Then the shepherds said, “Nah, we’ll pass.”

Good NewsImagine if, on that first Christmas, the angel described what Christmas would become in the 21st century…


But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.


Because of today, future generations will add two to three family parties, two staff parties, three to four church programs, one school performance, many days of shopping at crowded malls, daily deliveries of boxes, fifty greeting cards, and at least one night of wrapping gifts. Their children will go to practice upon practice to prepare for performances and they will watch them at school, at church and at civic events. They will sew costumes and rehearse lines. Their friends will host a dinner party or two to add to the festivities. And there will be lots of baking to do.


They will cut down trees and hang pretty bobbles on the branches. They will place giant, inflatables of a jolly bearded man in a red suit on their lawns. Nearby there will be a green, monsterish plastic creature people will call a “grinch.” And, much will be made of a deer with an illuminating nose.


People will sing songs about a “Silent Night” and a “Holy Night” and sing about peace while having no idea what true Peace is.


It will all be so much fun! People will borrow money to make it all happen. People will work as hard as they can to provide something called, “the perfect Christmas.”


Elves, reindeer, snowmen, a baby in some straw, boughs with red berries and fa la la la lah. Yes! That is the miraculous “Good News” we’ve come out here to tell you about tonight. Pretty exciting, don’t you think? People will even be rude to each other and God’s people will get angry at people who wish them “Happy Holidays.” Most won’t really care much if people know this Savior born today but it will be very important to them that people say, “Merry Christmas.” They will make memes and share them on something called “Facebook.”


Now hurry off, you shepherds. Get down there to Bethlehem and find that baby. If you don’t you’re going to be messing up nativity scene pictures for all eternity! We can’t even imagine Christmas plays without those little kids in bathrobes with towels over their heads! Go, go now.


I think the shepherds probably would have rolled over and said, “Nah, we’re all set. We’ll pass.”


Good news. Great joy. Emmanuel. God with us.


With you. With me. God: available, present, guiding, shaping, comforting, rescuing, rebuilding, renewing and defining. Hope. Purpose. Peace. Meaning.


Is that Jesus present in your life? With you right now?


Wise men still seek Him. Wiser men follow Him.


“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~Jesus

Scott-Self-7970-2Scott Linscott is a writer, photographer, life coach and speaker living in Westbrook, Maine with his wife, Robin.  In May of 2012 his oldest son saved his life by giving him 60% of his liver in a living donor transplant.  Scott and Robin have three grown, married children and one granddog.

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I can’t wait for all my Christmas presence. (No, that is not spelled wrong.)

I'm sorry clickbait, I'm breaking up with you to see other people.

I’m sorry clickbait, I’m breaking up with you to see other people. Real people.

I like my smartphone. I like it too much. I reach for it when I wake up in the middle of the night. I have a tough time turning it off at the movies or keeping it in my pocket at dinner. My heart skips a beat when I drive away realizing I left it behind on the counter. I like to have Robin drive so that I can read Facebook. I’ve got it bad.

Social media felt like my only connection to life for the year I spent laying on my couch either hoping for a transplant or recovering from the transplant that came. I’m serious. I think I might have gone insane without it. My phone and my xbox was about all I had day after day when Robin headed for work.

The problem is that I’m now addicted and need to break the dependency. Weird, huh? I mean, I came through the whole transplant thing having taken a number of class 2 narcotics without a single addiction. These were the type that you have to show your license to pick up and have the doctor prescribe every single month. I have built up a tolerance to pain killers because of them. The docs watched me for signs of dependency. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I hated the foggy feeling pills gave me even though I loved being in less pain.

I’ve watched the videos of families sitting together but far apart, each person holding their own electronic device. I watched packs of teenagers walk past my office not talking to each other but all either texting or talking on their phones. I am genuinely sad each time I witness people separated by electronic walls.

But, I am one of them.The truth hit me the last time my oldest son and his wife visited. At one point I looked around and counted the forcefields each of us had around us. I had my tablet on my lap, my son Josh had his oversized phone in front of his face, his wife Kristen’s laugh while watching a video on her phone was what made me even look up and my wife had a laptop computer on her lap. The only one not absorbed by some electronic gadget was my dog, Pompom. Perhaps she was the one watching the TV mounted in its prime position on the living room wall, blaring away unnoticed.

“These are the people I love,” I thought, “Why am I looking through Reddit? Why do my 1024 friends on Facebook get this time while my family is here with me?” (Yes, 1024 friends. I told you it was bad.)

I am determined to break my addiction in 2015. I may have to be the annoying dad who takes everyone’s phones and computers and locks them away when we gather. I’m going to leave my phone at home on purpose. Airplane mode is going to get more use in 2015. I may even rename it “presence mode.”

Forgive me if I don’t get right back to you when you text … or comment … or tag me …or snap … or Instagram … or email … or …

I’m sorry. I’ll be walking my dog and paying attention to my wife. I’ll be playing “The Game of Things” with my family, watching a movie with my dad or enjoying conversation with whoever I am with at the moment. Maybe I’ll even read a real paper book or two. Maybe I will start writing again. I’ll get back to you. Leave a message at the beep.

This year I don’t really want presents. I want presence. I want to give presence and I want to receive presence.

Sorry clickbait, you’re going to have to wait no matter how “incredible” or “mind blowing”whatever it is that happens at 1:08 in your video is. No, I don’t care what number 18 is on your list of 38 things that I have to see. It won’t take me from people present anymore.

No, I’m not going to post that I’m leaving Facebook so I can see how many people beg me not to. I’m not leaving, I’m just going to try to consume less.

Presence.

It’s time for me to break this addiction.

Where should I start?

#presence

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May I sit next to you, forever? These seats are spectacular!

Seats.

Good seats are expensive. Cheaper seats don’t provide as good an experience. Some seats are soft and comfortable and others are rock hard and a pain to sit on. Some seats are narrow and constricting and others are roomy enough for two.

“Can I sit next to you for the rest of my life?” was the question I asked in December of 1982. “Will you sit next to me?” I didn’t phrase it that way but it’s what I meant.

Our seat selection started when we sat side-by-side in December of 1981 watching comedian Bill Murray in the movie “Stripes.” We knew next to nothing of each other except for the externals. Robin saw me as someone who always had a different girl at his side and I saw her as the girl who studied way too much.  It was our beginning.

We’ve been sitting next to each other for 33 years since then in a variety of seats.

Newly married, we either sat in simple chairs we could barely afford or chairs given to us as hand-me-downs. We watched our basic television in a tiny married-student apartment on the University of Maine campus.

A few years later we sat in a hospital room welcoming our first child. Our looks bounced back and forth from joy to terror. We sat in those spots two more times over the next four years, looking more confident and more overwhelmed with each birth.

Our seats shifted to minivans and school bleachers over the next two decades. We sat for award ceremonies, playoff games and plays. We left our seats only to coach or help our kids play their sports and chase their interests. It was difficult to sit together at times because of the three lives sitting in between. Sometimes we felt distance and struggled to connect. We made efforts to get away, just Robin and I, to sit close, child-free at least once a year.

We sat at graduations and listened to speeches. We took pictures of our three in their gowns and mortar-board hats to add to our photo wall. We added chairs for friends and families to sit with us to celebrate.

As time passed, some seats were harder than others. There was the time we allowed our seats to drift so far apart that we asked, “do you even like sitting with me anymore?” We felt like we were doing little more than sharing a bed and serving three little lives. We worked to pull our chairs back together.

There was the season we slowly came to recognize that the church seats we were sitting in were unhealthy and toxic. Changing our seats from church chairs to therapist’s chairs was very painful, even though we were surrounded by friends who were making the same break from spiritual abuse.

There were the seats we nearly lost to the bank while serving a parachurch ministry that was underfunded. We pulled our chairs closer again and prayed for rescue and provision.

Our seats have moved over the years. Sometimes we have snuggled into the same, large, overstuffed, comfy chair and sometimes our chairs have intentionally faced away from one another when we’ve argued. Thankfully, we have spent more days in the comfy chair than we have spent apart.

We sat in painful chairs saying goodbye to Nana, Robin’s mom, after watching colon cancer take her life and we sat in celebration seats watching each of our children marry their loves. We sat in terribly uncomfortable chairs in far too many physician’s offices praying for hopeful words but instead hearing bad news week after week as liver disease fought to take my life.

Robin sat in a waiting room chair on May 7, 2012 trying to distract herself with work hour after hour while husband and son lie in separate operating rooms less than 100 yards away. The risks to her son, giving 60 percent of his liver to his father, were small but still left the possibility of the unthinkable. The surgery for her husband brought hope for a future but offered no guarantees for survival.

Seats. Some we choose. Some are assigned. Some just happen. Some are exceptional and some are dreadful.

Robin-beach-1On Monday, October 20 our seats brought tears. Sun shining, sand in our swimsuits, waves crashing nearby, I looked into the eyes I’ve looked into a million times before. They were the eyes that watched “Stripes” with me, the eyes that said “I do” when the minister asked if she wanted to sit with me forever. They were the same wide eyes I saw at the birth of our first child. They were the eyes that filled with tears when I said hurtful words and then shifted quickly to forgiveness. They were the last eyes I looked into when I said, “I love you” when she kissed me just before they wheeled me into the operating room.

On this beach, my mind flipped through memories like pages in a flip book while I looked at her smile and watched a ball of sea water cling to the tip of her nose. I saw our 9 year old Jake dancing on second base wearing a crooked baseball helmet. I saw our 4 year old little girl dressed in her puffy, purple snowsuit standing at the peak of a parking lot snowbank yelling “I love Daddy” as loud as she could to listen for the echo. I watched tears come into my father’s eyes, after a Little League game, when my 12 year old handed his Grampa the ball from the home-run he hit during the game. It’s incredible how fast life can flash before our eyes. They say it happens before you die but I find it happens often now that I get to live.

“Can you believe we are here?” I asked. “We are sitting on a beach in Maui.”

It’s been two-and-a-half years since my transplant and still the emotion is raw, just below the surface. Tears found their way to the top several times when I was in Maui. Sometimes Robin was with me, sometimes I was alone and sometimes I was with my sisters. (We were all there for a family wedding.)

Tears. Good, thankful, tears of joy.

I welled up watching my animal-loving sister Gloria find joy feeding fish in the resort pond. I cried looking at a picture of my sister Gail running through a beach scene I set up for her. I cried while watching powerful waves crash into rocks as we drove the road to Hana. I even cried alone lying on the beach photographing a tacky, pink ukulele against the backdrop of a beautiful sunrise. I cried a lot of happy, grateful tears that week.

All I could think of was what a gift life is. During the most difficult days of transplant, I was sure I wanted to die. I had no idea what lie ahead. On numerous days all sense of hope was gone. I had days when I so hated my seat that I just wanted to leave.

I’m glad I hung around for the next act. I’m thankful that my Jesus pulled up His chair and leaned in to give me the strength to keep fighting. I’m thankful. Every day is indeed a bonus day.

I know that the majority of my readers are fighting trials. I understand the thoughts you have because I had them. I know you are miserable and that death looks so much better than constant pain. I know. I remember. I know that feeling of getting cards and emails from caring friends and thinking, “Yeah, right … that’s nice but you have no idea what I’m going through.”

I wish I could give you a glimpse of hope. I wish I could introduce you to Hope and convince you to give my Jesus a chance to pull up His chair. I wonder if I had had even a glimpse life today, 30 months after transplant, sitting next to the love of my life on a luxury sailing catamaran watching the sun sink into the Pacific ocean, if it would have given some strength on the worst days.

I know your seat sucks right now. I know, like a baseball fan at Fenway Park sitting behind a pole, pain obstructs your view. People around you are telling you to look to the future, that the view is good, but all you see is pain, pills and bills. I remember your seat.

Maybe you could look at me for a moment? First, see me sitting in my mobility scooter, wearing my adult diapers, unable to walk 100 feet, abdomen swollen from fluid buildup and removed from the transplant list in March of 2012, too sick for the surgery. And then, look at the pictures below, October 2014, and understand that you don’t know what might be ahead if you continue fighting and hang on until the storm clouds clear. I know, I know … you think they’ll never clear but trust me … they might. They won’t if you give up.

Robin and I are sitting in our seats again, hand-in-hand, watching the curtain rise on the next act. Like everyone else, we don’t know what’s ahead. All we know is that we’re glad to be given this time together.

Then I will make up to you for the years That the swarming locust has eaten. Joel 2:25

Robin-maui-1

Gloria feeding the fish.

Gloria feeding the fish.

Gail running on the beach.

Gail running on the beach.

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Robin-maui-2 Robin-maui-3 Robin-maui-4 Robin-maui-5

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Megan makes people better. She was my PUSH to Trek in 2015.

Megan Makes People Better

Megan Makes People Better

In my last post I told you that I registered for the three-day, 180 mile, 2015 Trek Across Maine because of a girl named Megan. I promised to tell you about her in my next blog entry. Here goes.

I once had a coach tell me that there are two types of people in the world; whiners and shiners. I think there are more types than just two but I know what he was trying to say. He was telling me I had a choice of which type of person I would grow to be. I could be a whiner, always complaining about one thing or the other and bringing people down, or I could be a shiner choosing to be positive and part of the solution.

Megan is a 17 or 18 year old shiner who inspires me to be better.

The backstory is that I met this incredible, selfless, driven young woman  this past Spring when I helped her host a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at our church for all her summer benefit activities. She was riding, running and swimming all summer long to raise money for a number of causes. Good stuff, right?

Truthfully, I saw it as a good chance to connect with people in the community and do something good for others. I thought it would be a good service project for the people in our church and be a lesson for us in serving others. But, Megan surprised me with her own lessons for me.

Though only a senior in high school, she impressed me. Understand that I’ve worked with a couple thousand kids over the years. I spent 25 years as a youth director for large youth groups before liver disease came on the scene.

After all that experience, there are about dozen kids who stick in my mind as truly exceptional. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with tons of great kids over the years. I’m talking about students who just seem to radiate a certain “world-changer” attitude. I’ve been at it long enough to see them go on to some pretty amazing roles. I’m certain Megan will be on that list. 

Some people just make other people better.

During the spaghetti dinner I made small talk with Megan and started to recognize her shine. I watched her interact with her family and the people there and noticed something different in her. I talked with other adults who were there helping and noticed how they talked so positively about her. Some told me how her example made them better or helped them achieve goals they never thought possible.

When I asked about her summer events, Megan told me about riding in the Trek Across Maine in honor of her uncle. I listened to her talk about how proud she was of her mom making the ride with her and heard her talk about the others that came along. I was impressed at her influence but didn’t see that it was already at work on me.

And then it came. Megan looked me directly in the eye after I told her about my own mini-achievements in cycling since my transplant and said, “come on the Trek with us!”

First, I was taken aback by her confidence. Most teenagers have difficulty looking strangers in the eye and yet here she stood, extending an invitation with a hint of challenge.

Second, because the Trek is a three-day, 180-mile ride, I laughed at her. At that point, my biggest achievement since surgery was 35 miles pedaled in one day. I reminded her of all my transplant limitations and floated a number of excuses thinking, “this kid is crazy. She has no idea what a wuss I am.”

Megan did not back down. Instead she insisted, “Come with us. You can do it.” Megan wasn’t interested in  hearing about my limitations. She didn’t believe them. Her confidence made me start questioning them myself.

By the time the spaghetti dinner was finishing up, after spending the evening with her family and understanding exactly where this exceptional kid came from, I brushed her off with, “Maybe next year.” I was sure she’d move on and forget about it.

The next day, Megan started texting me. Remember, I know teenagers. Teenagers have been my life. It’s not normal to text an ugly, old, chubby, bald dude who you have just met and say, “What are you doing tomorrow? Let’s ride!” Now, looking back, I have a strong suspicion that I may have been another of Megan’s projects.

I remember agreeing to a ride thinking it would be okay if her mom, Karen, came with us. I was pretty sure Megan would be bored with my pace but I figured that if Karen came with us that I’d have a better chance at saving face. But Karen didn’t show so it was just Megan and me. We rode, talked and put in the miles. All the while she kept saying, “you’ll be fine, ride the Trek with us.” Megan patiently pedaled my pace.

“Maybe I can do it. Maybe it’s not absurd. Maybe I will do the Trek. What’s stopping me? So what, I had a liver transplant? Why should that hold me back?” I think I had a little, white angel on my right shoulder sitting on a new, carbon-fiber bike, talking into my ear.

Then, on the left shoulder, a red-caped devil sat in an overstuffed chair with a Super Supreme extra cheese pizza on his lap, saying, “What are you? A moron? You’ll be 52 years old, you’ve got the body of a pastry chef and you had the largest organ in your body yanked out for a new one. You can’t do it. Are you freaking crazy?!?”

And then one Saturday after Megan headed off to school, Karen was in the riding group that helped me accomplish my 2014 mileage goal of a 50 mile ride. Karen encouraged me up the hills, made sure I was drinking enough water, asked how I was doing and cheered me up and over several nasty hills. It’s clear that, where Megan is concerned, the apple does not fall far from the tree. I asked a lot of questions about the Trek.

I got home with 51 miles on my GPS,  logged on to the website, paid my registration and hit “submit.”  I was officially registered for the Trek Across Maine.Why? All because a driven, confident, shiner asked if she could hold a spaghetti dinner at our church back in April.

People like Megan make the people around them better. They help us look past our limitations to consider what might be possible if we dare try. I want to be that type of person. I want to encourage people to press on to discover their potential.

I have no idea how I’ll do or if I will complete the whole Trek but I do know that I will work hard to accomplish my new goal. I know my effort will encourage someone lying on a couch somewhere praying for their gift of life to know that there is life after transplant.

No matter what happens, finish or fail,  I’m confident I will be better for trying because of all the Megans in my life who have stepped in to give me a PUSH when I needed it.

Click here to give me a PUSH in my 2015 Trek goal.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, Says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

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PUSHing through and checking off goals in my liver transplant recovery. Donate Life cycling team.

2014 Donate Life cycling team.

2014 Donate Life cycling team.

In September 2012, 4 months post-transplant, I crossed the finish line of a ten mile ride with my legs shaking like Jello. I was a participant in the Not Dead Yet ride at Pineland Farms to benefit the Cancer Community Center. Family and friends cheered my accomplishment knowing that less than 5 months before I was close to death. Finishing a ten mile ride was a big, crazy goal but those are the goals I like best. (read the blog post from 2012 here)

Other cycling goals on my checklist have fallen since then. In 2013 I rode 100 miles in a week and made it 35 miles in one ride. Check! My goal for 2014 was a half-century ride of 50 miles. That goal fell a couple weeks ago. Check!

Yesterday, I returned to Pineland Farms for the 2014 Fight Back Festival NDY ride.  I cruised across the finish line after 25 very hilly miles and felt great. It is amazing to think back to the last time I came across that same line and see how much my life has changed. All three of my kids are married, I’m working full-time doing something I never could have predicted and I’m enjoying my photography business again. New liver, new house, new neighborhood, new friends, new perspective, new life …

So what goal did I see fall at Saturday’s Fight Back Festival? It wasn’t the mileage. Look at that picture at the top of the page. Notice anything?

Boy howdy, that’s a sharp-looking team! Heck, we almost look like we know what we’re doing. Matching team jerseys and all, we made a statement loud and clear; “Donate Life!”

The reality is New England is one of the worst regions if you need a life-saving transplant. Our average wait time is among the longest because we have fewer registered organ donors. People like me, waiting for livers, are ranked by something called a MELD score. The higher the number, the worse shape you’re in. Basically, it’s a rating that gives you your odds of dying in the next three months. When I was at 36 MELD in March 2012 there was a 50% chance I’d be dead in the next three months.

In the Southeast the average MELD for transplant is 22 (10% chance of dying in next three months). Here in New England? Your MELD needs to be in the mid-thirties to be at the top of the list for an organ. Take it from me, I was much, much sicker at 36 than I was at 22! We even talked about moving to Florida to save my life.

What does that have to do with my goals? After my transplant I vowed to do whatever I could to spare people from going through what I endured. That means I talk with people, email people, write and speak about organ donation whenever and wherever I can. When I started cycling again to regain my strength after transplant, I wore my Donate Life jersey that I had specially made.

At group rides I saw cyclists fly by me wearing their team jerseys advertising local pubs or riding clubs. I started dreaming of a line of cyclists on the roadside someday here in Maine raising awareness for organ donation. Saturday, I saw that. At one point I was sixth in a single-file line of Donate Life cyclists!

10492009_10204984213624683_2609792815132046435_nWhen I came across the finish line, my teammates were sitting in the shade over to the right on a grassy hill waiting for me since I had hung back to encourage some newer riders on our team. Their hoots and hollers made me feel good but what made me feel better was the sight of them sitting as a team, wearing their jerseys. I know that everyone that saw our team on Saturday, at least at some level, considered what it means to donate life. I know I had conversations with a few about my transplant and the importance of organ donation.

I never want to go through what I endured again on my transplant journey. It was a hell I would not wish on my worst enemy. But now, 28 months out, I see the good that has come. Because of this mess, I live in an awesome neighborhood, am healthier than have been in 25 years and am plugged into an incredible church family.

Take a look at that picture at the top of this page again. Other than my dad and Robin, I had no relationship with any of those people just a year ago. And now, they are people who have come alongside, welcomed me, accepted me and PUSHed me to be a better person. Several of them were there PUSHing and encouraging when the 50 mile goal fell. When I saw them show up Saturday wearing Donate Life jerseys that they purchased on their it meant so much to me.

So what now? What’s the next goal?

trek 2015To celebrate my 3 year liverversary on 5/7/15, I will be riding the Trek Across Maine June 19,20 & 21. It’s three days and 180 miles.

In March of 2012 I had a 50/50 chance of dying. I spent 26 days in the hospital and had my own, special “code blue” incident that sent the medical staff running. Both Robin and I doubted I would get the transplant I needed in time.

Because of the selfless gift of my donor, (video) this winter I will PUSH myself to train for a ride the scope of which I have not tried since I was 17 and toured Scotland on a bicycle. The truth is, I’m nervous about it. I wonder if it will be too much. I need you to give me a PUSH.

Am I crazy? Is this stupid? Megan says it’s not. I’ll tell you about her and how she inspired me in my next blog entry…

Thanks Donate Life team! You guys helped me accomplish one of my goals even though I’d never spoken of it with you.

*PUSH – Pray Until Something Happens

To order your own Donate Life biking jersey just email sales@bikingthings.com and ask Luis about it. He’ll be glad to hook you up.

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50 Miles: Hidden tears behind sunglasses

PUSH

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

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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