50 Miles: Hidden tears behind sunglasses


PUSH. 50 miles 28 months after transplant.

I’m going to be gross for a minute. Skip to the next paragraph now if gross medical stuff makes you want to toss your cookies. Twenty-eight months ago I was lying in a hospital bed at Lahey Hospital with a new liver of just 6 days. I had four balloon drainage bags coming out of holes into my abdomen. They were filling up with green and red fluids that the nurses drained every several hours. I had a tube going into my right nostril, down my esophagus into my stomach draining its contents into a jug. I felt humiliated because I wore adult diapers that my sister and wife changed for me. They cleaned me like an infant and wiped my bottom. No one told me that transplant recovery would be like that. I told my wife that I wished I hadn’t had the transplant at all.

Skip ahead to today, 28 months later. No drains, no diapers, no tubes and I am so glad that I went through with the transplant and was gifted a new life. Today, I pedaled my bicycle 50 miles.

A handful of my new friends rode with me and encouraged me up each hill and around every bend. Karen shouted”whoo-whoots” celebrating my reaching the top of the monster climbs. They had no idea what I was feeling or of the thoughts and memories going through my mind.

On one hill I had a mental image of the blue handicapped parking permit that hung from our car mirror for more than a year. I could see blue plastic so clearly. I could see myself sitting in my spot in the passenger seat, unable to drive.

At the top of a ridge I looked off to my right and saw spectacular rolling hills, the beginning of Fall on treetops and blue, hazy mountains in the distance. I saw myself confined to a mobility scooter at the Fryeburg Fair in 2011, unable to walk more that 100 yards. I pushed back the emotion that clenched my throat.

When I hit the 10-mile mark, I flashed back to September of 2012 when my son-in-law jumped off his bike and pushed me up the final hill of a charity ride that I was determined to finish. It was only four and a half months after transplant. My legs were done and I was in so much pain. But today, 10 miles was nothing. Ten miles is a quick ride for me now.

At about 28 miles I started losing the mental game. “Fifty is too much. You are never going to make it. You’ve got nothing.” Then Rick came up beside me and started a conversation. I think he could see that I was struggling. The next time I looked, we were at the 35 mile mark and the mental battle was over. Sometimes friends step in and take your mind off the struggle until you are coming out the other side.

By 40 miles these new cycling friends were laughing and joking and even poking fun at me a little. I knew I was going to make it. They were pulling and pushing me through it, giving me strength and encouragement.

For the last 10 miles, the sun finally came out and Russ and I shed our jackets. Why do I mention that? It changed my view. Russ was wearing the Donate Life cycling jersey I gave him this summer. Donate Life – the whole reason today even happened. My mind wandered again.

My friends could not see the tears behind my sunglasses when we stopped as my GPS ticked off mile number 50 to take the picture above. Fifty freaking miles! The last time I completed a half-century ride was in 1989 when I was 26 years old. Twenty-eight months ago I couldn’t even begin to picture the new life my Creator had in store for me.

Today I have a new life, a new neighborhood and so many new friends. Some people ask “why me” when bad things happen. I find myself asking the same on a weekly basis but for a completely different reason. Why have I been so blessed? Why is my life so good? Why is my recovery so remarkable when I see so many others struggling?

No, I don’t deserve it. There is nothing in me that makes me more worth God’s favor than anyone else.

Grace. Undeserved favor. I can’t figure it out. It baffles me. There’s a lot of God stuff I can’t grasp.

But, I’ll take it. I’ll take it with tears of thanksgiving hidden behind sunglasses.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Posted in hope, Lahey Clinic, Organ transplant, recovery | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Freak-out, Batman! What just happened?

Sharpen the SawSheesh, that was out of control. It felt like I was a combat veteran in one of the thriller movies I like to watch. You know the scene? A car backfires and the loud bang sends the vet into a complete and irrational panic? Yeah, it was like that, except it wasn’t a bang that sent me spinning. My flashback was triggered by a sudden sharp pain in my right side at the bottom of my rib cage. My mind immediately recognized the pain that I have not felt since before my liver transplant. I put my hand tightly against my abdomen and thought, “oh no, not again.”

My heart started racing and I went into self-talk. “Relax, it was just a random pain.”

It was the exact pain that kept me up so many nights. It was the same pain that left me curled up on the cold, bathroom floor begging God to let me die. Then it hit again … and then again. I laid down and pulled my knees as tight to my stomach as I could,  just like I used to. Yeah .. just … like … I used to.

“What the hell is happening? God, I don’t want to go through this again. This is not THAT pain, is it?”

I went over my day and thought about every food I ate. I did lift a pretty heavy printer. Maybe I pulled a muscle. Maybe my scar tissue was complaining? I couldn’t convince myself no matter how hard I tried. The pain was the pain, not just a pain.

I turned to my network of transplant friends online. Most echoed my thoughts; bile duct problems. No one said, “Bah, it’s nothing. No worries.” I wanted them to say that. They’ve said that lots of times in the past 27 months. Instead I heard of one of them going in every 8 weeks to get a new stent placed in her bile duct. Another told me of a permanent drain port sticking out of his side with attached bag. I like my liver community normally, but not so much at the moment. They were scaring me

The good news is that, other than that afternoon and evening, I’ve not felt the sharp pain again in three days. The occasional discomfort may just be imagined. I restarted the bile thinning medication that I was weaning from and have my next round of blood labs in a few weeks. My mental state is a bit better but I’d be lying if I told you that worry isn’t just below the surface.

I know, I know, worrying accomplishes nothing and my faith should be bigger than fear. And I know the bible verses some of you will email me. Really, I get it. But, the reality is that I still worry and I still have fear. Sorry to disappoint but I know my God knows me better than I know myself and I know He gets it. I’m thankful He’s patient.

Freaking out did have some positives though:

First, my psycho reaction (one friend called it “PTSD”) made me ask myself some tough questions like, “are you doing what you want to be doing?” For the most part, the answer is yes but then I also have to admit that I’m being stupid. I haven’t written anything in a month and a half, I am not reading anything for pleasure, my alone time with God is sporadic and rushed, my weight is climbing from lack of food discipline and I’ve averaged maybe only 30 miles a week on my bike over the past month; zero the last ten days. I haven’t been smelling any roses lately and have been falling behind in the rat race.

Abraham Lincoln would say that I’ve been in a race cutting logs without stopping to sharpen the saw. When we don’t sharpen the saw we work twice as hard and see half the results. I’m as sharp as a marble right now.

I’m a builder-creator-planner personality. I am always thinking about what comes next. I love that in my new life as a coach/shepherd/mentor/leader I have tons of dreams and so much I want to do. The toughest part for me has always been to recognize that it can’t all be done at the same time and that my God doesn’t even want it done at the same time. He has time.

Think about this for a minute. God worked 6 days and then rested, right? Did He need to rest? He’s God, right? Omnipotent, never-sleeping God, rested. Is that odd to you? From what I figure, He rested not because He was tired. So, then why would He rest?

I think He rested to enjoy looking at all He had created. I think He stopped to smell the roses because roses smell awesome, not because He was tired of making roses. I think He rested to show me that resting, even when I am not yet tired, is good. God doesn’t need to “sharpen the saw” but you and I do. We get tired. We get stressed. We burn out. I think God was showing all of us that it is not only okay to rest, but it is good to rest. When I am tired I get cynical, grumpy, snippy and I lose my words filter. I say things that don’t need to be said. My motivation goes out the window and my self-esteem takes a hit.

According to my transplant friends, I am not a total nut-case. Apparently most of them have had similar panic attacks at one time or another. Apparently what we endured was trauma and PTSD occurrences among transplant survivors is common. Somehow that knowledge doesn’t really make me feel any better but it does tell me I’m not alone.

Second, my episode woke me up enough to remember that I don’t ever want to go back to what I was before my transplant journey. I’ve been dozing, getting sucked into and discouraged by things that don’t matter,  and being distracted by stuff that can wait. I’ve been letting the urgent overtake the important. It’s time to reboot, reprioritize and start again.

Direction, not intention, determine destination. I intend to be a healthy, balanced person who values people. I intend to be a reflection of the Jesus I follow. But my direction lately has been taking me to an entirely different destination. My path and recent habits, if I continue to follow them, will take me to an unhealthy, obese, stressed out, grumpy man that is very unlike Jesus. Hope will be swallowed by cynicism, patience replaced by pressure and love for others obscured with “I don’t have time.”

I’m praying that the pains do not return.  I don’t want a drainage bag hanging at my side. Having to endure biliary stents being replaced every 8 weeks is something I don’t even want to think about. For now, I’m going to do my best to push those worries back and just focus on doing all I can to reach my destination.

It’s time that my direction match my intentions.

“Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” ~Jesus  (Matthew 11:29-30 The Message)

Posted in burnout, change, Liver disease, recovery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s another BIG day in the Linscott household

Our little Indiana Jones.

Our little Indiana Jones.

“You won’t believe where I found your son,” were words I heard at least once a week when Robin would call me at my office during our daily check-ins. The emphasis was always on “your.

My Donald Jacob, our third-born, was an independent little guy from the start. I spotted something in him at birth. We had settled on two possible middle names; Aaron and Jacob. When the nurse put him into Robin’s arms asking what his name was, Robin looked at me, “What do you think?”

“He looks like a Jacob.”

Jacob, of Bible fame, was a strong-willed character who liked to control the outcome. He did some things that were less than admirable to get just what he wanted. But, after wrestling with an angel of God, saying, “I will not let you leave until you bless me,” Jacob grew to be a faithful, stubborn man of faith. God changed his name to Israel and built a nation through him.

We named both of our boys for their potential. Joshua Abram and Donald Jacob. Abram became Abraham, and Jacob became Israel with both as integral parts of God’s plan to redeem mankind.

Our Donald Jacob (Donald, for his grandfather) became our Jake, our charmer, entertainer, trickster, cuddler and adventurer.

“When I came out of the bathroom, he was sitting on top of the counter cutting a cake with one of the big knives out of the butcher block!” Robin’s voice usually had a twinge of relief and wonder when she would relay her “your son” stories. We would wonder if he would survive. His Sweeney Todd impersonation and counter-top climb was at about 18 months old.

At three years old our Jake would routinely look for the biggest, most intimidating kid on the playground, walk confidently up to him, stand face-to-chest and give him a firm shove. Then he would laugh. We were positive that he would get beat up eventually.Somehow, he never did.

There was the time I spotted him at the very top of the rusty jungle gym at the town park grinning from ear-to-ear. There was the time he decided to play hide-n-seek without telling anyone and ignored Robin’s desperate commands of, “Donald Jacob! You come here right now! You are scaring Mommy!”

Our Jake grew, like the Jake of the bible, testing every limit. Our other two children sat and did their schoolwork while Jake focused on ways to distract us with laughter. From the time he learned to read he devoured books unless we told him he had to read a book. Of course, he would read and do his work on his terms, being in control.

He is intensely independent yet incredibly sensitive and loving. We watched our little guy become a loyal friend to everyone. He never bought into the kids who thought they were cool and put on an act. Our Jake refused to act. He could easily hang out with the popular kids and be part of their crowd. But what impressed me most was they way he accepted the less popular kids, the ones who might get left out at school or not picked to play. Our Jake grew to be a very loyal and welcoming friend.

I have watched a few of his wrestling matches with God. I have seen him weep in the face of poverty. I watched him refuse to stop working mixing mortar and lugging bricks building a school for the deaf. I have seen God melt his heart. At 22 years old, his wrestling is far from over. I sense that my culinary school graduate still has hold of his angel and will not let him go. I have a feeling that my God has something planned for him where he, like the Jacob of Scripture, ends up feeding many, with food that lasts forever.

Today, I get to stand at the front of a church filled with family and friends, and watch his high school sweetheart walk forward in her beautiful white gown. I watched my son pursue her and refuse to give up when she showed little interest. His Laura is known by her friends as a quiet woman who knows what she wants; strong and independent.

I will see them exchange rings, speak vows and tie a knot out of three strands representing each of them and Jesus as the third. I will pray that that third strand comes to mean more and more to them each year.

And then, I will pronounce them husband and wife; Mr. and Mrs. Donald Jacob Linscott.

Jake and Laura

Jake and Laura

I will do my best to hold back my tears and keep it together. Today is another amazing bonus day that, apart from the miraculous healing hand of my God and the incredible sacrificial love of my family and friends, I would not be alive to share.

I am so very blessed. Today I will officiate the wedding of my third. I officiated my daughter’s wedding shortly after I learned I needed a liver transplant in 2011. In 2013, I officiated my oldest son’s wedding a year after he saved my life by giving me half of his liver. Now, today, I am beyond blessed to officiate my youngest son’s wedding. I am three for three.

Tonight, my gorgeous wife of 30 years and I will collapse into bed, exhausted, with hearts overflowing. We have been through so much … so very much.

What an amazing gift it is to be parents of our three wonderful children. What a wondrous thing it has been to see our prayers answered in each of their lives.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Posted in Liver disease | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Dropping our heavy bag of rocks to celebrate

Dining OutLately I’ve been carrying a bag of rocks everywhere I go. It’s heavy. It affects my mood and can make me grumpy. My bag of rocks sits on my chest while I try to sleep and makes me toss and turn to try to get rid of it. It’s stickier than Crazy Glue, somehow.

Yeah, yeah, I know … “let go, let God.” Sing me another chorus from Frozen. “Just give it to God.” Thanks, got it!

My bag of rocks beeps at me on my phone and dings at me every time I boot up my computer. I’m sure you’ve felt the pressure of your own bag of rocks, right? It’s life. It happens. It’s totally normal. Sometimes you can set the bag down. Sometimes you can chuck the bag off a bridge. But, most of the time, you just have to deal with the rocks one at a time until they are gone.

I set my bag of rocks by the front door Sunday afternoon, climbed into my car and drove to New York City. (Well, I drove halfway and Robin took the second half.) We were heading to the city to celebrate with my son Josh and his wife Kristen. We were planning to blow through some of our savings, eat at fancy restaurants, tour the city a little and sleep on the floor of their tiny studio apartment on a futon mattress.

My bag of rocks tried hard to penetrate my thoughts but it couldn’t override what was happening.

Josh presentsOn Tuesday morning we sat in a conference room and listened to a presentation from an accomplished young man. He went through charts and diagrams, he explained things with words we didn’t understand. He made his case to the 30 or so people who gathered. And then he fielded questions from his audience. We couldn’t understand the questions either. The man was brilliant, an engaging speaker and very handsome in his three piece, tailored suit. His presentation was titled, “Protein Lysine Methyltransferases: Substrates, Mechanism, and Transition States.” Seeing that my spelling checker doesn’t even know two of the words in his title makes me feel a little less dumb.

I have been looking at the presenter’s face for almost 27 years. I have been praying for him daily since before he was born. I have watched him move from Oshkosh overalls to Little League Baseball pants to Gibson Guitars to college sweatshirts with “Bates” printed on the front. Today he is a confident man in a suit.

After he finished his presentation his name changed a bit. People called him, “Dr. Linscott” and congratulated him. His friends told me how well he did in his presentation and assured me that he was impressive after he finished and was secluded with his committee. All I could think of was my little, round-headed boy with his giant blue eyes pleading, “just pitch one more bucket of balls, dad? Please?” We would spend hours on the baseball fields. My son has always been driven.

While we waited my mind went to memories of him singing, “I’m the Lamest” with his rock band. I saw him in a suit on his first real, big date. I flashed to him trying to build as a child with various toys and getting frustrated when his creation would topple.

And then, there is the image from when he saved my life. He showed it as an introduction to his presentation that morning. He is standing at my bedside holding my hand in a blue hospital gown just before going into surgery to give me half of his liver.

Now here in New York City,  I watched my little boy with his colleagues, now a man. While he raised his champagne to offer a toast to all his labmates, I flashed back to a picture of his face in the middle of about a dozen of his 10-year-old baseball pals, all wearing their caps and looking over his birthday cake with giant smiles.

josh-krisWe walked to dinner behind he and his wife and I smiled because of the way they look at each other. So in love and on top of the world. I held my wife’s hand a bit tighter. I know her heart was just as full.

We drove home yesterday, enjoying our time together, with very satisfied hearts. Life is good. We have three great kids and so much to be thankful for.

On my way to the office this morning I bent over and picked up my bag of rocks. It’s just as heavy as when I left it but one or two of those rocks should be gone shortly. It will become more manageable day by day as I deal with each stone.

It felt good to take a break from lugging my bag of rocks around. It’s usually not this heavy. It feels good to rest and celebrate and remember that life is good. The best thing is that I know my God is a God who breaks up rocks, gives us others to share the load and even, from time to time, makes them fall to the ground.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

Posted in Liver disease | 4 Comments

Exponential deja vu. I am broken.

exponential-2014-east-orlandoI laid out on the carpet, face down, and prayed, “Lord, whatever you want. Break me. I give it all to you.”

It was April 2011 at the concluding session of the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. I had spent the last few days attending workshops and listening to motivating speakers talk about bringing faith to a generation of Americans that wants little to do with church as an institution. The closing speaker, a refreshingly genuine and approachable man who I regularly listened to online, Francis Chan, had just opened his heart to us telling the crowd of more than 2000 church planters why he was leaving the large, successful church that he planted. He felt too comfortable, too safe. He felt a disconnect with the life he was leading and the life he was reading in Scripture. He felt a stirring of discontent.

I sat in my seat knowing exactly what he was talking about. Just 4 months before, I left my church of 11 years for the same reason. It was a great church with lots of people, a beautiful facility and a healthy budget. We were making enough money to have both a savings and a retirement account. We were very comfortable hanging out with fantastic Christian people week in and week out.

My stirring began in 2008. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do but I simply had a restlessness. I knew that change was coming. The Great Commission “go” nagged me and would not let me sleep.

I started pursuing church planting partnerships in late 2009. I went through the matching process with a few organizations. One had great resources and relationships but I couldn’t accept its reluctance for women in leadership. Another had scarce resources with large denominational expectations so I quickly pulled the plug. At last, I thought we had our match in January of 2011. After a few theological hurdles fell we pressed on fairly confident of the future.

But, there were red flags that I tried to ignore. Most of the people planting were young. In fact, I was older than most of the leaders and trainers. Looking back now, I don’t think I fit the mold, the look, the approach and style. By April it was in serious doubt but we continued moving forward.

John Teter, speaking at a March church planting conference stated simply, “You cannot plant a church until you have been broken.”

I remember asking Robin, “Have we been broken?” Our resume included some very painful times when all we could do was trust God. We endured a painful church split and fled an abusive church. We served a para-church mission that could not pay us and nearly lost our home. We had empty cupboards. But, broken? No, we didn’t think we’d ever been “broken.” Despite its bumps, our life had been good.

We wondered how on earth, if we could not say we had been broken, that others in our group could possibly meet that qualification. I realize now that true brokenness is a sliding scale. The things that we considered breaking events when we were in our twenties seem so minor now.

Broken. His question haunted me, still.

I thought of it again after listening to Francis Chan’s story of leaving his church for the unknown out of an ache to do the things Jesus did. I had that same ache. When he invited planters to come to the front to pray, I initially brushed it off. I’ve never been one much for experiential worship, waving my hands in the air or being very expressive.

Still, I went forward and poured my heart out to God truly wanting to be entirely open to all He wanted to accomplish.

Five days later I lay in Florida Hospital learning that I would die without a liver transplant. Of course, the church plant plans came to a halt immediately. Even our hopes of hanging out with the cool kid, church planters over the summer to earn their trust evaporated on the spot.

Tomorrow I will sit in the same room where I prayed that prayer three years ago. I will be part of Exponential 2014 with more than 3000 people who are planting new works, doing creative things or investing themselves in revitalizing dying churches. I will sit there, healthy, almost 2 years after the transplant that saved my life.

I return knowing exactly what God has called me to. I come as the new pastor of a 125 year old church that was facing closing its doors unless it took some courageous steps toward change. Our little church of 35-40 has become a church of more than 100 in the last 8 months.

There will be clusters of enthusiastic 30 year olds, canvas messenger bags slung over their shoulders containing the newest in Apple products. Denominational church planting teams will brainstorm around tables. General sessions will be energetic, creative and engaging with full volume worship music and accompanying lights and video. It will look vastly different from the one pastors’ conference I attended several years ago. I doubt there will be even one suit coat or tie in the room. I felt so out of place at that conference. Here, I feel at home.

One thing is for certain. If a speaker asks, “have you been broken?” I will answer with total confidence because of the events of the last three years. My God walked with me to the edge of death and hopelessness, made my transplant possible and brought me back to where I am now, restored.

I have been broken.

Let’s roll!

Yes, I have been broken.

Posted in Liver disease | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Easter!

A quick update before I join a friend for 10-15 miles of pedaling this morning:

- Life is awesome! Headaches are my only lasting side effect.
– I’m too busy. That’s amazing since 2 years ago I was about dead with only medical appointments on my calendar.
– A little church in my neighborhood asked me to be its pastor. We’ve tripled in 8 months from 35-40 to around 120. I love it.
– My weight remains steady at about 215 though I would like it to be 200. I’m working on it.
– In June I will officiate the wedding ceremony for my third son. That’s a big deal when I didn’t think I’d be alive to see it.

This weekend we celebrate Easter and new life. My Jesus conquered death so that I might live. I will be alive eternally long after this physical body gives out. Still, I am so thankful to have more days in this flesh suit to enjoy my friends and family.

- Scott

Posted in Liver disease | 2 Comments

How should I shepherd this flock? Where do I begin?

PSX_20140318_112305“I have something for you,” Jen said. Her face wore her father’s half-smirk-half-smile that always made me wonder what he was up to. She stood facing me close enough that I could see the same spark that I used to see in her dad’s eyes when he would drop by my office to chat.

We stood in the lobby of a church that had weathered more than 125 years of history, about to walk in and join 200 or so others who had gathered to celebrate its next phase of life.  I was about to be officially installed as its new shepherd.

Most of my friends who greeted me before our conversation spoke clichés about God working in mysterious ways or asked if I ever imagined myself in this situation – pastor of a traditional, historic church. With my cleanly shaved head, my jeans and cowboy boots or canvas Chucks, none would have pictured me here. Was it possible that this church that had seen three traditional pastors come and go in just ten years, was moving toward embracing a guy like me with no suits, no robes and little use for ritual, ceremony or barriers of tradition? Were they really open to me with my diamond earring and my penchant for thinking outside the box?

Jen knows the story behind the diamond earring. Her father had one just like it. She knows that I pierced my ear in his memory after he passed away. She knows it is my reminder of her dad and the way he loved Jesus in such a real and transparent way. She knows that I loved his humility and his refusal to sit in judgement over others.

Vern was the only “old guy” I ever met with an earring. He lived his life with his wife Barbara at his side, always concerned for the hungry, the naked and the oppressed. The underdog was his heart, his love and his mission.

When Vern and I had our talks he’d tell me about things like playing music and singing on the steps of an old, downtown church decades ago hoping to connect with the street people. His half-smirk-half-smile would make its appearance when he described other well-meaning church folk wanting them to stop lest they attract the wrong crowd. He would not give up.  Vern was sure that Jesus came to give life and hope to that “wrong crowd.” That was his Jesus.

Even into their 70’s, Vern and Barbara took others to places like Cambodia to open eyes to poverty and injustice. There was no stopping them. With little money, a junky car, a simple lifestyle, and no resources, their treasure was in heaven. Their focus always on the “least of these,” the broken and people who didn’t know the Hope of Jesus.

It was just two years before when Jen’s father and I were in the same hospital, on different floors, trying to convince the nurses to let us visit each other. Vern needed major heart surgery and I needed a liver transplant. Neither of us knew if we would go on much longer. We tried to connect using iPads and the phone but were too weak to share much of anything. I missed him.

Vern passed away on April 27. 2011. I could not attend his funeral on May 1 because I was too sick. I so wanted to be there to hug Barbara and let her know how much her humble husband had meant to me, how much he helped shape me. I remember praying a simple prayer, “Lord, if you choose to let me live, I will carry on like Vern.” Six days after Vern’s funeral, I received the liver transplant that saved my life.

“I talked with my mom and she agreed you should have it,” Jen said. “Dad always carried this bible with him.”

I looked down to see a small, black, pocket-sized bible in her hand. I felt tears fill my eyes and my throat clinch tight with emotion. I had to turn away. Jen’s eyes filled too. I tried my best to use humor to regain control but had to walk away to compose myself. The service was starting in just a few minutes. I needed to pull myself together.

I know Vern would have been there that day if he were alive, wearing that smile I loved, earring sparkling and raising an eyebrow or two in the crowd. Vern always encouraged me to do the crazy faith things, to push past the doubters and trust God to do the work. I know what he would have said had I asked him if I should step up to this challenge and try to shepherd this struggling flock and reignite its fire. He would have grinned and said, “Why not you?” I would have asked him how to shepherd. I would have asked him for words of advice.

After the service and celebration, I reached into my back pocket for Vern’s bible and gently turned the brittle pages. It had that familiar old, black bible smell and feel. There were no bookmarks, no highlights and nothing that I could see standing out as his favorites. I was searching for any part of Vern I could find. And then I saw his name written on the first page with one, lone scripture reference: John 3:30. I quickly flipped to see what the one thing so important to Vern could be.

I read the words and knew they were Vern’s answer to me for how to shepherd this flock and where to put my focus. John 3:30 is a short, simple verse that sums up everything I could tell you about my friend’s life and attitude.

“He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.”

I read the verse over a few times thinking about those words and their power, oblivious to the conversations around me. When I snapped back to my surroundings I noticed that I was twisting my earring, my tribute to Vern, between my thumb and index finger. I looked up and saw a few people watching me, clearly wondering what was going on. I smiled, closed my newest treasure, wiped a tear from my cheek and thanked God for his providential love in allowing Vern’s message to reach me on this day when He had restored me to ministry.

Vern is right. My goal must always be that Jesus become greater, while I become less. It’s not about me.

Thank you, Vern. I miss you, my friend.

Posted in Christianity, church planting, direction, Liver disease, ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments