Some of you reading this may know that years ago, when my dad was sick, I wrote a blog. He wrote a blog too. It was mostly about his/our journey through the process of liver transplantation. I think both of us needed some sort of outlet, a way to process, a way to stay sane… Or at least mostly sane.
For other readers, you will be surprised to learn that I ever blogged at all. Some of my old blogs may be even more surprising than the fact that this site exists.
Either way, its been more than 3 years since my last post, so why write this post and why now? Two reasons – (1) it has always bothered me that this story was left unfinished, but I didn’t know where to pick back up or how to end it – (2) I think I finally know what I want to say. First we need to catch up on the last three years. As Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride “Lemme explain… No there is too much. Lemme sum up.”
When my dad was sick everything was about getting him to surgery and getting him healthy. After surgery there was a big push for him (and me I suppose) to recover. After recovery there was a feeling of “what now?” Turns out there was a whole lot of “what” waiting for us around the corner. During the transplant process and during recovery I started talking to a girl (every good story has a girl). In fact, we talked through FaceTime the night before the surgery even though we had never met in person. Eventually I got to meet this girl and like every good story there was fireworks and romance when we met (no really, we met on 4th of July). We met on July 4th and on July 5th I told my dad I was going to marry this girl… and I did. There was a little more to it than that, but its a different story for a different day.
After the surgery not only did I find a girl, the girl, the one, but I along the way I decided to change careers. I had been in graduate school working towards a PhD. I liked it, but something was missing. Laying in my hospital bed the day after surgery, I watched the doctors go on rounds and I thought “man, I wish I had gone to medical school”. Then I thought “Its probably not too late to do that?” Then I decided “Yea, I’m going to try and become a doctor!” I went back to NYC and my PhD program and told them I was leaving to become a doctor (or at least MD doctor vs. PhD doctor). Fortunately, the program directors and my boss at Weill Cornell were great people and instead of kicking me out the door immediately they worked with me to help me achieve my goals. I delayed medical school for a year and they helped me finish my PhD early! It was a blessing and sort of a miracle.
So now I have a wife and a degree and I’m gonna be a doctor. All caught up, right? Well sort of… One more big change happened in the last 3 years… Actually it was in the last 3 months. This guy was born!
That’s my son, Calvin James Linscott. My wife Kristen and I have always wanted a family more than anything, so when we found out we could expect a little something extra this Christmas, we were elated. Being new parents has brought a lot of changes. Mostly good changes, some expected changes, and some that were sort of expected, but that we could never understand until we finally met Calvin.
If you’re like me, you grew up hearing things like “You’ll understand when you have kids of your own” or “You won’t know real love until you have a child”. I guess I sort of believed people when they said these things. I didn’t really have reason not to, but I certainly didn’t understand what they meant. At least not until December 28th at 7:37 PM. If you’re a parent you know exactly what I mean. You know how your whole world changes in an instant. Its weird. I don’t really have a better word for it. I guess I could pull out a dictionary and search for a 10 cent word to better describe it, but I doubt I’d find the right one.
Let me explain what I mean by “weird”. When I first held Calvin there was instantly this connection. I knew that from now on his needs would always come before my needs and that I would do everything in my power to give him the best life possible. Yet at the same time he was a perfect stranger. I knew absolutely nothing about him. I didn’t recognize his face, I didn’t know his smell, I didn’t know his personality… nothing. Yet our connection was so strong. How? I remember thinking at one point, “Is this how my parents felt about me?”
If you remember, when my family originally found out that live liver donation was a possibility, my parents looked at my siblings and I and said “We’ve talked and we don’t want to let any of you be the donor.” At the time, I thought they were crazy. I thought if there was any opportunity to save my dad, we were taking it! Years later though, holding my son, I stopped and thought to myself “I get it.”
It has been almost 4 years since our surgery. The disease that once consumed our lives has been put in its place. Its still there, haunting us in a different form. Surviving an organ transplant brings life, but also an ever-present risk of infection or rejection. If you’re a survivor who has someone else’s body parts inside of you, you know the feeling. This summer I worked with patients who have an inherited kidney disease called autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD). Those who have the disease almost universally require a transplant. Post-transplant many do extremely well. I met people 15+ years out from surgery. In the eyes of the world they have conquered their disease, but in their eyes I see that persistent little shadow of doubt that lingers behind. Its the shadow that has them holding their breath when they have their blood labs drawn. Is everything still functioning properly? It has them closely following their temperature when they feel sickness coming on. Is this the flu or something worse? My dad has to deal with this to a much greater extent than the rest of the family. It wears on him. It stresses him out. He tries not to let it, but once you’ve been through hell I can’t imagine the average person wouldn’t flinch at the thought of having to go back.
Still, at this point the memory of surgery and sickness doesn’t come to mind every day. There are days that are “normal”. The type of days that we longed for when he was sick. The day I met my son wasn’t a “normal” day though. I found myself thinking about our surgery, I thought of the pain I felt when I woke up, I thought of how scared I was to lose my dad, and I thought of how willing I was to do anything to help him. I had these thoughts because really what I was thinking was how desperately I pray that I will be a good enough father to my son that he would have no hesitation if he were asked to do the same for me. Once I started thinking about everything my mind continued to wander further and deeper. I
Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and some of you know how important my faith is to me. Some of you don’t. It kills me to think that sometimes my life is so far from reflecting what I believe that people who I call friends wouldn’t know that I am a Christian, but I recognize that it is likely a reality. If you don’t want to know about my faith, if its not your thing, I get it. The world we live in is broken. Its chaotic. Its imperfect. Inside our broken world people use religion for all kinds of twisted things. They use it for politics, they use it for business, they use it to push their personal agenda. Do me a favor though, since its Easter and all, read on because I don’t want to talk about religion (or politics), I want to talk about grace.
Since our transplant, Easter has been an emotional time for me and it is because of grace. Let me contrast the story I’ve been telling through this blog with the one that will be told tomorrow morning. When I found out there was something I could do for my dad, I was relieved. Why? Because it is so hard feeling like there is nothing you can do to help a sick loved one. Being a donor was an easy decision for me. Why? Because my dad deserved to live and I wanted him to live. He deserved a piece of me and he would have given anything for me if the shoe was on the other foot. I took a small risk to save one man who deserved to continue living.
The story I will listen to tomorrow is one I have heard many times, but one that has struck a deeper chord each year. It is the story of the death that Jesus chose to die for me and had to die for me, because I am imperfect. I am imperfect to the greatest extent of the word. I can’t even manage one day of perfect, never mind a lifetime of perfect. I do not deserve for someone to die on my behalf in order to make up for my imperfections and I certainly cannot make up for these imperfections on my own. This is why I find grace to be so astonishing. Grace takes care of all my imperfections and most amazingly it is free of charge, no money down, guaranteed.
It is the fact that grace is so impossible to achieve by my own actions that I am so amazed by its concept. I watch us as Christians trying to earn our grace and I can’t help, but be amused by how silly it is. Imagine you walk by two people. One is standing on his tip-toes reaching his hands as high in the air as possible. The other has climbed up on a chair and is doing the same thing. You ask the first person what exactly they are doing, and they say “I’m reaching for pluto!”. Before you can even ask the second person they butt in “Me too and look I’m closer”. This must be how silly we look to God. Reaching for what we can never earn on our own, sometimes even competing to see who can get closer. We look at the person standing on the chair as if though they’re special and are distracted from the fact that grace is entirely free to us.
It is free to us, but it came at a great cost. There have been a few times where my dad (as a pastor) has used our story as an analogy. He talks about how I laid down my life so that he could live. How I was scarred so he could be healed. I understand what he is doing and how it can work as an analogy. I appreciate the gesture, I really do, yet I can’t help but cringe inside when the comparison is made.
This Friday I sat in a church, in front of me a cross, a reminder of the horrible suffering that Christ went through. I thought of the comparison between my story and his story. I went to sleep on the operating table assuming I would wake up shortly after. I woke up holding a glowing button that I could push it in order to release pain medications that would reduce my suffering. I was scarred to save one of the people I love most in the world, a man who absolutely deserved the gift I was able to give. Jesus went to the cross knowing he would not wake up the next day, but 3 days later having died and then conquered death. He was beaten and bloodied then hung to a cross in excruciating pain, no morphine button sight, just a sponge with some old wine. He gave everything to me, to you, to all of mankind even though we had done nothing to deserve it. He did it because that is how great the love of our father is for us. His sacrifice the only way that our imperfectness could be fixed. His grace, given freely.
I have only started to understand how great the love of a father is for his children. While I am thankful, I am still baffled by grace. Sometimes I recall a moment that has stuck with me through the years. When jokingly asked “what is the purpose of life?” a friend replied simply “chill with God”. Tomorrow I will be thinking about grace, thankful for the peace that comes with knowing through that grace we have the chance to chill with God. This blogged has reached its end and although it ends here, our lives do not. The experience has transformed and shaped our lives. The sixty percent I gave was enough to save my dad and I would gladly do it again. However, it is only because of the one hundred percent that was freely given to us all that I am who I am today.