A THOUSAND POINTS OF LIGHT

Points of Light.jpg

“Hey Dad, what’s that?” Ethan said pointing to a star. In an instant, my hallway went from routine to reverent as I described a series of blessings that came into our lives during an especially dark time.

In my hallway, just outside my office, is a 7-foot image of what look like constellations. It’s a visual representation of some tender mercies (or points of light) I’ve seen on my life-journey, thus far. A few years ago, I wrote an essay entitled “Nightfall” where I described the spiritual darkness that immediately followed Mitchell’s passing.

I wrote, “With all the lip service we give our religious beliefs, there is nothing so exacting as to see your child die and then to peer into the dark abyss of death. I have been taught that: "Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown ... must walk to the edge of the light, then a few steps into the darkness." My son's journey, Mitchell's Journey, has forced my wife and I to step into the darkness … a darkness that is as heavy as it is pitch.

Yet, I discovered something in that darkness. When I allowed my spiritual eyes to adjust and look upward, I started to see the stars. Against the backdrop of all that is black and frightening, I can see little flecks of light, tender mercies that were always there but I didn't have eyes to see them. And the accumulation of these tender mercies presents themselves like heavenly constellations so I can find my way. If I look down or to the side, all I see is darkness. Like ancient navigators who looked to the heavens for bearing I can see the fingerprint of God in all that has happened, and I now have a sense of direction. I know we're not alone.

To be clear, it is still nightfall and my heart is heavy with a sinking sorrow. There are days that are blacker than black, and the waves of grief threaten to pull me under. But when I look to the heavens I can see.

I can see.”

Just a few days after writing that essay, I began to make a star chart outlining the undeniable, sometimes unexplainable, blessings that came into my life. Since then, I’ve developed much larger star chart plotting an even more complex tapestry of light, I’ve created a workshop aimed at helping people identify their own points of light and a guided journal. Soon, I’ll begin my deepest life’s work – to build an app that will help people chart and journal their own points of light through the metaphor of a star chart.

This project is among the most sacred of my life’s work – taught through Mitchell’s life, death and my subsequent search for meaning. I’ve been patiently searching for the right time and people to join me in seeing this vision through – and I think the stars are beginning to align.

Ethan, who was Mitchell's big brother and best friend, is now almost 19 years old. As a young adult, he's learning to look back on his life and make meaning of his own journey, heartbreak, and faith. Seeing his life like a constellation helps him see with new eyes.

I have written a lot of unpublished content on Mitch and the topic of tender mercies/points of light and will share that material soon. But for now, I'll say this: when I look at my personal star chart, which is a spiritual chronology of good fortune, hardships, and divine interventions, I can take courage that however dark and unknown my future may seem, things will be okay. Somehow, some way, things work out.

A THOUSAND POINTS

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.

 

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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. 

NIGHTFALL

March 2, 2013.  ~1:30 AM

Night had fallen.  So had our hope for one more day.

My weary, tattered son lay in his bed unable to move and barely breathing. Within the last 12 hours his heart had greatly enlarged which caused his chest to protrude; he looked deformed and it was disturbing to see. The candle of life was dim and flickering by the winds of change. I could feel the coldness of death lapping at my feet. Even though night had long since fallen, more than the sky was dark. 

I had dozed off on the floor of Mitchell's room, next to my wife. Fatigue had taken hold of me ... I was so very tired. As I was beginning to drift into a deep sleep I awoke with a distinct impression to tuck my son in - something he asked me to do every night. "Hey Mitch ..." I said in a soft whisper, "I'm tucking you in, just as you like it. I love you son, so very much. Don't be afraid; remember what we taught you. Everything is going to be okay." 

I'm told that hearing is the last thing to go for those who are dying. For reasons I have earlier posted I know my son heard me. Those were the last words Mitch heard in mortality. Within 30 minutes of that gentle whisper and kiss on his face, my precious little boy passed away. I hope he wasn't scared. I hope.

We've also been told that children who are about to pass away often wait for their parents to leave the room or they linger for permission to go because they don't want to hurt or disappoint. Knowing this, I wanted my weary son who so fought valiantly to live; this little boy of ours … who always wanted to make us happy … I wanted him to know that we loved him and that all would be well. No sooner had I drifted back to sleep Natalie had got up from the floor to administer Mitchell's medicine, which he was now receiving every two hours. 

I'll never forget the sound of Natalie's voice. Her words pierced the silence of the room like a samurai sword through paper: .... "Chris." Suddenly, with the thunder of 1 million exploding suns, I awoke that instant only to see a mother's face that looked confused, scared and deeply bereft. I got up from the floor by Mitchell's bed and placed my hand on his chest. Nothing. Our precious son, our broken baby, was gone. 

We could scarcely believe our eyes. Lying on Mitchell's bed was the form of a little boy we raised since birth and loved with all of our hearts. His body was still warm, and it seemed as if we could just shake him a little as if to wake him from a deep sleep and that all would be well. But Mitch had fallen into a sleep from whence there is no return.

As each hour passed we could feel his arms and legs get colder. Soon, only the center of his chest was warm, and it was cooling quickly. Then his body started to change. At about 3:45 AM I called the funeral home to pick him up and they were at our home within an hour. I asked them to hurry because I wasn't sure I could watch my son's body continue down the path it was heading.

Processing the death of your child is something of a bi-polar experience taken to the greatest extremes. One moment you feel peace then suddenly you confront feelings of horror – the likes of which you've never known.

With all the lip service we give our religious beliefs, there is nothing so exacting as to see your child die and then to peer into the dark abyss of death. I have been taught that: "Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown ... must walk to the edge of the light, then a few steps into the darkness." My son's journey, Mitchell's Journey, has forced my wife and I to step into the darkness … a darkness that is as heavy as it is pitch.

Yet, I've discovered something in all this darkness. Once I allowed my spiritual eyes to adjust and look upward, I started to see the stars. Against the backdrop of all that is black and frightening I can see little flecks of light, tender mercies that were always there but I didn't have eyes to see them. And the accumulation of these tender mercies present themselves like heavenly constellations so I can find my way. If I look down or to the side, all I see is darkness. Like ancient navigators who looked to the heavens for bearing I can see the fingerprint of God in all that has happened, and I now have a sense of direction. I know we're not alone.

To be clear, it is still nightfall and my heart is heavy with a sinking sorrow. There are days that are blacker than black, and the waves of grief threaten to pull me under. But when I look to the heavens I can see. 

I can see.

 

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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. While I've shared this story before, I wanted to share it again because this was the night I lost Mitch and the night my eyes began to open.