FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Really?

with Jay and Katherine Wolf | May 23, 2016
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Trials come in various shapes and sizes. It's how we respond to those trials that determine who we really are. Katherine Wolf, joined by her husband, Jay, talks about the massive brainstem stroke she miraculously survived just months after giving birth to their son. The Wolfs recall what drew them together as college students and what their life was like on the sunny California coast before this life-altering trauma.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Trials come in various shapes and sizes. It's how we respond to those trials that determine who we really are. Katherine Wolf, joined by her husband, Jay, talks about the massive brainstem stroke she miraculously survived just months after giving birth to their son. The Wolfs recall what drew them together as college students and what their life was like on the sunny California coast before this life-altering trauma.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Katherine Wolf, joined by her husband, Jay, talks about the massive brainstem stroke she miraculously survived just months after giving birth to their son.

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Really?

With Jay and Katherine Wolf
May 23, 2016
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Bob: — it’s likely you would have been a widower by the end of the day.

Jay: Yes; absolutely; and it was likely that I would still, even when she was taken to UCLA.

Katherine: Right.

Jay: So we didn’t even have a doctor—we were 26—we were just kind of footloose / fancy free. You know, all of a sudden, in a moment, our life was turned upside down. We were rushed to what we learned was the #3 hospital in the country. God had really been preparing the way for Katherine to survive, but it was going to be against all odds.

I mean, the laws of nature were going to have to be suspended because this rupture she had in her brain—



— for a little context—there were four aneurysms on top of this abnormality. It was catastrophic in nature. They considered just letting her go ahead and die because of the liability and the great resources it would take to even give her a chance at, maybe then, just being in a vegetative state. Even, right afterwards, we didn’t know if she was going to be paralyzed completely, or vegetative, or in a coma. Along the way, God just showed us, “I’m here.” You know? “Don’t be afraid.”

Dennis: I want to go all the way back—I want to finish this story a bit later—but I want to go back to how you two met because—  

. .

Bob: The cafeteria at Samford University; right?

Jay: Yes.

Katherine: That’s right!

Jay: Yes; we met at Samford University in Birmingham our freshman year. It was out of a movie, really—because there were sort of the cafeteria tables—and I see this beautiful woman walking across the cafeteria. Literally, I was like, “This is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in real life.”

Katherine: [Laughing] Oh, yes!

Jay: So then sends everybody from the table—she’s, “Oh, can I sit here?” you know?—



—then everybody else gets up, and it’s just the two of us. We talked for hours; and we were like, “Maybe later we should go on a jog,”—after we’ve eaten like 3,000 calories—“That might be a good idea!” [Laughter]

So we did, and that was kind of our first date. During that time, she told me: “You know, my boyfriend actually plays football for the University of Georgia. Maybe you could come to a game sometime.” [Laughter]

Dennis: That was a signal.

Jay: I was like, “That was subtle.” [Laughter] But then, he was out of the picture a couple months later.

Dennis: I want to find out—spiritually, where were you two? Were you on a growth trajectory?

Katherine: For Jay, he grew up in a wonderful pastor’s home in Montgomery, Alabama—First Baptist, where he’s from—and had had deep truth poured into him his whole life. I don’t think college was necessarily the time for tremendous growth for you, as much as discovery for making your faith your own. I don’t want to speak for you, but—

Jay: Well, that’s alright. Now, I’ll speak for you.

Katherine: Yes; yes!

Jay: So Katherine had been poured into her whole life as well.



You know, we were both raised in Christian homes, where parents were together still. Yet, in our own ways, we go to college—I kind of do the stereotypical rebellion—kind of just trying to figure out what I believe:

Dennis: Right.

Jay: “My faith— is my faith my own?” You know? And Katherine has been a huge catalyst in my life to this day—now, in different seasons—to have God reveal Himself to me.

Katherine: And likewise—likewise, 1000 percent. The beauty of us coming together was that the Lord obviously knew, as He does in all of our stories, that we would end up together and that He would use everything in our lives— from our childhoods— to prepare us for the pain that we would experience when we were 26. We had only been married three years when the bottom fell out for us in our lives, but every truth that had been poured into us / every Scripture we knew—how the Lord had really been written on our hearts and in our lives—finally mattered, big time, in that moment—



— for us to recognize: “Like; okay. Now the pedal has hit the metal, and it’s time to apply all the truth that we know!”

Jay: Yes.

Katherine: So I feel like our whole lives were preparation for this.

Bob: Katherine, you guys got married between the end of undergraduate and the start of law school.

Katherine: Yes.

Bob: Tell us how your husband proposed.

Katherine: Oh, got it! Well, Jay’s father’s the pastor of a church in Alabama. He tricked me into thinking we were going to see some friends at a nearby restaurant down in his hometown for dinner. Our college was a little over an hour north. We came down, and he said he had to run back into the sanctuary to see something. Then I followed him in. To make a long story shorter, he had meticulously planned every detail of the next ten minutes, starting with this incredible—I don’t even know what you would call it.



Jay: Display of pictures from our life.

Katherine: Display—display of photographs from our whole lives that he had framed, leading up to the picture of the sanctuary of my church at home in Athens, Georgia, where we would likely get married in. He had given me a Bible with my new name on it—Katherine Wolf—and dropping to one knee, like every good gentleman should, to propose. [Laughter]

Dennis: He was kind of presumptuous that he put your name on the Bible.

Jay: I was! [Laughter]

Dennis: Don’t you think?

Katherine: I think that a lot of it was presumptuous! How did he—

Jay: Because you can’t return it once you get it personalized! [Laughter]

Katherine: Yes!

Jay: I thought that might push her over.

Katherine: He was hedging his bets, maybe. [Laughter]

Bob: You put some time and effort into that.

Jay: Yes; yes. I figured that this was the time to plan and go all out. I might as well!

Bob: You do it once.

Jay: Yes; that’s the idea.

Katherine: Yes.

Bob: The move to California was, in part, for you to go to law school at Pepperdine.

Jay: Yes.

Bob: But it also coincided with opportunities that Katherine had, vocationally, as well.



Jay: Yes; Katherine is—you can tell, she’s kind of a wallflower—she’s a little quiet. [Laughter]

Katherine: Yes; I’ve always been shy!

Jay: But she had some opportunities, growing up in theater, and just always kind of drawn to theatrics and the entertainment industry. She was doing some kind of commercial print modeling in the southeast—so then had an opportunity to do that in sort of the big city of LA. God just made it really clear that I was going to go to Pepperdine Law School / Katherine was going to maybe seek this entertainment industry—whatever that looked like—as a career. Then He brought it together, you know, so that the timing worked out. That was what really led us to LA together after we got married.

Bob: Your three law school years were pretty idyllic; weren’t they?

Jay: Yes; absolutely. We lived—so Pepperdine is in Malibu, California—

Bob: Yes!!

Jay: —which is very iconic “on the beach.” It is beautiful. So we lived in the married housing dorm, which we always used to say it was like we lived on the beach in Malibu because you could kind of—through the parking lot, you could sort of see the ocean in the distance.



It was just magical, really. We plugged into this great church—that we still go to—to this day—called Bel Air Pres Church in Los Angeles. We just really plugged our lives into it. That was really some of the best advice that we were ever given— was to jump into a community of Christ’s, early on.

Dennis: And you two immediately started teaching a young married class?

Jay: Yes; for some reason.

Dennis: I mean—

Jay: I don’t know why they let us teach! [Laughter]

Dennis: You were one step ahead of the hounds!

Katherine: It doesn’t make any sense! We do not know why they let us do that, but there was a need in this massive Sunday school class, as we used to call it—they now say Discipleship Group—to have leaders. Here we were, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and 22 years old. We say, “Sure, we’ll lead it!” It just kept growing, and growing, and growing—and was just this weird, beautiful, messy picture of the body of Christ.



It was deeply informing to us about marriage because, here we are—reading books about marriage / learning about Christian marriage / learning about how to counsel other people in their own marriages and their own marriage problems.

Jay: Going to a Weekend to Remember ®, actually, too.

Katherine: Yes!

Dennis: Really?

Katherine: Yes.

Jay: Yes, during that same time.

Katherine: We actually attended a Weekend to Remember with that class!

Jay: Yes.

Katherine: But what was so cool that the Lord was doing was—we thought we were doing this for everybody else—[Laughter]—that we were really putting in the time when we were so young.

Jay: That is so true.

Katherine: “We would never need marriage counseling. Please!” And here we were— just a few years out from something that is just like a bomb dropped on your marriage.

Jay: Yes.

Katherine: We needed all of that good stuff that we had learned.

Dennis: Well, there wasn’t a bomb dropped on your marriage, but I want to go back to the day when you had the stroke.

Jay: Yes.

Katherine: Absolutely!

Dennis: I want you to take us to where you waited—

Jay: Sure.

Dennis: —because you were told it was going to be six to eight hours of surgery. As Katherine has already shared, it went sixteen.

Jay: Right.



Dennis: I am just wondering what you were thinking.

Jay: Yes; sure. I mean, the waiting room is sort of this unique microcosm of the world; right? You know, you have people just all—the common denominator that they are there, unexpectedly / the worst moments of their lives, usually. What was profound for me—and what changed it into, really, a holy experience—was to look around that day. It was a Monday. It was noon when we first entered the ER, but I remember seeing familiar faces. I am like: “Wait! What?” It was people from our church. They had left what they were doing, in the middle of their day, and they had come just to be with me. You know, word had just spread—

Dennis: Wow!

Jay: — trough Facebook®. You know, this was the time when digital things like Facebook were really just getting accessible for everybody. That night—I remember, you know, there were about 100 people that gathered. It was really—I’ve never experienced church like that in my whole life. We prayed, and cried, and, you know, we read Romans 8 together.



I said: “I’ve got to stake my whole life on this. I can’t just read it like some rote thing—like, ‘Do I believe this?! I’ve got to—with everything I have.’” So, there were moments like that— that night—that really bolstered me for what lay ahead because it was a complete shift in the trajectory of both of our lives. You know, God was gracious just to give us hope through His people.

Bob: Were you thinking, “I’ll probably be a widower,” or were you thinking, “She’s going to make it.” Are you an optimist or are you a pessimist?

Jay: It’s funny; I’m not. Katherine’s the optimist. I’m probably more of the realist; but then, some of this experience has probably sort of shifted some of that perspective, or at least, brought us both toward the middle.

I think—you know that I grew up as a pastor’s son in a big church, where dad would have to get up and go to the hospital. You know, he did funerals for kids and just all kinds of suffering was around.



But for it to be your suffering is just a reversal that’s really hard to get your head around. So I think I was really optimistic; but the doctor said: “You need to know she will likely not survive. This is just the state of affairs.”

Dennis: Yes; you were given some grim news.

Jay: Yes; it was very grim because— basically, for this world-renowned neurosurgeon—this was the largest of this type of malformation he had ever encountered. It was in the worst place, right by the brain stem, of course. You know, you can’t really mess with the brain stem too much without totally creating havoc. And then, it was bleeding so much that it was herniating her brain. So the odds were very much against any kind of positive outcome, much less the one that ended up happening.

Katherine: So pretty much, I’m a miracle. Cool!! [Laughter] Thank you, Lord!

Jay: Literally.

Bob: And I just have to ask: “Is this something that’s genetic? Is this something that’s just an out-of-the-blue thing?”



Jay: Yes, it’s really just an anomaly. It’s not—

Katherine: No, it’s not anything that they could trace back to heredity or anything. It’s congenital—I was born with it—but I’ve subsequently had a second aneurysm. The first rupture was an AVM, but I’ve actually had an aneurysm I had to have removed several years ago. There is clearly something wrong with my whole vascular system, but that was congenital.

Jay: But you had no symptoms.

Bob: Wow!

Jay: Never saw it coming.

Katherine: Yes, nothing. We didn’t even know if I had insurance. I didn’t even have a medical doctor when this happened.

Bob: Wow.

Katherine: I mean, nothing!— perfectly healthy.

Dennis: Well, we’re going to hear more of this story; but in case there’s a listener who, by chance, has never heard the verse in Romans 8 that you have referred to— 


Jay: Yes.

Dennis: —I’ve got to read it—it is verse 28.

Katherine: Would you rather me quote it?

Dennis: You know what? Why don’t you?!



Katherine: I would love to! Romans 8:28 says, “And we know in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Do you want me to go on?—because there are some more good ones real quick.

Jay: Keep going, girl.

Dennis: Yes!

Katherine: Romans 8:31 is such a fabulous verse / Romans 8:37—should I quote them all? Do we have time? “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us, / No one can separate us from the love of God.” Should I actually quote Romans 8:38?

Bob: Might as well keep going!

Katherine: Alright! Well, if we start with: “…If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but freely gave Him up for us all, how will He not also freely give us all things? Who is he that brings any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies; who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died, more than that, who was raised to life and is interceding for us.” I could go on and on!

Basically: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”



Bob: Katherine, you sit there and say that with double vision, in a wheelchair, with a half-paralyzed face, with loss of all kinds of function, and I still hear a joy in your voice that seems to contradict what you just said.

Katherine: Yes, but isn’t that a picture of all of us? Don’t we all have horrible things on the insides of our bodies?—things we’ve been through—shame, issues, fear, pain, insecurities. And the Lord is saying: “Bring the ‘A’ game! Show the world the joy that is to be shared because, through the hardship, I’ve called you to give yourself away to the world, and share the joy that He only can bring.”

Jay: Yes.

Bob: Wow!

Dennis: There are some listeners who needed to hear your story today.

Katherine: Ah, thank you!



Dennis: And there’s more to this story, but what I want them to hear is: “There is a God—

Katherine: Absolutely!

Dennis: —“who rules / who can be trusted.”

Jay: Yes.

Bob: And “hope heals.”

Dennis: And hope does heal.

Bob: I think a lot of our listeners have appreciated your transparency and you taking us into your story. I think they’re going to benefit from getting a copy of your book, Hope Heals, and reading more about your story. We’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I’d invite listeners to go to to order a copy——you can do that online. Again, the website is Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY / that’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

You know, listening to you guys talk about how you have weathered what took place eight years ago— and the commitment, and the love, and the sacrifice that’s been part of all of that—


—we have been spending this year celebrating anniversaries with a lot of our listeners. In fact, last week was my 37th wedding anniversary. Today, we wanted to say, “Congratulations!” to Mark and Tami Kelley, who live up the road from us here, in Bella Vista, Arkansas. They are listeners to FamilyLife Today. They listen on KLRC and have been to the Weekend to Remember. They have hosted The Art of Marriage® in their community. It’s their wedding anniversary today.

We think wedding anniversaries are a big deal because we think commitment in marriage is a big deal because we think every society succeeds or fails, in some measure, based on the commitment that a husband has for his wife— to love, and to honor, and cherish, and nourish her—and the commitment that a wife has for a husband—to love and honor him as well.



I know that a number of our listeners feel the same way about this issue of commitment in marriage because many of our listeners have joined us over the years in helping to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with donations. That’s what fuels this ministry—is your partnership with us as a donor.

We have recently had some friends, who have come to us, knowing that summer is just around the corner. They wanted to make sure that we were prepared for what is often a slow season for us in the summer months, when donations tend to be a little lower. They have agreed that, between now and the end of May, they are going to match every donation that we receive, here at FamilyLife, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a total of $350,000.

We have about a week left to take advantage of this matching gift, and we’d like to ask you to help us do that. When you make a donation today, your donation will be doubled, thanks to this matching gift. You can donate, online, at; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate.



Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.

Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear more from Katherine and Jay Wolf about the journey that God has had them on for the last eight years. I hope you can tune in to be part of that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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