Post-Heart Attack Life

Life happens in layers, I think, each action and each event having far-reaching implications, many of which are not known until months or years later. We spent the months after Matt’s heart attack (if you haven’t read the story, see here for parts one, two, three, four, and the aftermath) focusing on making the necessary changes to our lives. Matt is on medication and sees his cardiologist regularly, and he began exercising, first every other day, and then every day, and we completely transformed our diet. We’re always tweaking things, and Matt is continuing to try to lose weight, but, for the most part, things have been pretty stable.

But one night in May, I came home from an evening of hanging out with other women as part of our church’s women’s retreat, and Matt told me he felt off. As I asked more questions, he said he wasn’t sure what it was, but he’d been outside that day and gotten sunburnt, and he’d used some different exercise equipment at the gym, and he was sure that’s all it was, but his chest had felt a little weird. Just to be safe, though, since he was home alone with all four of our kids, he’d taken some meds. Alarm bells immediately went off in my mind. He was sure it was nothing – but he hadn’t really thought that the chest pain he’d experienced in the couple days prior to his heart attack warranted more attention than an aspirin.

By this time it was getting late, but I’d just been chatting with a nurse friend at the women’s event, so I was sure she’d be awake, and I called and got her opinion – which was that if this was anyone else, she’d say it was probably no big deal, but with Matt’s history, we needed to check in with his doctor. We are so blessed to have, as Matt’s primary care doctor, a friend from church. I texted him and asked him to call me if he was awake, because we had a question about Matt’s health, and he called within five minutes. After talking with Matt, he advised him to head to the ER – that it was probably nothing, but better safe than sorry. Matt said he didn’t want to turn it into a big deal by having someone else come here and watch our kids or having someone come and get him, so he drove himself in, while I stayed at home with our kids.

And honestly, it was an emotional night. I was relieved when, by 2:00 a.m., he texted me to say that bloodwork was showing that his troponin levels were normal and an EKG showed nothing out of the ordinary. He stayed for another round of bloodwork 4 hours later and then, when all looked okay, came home to get a few hours of rest and then to hang out with our kiddos, so that I could go in to speak at day two of our women’s retreat. Interestingly enough, for a portion of my talk I was using as examples some of our experiences after Matt’s heart attack, so my mind and my heart were already steeped in some of the counsel I’d received then.

Most poignant among all of it was and continues to be, “Enjoy your time together, it is a gift. Use this time to draw close to God and Matt.”

After Matt’s heart attack, I hadn’t realized that I was afraid to draw nearer to him in our relationship until my friend spoke those words to me. Even knowing that our time together might have a hard stop years before we’d dreamed it could, we were and are called to this marriage relationship together, and I realized then and I know now that I cannot take him to have and to hold, to love and to cherish – as I stood in front of our family and friends 14 years ago and promised to do – if I’m holding him at a distance. And so I push fear away and draw near to him.

I’ve been thinking about Philippians 4:4-8 lately – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

These are hard verses in that they do not promise what I wish that they promised. They don’t say, “Don’t be anxious, because if you pray, God will give you what you want.” They tell us not to be anxious, and they tell us to pray, but what is promised is not the desired result but peace. What I’d like is a guarantee of long life and love, but try as I might, I’ve found that nowhere.

But I contemplate a God who is true, a God who is honorable, a God who is just, a God who is pure, a God who is lovely, a God who is commendable, a God who is excellent, a God who is worthy of praise. I trust that He is sovereign and that He is good and that this life that He has given to me and is giving to me is the one He laid out for me to have, and He will walk with me through it.

I don’t always feel peace. Matt and I are watching through the first season of This is Us right now. We just watched the Christmas episode, in which Toby collapses, and I felt my breath catch in my throat and my heart pound in my chest. I know that panic, and I know those hospital beeps. I know that there’s no guarantee they will stay at bay for years or even days to come.

And yet there is an undercurrent of peace throughout our lives. I choose to trust myself to the God of the universe and throw myself into this life He’s given to me. I expect there will be more ER trips in the future. That’s something that, 15 months ago, it didn’t occur to me to anticipate as part of this new reality, but I know now to expect it. If you experience cardiac arrest at age 39, chest pain earns you a trip to the ER to be checked out, and it’s going to happen, though I hope it’ll be infrequent.

But as long as we’re here together on this earth, living this life, we’ll press on and try to use the days that we have well.

We Made It to Hong Kong! Plus Some Plane Ride Reflections

We made it to Hong Kong! Our flight landed on time around 6:00 a.m. local time this morning (Friday), and we had a full day of adjusting to local time and sightseeing thereafter.

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It was awesome – but I have been awake since something like 3:00 this morning and got only about 5 hours of (frequently interrupted, not very good) sleep, and that was after a week or so of limited sleep as the preparations for our travel intensified. It’s now a little after 9:00 pm Hong Kong time, and I am exhausted. Everyone else is already asleep. Tomorrow I’ll try to write more about our travels and day one in Hong Kong, but for tonight, I’m going to try to get some sleep! However, I will leave you with these reflections that I wrote on our flight –

I’m writing this post from somewhere over northern Asia, about 10 hours into our flight from Newark to Hong Kong. Anyone who has asked me recently how they could pray for us in our travels knows that I’ve been nervous about the flights – I’ve flown many times before, and I know the probabilities of anything going wrong are extremely small, but still, I’ve been nervous. I’m feeling calmer now that we have one flight down and are over halfway through our second.

I’ve been trying to remind myself of the truths that I know – looking at Psalm 103 and its truths about who God is, remembering that God tells us in Psalm 46 that He is our refuge and strength, and reciting Deuteronomy 31:6 – one of the first verses I ever memorized – to myself – “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” A good friend also texted me while Madeleine CaiQun and I were having dinner in the St. Louis airport and told me that she’d been meditating on Psalm 40 and David recounting how God had delivered him in the past, so he could trust Him to do it again.

I really appreciated that and spent some time reading and praying through Psalm 40 on our first flight. It was particularly poignant to me, because on Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before we were to leave to begin our journey to China, I connected with a woman who played a huge part in FangFang’s story, a woman and a part I hadn’t known existed. There is another adoption agency working in China that has a partnership relationship with FangFang’s orphanage. As such, they send medical teams there to evaluate the children’s needs and gather more information about them for prospective adoptive families, and they provide assistance in caring for the children and in preparing their files so that they are eligible for international adoption. This agency sent a team to FangFang’s orphanage in January, and this woman was part of that team. While she was there, she saw FangFang, and she talked with the orphanage about it perhaps being a good idea to transfer her to the foster home at which she has been residing for the last 9 months. The transformation in FangFang’s development and in her demeanor since moving from the orphanage to the foster home is nothing short of amazing, and this woman was part of bringing that about. And what’s more, all of this was happening just as we were seeing a blog post advocating for FangFang and praying about pursuing adopting her and praying that, regardless, she would have a family and that she would receive the best care possible for her while she remained in China. It was around that very same time that God was putting into motion all that would need to happen for FangFang to move to what I believe is the best foster home in the country for caring for children with osteogenesis imperfecta and, we believe, calling us to be her family.

I don’t believe any of this is accidental. I think God was answering our prayers 11 months ago, and I interpret the timing of this connection I made the other night as a reassurance from God that He is at work in FangFang’s story. He hears and has been answering prayers for her for months now. That doesn’t mean He’s a genie and that her life will be perfect and anything I request on her (or my) behalf is going to happen. How could it? In that case, she would never have endured the staggering loss of her first family. But it does mean that He is involved in her story, and because I can see the fingerprints of His faithfulness in her past, I can trust that He is going to continue to be faithful in His care for her in the future. My hope is that that means safe travels around and home from China! But regardless, I am honored to be a part of His work in this precious child’s life.