Posts tagged Seasonal_September

 “Dad, will you open the blinds so I can look out the window?” Mitch said softly as he sat up on his bed.   

Reverently, I lifted the blinds so Mitch could look out the window unobstructed.  I was quiet about it, too, for this was a sacred time when death was near, and the veil was thin.  It was a cold, wintery day and snow covered everything.  The light of late afternoon had become soft and warm as if to compensate for winter’s chill. 

The end was coming; man and medicine were powerless to stop it.

Mitch looked out the window in silence.  At that moment, his countenance changed from that of a young boy to one of an old soul emerging.  I asked him what he was thinking, and he shook his head as if to say, “Not now, Dad.”  Mitch then said, “I’ll tell you later.” 

He knew he was going to die, but he didn’t know he only had a few days left.  None of us did.

I watched my son in silence – respecting his need for space.  I searched for words, but there was none.  I wanted to hold him tight, help him feel safe, and tell him all would be okay.  But things weren’t safe, and he wasn’t going to be okay.  The end was coming; man and medicine were powerless to stop it.

I said a prayer in my heart, “Oh, Father, please … I’ll pay any price.  Can I take his place?”  I guess that was my way of bargaining – and I did it a million times a day.  With all my prayers, I knew that none of us could escape death – nor can we escape hardship.  I understood that it rains on the just and the unjust and we must learn to bear our burdens patiently.  I understood the wisdom of an old Jewish proverb, “Don’t pray for lighter burdens, pray for a stronger back.”  Although I always prayed for a way out - I also said, “But if not, please help us carry this burden.”

Little Mitch never told me what he was thinking that day.

This sweet boy lived out his remaining days as gently as he came into the world.  As death was gnawing and gashing at our door, Mitch surrendered his soul to God with the faith of a child and the heart of an angel.  He was a giant among men, and I was then, and remain today, deep in his shadow; for I am less than a shadow of a man.

In my darkest moments, I searched for words and found none; until I learned to quiet my mind and heart so I could see all that God had done.   It was then and only then I found gratitude in the midst of grief

One day, when I go to that place beyond the hills, I will thank my Father for loaning Mitch to me.  My son, my brother, my teacher – a gift burdened by adversity who taught me how to see. 


The room was filled with muted sounds of shuffling paper, scissors, and student whispers.  The hallways and classrooms carried that familiar schoolish smell of crayons and glue … and for a moment I was transported to my own elementary school experience.  I remember my young years so clearly; and I especially remember being grateful for kind teachers who slowly, collectively, ushered me into the world.  Mitch was also blessed with kind and thoughtful teachers – and that made my heart glad … for under an educator’s care was my most valued treasure.

My heart began to pound as I peered through the window of the door and saw little Mitch working hard on his class assignment.  I was proud of the good boy that he was. 

We’re all students of life learning lessons at our own pace.  Sometimes we’re teachers – but we’re always students.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

As I began to open the door, the handle made a mechanical clank and Mitch immediately turned to see if it was me.  You see, we had a father-son lunch planned, and I had in my hand a paper bag filled with his favorite chicken nuggets.  At the same time, I carried in my heart more love than my soul could contain.

I’ll never forget the look on my son’s face when he saw me walk into his classroom.  I almost burst into tender tears.  “Hi, Dad,” Mitch said with a whisper, “are you still going to go to lunch with me?” 

I kissed his forehead, “Yes, Mitchie.  I have been looking forward to it all week.”  Mitch smiled and said, “Me, too.”  Mitch was designated Student of the Month and was highlighted as both a student and a young boy with interests and hobbies of his own.  It made him feel special to be recognized for who he was. 

Before we went to the cafeteria, Mitch was excited to show me the projects he’d worked so hard to complete.  In his folder, I could see papers with layers of light pencil marks made faint by erasers.  Evidence he was trying to get things right.  My heart was softened to see my child try so hard.  I thought to myself, “Oh, son … you are so sweet.  Dad is trying to do the same thing.”  I was grateful Mitch used pencils and erasers in matters of the soul.  He was so quick to forgive when his father was impatient or made a mistake and disappointed him. 

I’m grateful for pencils and erasers in life. They allow us a chance to re-do things we didn’t quite get right.  As we get older, we seem to give up pencils and erasers for pen and ink.  Some people write in permanent marker and imprison themselves and others with their faulty judgment, borne of pride or narrow insights.     

I admire children for their goodness and their innate ability to see with their hearts – because when they do, they see what really matters.  They see others as good people, just trying to do their best in life.  They write in their hearts with pencil and are quick to use an eraser.

As we left his classroom for the cafeteria, Mitch said, “Thanks for coming, Dad.”  By this time, I had a lump in my throat the size of a basketball.  I could hardly swallow, and my eyes were pooling with tears.  For my little boy reminded me what goodness looked like, what it acted like, and how it sounded.  I wanted to be more like him – and I vowed to set my set aside my pens and markers for pencils and erasers.  Heaven knows I need more pencils than pen, and even more erasers.

We’re all students of life learning lessons at our own pace.  Sometimes we’re teachers – but we’re always students.


Every-so-often we’d take our kids bowling for family night. In my culture, that’s a long-held tradition of dedicating one night a week to spend as a family. On these bowling adventures, we always enjoyed getting a plate of nachos, a chili dog, and a basket of french fries. The food was never good. In fact, it was awful. But, to spend time with family always seemed to make up for terrible food. Mediocre nachos just taste better when you're giggling.

Heaven is never so close as when we’re with loving family and friends.  And when someone is going through hell, we can bring a little piece of heaven into their lives by simply being a loving friend.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Surrounded by bad food and good company, we’d spend the next hour or two cheering each other on while competing for the highest score.

By this point in his life, Mitch wasn’t strong enough to hold a bowling ball, so family members helped by positioning the ball on an adaptive bowling ramp.  Mitch smiled as he squinted his eyes and slightly moved the ramp at just the right angle.  Then, softly, he’d push the ball down the ramp, and it would hurl down the lane.  When he’d get a strike, Mitch would chuckle as I’d blend sports terminology.   “Great!  You got a goal!” or, “Nice touchdown, son.”  Mitch and I shared a pocket full of inside jokes that always made us smile.

On this occasion, Natalie’s sister and her family joined our bowling adventure.  Mitchell’s closest cousin, Hunter, was always by his side, cheering him on – both bowling and in life.  At one point, Wyatt placed his hand on Mitchell’s back and said, “Nice job, Mitch!”  At this moment, I thanked my Father for the gift of family and friends.  I was especially thankful Mitch had a loving circle of his own.  Mitch was blessed with genuine friends.

Just today I had lunch with a dear friend and colleague.  He’s had a blessed career, and I have admired his desire to serve others with his good fortune.  About two years ago, however, he experienced a tremendous personal hardship that broke his heart and shook his soul.  During his darkest hours, I remember praying fervently that he would find a measure of peace each day as he learned to walk his own journey with grief.  As we were catching up on each other’s lives, he shared something a friend told him during a moment of darkness, and I learned a beautiful lesson.  His friend said, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.  I don’t know how to help … but I know how to be a friend.”

When I heard that tender phrase, I was overwhelmed by its power and simplicity.  It’s another way of saying, “I want you to know I care.” 

Those are beautiful, healing words: “I don’t know how to help, but I know how to be a friend.”  It acknowledges the uniquely difficult journey of the sufferer while offering a shoulder to lean on, a listening ear, and an understanding heart. 

Heaven is never so close as when we’re with loving family and friends.  And when someone is going through hell, we can bring a little piece of heaven into their lives by simply being a loving friend.

So, when I look back on this tender moment with little Mitch surrounded by kids who didn’t know what to do, but knew how to be a friend, I’m reminded of the supernal goodness of children. 

I cherish this memory. 

When I feel grief cast its shadow on my soul, I scoop into my pocket of cherished memories and pull out little gems, like this moment.  They fill my heart with gratitude, meaning, and purpose – which, combined, serve as a lamp unto my feet when the path grows especially dark.  Today I was reminded of another gem to serve a broken heart: that to be a friend is one of heaven’s healing arts.


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.