FROZEN IN TIME

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I’ve heard it said, “Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.” This is a memory did just that.

It was cold outside, but my heart couldn’t have been warmer at this moment. We took our kids on an adventure to play in the freshly fallen snow. As the kids were putting on their snow clothes, Ethan pointed to his Spiderman hat and said, “Hey Mitch, look at my hat!” Mitch smiled and said, “Dat’s cool. Look at mine; it’s mommies. Its soft and will keep me warm.” Were he given a choice to wear any hat on earth or his mom’s hat, he would have chosen his mother’s every time. To Mitch, wearing her hat was like getting a constant hug from her.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
— Winnie the Pooh

With that, our kids ran outside to prance about in fluffy fields of white. Mitch reached down to gather snow in his tiny hands and threw it up in the air. He laughed as a chunk of snow landed on his brother’s head. Ethan giggled, then reached over to kiss his brother on his cheek.

By this time, the warm tears streaming down my face were turning to ice on my chin. If I could have frozen time like molecules of water in ice and forever live in this moment, I would have. I suppose, in a way, this photo did just that. I am forever grateful for tender memories – however much they might evoke feelings of loss and sorrow.

I think Winnie the Pooh said it best, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

CHRISTMAS GIFTS

I just love Christmas ... I love everything about it. I remember when I first bought this little USB Christmas tree ... Mitch thought it was so cool and he loved to come to the office and see it aglow on my desk. The screen saver (behind the tree) is close to my heart because it reminds me of Mitchell's love of sunsets, cozy atmospheres and his romantic view of the holidays. To him, he looked forward to giving gifts to others then snuggling up in a warm and cozy home with the people he loved. That's all I want to do anymore: give and love.

I thought I lost this tree a year ago, but Natalie recently found it buried under other Christmas decorations. Today, when I look at this little tree I think of Mitch and the beautiful gift he was and remains in my life. Despite the heartache that comes and goes like an evening tide, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Though painful, I wouldn't trade the gift of Mitch for anything.

I just hope one night I can see my son in my dreams so I can tell him how much he mattered to me and how very much I love him.

SOMETIMES*

A few years ago I took my kids camping high in the Wasatch Mountains on what turned out to be one of the coldest days that winter. The decision to go winter camping was last-minute, so I called my wife and asked her to throw our tent in my truck so we could leave the minute I got home from work. With that, my dear wife quickly gathered sleeping bags, extra blankets, dry clothes and made my famous tinfoil dinner. You can find that recipe below.

I think little Mitch was on to something; that perhaps sometimes the hard times turn out to be our happiest times. Certainly not in the moment … and maybe not all the time. But sometimes.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

We raced into the mountains so we could find a camping spot before night came -but before we arrived at our destination, it was already dark and the temperature was falling rapidly. I carried Mitch on my back a few hundred yards because his legs were much too weak to walk through the snow. Within about 15 minutes we had started a roaring campfire so the kids could get warm while I set our tent. Within minutes I discovered Natalie accidentally packed what was essentially a mosquito net for summer picnics. It offered virtually no protection from the bitter cold. I told my boys it isn’t a good idea to quit at the first sign of a struggle … that we can always find a way if we look for a solution. After some discussion, my boys decided they wanted to stay anyway.

That was the longest and most difficult camping trip of my life. I didn’t sleep more than 15 minutes at a time. No sooner would I doze off that I would awake in a panic, spring from my sleeping bag and make sure my boys were covered and warm. I would then lay my head on the frozen floor and peer into the starry sky through the mosquito net thinking to myself, “What on earth are we doing?”

The next morning we awoke and started another roaring fire. A warm cup of hot chocolate was on the way when Mitch came to me and said, “Hey Dad, let’s not ever do that again.”

“Deal,” I said with a chuckle and then kissed his face, “I am sorry you were so cold.” Mitch smiled and said, “It’s okay Dad. It was fun … but not that fun.” We drove down the mountainside and I took our kids to the first restaurant we saw and I ordered them each a stack of hot pancakes and scrambled eggs. As I saw my boys dig in and chuckle between themselves over the mosquito net, my heart was overflowing. I thought myself the luckiest man on earth. I was so glad to be a dad.

There have been times, in moments of parental doubt, I wondered if dragging my boys out in the cold, away from our warm home was a good idea when they were so young. But then I would find little folded pieces of paper on my nightstand addressed to me from Mitch. In each piece of childhood origami was a hand drawn picture of adventures past. Not once did he draw pictures of Disney Land or expensive vacations, instead he re-created fire pits and fellowship. He seemed to interpret struggle with a measure of fondness. He would draw pictures of our spring camping adventure when we nearly got flooded out by a torrential downpour. He made drawings of the winter camping trips we vowed to never do again. From the boiling hot deserts to the dirty, muddy hills … the things we disliked in the moment, turned out to be the things he remembered and loved the most.

In like manner, when I think of our early days raising a family … when exhaustion and discouragement nearly broke us … those are some of our sweetest memories. I think little Mitch was on to something; that perhaps sometimes the hard times turn out to be our happiest times. Certainly not in the moment … and maybe not all the time. But sometimes.

 

 

Mitchell's Favorite Recipe

Apply portions according to preference.

 
  • Lay down foil sheets to match the number of meals you want to make.  I recommend using two sheets per meal to ensure a strong seal.

  • Optional: apply a light coat of non-stick spray to one side of the foil

  • Lay a bed of tater tots on each sheet.  Two handfuls is usually sufficient.

  • Pour cream of mushroom on top of the tater tots.  Be generous with these portions as they soak into the tater tots and become like gravy.  One can per meal is usually perfect.

  • Cut chicken breasts to desired size and place on top

  • Add corn

  • Season with salt & pepper and other spices to preference

  • Wrap & freeze

 

 

Freezing foil dinners will ensure your meals stay fresh.  When you’re ready to cook it, you simply place it over hot coals and rotate every 5 minutes for about 20 minutes, or until your meal is thoroughly cooked.

There are alternative ingredients to virtually every item on this recipe, but Mitch (and our family) have found this one especially perfect.


Tip on Cooking Over Fire

Be sure to cook over hot coals, not a roaring bonfire.  

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The best time to place your foil dinners is after the flames have died down and the bed of your fire pit is filled with red hot coals.

You can also cook your foil dinners on a grill, as seen below.  We made these meals for Cousins Camp 2016:

unlike flames from a fire, hot coals create intense,  even heat

Sometimes it takes patience to wait for the fire to die down and coals to appear 

its a good idea to spread coals out evenly so heat is distributed ACROSS your cooking area

ALONE IN THE DARK

A few weeks ago I took my sweet wife on a winter photo shoot. The night was bitter cold and the earth was covered in a fresh blanket of fluffy snow. Mitch would have been entranced by the quiet beauty of it all. I never go anywhere that I don’t take my little son with me in my mind and heart.

When we arrived at the secluded wood I handed my wife a lantern made of twigs I discovered several months prior. I then placed a light in the heart of the lamp. As Natalie began to walk through a darkened, wintry forest I shot what was in my mind and heart. It was a metaphor for something I was feeling and I had to get it out of me. Everything went as I had hoped.

We didn’t take long as it was cold and dark outside and we were anxious to be home with our children. Before we left I hung my lantern on the broken trunk of a fallen tree. The light from the lamp was warm and beautiful against the backdrop of a frigid, wintry night. 

I thought deeply that evening about what it means to be alone in the dark; how we must often walk by the dim lamp of faith and hope as we journey through our own wilderness of hardship and struggle. 

It is easy to talk of faith in the abstract, from a pulpit, citing other people’s words. But when life requires us to walk that dark mile, alone ... there is often a breathless silence. When it is our turn to truly suffer, and then take those first few steps into the pitch of night, faith takes on a different, more exacting meaning. 

Surely we may have people around us cheering us on, offering love and support. But they cannot bear the burden of the sufferer. They don't know, nor can they know, the horrors of the sufferers heart. And when the night comes, when we lay down to sleep, that is when the unfiltered horrors of loss and sorrow are ours and ours alone. As I wrote in an earlier post, "After all is said and done, the journey of grief is traveled by one." In my experience, going to sleep or waking up was when I was most alone in the dark.

Yet during my darkest moments … when I felt I was drowning in a rising tide of grief and sorrow, I would have subtle impressions and feelings of peace that defied my own understanding and soothed my weary soul. They didn’t take away my sorrow; they only gave me a measure of understanding and just enough strength to carry on a little further. 

I am no fanatic, but I believe that when this life is behind us, we will look back on our mortal moments of darkness and realize we were never truly alone in the dark … but that we were surrounded by beings of light we cannot yet see. We will come to know what ancient Elisha knew, “they that be with us” are far more than we realize. And were our eyes truly opened, we would see the mountains we once thought barren were in fact full. Helping us. Soothing us. Offering help and direction.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” The same could be said of spiritual light. We must carry it with us, however dimly, or we will see it not.

BRUISED KNEES & BROKEN HEARTS

As the winter sky drew dark Mitch began to fade. He didn’t need to say anything, his tired eyes said a million things at once. Natalie tenderly scooped him up in her arms and carried little Mitch to his room. My heart sank as I saw my little boy listless and drifting away. I could almost hear death violently gashing at our door … about to barge in like a terrifying home invasion to steal my son away. 

Later that night I prayed to my Father, knees bruised from prayer. I prayed the words of a broken son and terrified dad in need of comfort and council, “Oh Father, how am I to do this difficult thing? I’m so afraid. My hands and soul tremble. I love my son and don’t want to see him suffer. I will take his place, if you will allow me. Please … not my son. If there is any other way … please …”

I often hear people speak of God’s grace when their children are spared suffering or sorrow. Some will say, almost in a tone of victory, “God is good. All the time.” But what happens when our children are not spared? What then? What happens when things go from bad to terribly, horribly, unimaginably wrong? Has God forsaken us? Has he left us abandoned in a wasteland of grief and sorrow? My experience tells me no. In fact, I have come to see there is a purpose to all things … and when I quiet my mind and focus my spiritual eyes, however blinded by tears, I begin to see things as they really are. That gives me hope.

The death of a child is uniquely and exquisitely painful, whatever the age. At least for me, my son’s passing at the age of 10 was a scene from my worst nightmare. As his father, Mitch saw me as the ultimate problem solver, his protector and soul mate. He was so innocent and believing and good. Yet, despite all that we tried to do, I was unable to save my son. With that harsh reality comes unavoidable feelings of failure and regret, despite what I already know. Such is the burden of grief. And a terrible burden it is.

Though the path that lay before us was dark and frightening, I also know my Father put a dim lamp before our feet so we could find our way. We knew we were not alone. Despite our journey through the dark wilderness of grief, we have come to realize were not abandoned. Not once. To the contrary, in our moments of greatest darkness we were carried, sight unseen. I can see that now. I can see it plain as noon day.

I don’t know the secrets of heaven, however much I wish to see and understand them. I don’t know why innocent children are made to suffer. But they are … and they do. God could stop it, but He doesn’t. Clearly suffering is allowed to happen. So, rather than shake my fists at the heavens – as though my puny protests could change the grand design … I have learned to listen with my soul and see where I was once blind. 

I have learned that bruised knees and broken hearts are important keys to building our spiritual parts. Being human we would avoid pain and sorrow … but that is where growth starts: bruised knees and broken hearts.

FILLED TO INFINITY

Winter was pressing gently on us and the skiffs of snow and crisp air seemed to promise colder, snowier days ahead. With the holidays approaching, Mitch was excited about the season of dad’s famous hot chocolate, sleigh riding, popcorn and movies by the fireplace, Christmas presents and lots of cuddles. The little boy in me was excited, too.

When I die and see my Father and my long lost son, I won’t be asked if I got my work things done. The real question and answer, whether good or bad, will be what I did with the life I had. Did I invest my time and attention in things that mattered most? Or was I swept away in material things, for which the world boasts? 

One is hollow, emptier than empty. The other is rich, filled to infinity.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey


I left a busy day of work so I could meet little Mitch at the University of Utah Hospital where he was to meet with Dr. Flanigan, a specialist who is leading some research with neuromuscular disease and DMD. 

Just 20 minutes prior to taking this photo I was in the hall of the hospital peeking at Mitch through the door of an examination room that was open a crack. I was pretending to sneak around while a nurse was doing some benchmark tests. Mitch kept trying to hold in his giggles as if we were both going to get busted. I remember when I was a young child trying to prevent a giggle at church or in school … it was always the moments you weren’t supposed to laugh that seemed to make giggling the most intense. Mitch was having one of those moments where he was about to lose himself in laughter. The nurse played along and pretended to be stiff and orderly – but in her heart, she was giggling with us. I was so grateful for medical staff who care for the heart and soul as much as they do the body.

At the end of the doctor’s visit, I kissed my wife and kids and said goodbye. As I started to walk to my own car, Mitch turned around and smiled as I said “I wuv you Mitchie!” My heart was overflowing then and it overflows today when I look at this photo and see his smiling face. 

I don’t remember the substance of the business meetings I had that day, but I can tell you the meaning of these moments and what happened with my son. I remember what happened because that’s what matters most to me and I chose to be in the moment. If I wasn’t careful, I could have shown up at the hospital but never really arrived. I know how easy it is to be distracted and disconnected from what is in front of us. From the digital devices that entice us away to preoccupations of work or hobby … or perhaps simply stress; it is easy to be somewhere but nowhere. 

I have discovered the true present of being present. Not only did being fully engaged with my son mean a lot to him then, reflecting back on this moment now is a gift of comfort to my weary heart. It is a reminder to me, when I’m tempted to doubt myself, that perhaps once in a while I got something right. It motivates me to keep getting things right. I miss the mark more often than I want to … but I keep trying.

Just the other day I was visiting with my mother about life. I asked her, “What is the one thing in life that has most surprised you?” She said, “The brevity of it.” I immediately felt the truth of her words. Life is brief … and moments are briefer, still. How easy it is to be swept away in the thick of thin things and be robbed of life’s greatest gifts. This photo is a symbol of the present of being present. 

So, when I think back on this cold winter day, while we were carefully wrapping presents we'd soon give away … I realized that very moment the greatest gift we can give one another is time and attention: love from mom and dad, sister and brother. It’s never toys and things our kids are really after … but love, acceptance, guidance and laughter. Those are gifts of greatest import … for life, after all, is exceedingly short. And when I die and see my Father and my long lost son, I won’t be asked if I got my work things done. The real question and answer, whether good or bad, will be what I did with the life I had. Did I invest my time and attention in things that mattered most? Or was I swept away in material things, for which the world boasts? 

One is hollow, emptier than empty. The other is rich, filled to infinity.

NOT THROUGH WORDS, BUT DEEDS

It was cold and snowy outside when we heard a tap on our front door. It was Rodney Thornell, a neighbor and friend who lived just a few blocks away. Standing beside him was his own puppy whose face peered upward with the innocence of a sweet child. Rodney and his family named their dog Dragon. Mitch thought that was neat because he loved dragons … and puppies. Mitch later told me, “Dad, what a cool idea. If I get another dog, I want to do the same thing.”

This good man, knowing our son was home on hospice and running out of time, came to our home to cheer Mitch up and offer a smile or two. Mitch laughed and laughed as he watched his tiny puppy bark and jump about as if she were a credible match to her much larger play friend. In Marlie’s mind, she was as big as or bigger than Dragon. It didn’t matter that Dragon’s head was about as big as Marlie’s entire body – she had made up her mind and that was it. 

Unaware of his size and relative strength, Dragon’s playful paw would knock Marlie over and she would summersault forward a time or two. Like a snowflake or tiny ninja, Marlie would bounce back to her bitty paws as if nothing happened and go at it again with her adorable little bark. She was a fighter. Just like Mitch. 

Mitch loved to watch those dogs play – and so did we. 

I don’t think this good man knows what he did for our family and especially little Mitch. He could have sat on the other side of his computer screen, watching our posts and feeling after us. He might have also offered a prayer or two on our behalf. Instead, this good man, who happened to also be our family dentist and had cared for our son’s teeth in previous years, cared also for his heart and soul. He served our family with love and compassion. It is amazing how a little love can lift a broken heart and soul. 

Rodney was always kind and considerate to our family. He never stayed too long; just enough to lift our son’s spirits, then he was on his way. He came a few times – which really meant a lot to our family - especially Mitch. 

I remember walking him to the door on his last visit before little Mitch passed away. I had a sinking feeling in my heart that would be the last time little Mitch would see them. I swallowed the lump in my throat as my friend walked away. Later that night I prayed that his family would be blessed 1,000-fold for the goodness he showed us.

There is a saying (there are many variations) that goes something like this: “In all things, teach others about [God], and when necessary, use words.” I am grateful for my neighbor, friend and family dentist who taught me heavenly things… not through words, but quiet deeds.