THE ECHOES WE MAKE

It was summer and the color of the evening sun had poured into the room like a glass of warm orange juice. Grandpa hiked his pant legs a little as he sat down to tell my small children some tall tales. My little ones sat around him (Mitch on the right), captivated and smiling as their grandfather lovingly wove a story of fiction, magic, and a little bit of nonsense.

Mitch tugged softly at my arm as he pointed to the glowing lint floating in the air as it crossed paths with the window. He said in a whisper, “Dad, it looks like space.” I put my arm around him as he began to lay his head into my chest. Time slowed to a near halt as we had one of those perfect moments you wish could last forever. There were no digital screens to look at, no earbuds drowning out the world, no text messages, RSS feeds and other suffocating distractions … nothing but each other, love and the lost art of storytelling.

I remember admiring my father-in-law [a man who is as kind-hearted as he is good] connect with my children in his own, unique way. I was grateful for this soft moment. As my children were swept away in story, my mind drifted to other things. I couldn't help but think of my son, a little boy who had done the world no harm yet was a victim to a deadly disease from which there was no escape. Although he appeared healthy, I knew that he was dying faster than the rest of us. And that broke my heart.

When I leaned down to kiss Mitchell’s forehead, he put his hand on the side of my face as if to keep me there and whispered, “I love you, dad.” My eyes welled as I whispered back, “I love you more.”

I then lifted my head and looked at a wise grandfather investing his time and loving attention with my children. I began to think about the passage of time and the natural order of life. It occurred to me that before we know it, age will catch up to this wonderful man and he will soon pass away. Whatever material possessions he may have accumulated will matter not one bit. Neither will popularity or prestige. The only thing he will take with him is what he has become. And the echo of his influence and choices will be the only lasting inheritance he will pass on to the generations that follow.

As I sat in this room surrounded by a family that I love deeply, I began to contemplate the echoes we make, the ripples our choices have on ourselves and others. They can build or destroy. They can be loud as thunder or soft as whispers. They can last generations or be silenced in less than one.

Author Peggy O’Mara said, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I found this to be true, at least for me. I hope that any inpatient or unkind word I may have ever said to my son was drowned out by how much and how often I tried to love him. And I hope that when my son was passing that he found comfort in his inner voice – that he looked forward with faith, not fear. That he knew he was loved by those of us here ... and the many that are over there.

As I peer into the abyss of death, unable to see with mortal eyes what exactly lies within, I can hear the echo of my son; his goodness, his love, his obedience, and faith. I hope that I carry his echo forward.

Losing my son (or anyone) is a painful reminder that suns set, seasons change, leaves fall, and so do our bodies. And if that's the case, I do well to remember that I only have a few minutes on this planet and I had better make the most of it. Of all the things we give and take, perhaps nothing is so important as the echoes we make.

SOMETIMES WE LEAVE THE BEST PARTS OF US BEHIND

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I’ve experienced a lot of hard things in life – but nothing so hard as being a parent.  

On this night I took my kids to a restaurant; Natalie was at another function, so I was blessed with some one-on-one time with my kids.  At one point I said something that hurt my son’s feelings.  I don’t remember exactly what happened – I only remember he was sad.  When I realized I hurt his feelings my heart broke and I immediately fell to my knees, put my forehead against his and said, “Oh, Mitchie, I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.  Sometimes Daddy’s make mistakes – and they don’t mean to.  I love you, son.  How I love you…”

We spend our lives trying to grow up and out of things - and while growth is necessary, if we’re not mindful, sometimes we leave the best parts of us behind. 
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Perhaps nothing quite shows the nobility of children as their readiness to forgive and forget.  The irony of adulthood is that some hold grudges and try to inflict hurt on others.  But children … they are endlessly good.  No wonder it is said of them, “of such is the kingdom of heaven.”  Sadly, it is adults who bring hell on earth.  If only we could love and forgive as children do.  If only we could see the best in each other and forgive with loving hearts - oh, how the world might change.

So there I knelt at my son’s feet as; a painful fatherly confession was made, and a tender plea for his love and forgiveness was shared.  Mitch put his arms around my neck, and I hugged him tightly.  “I love you, little boy.  With all of my heart.”  Mitch whispered, “I love you too, Dad.”

Mitch was smiling again – and all was right with the world.  Later that night, Mitch and my other kids would snuggle in my arms on the couch as I read stories before bedtime – a tradition Natalie has upheld since our kids were infants.  Heaven seldom felt as close as it did that night.

I know I’m not the first parent to upset their child … and I certainly won’t be the last.  What I do know, is every time I stumbled I immediately tried to make it right.

I suppose the point of this post isn’t that I made mistakes and tried to recover; instead, I can’t help but think of the utter goodness of children and how much I have yet to learn from them.  I saw in my son this night a most pure and loving heart – something I will carry with me and forever try to be.

We spend our lives trying to grow up and out of things - and while growth is necessary, if we’re not mindful, sometimes we leave the best parts of us behind. 

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Originally posted in 2015

SOMETIMES WE LEAVE THE BEST PARTS OF US BEHIND

I’ve experienced a lot of hard things in life – but nothing so hard as being a parent. 

On this night I took my kids to a restaurant; Natalie was at another function so I was blessed with some one-on-one time with my kids. At one point I said something that hurt my son’s feelings. I don’t remember exactly what happened – I only remember he was sad. When I realized I hurt his feelings my heart broke and I immediately fell to my knees, put my forehead against his and said, “Oh, Mitchie, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Sometimes Daddy’s make mistakes – and they don’t mean to. I love you, son. How I love you…” 

Perhaps nothing quite shows the nobility of children as their readiness to forgive and forget. The irony of adulthood is that some hold grudges and try to inflict hurt on others. But children … they are endlessly good. No wonder it is said of them, “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Sadly, it is adults who bring hell on earth. If only we could love and forgive like children do. If only we could see the best in each other and forgive with loving hearts - oh, how the world might change.

We spend our lives trying to grow up and out of things - and while growth is necessary, if we’re not mindful, sometimes we leave the best parts of us behind.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

So there I knelt at my son’s feet; a painful fatherly confession was made and a tender plea for his love and forgiveness was shared. Mitch put his arms around my neck and I hugged him tightly. “I love you, little boy. With all of my heart.” Mitch whispered, “I love you too, Dad.” 

Mitch was smiling again – and all was right with the world. Later that night, Mitch and my other kids would snuggle in my arms on the couch as I read stories before bedtime – a tradition Natalie has upheld since our kids were infants. Heaven seldom felt as close as it did that night.

I know I’m not the first parent to upset their child … and I certainly won’t be the last. What I do know, is every time I stumbled I immediately tried to make it right. 

I suppose the point of this post isn’t that I made mistakes and tried to recover; instead, I can’t help but think of the utter goodness of children and how much I have yet to learn from them. I saw in my son this night a most pure and loving heart – something I will carry with me and forever try to be.

We spend our lives trying to grow up and out of things - and while growth is necessary, if we’re not mindful, sometimes we leave the best parts of us behind. 

 

SO EMPTY, YET SO FULL*

It was an especially hot summer day when two mothers and 4 children walked into Pioneer Park, each with an arm full of gifts they were about to give away. Quietly they began placing all manner of toys throughout the playground. Each toy had a sticker attached to it with an invitation to play with and keep, signed Mitchell’s Journey. 

Cathy O’Grady, a follower-turned-friend from Boston, was in Salt Lake City and wanted to do something in memory of little Mitch. So, she purchased two carts of toys that included baseball bats, footballs, bubbles, chalk, soccer balls and other things kids used to play with before the advent of technology … before the age of digital isolation and endless distraction. 

She was kind enough to let me follow her and a friend, Tracey Langston, so I could take photos of their random act of love and kindness in memory of Mitch. Each of them wore a Miles for Mitchell shirt because they wanted to take my son with them. 

“Watch how parents will put their phones down and suddenly start playing with their children when they’re given a toy.” Cathy said. Sure enough, exactly as she described, I saw it with my own eyes. Parents who moments earlier were busy scrolling through never ending streams of Pinterest posts, social feeds, texts, emails and other things suddenly set their devices down and began to play with their children. 

I saw adorable little kids stumble into a lonely soccer ball, pick it up with curiosity and then show it to their parents as though they won a lottery. I marveled at how these small, inexpensive toys changed how people interacted with one another. As these anonymous gifts were discovered, the playground went from friendly to an excited frolic.

After these good Samaritans were done placing toys … when parents and children alike were playing with one another, I told Cathy how humbled I was by her act of kindness. As my eyes filled with tears … fighting back a wave of grief … I told Cathy something about little Mitch just before he passed away. As Mitch was facing the realities of his own death he wept and wept as he told me how much he wished he could be like regular kids. My soul unraveled and my heart fell to the floor as I heard my son describe what he wanted to do in “real life” but could not. “Dad, I don’t want to ride a skate board in a video game, I want to do it for reals.” Mitch sobbed in ways only a dying child can know. And my soul writhed. 

I told Cathy how grateful I was for the gifts she gave others. She didn’t just give toys, you see. These little gifts were a means to a much greater end. Cathy gave the gift of play. The gift of relationships.

So, on this hot summer day, never a swing set looked so empty, yet felt so full. I wanted my little boy to be seated there and was pained that he was not. I wished with all of my heart I could push him back and forth, long after the sun set. I wanted to play with Mitch and see his face and hear him laugh, yet he was forever gone. Instead, I saw other children and parents enjoy what I no longer had – and yet my heart swelled with gratitude for their happiness.

I am so grateful for people like Cathy and Tracey … who seek to build others up and serve with love. I wonder how the world would change if everyone gave freely and not want anything in exchange. Something divine happens when we love and lift … for the very act of giving is itself a supernal gift.

You can see more photos of this experience at the park on instagram.com/mitchells_journey/

You can also learn more about Cathy and the many other good works she is doing here: http://sofiasangelsfoundation.org/

TAKING TIME FOR THINGS THAT MATTER

Mitch had just finished having an annual checkup at Shriners Hospital. I was there with my wife to let Mitch know I loved and supported him. With very few exceptions, I was always there. I never wanted my son to turn around and see and empty chair where his daddy should have been. I wanted him to know I was with him every step of the way. It has always been that way … until his very last day.

As we were leaving the hospital I asked young Mitch if he’d like to go to work with me. He smiled softly and nodded yes. My heart leapt from my chest.

While driving to the office an old friend and colleague who owns a simulation business asked if I could stop by his office to discuss some upcoming projects. I told him I had my son with me but that I’d be glad to. He was not at all bothered to have my little one around – in fact, he welcomed it. This good man was a father, too, and had the same family values I held so dearly. 

We met briefly in his conference room and discussed some matters at hand. Sensing business could wait and that there was more important things to do, Reg leaned forward toward Mitch and said, “Hey Mitch, do you want to drive a real simulator?” Mitch was shy and didn’t want to intrude – but the little gamer in him desperately wanted to drive a real simulator. With that, my colleague and friend escorted Mitch to a warehouse attached to the back of his office. This was where he built prototypes. This good man and successful entrepreneur recognized an opportunity to lift a little boy’s heart and expand his horizons.

To think he took time for Mitch, to let my boy know he mattered enough to take time out for him … that warms my heart and soul. It stirs within me a desire to do more of that for others. He didn’t just give Mitch a gift that day … Reg gave me a gift; a gift that still comforts me to this day. I can still see in my mind the smile on my son’s face as we drove out of his parking lot. Mitch said, “Dad, that was awesome!”

Fast-forward a few years and I received an email from this good man … almost exactly a year after my son had passed. He said he felt prompted to send me a message that might bring comfort to my heart – a heart he knew was weary with grief. 

“Dear Chris,

I hope I am not trespassing on your privacy. I have been thinking of you this month and was prompted to write this that it may offer some comfort to you to know that your well-being is thought of by others …” 

The letter continued to offer compassion and then he recounted some of his own experience with grief and loss.

He described how he was in Heathrow Airport after completing a project in England and was about to begin his journey home. Prior to his flight, Pan Am located him and told him to call home immediately. He then learned his youngest twin daughter, Valerie, had passed away. I wept as I read his words … how he described his feelings of helplessness, guilt, vulnerability and so many other emotional horrors I knew all too well. My tears didn’t spring because of my own loss … I cried because of his. I knew his heartbreak and I was so sorry to hear how much he hurt. My tears were tears of empathy and compassion. Yet, in his very message, he was doing the same for me.

Once again, I experienced the supernal doctrine of mourning with those that mourn. What a powerful principle of hope, healing and a taste of heaven above … to care enough to feel another’s hurt and love.

The more I examine my life, the more I’m convinced everything matters. From trivial pursuits to things of deep importance … everything matters. The key is in knowing and pursuing what matters more. The most trivial of pursuits matter, not because they are important, but because they have the potential to keep us from things that matter more. Even still, when I consider all the things I feel are important, they are not all equal: the fact is, some important things matter more than others. 

I hope to always have discerning eyes – so I can know the difference. I am grateful for good friends, like Reg, who have compassionate hearts and good souls … who remind me to take time for things that really matter. In the end, that is all that really matters.

A LETTER TO MY SON

Yesterday was a day of laughter and smiles, memories and gratitude. Before the sun was about to set I asked my oldest son, Ethan, if he wanted to go on a quick adventure with me. He said “sure!” and we drove off in search of an empty field. I had suspected we’d find some unique, natural light as a storm had broken and the sun was beginning to fall behind the hills. Sure enough, we chased the light and saw a most unique sight. I couldn't help but think this photo I took of my son a metaphor for a great many things.

Ethan and I started to talk about life. Often, on his own, Ethan will bring Mitch up in conversation. Talking about our fallen family member is neither forbidden nor encouraged … we allow our family to talk about whatever, whenever. If something on their mind or heart, they’re free to speak it without judgement, prejudice or impatience. 

He said, “Dad, I think I know why I was born into this family. Well, at least one of the reasons …” Ethan thinking deeply about his present and his future, continued, “I think I was supposed to have Mitch as my brother so he could teach me things I needed to know.” Ethan loved Mitch; they were the best of friends and had a lot in common. When I think of the many tender mercies along this journey, the pairing of these two young boys as brothers is nothing short of divine. They did so much for each other. Though I frequently sorrow over the loss of Mitch, I am eternally grateful he was part of my family’s life.

After our father-son adventure last night, we retired to our rooms. I was awoken in the middle of the night on another matter - and I didn't really go back to sleep. I thought to write my son a message the likes of which I wished had been written to me when I was his age. These are some of the things I wished I had known at a younger age:

SEEK PURPOSE OVER PLEASURE
Seek purpose over pleasure. Pleasure and momentary happiness are always, always fleeting; as opposed to things eternal, like purpose and meaning. If you seek after purpose and meaning, you’ll learn to see past hardships and sorrows; undaunted by troubles you’ll encounter today or any tomorrow. 

THINGS MAY GO TERRIBLY, HORRIBLY WRONG
Despite your best efforts, life will be hard. In fact, it may get more difficult than you have a mind to imagine. Things may go from bad to terribly, horribly wrong. Just remember you are eternal. You are not your body – you are a soul capable of a greatness that, as yet, you do not have a mind to know. Every mortal moment is an education to your soul. Listen, watch and learn. And, if things go terribly, horribly wrong … remember that, in the end, all things will give you experience and will be for your good. Just hang on. Even if only by a pebble. Hang on.

HURT PEOPLE, HURT PEOPLE
You’ll invariably meet people in your life who’ll try to hurt you. These people will confuse the darkness in their own hearts for your motives. Always remember what Anias Nin wisely observed: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” You may encounter some who foam at the mouth in rage toward you. Though bizarre, ignore them. They will be as a lit match: full of fury and fire for a moment, but short lived. Let there instead be a fire in your soul – not of hate and fury, but of love and light. It may blind those in darkness, but will help those with sight. Not for any reason should you hide your light.

BE KIND, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS
Be gentle and kind to others. Your little brother taught our family that at the end of the day, if you are unkind, nothing else you do in life will matter. 

YOU ARE LOVED
Although the skies may draw black as night and storms may threaten to devour you … know that you are loved: both by a mother and father on earth and by heaven above. You are, dear child, utterly and completely loved.

This and so much more, I would write my son to prepare his mind and heart for the for the years to come. 

My son Ethan’s journey is inextricably woven with Mitchell’s Journey … and not because I write here, on Facebook. Though I write intimately of my grief journey, our lives at home are not saturated in sorrow. Rather, we are happy, moving forward and finding purpose in each day. Ethan’s journey is enjoined with Mitchell’s Journey because he was his brother and his life and death has altered the course of ours. In fact, Mitchell’s Journey is everyone’s journey who might choose to take something from it. 

As John Donne wrote, “No man is an island” … to his insightful prose, I would add we are all part of something so infinitely grand … a spiritual ecosystem so majestic in scope and purpose … were our eyes unveiled, we would finally understand things as they really are and we would weep tears of love and gratitude. We would love our enemies, do good to those that hurt us, and fall on our knees in sorrow for those who we might have hurt. We would accept our life's struggles as a necessary crucible for growth and change.

 

MY WILDERNESS

As a young boy I used to get lost in the back woods of Edina, Minnesota. The wilderness was thick with all manner of vegetation, rocks and hills – and because of the very nature of nature you couldn't see very far. And when fog settled, you could see almost nothing. 

Being lost as a young child reminds me of the landscapes of my life. Sometimes I sit upon a vista with clear skies and can see far into the horizon. Other times I am scaling my Everest – afraid I might fall. Still, other times I am traveling through a wilderness of hardship where the fog of the unknown makes seeing what’s ahead almost impossible. 

Regardless of the landscape upon which I journey, I have learned to travel by faith. That doesn't mean to travel blind or dumb, but to learn to see with my other eyes and hear with my other ears. There is a difference, and it is significant.

As Mitch started to slip away, I found myself descending into a dark wilderness wherein I could see very little. The further we traveled into this wilderness of grief and sorrow the more difficult the terrain and the thicker the fog. I would hold my son’s face and tell him how much he meant to me. I would kiss and hug him and try to assure him – but inside I was terrified of losing him. I love him so very much. With each minute, each day, the wilderness became ever dark and perplexing. I have never known a wilderness such as this.

My wife came into my office today with tears in her eyes and said, “I know it’s officially tomorrow night (the morning of March 2nd) that Mitch passed away, but the day was on a Friday last year. Today is Friday.” Tears filled my eyes, too. I realized then I am still navigating the wilderness of grief. And what a wilderness it is… 

The other day I stumbled upon a journal entry I wrote when I was 19 years old. I had all but forgotten about the dream – but somehow I had the presence of mind to write it down over 20 years ago. In my dream I was travelling in a forest heading to some place important, but I couldn't put my finger on where. I also had a wife and children but I couldn't see their faces and I didn't know their numbers, yet I knew they belonged to me and me them. Each of them was carrying picture frames. As we made our journey through the thick forest, at some point I realized someone was missing and I began to desperately search for my child. I was in a panic, and then my dream ended.

As I read my journal entry I lost my breath. I am now beginning to understand the meaning of that dream so many years later - and I can’t help but contemplate what God was trying to tell me about my future. He spoke to me, and I listened … and I wrote it down… but I didn't understand it. If there is one thing I've learned in my own journey; it is one thing to receive a personal revelation (or answer, or warning) but quite another to understand it. 

I have discovered that while navigating my wilderness I must learn to rely on my spiritual hearing, not just spiritual sight. And learning to hear is a delicate and personal thing – borne of personal acquaintance. 

Suppose I told you outside there were 2,000 mothers – one of which was mine. And say I blindfold you and told you to find her. I could describe her to you; I might say she’s 5.5, blonde short hair, a beautiful smile and kind voice. If I sent you out there to find her ---- you couldn't do it. Yet if you were to blindfold me I could find her in minutes. Why? Because I know her voice. So it is with God. 

I am still navigating the wilderness of grief - almost as if blindfolded. But I have ears to hear. And while I may stumble and fall to my bruised knees in sorrow, I will get up and follow that voice that whispers ever so gently. A voice that is so quiet that if I’m preoccupied, I may not hear it at all. 

One day, at the end of my wilderness, when I have learned what I must, I know I will see my son again. Only this time I will hold Mitchell’s face not in sorrow but in deep relief … for I will have closed the loop on that dream I had so many years ago; I will have found my son who was lost from my sight. And I will thank my wilderness for teaching me to hear my Father’s voice … a voice that is leading me home. I hear Him.