CAN’T I STAY A LITTLE LONGER?

You know those magic moments where time slows, and you wish you could stay there forever?  This was one of those evenings.  It was ordinary by all accounts.  The Saturday chores were long done, our kids were bathed and getting ready for bed, and the sun was making its slow descent behind the hills.  The summer breeze wrapped your skin like a warm blanket, and you could hear crickets begin to sing their soothing songs. 

Come as often as you like.  Take what helps, heal what hurts, and find gratitude for all that ever was and is yet to be.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

I had just stepped outside to take the garbage out when I noticed my two youngest.  I smiled as I watched Mitch hum a song as he scooted about, while Wyatt had an imaginary conversation, tromping about the driveway in his tiny shoes.  I can almost smell Wyatt’s freshly shampooed hair and feel the warm cotton of his pajamas, just out of the dryer.  I miss those days.  As I pulled out my phone to take a photo of life in motion, tiny Wyatt ran to his brother’s side, eager to make sure he was in the shot.  Wyatt reached for the handlebar and pressed his baby index finger onto Mitchell’s hand as if to give him a tiny hand-hug and say, “That’s my big brother, and we’re buddies.”  

 As I look closely at this image, I can see the breadcrumbs of an extraordinary life hiding in plain sight.  Mitch held a purple pencil in his hand and a teddy bear between his legs … evidence that children treasure the little things.  Mitchell’s smile bore a fading milk mustache from lunch a few hours earlier.  Wyatt wore his favorite Spiderman t-shirt and bore a similar mustache – except he also had crumbs from a cookie he’d recently gobbled down with a feverish giggle.   There stood my two youngest kids … tiny, cute, perfectly imperfect, little messes.   At this moment I was overwhelmed with gratitude; I was so glad to be a dad.

 I was so swept up with this moment, I didn’t want it to end.  I’m reminded of the phrase, “Can’t I stay a little longer?  I’m so happy here.”   That’s how I felt … and I wanted to live there forever. 

 Today, my heart says something similar.  When I think back on my Camelot years, my heart whispers, “I was so happy then.  If only it could have lasted.  Can’t I just visit for a moment or two?”  There is a part of me that wishes to go back in time because I’d relish moments in ways only a grieving heart can fully know. 

 In a way, I do go back in time.  Only the events are fixed and, I am as a ghost visiting old times and familiar places in my mind.  That’s what writing is to me: a time machine.  These days 95% of my life is concerned with now and the future – but I will always reserve a little space to visit my past with a tender heart and pencil and paper.

 I go back in time for at least 4 reasons:

  1.  So that I won’t forget the little things. 

  2. To make meaning of love, life, loss, and suffering.

  3. To clean and dress my wounds.

  4. To foster gratitude for what was and to better appreciate what I have today.

Going back in time can be tricky.  If we’re not mindful, we can irritate our wounds in such a way they won’t ever heal.  And sometimes, they’ll get infected.  At least for me, intention has a lot to do with how I choose to heal.  When I go back in time, I am always looking to understand the past, to mend what’s broken and strengthen my feeble knees.  Sure, I cry -- but they are cleansing tears … the kind that keep the soil of my soul soft, fertile, and growth promoting.

 The inevitable consequence of going back in time is my heart cries, “Can’t I stay a little longer?”  But then the less broken part of me says, “Come as often as you like.  Take what helps, heal what hurts, and find gratitude for all that ever was and is yet to be.”  Those are the words that resonate deep inside of me.

WHAT EVER YOU DO, DO IT WITH LOVE

When Mitch was a tiny boy he’d softly say in a childlike tone, “Dad, come wiff me, I show you sumping.”  With that, his chubby little hand would grab my fingers and gently tug me toward something he discovered.  He was never overbearing but with great love in his heart would gently lead me along.   Until his dying day, that softness never left my son – though he probably could have found any number of reasons to be angry with his lot in life.  He was kind and pure and overflowing with a faith I scarcely comprehend.  I think when my mortal eyes fall away and I see my son for who he truly is, I will see that he was my older brother and that he was here to teach me.

I can almost hear his whisper now, ever so softly in my mind.  Only this time he see’s things that I cannot – for he has traveled down a path far from mortal view.  So, I must listen closely now … I must listen with my heart and mind; for gems of the soul are, on purpose, not easy to find. 
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

 I was always fascinated by the things he found interesting; the way an ice cube melted on the kitchen table, or how bees would land on a flower and not fall off the petal, or the sheer magnificence of a sunset that captured his heart.  Little Mitch was easily entreated and marveled at the little things in life.  To Mitch his cup was always overflowing and he stopped at nothing to drink it all in.

 On this spring day, while taking a walk as a family, my sweet little boy offered that familiar invitation “Dad, come wiff me, I show you sumping.”  With a little tuft of grass in his hand he led me to a corner behind a tall tree and said in his tiny voice, struggling to pronounce the letter “L”, “Dad, wets make a fort.”  I don’t remember the other things he said … I only remember getting choked up by his tenderness.   I wrote in my journal that night, “How great are these little ones.  Indeed, of such is the kingdom of heaven.”             

When I look at this tender photo of my son I am reminded it isn't what we do together as families that matters as much as how we do it.  My most treasured memories with my family aren't the big trips to Disneyland or other attractions, which things were always significant financial investments.   Instead, the memories I treasure the most were the emotional investments in my children … it was the tiny adventures just down the street from where we lived; it was the cuddles on the couch, the heart-felt talks about whatever was on their mind, or the wandering conversations on the grass.  Those memories are where my heart yearns to go – for they were woven with love.  I would rather have one loving conversation with my children than a thousand trips to all the wonders of the world.  In every way that matters, our children are the world’s greatest wonders. 

Even in his later years, before he passed away, Mitch would often come to me and just as tenderly say, “Dad, come with me, I want to show you something.”  I was always anxious to see the world through his eyes.

I can almost hear his whisper now, ever so softly in my mind.  Only this time he see’s things that I cannot – for he has traveled down a path far from mortal view.  So, I must listen closely now … I must listen with my heart and mind; for gems of the soul are, on purpose, not easy to find. 

Sometimes, when I’m listening, I think Mitch still beckons me to see the things my mortal eyes are blind to, yet my spirit seeks eagerly.  

 I am so thankful for my little son who taught me one the most important lessons on earth and heaven above: whatever you do, do it with love.

THE SWEETEST LEMONADE

Without warning, an enormous clap of thunder exploded, and my boys and I jumped with fear.  A dark storm was brewing, and the afternoon sky had become almost dark as night.  The campfire we were just about to start would have to wait until the downpour passed.  From the looks of it, it seemed the storm was going to linger a while as the cool mountain wind almost ushered us into our tent for protection. 

Mitch squirmed into his sleeping back and wiggled around as if to snuggle deeply into the mound of soft things that surrounded him.  I chuckled a little because I did the same thing when I was a boy, and in that moment, I remembered how fun it was to be young.  I looked upon my boys with a touch of envy. Mitch pulled his hands behind his head, his face bearing a light mustache from chocolate milk, and began to smile softly.  “We’re safe and sound, right Dad?” Mitch said with a mixture of confidence and concern.  “You bet, Mitch.  This is going to be a crazy camping adventure.”  Mitch smiled and said, “I know you’ll keep us from floating away.”

Within minutes, we could hear the intermittent pitter-patter of raindrops on the tent.  A few minutes later, a burst of raindrops assaulted the side of the tent as the wind began to pick up speed.  Soon, we were in the middle of a torrential downpour.  I worried if our tent was rated for an hurricane-like storm.  Mitch nudged my arm and said, “Doesn’t this remind you of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day?”  Mitch giggled as I peered nervously out the window, keeping an eye out for a flash flood. 

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We knew there might be bad weather, so our backup plan was to have a den party in the tent.  So, I pulled out a portable DVD player, broke out some snacks and pulled up our covers as the boys and I watched a movie under the thinly veiled safety of our tent. 

I didn’t sleep well that night.  Aside from a few breaks in the early evening, the rain never really let up.  So, I laid in the tent in a trance-like state – somewhere between sleep and wakefulness … sitting up every hour to make sure the boys were dry.  By morning the kids were rested, and I was hammered.

Of all the moments in life, the ones I remember with great fondness and nostalgia, aren’t the times things went perfectly. Instead, the moments I treasure most are when we struggled and found our way through a hard time.  Don’t get me wrong, perfect times are just that … perfect.  I love and appreciate them for what they are; honey is honey.  But the taste of lemonade is never so sweet as when you must work to make it so.  Perhaps that’s why hard times often end up becoming our best times, in the end. 

This photo of Mitch reminds me that even in our difficulties, we can make the best of what we’ve got – and somehow, some way, we’ll look back and be glad we lived the life we lived.  In every struggle, there’s a price to be paid; but in the end, that’s what makes the sweetest lemonade.

 

I WISH YOU’D STAY

It was a beautiful late-summer day high in the mountains.  Natalie’s family had a reunion at Aspen Grove, a family-centered resort just a few miles up the road from Sundance, Utah.  The sun had fallen behind the mountain peaks, and you could feel the cool air rushing down the canyon – as if nature had turned on the air conditioning.  It was an almost perfect night.  Almost. 

We just watched a performance in an outdoor amphitheater when Mitch said to me, “Dad, everything is so beautiful.  Do you think this is what heaven is like?”  I smiled and said, “As long as you’re with me, I know I’m close to heaven.”  He smiled softly … and so did I.

The evening was drawing near, and I needed to go soon.  I was leaving for a business trip to Australia the next morning – and although I was excited to visit that country, I wanted very much to stay with my family.  Mitch had an especially soft demeanor about him that night.  He knew I had to go, even though he wished I’d stay and it seemed as if his gentle ways, his stillness, was his way of drinking in the moments.  I was so captured by his spirit; I had to take this photo.  It’s out of focus, but what’s in focus is all that really matters.

As I was about to go, Mitch held my hand and said, “Dad, I wish you’d stay.”  My heart sank, and I felt a lump in my throat begin to grow.  “Oh, Mitchie, I wish I could stay, too.  I’ll be back in a few weeks.”  Mitch squeezed my hand as if to say, “Okay, Dad.”

I decided I’d spend a little more time, so just after this photo, I took Mitch and my kids to an ice cream shop just out of view of this photo, on the left.  The conversation I had with them and the memories we made that night was sweeter than all the ice cream on earth.  While getting ready for my trip was important, the time I spent with my son was significant – both for him and for me.

In many ways, this gentle evening feels like it happened yesterday.  At the same time, it feels a lifetime away.

Mitchell’s birthday is this Sunday, April 29th.  He would have been 16 years old.  That’s hard for me to imagine … sixteen.  For as long as I walk the earth, young Mitch will always be my 10-year-old son. 

I think I’m going to cry more than usual this weekend – tears of grief, gratitude, and a deep resolve to live a life of quiet significance.  The longer I live, and the more I experience cycles of hurt and healing, I’m convinced a life of significance is often invisible to the casual observer.  Instead, significance is found in the quiet, meaningful things we do.  I’ve observed that a life of significance isn’t found in the things we own – for in the end, if we’re not careful, they end up owning us.   Nor is significance found in popularity or prestige – those are only figments of social imaginations.  At least to me, living a life of significance is found in doing things that matter with those who matter most to us. 

When I see this photo, I’m reminded what a life of significance looks like … what it feels like.  Yes, we must all work, pay bills, and manage adult things – that’s important.  But the difference between importance and significance matters; in the same way difference between being productive or simply being busy, or the difference between feeling happy or hollow.

Fast forward a little, in what felt like the blink of an eye; I remember kneeling by my son’s bed as he was softly dying.  I thought back on this perfect moment with Mitch, and I remembered his tender words to me.  I then whispered in a weepy tone, “My sweet son, I wish you’d stay.”  To my heartbreak, he didn’t stay – but I have found other ways to keep him with me – through writing, examination, and prayerful meditation.  It’s not the same as having him actually with me – not by a long shot – but keeping him in my heart is the best I can do.  There isn’t a day I don’t think about him, and I often wonder what kind of young man he’d have become.  I don’t cry like I used to.  But I always think of him.  Always.  And sometimes I cry.

Though I wish he had stayed, there are a few things my son left behind.  Little Mitch taught me about the art of stillness.  He taught me about the gift of gratitude.  He taught me how to slow down and drink in the moments.  He taught me to understand the difference between what’s important and what’s significance. 

A BACKPACK FILLED TO OVERFLOWING 


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.

8 WAYS TO MAKE LASTING CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

How often do we look back on the holidays with a sense of nostalgia and a longing for warm memories?  Chances are your best memories come from spending time with the ones closest to you.  The truth is, sometimes we get so busy finding and wrapping presents, we forget to treasure the best gift of all - the gift of time and attention.  Here are 8 things you can do to make lasting Christmas memories with your family.
 

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READ CHRISTMAS BOOKS AS A FAMILY

With so many forms of entertainment these days, the magic of reading books would seem to be in jeopardy.  Yet there is more magic that comes from the words of a book than all the special effects on earth.

One of our favorite holiday traditions has been to read Christmas books and allow those touching stories to play out in the theater of our minds.

HERE ARE A FEW WE RECOMMEND:

 

WATCH HOME MOVIES & PULL OUT PHOTO ALBUMS

When I was a young child we used to watch our old 8 mm family films on Christmas Eve.  I remember sitting by a roaring fire in my Christmas pajamas while our family laughed at old, grainy footage of a time long gone.

By spending time as a family enjoying old memories, we were reminded that the best gifts we could ever hope for weren't under the Christmas tree, but sitting around it.   

Try to watch home videos as a family.

If you can prepare some old video footage or photos in advance, you will be surprised how much your children will enjoy seeing themselves when they were younger - or when you were a child.

 
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SECRET SANTA

You're never too old, or too young, to serve people in secret.  In fact, anonymous acts of service often bring a joy to your heart that lasts far longer than anything you can buy with money.

This Christmas try to do one or more of the following:

  • Search for a family who may be struggling and drop a box of gifts at their doorstep.
  • Find a way to pay a utility bill for someone in need.  
  • Leave a note in someone's mailbox with an observation about something you admire about them.

There are so many ways to serve others. The important part is doing something special for someone, unnoticed.

 
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LOCAL HOLIDAY PERFORMANCES

If available in your area, find local Christmas plays or performances to attend. High school plays, musical performances and other theatrical presentations are all ways to support your community. You can also search your city's listings to see if there are any special performances you might attend. As you invest your time enjoying various art forms for the holiday, you will find yourself being swept up in the best parts of the season.  

Some classics are:

  • The Christmas Story
  • The Nutcracker
  • A Christmas Carol
 
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12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

During Mitchell's last Christmas, two separate families decided to give Mitch a 12 Days of Christmas surprise at our doorstep each night.  Little Mitch had so much fun learning about the new surprises.  Each gift was thoughtful and had a special meaning to our family.  

It wasn't just the gift that was special, it was the special care they took to be thoughtful that made it amazing for our family.  As you think of families you might serve in this way, take a close look at their family dynamic and try to give them gifts that celebrate their family and create bonds between them.

Read this essay about Mitch and Secret Santa:  http://mitchellsjourney.org/essays/2013/12/24/a-gift-twice

 
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CANDY MAKING AS A FAMILY

Make candy as a family!  You'll be surprised how fun it can be.  Don't worry about making a mess - just have fun doing it and let your kids express themselves.  Take photos while you're at it.  You'll thank yourself later.

If you don't do candy, make cookies - but experiment.  Try something you haven't done before. 

If you don't have kids, invite a neighbor family over to participate.  Or just do it yourself. 

Find someone special to share your candy creations with.

Here are 17 Recipes you can try.

 
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PLAY IN THE SNOW

Seriously.  Play.  In the snow.  

  • Make snow caves.  
  • Build jumps for sleighs.  
  • When you go sledding, bring hot chocolate with you. There are new vacuum-sealed thermoses (Yeti & Takeya) that can keep hot chocolate piping hot for 12 hours.
  • If you can, bring a Bluetooth speaker and play Christmas music in the background.  It really adds to the experience.
  • Be sure to take photos of your snow play, too.

 

 

For Mitchell's last Christmas, we made a special effort to play in the snow - and looking back, we're so glad we did. 

If you live in a warm climate, just play outside!

 
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REMEMBER

With all of the fun and exciting ways to celebrate Christmas, remembering the reason for the holiday in the first place is the most important thing of all.  Take time to connect to the spiritual aspects of Christmas and the Savior's sacrifice.  

There is nothing wrong with the commercial aspects of Christmas, like Santa & sleigh bells, just remember the reason for the season.