At 26, Katherine Wolf was a happily married new mom. Then the unthinkable happened: She suffered a traumatic brainstem stroke. Eleven surgeries and 11 years later, she spends most of her time in a wheelchair, has paralysis on one side of her face, lost hearing in one ear and has, in her own words, “loads of health problems.”
However, despite how drastically different her life looks now, Wolf chooses joy every day.
“I’ve been given a second chance at life,” she says. “The Lord has allowed me to flourish despite my limitations.”
Wolf gave birth to a second boy three years ago, and she’s also been given a platform. Christian media and publishing company Zondervan approached her and her husband Jay about documenting their story in a book, which has gone viral. “Hope Heals” has allowed the family to travel around the world to speak at conferences like Catalyst and IF:Gathering and to participate in diversity panels for Fortune 500 companies, representing the disabled population.
Wolf’s message is clear and powerful: “Life is not nearly as much about what happens to you as it is about how you respond to what happens to you,” she says. She also shares that we all need to shift our expectations for our lives because they rarely sync with reality. Lastly, Wolf tells audiences she’s learned that the good and the hard can coexist; they are not separate. A good life isn’t necessarily one without challenges.
“The response to the book has been crazy,” Wolf says.
People around the world tell her how they’ve found hope or have been encouraged by her story. “It gives them a voice they didn’t know they could have,” she says. She’s been surprised that her message has resonated with people experiencing all kinds of suffering, not only physical pain.
“Years ago, we were contacted by a mom of four whose husband had left her,” Wolf shares. “She had no money and was feeling hopeless and scared, but someone gave her our book. She said she inhaled it and now has a completely different perspective on life.”
Something else Wolf has learned firsthand is how a disability affects not only the conflicted, but the entire family. This inspired her to create Hope Heals Camp in Alabama each summer for those who are disabled and their families at no cost.
“Camp is all about debunking the lie that a pain-free life is the only good life,” she says. “We have a spa day for the ladies; the men go out for steak dinners—everyone is celebrated. Yes, we are all broken inside and outside, but we don’t have to be captive to that.”
Though her body is not healed and challenges remain, Wolf is at peace. “I am healed from what was really hurt and broken after the stroke, which was my heart,” she says. “God has transformed dramatic suffering and despair into a story that redefined how we see everything.”