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.

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.

TO BE HUMAN

Mitchell’s Journey isn’t only about what happened to my son, but what is now happening because of him.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Over the last 3 years, I’ve written much on grief because that was my overwhelming reality. I have discovered that, when it comes to the death of a child (which is different than any death I’ve ever experienced), you don’t get over grief … you don’t move past it … you just learn to live with it. You learn to live with chronic pain. Because of that reality, I will still write of grief and my personal journey of healing – but I have much more to say than my personal songs of sorrow.

Mitchell’s Journey isn’t only about what happened to my son, but what is now happening because of him. So, not only will I write more stories of his life and struggle, I’m going to expand my musings by writing more about peace, family and all of the good things in life; a kind of potpourri of perspectives that have come because of little Mitch. Some stories will be funny, others will be filled with textures of peace and love.

Today I feel an overwhelming sense of peace and gratitude, and I have my Father to thank for that. When I look at this photo of Mitch, one warm summer day, I feel a deep sense of joy because he was happy. 

This journey has been the hardest experience of my life, but also the most fulfilling. If I had my way in life, being human, I would have avoided pain at all cost. After all, I am human. Yet, in avoiding everything that hurts, I would have ignored the part of me you cannot see … the thing that makes me, me. For comfort, I would have forfeit the opportunity to struggle and grow. That is something my Father knows. I have learned that because of my pain, I have changed. And I think that change is good. 

I am grateful to be happy. I am grateful to be human. I am grateful for this little boy, no matter the cost.

 

TO BEGIN ANEW

My dear wife wanted to take our kids out last night so we could spend time as a family. Ethan is on a scout trip, but Laura-Ashley and Wyatt were with us. We visited a nearby pond Mitch loved to visit and capture sunsets with his iPod. Soon I will start exploring his iPod with his many photos, videos and other things he created. I will share some of that here, too. It is sure to be a tender, emotional experience.

Natalie and Laura-Ashley ran to the store to get a loaf of bread while Wyatt and I waited on the dock. Wyatt and I talked about our plans for the summer and I was as excited to spend time with him as any person on earth. 

It wasn't long before the girls returned and we began to feed the gaggle geese and all manner of web-footed creatures that seemed to know the party was just about to start and came racing to the dock. Our aim was to throw little pieces of bread near the baby ducks so they could eat first. These baby ducks were so little, fast and light they could almost run on top of the water. They were so very cute. Mitch loved baby animals.

I loved last night. I loved every second of it. There couldn't have been a more perfect night. Well, if Mitch were with us, in the way we want him with us, it would have been whole. But, like my friend and author John Michael Stuart taught me about what it means to be human, “Perfect is a relative term.” With what we had, last night was perfect and for that I am grateful.

My heart was at peace last night because I was so grateful to be surrounded by people I love with all my heart. I’m just an imperfect man and I know I am hard to live with at times – and I am grateful they still keep me. Although imperfect I love my family perfectly – at least I think I do. That is until I fall deeper in love with my wife and kids and realize all the love I thought I knew was just beginning. To my surprise the depths of love grow deeper still.

I miss my little Mitch and I am slowly learning how to live without him. One of the great challenges for those who grieve the death of a child is learning how to reconcile the past, make peace with a painful present and look to the future with a hope of an easier tomorrow. No small task.

I love the words of Elana K. Arnold, “Perhaps that is where our choice lies -- in determining how we will meet the inevitable end of things, and how we will greet each new beginning.” It seems to me that is the quintessential story of life; a series of painful ends and hopeful beginnings – and how we respond to them shape us in ways we do not yet realize.

I am grateful for each new day, a chance to begin again. Yet, I needn't wait for tomorrow to begin again … for every moment of every day is a chance to begin anew.

Last night was a blessing; for there was peace in my heart, beauty all around and most importantly more love than I knew what to do with. Every moment I am learning, and when I stumble with grief or life, I choose to begin anew.

 

SHADOWS & VALLEYS

Mitch followed me wherever I went. He was my shadow … my dear child and sweet little friend. He seemed to always find comfort being around me and in his absence I have come to realize how much comfort I took in being around him. 

Last summer we had some family over for a BBQ . Everyone was inside or up the hill in our back yard talking. I found myself at the grill doing what dad’s do and I turned to the place Mitch usually sat while I cooked and he wasn't there. Never a chair seemed so empty. I started to cry. 

I took this photo a summer prior as Mitch sat with me while I prepared dinner at the grill one hot summer evening. It was a perfect night and I enjoyed listening to Mitch talk to me about his plans for the future. I normally never take selfies because I am far more interested in what I see in other people than I am in seeing myself. But this time I made an exception because I was with my sweet boy and I wanted a photo of the two of us. I almost didn't take this – but I am so glad I did. 

I think I am beginning to understand the deeper meaning of the scriptural passage “the valley of the shadow of death.” Over the years I have heard many recite that passage as though they were words from a hallmark card. But I have come to learn that all of ancient scripture are not only accounts of mankind’s dealings with God, but a record of real sorrows, what we’re to learn from them and why we suffer. Deep inside that poetic prose are words that carry heavy meaning, borne of real consequence and real sorrows. 

Death indeed has cast its shadow. Shadows, by their very definition limit ones view – we cannot see what happens over there. And in death’s towering shadow I find myself on a journey through the valley of grief … a valley that is deep in the shadows … deep in grief. It is a place where I stumble and a place where I weep as my heart and mind search for my son and that unspeakable peace. 

I miss my son, my shadow. I love him. I weep for him. And as I find my way through the valley of grief and sorrow, deep in the shadow of death, I am not afraid … for I know God lives. I know He loves us. And while being mortal we may be required to suffer – there is a divine reason for all that we experience. If we look inward and upward we can learn and grow … even through the dark shadows and deep valleys that only God knows.