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.