Mitchell’s last Nerf gun battle lasted 2 minutes. Just as his war game was beginning to unfold, he leaned against the wall about to pass out while taking very shallow breaths. With a whisper in his ear, “I love you”, Natalie lifted our son in her arms and gently took him back to his room. Mitchell looked off into the distance with his arms softly wrapped around his mom. 

We knew there wasn't much time to play. So Natalie made haste and quickly tore a piece from one of her dresses to make a headband – to show little Mitch she was “all in”. As I followed them back to Mitchell’s room, my heart swelled with a love and sadness that to this day I cannot find words to describe. In her arms was our dying son who just wanted to be a little boy. 

Mitchell would never leave his room alive.

During his time at home Mitchell received hand-written letters and packages from all manner of military officers who were serving all over the world – some in hostile theatres. They had been following Mitch and wanted him to know they were inspired by his courage and strength. Some even said it was for him they fought. One of the tender ironies was Mitchell loved the military and was so touched they would even think to write him. Call of Duty was one of his favorite games and, for a 10 year old, he had a brilliant tactical mind. Upon reading some of these letters from Marines, Mitchell would ask me “Dad, do they really think I’m strong?” I turned to my son and said, “Son, in every way that matters you are as strong as they get, and I am so proud of you.” His brow furrowed as he began to think deeply on my words.

Mitchell was so tired and listless at the time, but I continued, “Let me tell you why I think you’re as strong as people get: real strength is doing the right thing when nobody is looking … and you have always done that. You are trustworthy and obedient and good. I am so proud to call you my son. Strength, the kind of strength that matters, isn't found in the body, but in the soul. And Mitch, you have a very strong soul. I love you so much.” I kissed his forehead and he lifted his arm around my neck to hug. If only I could have frozen time …

Within 24 hours of this photo little Mitch would gaze out his window for the last time and contemplate his life and accept the harsh reality of his death. This young warrior, who was mortally wounded by an invisible enemy, demonstrated one of the highest forms of strength and selflessness by telling his mom he was going to be okay. 

Having lost my son to a biological enemy that knows no ransom, has no mercy, and offers no remission … I have decided to take up arms against this enemy of the body: to fight Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy with all that I am. This is a battle worth fighting because little boys like mine deserve to live. And any family is at risk. 

I have been taught that if we turn to God, weak things can become strong things; that God gives us weaknesses so we can become humble, and if we turn to Him in our weaknesses, God will make weak things become strong things. That is one of the reasons we are given hardships in this life. Today, I have more weaknesses than I have strengths but I hope, in time, I can become as strong as my little son. 

There have been agonizing moments, while stumbling in the pitch darkness of grief and loss that my soul has cried out “if anyone deserved to live, it was my son”, and that I should have been taken instead. Then a whisper to my soul reminded me death is not punishment, but rather a transition from one state of being to another. I was reminded of an 18th Century philosopher who said “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” 

The purpose of life: a masterfully calculated landscape of hardship, happiness and putting trust in things that are invisible to the eye but discerned spiritually … all in an effort to refine our souls. And while the world seems in a constant state of unrest and war … I find myself ever more concerned about the quiet battles of the soul … the kind of battles that destroy us from within. Those, too, are battles worth fighting – and fighting well.