APRIL 21, 2008
(from "HOPE HEALS" BOOK)
I lay in bed at 4:00 a.m., unable to shake the sickening feeling. I had been up with James for a feeding an hour earlier and noticed then that something was off. I felt nauseous and spacy, and my head was pounding. My upper neck and shoulders were throbbing. Some of these feelings had been commonplace during my pregnancy, so I concluded that I needed to get my hands on a pregnancy test sometime the next day.
I tried to fall back to sleep despite the terrible nausea and an intense headache, knowing I had only a few hours until James would be awake and hungry again. The lack of sleep had deeply affected Jay and me in those first six months. Our marriage was in a tense season as we navigated life with a newborn. We still felt we were living in a bit of a dollhouse and should be able to turn off the crying switch on the baby doll’s back. Instead, we lived in a sleepless haze and wondered when we’d ever feel “normal” again.
I finally drifted off, only to wake up a couple hours later, feeling like I could have slept for at least another eight. Still, I looked forward to a rare “free” morning of doing my son’s endless laundry and cleaning up the apartment before heading out to the post office so I could get a bunch of thank-you notes in the mail. My grandmother and mother had instilled in me a thank-you-note-writing mentality, and as a true Southern belle, I could not enjoy the gift until the thank-you had been sent. At the three-week mark since Jay’s and my annual joint birthday party, it was beyond time to mail the notes. I knew the consum- mate, etiquette-following lady never went to bed after receiving a gift until the note was written and ready for mailing the fol- lowing morning. Yeah, right! Was this true once she had her babies? Did she somehow squeeze in note writing before 3:00 a.m. newborn feedings?!
After hitting the post office, we stopped at the grocery store, where I grabbed the ingredients for the meals I was plan- ning to make for two families who had new babies. Back at home, with my baby boy settled in for his morning nap, I took the pregnancy test and was relieved to see the negative sign. So what’s wrong with me? I wondered. Food poisoning? Some weird virus? Lack of rest?
I opened the First Baptist Montgomery cookbook to a lasa- gna recipe that was always a huge hit back home. For the next twenty minutes, I would be doubling ingredient quantities in my head and preparing sauce and browning ground beef. My nausea and headache were still there, but I had to push through those funky feelings and get the meals made. We had been the recipients of countless meals after James arrived, and I had seen how much it meant to us to not even have to think about prepar- ing dinner. But now all I could think about was getting off my feet and closing my (now stinging) eyes. The room began spin- ning and suddenly felt way too bright. I needed soothing, low-lit surroundings. I made my way to the couch a few feet away, sure that if I just got off my feet for a moment I’d feel better. But as I sat down, it was as if all the blood in my body rushed into my head. I felt like I was choking and couldn’t breathe.
“JAAAYY! COME IN HERE NOW! SOMETHING’S WRONG!”
I tried to stand, only to realize that my legs were numb. Everything in the room was now moving in a circle, but also coming in and out of focus and jumping from one place to another in my line of sight. Jay flew into the room and, frantic, screamed right in my face. All this noise is going to wake up James, I thought. Jay’s voice is so loud, and I need quiet.
I tried to dismiss the thought that what was happening to me was anything serious. What a drama queen I am, I thought. Why do I always make a scene? What will the neighbors think? This is so embarrassing.
Then I heard Jay yelling into the phone...
As the hours passed, the crowd in vigil for Katherine grew and grew until nearly a hundred souls gathered in that hospi- tal waiting room. There were tears and hushed whispers, but there were also bursts of laughter and aromas of pizza and quiet singing. That underwhelming space, with its chipped paint and stained rug and cracked armrests, began to metamorphose into something altogether different. In the gathering and in the praying and in the breaking of bread (or crust, as it were), the common elements were transubstantiated into a holy experience, as holy as any ancient cathedral or Communion because they were offered, not in the absence of suffering, but right in the midst of it.
The sun set, and the crowd flowed outside to the attached courtyard for some fresh air and prayer together. I lingered inside for a moment, gripping a battered crimson Gideon’s Bible as if my life depended on it. Having grown up in a large church, I was accustomed to engaging a crowd for an extended period of time, but it was taking a toll on my natural introvert tendencies. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful distraction from the clock, which seemed to move so slowly that I actually thought it might have been broken. The surgery was scheduled to last eight hours, and the time could not pass quickly enough. If I stopped talking or moving too long, my mind instantly tortured me with a horrifying slideshow of the bloody scene unfolding in the operating room a few floors below. As our thoughts tend to do, mine refused to be tamed unless I distracted myself or until I finally remembered to pray those thoughts away.
I unconsciously flipped through the pages of that dog-eared Bible, wondering whose tears had fallen on its pages, whose hands had held it looking for comfort and answers. My eyes landed on the book of Romans, and I turned to the eighth chapter, Katherine’s favorite. According to family lore, when Amie was young, she was required to memorize some verses from Romans 8. Not to be outdone by her little sister, Katherine, the perpetual firstborn, took it upon herself to memorize the whole chapter.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
As I read the words, a strange conflict torqued my insides. I had never read this passage in a context like my present experience—one of real suffering, one that seemed devoid of anything good.
“And we know in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
The brokenness of that moment, of all the broken moments of creation, tremored down my spine, opening my eyes, as if for the first time, to the reality of this world. How, God, could this be true? How could there be any good in this thing?
Looking up from the pages, I glanced through the waiting room window to the patio filled with my people, circled up, hands linked, praying. Earlier that day, word of Katherine’s stroke spread like wildfire on social media and through emails and telephone chains. We would later learn that people all over the world were praying for Katherine, some unexplainably roused from sleep in the middle of the night, prompted to pray again while her surgery continued. Could there be a more comforting thought than knowing you are being prayed for when your own prayers have been stretched to their breaking point?
I joined the group outside, the California night pleasantly cool, the tall evergreens silhouetted against the bright moon and stars. We were all praying—pleading with God, comforted by the sureness of His grace, and wincing at the thought of Katherine’s pain. As that time came to a close, I stood in front of the group and thanked them for their presence, assuring them that I felt anything but alone. I opened that well-used Bible and began reading the whole chapter of Romans 8. As the passage climaxed at the thirty-eighth verse, my voice faltered. My throat seized up so hard that I could barely even swallow. Hot tears filled my eyes and splashed down on the page below. I knew I could either obligatorily just read these words, or I could actually try to believe them, believe them so fervently as to stake everything on them—my life and Katherine’s too. My voice returned, and I read these words with a new sense of peace.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all crea- tion, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In that moment, I released Katherine from my feeble grip and into God’s.
I knew that,though Katherine may well lose her life, she would never lose the indomitable goodness and inexplicable love of God. And neither would I.
" Jesus himself said, 'In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.' This overcoming spirit Jesus offers is personified beautifully, honestly and powerfully by Katherine and Jay Wolf in their book, Hope Heals. It's altogether gritty, gutsy and glorious, and it will breathe the wind of hope into your darkest days."
LOUIE GIGLIO, Pastor of Passion City Church, founder of Passion Conferences, and author of The Comeback