What you see here is a small sampling of tender mercies I’ve observed along Mitchell's Journey. As you read what follows, you’ll be able to see a visual illustration in this image. I hope that in sharing things through this lens, it can help others examine their own life and start to see little points of light and the connections between them.
It starts [on the left] with tiny Mitchell, less than an hour after he was born. I was just about to give Mitch his very first bath and took this photo before a nurse placed my sweet son in my arms. As I held my little baby in my hands, I felt a lump in my throat and tears filled my eyes. In this very moment, my heart multiplied. I consider Mitchell's birth, and his very existence, a tremendous blessing in my life. One of Heaven's tender ironies is that sometimes our greatest blessings can become our greatest challenges ... and our greatest challenges can end up becoming our greatest blessings.
You’ll notice a subtle red glow behind the photo of newborn Mitch. That symbolizes the distinct impression I had the moment I first laid eyes on him. Though he appeared healthy and showed no signs whatsoever anything was amiss, I knew something was seriously wrong with him. For the next 3 years, I had a recurring impression Mitch would have a short life. I’d talk to those closest to me and it was always dismissed by others as if to say, “you worry too much.” But I knew something was wrong, and heaven wanted me to prepare. That is a tender mercy.
In the months and years that followed, I witnessed a tender relationship between Mitchell and his mother. I loved to see those two souls together. As time passed I had the feeling these two were meant to be joined as mother and son - that they both had an important mission in each other's lives. I would watch in wonder as these two beautiful souls served and helped each other in unique ways.
On the top left, you’ll see a photo of Natalie and Mitch just seconds after Mitchell was diagnosed, at the age of three. I consider Mitchell's early diagnosis another tender mercy. There, you’ll see a point of light is red because it symbolizes a hardship. Hardships can turn into blessings, too. You see, that hard news put in motion early medical intervention and a support system that would play a vital role in the health and well-being of our son. The circle of stars that surrounds little Mitch wearing leg braces depicts various people and organizations that surrounded our son on his medical journey. Each a tender mercy. Each a treasured point of light.
What followed Mitchell’s early diagnosis is a line of stars that signify a thousand, thousand points of light. So many blessings, I could write volumes of books about them. One day, I might.
As Mitchell’s life was coming to an end, the points of light we encountered became more tender and revealing of a Father in Heaven that cares very much about us. A Father who cares even about a little boy who was very sick and in need of comfort.
That line of lights from Mitchell’s early diagnosis led to an image that summarizes the life we had with Mitch, while he was with us. We did our best to make the most of the time we had. As painful as knowing death was certain, it was a tender mercy to know time was short and we needed to make the most of it.
An offshoot from that line of lights is a symbolic photo that means a great deal to me. Just a few months before Mitchell passed away, I was on a photoshoot with a friend who was growing his hair and beard for an Old Testament film. We wanted to take a series of photos of him depicting the life of the Savior. At one point, I asked if we could take a photo of Mitch leaving his wheelchair - which would serve to symbolize so much about my faith and son’s circumstance. We had no idea the comforting and symbolic role this image would soon play in our lives after Mitchell passed.
The red star, signaling Mitchell’s end-stage heart failure put in motion many, many points of light that I will begin to share, here on Mitchell’s Journey, in the coming weeks and months. For now, what you see shows only three. The green stars are symbolic of inspired acts of others that became tender mercies for our family and son.
One of those was points of light was a tiny puppy. Mitchell’s grandfather felt compelled, or better said inspired, to find a tiny companion for Mitch. None of us know what little time actually was left – but for some reason, his grandfather was in a hurry about it. Mitch had a few beautiful weeks with this puppy before he was admitted to the hospital for end-stage heart failure. When Mitch came home to die, this little puppy brought Mitch comfort, companionship, and love – all the way to the moment he took his last breath. You’ll notice in essay entitled, Nightfall, baby Marlie had curled around Mitchell’s head just before he passed away – providing comfort to a little boy who was in need of tender mercy. The blessing of that puppy came exactly at the right time.
The center image shows Mitch getting out of bed - which at first glance seems like nothing much to write about. The story behind this image, however, is one that I’ll forever treasure as a profound example of our Father’s love and concern. The story is called Meatloaf - which details how a neighbor who recently moved into our area, knowing little of our circumstances other than we had a sick child, volunteered to bring our family a meal. Mitch had stopped eating and he was wasting away. Natalie and I were praying and pleading for more time. This woman (a stranger to us at the time) went to the grocery store to get ingredients for a meal she had mastered and found everyone enjoyed. Yet, while she was shopping, she received a recurring impression … “meatloaf.” The more she ignored it, the stronger the impression became. She nervously followed that impression but worried, “Who likes meatloaf anymore?” With a timid knock on our door, she almost apologetically handed over a lovely dinner of with meatloaf as its centerpiece. When Mitch discovered someone brought meatloaf, he said, “I love meatloaf.” With his mother’s help, he got out of bed and ate a full meal. Mitch received much-needed nourishment to his beleaguered body. Our Father cared enough about the cries of two terrified parents and the desire of a sick little boy to live just a little longer, that He would inspire a stranger to do just what was needed. I cannot thank Him enough.
Below that image is a photo of little Mitch home on hospice surrounded by over 100 heart-shaped, hand-written notes from concerned neighbors. Mitchell’s heart was broken and failing but was lifted by the kind hearts of loving souls that surrounded him. An inspired husband and wife, who live in our neighborhood, felt compelled to serve little Mitch and put this labor of love in motion. Mitch would then say, “Why do people care so much? I’m just a regular kid.” With tears in our eyes, we told him, “You matter because you are you – and these people want you to know you are special. They want you to know they care.” Mitch carefully read every single note – and those notes meant a great deal to him. With a legion of people who loved and supported him, Mitch faced a certain and final fate with a new kind of courage borne of love and unending support.
This illustration is a tiny glimpse of a million blessings my sweet little boy received on a very difficult journey. When life feels especially dark, I come back to this and I’m reminded that we are never alone in our suffering. Sometimes it feels like we’re all alone, in the dark. What I have learned on Mitchell’s Journey is that things are always happening in the background, things we cannot now see. Points of light that will one day appear as blessings tailor-made, just for you and just for me. If only we have eyes to see.
NOTE: This essay is part of a 10 part series exploring some of the tender mercies we've discovered along Mitchell's Journey. My hope is that as you read these stories of little Mitch, you might discover points of light in your own life journey. What's more, I hope the discovery of your own points of light might bring you an increase of faith, gratitude, and courage to face your own dark times.