Jessica: Hey! You are listening to the Going Scared podcast, and this is Jessica Honegger, your host and founder of the social impact fashion brand, Noonday Collection. Well, welcome to our second episode in our series on resilience. Ah, who knew, who knew that this is exactly what we were going to need right now? We are in week two of shelter at home in Austin, and I felt like my first week, I was owning it like a boss. I was participating with the #GetDressedAnyway. I was convinced I was just going to follow my normal routines as much as I could. I’m going to own this quarantine like a boss. This second weekend, I am in the same sweatshirt I’ve been wearing for three days in a row.
And it got me thinking about episode 92, which was this interview with Dr. Ben Hardy. He is a psychologist and he writes this book called, Willpower Doesn’t Work. And I remember one thing he said during our conversation, is that if you having to make a decision, you are using willpower. And, especially in the morning time when you’re tired, that’s not the time you want to be using willpower. And he recommended that you decide beforehand – the day before, the week before – exactly what you’re going to do in the morning. And I didn’t realize how … I knew my morning routines were habitual, but I didn’t realize what a halo effect they have on the rest of my day. And so I’ve made the mistake of this week, like waking up in the morning, and, I don’t know, maybe I’m going to work out this afternoon, maybe I’ll bike ride, maybe I’ll go on a walk, what’s the weather like – guys, I’ve been a hot mess. I have been a hot mess. Can you relate to this?
So, I am committing. I am committing next week to starting my mornings differently by deciding ahead of time exactly how they’re going to go. That actually has nothing to do with what we’re about to talk about this week, but I just wanted to have a moment of relating. If you’re finding any luck with your morning time routines, would you DM me on Instagram? I want to know how you have adjusted and pivoted to this new way of life.
Okay, today’s episode – ah, I love Katherine Wolf. I love her, I love her, I love her, and her book Suffer Strong. I got it in the mail a couple of months ago when it first came out, and I’m not going to lie, y’all know I’m a 7 on the Enneagram, and this whole idea of suffering, it’s not one that I just … I don’t run towards it. So, I love Katherine, and I know Katherine is basically a hope anthem. Her life exudes hope, her words exude hope. And so I’m looking at the cover and I’m thinking, “oh Lord, Suffer Strong? I don’t know. Maybe when I go through my next season of suffering, then I’ll really want to pick that book up. And then we have, just a few weeks after that, COVID-19, which has drastically affected our lives as we know it, our businesses as we know it, and now this book makes perfect sense. This is the book. This is the book for you. This is the book that you read. And what I love is that it’s very practical, it’s not – it’s some memoir, her first book is really more of a memoir – this one is really a manual on how to be resilient and how to hold on to hope in the middle of hardship. It’s so good and it’s hilarious, too, because she and her husband, Jay, they coauthored it, and they’re hilarious.
So, if you don’t know about Katherine, Katherine is a survivor, she is a communicator, speaker, author, and advocate. She is from the South, and she met her husband Jay in college. And at 22 years, they married and moved to L.A. where Jay was pursuing a law degree and Katherine actually began modelling. And six months after their son James was born in 2007, at only the age of 26, Katherine suffered a massive and catastrophic brain stem stroke that nearly ended her life. So, against all odds, she survived, and her life was saved, but forever changed, and you’ll hear all about that. Seven years after the stroke, Katherine gave birth to her miracle son, James. She and her husband are now speakers, authors, and they founded an incredible organization called Hope Heals, which is a nonprofit providing resources, rest, and relationships to families affected by disabilities. And they coauthored this second book, Suffer Strong: How to Survive Anything by Redefining Everything.
We talk about so many things today: how we can remember our past differently so that we can define our futures, comparative suffering, extending compassion to others. I could talk with Katherine all day long. She … she is just such the voice that we need right now, and I know that this episode is going to lift you up. Give it a listen.
Katherine Wolf: Survivor, Speaker, Author, and Advocate
Jessica: I am super excited about our conversation. And thanks for joining me today. And Katherine, you recently wrote a book, Suffer Strong, that I have dog eared and underlined almost every page in the book. And you and I are friends in real life. And when I got the book, I thought, "How is she going to get people to buy a book about suffering?"
Katherine: Seriously. Oh my gosh, yes.
Jessica: Yeah. And I know you felt that when you launched the book.
Katherine: You have no idea, you know, originally our publishers were like, "You can’t put the word suffer on the title of a book, no one wants to read that.”
Jessica: And now everyone’s clamoring to have a guide who has suffered strong like you have. What’s that been like?
Katherine: Yeah, totally, totally. Someone sent me a text message several months ago. I think it was a text message, and it said, it was a meme of a quote saying, "One day you will tell your story of overcoming and it will be someone else’s survival guide." And oh, it just gave me chills. And I then shared that at a speaking engagement several months later, and several little girls in wheelchairs came up to me afterwards and said, "You’re my person." And of course, I just broke into sobs, like, oh my gosh.
And yet what is so beautiful now is how much more applicable our stories can become each other’s survival guides through our own overcoming of really bad stuff. So yeah, it’s weird. It’s weird that this is the state of the world. It’s terrible in many, many ways for many people, no doubt. But there is this strange sisterhood of suffering and solidarity and that is very beautiful, I must say.
Katherine: It’s a weird, desperate place for all of us to be. And yet, there is such hope available, and strength in our suffering, I believe, available. They say, well, I say, that life defines you and suffering redefines you, and ultimately, hope refines you. And I think that’s so true that ultimately, we all have the opportunity to let hope refine us on the other side of bad suffering.
“Life defines you and suffering redefines you, and ultimately, hope refines you.” Katherine Wolf
Jessica: Wow, you truly are a survival guide author for all of us. And I am so thankful that your book is so timely for us right now because it truly is a story of resilience, and you’ve chosen this story of resilience over and over again. For those of our listeners that might not know your story, tell us a little bit more about your suffering.
Katherine: Oh, yeah, yeah, sure. I had a normal, wonderful life growing up, no health problems whatsoever. I went to college in Alabama, I married my college sweetheart, we moved to California. He was going to Pepperdine Law School and we had a baby and we’re 26 years old and life was awesome and easy and fabulous.
And out of nowhere, with no warning, no previous health problems whatsoever, and with that six-month-old baby napping in the next room, I had a massive brain stem stroke and very, very nearly died, and was subsequently in the hospital for almost two years, recovering, and the first 40 days were in a coma-like state, I have no memory. And then from there, it would be another year before I could eat food again, 18 months before I could relearn to walk, and, even to this day, I’m still extremely, extremely disabled. I cannot drive a car, I cannot walk on my own, I use a wheelchair, I have a hand that doesn’t work, and I can’t hear out of one ear. I’m deaf in that, I’m blind in one eye, and I’ve terrible, terrible double vision, because I’m only blind enough to barely see to have double vision. And my face is paralyzed on one side and there are many, many just terrible health problems post-stroke.
And yet I have an incredible life. I have gone on to have a second baby. And my husband and I started a camp for families with disabilities that’s awesome. And yeah, I’m doing like exceptionally well in the heart’s story, which is available to us all, I believe.
Redefining Our Past to Define Our Future
Jessica: You talk a lot in your book about how we remember our past…
Jessica: …influences how we live into our future. And I’m curious about how did you remember your own suffering, your journey post-surgery, post a doctor saving your life, but in saving your life it took away so much of your life. What was that journey of remembering your story differently?
Katherine: 100%, well, that’s — Jessica, I believe absolutely everything is that we absolutely know what, or we should know, maybe now we know more than ever, that what happens to us in life is not within our control. That what happens to us is never up to us, honestly. But what we do have control over is how we remember it and how we choose to think about it and see it, view it.
“What happens to us in life is not within our control. That what happens to us is never up to us, honestly. But what we do have control over is how we remember it and how we choose to think about it and see it, view it.” Katherine Wolf
So, for me a huge part of my journey crawling back to life initially and then learning to live in this new normal was all about, and continues to be about, remembering God’s faithfulness to me and remembering what I do have, what remains and celebrating that. And waking up to the reality that what I do have right in front of me, what remains, and my story, is good if I see it that way. And I ultimately have control over how I view my story.
Jessica: That is so powerful, because we all have the power to remember differently.
Katherine: 100% and to ponder how it actually is beautiful, you know, that is so lost in our modern, Western understanding of life. That unless it’s really, really feeling good to us, it can’t be good. And that’s simply not true. It’s like the opposite of truth. The truth is there is suffering in the best stories and there is goodness and great stuff, even in the midst of hardship. So, it’s literally the opposite, is how we have wanted to understand joy and pain. We want the pain-free life. We want the life where there is no stuff that doesn’t feel really good every moment. But the reality is we know that’s not the life that’s available. And maybe now more than ever, we really know that on some level. And so it makes us want to sort of examine what else are we tossing out and not considering or pondering because it’s not the life we want or the life we thought we’re entitled to have.
Comparative Suffering and Collective Compassion
Jessica: I wanted to talk a little bit about comparative suffering because, I admit, when I was reading your book or even as I began the journey, it is easy for me to see the front cover, you’re in a wheelchair, and to diminish my own suffering. And to think "Oh, well, I haven’t been through anything like Katherine." Which is why, when you talked about how disappointing it was for you that you didn’t get on the Today Show for your first book, I was like, "Okay, she still gets disappointed about stuff like that," because I had that same sentiment. I was like, I know so many people at The Today Show this is gonna just be an ace in the hole. And then of course, yeah, it didn’t happen.
And it was, it was really hard for me post the launch of my book. So I was like, "Oh my gosh, Katherine had the same experience." And you write, and you say that we may be tempted to deny or diminish our own suffering because it doesn’t seem to compare with the larger suffering of the world. But just because your pain may not be the worst-case scenario, doesn’t mean it’s not still pain. None of us need to apologize to anyone, ourselves included, for the stories we’ve been given. Will you unpack that?
Katherine: 100%. Well, what I thought you were gonna say, to dovetail that and you still might, is that I talk a lot about the invisible wheelchair we all have. So, my wheelchair is on the outside and you can see it for sure. But rather than it being this tool of shame that everybody’s not in a wheelchair, there’s freedom in recognizing that we all got them, we all got stuff inside that’s happened, that we’ve done, regrets, fear of the future, 10,000 things. Mental illnesses of all kinds. Whatever, we’ve all got stuff.
So, it’s actually much more, I mean, it’s a spectrum for sure, but when you get a paper cut on your finger, it’s just a silly paper cut, but it still really hurts if it’s your finger. It’s all you can think about all day is the dumb paper cut on your finger. So that may not be a massive stroke to someone else, but it really hurts when it’s you.
The same is true in every arena of life that it may look totally different, but when it’s happening to you, it’s a real deal. It’s awful. And I always say that with the caveat that perspective is gold. It is absolutely, at the same time, their pain is pain. But perspective is also perspective.
So yes, for instance, in my story, it can be really tempting to feel sorry for myself and be like, "Oh my gosh, this is so horrible." But it doesn’t take too much for me to recognize, "Are you kidding me? I could easily rattle off so many situations that would be harder than what I’m dealing with." So, I think you hold that tension of not really comparing but learning the right lessons from what other people are going through.
“So, I think you hold that tension of not really comparing but learning the right lessons from what other people are going through.” Katherine Wolf
Jessica: I think it’s so important right now, too, for us to create space for each other’s suffering just because I’ve seen it a little bit happen in the public space right now, you know. Maybe a mom’s complaining because she’s, you know, having to be home with her kids right now, but at least her husband has a job. And there’s another mom who’s like, well, now we’re both out of a job and trying to figure out the kids. And, you know, there is almost this game of like, yeah, my suffering’s worse.
And, you know, you talk a lot about community and how we can hold one another’s stories and how compassion is actually an act of bravery. And that our human nature may scream that we’ve already got our own junk and can’t possibly take on someone else’s stuff, too. But actually, that that’s not true, that studies show that from a young age, children’s brains can be rewired through experiences of compassion and community to actually shrink their amygdala and learn to stay instead of running away.
So, how can we learn to be stayers right now as we hold a lot of suffering right now, whether it’s suffering because we are so unaccustomed to being at home with our children trying to teach them, or suffering because we’ve just lost a job, or suffering because we’re a leader having to make really hard decisions, or whether we’re sick or have loved ones that have passed away from COVID-19.
I mean, there’s just a broad range of suffering that is collective right now. You know, it is. It’s a collective grief, and it’s a collective solidarity. But in that, you know, in our worst human nature, we can go to blame and shame and all of those things. So, how do we stop from going there and creating that space of collective compassion for one another?
Katherine: I think that that is such a beautiful question. I wish I had a 100% answer, but I will tell you, for me what that’s looked like. First of all, is cultivating, training myself, honestly, to not leave when it gets hard in other people’s stories. To feel them deeply, to empathize, real deep empathy, but not internalize to where I can’t sleep at night thinking about really hard, painful stories.
So, it’s learning to go deep with people, but not take that home with you necessarily. And I wish I could tell you that I’d arrived at that. I haven’t. But I know in my heart that there is so much need for us to stay with each other, but not necessarily be haunted, do you know what I mean? Like, I think that’s a tension we all feel.
And in the same breath, I should say that I have very much, in my story, had to keep some thick skin in that, but a soft heart to where I’m very moved by other people, and their stories, but I’m not gonna let it wreck me, necessarily. If it’s super not needed.
And as far as specifically, comparison, I at least long for … I don’t know how to say it, I very much long to stop comparing myself to other people, because it’s just so stupid, I’m never going to meet the standard of somebody else. And why even try? We’ve all got our own journey.
But they say that the grass is always greener on somebody’s story than your own because they’re over there watering it and you’re not. Which is so true. So like, yeah, do your own deal.
And the reality is that there is a way to engage with deep love and compassion, other people’s stories, but not insert yourself into it. You know, that’s what I’m really trying to learn, is how I can be loving, but not try to put myself into it. Just be loving towards them. Be empathetic and not try to out do it or make it better or sneak into it. Just love well, and that’s really something we need to be teaching our children to do.
“Just be loving towards them. Be empathetic and not try to out do it or make it better or sneak into it. Just love well, and that’s really something we need to be teaching our children to do.” Katherine Wolf
Hurt, Hype, and Hope
Jessica: To be stayers, to feel the hard feelings and to not immediately try to fix that. We were even talking about that last night at the dinner table. What does it look like to … one of my sons, we were talking about, it was these conversations cards that we have at the dinner table, and the question was, ‘What’s one of the gifts that you really enjoy using to serve others?’ And one of my kids says, "I’m really optimistic." Yeah, I was like, "That is a gift, that is a gift to be optimistic." Well, one of my other kids is a little more, she’s a little more pragmatic, a little more cynical, but she’s a good listener. And so she’s like, "Well, I like optimism, but not when it’s just like, ‘everything’s gonna be okay.’"
You know, and I’m like, but that’s not optimism. Real optimism is grounded in just a deep hope and some people really do have, and you are one of them, you’re grounded in a deep sense of hope and that gives us all hope, but you can be optimistic and hopeful while also walking with others and suffering.
Katherine: 100%. They say that the opposite of hurt is not hope, that the opposite of hurt is hype. And in the middle of hurt and hype lives hope, and that’s where we are called to be: neither hurters, or feeling all the hurt too much, or hype to get up, but really living in hope and it’s rational.
“In the middle of hurt and hype lives hope, and that’s where we are called to be: neither hurters, or feeling all the hurt too much, or hype to get up, but really living in hope and it’s rational.” Katherine Wolf
Jessica: It is, it is rational, and that, I like that, that hope is rational, optimism is rational, or can be rational. Okay, I had never heard this term before, Katherine, that you shared in Suffer Strong. You write about post-traumatic growth.
Katherine: Oh yeah, I love it.
Jessica: Such a powerful phrase because we all know post-traumatic stress.
Jessica: And the stress that comes from trauma and many of us, in some ways, what we’re living through is going to be a story of trauma that we’re going to need to rise from. And I can’t help but think about your journey. It was 11 years ago you had your stroke?
Katherine: Twelve, yeah 12.
Jessica: Twelve. And you’ve been through hard things in the last 12 years, I mean, this has not been one and done, you’ve had other health scares.
Katherine: Not just health scares, I’ve had 11 surgeries, I’ve had a severely broken leg, I’ve taken multiple really bad falls, I broke a couple ribs. I’ve really like had an ongoing terrible suffering thing, and been able, truly by God’s grace for sure, but also some post-traumatic growth I believe happening. Able to live a really good story within just a really horrific backdrop, honestly.
Jessica: So, talk to us about post-traumatic growth.
Katherine: Absolutely, yeah, so everybody’s heard of post-traumatic stress and that is so real, oh my goodness, I’ve had some, and it is an opportunity. With time passing, I’m not saying like get out of bed in the morning after something horrible and you’re ready to be resilient. But in time, there can come a sense of not just getting back to where you were before the tragedy, but actually going past it and growing way past that point, of the post traumatic almost becomes the fuel that sends you out differently because of what you’ve been through.
“But in time, there can come a sense of not just getting back to where you were before the tragedy, but actually going past it and growing way past that point, of the post traumatic almost becomes the fuel that sends you out differently because of what you’ve been through.” Katherine Wolf
Because of the hardship you’ve suffered, you make different choices. They say that when hospice nurses interview people as they die, deathbed regrets can almost perfectly be linked up to people who experience post-traumatic growth. Those are the things they do not then regret on their deathbed, that most of the population does. Which are things such as a deepening sense of purpose, connection with friends and family. Really interesting list. I think I put it in the book, if not, I’ve put it somewhere many times.
That strangely, especially I have such a heart for young sufferers, that when you suffer young, it, of course has the opportunity to inform the way you live the rest of your life. So any of you listening to this podcast who have had some real rough stuff you don’t know if you’re going to be able to overcome, and you’re still kind of young, let’s flip that lens a little and see that possibly the young suffering makes you live differently your whole life so that when you are on your deathbed, you don’t have the same regrets. That’s pretty incredible.
Jessica: Wow, I’ve seen that lived out just in some of my friends that are in their 20s that have been through the depths. And even now, I’ve been thinking about, you know, the definition of resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.
Jessica: And the nature of the definition is you have to go through a difficulty to even have resilience.
Katherine: Right. Yeah. And don’t we all want resilience? We all want joy, we all want hope, we all want these things that usually you really get a dose of when you have to cultivate them.
Jessica: Exactly. So I’m thinking about, I know there’s so many different people listening right now who maybe they have been through suffering. But this could be a moment where this is maybe one of the biggest times of suffering they have experienced in their lives, whether it’s economic or fear, or, gosh, whatever it might be.
Katherine: Yeah, totally.
Jessica: So, what would you tell that person that’s like, right, you know, they’re not in the middle of the story. They’re not even being able to look back yet and remember differently. I mean, they are just right in the middle of that crisis. What are some ways that they can already cultivate post-traumatic growth so that they can have resilience as they walk through this crisis?
Katherine: Absolutely. Well, first and foremost, I would say keep walking. The worst thing you can do is stop and navel-gaze about how bad your life is. When you’re walking through hell, keep walking. That’s a big plan of mine, like, keep putting one foot in front of the other, you are, in fact much more okay than you think you are.
“The worst thing you can do is stop and navel-gaze about how bad your life is. When you’re walking through hell, keep walking.” Katherine Wolf
You know, we’re a lot tougher than we think we are. And, I don’t know, somebody said this big ol’ lie to all of the Western world that we’re victims, that we can’t be overcomers because it’s too hard. No, it’s not. You got this. And you don’t got it because you got it, you got it because the good stuff of God is marinating in you and comes out in seasons that are really difficult.
I would say in terms of the trauma we are currently experiencing, which is real, and people are going through really, really hard stuff. And I would say isolation is another adjustment that I think so many are feeling right now, is just so caught and trapped and isolated. And it’s horrific.
I think, you know, as hard as this been to have these kids in my grill all the time, how hard would it be if I were alone right now? Would be very hard. And I think there is such an opportunity, no matter our story of suffering, even in the process of it, to recognize what there is that’s good in it.
And I think that changes everything. We have to start with gratitude. Okay, so I got to reexamine this hard story I’m going through. Is there also good stuff here? And the answer is yes, there is good stuff even in the worst of things. There is something good. And maybe not clearly apparent the day after really, really hard stuff. Maybe it’s a year after, and you recognize like, "Oh, wait, this is actually coming from something horrible, but there is something very beautiful in it.
And I think that’s a huge part of what I was able to do fairly early on when I could start typing with one hand and it was very slow. I would start typing out on my prayerpage actually, I sort of took that over after the first several years of prayer updates for me. And I just started typing out with my one little working hand some things that I was grateful for in this hard story. And to the rest of the world, they could have seemed pretty sad. Like, "I got to taste pudding today, they’re allowing me 10 spoonfuls of pudding as they teach me to eat food again." And that kind of really bummed people out, no doubt.
And yet it was my just joyful rebellion honestly. It was like, "No, I can still see why this has actually got some good in it, even though it’s really bad. And I think that is just so important for us.
Change Begins with Choices
Jessica: Do you know Patrick and Justin of I’ll Push You?
Jessica: Yes, oh my gosh. So, they’re also in this series. Their podcast will be released in a few weeks after yours.
Katherine: Awesome, okay good.
Jessica: Something Patrick said has stuck with me.
Jessica: And I asked him, "What percentage of the time does he wake up in the morning, automatically grateful. Like, he doesn’t have to even work to get there. He doesn’t even have to just practice and write it out. He just wakes up. What percentage?" And he said, "98% of the time he automatically wakes up grateful." And he said, "But that’s because I had to practice for years and years."
But that is the benefit that when we begin even in the middle of our trauma now, to begin to practice these things, gratitude and connection and just keep walking. You know, the benefit is that in the middle of that, that we are already beginning to remember our story differently, which will change our future, which is such a powerful thought.
Katherine: Absolutely. I’m all about it. It’s what we’re doing. So, we have the opportunity to create new neural pathways in our brain to go a different way because of how we remember the future.
Jessica: You say that new pathways require new action.
Katherine: Absolutely. We can’t think things are going to change when we’re doing them just like we used to do them. We have to make different choices. And usually that starts right in between the years of saying like, "I’m going to do something different here with my story, with my life, and the result is obviously a different outcome."
“We can’t think things are going to change when we’re doing them just like we used to do them. We have to make different choices.” Katherine Wolf
Jessica: That’s so true. You know, I described my last year as a year of suffering. I walked with a friend through … her mom woke up after a surgery at the Mayo Clinic on her brainstem paralyzed from the voice box down, so she literally lost everything she could just move her lips that’s it. She eventually decided to go into hospice after about six months, but her mind was perfectly fine but literally she had nothing else, couldn’t move anything but her lips, her tongue was even paralyzed.
A dear friend, colleague of mine, we didn’t meet our sales goals last year, we had to do a layoff last year. I went into 2019 thinking it was going to be the year of breakthrough, glory, and dreams. And instead it was just, it was the opposite of that.
Katherine: Oh, I’m so sorry.
Jessica: So, it was rough. So, what’s really interesting to me, Katherine is, I … in the middle of crisis, I’m pretty good. I’m like, “I’m a first responder, go in.” It’s been that post, like looking back and kind of going, "Oh my gosh," like, I’ve had to fight cynicism. I’ve had to fight a little bit of that like, "Oh, great. So, if you’re just going to dream and then this is what life gives you, then what’s the point?" I mean, I really have had to fight that in myself. Which was the birthing ground of wanting to do this podcast. Now this is before COVID-19.
Katherine: I was gonna say, it’s kinda cool, Jessica, this is where you ended up. I think God is screaming at you that, "Yeah, well, you’re onto something, fight that cynicism with resilience.”
Jessica: And that is what has been so powerful for me is last year really was this beautiful process of God stripping me of my ego, really helping me see where I had my identity. Even though I thought I didn’t, I think those of us that work in justice-oriented causes, we think that our ego’s not wrapped into it, you know, we can be a little self-righteous about being game changers, you know.
It was just seriously a year of pruning. And it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me and then now the last couple weeks, with all of the hardness that’s going on and my business is now going through even more suffering because we are a gathering company, you know. We’re built on like, "Go into people’s homes!" And have our talk shows and we pivoted to virtual, but it’s not the same and people aren’t shopping like they used to.
But for real, I’m dealing with another pretty acute crisis right now in the life of my company as pretty much every small business owner is, but I have to say now suddenly, Katherine, I’m remembering my story differently from last year because now I’m like, "Oh my gosh, I am facing this with resilience and hope and courage. And it’s only because I went through the hard work last year of kind of getting untangled and losing what I thought I wanted … anyway, it’s …
Katherine: That is powerful stuff, Jessica and I can’t help but think that like, yeah, that’s pretty incredible. Even in terms of what you remember, to remember that that’s where you came from. That’s what this offering is out of, is out of a place of a need to fight cynicism. That’s really beautiful.
The Ministry of Presence
Jessica: Yeah, totally. So, I wanted to ask you, I love this. You have this section in your book, it says, "Don’t open mouth and insert foot." And I think all of us right now are struggling with how do we meet people with compassion? And how do we meet people with empathy right now?
What are some suggestions, because, I mean, I’ve had a mom call me breaking down. She’s like, "I yelled at my kids all morning. I think they’re going to be screwed up for life. My husband had to get on a conference call today at three right when they were getting on technology. Finally, for the first time, all day, and then my husband’s like, ‘No, the kids can’t get on tech because I gotta be on this conference call.’" In the meantime, another friend is dealing with, "I’m, getting laid off," so everyone’s dealing with their own thing. What are some suggestions, and how, especially since we can’t even physically meet right now with people … how do we help people feel felt?
Katherine: Right, tons to say about that, because I’ve been the recipient of so many weird, weird sentiments through the years of people telling me why this happened or what they think of it and really trying to make it better, but always making it worse.
And my thought is there is a powerful ministry of presence in suffering. Less words are the best words. Everybody stop saying really inappropriate, hurtful things accidentally, that are supposedly really encouraging. But like, offer your own advice. It’s just not right yet. Let people grieve losses. Don’t tell them how it’s all okay. You should tell them for sure — tell them all the things about how God is good. And he’s working for good. And yes, for sure.
But give it some time. Cry with them. Let them see that it’s upsetting to you too. And if it really isn’t upsetting to you, just don’t say much at all. Just let them cry on your shoulder. Look people in the eye and give them dignity, I guess is the bottom line. Dignify the emotions they’re feeling. And don’t try to throw some platitudes at it. That doesn’t really help anybody. And we’re all worse off. We’re all scarred by weird stuff people say to us to try to make our pain better. It’s like, "No, you didn’t do that. You made it worse."
“Look people in the eye and give them dignity, I guess is the bottom line. Dignify the emotions they’re feeling. And don’t try to throw some platitudes at it. That doesn’t really help anybody.” Katherine Wolf
And now I’m thinking about how you’re thinking about me, it’s just stupid. No, just say less, just listen and look people in the eye. And if you’re a crier, like I am, by all means cry with them, let them know you’re feeling it. And if not, look them hard in the eye and give them your shoulder and hug them tight, because life is hard, and we always go through that.
Jessica: I think that’s what’s challenging right now is that we can’t hug people.
Katherine: Isn’t that the truth? Yeah, for now, unfortunately, that looks like a virtual hug.
Jessica: A virtual hug! You can still do FaceTime.
Katherine: A virtual hug and a FaceTime can go a long way. Yeah, I mean, looking someone in the eye through a Zoom call actually has some ability to convey compassion even through something as dumb as a computer screen.
Jessica: I love what you say. And I immediately applied this advice when I read it. You quote Sheryl Sandberg, and of course she’s been through the loss of a husband and wrote a whole book about grief called Option B.
Katherine: Yeah, I really liked her book, actually.
Jessica: It’s good, and I love how you write, not to say like, "How are you doing? How are you feeling today?"
Katherine: Oh my gosh, I love that you are referencing that, that’s one of my favorite things ever. Jessica, I love how you pull out such good meat. I have so utilized this in my own life. Rather than, "How are you?" when somebody is clearly awful. Like, they just had a child die. How do you think they’re doing? That’s so stupid. But instead, "How are you doing today?" That’s so much more manageable and kind, honestly. Really kind and empathetic, like, “I know you’re not doing well. But how are you today?” And yeah, I really wish people would’ve said that to me back in the day.
Jessica: Well, I think it’s such a good question for our current situation, because there are some days where it’s like, "Oh my gosh, I just got to homeschool today and that was amazing. And I’ve always dreamed of that." And then the next day, we’re like, "Oh my God, can this end yesterday?"
Katherine: Yeah, "Get me out of this!"
Jessica: Yeah. So, I love that. "How are you doing today?" Such a nuance that can make such a difference.
Katherine: I completely agree. I love that you brought remember the future up, the post traumatic growth, now how are you today, you’re hittin’ all my things, Jessica, I love that.
Jessica: Hey, we’re kindred spirits. Remember that time we spoke on a stage together and both knew the same scripture.
Katherine: Quoted the same Bible verse, Galatians 6:4-5. Yes, I can’t believe you also know that passage of scripture. I love it so much.
Looking Inward to Go Forward Fearlessly
Jessica: We’re kindred souls, Katherine. We like to wrap up by asking our guests how they are going scared right now.
Katherine: Oh, goodness. Love the question. Okay by going scared. What exactly do you mean though? I want to know.
Jessica: So, I speak a lot about courage, and this is the Going Scared podcast. So, what I known is that courage isn’t fearlessness. But courage can be that we might be a little bit afraid but we’re gonna go anyway. A little bit about like what you said about when you’re in hell, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’re not gonna let fear stop you from moving forward.
And you might be someone, I don’t know, fear might not be a primary emotion for you. But maybe how are you just embracing discomfort right now and just not being held back?
Katherine: Oh, yeah, gosh, always. You’re right, I can’t live with a high level of fear anymore because so much has already happened to me that’s so horrible. It’s kinda like the bottom fell out time and time again.
So, I guess that could have created a real deep sense of like, “Okay, so you did have this stroke, then you did have an unrelated brain aneurism, then you did have a dissection and then you did take a really bad fall…” And it could almost haunt me daily of terrible things are going to happen to you, because they have happened to you. But instead, what a lot of really bad stuff happening to me has done has created a sense of like, "I’m not scared anymore."
You know, it’s like, what is so beautiful, that I pray for all of my friends and people I don’t even know, to experience, is an element of recognizing that it’s not supposed to not be scary, but that shouldn’t change what we do. We don’t live out of fear.
“It’s not supposed to not be scary, but that shouldn’t change what we do. We don’t live out of fear.” Katherine Wolf
So, for me, recognizing that the very best things that God has in store for me are not things at all. That God truly doesn’t withhold anything good from me, because the truly good things are not things. They’re nothing tangible, and everything that’s really truly good in my story is not something that could ever be taken away. It’s all the stuff inside. The peace, the joy deep inside. The fruition of His presence with me every moment of every day.
And it’s like me already knowing the ultimate end of the story. That’s actually the good stuff that makes me unafraid.
Jessica: So, so, so, so good. So good. Well you guys, I am getting dressed this week, so if you want to join me, #GotDressedAnyway. You know, because really, for our mental health right now, mascara and earrings go a very, very long way. So, show me how you got dressed anyway this week.
Are these episodes encouraging to you? I hope you got to hear the one last week from our amazing guide on how to rise from trauma, Dr. Edith Eger.
Next week, we are going to hear about mental health and wellness from Jen Gotch. These episodes are so chock-full of hope and resilience. Go tell me what you’re learning – I know you have time, so can’t use that as an excuse anymore. So, hop on over to iTunes. Would you leave Going Scared a review? Tell me what you’re learning, what you’re liking to hear, and would you also send someone else this episode? I just know that this one in particular is going to bring so much hope to so many people. So, make sure you share it.
Today’s episode was produced by Eddie Kaufholz. Our music today was by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.