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.

WHEN DOES A JOURNEY BEGIN?

I’ve often wondered when Mitchell’s journey began. Did it start the moment of his diagnosis? I think not. When he was born? No. What about when Natalie and I were married? Or perhaps that magic moment we fell in love? Is it possible my son’s journey began when Natalie and I were born? After all, we were the recipe for his creation. In many ways, I believe our life’s journeys are not only complex but interwoven with generations past.

I can’t help but think our journey’s weave like a tapestry of threads that don’t really have a clear beginning or end – but instead, at least spiritually, seem to meld together and blend. Therein lies the answers, I believe, to when our journeys truly begin.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

This is a photo of me and my mother, just before I came into the world. While I don’t remember any of this, I do have vivid memories of her throughout my childhood. When I was a very young child, in Vancouver, Canada, I have flashes that appear in my mind like short video clips; I remember her in the kitchen preparing meals, or the way she rocked me in a velvet chair, and how the summer’s afternoon sun broke through the thinly-laced curtains as she smiled at me. I don’t know why we remember the things we do. I only know I’ve carried certain memories, like a photograph in my mind, since I was a very young child. The images have never changed – and my feelings about them remain the same. I feel peace and gratitude.

So, when did my son’s journey begin? As I examine the circumstances of my life, I am convinced Mitchell’s journey started long before he was born … and long before I was born, too. The more I read about genetics, consciousness, and the soul … I am convinced we pass on much more than green eyes and blonde hair. Somehow, whatever we become, we seem to pass a portion of that along to the next generation. We see evidences of this all around us. Even adopted children who finally meet their biological parents 50 years later discover they have similar interests, personality traits, and more. In so many ways, I marvel over the human and spiritual experience. The closer I look, the more I see both my parents in Mitch and my other children.

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.
— William Penn

Today is my mother’s birthday and I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for all that she ever was and is. I love my mother deeply and I’m grateful how she taught me to love and to be strong where it counts. I’m grateful for the way she tickled my back when I was a little boy … and then to see her tickle my young children’s backs in the same loving way. I’m grateful for the times she would listen to me when I was in college – those late nights when she was tired and needed rest, yet she smiled patiently as I yammered on about life and other things. I’m grateful for her unwavering love for me and my family.

I’m grateful for the many chocolate cakes from Costco she had ready for little Mitch when we came to visit her. I loved watching his smile growing ever brighter as neared her home – for he knew he’d be greeted with warm hugs and a soft cake. I’m grateful for her den parties with popcorn and shaved flavored ice & Sprite. I’m grateful for a life of love and learning at her feet.

I once asked my mother what surprised her most about life and she responded with a quiet sobriety, “What surprised me about life?” she paused a moment and said, “The brevity of it.” Indeed, time passes quickly and if I’m not careful I can get caught up in the thick of thin things and one day, to my horror, I might awake to realize I’ve missed out on life’s most important things. Mitch was one of my awakenings – and though I write of grief and death so that I might examine my life more fully, I very much live in the moment and appreciate everything about my life. More today than at any time before.

I can’t help but think our journey’s weave like a tapestry of threads that don’t really have a clear beginning or end – but instead, at least spiritually, seem to meld together and blend. Therein lies the answers, I believe, to when our journeys truly begin.

William Penn observed, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” I haven't always been the best at doing it right with time - so I hope to use time more wisely. And for whatever time I have left with my mother, I hope to honor her with my every word and deed. Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.

FROZEN IN TIME

MJ_8K_To Love 3.jpg

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.”

A BETTER WAY

In November 2012 we were nearing completion of our basement in preparation for putting our home on the market.  We wanted to get into something more suitable for Mitchell’s growing medical needs and hoped to simplify our lives a little.  Though everything seemed to fall into place at the time, things didn’t turn out as we planned.  In retrospect, I can see that all that happened was, in fact, Heaven’s plan. 

While construction was underway, we received two large cardboard boxes, each containing a bathtub.  Wyatt and Mitch immediately staked their claim on each box and wanted to make forts of them. 

Every morning Wyatt would come up with a new way to configure his fort, and we’d find him breaking his box down more each day.  His box was akin to cardboard origami, and we never knew what shape it would assume each day.  It wasn’t long he broke his box into oblivion. 

By contrast, Mitchell’s box was always in mint condition.  In our living room, he carefully placed his box fort next to an electrical outlet on the wall.  He then approached me and whispered, “Dad, will you help me cut a hole in the box?”  I giggled as he pointed to the outlet.  Mitch then ran a cable through the box so he could charge his iPod.  He also asked me to cut a few secret flaps, allowing him to get a beat on people who were approaching him.

When visitors came to our home, they’d enter our front door and see a large box just a few feet away.  It never bothered us.  While we always keep our home clean and orderly, Natalie was never caught up with pretense, pomp, and show.  She cared far less what others thought, and instead focused on helping our children learn and grow.  I’ve always loved that about Natalie – she always chose the better way.  For years, our China cabinet was a showcase for Lego creations, not fancy dishes.  And when it came to any part of our home, it was dedicated to children’s youthful adventures.

Mitch slept in his box fort almost every night for well over a month.  Sometimes he imagined his fort a pirate ship flying through a sea of stars; other times, his cardboard box became a log cabin deep in a dark forest. 

At bedtime, we’d tuck him in, and he’d fall fast asleep surrounded by his dreams before dreams. 

When I examine my footpaths as a parent, I always find myself treasuring the little moments far more than the big ones. I hope to always remember what I learned from Mitch; at the end of the day it's not the things we get but how well we play. 

I love moments like this … building blanket forts, box forts, or cuddling on the couch.  Fancy things are great, and all … but they get old and decay.  And to worry about the opinions of others ... well, that just gets in the way.  But the soul of a child is forever, and they are here to stay.  So doing things that build their minds and hearts is always the better way.

 

THE MAGIC OF STORYTELLING

As far back as I can remember, storytelling has been a special part of our children’s lives.  At night, the kids would huddle around me as I played music in the background and narrated stories that came to mind as I listened to the mood of the music.  None of us knew where we would go – we only knew every turn was an adventure.  Sometimes we’d laugh, other times they’d clutch their pillows in anticipation – but every time, we’d make memories in real life and imaginary worlds at once.

The magic of story was something Mitchell held close to his heart.  One day, probably soon, I’ll share a story he wrote with his own handwriting in his special journal.  For Mitch, and my other children, stories were not only a means of escape, they became a window to possibility, and a candle that illuminated strengths I saw in them. 

Over the last year I’ve been slowly assembling some content to help other families enjoy the same thing our children did.  I’ll be posting some of this content here over the next few days.  Some of the videos share tender stories of Mitchell and his love of stories, others give ideas on how you can try this form of storytelling with those you love.

I share this because storytelling was a big part of Mitchell’s life.  Even during his final weeks on hospice, he wanted to get swept away in story so he could take his mind off heavy things.

So, whether you have sick kids or healthy kids, young ones, or old ones … this content is for you and anyone willing to experience the magic of storytelling. 

A BACKPACK FILLED TO OVERFLOWING     

Every day before Mitch went to pre-school he would carefully fill his backpack with his favorite treasures of the day.  I love how young children do that.  On the top of his bag his sweet mother 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.

Memories and experience are all we really carry with us in life, and beyond.  And because our experiences are the things no economy or person can take away, they’re worth investing our time and attention.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

I always enjoyed seeing what he was going to pack – for each day was different, each day unique.  I often wondered what his treasures said about his state of mind.  One thing is for sure, he was a tender, sweet child … as all children are.     

My sweet wife would often place a secret note for Mitch and our other kids in their bags as 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, this little note would be 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 can only imagine what it meant to our kids.  I love her for that. 

I had just taken Mitch to work with me in the spring of 2006, around the same time I took this photo.  Here is an excerpt from 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 is of his surroundings and how careful he is to not be disruptive. I suppose from a distance keeping him at an office for hours at a time is not very fun.  [Even still] 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.  Memories and experience are all we really carry with us in life, and beyond.  And because our experiences are the things no economy or person can take away, they're worth investing our time and attention.

Like my son, I have a backpack of treasures I carry with me, only it cannot be seen … and it is filled to the brim with love and treasured memories.  Filled to overflowing.

 

WHAT CHILDREN REMEMBER*

I'll never forget how startled I was when Mitch walked up to me and handed me this piece of paper whispering, "Hey Dad, I made this for you and Mom."  I smiled and said, "Awww, Mitch, I love it when you draw pictures.  Can you tell me about it?"  Mitch paused a moment and said, "Remember that night we went camping and we almost froze solid?"  I giggled, "Oh, boy do I remember that night."  Mitch then giggled and began to describe what he remembered from that camping trip. He said, “You kept waking up to check on me.” 

That was the most difficult night we’d ever had camping.  I remember calling Natalie on my way home from a meeting one wintery Friday night.  I asked her to throw our camping gear in the back of the truck and told her that me and the boys were going on an adventure.  The boys were excited and before we knew it, we were headed up a snowy canyon near Tibble Creek reservoir.  

By the time we reached our campsite the sun was all but gone and we were setting up in the dark.  My sweet wife inadvertently packed a summer tent with no wind guard - which was basically a mosquito net.  I asked the boys what they wanted to do and they said, "Let's not quit.  Let's do this."

After a few rounds of hot chocolate around a roaring campfire, we settled in for the night.  My boys were cuddled up in sleeping bags, blankets and beanies.  The canyon filled with giggles as little Mitch and Ethan shared jokes.  Then the giggles softened and the jokes became fainter. Before I knew it, the boys had drifted into a deep slumber.  I wasn’t so lucky.

I don’t think I really slept that night. Instead, I was in a constant state of worry.  On occasion, I drifted into a shallow sleep, only to jolt out of my sleeping bag to make sure my boys were still covered and warm.  Then I’d lay on my back and look through our unprotected half-tent at tree branches made bare from the winter snow.  I gazed beyond the forest trees at a million stars that shimmered like crystals of ice. I thought, “I’m pretty outer space isn’t this cold.” I wondered if the night would ever end. 

After what seemed a never-ending cycle of waking, panicking, checking, then dozing … the stars became faint and the blackness that surrounded them turned deep blue, then gradually light blue.  Before I knew it, morning had come and the stars were gone. 

We started another roaring fire to get warm and it didn’t take long before we were on our way down the canyon.  Mitch was quieter than usual that morning.  Mitch just looked out the window as if in deep thought.  Finally, I asked, “Hey Mitch, what’s on your mind?”  He said, “Dad, let’s never do that again.”  I chuckled and said, “Good idea.  I’m in.”  He smiled and we both laughed.

How often is [our children’s] mind and heart simply shown by their hand-drawn art?
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Later that night, I sat by Mitchell’s bed as he whispered a nightly prayer.  Until that point, I don’t think I’d ever heard a more genuine expression of gratitude for a bed, warm blankets and that we “didn’t have to sleep in a tent for reals.”


That camping adventure remains our most difficult one on record – which is why it surprised me little Mitch took the time to draw it.  When I asked him why, Mitch thought a moment and said, “I don’t know.  I guess it wasn’t THAT bad.  Plus, it made me grateful for what I have.” 

Mitch wasn’t the only one to draw pictures of that hard adventure.  My other boys did something similar.  In their minds, they saw the difficult experience for what it was – just momentary discomfort. What they remembered, in the end, was the good they pulled out of that experience.

In matters of parenting, I wonder sometimes who is raising who. My kids teach me in the most simple and profound ways. Yes, they may acknowledge a difficult experience, but it seems they chose to remember the better parts. How often is their mind and heart simply shown by their hand-drawn art?  And if it be our children see the good so easily, therein lies a lesson and a challenge for me.

 


Some Photos of Our Camping Adventure Mitch Crecreated