{Celebrating Beautiful} When Joy Showed Up Again by Jason Jones

In blogging for the last 5 years, I’ve written about many different topics, but one theme that has remained constant has been my focus of sharing about how our family is discovering the beauty in difference and choosing to celebrate the incredible beauty all around us, and how we want to encourage others to do the same. After connecting with and reading about so many amazing people and families doing so many amazing things, I started a guest blog series called Celebrating Beautiful, as it relates to beauty however it can be interpreted: parenthood, faith, your kids, an experience, home, and so much more.
 
I first met Jason Jones last year when we were part of an author program together, and learning his family’s story of losing their precious son Jacob in a terrible accident has been raw and heart-breaking. Jason writes with such vulnerability and emotion, and I know many lives and hearts are being transformed because of his willingness to share his struggles, and also about finding goodness within grief. Jason’s book, Limping But Blessed, just came out a couple of weeks ago, and I was privileged to read and endorse it. (All of Jason’s author proceeds from the book are going to help orphans in Uganda through www.hopechest.org, which is just one more reason to pick up his book today.)
Here is Jason Jones on Celebrating Beautiful…

At times, we can feel stuck in life, depressed, or empty inside. There was a time when I didn’t think I would feel “happiness” again. I didn’t think it would be possible to have a good life after our three-year-old son Jacob passed away in 2011. But, out of our pain came this desire to help others who were hurting. Our eyes were opened to the pain and suffering in the world and we wanted to do something.

For several years we had been sponsoring children through Children’s Hopechest. After Jacob passed away, Brea and I both felt we needed to do more; so we started putting our energy and focus on raising awareness and support for a group of orphans who attend the Murole Preparatory School in Rubanda, Uganda. Over the last 4 years, the work we have done alongside our community, friends, and family has given us a deep sense of purpose as we have moved through our grief. It has given us a work to do. It has taken the focus off of ourselves and onto the service of others. It has helped us to redeem some of our suffering.

As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes, “Being fully human always points and is directed to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to live – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.”

On my last trip to Uganda, I was able to meet with one of the boys we sponsor. His name is Innocent.

After one of our impromptu photo sessions, Innocent stood with me and  watched me scroll through the pictures on my phone. I showed him pictures of our house, which was actually a little embarrassing. At best, most families live in dirt-floor structures, with no electricity or running water in the village we were visiting. So, here I am showing him a picture of my house with a swimming pool in the back yard. He seemed quite perplexed as to why I had a giant pool of water in my back yard.

As I was showing him pictures of my wife Brea, my daughters Kendall and Kelsey, school events, and holidays, he says, “Wait. Who is that?” With hesitation and a knot in my throat, I said, “That’s Jacob.” He looks at me with one of the most serious faces I’ve ever seen.

“That’s Jacob?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied.

I could sense the reverence emanating from his deep brown eyes. It was like time slowed down and we didn’t say anything to each other. We were in the middle of a field with hundreds of other kids running around, and I can’t remember hearing anything else. We locked eyes. His eyes started welling up  with  tears  and  in  that  moment  we connected on another level.

In that moment all language, nationality, and age barriers were broken. It was something I’ll never forget.

In his eyes and demeanor, I could sense compassion and empathy. He knows what loss is like, and I could tell that he hurt for me. There was an indescribable and unspoken connection of love that somehow came from a fifteen-year-old boy who had never met Jacob and had only known me for a very short time. With stoic grace he whispered to me with a slight accent, “Oh Jacob, I love him. He is a good boy.” I nearly crumbled. Then he took his finger and touched the screen to rub Jacob’s hair. “Look at his hair. It’s orange!” he said.

“Yep, you’re right,” I said. “It’s orange.” And we laughed together.

Innocent had heard the story of Jacob and knew the new dormitory he was now sleeping in was named after him. Jacob’s life is giving shelter to this fifteen- year-old boy on the other side of the world.

Encounters like this one continue to give me purpose and meaning. In these moments is where I find a sliver of redemption of our pain and grief. No amount of good in the world can make up for Jacob’s absence or take away the sadness we feel, but it makes life a little more bearable one day at a time.

As these small moments turned into days, we slowly began to find more meaning in life by helping others. Then even in the midst of our pain, something  we didn’t know we would ever feel again showed up: Joy. 

 

After the unexpected, accidental death of his three-year-old son, Jason Jones went on a long, painful journey to make sense of how God could have let this happen to his son and best friend, Jacob, and to their family. And he struggled intensely with his faith after everything he thought about God disintegrated on June 12, 2011. In Limping But Blessed, Jones explores struggling with faith and belief, dealing with his depression and grief, and searching for hope in a hopeless situation. This book is the story of one man’s journey through the darkest time of life searching for answers and a grueling attempt to find a sliver of hope to keep holding on. You can find more about Jason and his book on his blog.

Champion Ambassador Tour Comes to Close in Big Way

It was an early morning our last day in Florida with Children’s Miracle Network, but the kids were roused awake with the promise of a breakfast buffet and it did not disappoint. When Brenna went for seconds, she came back with a plate full of bacon!

Brenna was really excited, and a bit shy, about getting to meet Miss America at breakfast…

And then, Children’s Miracle Network had a surprise for us – they brought in all of the Disney characters! Everyone around us was laughing because Brenna just about jumped out of Evan’s lap with excitement when the characters waltzed in waving. 

After a filling breakfast and time with our favorite characters, it was time to gear up for the Big Finale – the Momentum Closing Ceremony hosted by Nick Cannon!

CMN broadcast the whole ceremony on Facebook Live to raise awareness about the organization and its mission to support children’s hospitals across the country. All of the major corporate sponsors, CMN staff, some hospital staff (like ours!) were there for the big event, and each of the state’s Champions were introduced and walked across a stage.

Brenna was so nervous leading up to her big stage entrance. I was a well of helpful information, trying to prepare her (walk carefully! speak loudly if Mr. Nick asks you a question!) and she was clinging to my leg, saying she wanted me to walk with her. But as we watched the other kids, she grew calmer about it, and when the 10-year-old girl from Indiana behind us began Facebook Live-ing it, Brenna was making goofy faces into the phone and forgot about her nerves.

They called her name, and she strutted up like a BOSS.

 

High fives and cheers! (the three people closest to her are from our local hospital!)

I was trying to videotape but had to turn it off. Not that I was crying or anything. No sir.

That wave. That smile.

I asked Brenna a few weeks after we returned from our trip how she felt when she walked on the stage at the ceremony. She smiled and said “special.”

Yes, my girl. Special indeed.

Nick Cannon was real pumped about Brenna’s purple kicks, which had light-up laces (a gift from our children’s hospital CMN team!), and then she got to give Miss America a hug at the end of the walkway.

After each of the Champion children was introduced and they ran through various promotional videos and activities, it was time to wrap it up, and all of the kids walked back across the stage as a group, giving high fives. They collectively sat on the walkway leading to the bigger stage, but Brenna was sauntering along with another little friend and they apparently didn’t feel like stopping with the group.

They walked all the way up to the presenters, and Marie Osmond pulled Brenna right into her lap! Marie is one of CMN’s co-founders, along with John Schneider,who played Bo Duke in Dukes of Hazzard.

Marie’s giving her loving squeezes and John’s rubbing her back, and Nick says “Let’s keep the applause going for Brenna and all of the Champions!” And it’s such a surreal moment for us, to think about how she’s grown from a critically ill infant to a now five-year-old child who, although she still has many daily health care needs and challenges, is learning how to step outside of her comfort zone and show the world her confidence in who she is as God made her.

And if that’s not enough, to top it off, Brenna got to wear the beautiful Miss America crown too!  She thought that was pretty cool – and pretty heavy!

I’m not sure I could truly recount the emotions and experiences of not only this trip but the entire year of Brenna serving as the CMN Champion Ambassador for Illinois. Not only have we gotten to experience and see so much, but working alongside the other families has transformed our hearts as we’ve gotten to hear their stories and learn their journeys. The experience has instilled in my children a deeper appreciation for what other people are living with, and they have had the opportunity to get to know children with a vast spectrum of conditions, backgrounds and differences.

It was a privilege to be entrusted to represent our state within this wonderful organization this year, and it was a privilege to be a part of this journey with all of these other amazing children and families. Thank you, Children’s Miracle Network, for this incredible opportunity!

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

Interested in reading more with your kids about differences and being yourself? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.