LIVING FEARLESSLY

It was an especially hot summer that year. The desert sun beat down on our skin like an oven set on broil. For some reason, even the shade of summer trees didn't offer much relief. Although we struggled to make ends meet, Natalie and I had just saved up enough money to replace our swamp cooler with an air conditioner. Finally, our family was able to take a break from the summer heat – and we slept much better at night because our small home was comfortably cool. I remember how excited our young kids were to wear their jammies in the summer because our home was no longer hot at night. 

On this occasion, Ethan and little Mitch were in the back yard jumping from our plastic jungle gym into an inflatable pool. We seemed to go through at least three inflatable pools each year because the kids were always experimenting with them and they’d invariably pop them with sticks, lawn furniture, rocks and other things. We didn't mind. While we have tried to teach our kids the importance of taking care of things, we tried to balance that with a spirit of adventure and experimentation. Getting a few cheap pools a year was a small price to pay for the memories they made.

The news of Mitchell’s diagnosis was still fresh on our minds and heavy in our hearts. While in a state of shock, we did our best to live life the best we knew how, no matter how scared we were. Looking back, I’m glad we didn't let our fear of the future overtake us – for that would have robbed us of the moment. And those moments are priceless today.

So, I sat in the shade and watched our boys laugh and play. In my mind, I began to wonder how long this pool would last, and I smiled. Little Mitch dove bravely from the jungle gym into the pool head-first. This tiny little guy never flinched at the unknown and was eager to explore the world far beyond his comfort zone. This photo is so … Mitch.

I remember thinking to myself as I took this photo how much I admired his courage and zest for life. I quietly hoped Mitch would demonstrate that same courage in the years to come as his body dove into much deeper, fatal waters. True to form, over the years, Mitch would face his fears courageously. Whether it was his first day at school, MDA summer camp, or the scare of an unfamiliar rollercoaster. That isn't to say he was never afraid. Everyone is afraid of something. Mitch just faced his fears, however scared he felt, and kept moving on. He drank life in the best he knew how – he took all of it, the good and the bad. I always admired that about him and I often found myself following his quiet example, deep in his shadow. 

Mitchell’s Journey with DMD has been terrifying. Grief, even more so. Yet, I think it’s safe to say I have found a measure of peace. That doesn't mean I don’t grieve. To the contrary, I grieve deeply … so very deeply. But peace, I have discovered, hasn’t come from the absence of grief and sorrow, but in learning to cope with it. I have found the most effective way to grieve is … to simply grieve. Like Mitch in this photo, when grief comes, I just dive in headfirst. Yes, I'm afraid of grief because it hurts. But, I have found the sooner I accept the sorrow, however painful it feels, I emerge from the deep waters of grief much faster. If I resist it, I may postpone it for a season, but in the end, it catches up to me and I only prolong the hurt. 

When I look at this photo I am reminded that courage has nothing to do with physical strength. It’s more a matter of the mind and heart, seeing past the things that might stop us before we even start.

Thank you little Mitch for teaching me, however painfully, to live fearlessly.

WINNING

Last weekend, during the Miles for Mitchell 5K, I began to think about the kaleidoscope of winning. Real winning has so many unique forms, shapes, and colors and it is all beautiful. 

Here are two photos that show 3 ways to win. Wyatt running in honor of his fallen brother … not a day goes by that Wyatt doesn't weep over the loss of Mitch; he would have done anything to save him. Luke, ever the faithful companion to Mitch, encourages Wyatt to press forward when his legs were tired. Lastly, a volunteer scout sitting in the shade of Mitchell’s balloons weeping over the loss of a friend. 

Three forms of humanity. Three forms of winning.

To win is to try. 
To win is to help others along the way. 
To win is to have compassion and love deeply.

These young boys were living life unrehearsed, and living it beautifully. Each of them won.