By John K. LeeA little over 2 years ago, while laid up in a hospital emergency room in Baldwin Park, I was forced to take a hard look at my life and how I’d ended up there. With needles poking me and monitors beeping all around, I was terrified that I’d leave my then pregnant wife without husband and my unborn son fatherless. While the doctors were explaining to me that I had something called atrial fibrillation, all I could think about was the profound sense of regret I felt because I knew that I was fully responsible for where I’d ended up. I kept thinking: widow wife, bastard son, widow wife, bastard son–ALL MY FAULT!
Obviously, I didn’t need to pay the ferryman to cross the river Styx that night. The doctors were able to stabilize me and after a long night at the hospital, they sent me home. Like most men who just dodged a major bullet, I thanked God profusely (whom at the time I was not really on speaking terms with), made a lot of apologies & promises to my wife, and then pretty much went back to dysfunctional life as usual.
That’s not to say that I didn’t make any changes after that life altering event. My wife and I decided to simplify our lives, so we sold our house and moved into a comfortable rental. I entered counseling to help me sort through the years of pent-up stress, rage and angst that results from prematurely losing a mother and dealing with a lifetime of daddy issues. Shoot, we’d even started to look for churches after being functionally apostate for over a decade. It was more than a year without another incident. I thought that the last trip to the hospital was simply a one-time wake-up call. That was until it happened again.
My wife and I had just been in an argument. I left the house to cool down and get some gas for the car. Pulling up to the gas pump, I opened the door, just like I’d done a thousand times before, then as soon as my foot hit the floor, my heart started pounding erratically like there was a high scoring pinball game playing in my chest. I didn’t want to believe what was going on. Luckily, I was still close to home. I quickly drove myself back and my sister took me to the ER while my wife stayed with the baby.
Although I was as scared this time, as I was the first time, there was some comfort in knowing what to expect. They’d admit me immediately. I’d have my blood pressure and temperature taken. They’d perform an EKG, and they’d follow-up by taking some blood to test at the lab. Next, I’d be put in a room, hooked-up to monitoring equipment and an IV drip, and then the physician would interpret my EKG results and make a decision regarding how to proceed.
While waiting for the doctor to make a move, my thoughts were with my bride and baby. That said, I also felt an overwhelming sense of doom. I kept praying to God. I was repenting, and pleading to be remembered if this was my time. But I was frightened, because, at this point, we still hadn’t found a church and I was convinced that, if I were to die that night, I would’ve been hell bound. While I knew that going to church doesn’t make a man saved, for me, avoiding Sunday worship was a sign of my disobedient and unrepentant heart.
Long story short, I didn’t die. Again. Nevertheless, I needed to acknowledge that, while I’d made some changes since the last time, I knew I’d barely scratched the surface of my crazy. Even though I understood that there was still a lot of psychological muck to tread through, the demons that truly plagued me were more spiritual in nature. I wanted to renew a relationship with God, but I needed to find a place to do it. The problem was finding a church home was proving to be a discouraging task.
I ran into the typical church hunting scenarios. Some churches had solid preaching, but the people in the pews made me feel like an illegal alien at a Tea Party rally. On the other hand, there were ‘churches’ where the members would be friendly but then I’d be hard-pressed to even hear the the name of Jesus being mentioned during a sermon. So basically, I’d lost hope and questioned if I’d ever find a biblically grounded congregation that’d accept the damaged weirdo that I am.
Just when the Calvinist in me was about to go fatalistic, and have me resigned to my fate of eternal damnation, my wife did a Google search for local churches and we found Trinity. The irony is, we’d driven all over Los Angeles County looking for churches and all it took was a few keystrokes to help us find a church that’s 2 minutes from our house. At first, we just started by listening to a couple of sermons on the website. After confirming that the gospel was being preached there, we checked-out Sunday worship. We were immediately impressed by the warmth extended to us. So we kept at it. Next thing you know, we are going to Life Group, Bible study, and then I’m helping Pastor Albert teach kids karate.
I wish I could say that getting right with God has coincided with miraculous healing of my literally broken heart. Unfortunately, I can’t. While there has been many great changes in my life, since that last visit to the ER, I’ve had 2 more episodes. Now, I have medicine to take when my heart goes wacky. Unfortunately, stress still seems to be the trigger. Much to my dismay, the only way to get rid of stress completely…is to die. With a second son on the way, I’m not quite ready to be with the Lord just yet.
Based on the battery of tests my cardiologist put me through, I’m told that I have a pretty high tolerance for activity and that I have no activity restrictions. So, I know I shouldn’t act like it’s the end of the world. Regardless, I know that things aren’t the same. As I stated earlier, stress is the trigger, but when it actually kicks off is so random. This frustrates me more than anything.
I don’t want to end this post on a depressing note. The last thing I want is sympathy. Chances are, if I take care of myself, I can still live a relatively long and productive life. Most days, I can run a 5k and follow it up with 45 minutes of shadow boxing and hitting the heavy bag. On these days, I still hold onto the delusional notion that maybe I could compete again if I can just drop the spare tire around my midsection.
However, with each time my heart goes haywire, I realize that my days of feeling like an invincible twenty something are behind me. More than that, I’m reminded that I must still be holding on to so much baggage. I’m far from the model of physical and spiritual health that God wants for me. I’ve begun to accept that this illness may be the thorn in my side that keeps me honest. It’s the only thing that rattles my pride, strips me of my idols, reminds me of what’s truly important, and forces me to be dependent on the God who I constantly stray from.
Despite it all, I’m faithful. In recent memory I’ve seen God do things for me that I had assumed would never happen. Perhaps, the Lord will never heal me. I don’t know if I can say that I feel at peace with that notion, but at least now I can say that I feel free to go to the source of the peace for which I seek. In the meantime, say a little prayer for me and my family.
John K. Lee stopped going to church as soon as he could drive and it’s been almost 2 decades that he’s been speeding away from the Lord. While John’s faith journey has taken him through some dark and lonely roads, God’s grace has gently steered him back to the faith of his youth. The recovering prodigal now calls Trinity Nazarene his church home and is trying to let God navigate his life as a husband and father. Over the years, John has had a lot of interesting and at times heartbreaking bumps in the road and with the help of his spiritual brother, Hekima Haynie, he’s hoping to share some of those experiences on his soon-to-be-launched (late November) podcast called: The Unlikely Prophets Podcast.