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How a Heart Attack Changes Everything (Part 2 of 2)

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As the long Thanksgiving weekend approached, my mornings were a mix of scripture, coffee and questions about the future. Although I desperately wanted to speak with a local cardiologist, message after message to physician answering services went unreturned because of the holiday.

I visited our music room often. Playing the piano seemed to drown out my fears. From the moment I’d heard my EKG didn’t look good, anxiety moved into a spare room in the corner of my thoughts. If my breathing was labored or if there was an unusual pain, fear moved throughout my whole mind as if it were in charge. I prayed for relief.

That Saturday morning my phone rang. He identified himself as Jess from Alabama. Who but a telemarketer would be calling me on a Saturday? I didn’t feel like listening to some sales pitch but he said he was calling about a vehicle I was selling. Unbelievable. In six months, I’d only had one person show any interest in that old car. Within five minutes he made an offer and I accepted.

I told him I would email a bill of sale and he agreed to send a check later that day. For now he was heading to bed because he had been up all night working. My curiosity got the best of me and I asked about his job. Jess said he was an anesthesiologist and worked with a group of heart doctors in his town. I almost dropped the phone!

My emotions were all over the place. Fighting back the tears, I told him he may have called me to buy a car but I needed to talk to him. I told him about my recent heart attack and that I couldn’t get anyone on the phone to answer my questions. I’ve never knowingly experienced a visitation from an angel but–at this moment–I felt like I was talking to one. He asked a few questions and then proceeded to tell me the four medications I was taking. I hadn’t said a word about any of them. He was right on all four. And then, one by one, he walked me through each of my medications; helping me to understand some of the side effects I had been experiencing.

He encouraged me to trust. He assured me I would gain strength and that–with each passing day–my fears would lessen. Then Jess gave me his cell phone number and told me that I could call him if I ever felt fearful, even in the middle of the night. Unbelievable!

After our call was finished, I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of peace. I knew that God loves us in the details. But in that moment, I was experiencing it.

*  *  *

As I spent my Tennessee mornings working through the emotions of recovering, my wife went out early each day to search for our lost Labrador. Looking back, the text I had received a few days earlier from our dog trainer couldn’t have come at a worse time: I was in a hospital ER! I had texted the trainer back asking him to communicate with Kim—all the while wondering where our Lulu could possibly be. Was she lost in the woods? Had someone found her? How did this possibly happen? Was this all some horrible dream? As concerned as I was about myself, I found myself praying for Lulu’s safe return—even as I was being wheeled into surgery.

In spite of all the reasons we wanted to have her trained, now we just wanted her back and would gladly take the scratches and dirt with her.

Week after week, Kim’s search continued. She and our friends plastered more than 50 laminated signs all over the area where Lulu went missing. Facebook posts and frequent calls to every kennel and vet yielded nothing. Through many conversations, it became apparent that our dog had actually gone missing much earlier than we had initially been told. Our fading hope was running out.

Finally, someone called to say Lulu might be at the local Humane Society shelter. A few minutes before Kim had stopped there to hand out a flyer and had contacted them twice in the past week. Nonetheless, she went back in to look at all the dogs. I was home resting when my phone beeped. It was Kim, asking me to come outside and help her. I opened the door and–for the first time in 37 days–saw the cutest Labrador in the world. Lulu was finally home! The Humane Society had taken her in just a few days after she went missing. The real miracle was that no one had adopted this beautiful animal in the weeks she had been there. Our prayers had been answered.

These days, our new wood floors have some scratches and Lulu occasionally tracks in a little dirt from the outside. But more importantly, our lives feel complete with her here. She’s where she’s supposed to be. Home.

*  *  *

My life has changed over the past eight months.

I’m appreciating everything in a whole new way. In the weeks following my heart event, the sky has literally looked bluer. The clouds seem bigger and softer. Colors feel more vibrant and my own heartbeat sounds like a drum playing quietly in my ear. Without trying, I’m noticing things in greater detail. I find myself truly living “in the moment.”

I’ve committed myself more intentionally to the discipline of good health. I’m eating and exercising like my life depends upon it—because it does. At the beginning of Cardiac Rehab, I couldn’t even walk up the hill beside our house. Now I climb it again and again. Cardiac Rehab is not just about regaining your physical health; it’s about learning to live with the emotions that follow a heart attack. Will I be able to move beyond the fear? Can I do everything I want to do? In April, I graduated from Cardiac Rehab at the Williamson County Medical Center. The staff and friends there have helped me more than words can convey.

When I read Scripture, words now take on a more profound meaning: I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4). I’ve read that verse over and over again. I’ve underlined it in my Bible. I’ve highlighted it and I’ve shared that short but powerful passage with many others. I’m living out each word daily.

Prayer is more important than ever. Months before I had my heart attack, I was riding down the interstate and felt I should pray for my arteries and veins to remain open. Although I didn’t know why I was praying that prayer, I kept on praying it. It wasn’t some eloquent prayer; just Lord would you keep my veins and arteries open? Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us pray even when we don’t know what to pray for. Looking back on November 23, I now know why that prayer was important. Here’s the deal: if you ever feel impressed to pray about anything, just pray! Don’t ask questions. Just pray. Our prayers make a difference.

I now hug my close family and friends whenever I see them–because I can. Because, I’m still here. Every time I wake in the night, I say thank you to a loving God who I’m learning to trust more and more each day.

I still fight the urge to spin a few more plates—the temptation to be busier than ever before. We let ourselves believe that the more plates we spin, the more meaningful our lives are. But I know from first-hand experience that when you’re being pushed down a hall toward a room for a heart procedure, none of those plates really matter. Not one! I didn’t think once of my home, car, motorcycle, business, dreams or my bank account. I was thinking about my wife and daughter and son and dog–praying for God to keep his hand on me.

Months have gone by and I’m still trying to keep those priorities. At the risk of sounding cliché, I’m living proof that the Lord can use even the most desperate circumstances of life to help clarify our priorities and help us focus on what matters most.

Thanks for letting me share this with you. I appreciate your prayers and pray that you will be encouraged by the truth that my angel friend, Jess, shared with me: Trust the Lord. As you trust him, you’ll make progress. Your anxiety will be replaced by peace. And when you feel fear, even in the middle of the night, you can call on Him.

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