Keeping the Covenant
About the Guest
Good stories usually involve a person defying the odds. If that's the case, then Jay and Katherine Wolf's love story is a classic. After four years of happily-ever-after, Katherine, a model, endured a massive stroke and spent two years in the hospital and in rehab. Still challenged by this injury, Katherine and Jay share just a little of what they've had to face since then, and what God is teaching them about love and hope.
Jay and Katherine Wolf share their love story. After four years of happily-ever-after, Katherine, a model, endured a massive stroke. Katherine and Jay share what God is teaching them.
Keeping the Covenant
Bob: In 2008, when 26-year-old Katherine Wolf suffered a brainstem stroke, without any warning, her husband Jay reflected back to their wedding day, just four years before her injury.
Jay: We didn’t know what we were signing up for—so all of us—like: “Wait a minute. This is what I thought my reality was going to be—my future, and my wife, just my whole situation.” The question becomes: “What do I do with that?” What does commitment / what does covenant look like, even when it seems to turn out completely different than I thought it would look?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear from Jay and Katherine Wolf today about what real love looks like in marriage. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I just have to say—it’s interesting to think back to the last time we had a wheel chair in our studio. I’m thinking back to the early years of FamilyLife Today when we had a remarkable couple who joined us—a husband, who was on a breathing apparatus because he was battling ALS. He and his wife joined us to talk about their struggle. Charlie and Lucy Wedermeyer were guests on FamilyLife Today, back—this had to be in the middle 1990’s. Today, we’ve got another wheel chair in the studio—first time, I think, since Charlie Wedermeyer was here.
Dennis: I think you’re right, Bob.
As you will remember, I think it’s the only time in 24 years of broadcasting when I have cried so hard I couldn’t speak. It just was a great love story / just a tremendous love story.
This is another one of those love stories that you’re going to enjoy, as a listener. It’s going to put things in perspective with you and introduce a dimension of who God is that perhaps you’ve never thought about before. We have the authors of a new book called Hope Heals: A True Story of Overwhelming Loss and Overcoming Love authored by Katherine and Jay Wolf. Jay, Katherine—welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Jay: Thanks for having us.
Katherine: Thank you!
Dennis: They’re from Southern California. As we taped this, they brought the rain from Southern California.
Bob: There’s no rain in Southern California.
Dennis: There probably isn’t on the day this will be aired. But there was when we taped it, Bob; and it is pouring cats and dogs out there. We’re thrilled you guys are here.
They’re the parents of two boys.
Katherine: That’s right.
Dennis: They’ve been married since 2004 and have a great ministry to married couples, who may be thinking they’re the most unique person on the planet. We heard earlier, Katherine, about a sudden stroke—you’re in your 20s, happily married, life was humming along, you had a new baby. You were in a modeling career. Life couldn’t be better. You had a ministry taking place in your church to married couples, and a stroke completely took you down.
Dennis: And almost took your life.
Bob: And took you into the hospital for the next 40 days, where you were in ICU?
Katherine: Oh, listen; it wasn’t 40 days in the hospital—it was 40 days in ICU. It was over 2 years in hospital settings before I was able to move home—2 years!
Bob: Were you unconscious for the next 40 days after your stroke?
Katherine: Well yes and no. I was not evidently completely unconscious. I was able to move my hands, and kind of look around, and things; but I was in a coma-like state. I have no memory of any of that time whatsoever.
Bob: Jay, what was going on?
Jay: There was just one emergency to the next—one sort of, “Will she recover from this new infection?” or “…pneumonia?” Katherine was amazingly tracking with us—she couldn’t talk / she was on life support. She was paralyzed but—
Dennis: She was responsive.
Jay: —she was responsive.
Dennis: She’d squeeze your hand.
Jay: Absolutely. She would actually, at certain stages—went forward. This, again, was just the grace of God. There were family members we’d see in the ICU—back over there, just waiting for anything. So God gave us very quickly this sign that Katherine was in there—that she was trying to get out and communicate.
Bob: Within the first 24 hours after the surgery, the nurses were telling her to hold up two fingers, and she was doing it. They could not believe—
Jay: It was a miracle; yes.
Bob: The thing that stuck out to me, as I read your story—Katherine, when you regained consciousness, you had one of these lap devices, where you would speak through your device. You’d tap out what you wanted to say.
Katherine: A letter board; yes.
Bob: And you kept saying, “I’m in here.”
Katherine: “I’m the same on the inside.” I would obsessively write, “I’m the same on the inside,” over and over because I didn’t want friends and family to think, “Now that her brain is injured, and she’s in this terrible disabled state,”—that it meant that I was now an elementary-aged child, processing-wise—that I was no longer capable of interacting with them as an adult.
I think I was petrified because, early on, people would come in, really well-meaning, but say [as though speaking to a child],”Hiiiiiii, Kaattheriiiine.”
I was going: “No; I’m the exact same, inside. Please don’t do that! I hear you and I’m not deaf.” I am partly deaf, actually; but yes, they treated me like a child and didn’t know that all the important things were fully intact—my memory, my cognition / completely—my processing / my faith was all in there. It’s just the opposite of what many times brain injury can mean—that is, everything is messed up on the inside and nothing on the outside—I’m literally the opposite of that.
Dennis: They should have known that because, when they asked you to hold up two fingers, you didn’t just hold up two fingers—you held up the peace sign.
Katherine: Yes; exactly! [Laughter] We’re at peace—peace not war! [Laughter]
Dennis: As you went through this period of time, Jay, what was taking place in your heart? Was it hope and then loss of hope?
I mean, the title of your book talks about hope healing. Well, this is not an easy road of healing that you’re talking about.
Jay: No; absolutely not. I think we’d all heard about strokes—somebody’s grandmother had a stroke—but we just we didn’t know what we were up against. Remember my best man in my wedding was getting married that fall. Katherine’s stroke was at the end of April. I really thought: “Surely, we’ll be in his wedding. Katherine will be sickly, walking beside me, but she’ll be there. It will be this triumphant thing.”
Little did I know—come August, she was hardly even able to sit up in bed without her blood pressure plummeting. She couldn’t talk then. We just—there would be these glimpses that God would give us, I think, of just like this future restoration. This is what we talk about when we talk about hope healing—this future reality that really—it looks maybe crazy to have faith that life can go on; and yet, “We’re anchored beyond the veil,” it says—so there are a lot of those glimpses of hope.
But then, there were just as many moments of just, “Is this real?” and despair and moments, where they said: “You need to prepare yourself. She’s not going to ever eat again.” There were a lot of those decisions. I’m 26 years old; and I’m signing her life away, every other day, for procedures, and angiograms, and different forks in the road—that I’m like, “This is going to change the trajectory of our lives.” So it was a lot to process for sure.
Bob: Two questions that I’ve got to ask you. Katherine, I’ve got to ask you this first because we’ve laughed about the fact that eating is a big deal.
Katherine: Right; yes!
Bob: That’s where you guys met—in the cafeteria.
Katherine: Exactly; exactly!
Bob: So the idea that you might never eat again—and at one point, that is what it looked like—
Bob: —we don’t stop to think about what a loss that is for somebody. My mom, at the last six months of her life, was on a feeding tube. She was feeding herself through the tube every day.
Katherine: Yes; Jay fed me through my tube actually. My hand doesn’t work; so I could never coordinate that.
So he fed me for almost a year in my tube.
Bob: You talk, in the book, about how it’s—not just the sensation of chewing food or swallowing—but our connectedness, as human beings, is often around food.
Katherine: Right; right. It was a very big deal. Jay’s tremendous wisdom enabled him to never speak the words to me that he had been told by my swallow therapist, which was that I would likely never eat again—I’d be on a feeding tube for life. He never told me that. He just decided: “Well that’s not going to be something that I’m going to speak over Katherine. We’re not going to say it.” I never knew—so I worked like a dog in swallow therapy for many, many, many months. I did all kinds of crazy exercises and really just threw the kitchen sink back at swallowing; and then finally, I did swallow again.
So what is fascinating—fascinating to look at is: “What happens when you absolutely do not believe something that is said to be true of you?” I think it’s very cool to look at the power of: “Yes, I will pray without ceasing. I will work without ceasing. We will knock down this deficit until I swallow food again.” I think that’s very powerful.
To answer your other question: “Eating is everything.” I mean, no doubt life happens around the table—and not even meals—meet a friend for coffee or hang out and have this or that / much less like a familial gathering—always central is food. Not eating is a weird isolated world that you’re in all alone. It’s horribly alienating to not swallow because, socially, how do you connect? It really leaves you in this weird world by yourself.
Bob: So here’s this loss of—it’s not just loss of swallowing—but it’s almost like loss of relationship that is connected to that.
Katherine: On many levels because we were so young when this happened—that all of our friends are having a baby, and the baby won’t take a nap at the right time—and that’s their biggest problem in life. We don’t want to be these people; but we are these people, now, that can’t go back to worrying about our baby’s nap schedule. Now, we’re worrying about me living. We don’t mean to be, but we’re in this different category. We don’t know how to be friends to anybody or befriended—it’s terribly isolating.
Bob: Here’s the other question I have to ask you because, prior to your stroke, you were in a modeling career. So much of your identity was shaped around your appearance.
Katherine: Well, no; actually. Fascinatingly and truly God’s goodness to me—my identity was never rooted in my appearance. I made a successful living out of it and had a fair amount of success because of it; but thankfully, my identity was never remotely rooted in something as fleeting as my appearance—
—so much so that—when this happened to me, the appearance thing was a little bit of an afterthought because, when you can’t eat and you can’t walk, suddenly, how you look doesn’t matter as much.
I never considered myself particularly vain; however, there was loss associated, for sure, with the fact that I’m never going to be a model again—let’s be real. The irony is—I am a spokeswoman for the American Stroke Association. My face is plastered all over America, right now, on billboards—the ultimate irony. [Laughter] I’m not kidding—I’m dead serious!—so pretty hilarious.
But truly, throughout my entire life, I think that the verse—I think it’s 1 Samuel 16:7 that talks about “God sees the heart.” I knew that and I honed in on that truth for years. I knew that what the world sees is not all there is and all that matters anyway——that God is calling us to something deeper and greater than our appearance on earth. The body is temporary / what is unseen is eternal. It says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 that this is going away but what is unseen will last forever. I believe that truth on some level.
Bob: Jay, you—there have to have been moments in the journey that you’ve been on when maybe, just in the back of your mind / maybe in the front of your mind, you’ve thought, “This was not what I was dreaming of.
Bob: “This is not what I thought I was signing on for,” “Really? This is the path I get?” I mean, the pre-stroke path was a pretty sweet path to be on.
Bob: Now, all of a sudden, you’re on a rocky bumpy ride.
Jay: Yes; I think for any marriage, really—this is sort of the extreme version of it—but you know, we are confronted with the reality that we didn’t know what we were signing up for—so all of us—like: “Wait a minute. This is what I thought my reality was going to be—and my future, and my wife, and just my whole situation.” The question becomes: “What do I do with that? What is commitment? What does covenant look like, even when it seems to turn out completely differently than you thought?”
Dennis: Let’s talk about that for a second: “What does covenant look like?” I mean, it is one thing for Barbara and I to have gone through 43 years, as a couple, and a number of mountain peaks and valleys for us; but this is going to be a long valley for you. “What’s covenant look like?”
Jay: I think, early on even, there was a lot of admonition: “You’re going to burn out.”
There was a social worker, who said, “Ninety percent of couples your age, with brain injury involved, get divorced—ninety percent. You just need to slow down and take some time for you.” It wasn’t a heroic statement in the moment; but I said: “Katherine can’t take a break from this. Why would I take a break? We’ll go have a vacation together when she’s out of here, but I’m not going anywhere.” I just saw my path as this bolstering of Katherine. She was the one fighting the hard battle, but I got to come alongside her and continue to lift her up.
I think—again, our marriages, all the time, turn out differently than we think. We roll over, and wake up, and we’re thinking, “That’s a stranger next to me.” I mean, really, you go through different things in life and different seasons—it changes us. Yet the question becomes: “Is this covenant going to trump the feelings that I do or don’t have at this moment?” We’re so worried about: “What’s our truth? What are we feeling? Are we feeling it?”
If you’re not, you can’t force it—like that would not be authentic. I reject that cultural maxim.
The point is—not to feel it. The point is to act out in love toward this woman I promised to love. It really clicked with me to think: “I know what the loving thing is to do for my wife, and I’m going to do it.” Maybe I’m not always feeling it—you know—this is really tough, and there’s a lot of stress here; but God has shown this immense amount of faithfulness, within the context of this covenant of our marriage, that He has grown our love so deeply through this suffering. It continues to motivate this acting in love, no matter what we’re feeling.
Dennis: The essence of what I heard you saying there is, “I’m a man of my word.”
Dennis: “I promised.”
Dennis: “I’m all in.”
Dennis: We’ve said, many times on this broadcast, that courage isn’t necessarily found only on a smoke-filled battlefield in a foreign country.
Courage can be found in homes—
Dennis: —between a husband and a wife doing your duty in the face of fear—
Dennis: —doing the next right thing.
Dennis: Just keep on doing the right thing.
Bob: Katherine, have you ever felt any sense of—guilt’s not the right word—
Katherine: No!—for sure; for sure. That is the right word in many ways.
Bob: Here, your husband is stuck with you.
Katherine: Absolutely! There was a woman, who emailed us, early on in my ordeal, and said, “Why don’t you release your husband from your marriage?” We were just so on a different page.
Katherine: Right; like, “Thanks for that one!” I could barely do anything, at that point; particularly unique choice for her, but I understand that sentiment in a way for sure—
—the notion of more guilt than a feeling of “Should I release?”—but kind of a weird sense of, “How can I do this to this man?” Of course, it’s not my fault / I didn’t want to have a stroke. But there’s sadness, I think, and a deep sense of: “If I would have died when I had the stroke, he could remarry a healthy woman. If I would have died when I had the stroke, my son James could have a healthy, normal, not disabled mommy.”
That all came to a head in the fall of 2008, when I had failed my ninth swallowing test and still could not walk at all—I can walk a little bit now—was just really bad off. It all came to a head and I wondered if God did, in fact, make a mistake by leaving me on earth / if I should have died—
—if I should no longer be caught between life and death but actually go ahead and be in heaven—then Jay could have a normal life, etc.
The answer was so clear in that moment. God really spoke into my mess and really just infused me with the truth that: “I don’t make mistakes, Katherine,” and that: “Hello! Jay could never remarry a woman as amazing as you are—let’s be real!”
Jay: Totally; it’s true.
Katherine: I was deeply infused with the truth of Psalm 139—that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made”—“I knew everything about you, Katherine.” The Lord says that, “The number of hairs on your head I know; so of course, I’m in charge. I don’t make mistakes,” and “Let’s be real—get some self-confidence. You’re amazing, Katherine Wolf.”
Side note—all you ladies, listening out there, are—your men are lucky to have you and you are lucky to have them. I don’t believe in luck—you are blessed to have these amazing people to do life with. Don’t sell yourself short. I let the guilt just go to bed and stay there because who needs that?
Dennis: You know, we started this broadcast out, talking about another couple that we interviewed years ago—Lucy and Charlie Wedermeyer. This is a scene—wow, I’ll never forget—they described, in the interview, she had helped him get to the restroom. She was having back problems because she had to physically help him with everything he was doing. As he was sitting on the stool, he said to her, “I think you’d be better off if I was just dead.” And she took his face in her hands and said: “Never! Never! You are giving to me to love.” [Emotion in voice]
Those are the kind of love stories that we need to be talking about in our culture. Marriage has lost its true grit. It’s become too much of the romantic stream—that it doesn’t have the difficulties that you described here. As a result / as a culture, we know very little about love—the love of God / the love of Christ. That is what you all are demonstrating.
Jay: Thank you.
Bob: That’s what you are modeling in this interview. It’s what you’ve modeled in your book, Hope Heals, which is a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Listeners can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com if they’d like to order a copy. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or they can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and order a copy over the phone.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; and the phone number is 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
We’ve talked a lot about commitment today. Ryan and Jennifer Henriksen from Courtland, Kansas, are celebrating eight years of commitment to one another in marriage. They got married on this day in 2008. They listen regularly to FamilyLife Today on KJRL. We just wanted to congratulate them because, again, we think anniversaries matter. We are the Proud Sponsor of Anniversaries™, here, as we celebrate our 40th anniversary as a ministry. We’re celebrating by drawing attention to many of the anniversaries that have happened over the years because of how God has used FamilyLife in the lives of so many couples over the last 40 years.
We’ve recently had some friends of the ministry, who have come to us—and because it’s our 40th anniversary and because they know summertime can be a challenging time for ministries like ours—they have agreed that they will match every donation we receive, during the month of May, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a total of $350,000.
Of course, we’re hoping to take full advantage of this matching-gift opportunity, which means we need to hear from you this week. We’re asking you to consider making a donation, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate over the phone. Or mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; the zip code is 72223. Again, keep in mind any donation you make, between now and the end of this month, is matched, dollar for dollar, up to $350,000. “Thanks,” for whatever you are able to do to help us take full advantage of this special matching gift during our 40th anniversary year.
We hope you’ll join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about the things that make a wife a fruitful wife. We’re not talking about children / we’re talking about character qualities. I’m guessing you will recognize some of these. We’re going to talk with Michael and Hayley DiMarco tomorrow. Hope you can be here for 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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