by Katherine Wolf
I imagine for most of us there are fairly straightforward pictures in our heads about what our lives will look like and about who we will become. It seems these pictures are always of wonderful things that happen at exactly the right time and make oh-so much sense. I imagine when something happens that is not inside the four corners of that picture, we view this as a "detour" and hope to get back on the correct path as quickly as possible.
I suppose I have a question then: what happens when you go on a detour and cannot ever get back on that original path again?
Perhaps some detours aren't detours at all. Perhaps they are actually THE path. THE picture. THE plan. And perhaps most unexpectedly, they can be perfect.
On October 16, 2007, James Thompson Wolf, our precious and big-eyed baby boy, was born. Though my husband and I planned on having kids in our 30s, getting unexpectedly pregnant at 24 was not at all what we pictured for the first years of our marriage. Like so many young women do, I worried over what this would mean for my career and my future. As a fearless, accomplished, and Type-A woman, I wondered if this baby would throw all my plans for a loop.
I wish that was the story I was going to share with you today. If only that would have been the great detour of my life. Instead, 6 months and 5 days after James was born, out of the blue, I nearly died of a massive brain stem stroke. The greatest detour anyone can take in life, I imagine, is a near-death experience. James was part of God’s perfect plan to come before my life was turned upside down, and he would be the deepest reason for me to fight for my life.
I had a rare collection of malformed blood vessels in my brain (called an "AVM") that ruptured and caused a massive hemorrhagic stroke. I had no symptoms. There was no warning. One day I was living a healthy, normal life, and the next day, it was unlikely I would survive the night. After 16 hours of micro-surgery, I was on life support for 40 days, then in a rehab hospitals for two years.
My journey in the past 6 years has been arduous and at times so achingly slow I thought I could not go on. I have fought my way back to being able to do the most basic things again, yet still many, many disabilities remain. I can barely walk, even with a cane. I have no coordination in my right hand, so I cannot hold things or write well with it. My face is paralyzed, and I have severe double vision. I could not eat for almost a year after my stroke, and even today, I have difficulty swallowing. I've had 11 surgeries since my stroke, including the removal of a brain aneurysm that was totally separate from my AVM. I severely broke my leg while walking on flat ground. I can’t possibly do so many things that I used to do and long to do now, and there is a profound sense of loss that lingers. Sometimes it feels like I am an observer of my own life. Yet, I think my story is about ultimately learning I am not in control.
I would love to tell you how good it is to be on this journey or how inspired I am by all that has happened. I can’t though. It has been painful in ways I never thought could exist. Having a small child makes it even more heart-breaking. Sometimes, I feel so alone even though I know that nothing is further from the truth. I STILL cannot believe this happened to me even though I have had years for this reality to settle in.
Everyone asks if I ever had a moment of total despair or hopelessness. The answer (in short) is no, but I did come very close. I had several moments, particularly when not eating, when I thought I should just end this. "I'm caught between life and death". I reasoned, "this could not be what God PLANNED for my life". In those darkest moments, I felt this supernatural encouragement: GOD DOESN'T MAKE MISTAKES. HE KNOWS AND ALLOWS EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS TO US IN THIS LIFE.
I am discovering joy even in the sadness and CHOOSING contentment when it is very, very hard. For that, and countless other blessings, I am so grateful to God. No amount of catharsis or perspective-finding will change that my situation is terribly sad and deeply broken. I can give God the glory, and it can still hurt. Those actions are not mutually exclusive. God is big enough to take all my pain and because of that I can praise him, really praise him.
I have recognized, above all other lessons, that healing is internal. I will be restored in Heaven, but I am actually fully healed on Earth RIGHT NOW. You see, true healing is ultimately IN YOUR SOUL. My feelings were hurt badly when this happened to me. I was mad at God and struggled to make sense of all this pain. God spoke into that mess and revealed truth that I already knew. My "birth defect" that would rupture at age 26, was a part of His plan for my life. He sees the entire picture. He knows that this is part of the story He is writing for me and for all of the creation that he is making right. It's not a detour. It's not a Plan B, and I trust that.
The question then becomes, what will I do with this one precious, messy, unexpected life I've been given? It's mine because he gave it to me, not because I chose it, but now, I get to chose to really live it. And so do you.
Learn more about Katherine and her family's story at www.hopeheals.com and you can follow them on Instagram and Twitter at @hopeheals.
Want to know more about the Wolf's story? Watch a video...
4 min (version of our story): http://vimeo.com/94226793
22 minute: http://www.hopeheals.com/our-story/