A t-shirt story about perseverance
The story you’re about to read covers one day during the six months my son Jonathan was away from us in a residential, behavioral treatment facility.
What happened to him on that day was the turning point in helping him find his way back home to us.
But before that, I would like to share a brief account of the events which led up to his separation.
Would he hate us for loving him this much? We didn’t know.
March 2018 was one of the most difficult, emotional, and gut-wrenching days of my life. On that day, I had to turn my back on my son and leave him in an unfamiliar place with a group of strangers. My wife Mary Beth and I prayed these people would be able to help him.
In a previous story, I shared more of the details leading up to the decision to seek treatment for him.
It was an hour earlier. We were in a tiny cabin. My hand was on his shoulder. He was seated. His head was down and he wouldn’t even look at me. I told him, “Mom and I love you. We are going home, but you’re not coming with us.” That was one of the hardest days of my life.
Jonathan was having a difficult day! This wasn’t summer camp. Not even close. At the entrance to the place where he was staying, there was a gravel road. When my wife and I would go visit him, we noticed all these potholes. There had been a lot of rain that washed the road out.
We also noticed a very large pile of gravel on the side of the road and several five-gallon buckets next to it. One of the things that Jonathan and the other residents were required to do was take those five-gallon buckets, fill them up with gravel and haul them to the potholes to fill them in.
That’s not easy work. Imagine filling a five-gallon bucket with gravel and then carrying it several hundred feet, because the pile was in one place and the potholes were everywhere. One day he was having a really hard time with it. Jonathan is a big boy and also very strong, but he was getting tired and he told one of the group leaders, “I just can’t do this anymore.”
His group leader said, okay, I want you to think about something. And he told him a story about a pacifist, a man named Desmond Doss. He was a conscientious objector during World War II. Because of his religious beliefs, Desmond Doss would not carry a gun.
When Desmond Doss was drafted, he served as a medic. During a very fierce battle on the island of Okinawa, he found himself on this high bluff called the Maeda Escarpment or as the soldiers called it, Hacksaw Ridge. You might remember a movie of the same name.
That movie is about Desmond Doss and what he did there. Several of his comrades were injured during that battle and Corporal Doss had a difficult choice to make.
He could pick up a weapon and fight. He could lower himself to safety. Or has he chose to do, stay and save as many of his fellow soldiers.
On top of this bluff, he lowered 75 injured comrades to safety. When this is reenacted in the movie, you can understand how difficult it was because Corporal Doss didn’t have enough rope. So he improvised. When he was a kid in West Virginia, there was a bad flood. He learned a trick to compensate for the lack of rope and took that skill to lower each of the wounded soldiers one by one. This was physically exhausting and took hours to do.
He did all of this while under constant threat of being killed himself.
Below is a video where Corporal Doss recounts his story. The part that ties into my son, Jonathan’s story is the phrase Corporal Doss kept repeating after he lowered each soldier.
Over and over he said, “Lord, please help me get one more.”
In this video, Desmond Doss tells his story many years later.
Jonathan’s group leader had actually met Desmond Doss at church years before. So he told Jonathan, “when you think you can’t do anything else and when you think you’re at your limit, say to yourself, Lord, please help me get one more.”
I know this seems kind of silly as far as hauling buckets of gravel but Jonathan took it to heart and used it to get through that day.
And to his credit, Jonathan began applying this phrase to his treatment as well. It became his affirmation.
Lord, please help me get through one more day, help me do one more thing to heal the hole in my heart so that I can come home.
In one of his letters to us, Jonathan wrote about the gravel and about Desmond Doss and how he was using the phrase in his therapy. I realized how important this phrase was to him. So when it came time for him to graduate from the program, I designed a special T-Shirt with, “Lord, please help me get one more,” on it.
But let me back up just a little. Throughout this story, I have been referring to my son with his given name, Jonathan. While he was in treatment, he had everyone call him Jonny. In another letter to us, he asked me when he completed his treatment and graduated from the program, would I consider calling him Jonny instead of Jonathan? Deal!
After six long, hard months, Jonathan completed the program. At his graduation, I gave Jonathan the T-Shirt, which will be known from now on as Jonny’s Shirt. But I also printed several shirts for the staff members who had supported him during his time there.
Jonny handed them out. When he gave the team leader who had told him the story about Desmond Doss his T-Shirt, it was a very special moment. He had no idea the impact the story he told had on him Jonny.
And it wasn’t just Jonny. I have friends who love this story and love wearing their Jonny Shirts. Originally this affirmation helped Corporal Doss rescue his injured comrades.
Many years later, it helped my son rescue himself during his treatment program. But it’s become so much more. It’s really become an affirmation for life.
If you’ve been inspired by the story of Desmond Doss or my son Jonny, I hope you’ll tell others. Maybe it can help someone you know overcome an obstacle in their life.
Can I send you something? I’ve made a poster of the art that was used for Jonny’s Shirt and I would love for you to have this affirmation. Just follow the prompts below to get your copy.
I’m Author, Storyteller, and Adoptive Parent, Tim Maudlin. I would love to connect with you. Details in the comments below.
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