MY CHILD, YOU WERE MEANT TO FLY

A summer storm had just passed when we decided to take our kids park hopping. The air was crisp and clean, the grass still soft with rain. The magic of weather made the earth feel new again. 

Mitch and my other boys were excited to play with some Styrofoam airplanes that I picked up from a local hobby shop. When thrown, these planes would circle back to you like a boomerang. They were fun to fly.

Fascinated, Mitch asked in his soft, tender tone, “Dad, how does that work?” I shared what little I knew about aerodynamics and Bernoulli's principle and tried to distill it into something a 9 year old might understand. “Mitch,” I said, “When you throw that plane you create pressure and force – which creates lift. This little airplane is designed to lift when it meets force and pressure.” Mitch tilted his head as though to ponder my words, then finally a look of understanding and insight came across his face. 

At the same time in his life, I knew he was grappling with why he was getting weaker while many of his peers were getting stronger. So I took a moment to apply that same principle of lift to my boy. I said, “Son, I think our souls are much like this airplane. Our souls are designed to lift when it meets pressure – you know, when it meets hard things. You, little Mitch, are meant to fly.” 

With that, I kissed his forehead like I so often did, and he went about his childhood adventure. With each determined throw I could see Mitch studying the flight path of this little airplane. Every time it took flight, it seemed as though he was internalizing my words and how they applied to him. I had spoken enough to Mitch about the nature of the human soul and the purpose of life that he knew what I was talking about. There was an intensity to Mitch that was unique that day. An intensity of study I won’t likely forget.

Among the many tragedies of my son’s passing was the fact he loved life so much. He loved every minute of it and there wasn't a moment he wasted. For little Mitch, each day was an act of deliberate living. Even when his body was shutting down, he would awake only to realize with great disappointment he lost hours of his life to sleep. This little boy clung to life like a drowning man to a life preserver deep at sea.

I have known no greater pain than the loss of my son. The force and pressure of grief is that of a hurricane seen only on Jupiter. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if the tempest of my own grief and sorrow are a form of spiritual force and pressure, creating lift to my weary soul. Though I would rather not be about this journey, I have no choice in the matter. I can choose to steer upward or spiral to the ground … the choice is entirely mine, I have found. 

I have come to realize a relationship between pain and progress. Our souls are meant to struggle – for in that heavenly pressure creates lift. Though agonizing now, one day we’ll look back and be grateful for it. 

I can almost hear a whisper from our Father, “Don’t be discouraged, my child – for your soul was meant to fly. And that cannot happen without pressure or standing idly by.”

WHAT A DIFFERENCE MAKES

A few years ago I attended a Parent/Teacher Conference with Mitch and Natalie. I did my best to attend as many as possible because I wanted my son to know that I loved him and I would always be there for him. Mostly, I wanted Mitch to know I was his biggest fan. 

It was about 7PM on an ordinary evening. The school was filled with young students each eager to show their parents their world. Paper art projects proudly attached to the walls, the smell of glue and crayons brought back vivid memories and feelings from my own childhood. As we entered Mitchell’s class room he shyly pointed to his desk with his name badge. It wasn't spectacular, and it looked like everyone else’s, but it was his and he was proud of it. And I was proud of him.

We were then greeted by his teacher and invited to sit at a tiny elementary school table and sit in even tinier chairs. Mitch quietly giggled seeing his big dad sit on a chair that may as well have been a thimble. I love my son and I miss the sound of his giggles.

Mitch, with eager eyes and a humble disposition, sat between my wife and me as we began to learn about his progress. I’ll never forget his sweet face, still bearing remnants of a milk mustache from his after school snack along with a chapped bottom lip. The very sight of him reminded me what goodness looked like. 

As his teacher began to discuss how he was doing in class I could tell how much it meant to Mitch whenever she was complimentary of him. Sure there were things to work on, but she celebrated his success and helped Mitch feel good about himself – and because of that Mitch believed in himself.

My heart swelled with gratitude for this educator who understood her job wasn't to teach concepts, but to teach people. She knew the difference. Because of that, she knew the most important thing she could do for her students was to help them believe in themselves – that they were each uniquely capable and absolutely awesome. 

I had a pivotal moment many years ago in high school when my teacher (Mrs. Osa) recognized something in me. I wasn't prepared for her observation – but in that moment she helped me believe in me. She lit a spark in my soul and my life was forever changed. Mrs. Osa, wherever you are, thank you. The echo of your belief in me is still felt, even 25 years later. 

So, as I watched my tender son, a little boy who wasn't as strong as the other kids, a little boy who wondered if he would ever amount to much … and suddenly I saw a spark in his eye and a new light in his countenance. Mitch began to grow with confidence. My heart was overflowing with love and gratitude then, and it overflows today. 

I wonder how often I've missed opportunities to lift and build others because I said to myself, “What difference will it make?” This night with my son, and that unexpected moment 25 years ago reminded me what a difference makes. The difference I’m talking about is often so small it can be mistaken for something not worth doing: a little smile in the hall, a compliment, recognition, appreciation for someone on or a simple word of encouragement or love … it makes a difference.

A small difference can make all the difference.

PLEASE, NO / PLEASE KNOW

Natalie and I left Mitchell’s room as he drifted to sleep. Mitchell was slipping away. Everything was escalating and we knew time was running out. We both sat in the hall just outside his room and wept. Our tears came from a well of the deepest sorrows. I eventually looked to my weary wife … exhausted, frightened and heavy with grief. My heart broke even more because I knew this woman, who has the tenderest of hearts, loved her little boy in ways only a mother can know. The “fix it” father in me desperately wanted to make it all go away, but I could not. 

Over the years I have come to understand that mortality, our life on earth, is a schooling the soul. It is an education that takes a lifetime to complete. There are books to study, things we must do, knowledge and faith we must acquire … and there are tests. Oh, there are tests.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

There were many occasions that I prayed to God “Please, no.” I petitioned over and over that somehow … some way … my son would be spared. Yet, every medical intervention was riddled with peril. Too much was happening, too late. Every path was a dark path. Even still our prayers continued, “Please, no.”

At some point during my wrestle of the soul I received a distinct impression. After I had cried out what felt a million-and-one times “please no” I was finally answered with “please know”. What followed was a most unique spiritual experience. A peace and understanding had fallen upon my wife and me; and while we didn't have words to describe what we were feeling, we had a strong sense that we were being told “Please know, everything is as it’s meant to be. I've got this.”

Over the years I have come to understand that mortality, our life on earth, is a schooling the soul. It is an education that takes a lifetime to complete. There are books to study, things we must do, knowledge and faith we must acquire … and there are tests. Oh, there are tests. 

There are tests of prosperity; what we do when the sun is shining and our pockets full or overflowing. There are tests of faith; what we do when the lights go out. Test of hardship; how we respond to our difficulties. Test of anonymity; what we do when nobody is watching. So many experiences we encounter … so many learnings, if we become students of the soul. 

When I consider this hardship I pray that the child in my heart can rise above this profound sorrow. I know I can. And I will. But losing my son has broken every bone in my body, wrenched my soul and pulverized my heart. With all that I understand and have felt spiritually my heart still cries out for my son and I miss him terribly. 

This hardship has taught me, however, that while I may plea to God “please no” … if the answer is no, I must change my plea to “please help me know.” That is the foundation upon which we grow.