In the summer of 2012 Mitch attended his last Cousin’s Camp where he was given a medal of honor for bravery. During the camp’s closing ceremony, his grandpa Garth called Mitch forward in front of the other cousins and awarded him for a quick decision that may have saved the life of one of his cousins.

The year prior Mitch and his cousin Ray were riding 4-wheelers when Ray’s vehicle tipped over and pinned him to the ground. They were quite a distance from the ranch house … far enough away that any cry for help would have gone unheard. Immediately following the accident Mitch hurried his 4-wheeler back to the ranch to tell some adults Ray was in an accident and in trouble. Because Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy weakened his muscles, little Mitch was powerless to lift the 4-wheeler from his cousin to help him personally. So, he did what we could do by racing to get help. Ray was seriously injured and bleeding internally. It was thought by his ER doctors he may not have survived more than an hour if left untreated.

Mitch didn't think much of his actions – he was only concerned for safety of his cousin and did what he thought anyone would do. Because a year had passed from the accident, this event was far from Mitchie’s mind. As far as he was concerned, all had been forgotten. But many of the adults didn't forget and they sought to help Mitch feel appreciated and special. They didn't need to do this for Mitch, but they did it anyway and I can’t help but feel this a tender mercy for my struggling son who often wondered if he would ever amount to anything.

I feel a wide spectrum of emotions when I look at these three images. On the left, our shy son was being given a gold medallion as a symbol of honor and appreciation from a loving Grandfather who cared deeply for his grandkids. Then the image of Mitch (top right) with his cousin, Ray … back together again, so they could laugh and play. On the bottom right is an image of Mitch was surrounded by cousins with arms linked cheering for him. 

They gave the greatest gift anyone could ever give: they gave their love and they gave it freely. Mitch would later tell me his thoughts of this day with tears in his eyes – grateful for the love he felt from others. Though confused by the attention he received, he felt special and that was a gift greater than anything material.

When I was in college I had a dear friend teach me something powerful about labels. She would often say to me “you’re nice” in response to something I might have said or done. At first I was startled by that label because I never considered that I might be nice. And if I wasn't, after she labeled me, I sure wanted to be. I learned quickly that we often become what we’re labeled – and whenever she called me nice, I only tried harder to be nice to everyone.

So, on this warm summer day, Mitch was given a label much like my old college friend gave me. In every way that mattered, Mitch felt they labeled him. He felt like they said, “You are brave. You are good. You are loved.” These labels lifted Mitchell’s spirits and gave our little boy who was unable to much, a deep feeling that he mattered. 

I hope on that fateful night, as my son’s life faded away and his spirit drifted to that place beyond the hills, I hope that this experience at cousin’s camp crossed his mind and gave him comfort and courage. I hope he felt the love and encouragement from those around him who cared. I hope those labels gave him the courage to look into the light, far past the darkness that was swallowing up his tattered body.

Sometimes I wonder what might have happened to my son’s soul when he crossed over to the other side. Perhaps there was a reunion of another sort. Maybe my earthly father greeted him and gave Mitch an emblem of courage; perhaps family long gone may have gathered round him and said “You did it! You were brave. You were good. You are loved.” Whatever happened, I am certain my son felt the goodness of Heaven above.

Parenthood … the most curious of things … how our love and concern for our children reaches far beyond those living. Though he is gone to a place that cannot be seen, I am still concerned about my son’s well-being. Such is parenthood. Such is love. I suppose it’s not too different from the worries of our Father above. For we, too, are loved.