By Katherine Wolf
Editor’s Note: In 2007, at the age of 26, Katherine Wolf suffered a near-fatal brainstem stroke that robbed her of her ability to walk, talk, and even eat. Her recovery has been long and hard, but with the love and support of her husband Jay, she has recovered to some extent many of the abilities she had lost. Her recovery continues to this day.
It’s human nature to rebel against losing what defines us. Our deepest animal urges demand that we store up anything that sustains our sense of identity and helps us keep on living into our desired future. The fear of loss can paralyze us, and redefining it may be the hardest redefining of them all. But losing something familiar or precious can also help us let go of the illusion of control and the weight of expectations that have ruled us our whole lives.
I admit it—I’m a high-expectation, high-performing person. It’s very hard for me to not know the plans and to release control of outcomes. Honestly, I hate surprises. If you want to know what not to get me for my birthday . . . it’s a surprise party. As you can imagine, finding out I was unexpectedly pregnant early in our marriage was not my ideal day, though at least I could find out the sex at 20 weeks and plan accordingly. I’ve never been great at letting go and still showing up. But the experience of nearly losing it all has made it clear that outcomes are not mine to choose.
I don’t know about you, but living openhandedly yet wholeheartedly creates a major tension in me. In fact, doing these two opposing things simultaneously can feel nearly impossible. If I have to lose, why put myself back in the expectant and vulnerable place where I could be hurt and disappointed by losing again?
This way of thinking would make sense if opening our hands resulted only in loss and hurt and disappointment, but I’m a living example that it does not. Loss is not an ending, but a new beginning. It’s not just a letting go into the unknown, but a letting go into God’s perfect love. If we listen, we can hear God whisper, “Now, with your hands open, you are free to receive more of me.” Our tears of loss can plant seeds of the kind of hope that survives anything.
The talented songwriter, my friend Sara Groves, penned this stunning verse in a song called “Open My Hands.” When I read it, I get chills, and every time I quote it to anyone, I cry. She wrote, “I believe in a blessing I don’t understand. I’ve seen rain fall on the wicked and the just. Rain is no measure of his faithfulness. He withholds no good thing from us.”
What makes these words even more powerful is that Sara disclosed her own wrestling with God’s goodness while writing it. Like anyone confronted with the inevitable experience of loss—like all of us—she couldn’t help but question the truthfulness of the psalmist’s teaching in Psalm 84:11 (ESV): “No good thing does God withhold from those who walk uprightly.” How could that be? Who doesn’t know plenty of good people who have lost every good thing they ever had, including their relationships, their financial security, their health, and even their lives?
Opening our hands can be painful no matter what the loss, and excruciating when we know that things won’t ever be the same again. If we don’t have this, who will we be? If we share that, will we have enough left for ourselves? When faced with the prospect of losing, under the surface of our more put-together adult selves, our inner “threenager” lies on the floor in full-body meltdown, Exorcist-style screaming, “It’s mine, and nobody else can have it!”
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In the midst of her own searching, Sara was directed to the words of a 16th-century theologian, Sir Richard Baker, whose thoughts changed her life and have changed mine as well. He writes, “The good things of God are chiefly peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost, in this life; fruition of God’s presence, and vision of his blessed face, in the next; and these things God . . . never withholds from the godly.”
Woo-hoo! I mean come on, that is really good news! Reread and highlight and write that down someplace where you’ll see it every day. I think about it whenever I’m confronted with loss. All of us will lose things, yes, but we’ll never lose God’s best things for us. Jesus promised, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
When we get down to it, before we can truly redefine loss, we have to redefine goodness. They are inextricably linked. And like Sir Richard Baker and Sara Groves and Jesus said, the truly good things cannot be lost and cannot be taken away from us, so we don’t have to be afraid. Through the lens of the Christian faith, all of this “loss and gain” business makes loads more sense. In fact, when we open our hands, God, like the most perfect parent who’s read all the books and done all the deep breathing exercises ever known, whispers to us gently, “But there is MORE.”
Taken from Suffer Strong: How to Survive Anything by Redefining Everything by Katherine and Jay Wolf. Click here to learn more about this title.
Is it possible to embrace suffering as a privilege, rather than a punishment? Beloved authors Katherine and Jay Wolf offer readers the bold invitation to trust a known God with an unknown future, as well as practical insights into surviving anything by redefining how we think about everything.
After miraculously surviving a near-fatal brainstem stroke at age 26, as told in their memoir, Hope Heals, life for Katherine and Jay Wolf changed forever — and so did the way they viewed God, the world, and themselves in it. There was no going back to normal after such a tragedy. Yet Katherine and Jay learned that suffering is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new story.
In Suffer Strong, they invite you into this new story as they share universal lessons and helpful practices that will help you to:
- Recognize you are being equipped for an uncommon assignment, not cursed by your story.
- Transform your unmet expectations into brave anticipations.
- Disrupt the myth that joy can only be found in a pain-free life.
- Rewrite the narrative of hard circumstances by turning your definitions of suffering into declarations of strength.
- And, ultimately, thrive even in the life you never imagined living.
Katherine Wolf is a survivor, communicator, and advocate. Originally from the South, she met her husband, Jay, in college. They married and moved to Los Angeles to pursue law school for Jay and the entertainment industry for Katherine. Their son, James, was born in 2007 and six months later, Katherine’s life nearly ended with a catastrophic stroke. Miraculously, she survived and continues her recovery to this day, including having a miracle baby, John, in 2015.
Katherine and Jay have shared their journey of steadfast hope and whole-hearted living with hundreds of thousands of people at live events in thirty states, and to millions more online since 2008. They released their first book, Hope Heals, in 2016 and in 2017 launched Hope Heals Camp, a healing community for families with disabilities like them. Katherine, Jay, and their two sons currently reside in Atlanta. Connect with them at hopeheals.com or @hopeheals on social media.
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