Messengers of Hope Katherine & Jay Wolf
Katherine and Jay Wolf were college sweethearts. They moved to California to pursue their dreams. Jay was finishing law school at Pepperdine and Katherine was pursuing a career in the entertainment industry; they had just welcomed a new baby and then the unthinkable happened. At only 26-years-old Katherine suffered a major brain stem injury. She wasn’t expected to recover or even live. Miraculously she survived. Katherine had to re-learn how to eat, speak and walk, and on a daily basis she has to overcome double vision, deafness, facial paralysis and a lack of fine motor coordination. The couple relies heavily on their faith and started a non-profit ministry named Hope Heals to share their Christ-centered hope with others. They also wrote a book of the same name. Risen sat down with both Jay and Katharine to talk about their message of hope, how they view setbacks and the importance of commitment in today’s culture.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: After your near death experience, you had multiple surgeries and therapy. What encouragement would you share with others who feel helpless or in a situation where they feel abandoned by God?
Katherine Wolf: I have had lots of surgeries, extreme medical nightmares and in 2008 when I couldn’t eat or walk, I had moments where I questioned if God made a mistake leaving me on earth. I felt like I was caught between life and death and that I didn’t fit on earth anymore. I didn’t fit in. I was so severely handicapped and more dead than alive in ways. Many people can relate to that on an emotional level that they don’t fit here on the earth. They might have depression and have similar feelings of being alone. I have been able to articulate this moment that I call the epiphany of hope that, God does not make mistakes and He is ultimately in charge. He knows every hair on my head and nothing is an accident or surprises Him. Psalm 139 says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God.” And Romans 8:28 says, “Everything works together for the good of those that love him.” I have this deep, deep sense of 1 Peter 4:4 that, “greater is He that is in me than he who is in the world.” Those things helped me form my response and level of hope. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “The body is temporary, what lasts is eternal, the unseen.” That entire passage of scripture deeply formed how I have viewed my entire life. The body is fading away and temporary. The Lord is moving in much deeper ways than the physical and taking care of most deeply my soul.
RM: People may not be going through the same physical struggles, but I like how you likened it to some of the mental health issues that many people deal with, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
KW: That’s the beauty of my situation. I am physically displaying what so many people are going through internally. My handicap self-paralyzed face, I can’t drive, I can barely walk, and the physical brokenness is often a picture of what people are feeling on the inside. I’m just living it out on the outside. I have this freedom to have all this issues on the outside of my body so nobody thinks I am doing just okay. It is clear that things are not okay. It has been interesting for me to see that everybody kind of wants that. Everybody doesn’t want a wheelchair to sit in, but I think they would like a t-shirt that says, “Treat me with care. I’m fragile. I’ve been burned in life and been through the fire.” I’m getting a pass. No one looks at me and says, “Wow she has it great! Life is just easy for her.”
He’s used all these things in unexpected ways to do ministry digitally together to encourage people with the hope of the Gospel through the lens of our story.
RM: Out of that experience, you started the ministry Hope Heals. How did you decide to start the ministry and what is your vision for your ministry?
KW: Basically, the ministry started organically by many people. Our friends and family were sharing the video and story on different websites and we decided to centralize everything. In 2011, we decided to put everything on one website, which is is HopeHeals.com. Then in 2013, we decided to create the ministry and non-profit.
Jay Wolf: Katherine can’t drive or walk, and can’t get along very easily by herself; this digital age has really inspired and facilitated this integration of our lives and our story and the telling of the gospel through the lens of our story. We were being encouraged and motivated that we could play a role in the lives of others through sharing our story. It is cool to see in this day and age that we live in where technology keeps us disconnected, we can [also] use technology to redeem that and talk to people on our cell phones from all over the world about what God is doing in our lives. Digital ministry has enabled Katherine to be able to work from her dining room table. Likewise, it allows people who might also be disabled to engage with us from their own homes. They are also suffering and alone. They can watch the video. The Holy Spirit is able to work through the medium and connect people.
Now we are at a place where God has really made it clear for us to continue down this path of ministry; we needed to do it together. It is a calling that God has put on our marriage. A lot of people think that I’m an attorney. I’m not actually. God has taken us down a different route. He is using Katherine’s communication skills that she developed when she was pursuing the entertainment industry and my sort of legal background to equip us for ministry. It’s been a blessing to step into that full-time. He’s used all these things in unexpected ways to do ministry digitally together to encourage people with the hope of the Gospel through the lens of our story. It’s really cool to see where He has brought us and it’s really different than we could have ever imagined when we got married years ago, yet it’s beautiful how it has come to fruition through the use of our gifts and relationships. We are able to leverage our pain for His glory and also the hope and comfort of others that are hurting. To see how the simple vulnerability of opening up and sharing your story and allowing others to do the same [so they] can suddenly not feel so alone in their pain and suffering, has been a huge life-giving opportunity.
RM: You also came out with a book, Hope Heals that shares your story. You give this beautiful illustration of life’s detours and how so often we just want to get back on track and get our life in order. What advice do you have for our readers when it comes to facing setbacks, detours or challenges?
KW: In a world that really wants to reject anything that is not beautiful, clean or perfect and exactly like what they expected it was going to be, there is such joy available in accepting what is and going with that. One of the great tragedies of our modern era is entitlement, where you feel like you are owed this type of life, this amount of money, or a certain number of kids. We expect this life to be easy, but the reality is that none of that is promised. One thing we can be sure of in life is that there will be pain and suffering. The people who are filled with the most joy in life are often the ones that can just go with it. To be able to say, “This is not what I would have chosen in my life, but for some reason this is what God had planned for me. I am going to live into it and celebrate the life that I have been given even if it isn’t the life I thought I would have. Just making it beautiful and redeeming it every day.”
JW: The flip side would be to say, “We are going to wait until Katherine is better or until we have the perfect ending.” We would be waiting our whole lives for that. Yet in the midst of this detour, we see how God has profoundly given us purpose through it. We have tried to faithfully steward this unexpected lot that He has given us for our lives and then to see the flourishing that He has brought about though, changes how we view the world and changes how we view what’s next. Likely, there will be many challenges ahead for us all. We are able to say, “God has already taken us through in the past. God has already taken what looked like the worst thing and ironically has made it the best thing in our lives in so many ways. So we don’t have to be afraid of what’s ahead. We don’t have to be fearful of the next five or ten years. Tomorrow could be the best day. It could be the worst day. It could be the last day.” It’s this edge that we all live on whether we want to admit to it or not.
We don’t have to wait to celebrate the life God has given us, even if it looks a lot different than we thought it would look. It is not through our own strength it is through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are drawn into deeper dependence and relationship on God. We don’t say, “Look Katherine had a stroke. She’s going to be disabled. It’s going to be amazing. Let’s celebrate.” That’s perverted. We didn’t just put on our Jesus sticker and smile through our pain and think that everything is going to be fine, and tell ourselves, “He’s using it for His glory.” There is loss. Yet God has, and is, and will continue to make all things new again and restore them to Himself. We are in that in between time and that is what our lives are all about; that struggle to trust Him and celebrate and live fully in the purpose that He has called us to.
RM: Through your ministry and book, you consider yourselves messengers of hope. Practically speaking, how do you stay encouraged and filled with hope so that you can pour out into others?
KW: Part of the beauty of engaging with so much sadness from people reaching out to us online and in person is that it has provided this beautiful perspective for us that no matter what we are facing, there are others struggling as well. We get emails filled with tragedy – a family who has a child that died, another who is struggling financially – tragedy enables us to maintain perspective of all that we do have. To be able to stay in a deep place of gratitude for that is really a game changer and how we are able to stay encouraged and pour into other people.
One of the great tragedies of our modern era is entitlement, where you feel like you are owed this type of life, this amount of money, or a certain number of kids.
RM: Whether it is a relationship, job or situation in our culture today, we are often encouraged to give up when things get tough. One of the things I admire is your commitment to each other and to what God has called you to do. What encouragement do you have for our readers in terms of being committed to their relationships and what God has called them to?
JW: We got married out of college and then three years later the stroked occurred and changed everything. It changed our marriage and what we thought our lives would look like. I never want to sugar coat what that looks like. Marriage is the most challenging relationship, but the most profound and beautiful one at the same time. Yet, that process of committing to that other person… Paul talks about marriage as being a mystery… it is really a profound and mysterious thing we enter into. In our culture, we think we should be able to understand marriage. It should feel a certain way, complete us, fulfill us and make us feel good about who we are.
Christ says marriage is this picture of the love that He has for us. It is not contractual like if you do this, and if I feel good about this certain thing, then I’m going to keep sticking it out. Rather, [it is] I am going to give everything to it. Die to myself and to what I’m owed and even to the life that I thought I would have for the greater good of this other person. As believers, we are reflecting that. Clearly, we are not Jesus so we are not going to get it right every time. It’s a daily opportunity to release ourselves to Him. It is really a death to ourselves in many ways, committing within the context of marriage, rather than it being a ball and chain or a huge restriction, it can be viewed as quite the opposite. It is really an opportunity to flourish and we can be fully ourselves and give ourselves away in that relationship.
It doesn’t have to be like we are on this emotional rollercoaster of how much we feel loved, valued or appreciated. It doesn’t have to be about that. There will be different seasons and our emotions will change, but it is important to continue to act from a place of love to the person God has put us in a relationship with – even if we aren’t “feeling it” necessarily. It’s very cultural to be tied to our emotions. Ironically, our emotions are so up and down. It’s strange that we hinge so much on them because they change so often. To ground ourselves in something outside of and transcendent from our emotions is emotionally the most-healthy thing that we can do. It seems like we aren’t being true to ourselves, as if our emotions are the truest thing about us, which they certainly are not. To lean in the truest thing which is following Christ, who He is, who He made us to be, leaning into His love, unstoppable goodwill and self-sacrifice, not being dependent on what the other person has given or what they will do… that’s what marriage has come to mean. There’s also a bittersweet aspect to it because there is a sense of loss. There is a transcendence to loving someone in the worst time of their lives and have them do that same thing for you. It is usually life giving.