Without realizing it, my sweet wife often put her hand on Mitchell’s chest as if to somehow read, like fingers tumbling over braille, the fatal secrets his body held. We were waiting to learn the news about Mitchell’s heart and expecting to hear all was well and that the therapies put in place earlier that spring were working. 

A few minutes after this photo Mitchell’s mild-mannered cardiologist entered the examination room and invited our daughter to take Mitch on a stroll down the hall so we could have a conversation. He would then tell us he was gravely concerned Mitch was at risk of sudden death because his heart function was dangerously low. We immediately petitioned the medical board for Mitch to qualify for a heart transplant. A few weeks later he would be denied because it was thought his diagnosis of DMD was a contraindication to transplant. 

It was Halloween that night and Mitch was excited to trick-or-treat. He would only visit a few close neighbors before he became too weary to carry on. Mitch was always careful to ration his candy and never ate it in excess. In my estimation, restraint is a hallmark of maturity – and Mitch had a great deal of restraint and self-discipline. In truth, Mitch was most excited to go home and give candy to kids who came to our door – for he much preferred giving than receiving. To me, that was a beautifully quite measure of this young boy’s heart – for he would rather give than receive. 

When I think of my dear wife and son, both with broken hearts – I change a little on the inside. I care less about things of the world and outward appearances and I ponder deeply on matters of the heart. For matters of the heart are also matters of the soul. In the end, those are the only things that matter.

A few months later, as Mitch began to slip into the abyss while at the hospital, then home on hospice; Tyson Breckenridge an old High School friend, collaborated with another old friend, Tyler Streeter, who has become a talented artist. Together they selected a photograph of my son and Tyler began the labor of love by paining my son’s likeness. Our family was so wrapped up in the calamity of our son’s failing heart and then his death we didn't know they were performing such a kind gesture of love and service. Then, one day, a not long after my son had passed I received a package in the mail with a handwritten letter. Tyler wrote, “It is so ironic to me that a young boy with a malfunctioning heart could fill so many other hearts with so much love.” He continued to describe how painting my son was an emotional experience for him and that he cried many times while painting my boy. 

I wept when I read his letter. I even wept today when I read his words again. This gift from these two great men was more than an original painting … it was a gift from the heart and soul. I will forever be indebted to them for their kindness. The original paining, so artfully crafted by Tyler and lovingly orchestrated by Tyson, now hangs in our home on a very special wall, in a very special room. Tyler entitled the painting, “The Gift.” You can see a beautiful time-lapse video of the painting here:

A title aptly given … for if none else, Mitchell was at least a gift to me. As a young child I never considered that a gift might hurt. It never entered my mind that a hardship as heavy as losing my son might break me in places I didn't know existed, yet still be a gift. Who would have thought such strange things? Indeed, heavens ways are not our ways … and as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways … His thoughts, than our thoughts.

Heaven’s gifts aren't always easy to see; they hide in plain sight or obscured by our vanity. What’s more, our Father’s gifts aren't always comfortable or easy – sometimes they hurt or bring us to our knees. That’s the gift! That’s what I've learned, you see: sometimes heaven is only as far away as our knees. A gift my son and broken heart would painfully teach me.