“Dad, the ways of this world can be difficult and dark but rest in knowing that God’s ways are right and indescribably good. He loves and wants the very best for His children. Keep your heart open and you’ll see!”– Braden
“This will be my song. That You are always good. I’ll sing it all day long and when the day is through I am left with You are always good.” – Braden’s dad
While waiting for my girls to wake today I was also watching the online Sunday service from Hope Fellowship led by pastor John Mckinzie as he spoke a prayer over the families of 9-1-1 and over our world. It moved me and its message struck a painfully familiar chord. God is always good about doing such when we open our hearts and listen. It led us to share the following story which will hopefully speak to someone needing hope today. That’s always our prayer.
It was a Friday night in late May 2018. I remember because May 9th had been our son, Braden’s birthday. I had prayed for weeks that our now 18 year-old stubborn son would accept his dad’s invitation to attend a weekend men’s conference at our church, Hope Fellowship in Frisco, Texas. He had not attended with us for about a year and the odds were very low that he’d accept this time. It wasn’t that Braden didn’t believe in God. It wasn’t that he lacked a relationship with God. In fact, he had accepted Jesus as his Savior just a few years earlier and had made it public in a small baptismal pool at Kingland Baptist in Katy, Texas. He did so after years of thought and reflection about what it really meant to take the step of accepting Christ as his savior.
Braden had an unusually deep sense of relationship with others and with God (especially for a male teenager). However, sometimes the closest and most valued relationships can involve hard feelings while still both parties maintain the deepest devotion. That was certainly the case with the very loyal heart of our son. Ironically, the same God he deeply loved and fully trusted just didn’t seem to be coming through with His part of the bargain. Our Sunday morning routine had slowly devolved from regular attendance to his showing up grudgingly but often leaving when youth group began. He’d sometimes sneak out and go home while his mom and I were still in the worship service at the church we were attending at that time. He just couldn’t understand why he wasn’t feeling a connection especially in “God’s House” of all places, and rather than faking it, he eventually dropped out completely.
A few weeks before the conference, I’d promised not to press him about going with me but just continued to pray for a miracle. Just days before, Braden finally agreed to go along but only if we could leave immediately without a hassle if he desired. That was against my control nature but it was important he return to church so I agreed.
During such events, church auditoriums are packed with Christian men, most of whom are highly motivated to be there. After all, these conferences usually begin on a Friday after work and resume on Saturday. Most of these guys come hungry for fellowship, learning, and worship (mostly singing). In our case, we were a less than motivated father who didn’t really get into such occassions but needed to be the good dad, and a very reluctant/ angry son. We were not quite the match made in Heaven as they say.
After the first speaker, the program agenda had some worship songs before an intermission and I knew it would feel unnatural. As a kid I was not a singer in church. Although I might mimmick the words they were rarely sung out loud. Heck, if someone raised their hands, we’d have thought they were a little crazy. It really wasn’t “manly” to express emotion and the words were usually written centuries earlier with lots of “thee’s, thou’s, and hallelujahs”. The first one that evening was more current though. It wasn’t a hymn at all. The song was titled, “Always Good” and was led by a praise band with guitars and drums. Miraculously, I was half-heartedly singing and tried not to look at him directly so as to keep things from feeling too awkward.
Halfway through the “Always Good” song, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Dad it’s time to go. I want to leave”. What?? I was at a complete loss. Why, in the very middle of a song talking about how good God is would my son suddenly feel uneasy and wish to leave? Still, I’d promised so we headed home only shortly into the first evening session. As an extension of my part of the agreement, I chose not to explore the reason behind his decision although I had my guesses. After all, this was his personal choice to make, not mine. Five short months later, Braden made another much more life-changing and permanent choice which we certainly would not have wanted him to make.
Fast forward to May 2019. Same church but this time it was a Sunday morning. Again, our son was not with us but sadly this time it was because he had gone, leaving us behind to try and deal with his final choice. Still, Cathy and I were putting in the effort to stay in church. In fact we sat just a few seats from where the father/ son “event” had been only a few months prior. As in most churches, a set of songs began the worship service before the pastor’s message. Trying to sing now was not only difficult for the previously mentioned reason, but now the words physically hurt to express aloud. They felt like fist blows to our chests, causing tears of pain and sadness rather than joy.
Then, without me immediately realizing, the same song I’d heard only months earlier which had moved Braden to turn and leave the church began to play: “Always Good“. This time instead of Braden leaving, Cathy did! The words hurt so much that before I could ask what was happening, she was gone. Moments later, a text from a leader on campus, Mike Martin (now campus pastor at Prosper Hope Fellowship) popped onto my cell phone requesting that I join him in the counseling offices with my wife. He’d seen her in the hallway and invited her in to talk. Upon meeting Mike, we quickly came to hear his own testimony about the loss of his entire family in a horrific car accident years earlier. I still recall wondering in amazement how this guy could still be breathing yet he was now sharing this tragic story and even holding a leadership position of a church? His story was probably the most tragic I’d ever heard and the details were beyond what I can fully develop here. Yet by his choice, this very story had become a miracle and a reflection to others of God’s goodness.
Over time, the mystery of these three separate events began to form into a clearer picture which we believe God wanted to reveal to our family. In the middle of a worship song about the goodness of God, Braden had refused to worship because of his difficulty understanding how God’s goodness could allow such pain and yet not seem to help him on his own timeline. In that very same place, his mom later had a similar response with her heart broken and conflicted about the worship in stark contrast with her personal experience and emotions. Then out of the sky (actually an empty hallway at Hope Fellowship), God would bring us a real-life eyewitness who, even coming from the absolute darkest of place this world has to offer could quickly convince us we are to acknowledge and worship God as ultimately good, always and in all ways.
The song’s words I’d heard before with my ears and even had mimmicked earlier with my mouth now began to sink into to my heart. By our own unwanted/ unexpected circumstances and after coming to learn of this pastor’s own story (and other families to later follow) we were learning that none of us are alone in facing unexpected and unspeakable pain and loss. Unfortunately, such things are too often a way of life in the fallen world in which we currently reside. The good news is, they are not the way of life in our permanant Home which is just around the corner. Thank God for such needed Good News because now I WANT to make a sound when I sing!
This morning I read several posts about the 9/11 tragedy. That terrible day is now 22 years in the past, yet we all recall exactly where we were when it happened. Families still have empty chairs at their dinnner tables and empty places on the opposite side of the bed. Literally thousands of people will never fully recover from the losses of those they held dear and precious. Friends and loved ones taken in a single breath. It sickens me to look at photos of the explosions and imploded buildings, still realizing we can’t deny it happened. Yet, I far prefer to see photos of the blinding white lights beaming heavenward from the ashes left behind. I guess it’s because I know now where hope lies and prefer to look there.
The words in the song I’ve mentioned here talk about how good God always is and I absolutely believe it. However, the hard reality is the world that God made and deemed to be “Good” was terminally damaged by our own choices. In many instances, His “good creation” became downright hellish in its current condition.
Our “planned” little journeys take each one of us on a uniquely designed path, each which vary and at times will become narrow or wide, bright or dark, steep or easy. Some journeys are long and others are sadly cut too short. Many times, our paths lead us off course by choices we make alone. Still others are caused by factors we don’t control at all. Rarely if ever does our ultimate path resemble the one we had in mind at the beginning.
What I can say with full confidence and hope is the words of this and other worship songs are eternally true: In ALL HIS WAYS God is good and He forever remains ready to lead us if we choose to follow Him. Our family prays every day for those who are in the middle of crisis and those who have lost cherished loved ones along their own path. We also pray that we will each choose THE Way which has been freely offered.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for those who have experienced unbearable tragedy and we trust that you are ready, willing, and able to give the gift of lasting comfort, unimaginable joy, and incomprehenable peace by our simply accepting it. Thank you for Jesus and for those in the world who reflect Him through choosing to serve as examples. Thank You for the promise of eternity with You and with those who have gone before us to a Home where all things will truly be “always” good. In Jesus name, Amen.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath. Psalms 104; 33