Archive for the ‘Highlights’ Category

3 Years Later

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

3 years already? Time flies when you’re having …. well, even for the eternal optimist, that’s a strong word. No, I can’t say this journey has been fun, but I can say that it has been real. Perhaps the journeys that truly impact us in life are the ones that are hard, painful, gritty, and real and that we never would have chosen for ourselves.

I’ve never known anyone who developed a deepening of character without going through something hard. We all go through hard things in life. So far, this has been my really hard thing. I think what matters most is how we choose to deal with the hard things. I’m coping with mine, and I’m sharing my story of hope with the world. I feel blessed that I can do that.

I can only use my left hand to type, but it is all I really need. I see two computer screens as I type this and my eyes get worn out pretty easily, but I’m so glad that I can write and that I have a computer at all. When I speak, my voice is weakened and distorted, but I am so thankful that that does not prevent me from gabbing about my story of redemption all the time. In fact, I think my deficits make my story more interesting and more captivating. They are actually a blessing.

I read recently on my friend Hillary’s blog that hard things either cause you to cling or crumble. I said last year that trials make you bitter or beautiful. Upon another year of thinking about it, I’ve decided that hard things you go through in life are either problems or they are potential. I’m looking at my stroke as nearly limitless potential. Inspiring others is just about the coolest gift a person could ever give to another. It is second only to pointing them to the living Hope I have. Now that’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning even if I don’t love the reflection I see in the mirror.

Speaking of that, yes, I still don’t like it. I miss my old face. I miss a lot of things about my old life. I miss my handwriting most of all actually. I hear a recording and I miss my old voice or I see a picture and I miss my old face. I miss being able to drive. I really miss a good powerwalk or breaking a sweat in an aerobics class. I miss spontaneously driving somewhere alone and getting something I need from a store or going through a drive-thru line for a coke. I miss independence, self-sufficiency, and autonomy.

Before those thoughts even fully land in my mind, I am reminded that I have the best team in the world helping me to operate “normally” in a situation that is anything but normal. Jay is the greatest man who ever lived (along with Brooks Arnold). Our love story reminds me of this one, except we don’t have burned faces. But we were burned pretty badly actually. Jay wrote on our anniversary the year of my stroke (read this if you haven’t – it’s very moving) that we are “battered but not broken”. We are battered AND burned, but we are not beyond hope…

“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” – Psalm 71:14

Today, April 21st

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Today is a sad day for me. You would think that it would get easier as time goes by, but it is actually the opposite. It gets harder because it means more. I’m also more aware/less foggy in my brain than I was even a year ago. The gravity weighs more deeply on me. I keep thinking, “3 years ago this morning I was driving a car. I was running errands. Talking on my cell phone. I was breast feeding James”. It’s getting harder to remember what those things felt like and that is tough.

I write this to you with tears pouring down my cheeks. It IS sad. I may never do many of the things that I was doing that morning again. Ever again.

Earlier today, Jay talked to James about what this day means. He explained that today was the day that Mama’s brain got hurt. Jay made him hug me and kiss me all over the face (an adorable new tradition). Jay prayed and thanked God that this day 3 years ago was not the last day of Mommy’s life. As I get those sweet James kisses, I thank God for that too.

(Tomorrow’s essay is much happier and hopeful, I promise!)

Montgomery Advertiser Article: Stroke of grace: Woman inspires others with her story

Friday, April 15th, 2011

This article was on the cover of the MA today. I am very touched by all the details that Allison included and by her thorough descriptions of what happened to me and about my life now. Good job, Allison!

Click the image below to read the article on the Montgomery Advertiser’s website

Pepperdine Article

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Hey, James, could you look any happier, really?

(Click on the image below to read the article)

Speaking Engagements

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I just love this picture. This is me speaking at St. James United Methodist in Athens (perhaps one of the sweetest congregations on Earth) and thanking them for faithfully praying for me since my injury. Even though my right hand/arm are messed up, I still manage to use my hands when talking! I am animated and expressive to the core. Hilarious.

I’ve done around 15 speaking engagements since my stroke. They have been very diverse – from a CNN Disability Forum to a PGA Wive’s Bible Study to a Foster kids inner-city ministry to a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group to a Samford University Convocation. I have also spoken in numerous church services and will actually speak at a large event on Thursday night (April 7th) in Montgomery, Al at First Baptist. The event sold out virtually immediately (almost 600 women – really cool!), which is why I have not advertised on here about tickets.

I wanted to tell you that on Sunday (April 10th), Jay and I will speak together at an event that is open to the public. Pacific CrossRoads Church (PCC) is a wonderful church in Santa Monica that is actually a church plant of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC. Some of our dear friends, the Millers, have started a new ministry there called “YoungMarrieds”. (Yes, it is replicated after the group that we led at BAPC that the Millers were a part of at the time).

We will speak on (surprise, surprise) marriage. Specifically, we will talk about how a covenant is stronger than a commitment, and how a covenant with God is what we make when we get married. Our presentation will be called “A Love Story”. We feel that above everything else surrounding this ordeal, there has been a deep love story and God has allowed the world to see what true devotion in marriage looks like. In the presentation, we will also talk about having a solid marriage when the storms of life hit you hard. We will share how we actually feel so blessed to have weathered such a tremendous storm after such a short time (under 4 years) of being married.

YoungMarrieds meets at 10:30 am until 11:15 (you can always slip out and go to the 11 am service if you wish, or come earlier for the 9 am service). The church is located at John Adam Middle School (2425 16th St., Santa Monica), and YoungMarrieds meets in room 86 on the middle school campus.

In general when speaking, I have shared a message about the fragility of life, the power of attitude, the importance of faith BEFORE (not during or after) tragedy strikes, and, most importantly, how Hope Heals.

“Hope Heals” has become my theme song. I believe all the hope I have in the Lord is actually healing my body from something that was not supposed to be “heal-able”. Hope is making my body well and making my body work again. I was never supposed to (fill in the blank) again AND I am. Hope is powerful therapy. Call it grass roots rehabilitation!

As I’ve shared before, I think the mind is very powerful tool in recovering physically. While I’m not into the whole “The Secret” idea, I think a lot can be gained by recognizing that your body believes it can do what your mind says it can.

A good example: Jay was told that I would never eat again. My swallowing nerves were damaged and thus swallowing was no longer possible for me. JAY NEVER TOLD ME THAT. I spent 11 months doggedly doing exercises in swallow therapy and as “homework’ re-learning to swallow (and driving everyone crazy). Then, it happened! I wonder if Jay had told me that I was never going to eat again if I would be today. I’m glad those words were never in my soul. We’ve seen the great power of words and the impact they can have.

I think there’s really something to that proverb “As a man thinketh, so he is”.

Deep in my soul I think (I believe, actually) I am being healed everyday – mind, body, and my soul.

Point of Gratitude: Getting to share my story of Hope with the world.

Storytime with Mommy

Monday, March 28th, 2011

I try to savor these moments with James. It’s hard to imagine these pictures and this scene almost never happened. Almost.

I spoke at a UCLA Hospital Administration board meeting on Tuesday of last week. They had me speak about what happened to me and about the “new paradigm” that was created through use of the internet by my injury and the subsequent months I spent in the hospital. (People from around the world were instantly granted access to my current situation via online capabilities.).

Also, to date, I have been to see a doctor in almost every single department at UCLA. From the Jules Stein Eye Institute to the Reconstructive Surgery department to now going to the Rehabilitation Center, I had an opportunity to thank the administrators for all that their amazing hospital has meant to me.

Afterwards, I did an interview with my neurosurgeon, Dr. Gonzales, that will appear on UCLA’s website (I will post when it does). In chatting with him, he said to me again something that touches my heart deeply: “I knew you were a mother and that was the main reason I decided to operate on you.”

It still gives me chills. James saved my life. There is no question about that. He was too young to know that the fate of his mother was in his tiny hands.

First, his daddy saved my life by coming home that day and calling the ambulance, and then our baby boy saved me just by nature of being here. They are some good men.

You see, I think why Dr. Gonzales’s decision moves me very deeply is because James wasn’t supposed to have come yet. Jay and I wanted to wait until I was around 30 to start a family. Ha! (I would have been dead 4 years at that point!)

I never understood why I had a baby at age 25. That seemed very young in my book. However, I clung to Proverbs 19:21 and knew that God’s plan for my life was perfect. He doesn’t make mistakes.

In hind’s sight, it makes perfect sense. Had he not been born “too early”, then he would never have been born at all.

Thank God James Thompson Wolf was born on October 16, 2007 – 6 months and 5 days before I would not have been able to deliver a baby as I lay on life-support in an ICU bed.

The opportunity to read him Bible stories is one I will never take for granted. I will always tell James not only stories of how God saved people in the Bible, but stories of how he saved his mommy, too.

Point of Gratitude: Seeing well enough to read words again and speaking clearly enough to say those words out loud again. For over a year, my eyesight was too blury to read and my voice too weak to read anything out loud. I am so thankful for the healing of my body so that I can read to James again.

Embracing My Reality (and my appearance)

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

I’m going to start posting a lot more pictures on here. I’m so happy you all like the ones from the last few postings. I guess putting up pictures provides some visual interest and helps connect you to my life. Plus, I know you all enjoy seeing pictures of little James and Jay. (Who wouldn’t? They are both so cute!) For a long time, I did not want pictures of me anywhere online (post stroke) because of some pretty legitimate reasons (in my mind at least). Above all, posting photographs just felt too permanent – too real, I guess. I’m slowly getting over that. I have now learned to smile with my mouth closed, so that it doesn’t look as disturbing. My hair has grown back after being partially shaved and I’ve gained over 30 pounds. These all make me look more like myself.

Also, I’m realizing that I’m finally able to embrace my appearance. When having the last surgery (that will hopefully restore movement to my mouth), I almost got sad that this face will be going away. Isn’t that crazy? I think looking so funny and talking so funny tells the world a little about what happened to me. And I like that. Besides the messed up walking and the cane, no one would know just by looking at me that my life has been turned upside down – that the unimaginable happened to me. That I’m disabled now.

I was having these thoughts about putting up more pictures on my website and then I read NieNie’s blog from Friday. Those words are EXACTLY how I feel.

An excerpt:

“I want to look good, but no matter how hard I try, I still look like me and I still looked burned, so why try and hide that or make myself look glamorous so people will look past that- it will never happen. And I am glad. I am who and how I am. That’s all there is to it. Mr. Nielson sure loves me just the way I am, and honestly that is all I care about.”

I get that. I can’t hide a face that is paralyzed on one side any more than she can hide the burn that changed her face forever. Her husband thinks she is beautiful just the way she is and so does mine.

I believe 1 Samuel 16:7 is true. God looks at my heart. Even with all the yucky stuff in there, it is a heart that loves Him. And that is truly beautiful.

Now, just to be honest with you, I’m not fully embracing ALL the changes just yet. My voice sounding so different is just not something I can get used to. If you call my cell phone, you will still hear my old voice on the voicemail. Even though it has been almost 3 years, I just can’t bring myself to change it. I think I’m still hoping that there will be a day when my voice sounds that way again.

My new handwriting is not something I’m celebrating (however I do send out a lot of letters that are just much shorter in length and content than they used to be). I actually have several letters in my bible right now that I mailed on the morning of April 21st, 2008 –Those are very poignant cards because people got them in the mail – postmarked April 21st – after I was already in the hospital. Many were moved to tears by those notes, and now I have the tears as I look at that old penmanship that signifies my old life.

The following is a series of pictures taken by the fabulous Zoomworks studio in Athens. You may remember we did a shoot with them last year as well – “Wearing Mascara Again”. Jay thinks it is very important to document this time with photographs. BTW- that was the last time I wore eye-makeup of any sort until a year later at this shoot. Ha!

I have to tell you, this is healing for me. Posting these pictures is therapeutic. So, here’s me and my sweet family now. Yes, my face is messed up and my hair is styled differently than I‘ve ever done it before, but that’s me. That’s us. This family was almost missing a member. These photographs symbolize much more than the overcoming of my pride, they signify that LIFE GOES ON with Katherine Wolf in it. And it has.

My Family

Two of my favorite guys

We love each other so much

Last year, I did not look at the camera straight on. Now, I’m showing both sides of my face and smiling while I do it (with both sides of my mouth!)

Shamesless Plug: ZoomWorks Photography – Their photographs of me from last time really resonated with people (read the comments). These above and those were taken by a dear friend, Marisu Wehrenberg, who is a phenomenal photographer in Athens (she also does unbelievable hair and makeup). I have worked with her for many years, beginning in high school when she took my senior portraits and then my first modeling shots and eventually my wedding pictures. Though she does do fashion and wedding shoots, some of her most prolific work is in portraits of everyday people. I was so grateful for all of the photo sessions that I have from working with Marisu through the years, and I am particularly thankful for the most recent photo sessions since my stroke. Not only is Marisu so wonderful to work with, but her finished products are the best—pictures that reflect not only who you truly are, but who you at your best. As evidenced by the overwhelming response to the old posting (with the most comments ever—thank you so much for all the support!), we all want to feel good about how we are presenting our outward selves to the world. Zoomworks can help you do just that. They can do makeovers or portraits or whatever you need.

Point of Gratitude: My appearance. Today.

Don’t Wait to Celebrate

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

-Don’t Wait to Celebrate-

It’s my new motto. Like it?

Somehow my brain injury left me with a deep desire to celebrate everyone, anytime I can. This past year of all years, we’ve hosted bridal/baby showers, brunches, birthday parties, dinner parties and even a precious fall festival with a bunch of adorable kids in costume! This house is great for entertaining – and that has NOTHING to do with size (approx. a tiny 1,000 square feet!)

Speaking of that fall festival, this picture is from that afternoon. My dear friend Mia did face painting for the kids and I decided to do it, too. What is really special here is that I had my radical facial/thigh muscle surgery just a little over a month before this and the right side of my face was still pretty swollen. Nonetheless, we thought I should draw some more attention to it! While a paralyzed face is normally awkward, I think the right side looked like the perfect spot for some pretty flowers! That is actually a nice symbol of my motto. CELEBRATE ANYWAY. Don’t wait ‘til things are perfect.

I have to tell you a funny story about our desire to celebrate: On the morning of Cinco de Mayo this past May, we texted a bunch of friends that we were having an impromptu party that night. Sadly, I had 2 doctors’ appointments that lasted over FOUR hours. So, we had to cancel. However, we had a fabulous raincheck party – we proved that Diez de Mayo was more fun anyway!

You may all remember last Valentine’s Day, when my sweet grandmother in Athens was on the receiving line of many of your phone calls (she loved it, BTW). Well, several months before Christmas my family began talking about Manda moving to an assisted living facility in Athens. I recognized that this would likely be the last Christmas that was spent with a Christmas dinner at her house (our tradition). Jay and I decided we would cook (which means Jay cooks, I am his sous-chef) the meal at her house and have a wonderful celebration of Manda and her home. That is exactly what happened! It was a memory we will always treasure.

Point of Gratitude: Celebrating life! Tuesday is my 29th birthday, and I have told Jay again and again that I want NO fêting of any sort on that day (I’ve already had several celebrations and will have some more!) Jay doesn’t even understand this. His thought is this: you almost DIED! We are celebrating your life every single year. Period. (I secretly like it :-)).

Being an Anomaly

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

I enjoy being in my own category.  It makes me feel special in the midst of a hard situation.  I’ve said before that I define my injury and not the other way around.  I don’t get given any timelines because no one knows any (since I shouldn’t even be alive) and no one wants to give me false hope by guessing.  “When will I do (blank) again?” – I ask that all the time.  I think it is human nature to want to know and plan.  God has had a way of dealing with that tendency in me.

When we decided to travel to Cabo with our Small Group in April of 2009, I still had my feeding tube in, and we went to see a gastroenterologist about whether or not I could submerge it in water while in Cabo.  “I don’t know, we’ve never had anyone ask that before”.  The subtext: people with feeding tubes don’t leave the hospital, much less leave the country!  (I decided not to get it wet.)

My personal goals in therapy are unique as well.  “I’d like to have more children one day.”  Most people who are on Medicare, in full time therapy, and have had a stroke like mine are not in their childbearing years of life, much less feel they could handle both a pregnancy and then caring for a child after such significant stress on the body.

Recently, this feeling of uniqueness occurred again.  We went to a Speech Therapist on Friday and told him that I would like to start getting therapy to learn to talk out of both sides of my mouth again.  Now that the (once) paralyzed, right side of my mouth has started to move a little, my brain is going to have to relearn to use this other side of my mouth even though there is still no feeling there.  The Speech Therapist told us he was not sure that that could be done and that he would have to do some research.  He called the other day to say he thinks a facial paralysis institute could help me.  So, we’re going to try that next.

We are in unchartered waters here!  Sometimes it feels scary, and Jay and I both have the feeling of “wait, who’s in charge here?”  Good thing we trust in a God who is in charge of this situation and every area of our lives.  Knowing that He is ultimately in control brings comfort and peace that is beyond rationality.

POINT OF GRATITUDE:  Rehabilitation!  I am doing a lot of therapy right now.  After nearly two months, I am seeing results with my sublexed right shoulder, my Ataxic right hand, and my walking/gate.  They are healing!  WOOHOO!


Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about contentment lately. I think I have it. I’m embarrassed to even write that. My southern roots make me feel as though I’m bragging to tell you this and that’s a very bad thing. I don’t think it is false modesty to tell you that I really screw up many other areas in my walk with the Lord, but I’m kinda getting this whole contentment thing.

My life changed radically on April 21, 2008. I went from throwing James in the car and racing around wherever I was going to now being a hostage to my body’s limitations; basically living in a type of slow motion. I can’t drive because of the double vision in my eyes. Unless someone takes me out, I don’t go anywhere. I have many sweet, sweet friends who come over for playdates and lunches. We pretend I’m “normal” and have fun with our little ones. I have a group of New Mommies from church who come over and all hang out together. The group is called “Pamper the Ladies with the Babies” because we have an esthetician come and do any waxings or facials or spray-tans anyone wants to get. It saves money on anybody having to get a babysitter and it’s really the only way I could coordinate mommy events anyway. (It’s also the only way I would ever get my eyebrows waxed.) For not driving, I feel like my social life hasn’t suffered that much. But, of course, it has – I just try not to think about it too much. I’m getting pretty adept at denial. It’s easier to cope with some of the sadness that way.

Everything has slowed way down. I joke that this was God’s way of helping me to really be still. In case you haven’t seen me lately (or ever), I walk very slowly. I eat very slowly. I look at things very slowly – there is no such thing as a “glance” these days. I turn around slowly. I cook slowly. I write very, very slowly. I do everything in a semi-delayed fashion. Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps this captivity has made me more free than I ever was before. I don’t really know how to describe it other than to tell you I don’t feel stuck – I actually feel very content. Isn’t that so strange? That’s how I know it is a supernatural gift. –A blessing through the tears.

Time after time, I have felt a strange, supernatural contentment about what has happened to me. Wearing adult diapers and a hospital gown, hooked up to 23 machines, not eating, and seeing double upon recognizing I was in the acute rehab was oddly OK. I felt strangely content in the hospital bed. After failing a swallowing test before the holidays in 2008, I felt content even though I knew what that meant. Even now I feel that way. Even looking at my future, I still feel that same way. Contentment is a beautiful gift from God and I am so grateful for it.

Philippians 4:11 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

Point of Gratitude: A deep contentment through a dark journey.

A friendly side note to all my atheist readers: I’m so glad you are still reading this and are at least interested in what I believe. I deeply respect you for your curiosity in something different than what you believe. However, I will say this to you: when you have a stroke that is nearly fatal and have all the lingering deficits that I do, then you can give credit wherever you want to if you make a recovery of any kind. Non-believers as well as believers have deemed my survival and recovery miraculous. So, yes, I will call it a miracle and I will give God the glory. If this happens to you, then feel free to write on a website why you believe you are still here and I just might read it. Thank you! 🙂