A CROWD OF ANGELS

It wasn’t long ago a father reached out to me in grief.  He asked, “Do you believe in angels?” 

 This was my response:

 “Yes, I do believe in angels and that they walk among us [sight] unseen. Sometimes, if we're quiet and listening, we can feel their presence.

 Sometimes.

 We had some pretty profound moments with Mitch after he passed away. As Mitch was in the process of dying he slept a lot. Natalie and I were in a state of deep despair and couldn't feel as easily what others felt. Some people, not knowing what was happening at our home the last few days, dropped some gifts or notes at our door. They would leave our house and send us a text saying things like, "I'm not sure what's happening at your home, but I felt something I've never felt before. It felt like I was walking through a crowd of angels.”

 I’ve had some spiritual experiences in my life, but few as sacred as this night.  I’ve written about the night Mitch passed in earlier posts from the viewpoint of everything going dark, and how only when my spiritual eyes adjusted to the darkness did I begin to see the stars.  The stars were a metaphor for little blessings in my son’s life that were always there, but I didn’t have the eyes to see them.  Not until everything went pitch black.  An experience that is simultaneously as beautiful as it was terrifying.

 Tonight, I want to share something about that same experience but from a different viewpoint.

 As Mitch lay in his bed, unable to move his body or open his eyes – he could scarcely squeeze our hands in answer to questions.  His weary heart was about to flutter to a stop.  The time was drawing near, and Natalie and I were so very afraid. 

 At various times throughout the night, people came to our door and left gifts for little Mitch in the hopes of lifting his spirits during this sacred transition.  I can almost hear the quiet shuffling of feet in the snow as visitors came reverently to our door to leave a token of love and care.   

 Mitch would never see those gifts in mortality.  They weren’t in vain, however, for they were tokens of love and compassion that would lift our weary hearts after Mitch had gone.

 In a strange way, my home started to feel different … like it was transforming into a busy train station.  I sensed a sacred gathering of others.  Others I couldn’t see.  I don’t pretend to know who was with us or what was happening … I only knew something was put in motion and that other souls were drawing near.  I could feel it in the marrow of my soul and it brought me a measure of peace and calm.  I was hurting deeply, but I wasn’t drowning.

 Looking back, I can see that even in our agony, we were supported by spirits unseen.

 Today, as I face hardships and the unknown, I try to remember this dark night.  And I am reminded that we are never really alone.

WHEN TIME RUNS OUT

I don’t think children understand how often we worry over their wellbeing, how much we pray for their safety, and how we want of their happiness. For over a decade, I knelt by my son’s bed every single night and prayed while he slept. I prayed that Mitch might somehow escape DMD, that his life might be spared. For a season, my prayers felt answered to some degree, because he often seemed healthier and more mobile than he should have been. I am thankful to my Father for that.

On this night, I sat at the head of Mitchell’s bed as my young son leaned into my chest, struggling to breathe. I put my arms around him and held him close so he would feel safe. But Mitch was not safe. He was scared and I was, too. But I knew Mitch enough to know that if I held him, he would feel comforted. Sometimes, in life’s storms, all we can do is comfort each other.

Neither of us knew he had 48 hours left.

Like a baby made of sand, he would slip through my fingers and pass away – and my soul would break into unfathomable pieces.

I’m not sure why people wait to make important changes until time runs out – but it seems to be more common, than not. Mitch taught me to never take for granted the time we have – because it is always later than we think. Even though I did all that I knew to do, when it came to making moments, I wish I would have done better. I don’t live in regret because my mistakes and missed opportunities only motivate to do better and try harder. I am satisfied that I did my best while remembering I can always do better.

Lately, as many have noticed, I haven’t posted many new stories of Mitch; that is because I’ve had to turn my attention to something I helped put in motion before he passed away … something I risked everything to make happen, because of him. Now, I do it in honor of him. About a year before Mitch passed I was asked to help develop an idea that would help people live what they valued and make the most of their life. I didn’t know I was about to lose my son, and my plate was already filled to overflowing; I wasn’t looking for anything new. But when I saw what this new idea could do for people, I sensed it was part of my life mission. 

Aside from my faith and family, I care deeply about two things in life: Mitchell’s Journey and helping people live their core values so they can lead a meaningful life. That is who I am. Because of Mitch, that is who I have become – and I cannot put it down. 

Many have asked what I do for a living, and to those I haven’t been able to respond to … I run a company whose mission is to help people close the gap between what they value and what they do. It’s about making our lives matter before time runs out. 

You can visit www.mycore.com to learn more about that effort … an effort that is designed to help people. Period. It is a software tool that helps people organize their lives and stay focused on their core values. When Mitch was alive, he would sometimes come to the office with me when we were just starting this company. He even said what we were building was “really cool.” In a strange way, maybe part of this company is a legacy of my son. He often asked questions about how it would help people, and each time I would share something he would say, “I’m glad it will help others.” I wish he could see how far it has come – and what it has the potential to do for others.

At the end of the day, it is later than we think. Whether our children are about to grow up and grow out of our homes, or if we’re going to lose them to sickness and death … we don’t have much time. Everything changes quickly and what matters most is making the most of what time we have – and that is what I try to do at Mitchell’s Journey and mycore. Both are deeply woven into my life mission – I do both because of Mitch.

 

A SPECK IN THE UNIVERSE

And in the pitch of night, as I looked heavenward I saw a heavenly sight … forever, it seemed, I could see tender mercy upon tender mercy. In that dim light, I learned to see far beyond the veil of mortality.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

It was a punishingly hot summer day. Evening was almost upon us when we stopped by our home which was under construction. We sold our previous home because it had too many stairs and we wanted to have something that would accommodate Mitchell’s growing physical needs.

When we arrived, our kids bounced out of our van and ran around the home to see what had changed. They were freshly bathed and smelled vaguely of soap and shampoo and were dressed in their jammies in preparation for a den party back at our apartment. Mitch and Ethan ran into what would soon be their room. Like little children do, they began making plans about where their beds would go, the forts they would make and where they would store their favorite toys. The little boy in me wanted to join them in their youthful adventures – but this was their time, and I loved watching a little of me in them.

Mitch, wearing his cute yellow t-shirt, ran to the corner of their room and said, “Effie, this is where we’ll sleep!” Ethan smiled, “Sweet, dude” and began to share his excitement about their brotherly plans.

It never occurred to me the hell I would experience in this very corner just a few years later. This spot where you see Mitch standing is exactly where he would die.

This was the same place I fell to my knees a thousand times and pleaded heavenward for my son’s deliverance from death. This is where I bartered with my Father and asked that He might take my life instead. The same place my wife bowed her head, broken and defeated in grief when Mitch would awaken long enough to tell his mom he would be okay. This is the exact same place, to the very inch, she would sense his soul linger after he passed away … where she heard a whisper to her soul, It’s okay, Mommy.

In this unremarkable corner of suburban America, this infinitely tiny speck the universe is hallowed ground. This is where I peered into the abyss, which is death, and found myself gasping for air as I was swallowed up in the darkness of grief. Yet, as my spiritual eyes began to adjust … as my soul began to search heavenward, I started to discern the many tender mercies heaven put in our path so we might bear our burdens more easily. The recognition of these invisible blessings were like little flecks of light – and the accumulation of these blessings presented themselves like a heavenly constellation so I could find my way in the pitch of night. Oh, what night grief can be. So dark … so heavy, one cannot see or scarcely breathe.

Yet, there, in this corner where I wished to die so that I might escape the grief of losing my child, I was given eyes to see Heaven’s tender hand and many loving mercies. Even still, I was required to walk the dark path of grief and was greatly pained therewith; for I wanted my son to be with me. 

This insignificant space, this speck in the universe … this is where I knelt with bruised knees: a plain, ordinary, and flawed man, begging for relief. And in the pitch of night, as I looked heavenward I saw a heavenly sight … forever, it seemed, I could see tender mercy upon tender mercy. In that dim light, I learned to see far beyond the veil of mortality.

IT’S OKAY MOMMY

It’s okay, Mommy.” He said those same words just a few days prior when he told my wife and me that he didn’t think he could survive. In his moment of realization … when he knew he wouldn’t survive, he didn’t seek comfort from his mother … instead, he handed it to her selflessly. ‘I’ll be okay, Mommy.’
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Natalie had wept for a few hours. Exhausted from grief, she curled around her young boy’s head as if to comfort him – even though she was in the depths of hell and very much in need of comfort herself. 

There, in the quiet of a winter night, the world had fallen away into oblivion … and all that remained was our son whom we fought valiantly to save, but could not. As the warmth of his body drew cold, darkness gathered round us. How pitch black that darkness felt, I have not words to describe.

Just then, in that moment of profound agony, when hell seemed to open its mouth wide open … as if to swallow us whole, something sacred happened. Natalie felt a distinct impression that Mitch lingered … that he was with her in Spirit and she felt as if he whispered, “It’s okay, Mommy.” 

Comfort was his parting gift to his mother’s weary and broken soul. Comfort, and a knowledge that he still lives and loves her and that, at times in her life, he will be near to help. 

“It’s okay, Mommy.” He said those same words just a few days prior when he told my wife and me that he didn’t think he could survive. In his moment of realization … when he knew he wouldn’t survive, he didn’t seek comfort from his mother … instead, he handed it to her selflessly. “I’ll be okay, Mommy.” 

I don’t know why such heavy things were placed on his tender shoulders, for he was an innocent boy of deep faith and enduring goodness. He was honest, faithful and true. At 10 years old, he was everything I have ever hoped to be. Yet, he died. 

Some might say God is cruel or indifferent by letting such hardships happen to children. What they forget is that nobody makes it out of here alive. What’s more, the purpose of life is not to build homes and garnish them with material things. We are here to struggle and walk by the dim light of faith … and in our struggle, we will be made strong. That is an immutable law of nature that not only applies to our bodies and minds, but our souls. Struggle makes us stronger.

I have always appreciated the words of the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who once observed, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Those are words to remember, especially when our bodies fail us and those we love.

I don’t know the meaning of all things, for I am yet a child who is learning to hear the voice of his Father. While I have much to learn, I have discovered a few things as I have stumbled in the valley of the shadow of death. I have come to know things I cannot deny: I know we are loved by a Father in ways we cannot yet comprehend, but I have felt a portion of that love and it has changed me from the inside out. I know that our spirits live on, for my dear wife and I have felt the presence of our son. I know that those who go before us can visit and offer us comfort in times of trouble.

As ancient Elisha once observed, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” I hope that my spiritual eyes will be opened so that I may see what is often hid from sight while living in mortality. I will always remember this dark winter night when my wife sensed our son’s presence, just beyond mortal sight. “It’s okay, Mommy” … a comfort and plea … whispered from a sweet little boy who wanted his mommy to see. 

--------------
NOTE: I gave this to Natalie on Mother’s Day. We both wept as we reflected on this sacred evening where there was both the darkness of grief and the light of God. This art will be part of a book I plan to release later this fall.

HAND HUGS & UNSPOKEN LOVE

"Dad, will you hold my hand?" Mitch asked softly. My heart melted as I reached down to grab his hand.

Mitch and I never simply held hands, we hugged hands. That simple exchange between us was both playful and deeply felt. Sometimes we had a contest to see who could give the biggest hand hug. Those are some of my favorite memories.

While holding hands, we often didn't say much. We didn't need to, for we had a conversation through our hands. All the love in our hearts was expressed by gentle squeezes that said, "I love you more than words can say." 

I didn't want Mitch to go anywhere that he didn't know he was loved beyond words. I wanted him to know his mom and dad would catch him when he fell. Always. If I couldn't heal his body, I at least wanted to heal his worried soul, and I knew that love heals.

I miss that voiceless exchange; that unspoken love which was often felt more than heard. That's what children do: they show us a kind of love where words, at times, are inadequate. Even barren. 

Although I was blessed to hold Mitchell's hand for a season, he now holds my heart forever. He was worth every piece of my broken heart. Even if I cried a million years, he would be worth every tear. 

As Mitch lay on his bed, about to pass away, I know he felt me squeeze his hand like I used to. I know it because he squeezed mine back, only this time, his squeeze was weak, like a candle about to flicker out by the winds of change. I hope, when his tender heart was worried and afraid, that he felt my unspoken love. I hope his soul felt, in a most tender and loving way, "I love you more than words can say."

 

GOING HOME

Going home, to that place I love to be. 

Yet there is another home ... a place I cannot yet see. I wonder what it's like... a sacred grove, a grassy knoll, or perhaps a place so filled with light we cannot imagine it, not even in our dreams. 

Somewhere out there my little child waits for me.

LEARNING TO TRUST

I remember his tiny smile as he sat in a school bus for the first time. Mitch was about to leave on a new adventure. He didn’t know where exactly he was going, he only knew his mommy loved him and trusted she knew best. Natalie kissed Mitch on the forehead and said in a whispered tone, “I love you little boy. I’ll see you at school.” 

As the big bus drove out of the neighborhood Natalie jumped in our minivan and followed them to the elementary school several miles away. By the time the bus arrived at school, Natalie was there to help our little boy off the bus and usher him into class. 

This life is a heavenly classroom, clothed in mortal cares ... where we learn to trust in heaven while carrying hardships from here to there. 
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

To Mitch, the world was a very big place – made even bigger by his declining muscle strength. A small staircase to you and me may as well be Mt. Everest to a child with DMD. Mitch could be easily knocked down by a simple bump in a lunchroom. Hallways made him nervous because a river of preoccupied people, in a rush to get some place, threatened trample him unaware.

Natalie knew our son needed help, but wanted to stretch his horizons and help him grow. So, she repeated the inconvenient routine of helping him board the bus each day and then follow him to school – where she would help him on and off the bus. Natalie wanted our boy to learn independence. And that he did. 

I loved this day. I loved seeing my little boy smile at me through the window of the bus. Mitch had this look on his face that seemed to say, “Look Dad! I can do hard things. I’m a big kid now.” His eyes seemed to say, “I love you.” 

I remember walking with Natalie and Mitch into his preschool class for the first time. There he would meet “Miss Nancy.” She was energetic and kind and had a way about her that brought instant relief to nervous parents and excitement in the minds of her students. I loved her immediately. I’ll write more of her another day – but I am grateful she was placed in our son’s path. She was a tender mercy for our little boy.

In many ways this image serves as a symbol of another journey. Only this time Mitch has been shuttled to a place far from sight. Sometimes I panic because the mortal father in me wants to know he’s alright. Yet, I know he is fine – and in a heavenly sense, I realize he was never mine. For Mitch is my brother, the son of my Father … even still, in his death, my mortal heart is still bothered. For I love and miss him, you see. And in my agony I reach deeply for things heavenly. Could it be that is the reason for suffering?

Somewhere out on the horizon is my son … or rather, my brother. He is at a school of another sort. I cannot see it with my eyes … but I can feel it with my soul. Though he may be learning and growing … I also believe he is here, even now, helping and showing. 

Now it is my turn, seated in a big and unfamiliar bus. Like my son, – I have learned to listen and to trust. I know my Father loves me and believe that He knows best. The wisest of all parents, He knows the growth that happens when we’re challenged and given tests. This life is a heavenly classroom, clothed in mortal cares ... where we learn to trust in heaven while carrying hardships from here to there.