I often wonder if my marriage will be the death of me. I say this without sarcasm or angst, and I mean this both literally and figuratively. As the caregiver for a disabled spouse, my life will no doubt be shortened due to the inherent physical and emotional strain. And my marriage, like every commitment birthed of true, unstoppable goodwill toward someone else, has meant an end to part of the life I dreamed for myself, a death of the future Me I always thought I would be.

Admittedly, this isn’t what’s sung about in most love songs. But perhaps we need to start writing some new ones.

jay katherine wolf wedding

On our wedding day eleven years ago, my wife Katherine and I honestly looked the best we would ever look, and we were feeling the love. We spoke some of the most heartbreaking, breathtaking words one can ever say,“ For worse…For poorer…In sickness…Until death”. But, three years later, the woman to whom I spoke those vows had a near-fatal brain-stem stroke. Overnight so many of the things that initially drew me to her were suddenly gone or radically changed.

So, would my love help me stay?

When it comes to commitment, our current culture is stuck in a tragic impasse. We’re encouraged to seek our own spirituality and live our own truth. An authentic life means being true to ourselves, and there’s nothing more inauthentic than doing something counter to our current emotional state. Basically, if I’m not feeling it, then I shouldn’t have to do it.

Eventually, we meet someone, feel the love, and are invited to board a new roller-coaster called marriage, as if we can seamlessly meld convenience and commitment in one life-long ride. And we wonder why we might feel a little sick to our stomachs as we hang on for dear life?

Is the cost of loving someone—a spouse, a friend, a stranger, God—ever worth what real commitment requires: The release of the self, the sacrifice of the self, even death of the self?

While modern cultural narratives tell us to be true to ourselves, I’ve experienced something different and stunningly hopeful. When I do the loving and sacrificial thing, especially when I’m not totally feeling it, over time, I actually begin to want to do it.

 We so often wait until we are feeling the love before we act in it, as if we don’t already know the loving thing to do.

My feelings of love are birthed out of my acting in love. And scarily enough, the opposite is true, too. We so often wait until we are feeling the love before we act in it, as if we don’t already know the loving thing to do. We’re so caught up in waiting to feel something that we never get around to doing anything. And one day we find ourselves so disenchanted and loveless, we throw up our hands in defeat. While waiting for the feeling of love to arrive, commitment dies.

When Katherine had her stroke at 26, I had a great and disorienting moment of identity crisis. “I’m ‘pre-stroke Katherine’s’ husband. How will I be ‘post-stroke Katherine’s husband?’ ”

Since the start of our relationship, we had practiced the rhythms of choosing love, choosing to scrape off the self-protective callouses from the tender but unstoppable goodwill we had for each other. So when everything changed in an instant, we’d already been grafting ourselves together. As Katherine became new, I had to become new right alongside her.

katherine wolf

Because I stayed, it may be easy to think I’m the poster child for commitment, the type that only comes around once every generation like a comet or something. Where I live in Los Angeles, people often mistake me for Mark Ruffalo, but a handful have also confused me for a “skinnier Jack Black” (I’m serious). But I guess that’s about right. I am both the steadfast and the bumbling, the unwitting leading man and the lovable idiot, but in our most intimate relationships, aren’t we all?

Katherine and I have beaten the odds in an extraordinary circumstance, one which results in a 90% divorce rate typically, and for this new life and second chance we are so grateful. But this is not to say that I, myself, am extraordinary or heroic. What I’m trying to do is what I promised in my vows: To love Katherine’s whole self throughout her whole life. And something mysteriously wonderful is happening; our souls are weaving together.

… something mysteriously wonderful is happening; our souls are weaving together.

For me, the real challenge isn’t physically leaving my marriage. The challenge is to not leave my marriage in my heart. In the Christian tradition, there’s a story about a father and two sons. The younger son chooses to leave his family to pursue his own dreams while the older chooses to stay and fulfill his duties to the family. When the younger returns after great suffering and loss, the father is delighted to have him home because he loves him. But the older son is resentful. He stayed bodily, but clearly, he had left his family in his heart long ago. The call at the end of the story is from the father to both sons, to live forever in His love, a love that doesn’t leave.

Jay and Katherine Wolf

I can never hope to stay in my marriage physically or emotionally unless I daily reach for that which is beyond them both. I can stay because God has vowed to love and never leave me despite all my wanderings.

I can never imagine leaving Katherine. What we’ve shared and experienced through love, parenthood, and most profoundly through suffering has conjoined and refined us together. Yet I suppose leaving is still never more than a few decisions away for us all.

Yes, this marriage will mean the death of me. But I’m able to come alive to a whole new love that makes even the great losses of myself so very, very worth it.

And that’s something to write a new love song about.

Top image via Anna Howard; Additional images provided by Jay Wolf



  1. Beautifully written and expressed Jay! You and Katherine are an example of Jesus in every sense of the word and the word comes to mind…….agape love!! Your love for each other is real love in every sense of the word. You inspire others to be more like Jesus!!! You two are amazing and real and I love that in both of you!! May God continue to bless and restore!!! You are never alone!

  2. Our Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us the day we are born. He knows what will happen, and when, to each of us every step of the way. That is what is so touching and absolutely beautiful about Katherine and Jay’s story. Katherine had not planned to attend Samford, but on a summer visit there to see a friend, she knew that Samford was exactly the place she wanted to go. The first meeting between she and Jay, she marched right up to the table in the cafeteria at Samford and plopped herself right down beside him (God’s plan :)) and thus the eventual falling in love and marriage. God planned that. He knew that Katherine and Jay would need each other and that their love, their faith and HOPE would carry them through the dark times ahead and that they, because of their love and commitment to each other, would be able to not only endure the tragedies and hardships to follow but would, together, become a shining light of HOPE…a beacon…for others all over the world. What a wonderful blessing these two are and what a wonderful testimony of Hope, love and commitment they exemplify. God, in His infinite wisdom, has rewarded them 10-fold. He has blessed them with two absolutely adorable sons. Hope Heals is one of the most touching, inspirational books I have ever read. Thank you, Katherine and Jay.

  3. Almost 9 years ago, when I was a lovely, fit, and healthy 28, and stereotypically, every man’s dream, I too, survived a massive stroke that left my husband married to someone entirely different from the girl he met in high school and married soon after college. It is heart-wrenching, yet hope-inspiring to hear my husband’s side of the story. I am the writer in our relationship, and thankfully, that was not one of the losses I experienced, so my side has been out there since the beginning while I’ve been left to guess, for the most part, what Tim is feeling. I can hardly wait to share this with him when he wakes up, although as he is NOT a writer, he is Neither an avid reader, but I think, your common experience motivate him to take a look at your post, and I think, it might give him some words to express what he’s been feeling and doing, silently, for nearing a decade. Can you imagine enduring all this in silence with little to no release for a day, let alone, as long as he has!? My, sweet, Tim surviving in silence. It’s a wonder he’s not gone crazy, while I’ve blabbed constantly in FB and blog posts and have still come out on the other side, a looney toon. I guess, that’s the value of a healthy, fully-functioning brain. May God continue to bless you!

  4. It is so encouraging to read stories such as these! My parents experienced something similar when my father had a near-fatal brain injury about thirty years ago (before they had kids). This trauma ended up being a huge part of my family’s story and testimony. Though there have certainly really hard things throughout this process, but they’ve beat the odds and are still married. Growing up, I’d sometimes look at my friends’ lives and wish my family was “normal” like theirs, but now I am able to see what it looks like to persevere in loving someone when it is “the death of you,” and how that is such an example of Christ’s love for each of us.

  5. Jay — When I read your comment about the possibility of your life being shortened due to your caregiving duties I immediately thought of Bill Flatt, a longtime member of First Presbyterian Athens who cared for his wife for many, many years after she contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome when she was in her 40s, I think. I think his wife was in her late 70s when she passed away. Bill has since remarried and is going strong at 83 or 84. I realized that if you haven’t met Bill you should. He is what can only be described as a genetically happy person. I have interviewed him at length and he really doesn’t have it in his makeup to be unhappy for long, despite having many reasons for it — including having been raised by his grandparents after his mother was institutionalized for what was probably some form of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and his father traveling constantly for work.

    Despite that genetic tendency, I think Bill also just focused on what is good — both in his life with his wife and in life as a whole.

    I continue to enjoy reading about your family. You have all accomplished so much and are role models for many of us. Best wishes.

  6. This is truly & sincerely one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me.

  7. Truly beautiful! But what touched me most was the story of the father and his two sons. Do you have any idea where I could find it written in whole? Or is it just oral history?
    Best wishes for the author and his family!

    1. Rachel, The story of the father and his two sons that Jay references here is Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. It can be found in Luke 15:11-32 of the Bible. It truly is one of the most touching and thought provoking parables in the whole book.

  8. What a wonderful article, Jay, and how true. You, Katherine and your 2 adorable boys are an
    inspiration to all. I love you, Aunt Betty

  9. I opened up my phone to write my wife a letter after the first Valentine’s Day of our marriage. Saw this article and got sidetracked.
    It is easy for the mind to soak in the hardships and heroics of others and either fear suffering, or welcome it as a litmus, and wonder idly if we too could rise to the challenge of grueling unselfish love.
    Compared to this couple, many of our lives are cakewalks.
    But 1 Peter 1:6-7 tells us that the purpose of suffering is to refine and prove our faith.
    If we are truly and aggressively obeying Jesus, loving Him and killing our sins, we’ll find suffering soon enough.
    And whether it is life-altering trauma like this author discusses or something far less severe, either way, our faith is being tested so that Christ will receive glory from our choices.
    So don’t merely gaze up into the hazy crags of El Capitan where this man strives and think “I wonder if I could ever do that”… Take stock of the rock in front of your face, see the handholds, the opportunities to choose Christ, to put others before us and harness the inspiration of this article to act with love and unselfishness in whatever spheres the Lord has us planted.
    Then we’ll be ready on the day the storm hits – because the faith of this couple was built day in and day out for years before they found themselves most needing to tap into it.

  10. This was incredibly beautiful. And heart-rending. And beautiful.

    I recently did an analysis of the Orthodox marriage ceremony to present at a conference. When I did my first detailed read-through of the ceremony, I was surprised that martyrs were commemorated in the liturgy. As I analyzed even more, I found that the crowns that are worn symbolize not only royal leadership over the home, but also martyrdom. And the cross is mentioned again and again–St. Helen’s joy when she found its location, the joy set before Jesus when he died for us.

    So, in that liturgy, martyrdom–laying down one’s life for the other is a chief theme of the marriage.

    And all who are married are called to this. It’s the only way it will last. And usually it feels really hard to act in love when we’re just not feeling it.

    But this post points out the beauty that’s there–the meshing of two souls, the joining and refining.

    And our songs need to sing about it to teach us!

    1. Excellent point!
      What came to mind when I read this piece was the phrase orthodox monks use when they ask for a favour: it translates to “do love and…(bring me that thing)” or “do the loving thing…” and basically means “act as if you love even if you don’t feel like it”. They fully understand that what you do today out of obedience you will do tomorrow out of grace…
      My most heartfelt wishes to the author and his wife. May God keep blessing them!

  11. As Jay’s youngest sister, I get an up-close, all access look at his life on an almost daily basis. His and Katherine’s grace, patience, love, and grit are authentic and pervasive and inspire me endlessly. They don’t just write about faith… they live and breathe it every hour. The Wolfs have made manifest the covenant love of Jesus through their marriage and ministry, and I count it a gift to call them my family. Thank you for giving them a platform to share their beautiful story! I love Darling!

  12. You and Katherine are examples of what those vows spoken in a marriage ceremony really mean. In sickness and in health, til death do us part. You both have chosen to live out your vows until the end of your lives and for that you are to be commended and honored. You are both an inspiration to the world. Different battles to fight but both in there fighting for what you know God ordained and making it something more beautiful than it even may have been had this never happened. Who will ever know? And bringing up two little men who will follow your examples of love and commitment and they will pass it on for generations to come. What could be more important than that? I can tell you that for me, I have followed you all since the news broke of Kathrine’s stroke and prayed and loved you both, even when I don’t personally know you and your journey has changed the lives of people all over the world. It has shown us what true love, true commitment, true honesty with each other and with the public who follow you is really all about. It has shown the world what following Jesus can do for you even in the gravest of circumstances. I applaud you both and know that your examples will touch lives as long as you both shall live. That is important. We should all take a lot of notes from you and take commitment more seriously, take love more seriously, take parenting more seriously, take being honest more seriously and then we could all change the world we live in and make it what God intended it to be in the beginning. That is what you are doing. And I love you both for it. Never ever change. You are lights that shine in a very dark world and you make a difference without even realizing it!!

  13. Absolutey beautiful words. I wish there were more people in the world with hearts like you two. Stunning “true love”. You have both inspired me since I began following your journey and I am certain countless others. Thank you for sending hope to many! Well done.

  14. Seeing and hearing Jay and Katherine speak at the CBS Teaching Director’s conference in 2015 was one of the most beautiful and profound testimonies to love I have ever witnessed. So encouraging, real and true. And honestly, they are just lovely and funny and wonderful to be around!

  15. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing! I was so impacted by Katherine’s words at IF, they were so powerful and eloquent. It’s truly a blessing to hear more of your story and love for God and each other. Happy Valentine’s Day to you both! 🙂

  16. These are beautiful, wise words – sharing with my sister who is getting married in two months!

  17. Thank you, Jay and Katherine for defining the meaning of “true love” in the way that you are loving each other in sickness and in health! Your words and actions inspire us all to write new love songs!

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