SOMETIMES WE LEAVE THE BEST PARTS OF US BEHIND

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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…”

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

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 as children do.  If only we could see the best in each other and forgive with loving hearts - oh, how the world might change.

So there I knelt at my son’s feet as; 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. 

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Originally posted in 2015

WHEN WEAK THINGS BECOME STRONG THINGS

Toward the end, Mitch was becoming increasingly weak. His fate was slowly becoming visible – which was difficult to watch. You see, to have a child with DMD (or any fatal illness) is to watch your child die in slow motion.

I’m pretty sure if my little boy were still with me he’d add, “And help each other along the way. Life’s too hard to do it alone.”
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

On this day, we had just taken some family portraits - something I rarely did because I never felt I was very good at it. I preferred more candid photos of our family anyway. Mitch was so cooperative and tender when it was his turn – and because of that, we were blessed to capture a portrait of Mitch that was a mirror image of his sweet soul. I will forever treasure that photo.

When it was time to move on, Mitch said softly, “Mom, will you help me off the ground? I can’t do it by myself anymore.” Natalie’s smile faded slightly, and a pang of sorrow showed through her countenance.

By conventional terms, Mitch wasn’t strong – but he was strong where it mattered ... and that's all that mattered. The notion of strength these days seems to masquerade as brute force, chest-thumping, and vitriol. The irony of anger imitating as strength is when everybody is yelling, nobody is yelling anymore. Outrage becomes the new normal – and never have I seen a man more careless and weak as when he was drunk with rage.

Author Eric Hoffer observed, “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” I’ve seen plenty of rude people in my life. Ironically, in their perceived strength, they were weakest. I’ve seen successful people fail at being true leaders when there was an opportunity to do a good work for humanity and mentor a rising generation with capacity and great desire. I’ve seen some of them abandon reason and their religion for madness and disillusionment. While they were pointing to the failures of others, the more searching question they ignored was who really failed who.

In contrast to those would-be-giants who took a low road, I see my son in this photo … weak, inexperienced, yet sincere at heart. Even in all his weakness, I discovered tremendous moral strength. Mitch learned what so many forget these days, to “Be nice to each other and be glad you’re alive. Nothing else matters.” I’m pretty sure if my little boy were still with me he’d add, “And help each other along the way. Life’s too hard to do it alone.”

I’ve been taught that we are given weaknesses in this life so that we might become humble. And, if we humble ourselves and seek God’s help, those weak things can become strong things. In matters of the mind and soul, weak things don’t automatically become strong. In fact, they will remain weak, and possibly become weaker still, if we aren’t conscious of turning those weaknesses into strengths. Heaven knows I have many weaknesses and I often seem to fall short of who I want to be. But then again, who doesn’t? Any more, I focus less on being discouraged over where I think I should be and instead more on what direction I’m headed. The journey is kinder and more rewarding that way. If you haven’t tried to see life through that lens, give it a try.

Just yesterday I was speaking with a colleague about whether the notion of “living with no regrets” is attainable. He thought for a minute and wondered where the truth was. I then said, “I believe that is a false promise. Everyone has regrets because everyone is human and makes mistakes. Instead, I believe we should learn how to turn regret into resolve. The most realistic aim in life is not to live a life of no regrets, but rather to live in such a way we’re glad we lived the life we lived. We’re glad of the joys and sorrows, successes and failures – because, if properly examined, they each contribute to making us wiser and stronger.”

Throughout my life, I have been injured by some who masqueraded their weakness as strength. In stark contrast, I’ve been inspired by a little boy whose weaknesses revealed his true strength. What’s more, my son’s journey taught me however much I stumble and fall; I have a loving Father who can help me through it all.

I am a lowly beggar in search of understanding and peace, and the heavenly paradox is it only comes when I try to bring others relief. As I get a little older, I worry less about the many and more about the one. In God’s arithmetic, it isn’t about the 99, but instead about the one. That is, and will ever be, where the work of the soul is done.

KEEP TRYING

By all accounts, it was a perfect day if there ever was one. It was early summer and the colors of nature were lush and vibrant. The temperature was in the Goldilocks zone … not too hot, not too cold … it just right. We were visiting grandma and grandpa at their ranch in Southern Utah.

Mitch had a gentle way about him and earned the trust of animals very quickly. That was one of his spiritual gifts, I believe … a gentle soul who brought peace to others.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Among the reasons he loved to go the ranch, I believe seeing the many animals that lived there chief among them. There were horses and cows, chickens and ducks, alpacas and kittens, and of course a never-ending tribe of rabbits and baby bunnies. There was even a pet turtle. Then there were wild animals: deer, turkeys, snakes of all kind, and the occasional footprints of a mysterious mountain lion on the outskirts of the ranch.

Mitchell’s fascination with animals was matched only by his love for them.

On this occasion, Mitch wanted to visit some of our Alpacas. They’re a most curious animal … intelligent, inquisitive, alert and generally friendly. They also have distinctly unique personalities; some are docile and kind while others are a little insecure and tend to show off. The brown Alpaca (on back right) was named Javier and was especially insecure and liked to show everyone who was king of the hill. Mitch would laugh and laugh as he saw him prance around and act a furry fool.

Mitch had a gentle way about him and earned the trust of animals very quickly. That was one of his spiritual gifts, I believe … a gentle soul who brought peace to others. Though he is gone from this mortal place, Mitch still brings peace to my troubled heart – and I thank my Father for that. Sometimes I think I can feel him nearby tending to my own brokenness, ministering to my soul like an angel. For little Mitch knew what it was like to be broken – therefore, I think he can help those who are broken.

Mitch gently walked up to these alpacas wanting only to love them. At first, they were skittish, but in Mitch fashion, he somehow made them feel at peace and he was able to pet them. Mitchell smiled as he was able to serve these animals with love.

At one point, the alpha alpaca turned away from Mitch probably to see if Mitch was pet another side to him. Suddenly, that alpaca’s instincts took over and he kicked Mitch in the thigh … and hard. Mitch didn’t cry at first but was shocked that animal would do such a thing - especially when all he wanted to do was to help. Then, as the shock wore off, Mitchell’s feelings were hurt and tears began to roll down his sweet face. Natalie lifted the leg of Mitchell’s shorts only to reveal a hoof print on his tender skin.

It didn’t take long before the trauma faded and Mitch wanted to go back and love these animals again. Mitch wasn’t angry at the animal who kicked him … he only wanted to try harder to be Javier’s friend.

In life, others have kicked me when I wasn’t expecting it. Like Mitch, I was shocked and sometimes deeply disappointed in the person. Though I wish those experiences didn’t happen, I have grown because of them. Like Mitch, I didn’t want to retaliate but instead tried to show them I wasn’t their enemy – but in fact their friend, interested in their happiness and success.

Little Mitch taught me to keep trying. Though some people may never figure it out – and they’ll keep kicking at me, I will be at peace knowing I kept trying.

For when I try, I grow. Life's too short to live it angrily, this much I know.

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. 

 

A LETTER TO MY SON

Yesterday was a day of laughter and smiles, memories and gratitude. Before the sun was about to set I asked my oldest son, Ethan, if he wanted to go on a quick adventure with me. He said “sure!” and we drove off in search of an empty field. I had suspected we’d find some unique, natural light as a storm had broken and the sun was beginning to fall behind the hills. Sure enough, we chased the light and saw a most unique sight. I couldn't help but think this photo I took of my son a metaphor for a great many things.

Ethan and I started to talk about life. Often, on his own, Ethan will bring Mitch up in conversation. Talking about our fallen family member is neither forbidden nor encouraged … we allow our family to talk about whatever, whenever. If something on their mind or heart, they’re free to speak it without judgement, prejudice or impatience. 

He said, “Dad, I think I know why I was born into this family. Well, at least one of the reasons …” Ethan thinking deeply about his present and his future, continued, “I think I was supposed to have Mitch as my brother so he could teach me things I needed to know.” Ethan loved Mitch; they were the best of friends and had a lot in common. When I think of the many tender mercies along this journey, the pairing of these two young boys as brothers is nothing short of divine. They did so much for each other. Though I frequently sorrow over the loss of Mitch, I am eternally grateful he was part of my family’s life.

After our father-son adventure last night, we retired to our rooms. I was awoken in the middle of the night on another matter - and I didn't really go back to sleep. I thought to write my son a message the likes of which I wished had been written to me when I was his age. These are some of the things I wished I had known at a younger age:

SEEK PURPOSE OVER PLEASURE
Seek purpose over pleasure. Pleasure and momentary happiness are always, always fleeting; as opposed to things eternal, like purpose and meaning. If you seek after purpose and meaning, you’ll learn to see past hardships and sorrows; undaunted by troubles you’ll encounter today or any tomorrow. 

THINGS MAY GO TERRIBLY, HORRIBLY WRONG
Despite your best efforts, life will be hard. In fact, it may get more difficult than you have a mind to imagine. Things may go from bad to terribly, horribly wrong. Just remember you are eternal. You are not your body – you are a soul capable of a greatness that, as yet, you do not have a mind to know. Every mortal moment is an education to your soul. Listen, watch and learn. And, if things go terribly, horribly wrong … remember that, in the end, all things will give you experience and will be for your good. Just hang on. Even if only by a pebble. Hang on.

HURT PEOPLE, HURT PEOPLE
You’ll invariably meet people in your life who’ll try to hurt you. These people will confuse the darkness in their own hearts for your motives. Always remember what Anias Nin wisely observed: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” You may encounter some who foam at the mouth in rage toward you. Though bizarre, ignore them. They will be as a lit match: full of fury and fire for a moment, but short lived. Let there instead be a fire in your soul – not of hate and fury, but of love and light. It may blind those in darkness, but will help those with sight. Not for any reason should you hide your light.

BE KIND, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS
Be gentle and kind to others. Your little brother taught our family that at the end of the day, if you are unkind, nothing else you do in life will matter. 

YOU ARE LOVED
Although the skies may draw black as night and storms may threaten to devour you … know that you are loved: both by a mother and father on earth and by heaven above. You are, dear child, utterly and completely loved.

This and so much more, I would write my son to prepare his mind and heart for the for the years to come. 

My son Ethan’s journey is inextricably woven with Mitchell’s Journey … and not because I write here, on Facebook. Though I write intimately of my grief journey, our lives at home are not saturated in sorrow. Rather, we are happy, moving forward and finding purpose in each day. Ethan’s journey is enjoined with Mitchell’s Journey because he was his brother and his life and death has altered the course of ours. In fact, Mitchell’s Journey is everyone’s journey who might choose to take something from it. 

As John Donne wrote, “No man is an island” … to his insightful prose, I would add we are all part of something so infinitely grand … a spiritual ecosystem so majestic in scope and purpose … were our eyes unveiled, we would finally understand things as they really are and we would weep tears of love and gratitude. We would love our enemies, do good to those that hurt us, and fall on our knees in sorrow for those who we might have hurt. We would accept our life's struggles as a necessary crucible for growth and change.

 

TO FORGIVE IS TO LIVE

It wasn't long ago my dear wife came into my basement office and handed me a sealed envelope. It was another breadcrumb left behind by our tender son that had been sitting in a small stack of papers waiting to be organized. On the front of the envelope was Mitchell’s handwriting in purple crayon addressed to his best friend Luke. As my wife gestured me to open it, my hands trembled a little. Actually, they trembled a lot. This undelivered letter was from Mitchie’s last real birthday (April 29th 2012).

As I opened the envelope and then the carefully folded paper, I felt that all-too-familiar lump in my throat begin to grow. Swallowing suddenly became difficult and the air became as thin as Jupiter's. The last person to touch that paper was my dear son – and my fingers trembled with grief. Mitchell’s sweet letter read, “Dear Luke, I am so sorry. Will you still be my friend? I really want to play with you. :-) I really want you to come to my birthday party this Friday.”

Beneath the hand written letter were balloons for those he invited or near to his mind. Included were his brothers and sister, and Derik and David (two young boys who live just down the street). Floating above the other balloons were two; one for Mitch and another for Luke – as if to symbolize their special friendship and olive branch. As if his carefully drawn artwork weren't enough, Mitch re-traced his letters with different colors to show that he really cared. I love children. 

Mitch and Luke almost always got along, but because they were human they also had disagreements from time-to-time. Clearly, this was one of those moments. A childhood indiscretion was noted, a soft petition for forgiveness was made … and my heart swelled to see the innocence of children on display. 

In the grand scheme of things their disagreement was hardly a speed bump … but to Mitch, a young boy who treasured his relationships, it was a mogul turned mountain and he wanted to make it right. Luke, was ever the faithful, forgiving friend to Mitch and they always seemed to bounce back quickly if there was ever a disagreement on either side. 

I’ll never forget when Luke stood at the foot of Mitchell’s bed the evening before he passed away to say goodbye and share how much he loved him. That was a moment that brought me to my knees and broke my soul into smithereens. Never had I seen a more powerful gesture of brotherly love among humans. I pray that I never have to see such a sight again.

I admire the absolute goodness of children. If only adults could be as grown up as our little ones are at times. Emma Goldman wrote, "No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure." At least to me, this handwritten note from my son (a letter that could have been written by any one of your children), is a master class in what it means to be human. Mitch and Luke taught me through crayon and pencil that to forgive is to truly live.

Any more, it seems the older I get the more I find myself trying to unlearn what the world has taught me and re-learn what children demonstrate so naturally.

WHEN YOU SEE WITH YOU HEART, YOU SEE EVERYTHING THAT MATTERS

When I took this photo, little Mitch and Ethan were racing down a slippy-slide on their tummies. I loved watching these little kids be kids. 

At one point they decided to slide down together at the same time. When they reached the bottom they both sat up and laughed as only little boys know to do. Ethan then reached around his little brother and gave him a big hug. Mitch smiled and hugged him back, then a few seconds later kissed him on the cheek. I posted that photo some time ago. 

As I watched these little brothers, my little boys, be good to each other my heart swelled with a love that was eternal – a kind of love that is not from this place. I don’t know what little Mitch was thinking at the moment of this photo, but I can’t help but wonder if he was learning love. 

Mitch was a quiet, reflective thinker. His facial expressions often revealed he was thinking deeply on a topic. And his eyes … oh, his eyes … there were layers within layers. Sometimes, when we had father-son time, Mitch would share his observations (which were startlingly perceptive) about adults, peers and life in general. Though he wasn't a boy of many words, and his vocabulary was limited to that of a young child, he had moments where his words were deeper than deep. 

There was one point in Mitchell’s young life, not too long before we discovered his heart was in trouble, he had an aide who was unkind to him. In fact, from what I can tell, she was rude and borderline abusive to him. It broke my heart to learn such things. When we learned of the trouble Mitch was having and the things she did and said, you can bet we intervened. To my dismay, this woman never owned up to her behavior and had a pocket-full of cheap excuses. She was reassigned. I was sad for her and confused why she would be unkind to a little boy who struggled in ways healthy children did not. As I struggled to understand why she was the way she was, I remembered the saying “those who hurt people, hurt.” 

My point isn't to excite Mitchell’s Journey readers to anger that someone would be unkind to Mitch. Please, let that go. Instead, I want to draw focus to Mitchell’s response to those who were unkind to him. When I asked Mitch how he felt about things he said, “Dad, I just try to see with my heart.” I was taken aback by his statement and asked, “What do you mean, son?” Mitch replied, “When you see with your heart, you see everything that matters. She doesn't mean to be rude.” He didn't know what else to say or how to describe how he was feeling – but I could tell he had already forgiven the woman who was unkind. He saw more than I saw. He saw a soul in need of love and understanding. I remember crying when Mitch shared his thoughts of forgiveness and love. I said to my son, “Mitch, who were you before you came here?” I had the feeling his soul, wrapped inside that broken body, was much older than mine. With that, I kissed him on the forehead and we drove to an ice cream shop and talked about some upcoming movies he wanted to see.

When you see with your heart, you see everything that matters. Wow. I wasn't seeing with my heart, but instead my troubled mind. I was upset and, in truth, I had feelings of recrimination. But Mitch saw something different … he saw with his heart and that freed his heart from anger. 

I have been hurt a time or two in my life. I know how intoxicating anger can be and the prison it can become. I also know when people do us wrong the very act of forgiveness might seem nearly impossible. But Mitch taught me how to see with my heart and remember that we all come from the same place and we all have the same Father. 

Though we may be strangers in life, when we see with our heart we realize we are no different than these brothers in this photo. We are family ... a human family with a common spiritual source and we are here to learn love. When I remember that, when I see with my heart, I see everything that matters.