One week ago, I was cleared from quarantine to reenter the outside world. My wife had been diagnosed with the Coronavirus two weeks prior, and finally, my time was up. As the day began, I was genuinely excited about the ordinary things that lied ahead. I was excited to get out, to go do something, and simply leave my suburban bliss. I went with her and the kids to Bowling Green and had a day planned of eating out, buying books, and unencumbered exploration. Needless to say, it promised to be a good day until one of the scariest moments of my life took center stage.
Before we get to that moment, let me set the stage a bit. Near the end of our quarantine, after two weeks of sleeping on the couch and being a 24-hour a day dad, I was tired. I never really felt bad, but I was worn-out. Without much warning, and certainly no trauma, my chest began to be slightly irritated. It felt like a slight muscle pull, and I honestly didn’t give it much thought. After all, I hadn’t been taking great care of myself with all the care I was giving to my wife and children. I took some Tylenol, a long hot shower, and settled into my bed for a good night’s rest. The next morning, the pain wasn’t completely gone, but it was so mild, I knew I was on the mend.
A couple of days later, after I had already dropped Ashley and the kids off at school, taken her van for an oil change, and even eaten a large breakfast, I decided to go for a stroll around Target. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I was just walking to stretch my legs.
Near the end of my stroll, my chest began to hurt. It was the same type of pain from earlier in the week, but much more intense. I went out to the van, sat there, and waited for it to go away, until it didn’t. I drove around a bit, wondering what to do. I called Ashley and asked her. She told me to do what I thought was best so I called my doctor in Tompkinsville to set up a visit, but of course, they couldn’t get to me until the next day.
Then I sat there, in the parking lot of the Bowling Green Chipotle, and wondered, am I having a heart attack?
You might think that’s quite a leap to take, but I didn’t. My grandfather battled heart disease for years before he passed, my grandmother has had a pacemaker for several decades, and my father died unexpectedly in his sleep just a few years ago. I didn’t feel good about chest pains. Especially, pain that felt so intense and tight.
I decided to go to one of the nicer urgent clinics in Bowling Green. Ashley had gone there before and was treated quickly and efficiently. I still had hope that this was nothing more than a muscle pull after all. I checked in, went back to the room, and actually felt better. By the time the doctor arrived, the pain was gone. I assumed a muscle relaxer or something like that would be all I needed and I’d be on my way in just a few minutes.
Then, she said she wanted to run a few tests. I didn’t blink an eye when she said one of them was an EKG. I assumed all would be fine, and this was just a reassurance of that idea. After the EKG and a chest X-ray or two, I went back to the room, put on my coat, and sat there ready to head out. Then, the doctor came back and told me something I wasn’t expecting. She looked me square-in-the-eye and said, “something’s not right.” She wasn’t sure, but it was possible I had already suffered a heart attack or was about to.
I’m not sure what she said next because it all gets a bit fuzzy, but I remember her telling me I’d have to go the ER. I remember her asking what hospital I wanted to go to, and if I had anyone who could take me? You see, they weren’t allowed to let me leave, it was a ride with a friend or in an ambulance. I called Ashley at her school, and one of her co-workers rushed her over. We loaded up in the van, went to the Bowling Green Medical Center, and I walked into the waiting room as an emergency heart patient.
If you look up irony in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a definition similar to this one:
Irony is a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.
I throw that word around a lot, after all, I’m a preacher. I talk about the irony of fruitless faith, needy prayer, and even politically-correct Christianity all the time. It’s not lost on me, that the best stories, even tales of grandeur, have a sense of irony in them. It didn’t seem so ironic to find myself in one of those situations though. You see, the night before, I had finally settled on a series of lessons to begin 2021. No joke, they are simply called Faith or Fear. After the year we’ve had, the instability of the world around us, and the nonsense that was unfolding due to the election, it seemed fitting.
As I sat in the lobby of the ER with chest pain, it seemed real in a way I had personally never felt before. I was scared. Scared of the unknown and the uncertain. I kept wondering, is something wrong with my heart? Will I see my children again? Can this be fixed? Thankfully, a wonderful Christian lady by the name of Brittany was my intake nurse. She happens to be from Monroe County as well, even a member of the Church. We got to talking, she could tell I was nervous, and she helped me in those moments more than she’ll ever know.
She was a lifesaver and the reason I was able to stay calm.
In a twisted way, the thought that kept going through my mind was how awesome this scenario was for the sermon I planned to preach the next Sunday. But I won’t lie to you, at one point, I wondered if I’d ever get to preach it. I did, and irony has nothing to do with it.
After a few hours of waiting, I was moved into a trauma unit in the ER. I had been a bit perturbed at the length it took to get me back, but I kept wondering if it was because my situation wasn’t so hopeless. I had even hoped that when I got to the room, the doctor would come in, say my test results were great, and send me home after all the formalities.
That’s not what happened though.
The doctor came in, dressed in full garb. He looked like an astronaut. Face shield, head-to-toe scrubs and extra layers. Gloves that looked like something you use in a refinery. He asked me a few questions and told me he’d get right on it. He said “we’ll start with your heart and work our way out.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded good to me. Pretty soon, I was all hooked up to a blood pressure and pulse monitor, and more blood had to be drawn. I felt like a guinea pig, with everyone who came in asking questions, taking stuff from me, and wondering how I felt.
They did a CoViD test, even though I had tested negative just a few days prior. After they administered it, it felt like my nose would run for days and my brain had been dislodged. I couldn’t believe how far they went back and how long they left it there. It was awful, but just a part of the process.
By that time, Ashley was in the room with me and contacting family. There wasn’t much to tell them, but she told them where I was and what was happening. Then, we waited. And waited. And waited.
It wasn’t really that long, but it felt like an eternity. Every now and then I’d cough and my chest would begin to hurt again. Ashley and I would talk, pretend to be calm, and even try to diagnose my problem. We made some plans for the kids, just in case I had to stay the night or even have surgery. I told her how much I loved her, but held back from bearing my soul or blurting out some nonsense about “when I’m gone” or “if it doesn’t look good.”
Honestly, I didn’t consider the possibility of dying, but I did wonder had I done enough if I did. I wasn’t worried for my soul, rather for Ashley and my kids, the congregation in Tompkinsville, and all my extended family and friends. I was afraid that my work was unfinished in this world. I knew there was more to be done.
I was scared, but not like I thought I would be. I didn’t fear leaving this world, just leaving it unprepared for my departure.
I tell you this story because fear is on my mind. It seems to be everywhere today. I’m not sure why it’s driving reasonable people crazy, but it is. Between the news, social media, and the fear mongering of so many people, life sees nearly impossible lately. The pandemic, the school and work closings, the deaths, and even the uncertainty of the election process has stoked the fear of my brothers and sisters worldwide.
That shouldn’t be the case for us though. As Christians, we should know fear gets you nowhere. We know Second Timothy 1:7 says, “God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, rather of power, and love, and of a sound mind.” Revelation 2:10 tells us “do not fear what is about to happen, but be faithful until death.” Isaiah 41:10 emphatically states that “God is with us.” We’re even told throughout the Old Testament, that God is with His children (see Deuteronomy 31:6-7), and to not be afraid of what lies ahead (see Genesis 46:3 and Joshua 11:6). If that’s not enough, the Psalmist boldly declared in 118:6:
The Lord is on my side, I will not fear. What can man do to me?
We know that passage and we believe those words, but are we living them out in 2021? Fear is the enemy of God’s people. It is the work of the devil, and one of his strongest champions. It drives us from God and keeps us from trusting the only one who can really deliver us from it. If we’d only believe the words of Christ from John 16:33 we’d see fear isn’t really stronger than faith. It says there:
In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
In the hospital, I found a peace of mind I’ve never felt before. I didn’t find it after the doctor said I’d be okay. It wasn’t after he said I have pleurisy (an inflammation of the lining of my lung and the cause of my chest pain), and it wasn’t on our way home. The peace of mind that came to me was when I realized I have work to do. When I was afraid, not of what could happen, but what hadn’t happened.
I woke up last Wednesday with a renewed sense of purpose. No longer am I afraid to say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done, be what I need to be. I don’t feel constrained by political correctness or even cultural expectation. I feel liberated, to do God’s work and be His servant, no matter the cost or consequence.
I discovered I was afraid and didn’t even know it. But now I realize that fear was holding me back, not keeping me safe.
I guess thinking I had a heart attack was just what I needed. While I won’t wish my experience upon anyone, and I won’t call it a divine intervention, I am thankful for it and how it has helped streamline my thinking. It has given me a reason to say some things that needed to be said, write about things that need to be written about, and do the things I was always hesitant to do before.
My brush with fear was a wake-up call that thankfully wasn’t as serious as it could have been. I’m perfectly fine. Healthy, and ready to get to work in a way I can’t quite put in words. I’m no longer afraid, and I’m so thankful for it.
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.