Posts tagged It's Later Than You Think
WHO CARRIES WHOM?

It was mid-November and we were enjoying a mild evening at a park just across the street from the apartments where we temporarily lived.  Like many times before, Mitch sat on my shoulders and tried to twist my hat as though it were a steering wheel.  He would laugh and laugh as I walked in whatever direction he tried to turn my head.  He thought pulling a tuft of my hair was like hoking a horn because I would yell “Ouch!” every time.  It hurt, but I didn’t mind because I loved to hear him laugh. 

Looking back, I was never carrying Mitch – I think heaven sent Mitch to carry me. This little boy was a tattered angel who was marked for a short life – heaven knew it long before he was born. And I sensed it the moment I first laid eyes on him. Perhaps, among other things, his mission was to save me from me.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

As Mitch sat on my shoulders, he didn’t understand the terrible future that awaited him.  Tiny Mitch didn’t know we had just sold our home because of him – so we could find a place that would accommodate his future needs.  He didn’t know that we would have sold all that we owned to keep him safe and healthy.  Mitch didn’t know much, for he was young; he just knew we loved him – and that was all he needed to know.   

For almost 11 years, we carried Mitch on our shoulders and backs and always in our hearts.  One might think it was a terrible burden to have a child with a fatal disease … a disease that would not only kill him, but would slowly take every part of him away.  Certainly, carrying a muscle-wasting, fatal disease on our shoulders was a burden.  But carrying our child with that hardship was also filled with blessings – and the blessings far outweighed the burdens; for when it comes to our children, no burden is too great. 

The night Mitch passed away he couldn’t open his eyes, but he could squeeze our hands to tell us he was listening.  I wonder what crossed his mind that night.  I remember whispering to him as I wet his pillow with my tears … I whispered memories I had with him and told him how grateful I was to be his daddy.  I hope memories like this photo crossed his mind and gave his weary soul comfort.  I hope he found peace knowing we loved him and were proud of the young boy that he had become.

I did my best to carry Mitch on my shoulders.  Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually.  In strictly mortal terms, he was younger than me. Though spiritually, I began to sense his soul was much older than mine.  I thought I was on earth to carry him and help him learn and grow – but as heavenly paradoxes go, the opposite was true.  He was teaching and shaping me.  Looking back, I was never carrying Mitch – I think heaven sent Mitch to carry me.  This little boy was a tattered angel who was marked for a short life – heaven knew it long before he was born.  And I sensed it the moment I first laid eyes on him.  Perhaps, among other things, his mission was to save me from me.

Though he is gone now and my heart aches deeply because of it, I sense him from time-to-time.  Not through butterflies and rainbows, but a distinct spiritual impression his soul is near and that he is doing the work of angels … guiding me quietly through whispers that are felt more than heard.  I sense that he is tending to my broken soul – and I hope I am listening. 

Thanksgiving is near and I have a great many things to be thankful for: faith and family are chief among them. I am also grateful that hidden somewhere deep beneath life’s burdens are also blessings – blessings that are earned by-and-through struggle. And whenever I get confused and wonder what to do, I think about my Father and my son ... and I ask myself, "Who's carrying who?"

PEACE COMES FROM WHAT WE SEE

I knew time was short and midnight was near. Death was coming, and all I had was the moments that remained. How many moments left was impossible to know.

The ice upon which Mitch tread was terribly thin. His cardiologist said he was at risk of sudden death; so not a moment passed that I didn’t worry that very second might be my last. When I peered into my tender son’s eyes, all I could hear was the cracking of the ice beneath him.

“Dad, will you watch a movie with me?” Mitch said softly. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I replied, “I would love to, son.” Mitch grabbed his tiny puppy and whispered, “We can put Marlie between us and both cuddle with her.”

I believe one of our purposes in life isn’t to avoid pain and sorrow, but to grow stronger because of it. It would seem that life’s greatest virtues are born of struggle – not leisure. So, at least for me, I have learned to focus less on the pain and more on the purpose.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Oh, we cuddled that night. We cuddled like we were the last two people on earth, bracing for a meteor to wipe us out. As Mitch snuggled into my chest, Marlie rested between us, ever faithful to her sick friend. Little Mitch was soon caught up in the movie … and as much as I wanted to enjoy the movie, I could not. All I could think about was the cracking ice and the deep, dark waters below. Tears streamed down my face, and my heart ached in ways I never imagined. I had never known such sorrow.

I remember saying a prayer in my heart in search of comfort, “Father, where is your hand in all of this suffering? Please, give me eyes to see. I have faith in you. I believe.” I learned years ago that “As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part.” And that, “Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship.” The moment I discovered that truth, my prayers became more personal. More genuine. More effective.

The answers I was looking for didn’t come all at once. Peace would come and go like the ocean tide – and I was not spared from sorrow, neither was Mitch spared from death. But peace would come and give us a measure of rest. And when it came to having eyes to see, my eyes were opened, but slowly. Like mortal eyes, my spiritual eyes needed time to adjust – but soon I began to see tender mercies that I was previously blind to see.

I am no fanatic or a zealot, but there are some things I know, and I know them for sure. I know that despite our suffering in this life, we are never left alone … though we may be tempted to feel that way from time-to-time. God is never surprised or caught off-guard by the events that unfold in our lives. In fact, I’m convinced that Heaven walks before us and paves the way for tender mercies – so that we might find comfort in our hardships. But hardships are essential to our spiritual growth.

I believe one of our purposes in life isn’t to avoid pain and sorrow, but to grow stronger because of it. It would seem that life’s greatest virtues are born of struggle – not leisure. So, at least for me, I have learned to focus less on the pain and more on the purpose.

I miss this little boy. Though I would have done anything to keep Mitch with me, I have discovered things I did not previously see. The gift of sight, to see things right, is something I don’t take lightly. Peace, it seems, doesn’t come from things … it comes from what we see.

THE PEASANT & THE GLASS SLIPPER

I remember nervously asking Natalie to join me at a family reunion in Nevada. I was a college student, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was just a goofy guy – a geek on every level. She worked in a law office and always intimidated me. In her mind, she quietly felt as though she lost her glass slipper, an intruder at the ball, and that she wasn’t anything special. To me, she was a princess, unaware – more beautiful and remarkable than she had eyes to see. How often I tried to say, “If you don’t believe your eyes, please believe me.”

So when she said yes to my invitation, I almost couldn’t believe it.

I remember the long six-hour drive to Mesquite, Nevada. I worried about boring her. I worried that if she discovered the real me … you know, the ordinary, flawed me … perhaps she would lose interest. On so many levels, I felt like an impostor; for I felt far less than what I might have seemed. But I set those self-doubts aside and trusted where my heart was leading me. All I could do was be me and hope for the best.

Nineteen years have passed and this humble princess who felt like a peasant has become, at least to me, the most beautiful and courageous person on earth. I remain, and will ever be, deep in her shadow. For her light shines brightly, so often helping me to see. Me, the true peasant, and she, royalty.
— Christopher Jones | Mitchell's Journey

I’ll never forget that long drive. We talked and laughed and before we knew it, the 6-hour drive felt like 30 minutes. At one point, our arms were resting on the center console and they almost touched … my heart nearly exploded. It was on this same trip Natalie and I sat at the edge of a swimming pool under a moonlit sky when I asked her if she would marry me. I didn’t have a ring in my pocket – I just had a lot of love in my heart and I wanted to give it all to her.

Somehow this extraordinary woman said yes to a most ordinary boy.

We started our lives together in humble circumstances. We lived in a dark, spider-ridden basement apartment. We had old furniture and used dishes, hand-me-down books, and thrift-store decorations. We were poor in things of the world – but we were rich in the things that mattered most. As I’ve grown up a little, I’ve discovered the material things we think we want in life often take us away from the things we need.

It wasn’t long before we started our family. Each child was a remarkable gift. Laura-Ashley, our first, was a precious little girl who was smart and sassy. She is almost 18 years old now, and she is still smart and sassy. Ethan soon followed; a loving and sincere boy who was as funny as he was creative. Then came Mitch, a quiet and docile child whose love was transcendent. He would capture our hearts, break them and put our faith to the test. Wyatt soon followed … an alert, passionate and loving boy who would become a ray of light during life’s darkest moments.

I had no idea that the girl who swept me off my feet and made my voice tremble and hands shake as a college student would soon become my soul mate and that our life journey would take us down such unexpected, soul-stretching paths. I wish I could say life went according to plan. To the contrary, our greatest nightmare became our waking reality. We’ve had wins and losses. We’ve endured famine and weathered terrible storms. During times of trouble, we clung to each other and held on the best we knew how.

Nineteen years have passed and this humble princess who felt like a peasant has become, at least to me, the most beautiful and courageous person on earth. I remain, and will ever be, deep in her shadow. For her light shines brightly, so often helping me to see. Me, the true peasant, and she, royalty.

When we’ve reached our golden age, when our lives are nearly done, I’ll look back and count my blessings and know that Natalie was the biggest one.

 

 

IN TIME
This photo not only holds a tender story of a time long gone, but a metaphor for today. I find myself where Wyatt once stood in this photo. Next to me, on the edge of the unknown, Mitch, my son and brother, points into the dark water at things I cannot yet see … and he whispers to my soul words meant just for me.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

I can still hear the evening crickets on this nearly magical summer eve. Like a sunburn, I can feel the warmth of summer on my skin. Mitch pointed into the dark water as Wyatt listened intently. “See, those fish? They are a family.” Wyatt replied, “Do they like gummy worms?” Mitch furrowed his brow a moment and thought … then said, “Probably. But I think they like Doritos best.”

I chuckled at my little boys. I wanted to hug them that instant but refrained because this was their moment. My heart was overflowing with a kind of fatherly gratitude I had never experienced until that moment. I dreamt of becoming a father, but I never imagined a love so deep. Part of me wanted to freeze this moment in time and live in it forever; but I knew tomorrow would bring new blessings – so I welcomed the passage of time as both a blessing and opportunity for new discoveries. 

When Mitch first learned he was going to be a big brother, he was so excited. He wanted to usher his wee brother into a big world filled with wonder. With a heart filled with love, I often found Mitch kissing baby Wyatt’s hand while he slept. In time, not many years later, I would find Wyatt kissing Mitchell’s hand as he slept, barely breathing and slipping away. A brutal irony that pains me and heals me at the same time.

Just before Mitch was admitted to the hospital, I called my neighbor who was also my Bishop at the time (a religious leader in my church). I could hardly talk through my tears and broken voice as I said, “Will you please give my son a blessing?” Within minutes this inspired, selfless man came rushing over. As we lay our hands on my son’s head, tears streamed down my face. I quietly gasped for air (a few times it was audible) and fought to keep my composure as I heard this good man share words of comfort, blessing and heavenly insight. He fought back tears, too, as he shared inspired words our Father wanted Mitch to know. A few minutes after the blessing, Mitch said in a whisper to his brother Ethan (observing our tears), “It felt like it was raining.” Such were our tears.

There were many times while Mitch was home on hospice, as he slept, that I wet his hands and neck with my tears. I prayed mightily to my Father for a way out – I begged that He would take me instead. But a way out would not come and soon I would lose my little son. In time, I would find myself in a hell I was afraid to imagine. Yet there I was, in the darkness and heavy in sorrow. I wrote of grief, “There are days … sometimes agonizing moments … the gravity of grief is so great it feels like I’m walking on Jupiter. It’s a place where your chest feels so heavy even breathing is difficult. I have come to learn that once you lose a child you leave earth’s gravity forever. You may visit earth from time-to-time, but Jupiter is where your heart is. And from what I can tell, we will live the remainder of our lives in the gravity well of grief.” (see essay, Walking on Jupiter, June 3, 2013) 

In time, after much weeping and soul-searching, I would find myself leaving the Jupiter of which I spoke. The gravity of grief no longer had the power to take my breath or steal my joy – at least not all the time. This journey from Jupiter was welcomed by my weary soul – for I wondered if the prison of such sorrow was a life sentence. Thankfully, it was not. I still cry for my boy. I wept while writing this very piece. But I feel more love, peace and gratitude now than I have ever felt sorrow – and that’s a lot. 

This photo not only holds a tender story of a time long gone, but a metaphor for today. I find myself where Wyatt once stood in this photo. Next to me, on the edge of the unknown, Mitch, my son and brother, points into the dark water at things I cannot yet see … and he whispers to my soul words meant just for me. 

In time, I will see.