wimp and if you told me this was going to happen to me, I would not have believed I could have survived under these circumstances. Having this happen has meant I am learning so much about patience and courage. I have been given, as the movie says, the opportunity to be patient and courageous. It is a beautiful thing.

The truth is that God is closest to me when I am suffering. He hears every cry and cares how I am doing. I matter to him. I have not been forgotten. He will not abandon me to the grave. He is here. Do I wish this had never have happened to me? Of course, but I know it is for a reason, one that I may never fully understand. I actually praise God for what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will continue to do.

My belief in God has been greatly strengthened because of the ways he has acted in my life during the past 12 months. I believe in Him because of the very story of my survival. But I’ve come to learn thatbelieving in God is not fully possible without also believing God. He says that He is my hope and strength, and I believe Him. I will be well one day. I believe that with all my heart, soul, and brain…(well...what's left of it)!

My Favorite Quotes From this time: “Seize the day!” – On my Jcrew shirt that I have worn to therapy time and time again.

“He makes all things new”, “Nothing is wasted”, “Joy comes in the morning.” – comforting Truths we are always saying

“I’m Hangry!” – This is a combination of the words hungry and angry. It has become one of my very favorite words. Thank you to the Geckelers who shared the expression with us!

“What would you like your goal in PT to be?- My physical therapist. “I just want to walk20before my son does!” (This didn’t happen --- James beat me with his walking and eating BUT I am not far behind!)

“When God closes a door, he opens a window, BUT it can be a hell in the hallway!” – My Mom, quoting Dave Stanton

“Your thighs and waist are so small. I would kill for a body like that.” – My sister, Amie “Just have an AVM …. Then you get this body!” – My response

You Never Let Go” Lyrics by Matt Redman: (This was the song on my IPOD when I had James, and it has become a sort-of theme song for this time)

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death Your perfect love is casting out fear And even when I'm caught in the middle of the storms of this life I won't turn back I know you are near

And I will fear no evil For my God is with me And if my God is with me Whom then shall I fear? Whom then shall I fear?

(Chorus) Oh no, You never let go Through the calm and through the storm Oh no, You never let go In every high and every low Oh no, You never let go Lord, You never let go of me

And I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on A glorious light beyond all compare And there will be an end to these troubles But until that day comes We'll live to know You here on the earth

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