Little Mitch was so nervous on his first day of school. I had just given him a fatherly hug, told him how proud I was of the young boy he’d become and that I believed in him. I told him that of all the people I have ever known, I knew he [above all other people] could do hard things.
With that, I whispered, “I love you, son.” Mitch sniffled and said softly, “I love you too, Dad.” As I turned to walk out of the classroom, Mitch said, “But … Dad?” I responded, “Yes, son.” “Will you be here to pick me up from school? I don’t want to fall. I’m afraid.” “Yes, sweet boy, both Mom and I will be back to get you. We will never leave you alone.”
Mitch swallowed the tender lump in his throat, held back his tears and tried to muster whatever courage his little heart could find. Natalie lingered in the classroom so she could make sure his new teacher and aids understood our son’s special needs. Though Mitch felt alone at times, he had a small battalion of people helping him. I believe, in matters of the Spirit, we experience similar help from those on the other side – however much we may feel alone at times.
There was a part of me wanted to take my son’s hardships away – to shield him from difficulty, pain, and sorrow. The other part of me knew that through struggle comes strength – both in matters of the body and the soul. Instead, I just prayed to my own Father that my son would be blessed with strength beyond his own.
As I waited in the hall and watched Mitch dig deep to find courage, I began to choke on the lump in my throat. Mitch wasn’t worried about making new friends, nor was he afraid of school work. He was nervous about being knocked over and that nobody would be around to help him up. Little Mitch was worried teachers would understand that he’d be asked to run and jump like regular kids – that he wouldn’t have the muscle strength to do what he was asked and that somehow, he’d get in trouble for it. This little boy wasn’t just worried about keeping up; he was worried about being left behind, getting knocked over in the hall and being trampled on by a swift river of students going from one place to the next. Such was the mind of my little child … innocent and pure.
True to our word, Natalie and I returned to pick Mitch up from school. Mitch carried a look of relief and determination on his countenance. As his Dad, I was so proud of him. He wasn’t perfect – nor did I expect him to be. He tried, and he grew because of it … and that made my heart glad.
I was then, and remain today, an imperfect dad. Having kids was hard, losing one was harder and learning to live without him is hardest. Sometimes I feel like Mitch in this photo – unsure and afraid. But then I remember my Father sits just out of view, looking in, knowing that through struggle comes strength.
Being mortal, it’s easy to forget the things that hurt and sometimes break us are the same things our Father uses to refine and shape us. And when, like Mitch, we think we’re on our own – if we look up and around – we may sense help from beyond … and strength beyond our own.
This I know. I know it in my bones.