THE OTHER SIDE OF SERVICE

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It feels like yesterday when I heard the sound of muffled thumps and giggles in our living room.  I was so intrigued by what I heard that I had to sneak behind our couch to spy on what was happening.  As I quietly crawled within view, I saw Mitch laughing as he would squeeze and twist Ethan’s ear like a squishy toy.  They were both laughing so hard that I couldn’t help but laugh, too.  Little Mitch never had a mind to hurt his brother – only to wrestle as young boys do. 

Because Ethan knew his little brother was physically weak, he adapted his play-style so Mitch might feel strong and competitive.  Ethan could have easily turned the tables and overpowered his younger brother.  Instead, he set aside his pride, bridled his strength and allowed Mitch to win in ways that were unique to him – and in so doing, they both won. 

There was a point while home on hospice Mitch said to me “Dad, I just wish I could wrestle.  I just want to wrestle...”  By this time Mitch could hardly function – so it broke my heart to see him yearn for something he loved to do but couldn’t.  I wondered if Mitch missed wrestling so much because his older brother helped him feel normal, healthy and strong.   

By surrendering his strength, Ethan did more than serve his brother this day.  He reminded me that on the other side of service is the often invisible act of lifting hearts and minds – and Ethan knew how to do just that for his little brother.   

This image reminds me there is so much more to service than lifting heavy things or shoveling a neighbor’s driveway.  There is a time and place for strong arms - but there is a greater place for gentle hands and soft hearts.  The service of a smile, a kind word or loving encouragement can do so much for the downtrodden soul.   

Sometimes, perhaps more often than we appreciate, service can be seen in handing strength over to someone who is not as strong – and giving them a chance to win.                                                                

I miss the muffled thunder of Ethan and Mitch wrestling in my home.  And while part of my home is empty and heart hurting, my soul is overflowing with gratitude because I was blessed with two little giants who showed me the other side of service.  They showed me a different kind of love – and I am better off because of it. 

ALL THAT REALLY MATTERS

I was asked by a mother from Colorado if she could make a t-shirt with Mitchell’s saying, “Be nice to each other and be glad you’re alive.  Nothing else matters.”  Their local school district dedicated today to promote kindness, respect, and peace – and this sweet family wanted to offer Mitchell’s message to the conversation. Their focus today is to have a day without hate.  A beautiful, hopeful, and timely message Mitchell’s Journey can get behind.

This sweet girl, Isabella, has known of little Mitchell’s story for more than half her life now and she’s grown attached to his messages of love, courage, and kindness.  I remember her mother sending me a video shortly after Mitchell passed away.   A much younger Isabella pointed to a beautiful array of colors in a dimly lit sky and said in the tenderest of voices, “It’s Mitchell.”  She knew Mitch loved sunrises and sunsets and wondered if he was there, somewhere in the beautiful horizon.

So, when Isabella’s mother sent me these photos last night, my eyes welled with tears of gratitude.  She even used purple and gold, Mitchell’s two favorite colors.  I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for good people like the Lozano family – who we’ve come to know and love. I also felt grateful for the many people on this earth who share goodness and love – for in the end, as little Mitch taught me, that’s all that really matters. 

Perhaps all of us, wherever we live, can do something today that promotes kindness, respect and peace – in memory of little Mitch and in hope for a better world.

#D3DayWithoutHate

 

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A much younger Isabella who grew up learning Mitchell's message of hope and love.

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Another Image of Isabella - promoting awareness of DMD, the disease that took our son's life.

Another Image of Isabella - promoting awareness of DMD, the disease that took our son's life.

 
 

FROZEN IN TIME

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I’ve heard it said, “Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.” This is a memory did just that.

It was cold outside, but my heart couldn’t have been warmer at this moment. We took our kids on an adventure to play in the freshly fallen snow. As the kids were putting on their snow clothes, Ethan pointed to his Spiderman hat and said, “Hey Mitch, look at my hat!” Mitch smiled and said, “Dat’s cool. Look at mine; it’s mommies. Its soft and will keep me warm.” Were he given a choice to wear any hat on earth or his mom’s hat, he would have chosen his mother’s every time. To Mitch, wearing her hat was like getting a constant hug from her.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
— Winnie the Pooh

With that, our kids ran outside to prance about in fluffy fields of white. Mitch reached down to gather snow in his tiny hands and threw it up in the air. He laughed as a chunk of snow landed on his brother’s head. Ethan giggled, then reached over to kiss his brother on his cheek.

By this time, the warm tears streaming down my face were turning to ice on my chin. If I could have frozen time like molecules of water in ice and forever live in this moment, I would have. I suppose, in a way, this photo did just that. I am forever grateful for tender memories – however much they might evoke feelings of loss and sorrow.

I think Winnie the Pooh said it best, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

2017 YEAR IN REVIEW

Dear Friends of Mitchell's Journey,

Here is a short video that summarizes some of our accomplishments in 2017. We've done so much more than what's described here, but this will give you an idea as to where we've been and where we're headed.

Thank you for being part of this journey. In the end, Mitchell's Journey is more than the story of a little boy who died; it's about 300,000 people discovering new ways to live and love more deeply. It's about acknowledging life's hardships and finding the faith and courage to take a brave step into the unknown.

IN TIME

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.

EVERYBODY MATTERS

I stopped by the cemetery to see Mitch this evening and noticed somebody left this on his headstone. I wonder who it was and what that person was thinking and feeling. I couldn't help but think how much people matter to each other. Everybody matters, everybody mean something to somebody.

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.