A THOUSAND POINTS OF LIGHT

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“Hey Dad, what’s that?” Ethan said pointing to a star. In an instant, my hallway went from routine to reverent as I described a series of blessings that came into our lives during an especially dark time.

In my hallway, just outside my office, is a 7-foot image of what look like constellations. It’s a visual representation of some tender mercies (or points of light) I’ve seen on my life-journey, thus far. A few years ago, I wrote an essay entitled “Nightfall” where I described the spiritual darkness that immediately followed Mitchell’s passing.

I wrote, “With all the lip service we give our religious beliefs, there is nothing so exacting as to see your child die and then to peer into the dark abyss of death. I have been taught that: "Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown ... must walk to the edge of the light, then a few steps into the darkness." My son's journey, Mitchell's Journey, has forced my wife and I to step into the darkness … a darkness that is as heavy as it is pitch.

Yet, I discovered something in that darkness. When I allowed my spiritual eyes to adjust and look upward, I started to see the stars. Against the backdrop of all that is black and frightening, I can see little flecks of light, tender mercies that were always there but I didn't have eyes to see them. And the accumulation of these tender mercies presents themselves like heavenly constellations so I can find my way. If I look down or to the side, all I see is darkness. Like ancient navigators who looked to the heavens for bearing I can see the fingerprint of God in all that has happened, and I now have a sense of direction. I know we're not alone.

To be clear, it is still nightfall and my heart is heavy with a sinking sorrow. There are days that are blacker than black, and the waves of grief threaten to pull me under. But when I look to the heavens I can see.

I can see.”

Just a few days after writing that essay, I began to make a star chart outlining the undeniable, sometimes unexplainable, blessings that came into my life. Since then, I’ve developed much larger star chart plotting an even more complex tapestry of light, I’ve created a workshop aimed at helping people identify their own points of light and a guided journal. Soon, I’ll begin my deepest life’s work – to build an app that will help people chart and journal their own points of light through the metaphor of a star chart.

This project is among the most sacred of my life’s work – taught through Mitchell’s life, death and my subsequent search for meaning. I’ve been patiently searching for the right time and people to join me in seeing this vision through – and I think the stars are beginning to align.

Ethan, who was Mitchell's big brother and best friend, is now almost 19 years old. As a young adult, he's learning to look back on his life and make meaning of his own journey, heartbreak, and faith. Seeing his life like a constellation helps him see with new eyes.

I have written a lot of unpublished content on Mitch and the topic of tender mercies/points of light and will share that material soon. But for now, I'll say this: when I look at my personal star chart, which is a spiritual chronology of good fortune, hardships, and divine interventions, I can take courage that however dark and unknown my future may seem, things will be okay. Somehow, some way, things work out.

A THOUSAND POINTS

What you see here is a small sampling of tender mercies I’ve observed along Mitchell's Journey. As you read what follows, you’ll be able to see a visual illustration in this image. I hope that in sharing things through this lens, it can help others examine their own life and start to see little points of light and the connections between them.

It starts [on the left] with tiny Mitchell, less than an hour after he was born. I was just about to give Mitch his very first bath and took this photo before a nurse placed my sweet son in my arms. As I held my little baby in my hands, I felt a lump in my throat and tears filled my eyes. In this very moment, my heart multiplied. I consider Mitchell's birth, and his very existence, a tremendous blessing in my life. One of Heaven's tender ironies is that sometimes our greatest blessings can become our greatest challenges ... and our greatest challenges can end up becoming our greatest blessings.

You’ll notice a subtle red glow behind the photo of newborn Mitch. That symbolizes the distinct impression I had the moment I first laid eyes on him. Though he appeared healthy and showed no signs whatsoever anything was amiss, I knew something was seriously wrong with him. For the next 3 years, I had a recurring impression Mitch would have a short life. I’d talk to those closest to me and it was always dismissed by others as if to say, “you worry too much.” But I knew something was wrong, and heaven wanted me to prepare. That is a tender mercy.

In the months and years that followed, I witnessed a tender relationship between Mitchell and his mother. I loved to see those two souls together. As time passed I had the feeling these two were meant to be joined as mother and son - that they both had an important mission in each other's lives. I would watch in wonder as these two beautiful souls served and helped each other in unique ways.

On the top left, you’ll see a photo of Natalie and Mitch just seconds after Mitchell was diagnosed, at the age of three. I consider Mitchell's early diagnosis another tender mercy. There, you’ll see a point of light is red because it symbolizes a hardship. Hardships can turn into blessings, too. You see, that hard news put in motion early medical intervention and a support system that would play a vital role in the health and well-being of our son. The circle of stars that surrounds little Mitch wearing leg braces depicts various people and organizations that surrounded our son on his medical journey. Each a tender mercy. Each a treasured point of light.

What followed Mitchell’s early diagnosis is a line of stars that signify a thousand, thousand points of light. So many blessings, I could write volumes of books about them. One day, I might.

As Mitchell’s life was coming to an end, the points of light we encountered became more tender and revealing of a Father in Heaven that cares very much about us. A Father who cares even about a little boy who was very sick and in need of comfort.

That line of lights from Mitchell’s early diagnosis led to an image that summarizes the life we had with Mitch, while he was with us. We did our best to make the most of the time we had. As painful as knowing death was certain, it was a tender mercy to know time was short and we needed to make the most of it.

An offshoot from that line of lights is a symbolic photo that means a great deal to me. Just a few months before Mitchell passed away, I was on a photoshoot with a friend who was growing his hair and beard for an Old Testament film. We wanted to take a series of photos of him depicting the life of the Savior. At one point, I asked if we could take a photo of Mitch leaving his wheelchair - which would serve to symbolize so much about my faith and son’s circumstance. We had no idea the comforting and symbolic role this image would soon play in our lives after Mitchell passed.

The red star, signaling Mitchell’s end-stage heart failure put in motion many, many points of light that I will begin to share, here on Mitchell’s Journey, in the coming weeks and months. For now, what you see shows only three. The green stars are symbolic of inspired acts of others that became tender mercies for our family and son.

One of those was points of light was a tiny puppy. Mitchell’s grandfather felt compelled, or better said inspired, to find a tiny companion for Mitch. None of us know what little time actually was left – but for some reason, his grandfather was in a hurry about it. Mitch had a few beautiful weeks with this puppy before he was admitted to the hospital for end-stage heart failure. When Mitch came home to die, this little puppy brought Mitch comfort, companionship, and love – all the way to the moment he took his last breath. You’ll notice in essay entitled, Nightfall, baby Marlie had curled around Mitchell’s head just before he passed away – providing comfort to a little boy who was in need of tender mercy. The blessing of that puppy came exactly at the right time.

The center image shows Mitch getting out of bed - which at first glance seems like nothing much to write about. The story behind this image, however, is one that I’ll forever treasure as a profound example of our Father’s love and concern. The story is called Meatloaf - which details how a neighbor who recently moved into our area, knowing little of our circumstances other than we had a sick child, volunteered to bring our family a meal. Mitch had stopped eating and he was wasting away. Natalie and I were praying and pleading for more time. This woman (a stranger to us at the time) went to the grocery store to get ingredients for a meal she had mastered and found everyone enjoyed. Yet, while she was shopping, she received a recurring impression … “meatloaf.” The more she ignored it, the stronger the impression became. She nervously followed that impression but worried, “Who likes meatloaf anymore?” With a timid knock on our door, she almost apologetically handed over a lovely dinner of with meatloaf as its centerpiece. When Mitch discovered someone brought meatloaf, he said, “I love meatloaf.” With his mother’s help, he got out of bed and ate a full meal. Mitch received much-needed nourishment to his beleaguered body. Our Father cared enough about the cries of two terrified parents and the desire of a sick little boy to live just a little longer, that He would inspire a stranger to do just what was needed. I cannot thank Him enough.

Below that image is a photo of little Mitch home on hospice surrounded by over 100 heart-shaped, hand-written notes from concerned neighbors. Mitchell’s heart was broken and failing but was lifted by the kind hearts of loving souls that surrounded him. An inspired husband and wife, who live in our neighborhood, felt compelled to serve little Mitch and put this labor of love in motion. Mitch would then say, “Why do people care so much? I’m just a regular kid.” With tears in our eyes, we told him, “You matter because you are you – and these people want you to know you are special. They want you to know they care.” Mitch carefully read every single note – and those notes meant a great deal to him. With a legion of people who loved and supported him, Mitch faced a certain and final fate with a new kind of courage borne of love and unending support.

This illustration is a tiny glimpse of a million blessings my sweet little boy received on a very difficult journey. When life feels especially dark, I come back to this and I’m reminded that we are never alone in our suffering. Sometimes it feels like we’re all alone, in the dark. What I have learned on Mitchell’s Journey is that things are always happening in the background, things we cannot now see. Points of light that will one day appear as blessings tailor-made, just for you and just for me. If only we have eyes to see.

 

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NOTE: This essay is part of a 10 part series exploring some of the tender mercies we've discovered along Mitchell's Journey. My hope is that as you read these stories of little Mitch, you might discover points of light in your own life journey. What's more, I hope the discovery of your own points of light might bring you an increase of faith, gratitude, and courage to face your own dark times. 

NIGHTFALL

March 2, 2013.  ~1:30 AM

Night had fallen.  So had our hope for one more day.

My weary, tattered son lay in his bed unable to move and barely breathing. Within the last 12 hours his heart had greatly enlarged which caused his chest to protrude; he looked deformed and it was disturbing to see. The candle of life was dim and flickering by the winds of change. I could feel the coldness of death lapping at my feet. Even though night had long since fallen, more than the sky was dark. 

I had dozed off on the floor of Mitchell's room, next to my wife. Fatigue had taken hold of me ... I was so very tired. As I was beginning to drift into a deep sleep I awoke with a distinct impression to tuck my son in - something he asked me to do every night. "Hey Mitch ..." I said in a soft whisper, "I'm tucking you in, just as you like it. I love you son, so very much. Don't be afraid; remember what we taught you. Everything is going to be okay." 

I'm told that hearing is the last thing to go for those who are dying. For reasons I have earlier posted I know my son heard me. Those were the last words Mitch heard in mortality. Within 30 minutes of that gentle whisper and kiss on his face, my precious little boy passed away. I hope he wasn't scared. I hope.

We've also been told that children who are about to pass away often wait for their parents to leave the room or they linger for permission to go because they don't want to hurt or disappoint. Knowing this, I wanted my weary son who so fought valiantly to live; this little boy of ours … who always wanted to make us happy … I wanted him to know that we loved him and that all would be well. No sooner had I drifted back to sleep Natalie had got up from the floor to administer Mitchell's medicine, which he was now receiving every two hours. 

I'll never forget the sound of Natalie's voice. Her words pierced the silence of the room like a samurai sword through paper: .... "Chris." Suddenly, with the thunder of 1 million exploding suns, I awoke that instant only to see a mother's face that looked confused, scared and deeply bereft. I got up from the floor by Mitchell's bed and placed my hand on his chest. Nothing. Our precious son, our broken baby, was gone. 

We could scarcely believe our eyes. Lying on Mitchell's bed was the form of a little boy we raised since birth and loved with all of our hearts. His body was still warm, and it seemed as if we could just shake him a little as if to wake him from a deep sleep and that all would be well. But Mitch had fallen into a sleep from whence there is no return.

As each hour passed we could feel his arms and legs get colder. Soon, only the center of his chest was warm, and it was cooling quickly. Then his body started to change. At about 3:45 AM I called the funeral home to pick him up and they were at our home within an hour. I asked them to hurry because I wasn't sure I could watch my son's body continue down the path it was heading.

Processing the death of your child is something of a bi-polar experience taken to the greatest extremes. One moment you feel peace then suddenly you confront feelings of horror – the likes of which you've never known.

With all the lip service we give our religious beliefs, there is nothing so exacting as to see your child die and then to peer into the dark abyss of death. I have been taught that: "Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown ... must walk to the edge of the light, then a few steps into the darkness." My son's journey, Mitchell's Journey, has forced my wife and I to step into the darkness … a darkness that is as heavy as it is pitch.

Yet, I've discovered something in all this darkness. Once I allowed my spiritual eyes to adjust and look upward, I started to see the stars. Against the backdrop of all that is black and frightening I can see little flecks of light, tender mercies that were always there but I didn't have eyes to see them. And the accumulation of these tender mercies present themselves like heavenly constellations so I can find my way. If I look down or to the side, all I see is darkness. Like ancient navigators who looked to the heavens for bearing I can see the fingerprint of God in all that has happened, and I now have a sense of direction. I know we're not alone.

To be clear, it is still nightfall and my heart is heavy with a sinking sorrow. There are days that are blacker than black, and the waves of grief threaten to pull me under. But when I look to the heavens I can see. 

I can see.

 

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NOTE: This essay is part of a 10 part series exploring some of the tender mercies we've discovered along Mitchell's Journey. My hope is that as you read these stories of little Mitch, you might discover points of light in your own life journey. What's more, I hope the discovery of your own points of light might bring you an increase of faith, gratitude, and courage to face your own dark times. While I've shared this story before, I wanted to share it again because this was the night I lost Mitch and the night my eyes began to open.

LETTERS TO MY SON: THE NIGHT YOU LEFT US*

Dear Mitch,

The days leading up to your passing were surreal.  It was cold outside.  Snow everywhere.  As the world spun madly on – everything, as we knew it, was coming to an end.  It’s strange, you know, to live among a crowd of people yet feel like you’re worlds apart.  That’s how it felt when you were slipping away.  Everything on the outside seemed like a dream, oblivious to the hell on earth we were living. There we were, invisible to the world, living in the quiet of our home – and in the depths of our greatest nightmare.

With every dose of medication, you drifted further and further away.  You knew what the medicine was doing to you – and you sometimes resisted it … because you didn’t want to sleep.  You wanted to be awake as long as you could – to live as much life as possible, as long as possible.  I could almost hear it, you know … the crunch of the snow as death circled our home, every once in a while I could almost hear it gnawing and gashing at our door – violently trying to break through.  I knew it was only a matter of time before death would take you away.

Just a few months prior, I wrote a letter to our family about your heart and how your life was nearing its end.  I was careful to never let you see this letter because I didn’t want to frighten your tender heart.  In the letter I wrote:

 

 

Today Natalie and I sit with Mitch on the edge of an invisible cliff.  He can't see it, but my wife and I can - and the mouth of the abyss is yawned and inching to devour our son.  Yet, Mitchell looks out into the vast horizon unaware, and envisions a long, bright future ahead of him.  In his little mind, he is already making big plans.  He wants to build a home next to ours with a tunnel connecting our basements so he and his dad can watch movies and make popcorn.  He wants to work for his dad when he's older.  He talks about his own kids one day and how he’ll raise them like we raised him.  As he points to his vision of the future with youthful enthusiasm and a zest for life, he doesn't realize that he sits on the outermost edge and the ground from under him has crumbled away into the darkness – and his little body is hanging on by a pebble.  What Mitchell doesn't understand is the beautiful horizon he sees is only a mirage and in reality the sun is setting on his own life.

 

It was surreal to be with you on the edge of life and death.  It was different than I imagined.  More beautiful … and at the same time, more horrifying than I had a mind to know.  But your time at home was filled with love and laugher – and for that we are grateful.

Your quiet, tender ways about you made your mortality and eventual death all the more painful to witness.  How often I prayed for heaven to take me, instead of you.

Son, do you remember getting this gift?    Well, there is a profound story behind it … a tender mercy put in motion almost 6 months earlier.  I’ll tell you about that another time.  But what I want you to know is – heaven was at work preparing the way for you.  You were never alone.  Not ever.

The people in your path were meant to be there.  From your best fiend, Luke, to your school teachers and your Bishop … it was as though everything were perfectly timed … just for you.

Your final weeks at home were a mixture of heaven and hell – all rolled into one.  A beautiful agony I cannot to this day find words to describe.

There was a distinct moment I could no longer hear the crunching of the snow … the circling of death pacing around our home.  I no longer heard the pounding and gashing of death clawing at our door.  Death was in our home – and I couldn’t stop it.

Mitch, my precious child, I’ll never forget the time you wanted to be with me and play Legos.  You were too weak to sit up on your own.  You just wanted to be close … to lay on the edge of my lap and play like a little boy.  Your muscles were so weak, and you were so tired, I had to hold your head with my hand to keep it stable.  It was then I knew time had run out and whatever we had left was worth more than all the money on earth.

Time seemed to glitch.  One moment it would stretch out … other moments went by in less than a blink. 

Then, came the night you left us.  The night we said goodbye.  The night you slipped into the abyss and all became dark.  Never had I known such a darkness, borne of grief and heartache.

As your mother and I were swallowed up in sorrow, we wondered how we could live without you. There, in a spiritual pitch of night, something happened I did not expect.  As I prayed for understanding and pondered deeply on the meaning of life – almost as if against the backdrop of a darkened sky, I saw a little fleck of light.  A tender mercy that until that moment I did not have the eyes to see.  Then, the more I looked, the more I began to see – heavenly blessings that were meant for you … and some that were meant for your mom and me.

My eyes began to open.  Over the next few years, what I began to see was beautiful.  Like a heavenly constellation, these tender mercies … as if little points of light, showed that we are not alone – even in the pitch of night.

I’ll write you again, son.  I have so much to share.  I wish you were here – or me over there.

I’ve been traveling the broken road for 5 years now.  Sometimes I travel through the wilderness of grief, other times the desert – where the scorched land burns my feet.  And when I am lost, I have learned to look up and remember these points of light.  For if heaven has played such a role in our past, you see, I can have faith in what is yet to be. 

Sometimes I wonder where you are, exactly, on the far side of the sea.  Maybe you will come to visit me – in the quiet of my dreams.  And if you do, I want to know what you see.

Love,

Dad

IN THE QUIET OF NIGHT

When I was a young boy, I remember waking up at night only to find my mother or father gently opening my bedroom door to check on me. Sometimes, more often than not, they’d linger a moment as I’d drift back to sleep. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I began to understand why they’d linger. I found myself doing the same thing with my children, especially when they were young. I’d look upon my children with so much love in my heart I thought my tender heart would explode.

I learned that in the quiet of night, even during those dark struggles of the soul, we must trust our Father and step into the unknown; for in matters of faith, that is the price. That is the toll.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

As far back as I can remember, Mitch wanted Natalie and me to tuck him in at night. That little ritual of pulling the covers up to his chin and kissing his sweet face is something I’ll always remember with a heart of gratitude. Natalie had a special way of tucking the sides of his blanket under his body on both sides, and Mitch loved the feeling of being snuggled. Soon he’d fall fast asleep. Without realizing it, I’d find myself wandering back into his room to check on him, and my other children. I’d crack the door open only to spill some warm light into a moonlit room. There, I’d see my babies fast asleep. Sometimes, I’d think how curious it was that just a few years earlier before they were born, I was totally and completely content to live without them. But now that I had them, I couldn’t imagine a life without them.

I’ve experienced all manner of loss, and nothing cuts so deep as to lose a child.

When Mitch was home on hospice, my regular prayer routine became more focused and more heartfelt. Somewhere, in the quiet of night, by my son’s bed or on the edge of mine, I wept to my Father praying for deliverance. In my suffering, I grew closer to my Father. Even still, never did night seem so dark as when my son was slipping away. I discovered that when God doesn’t deliver us from our sorrows, He will deliver us through them. I also learned, in the quiet of night, a valuable lesson about dark times and how we can begin to discern light – the kind of light that kindles faith.

Just recently, I had a conversation with a father who was undergoing a tremendous hardship. In a private message on Facebook, he asked me, “Do you believe in angels?”

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

I continued, “We had some profound moments with Mitch [when] he passed away. As Mitch was in the process of dying, he slept a lot [and we agonized that we were losing him before we lost him]. Natalie and I were in a state of deep despair and couldn't feel as easily what others felt. Some people dropped gifts or notes at our door, not knowing what was happening in our home the last few days. 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 believe, despite how dark the world felt at the time, we were surrounded by a host of heavenly angels, bearing us up when we were so tired and so weak. In fact, I don’t think it … I know it. I know it for reasons I will not describe – for some things are too sacred to share.

I’ve come to learn over the last few years something Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” I’ve grown to appreciate that phrase, “When it is dark enough …” You see, sometimes it isn’t dark enough for us to see those heavenly blessings, that present themselves like little stars. And if we learn to look, our spiritual eyes will begin to see tender mercies that are meant for you and me.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing new stories about Mitch and how I learned to see the light, even through what seemed impenetrable darkness. I learned that in the quiet of night, even during those dark struggles of the soul, we must trust our Father and step into the unknown; for in matters of faith, that is the price. That is the toll.

SWEETER THINGS

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It was a cold November night when we arrived at grandma’s house.  Eager to stretch their legs from a 4-hour drive, our kids sprang from the car and ran to the front door only to be received with warm hugs and kisses from loving grandparents.  It was an especially tender time as our petition for a heart transplant was denied.  We were on borrowed time. 

In the marrow of my soul, I knew time was short, and that frightened me.  A few weeks before this photo, I sent a message to family letting them know Mitch was in trouble. 

In part of that letter, I wrote:

“Today Natalie and I sit with Mitch on the edge of an invisible cliff.  He can't see it, but my wife and I can - and the mouth of the abyss is yawned and inching to devour our son.  Yet, Mitchell looks out into the vast horizon unaware and envisions a long, bright future ahead of him.  In his little mind, he is already making big plans.  He wants to build a home next to ours with a tunnel connecting our basements, so he and his dad can watch movies and make popcorn.  He wants to work for his dad when he's older.  He talks about his own kids one day and how he’ll raise them as we raised him.  As he points to his vision of the future with youthful enthusiasm and a zest for life, he doesn't realize that he sits on the outermost edge and the ground from under him has crumbled away into the darkness – and his little body is hanging on by a pebble.  What Mitchell doesn't understand is the beautiful horizon he sees is only a mirage, and in reality, the sun is setting on his own life.

 Mitchell is too young to know what’s happening.  If he knew how close he is to completing this mortal journey, he would be terrified.  And we can’t bring ourselves to let him know the mortal danger he faces.  And we won’t.

 I write you today not to seek pity or sadness – but to alert you to his situation and invite you when you see him next, to give him a little more attention and love than usual.  We don’t know how much time we have with him, but the hour is late and midnight uncertain, so we want him to feel loved and appreciated during whatever time he has left.”

 I was very emotional at the time.  The simplest trigger would send tears streaming down my face.  A pothole while driving, a ray of light, or a fleeting memory that crossed my mind – everything was a trigger.  Though my heart was fragile, I tried to hide my sorrow from my son.  I didn’t want him to be afraid of something he had no control.  Suddenly, I understood like never before, how much a parent wants for their child’s happiness; and to see our children suffer is an agony for which there is no equal.

Suddenly, I understood like never before, how much a parent wants for their child’s happiness; and to see our children suffer is an agony for which there is no equal.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

So, when my mother said, “Mitch, I have a surprise for you,” and my little boy smiled, my heart was awash with gratitude.  My mother knew Mitchells’ favorite dessert was chocolate cake from Costco – and Mitch knew it, too.  As our kids gathered in the kitchen and Grandma began to slice into that chocolaty goodness, Mitch had a smile that made my heart sing.  It was a simple thing to remember Mitch and treat him with something he loved – but I’ve learned that the small and simple things are really big things.

As I tucked Mitch in that night, he said in a soft tone, “Dad, Grandma is so nice to remember I like chocolate cake from Costco.”  I paused a moment, and Mitch then asked, “Are you crying?”  I whispered, “Son, sometimes moms and dads cry when special things happen to their kids.  Our hearts explode, and it squirts out of our eyes.”  Mitch giggled a little and snuggled into a deep pillow, ready to visit a place of dreams.

Mitch knew there were sweeter things in life than chocolate cake – and as much as he loved that treat, he loved the sweeter things of life even more.  The loving kindness of a grandparent, a simple act of service, or a friendly hello meant more to Mitch than all the candy on earth.

As I reflect on my son’s journey, though it broke my heart, I am so grateful for my mother and the sweeter things of life.  For when all seemed dark, it was these little moments that broke through the shadows and shed a little light.  I will thank my Father when I kneel before Him tonight.

A MOTHER’S BURDEN IS A MOTHER’S BLESSING

This was the night before Mitch slipped into end-stage heart failure. His heart was already failing, we just didn't know it at the time. But this was our last night of normal.

Young Mitch was so tender. So frail.

I believe one day when this life is over our eyes will be truly opened and we will see mothers in all their majesty and greatness. Men will have been a small player on a much grander stage.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

“Hey Mitchie, it’s time to go to bed,” Natalie said softly. “Mom, will you help me off the floor? I don’t know what’s happening, but I can’t do it by myself anymore,” Mitch said with an even softer tone. Natalie reached down and scooped up our son with love and tenderness. She knew Mitch wanted to be independent, so she helped him to his feet, then he slowly walked to the bottom of the stairs. Then, he turned to his mother again as she lifted him once more and ascended the stairs.

I overheard Mitch say, “I love you, Mom,” as she carried him up the stairs. My heart swelled for a moment, then I sensed something terrible was about to happen, and my heart fell to the floor and I scrambled to catch my breath.

Soon little Mitch would drift off into that place of dreams. Each night, I knelt at my son’s bed and prayed to my Father that Mitchell’s dreams would be sweet. I prayed for his health and well-being. I prayed that I could somehow take that bitter cup and suffer for him – so I might spare my little boy such hardship.

It was something of a bitter irony that at the moment of this photo we prayed for Mitchell’s health, then a week later we found ourselves frantically praying for more time. Soon our prayers changed again, and as death drew near, we prayed for a gentle, yet quick death. We desperately didn’t want Mitch to suffer - and we knew so much could go so wrong. We were terrified … and we soaked our pillows with tears.

The night Mitch passed away, Natalie wept over our son’s body for hours. She has since shared with me on several occasions the tender and sacred impressions she received that night. Though Natalie was in deep agony, she also felt moments of Mitchell’s tender presence. She wasn’t looking for it – instead, those impressions came distinctly and unexpectedly. During those sacred moments, she felt Mitchell’s soul was allowed to linger and that her soul was touched by little Mitch who was about to travel to that place beyond the hills, that place we cannot see. It was almost as if he said, “I’m okay mommy.” Natalie was overwhelmed with an impression (different than a feeling) that Mitch had a particular purpose on this earth, and though painful to carry the weight of sorrow, she suddenly felt profoundly honored to be Mitchell’s mother. When she shared that with me, I nearly fell to my knees and wept. In that moment, I was reminded of the sacred relationship mothers have with their children – and that I was merely a small part, perhaps even a spectator, of a much greater plan.

The work of motherhood, I’ve observed, is quite different than that of a father. I’m not talking about sharing household duties, shuttling kids from one place to the next, or helping them with homework; I’m talking about the sacred and spiritual bond a mother has with her child. It is a relationship unmatched in all the universe – and I stand in reverence of it.

I think Kate Bush said it best in her song, “This Woman’s Work”:

I stand outside this woman's work

This woman's world

Ooh, it's hard on the man

Now his part is over

Now starts the craft of the Father

I believe one day when this life is over our eyes will be truly opened and we will see mothers in all their majesty and greatness. Men will have been a small player on a much grander stage. We will discover the greatest work that will ever be done in this life is raising children – and none compare to influence of mothers. Therein we see the craft of our Father.

When I think back on this tender evening, the night before we learned time was running out, I see a mother’s burden, and I also see her greatest blessing.