On this spring morning, Mitch slid down the stairs on his tummy with a collection of toys in hand. I could never figure out how hands as tiny as his could hold so much stuff – but if it was important to tiny Mitch, he always seemed to find a way. The bus was coming, you could hear its brakes just down the street, so Mitch was in a hurry. Every day before Mitch went to pre-school, he would carefully fill his backpack with his favorite treasures. I love how young children do that. On the top of his bag, his sweet mommy wrote his name with a symbol under each word: a star to let him know he was our shining little boy, and a heart to remind him he was loved beyond measure.

At this time in our young lives, I had a lot on my plate. I was concerned about everything young fathers worry over. I worried whether I had what it took to be a father and husband in the first place. I felt inadequate on every level. On top of that, I worried about how to make ends meet while trying to launch a start-up with a handful of employees. I wasn’t just trying to feed my family, I was trying to feed ten others.

No matter how much I worried about everything on the outside, my mind and heart always turned to things on the inside. As inadequate as I felt, home was my refuge … my family, my tribe. So, before heading to the office each day, I always tried to stop and see what tiny Mitch was going to pack. Each day his collection of treasures was different, each day a unique expression of his lovely heart. I often imagined what treasures he carried with him had to say about his state of mind. One thing is for sure, he was a tender, sweet child. I miss this little boy’s tender soul.

Natalie would often place a secret note for Mitch and our other kids in their backpacks before they went to school. She wanted them to know that she loved them and thought of them always. And perhaps on a day that wasn't quite going right, these little notes would become a lifeline of love for a discouraged heart in a sea of trouble. As her husband, I would occasionally see one of her thoughtful notes in my own bag, too, and it meant so much to me. If that small gesture of love meant so much to me, I could only imagine what it meant to our kids. I love her for that.

At about the same time I took this photo, I had taken Mitch to work with me. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

“I’ve been blessed to take Mitch to work on occasion. Often, he’ll sit with me at the conference room table while I’m meeting with employees & contractors. Sweet Mitch will quietly find himself coloring, playing with toys, and driving cars on my back and across my arms, or playing games by himself. He is such a sweet little boy.

I’m always surprised how considerate Mitch [can be] of his surroundings and how careful he is not to be disruptive. I suppose keeping him at an office for hours at a time is not very fun. But Mitchie asks me if he can come … and he is so enthusiastic about it. Each time he comes to work with me, I’ll bring a sleeping bag and pillow and we’ll make a comfy fort under the table – just like I would make as a young boy, but better. I’ll surround him with toys and things to do and kiss his sweet face as he wiggles himself into his comfy fortress with a smile. I have so much fun with him.

Sometimes I’m tempted to call all my meetings off and spend the entire day making forts and playing with toys. I am not convinced age will diminish my desire to become a kid again.

After my meetings, I always take him to lunch, and we talk about his favorite kitties and the blanket forts we’re going to make when we get home. I worry he’s growing up much too fast.”

Fast indeed.

Seven years would pass in a flash, and this little boy would no longer be with us. As Mitch was collecting his childhood treasures through the years, as little children do, I was also collecting memories and experiences – for that is all we really carry with us in life, and beyond.

Like my son, I have a backpack of treasures I always carry with me, only it cannot be seen with the eyes and instead it’s felt with the heart. That backpack is filled to the brim with love and treasured memories. Filled to overflowing.