Why my heart is filled with faith; a true story of near-death experiences and the undeniable truth that there is a greater power.
Feeling like you have your life all figured out is one heck of a feeling. But finding out you are nowhere near that point, after thinking you were, is devastating.
By the time I was 20 I had already “figured out” the key to life. I had all the answers, and I was legit. Not just because I was some pompous, recently not a “teenager” any more kind of guy, but because I had lived. I had lived on the edge and seen things many will never see in an entire life. I had laid in a hospital bed and been told I was going to die, and had a revelation that changed my life for the “better.” I was speaking and giving advice to youth and was totally on top of the world. The only problem was, it was just my world I was on top of. My tiny little world that in my head had been blown up to be larger than the one we live on — larger than you, larger than me, and larger than God himself. I was full of it…
I had somehow convinced myself that completing all of my life dreams and goals at any cost was completely acceptable. But for me, it was even more than acceptable. For me, I had almost died, I had almost seen the light and in doing so I had to make it my mission to show others that life is indeed short, and life is indeed a big question, but figuring out what your dreams were and completing them certainly must have been the answer. Not the small things, not the little things, the things that you grew up on, the things that made and makes you who you are — those things that made you, well, you. Those couldn’t possibly be part of the equation, right?
As I was “at the top of my game” and “living life to the fullest,” I never took time to realize how empty I really was. Once I felt that way I just filled it with something else I thought was the answer. That is until I went to Australia. I had signed up to go on a study abroad and internship experience in Sydney, Australia, my utmost dream destination all my life. I thought that this would be the trip that made me complete, that really showed people I was beating down goals and dreams like it was my business. Well, it certainly completed me, but not in any way I ever imagined.
Saying goodbyes was awkwardly easy looking back as I prepared to leave my family and friends for six weeks. Was I out of touch? Oh please, no way, just excited and determined! Ain’t nobody got time for feelings, when they’re trying to get to Australia. I made it through security at the Atlanta airport and made my way to my gate after being yelled at by the smallest but loudest TSA woman I had ever met in my life. I finally boarded and the excitement was overwhelming, that is until I was on hour 9 of the flight and was like, okaayyyy, I’m over this. It was a very rough flight, and for someone who never gets any kind of motion sickness, I was feeling pretty sick as we touched down. I remember feeling more exhausted then I had ever felt in my life. Once I finally was able to get up to my hotel room, I couldn’t do anything other than lay down. I then started going through a series of “the chills” and decided I definitely had a fever. I tried to sweat it out under the sheets and then showered and got ready for bed. I told my new friends that I wasn’t up for joining them to go out that evening, but I would see them in the morning.
I tried to watch a little T.V. and then started to get very dreary and had a funny feeling, so I took some aspirin. I finally dozed off, but was awoken thirty minutes later by a strong pain in my chest. Oh no. Not again. Please, not again. No way, not possible, cannot, will not, and is not happening to me right now. But it was. It was the same pain I had come to know a little over a year prior as a “heart attack” pain. I was so confused, the doctors said this would never happen again. They said I was fine! My first thought to myself was, “Well this doesn’t feel fine!” I stumbled downstairs and must have looked awful because the concierge immediately asked if I needed an ambulance. I declined and asked him to just call a taxi. Insert “I know you think I’m crazy line of text” here. But come on, I wasn’t even there for 12 full hours, I had no idea how any of Australia, their healthcare, and their billing worked, or even if my credit cards would work there — AND, I was kind of having a heart attack, so I wasn’t quite thinking clearly.
Once I arrived in the hospital, they checked me in and put me up in the heart tower. Due to my history with Myocarditis, they quite quickly deduced that it was once again the same thing. After explaining to me, that I was misinformed and it certainly could, and did happen again, they started to ask if I would agree to a biopsy. After being told they cut a tiny hole in my neck and then shove a tube down and across my chest so that they could pull pieces off, I was uncomfortable but was considering agreeing. Then the doctor says, (yes in an Australian accent) “Oh and just so you know, you will be awake the whole time.” That is indeed the point where I said (in a very southern and American accent), “Oh hell no.” That is also the point where my dad got on a plane to be with me while my mom remained at home with my siblings. Once he arrived, they explained to us both the importance of the biopsy. They told us that there is a good chance I have Large Cell Myocarditis and the only way to tell is if I agreed to the procedure. Large Cell Myocarditis is different from regular Myocarditis in that, it will never leave. It is there to stay, and will keep flaring up until the heart goes into complete failure. In other words, your days are numbered yet there’s no real way to associate a set timeline. Their best suggestion was that I start getting used to the idea of a transplant and begin considering getting on a list.
Needless to say, it would have been a very poor decision to not go through with the biopsy, so I did. It was a very interesting experience that I will never forget, and lets just say I was very happy to get it over with. As I began to pray with my father, family, friends, and was placed on the prayer chains, I could feel that awesome presence and that awesome power again. I felt guilty about calling to Him in my time of need after basically ignoring him for so long. But, after all that, he was still right there, immediately willing and ready to jump back into my life. You see faith and God are always there. Its just a matter of whether you choose to put them in your life or leave them to follow you around, waiting for their opportunity.
That day I realized something. I realized what I had done and how I lived my life for the past year or so. I was devastated. I was embarrassed. I was sick to my stomach. Here I had been throwing so much into my life and trying to do, and see, and be everything I could be, when all along I had forgotten a lot of things, but the most important being my God. I swore then and there that my life would change for the better, heck it already had. My eyes were officially opened. They had been slightly cracked the first time, but now I could see so much more. I could see the way I left my church and my God. I could see how my family and friends weren’t as important. I could see how I missed the things I grew up on and the things that made and make me who I am. I was devastated and crushed. The worst feeling I have ever felt in my life and a pain way more real and drastic than any pain I’ve ever known. I realized that dreams and goals are great, they are 100% a good thing, but only in good time. To dream and achieve is a wonderful thing, but to forget about the small and important things while doing so, isn’t. I beg you, please never, ever forget the small things, the important things. It will hurt way worse then not achieving a goal or doing something on your bucket list.
After all this, the doctor returned to the room. He looked at me and said, “Well I don’t quite understand, you have such a high percentage chance of having Large Cell Myocarditis when you get it twice, but you don’t. You are basically the one percent that got lucky enough to get a life-threatening virus a second time instead of having the same strand as the last one. So I guess congratulations.” I was thrilled, beside myself, and in awe. My Lord, my God, had never left my side. Always there, always ready, and always answering. I was blessed beyond belief and so very lucky for such a strong support group. So many events from my past had come too and made sense as well. So much, was fitting together and I understood. I understood that I am here for Him and He for me. I from then on also swore to take “his words, to my heart, to my mouth, to his people.” And that is what I am doing. Writing, speaking, whatever I can do to share my story and his message.
This became all to real when a friend said, “you know Andrew, you can’t live forever, heck the goal isn’t to live forever, it’s just to create something that will.” Just create something to live on further than you ever could. Affect one person, make one person smile, make any sort of difference no matter how big or how small. If I write 1,000 articles and millions of people read them, my purpose is to reach and affect at least one. I will live for Him and He for me. I am Andrew Werkheiser, and it took me a while, but I have a faith-filled heart.
Editor’s Note: Andrew Werkheiser is a new contributing writer for the Integrated Catholic Life™. The first part of his story of trial and conversion appears here. Andrew’s future articles will explore the wonders of living the Catholic faith with zeal and gratitude. He is a gifted speaker. Be sure to check out his ICL Speakers Page for his biography and list of speaking topics.
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