A REASON FOR GLEE

There is a saying that reads, “Do not teach your child to be rich. Teach him to be happy. So when he grows up, he’ll know the value of things, not the price.” I always loved this saying for many reasons and have tried to help my children appreciate the little things: soft pillows, macaroni and cheese, and blanket forts. After all, true value has little (if anything) to do with price –and the things of greatest value cannot be purchased with money. Not at any price.

Once I discovered this, the relationship between the highway and this canyon began to serve as something of a metaphor to me – a reminder that sometimes I can’t see a thing until I step back and look from a different vantage point.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

During his last summer of life, Mitch spent some long-awaited time at his grandmother’s ranch in Southern Utah. On this day life couldn't have been more awesome; the weather was perfect and glee was floating in the air like spring pollen. On the horizon, you could see the ancient fingers of Kolob Canyon which stood towering into the sky as a majestic reminder that our lives are but a blink and humans are only transients on this planet … this classroom of rock and water.

Before my mother moved to her ranch I drove by this canyon a thousand times, oblivious to the true beauty of the landscape I was passing. The highway hugs the mountain range and base of Kolob Canyon in such a way you cannot see it (not even a little bit) because the road is too close to it. Without the proper perspective, everything feels ordinary. But, if you take an exit near the canyon and get a little distance from the highway, you will see the most amazing mountain range. This canyon is one of Utah’s best-kept secrets – invisible to the casual traveler.

Once I discovered this, the relationship between the highway and this canyon began to serve as something of a metaphor to me – a reminder that sometimes I can’t see a thing until I step back and look from a different vantage point.

My experience with Mitch taught me the same thing. As I travel the long road of grief, when I step away from my sorrow and look upon the landscape of this experience from a different vantage point, I see beauty. I also see reminders this place is not home … that I, too, am a transient and will one day travel to a better place.

I love this photo because it reminds me Mitch lived a good life. If there were one image that best illustrated my son, this is it. Mitch was happy – not because of things, but because he was loved by his family and he discovered ways to find joy in everything. I have recently discovered many videos of my family where you can see Mitch skipping in the background (unaware he was on camera) because he was simply happy. Although the road he traveled was hard, and he could have found a million-and-one reasons to complain about life not being fair to him, he always stepped away from his limitations and appreciated life from a different vantage point. He saw the canyon.

While having lost my son has been a source of great sorrow, he is also a great source of inspiration to me. And though I walk imperfectly, I will learn from my little boy. Like Mitch, I will find a reason for glee. For indeed, as I step away and look upon my life differently, I can clearly see there is beauty all around me.

Thank you, Mitchie, for teaching me to be happy – to always find a reason for glee.

WHEN TIME RUNS OUT

I don’t think children understand how often we worry over their wellbeing, how much we pray for their safety, and how we want of their happiness. For over a decade, I knelt by my son’s bed every single night and prayed while he slept. I prayed that Mitch might somehow escape DMD, that his life might be spared. For a season, my prayers felt answered to some degree, because he often seemed healthier and more mobile than he should have been. I am thankful to my Father for that.

On this night, I sat at the head of Mitchell’s bed as my young son leaned into my chest, struggling to breathe. I put my arms around him and held him close so he would feel safe. But Mitch was not safe. He was scared and I was, too. But I knew Mitch enough to know that if I held him, he would feel comforted. Sometimes, in life’s storms, all we can do is comfort each other.

Neither of us knew he had 48 hours left.

Like a baby made of sand, he would slip through my fingers and pass away – and my soul would break into unfathomable pieces.

I’m not sure why people wait to make important changes until time runs out – but it seems to be more common, than not. Mitch taught me to never take for granted the time we have – because it is always later than we think. Even though I did all that I knew to do, when it came to making moments, I wish I would have done better. I don’t live in regret because my mistakes and missed opportunities only motivate to do better and try harder. I am satisfied that I did my best while remembering I can always do better.

Lately, as many have noticed, I haven’t posted many new stories of Mitch; that is because I’ve had to turn my attention to something I helped put in motion before he passed away … something I risked everything to make happen, because of him. Now, I do it in honor of him. About a year before Mitch passed I was asked to help develop an idea that would help people live what they valued and make the most of their life. I didn’t know I was about to lose my son, and my plate was already filled to overflowing; I wasn’t looking for anything new. But when I saw what this new idea could do for people, I sensed it was part of my life mission. 

Aside from my faith and family, I care deeply about two things in life: Mitchell’s Journey and helping people live their core values so they can lead a meaningful life. That is who I am. Because of Mitch, that is who I have become – and I cannot put it down. 

Many have asked what I do for a living, and to those I haven’t been able to respond to … I run a company whose mission is to help people close the gap between what they value and what they do. It’s about making our lives matter before time runs out. 

You can visit www.mycore.com to learn more about that effort … an effort that is designed to help people. Period. It is a software tool that helps people organize their lives and stay focused on their core values. When Mitch was alive, he would sometimes come to the office with me when we were just starting this company. He even said what we were building was “really cool.” In a strange way, maybe part of this company is a legacy of my son. He often asked questions about how it would help people, and each time I would share something he would say, “I’m glad it will help others.” I wish he could see how far it has come – and what it has the potential to do for others.

At the end of the day, it is later than we think. Whether our children are about to grow up and grow out of our homes, or if we’re going to lose them to sickness and death … we don’t have much time. Everything changes quickly and what matters most is making the most of what time we have – and that is what I try to do at Mitchell’s Journey and mycore. Both are deeply woven into my life mission – I do both because of Mitch.

 

ARTICLE ON MITCHELL'S JOURNEY

As Father's Day approaches, I can't help but thank my Father in Heaven for sending me Mitch. It is through that journey of love and pain that I have come to appreciate family and what it means to be a father and a son. 

Until my dying day, I promise to be nice to others and be glad I'm alive; because as Mitch taught me, nothing else matters.

IF THERE IS SUCH A THING

Though I hurt when I see this photo, it is a happy hurt … if there is such a thing.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

I was working in my home office one night, volunteering my time and energy to help a small start-up find its way. I was under a lot of stress – I was deeply worried about my son’s heart condition while at the same time trying to deal with a myriad of complications at work. Like no time before in my life, I began to search for balance between work and family. I knew time was short and my son didn’t have much time left. 

Mitchell walked softly into my room, pulled up a chair and sat next to me. He said, “Don’t worry, Dad, keep working. I just want to sit by you.” I nearly lost it. Though I was worried over work things, Mitch was all I thought about. I swallowed the lump in my throat and fought back the tears only to see his smiling face and kind eyes. I grabbed my cell phone and took this photo then said, “I love you, son.”

I put work away and Mitch and I just talked about his day. 

Hanging from the bottom of his shirt were cables connected to a pocket-sized heart monitor that he was asked to wear for a few days. His cardiologist wanted to get a better sense of what was happening to our son’s heart and discover a possible cause for its rapid and unexplained decline. The miracle of medicine had no effect. Despite the promise of powerful drugs that might stay his heart’s decline, it was as though heaven itself was calling my son home – and all the medicine of man was but a vapor.

Raising children is hard. Losing them to death is even harder.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Neither Mitch nor myself realized that a few weeks from this photo he would be fighting for his life … that his tender heart would flutter and stop in the quiet of a winter night. We simply didn’t know how quickly things would come to an end. We just had this moment and I tried to love him with all that my heart could offer. 

Raising children is hard. Losing them to death is even harder. 

Tomorrow at midnight will be the 3rd anniversary of my son’s passing. In my mind it seems like a lifetime ago and in my heart it feels like yesterday … and here I am learning to live in the middle of those two. I can say with confidence that I am healing, but I am also hurting. I have come to accept that I will always hurt. Some days the hurt runs deep … into the marrow of my soul. Other days the pain of loss feels like a scrape. But I always hurt for him. I long to talk to him like I used to. I want to cuddle with him and watch the movies he so enjoyed. I miss helping him do what he could not … and I see now that in my efforts to help him, he was actually helping me. My Father knew that – and though this reality of life and loss is painful beyond measure, I am grateful for the things my son is teaching me. 

There are many kind-hearted people who try to soothe those who grieve by suggesting our child is in a better place or just around the corner, perhaps in the next room … or some derivative of that thought. I am always grateful for their compassion and I have learned to listen to their intent more than their words. But let me make it clear, while my child may, indeed be in a better place, he is not in this place. He is not with me like he used to be – and that is why I grieve.

I will never forget this tender exchange with my son. I am glad I didn’t brush him off or ask him to leave because I had other things on my plate. I am glad I didn’t think myself too busy to give my child the time and attention he deserved. As a father, I stumble more than I get it right – but on this occasion, I got it right. Though I hurt when I see this photo, it is a happy hurt … if there is such a thing. 

SOMETIMES WE LEAVE THE BEST PARTS OF US BEHIND

I’ve experienced a lot of hard things in life – but nothing so hard as being a parent. 

On this night I took my kids to a restaurant; Natalie was at another function so I was blessed with some one-on-one time with my kids. At one point I said something that hurt my son’s feelings. I don’t remember exactly what happened – I only remember he was sad. When I realized I hurt his feelings my heart broke and I immediately fell to my knees, put my forehead against his and said, “Oh, Mitchie, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Sometimes Daddy’s make mistakes – and they don’t mean to. I love you, son. How I love you…” 

Perhaps nothing quite shows the nobility of children as their readiness to forgive and forget. The irony of adulthood is that some hold grudges and try to inflict hurt on others. But children … they are endlessly good. No wonder it is said of them, “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Sadly, it is adults who bring hell on earth. If only we could love and forgive like children do. If only we could see the best in each other and forgive with loving hearts - oh, how the world might change.

We spend our lives trying to grow up and out of things - and while growth is necessary, if we’re not mindful, sometimes we leave the best parts of us behind.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

So there I knelt at my son’s feet; a painful fatherly confession was made and a tender plea for his love and forgiveness was shared. Mitch put his arms around my neck and I hugged him tightly. “I love you, little boy. With all of my heart.” Mitch whispered, “I love you too, Dad.” 

Mitch was smiling again – and all was right with the world. Later that night, Mitch and my other kids would snuggle in my arms on the couch as I read stories before bedtime – a tradition Natalie has upheld since our kids were infants. Heaven seldom felt as close as it did that night.

I know I’m not the first parent to upset their child … and I certainly won’t be the last. What I do know, is every time I stumbled I immediately tried to make it right. 

I suppose the point of this post isn’t that I made mistakes and tried to recover; instead, I can’t help but think of the utter goodness of children and how much I have yet to learn from them. I saw in my son this night a most pure and loving heart – something I will carry with me and forever try to be.

We spend our lives trying to grow up and out of things - and while growth is necessary, if we’re not mindful, sometimes we leave the best parts of us behind. 

 

WHY ORDINARY PHOTOS MATTER MOST

Tiny Mitch had tripped a few days prior and his little bruised eye was on the mend. You can bet he received a lot of extra kisses and cuddles. We were at his grandfather’s ranch in Wyoming spending time with family. Though Mitch was weak and unable to walk long distances, that didn’t stop his appetite for exploration and adventure. And sometimes his desire to be like the other, stronger kids, got the best of him and he would fall and hurt himself.

Mitch was busy following a kitty that he loved to pet. Grandpa was helping Ethan over a fence so he could explore and Natalie stood in the background drinking in the moment as grateful mother and chief protector. I love her. Then this photo happened: a perfect moment if there ever was one. We weren’t doing anything extraordinary or unique. In fact, it was the most common of days and we were doing the most ordinary things. What made it perfect was spending time with family. I took this photo and a thousand other photos this day … captures of ordinary moments unrehearsed. 

The older I get, the more I believe it’s the ordinary photos that matter most. Ordinary captures of ordinary moments … those are the images I long to see. Recollections of love and life and the way things used to be. This image is one such photo.

A few months ago a follower-turned-friend asked if I would participate in a photography series she was working on for her blog. I plucked a series of ordinary photos and wrote a little about each image. She also asked some reflective questions; here are my responses to two of them:

QUESTION: What type of photos do you wish you had more of from your childhood?
ANSWER: Personally, I would trade every single family photo taken in a studio, with hair perfectly primped, necks wrapped in turtlenecks and ugly sweaters and those awful corduroys my mom used to make me wear …. I would trade all of that (every single one) for just one photo of my life as it actually was. 

That great American tradition of family portraits is in many ways our greatest American tragedy. We trade the illusion of moments for real moments. We stand in front of canopies, under a tree, or in a field next to a vintage chair … color coordinated and dressed in our Sunday best. Sometimes we mix it up and wear casual clothes – as though we accidentally wore the same matching white t-shirts and jeans. Those portraits become the storefront of family tradition and about as meaningful as a thinly veiled advertisement.

However, the real canopy of life is never staged in a field or in a studio. They are camouflaged by the ordinary and mundane moments we so often overlook. 

When we reminisce on our lives, we don’t say to ourselves or others, “Hey, remember when we stood in that studio or under that tree and took those family photos?” We don’t say, “Remember that time mom told us to stop and smile in front of the camera?” We don’t seek those photos out because they are not real and in no way represent our actual lives as we lived them.

I wish I had more photos of me playing in the sand or in mud puddles. I don’t want to see photos of me smiling into the lens … but rather the look on my face concentrating on the thing I was doing. I wish I had photos of my mom holding me as a toddler by the window on a warm summer afternoon … wiping away my tears after scraping my knee. I wish I had photos of my dad in the garage tinkering with tools or just sitting on the porch reading a magazine. I wish I had photos of the blanket forts I used to make. Not just the outside … but the stuff we did inside. I wish I had photos of the Star Wars bases I made out of shoe boxes and tape. I wish I had photos of making dinner as a family and those nights we ate scones and had syrup all over our faces. I wish I had photos of my empty bedroom with toys on the floor and homework on the bed. 

I wish I had more photos of my life, unrehearsed. Ironically, the photos that were taken in the 70’s and 80’s that may have seemed like accidents back then are more treasured to me than all of the “hey smile for the camera” shots combined. 

I want dirt and tears. Cuddles and cries. I want to see the life I lived through my childhood eyes.

QUESTION: What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to help people take "better" every day photos?
ANSWER: It is precisely the moments you don’t think about capturing that are the most valuable. If ever you’re tempted to not take a photo because the moment seems ordinary or routine … capture it!

Don’t ask people to stop what they’re doing and smile for your photos. Take photos like a paparazzi. And when you’ve taken 100 photos, take 200 more. Let your knees and stomach be your friend. Get on the floor and take photos from the angle your children see things. 

Whatever you do, don’t capture photos. Capture moments. Moments unrehearsed.

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Here is a link to the entire blog interview: http://lindsayrossblog.com/2015/03/every-day-photos-interview-chris-jones/

Ordinary photos of our ordinary life:
instagram.com/mitchells_journey
instagram.com/christophjones/