Throughout the past twelve months our family’s walk has not been alone. To the contrary, it has been with a community: Our Prosper Family.
The unexpected and unimaginable happens. But just for this brief moment, try to imagine it happening in your own home… to your own family…
You have just experienced an unspeakable tragedy. One you’d think you could never again open your door. Then imagine finding a jar filled to the brim with coins placed on your doorstep. The Mason jar is wrapped in Christmas ribbons with a note attached from a family you’ll never know but who knows you and your story. They chose you to pray over each day and place a coin in the jar.
This family knows your circumstances and they hurt right alongside you. They don’t want to be identified and never will be. In fact, they do this every year. You’ve come to learn of others in the community who have found this jar placed anonymously on their front porch in dark seasons.
Imagine a mom whom you’ve never met. She’d just dropped her kids at school and heard the terrible news. It’s still dark and it’s raining. She sits alone in her car weeping uncontrollably. She prays aloud and begins writing down a prayer over your family. She doesn’t even know you, but in the coming weeks her family will invite yours to dinner and present the prayer poem.
Imagine a minister, one of several you’ve never met. You sense in some way they’ve known you all your life waiting for this very moment, to come into your home and into your family’s life to help sustain you when you could never fathom walking another step. He wants to invite you to his church because you are hurting deeply.
Imagine a church, one of several who will love on and pray over your family. This church is not a building but rather a community of faith-filled individuals who love you like Jesus, before you even open the door. This church welcomes you and your family like the prodigal son of the Bible. They invite you in and provide a feast of not only a meal but more lasting, of love and unequivocal acceptance. Peace beyond understanding.
Imagine neighbors, many whom you have never met. These neighbors lavish your family with love and sincere care. They put together a food train. This “Food Train” is one of those like you park beside and shut off the engine on First Street past Coleman. It’s going to be there for a long time. Our “Food Train” meant full meals delivered and stored in a cooler on our front porch for over two months.
Imagine going away for a few days and returning to a fully lit house with Christmas decorations installed by someone you may have never met and may never meet. How would you feel if you had neighbors call and shortly arrive with rakes, trimmers, yard bags, and an eagerness to wash out your rain gutters?
Imagine what it would be like to live in a community such as this. You can stop imagining. This community actually exists. Prosper, Texas.
The experiences we have had in the past year are testimony not only to
what can be when a community loves on each other, but one that confirms what
our youth can do by that very same example.
We are confident our son resides eternally with our Heavenly Father and that we’ll have a great reunion one day soon. In the meantime, we listen, observe, and share in transparency so hopefully others may gain insight, hope, and encouragement. Mostly, we pray the words we write or say aloud may bring peace and a seeking for a relationship with the perfect peace maker. Jesus Christ.
Our family wants to humbly say “Thanks, Prosper”. May God bless you each and your families this year as well as in the years to come. – The Speeds
“Kids are out there right now. Lonely and missing connection. Please do your best to help them find it. I love you., When ya comin’ home, Dad? – Braden
“I’ve surrendered to do everything possible to help them. I’ll get there as fast as God lets me. By the way, why did we get TWO dogs?”. – Braden’s dad
When we began writing, we had no idea how the blog would resound with others walking a similar path. It might surprise you to know this simple blog has reached readers in more than 73 countries and over 67,000 readers. This confirms the experiences we describe are now common to so many. That’s both sad and hopeful. Two sides of a coin.
In the Internet world, sometimes telling an honest story can make an impact even when the author has not an ounce of skill in telling that story. The good Lord knows I’m no story teller, but a heartfelt tale shared in honesty can evidently make a connection. We’re glad and sad that it has.
To be certain, I detest this story and would prefer a brighter one. Maybe one about a blessing in disguise or a success in light of failure. On the other hand, maybe that’s what our story is after all. As determined the day our son took his life, our mission remains to surrender to God’s plan. That others may hear and perhaps learn something.
In my thinking, it would be wrong not to share it.
The girls are at a dance convention. This is one of those marathon weekends when it’s ALL about dance. Fathers may make a trek in for a few brief dad sitings, but conferences are about learning technique and finesse. Details. Unlike recitals, “Dad participation” expectations are low at conferences, which works well for me. I have lots to do around the house.
Early November means the annual final mowing of the grass, cleaning the pool, new a/c filters, bringing boxes out of the attic for holiday decorating (I haul the boxes, she does the detail work), and cleaning up the yard for winter.
Cleaning the yard includes one of my least favorite chores: dog duty. More accurately cleaning up dog doodie. We buy the 50lb giant size dry Purina Dog Chow. Nothing fancy or extravagant like many others who feed their pets like humans (or royalty). We have one friend who feeds her “FeeFee” human gourmet food! Not us. We keep it simple. Still. 50lb of chow intake by two large dogs and do the math on the weight of this unpopular chore.
I’ve got the method down. I use a mini rake and scoop. Picture the person at every theme park scooping up trash. No bending or squatting, just swiping into the scoop and then into a Walmart bag for disposal. This afternoon, while the girls are dancing, I’m mowing, trimming, leaf blowing, and pooper scooping. Did I mention I hate this chore?
Still, as this weekly routine is going on I’m thinking to myself, “Why would I even do this job? Why did I get two dogs in the first place?” The answer, as often happens, came quickly. “Because, dummy, you have two dogs and a yard”.
When I was in college, I’d always dreamed about having my own private back yard with kids playing with their dogs. I didn’t think about the hard work to keep such a dream alive, but it didn’t matter at the time. It was just a dream.
Every year, we are into traditions at holiday season. Cathy and the kids have always loved doing a Thanksgiving Tree. We have a small tree placed in the center of our home and each day we write something for which we are grateful. I (as always) am the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving. Putting off doing my thankful leaf.
While coming to clarity on the pooper scooper curse / dog-back yard blessing, I began thinking of other things in my life that had perhaps similar upsides with an offsetting downside: Career/ work; Children/responsibility; Marriage/ differences; Friends/ disappointment; Faith/doubt; Health/laziness. Etc.
Suddenly, I realized every single blessing comes with a cost. Every single cost comes with a blessing. In an instant, I was much happier completing this unpopular distasteful chore. Dog duty wasn’t such a bad thing in the larger scheme of God’s plan.
I just needed to give thanks for the things I take for granted. This year, I will commit to being first to do my “Thankful Leaf”.
Think about what you always wanted. Was that dream a home? A family? Children? A spouse? Health?
Do you have one or more of the things you dreamed of having?
If so, give thanks for each one.
Never take for granted anything. They can be taken just as quickly as they can be given.
Then take stock in what God has granted toward that dream. Take time to give thanks for what you take for granted.
Lord, we’re grateful for every blessing undeserved, unearned, and unacknowledged. Forgive our selfishness and for our taking as a given, what we are given. We love you so much and ask this season be one of deep and sincere thankfulness. We pray also for those in this world who are lost, lonely, hungry, and without. Bless them in their circumstances. Bless them with your peace and assurance. Fill them with your presence.
In your son Jesus’ name, Amen.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
“Prosper: A Place Where Everyone Matters” – Town motto
“Dad, I wish I had someone to hang out with. Just one real buddy”. – Braden
“You were loved and your life meant a great deal to others and still does. We will never stop missing you“. – Braden’s Mom, Dad, and Caitlin
According to Wikipedia, Prosper, Texas is… “an affluent suburban town located in Collin and Denton Counties within the state of Texas, United States. The Town of Prosper is located within the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, the population was 9,423; As of 2019, the estimated population was 28,039. Prosper High School cost $113.5 million to construct and is 590,000 sq ft.”
If you’re thinking, “Holy cow, that’s a large school by any measure”, you’d be correct. It’s like a mall, right down to the Burger King and Chick Fil-A in the cafeteria. We have another school the same size set to open in the Fall of 2020 and yet another just a couple of years beyond. Expect there’ll be another mega football stadium to throw in there too.
Local farmers had a large cotton yield in 1902 and initially wanted the town’s name to be “Richland” but since that name was taken they went with “Prosper”. Land was being sold at only three bucks an acre. Now Prosper is more synonymous with being the land of plenty but not just cotton. I bet those old prosperous cotton farmers are laughing all the way to the bank, counting their money from us city folk.
This post began after a very full Sunday afternoon with my brother, his wife, and our family shopping for Christmas. Yes, I know. It now starts before Halloween… Although our family often has full Sundays lately, it’s too often that Sundays can be particuarly down days for many. It may be biological but more likely it’s psychological.
Kris Kristofferson wrote about it, “On A Sunday Morning Sidewalk”. What a depressing yet honest country song about a guy who’s got no family and no one to call a friend on a day when people typically enjoy fellowship with both. One such Sunday in 2018, our son was experiencing that sort of a “down” day when he asked if we could do something together.
As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, Braden had a passion for shooting or blowing up things just to see what would happen. He hand built a catipult and potato gun. He loved shooting his crossbow, pellet guns and a Marlin .22 gold trigger I gave him along with a Remington 12-gauge shotgun. We often went to the Frisco gun club for target shooting.
That Sunday he wanted to just get out of the house. He’d had his fill of video games and social media, both being full of empty. He just wanted someone to share his time with, preferably a buddy to go “do nothing” with. As often was the case, that day he’d have to settle for his dad.
We loaded the car with guns, ammo, clays, and targets, headed west for a location. As a teen in west Texas I could always find an open field most anywhere outside the city limits of Brownfield. Very few fences or “No Trespassing” signs existed there. However, leaving the Prosper city limits was quite a different story. We drove a few miles west looking for open fields but everything was marked for suburban land tracts soon to be built out.
First Street becomes a black top road named Fishtrap and the first dirt road I could find to leave civilization was one named Legacy. I’m sure it’ll be a six lane thoroughfare by the time Caitlin graduates.
We headed north about a half mile and pulled into a grassy field to set up targets where we began destroying things. Just then, a flashy black SUV approached. The driver rolled down his window and waved me over. Expecting to be busted I asked if it would be ok to shoot targets. Pleasantly, I was surprised at his response. “Absolutely, just don’t shoot each other”. He was a very nice gentleman who manages land investments for the Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones.
We talked about our sons. We shared about the trials and joys of being fathers. He had taken his boy out shooting years earlier and we agreed that open land is becoming harder to find. We talked about how our community’s growth was both a blessing and a curse. How in such a small town, growing this fast we were watching quaintness becoming chaos before our very eyes. How businesses, roads, and the schools were bursting at the seams as a result of the boom.
In May, 2019 around Braden’s birthday, I found myself on Fishtrap Road again. This time I wasn’t carrying a trunk filled with guns and targets. It was just me. Along with memories. To save my life I didn’t know why I was going out there. Later, a friend told me it had to be that I wanted to be near my son and that’s where we felt close.
I drove slowly westward and stopped to stare at the sign where we’d turned north onto Legacy. Parked the car in the same place we always parked. The ruts of my tires long plowed under for plots where young families would soon be building new homes for fresh starts and new beginnings.
Then, I began to think. “There must be something here to remind me of his being here”. All remnants of our memories had to be buried six feet in the freshly broken ground. Still, I kept looking. After just a few minutes, I stumbled onto a spent shotgun shell. A Remington 12-guage shotgun shell.
I picked it up and sniffed for that familiar powder smell we both loved. But the scent was long gone. Just the hull remained. However, I could remember the smell and I remembered my son. That empty hull remains with me today as a reminder of our son and of his legacy to help others. Although he could never be convinced, his life ultimately had purpose.
That evening as the sun faded and I stood alone, I thought how far we’d come since October 30, 2018. The longest year of our lives. How many positive changes have been helped forward in the wake of that horrific October day. Perhaps how many like him have since found hope. Before leaving our shooting field, I spoke aloud, “Braden. I miss you, buddy. I hope you’re proud”.
Legacy is defined as something with value transmitted by a predecessor or from the past. When we hear of even one person who postponed or elected to stay instead of taking their life, I can’t help but think of the word, legacy. It’s not the way any of us would have chosen, but we don’t always get that which we seek.
This upcoming weekend, we join our friends and family for a suicide awareness event called, “Walk Out of Darkness”. Ironically, we will be walking within less than one mile from Fishtrap and Legacy in a subdivision filled with new families, making their new beginnings.
Funny how God maps out things when we don’t even realize we were lost.
A note from a parent to parents:
1) Love your kids unconditionally. Tell them you are proud of them but most importantly model it and confirm that their Heavenly Father loves and is proud of them. Remind them no one’s opinion of themselves has more weight than their own.
2) Spend that time with them you don’t think you have. Time is what you make of it. Don’t give too much of it to your employer or to your business.
3) Make sure YOUR legacy is one your children and family will always remember and know they were more important than your work.
Thank you Lord for allowing us the brief opportunity to borrow the special spirit we called Braden Thomas Speed. We pray his brief time in this world will play even a small part in your greater plans. That’s what he’d want.
For those who are alone or struggling in this moment, we say a special prayer for peace and strength to stay the course. Grant them a sense of hope and encouragement. Tomorrow is a new day of hope. In Jesus’ name. Amen
“I wasn’t TALL enough. Tough. Handsome. Cool. Worthy enough. At least that’s what I thought about me”. Braden
“Son, if I could have taught you one thing about mirrors, they only reflect that upon which the viewer focuses their own eyes. God looks only on our hearts, and yours was larger than any I’ve known”. Braden’s Dad
As we near the anniversary of October 30, I’ve had so many friends and family gauging me on how we’re doing. What an amazing blessing to have others thoughtful enough to be thinking in such terms. By this phase of loss, typically those most immediately affected are the few who still remember.
I want to just acknowledge that we are ALL subject to loss. Only recently, I’ve lost two dear friends who were fathers with young families. I’ve attended more memorial services than I wish to recall. Another special friend lost her mother and just a week ago, a friend and fellow dad lost his bride at the young age of only 49. She left behind two beautiful young ladies and one handsome young son. All to live the rest of their days to grieve their loss.
Last evening was the service for this young mom. Standing room only. As each person stood to share the stories and memories, my mind drifted ahead to my own memorial. What will people say about my life here. Was I a loving and faithful husband? A caring and wise father? I’d certainly like to think those qualities would be the theme, but inside my own mind, I had my doubts.
More likely, if honest they’d say I was short-tempered and highly impatient. Demanding. Conditional. Selfishly motivated. Prideful and hypocritical. And those are just my good days!
But then I stopped. No, that would be a personal eulogy for myself. Don’t we do this too often? We put down the rose colored glasses and look at ourselves with a microscope. Are we not our own worse critics?
I certainly am.
Braden constantly measured himself in every way. Physically, intellectually, spiritually, and relationally. He grappled with how the world perceived him. Sadly, he was one of the best looking people I’ve known (no bias) yet he thought he was unattractive.
We told him thousands of times how good looking he was and that physical looks didn’t matter. “It’s the heart God sees”. Yeah. That went over like a lead air balloon you can imagine.
He always ran just below the charts on height and weight. It didn’t help that we had him on ADHD meds which quashed his appetite. You really do need to eat if you want to grow but he ate like a bird.
Every couple of weeks he’d say, “Hey I think I’ve grown. Come measure me” or he’d weigh himself desperately looking for another inch or an ounce. Too often he was disappointed to find little to no development had occurred.
Sadly, we could see him growing in every way but he could not. I truly believe the Bible is accurate in describing Satan as a deceiver and a liar who comes to steal and to destroy. He tells each of us we are not good enough and that we could never measure up.
Ironically, it’s true. We can never meet that goal of perfection. Anything short of it fails the test of measuring up. Here’s the awesome good news: God NEVER expected us nor wanted us to “measure up”. You see, that term isn’t in his vocabulary. He made us, knowing we would fail miserably in our own efforts. So much so that we would have no choice but to fall on our face and to look to Him. What a perfect plan and awesome good news!
We know Braden never felt he could become “good enough” but are confident he understood God’s grace was sufficient. The note he left for us clearly confirms that he asked God to allow him into Heaven even after making such a terrible choice. And I’ll go to my grave knowing that when I do so, I’ll meet my son on the other side because we both gave our hearts to God and that’s all He sees.
Our hearts will measure up when it counts the most.
Prayer for readers:
Lord, we love you so much. We acknowledge that our words are insufficient to express that love. You have shown us through your perfect plan that nothing we can ever do or not do will separate us from you. Although our words are insufficient, please know our hearts in this.
I pray over every reader. Every single person who right now thinks they don’t measure up with what this world expects from them. Let them know they are being deceived by the master of lies and they need simply to look to You as their measure, knowing accepting Jesus is sufficient to receive the ultimate rewards.
We pray these things in the name of your son, Jesus. Amen
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“This world is an enormous place yet it could be as small as the human heart”. – Braden
“We need more acceptance and less ‘exceptance'”. – Braden’s Dad
Firsts typically bring excitement and anticipation. Joy. Laughter. First born. First birthday. First steps and first words.
We’ve now had a full year of firsts, lacking the joy and laughter for which firsts are known. This October 30th’s final first is just one more, and we’ll deal with it once more. Still, it will be good to have it behind us. Now, we look ahead to the seconds, thirds, and so on.
I expected October to bring a flood of emotions yet my eyes have been strangely dry. Guess I’ll never understand emotions. You can’t predict them any more than a weather reporter can predict a storm. Still, like the drought that broke this month in north Texas, I expect the dry spell won’t last long and God will again bring the healing rain of tears. Surely I’ll cry again. I sure hope so.
Crying or not, we never will stop missing our baby boy.
This month, two local news affiliates asked to interview our family on the topic of mental health and the positive developments that have come about as a result of our loss.
In December 2018, we had been asked to speak with ABC on the topics of teen depression and suicide. Reporter, Jobin Paniker was courageous and did a great job on a short piece shot in our living room. The setting was in front of the fireplace and among Christmas holiday decorations.
Recently, two other news reporters came into the same living room, now ten months later. Each report had their own slightly different spin on the same basic theme:
DATELINE: “Folks, this middle American suburban family with seemingly all going for it experiences the loss of a teenager by his own hand. Viewers, what is going on and what can we do to ensure it doesn’t happen to YOUR family?….. details later in this broadcast…”
Although we did several of these short vignettes, it never became comfortable. The reporter and photographer exchange greetings and pleasantries while the camera person scoped out the best place for a good background.
They set up the seating arrangements and placed extremely bright lights in our faces. Sound checks and the interviewer sat facing us off camera like we were rare bugs on display in a jar. Though we were fortunate to have an opportunity to share some hopeful messages, it felt weird.
Interviewer: “Ok,try not to be nervous. Just think of this as a normal relaxed conversation with a close friend”. Yeah, right. More like 50,000 strangers!
Following these uncomfortable “normal relaxed conversations”, the videographers shoot stills for overlays to later be edited into the narrative.
For stills, every photographer gravitated to our sofa table, covered with family photos, some of which have remained for five years untouched other than dusting. These are photos of our family’s brighter days and more joyful moments. Smiles were sunny and hearts were hopeful.
One of my favorite vacation photos is one with us in the street at Walt Disney World. We were beaming as we began a day of adventures in a fairy tale world, where memories would be made to last a lifetime (as Disney advertises). Little did we know how those memories we made would sustain us later.
One unforgettable memory was one when we had watched the early fireworks display on Main Street USA and decided to stay in the park, wandering around checking out the rides while a majority of families were still awaiting for the more popular later fireworks show.
We had the run of the park. NO LINES! We could choose Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain, and Space Mountain. We could pick any ride with no waiting yet among all those choices, Braden wanted to just ride “It’s A Small World”. What? This was not even on my list!
Small World is an enclosed gondola ride where the entire amusement is traveling through different countries and cultures with robotic characters, time pieces, clockwork animatronics, and music playing the song, “It’s a Small World After All”.
Disney animators outdid themselves with attention to intricate details they infused into the experience. The song’s lyrics play continuously (and incessantly) yet alter to match the various languages as the boat navigates through the different countries.
After ten minutes of this ride, the typical parent (especially this one) will refuse to return. After all, yes it’s a small world but there are no thrills, no spills. No screams or breathtaking moments.
Just simplicity and extraordinary detail.
The simplicity and amazing amount of detail intrigued Braden. But too, he was mesmerized in that each individual country and character related across cultural and geographical differences. Everyone was kind to one another.
He connected so much with the theme of this ride, we repeated it over 17 times in a row. No exaggeration. Each time we exited the final country, he would ask if he could go again. Each time we thought, really? But instead we’d reply, “Sure, why not”.
Each ride, we’d find some new thing not previously seen. Cathy and I were blown away by our son’s connection with the experience. Finally, after 17 re-rides, I called it quits. He understood.
I’ll never forget what happened next. As we made our way toward the monorail to return to our hotel, Braden ran ahead, turned around and held out his arms. “STOP! Right now I want to tell you guys something and I don’t ever want you to forget this. Bend down”. We complied, both kneeling to look him directly in the eyes.
“I want you both to just know this has been the very best day of my entire life”.
You can’t buy those memories and we’re so glad for no regrets on that marathon ride.
What strikes me to this day is how perceptive Braden was at the tender age of six. He saw the world as few ever will. From a universal view. When we flew, he spent much of the time gazing out the window at how small everything was at such a height.
Braden saw people through a non-judgmental lens and couldn’t understand why others didn’t see the world in a similar way. It grieved him deeply. His “small world” view was so unique that he felt alone in it.
I’m just glad our son knew his creator personally and now eternally resides in a world where this one is just a tiny grain of sand by comparison.
To Braden, this now is truly a small world after all.
Recently, I heard a speaker say something profound, yet simple. “You never know who around you is hurting, so that just means we need to be kind to everyone we meet”. I thought this was so simple. Why is it so difficult?
I charge us all to be mindful in our own personal interactions with each other of this simple truth. Moreover, I challenge parents to consciously teach and model this behavior in our homes. Teach our children that we live in a small world where we’re all the very same and we have so much room for acceptance and none for “exceptance”.
Heavenly Father, thank you for this small world and for the beauty in it to include the hearts of those you created. Let us see one another the way you see us and help us remember to love, accept, and encourage each other as you would have us do. Thank you for your Son who died so we could have life and an eternity in heaven. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…
“The real battles are with forces no one has seen. Shine the light in every dark place you can find and you’ll be amazed at what is revealed” – Braden
“Thought of y’all when I heard this song” – Braden’s Aunt Karla
“I think your son’s story would resonate with many and was wondering if either you and/or your wife would be interested in telling his story to our students”. – 7th Grade School Teacher
Have you ever moved to a new home?
Some people never leave their first home and others never would consider moving from their hometown. Others, like myself have to move constantly, like a pesky fly at the Dairy Queen. They can’t seem to just light in one place and stay. I grew up in a small town where “moving” meant loading a livestock trailer with all your worldly possessions and hauling them across town or a few blocks to a newer house.
Later, after having graduated and entered a career in the corporate world, moving became “relocation”. Sometimes it’s voluntary, but too often it must be done due to a company need. In any case, particularly the latter, relocation really stinks.
Moving away from friends, family, and familiar. Moving into uncertainty is miserable, not only for yourself but exponentially for those you love. Trust me. I’m now an expert, having relocated seven times with my company.
When I hear a successful executive give his/her work history and cite that many moves, there is a part of me that always wonders, if they’re such a high performer why couldn’t they hold down a steady job? But success often means moving talent around. No matter the reason, moving just stinks.
On the brighter side, re-lo comes with its perks. Typically, there is a moving bonus, all expenses are often paid including a guaranteed buy-out if your house doesn’t sell. You also have an opportunity to continually find a place to better suit your needs, including things like a pool if you’re so inclined.
When we moved from Cinco Ranch in Katy and bought our home in Prosper, we all knew the place just felt right. It looked a lot like the home we’d left. It also already had a pool which was a deal breaker to get the kids to willingly make the move. Previously, our pool was about five feet above the ground, full of grass clippings, and had the brand, “Intex” painted across its side. We went through at least four of them.
Moving with my family, the transfer to the DFW area was our fifth in 20 years. Prior moves were done as a single. In 2014, I finally convinced the family to move one final time, since my career was on the line. The kids eventually came around. At least they got to pick their new room and decorate it like they wanted.
Our new home had been owned by a couple who also had a boy and a girl. The larger room had been occupied by the daughter and the small one by the younger brother. Of course, Braden got the bigger room, which meant the chandelier in hers and the urban skateboard graffitied wallpaper in his had to be swapped and walls painted.
One thing I never liked was Braden’s bedroom location. Tucked into a corner behind the game room, it felt isolated by location. One good thing is the large east facing window which allows bright light to flood the room when the blinds are left open. If Braden left them closed, it felt too dark.
It was dark the day he left it. I could go into a long discussion about the dark and what the Bible has to say about it. Although I’m no Bible scholar, I can say there are more negative references about the dark and positive references about the light. God’s word tells us the dark is where sin hides its face. Where dark forces reside. And where fear thrives.
For months prior to Braden’s death, we felt a sense of dark forces somehow working within those four walls although there were no tangible signs. Obviously, we couldn’t see nor hear anything. We could however see visible signs we were losing our son, slowly but certainly. On the day before Halloween, we did. We lost a battle in a very spiritual war.
Halloween never had been a holiday we enjoyed. We’d be fine to skip it altogether. Maybe this year, we will.
Coincidentally, on the morning of Braden’s memorial service, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention had planned a national event called, Out of the Darkness Walk. The local chapter held the walk just five minutes from First Baptist Church and I decided to go.
I know this sounds crazy, but I did it to confirm Satan wasn’t going to keep me on my back but rather our family was going to stand and walk forward. I was joined by a couple of family members from out of town and some friends from the community.
It was a gorgeous sunny weekend with mild temperatures and a slight breeze. Perfect for a walk. Before leaving that morning, I was up before dawn. The previous evening, Cathy and I spent long hours into the night selecting photos for the memorial. I’d hauled down six or seven albums and was returning them to the media room just off Braden’s room.
We had closed his bedroom door expecting it to be months or years before we unlocked it. It was a dark place we knew would remain closed for some time. As I balanced the over-stuffed photo albums up the stairs, I got a text notice. The message from my sister Karla read, “Thought of y’all when I heard this song”. She does that every once in awhile and they’re usually pretty darn good tunes.
I clicked the text link and slipped the phone into my PJ pocket to continue putting away the photograph albums. As the song played, I immediately was moved. Rarely does that happen on the first listen to any song. Now, as I walked into the game room and leaned on the pool table, I pulled out the phone to see the artist and to just stare at the phone. As tears began falling, my eyes moved to Braden’s bedroom door.
The sun had risen enough to see light under the bottom space of the door, but it was oddly bright. The door wasn’t closed! It was standing about two feet open and sunlight flooded the area into the small hallway. The song titled, “Tremble” was about the power of the name of Jesus and how He makes the darkness tremble. How He overcomes fear. To this day, I still get chills when I recall that image of the light shining through that open door.
That morning, I stepped into a brightly sunlit park to walk alongside friends and family. Since that day, our family has walked into places we never dreamed we’d go. Caitlin has walked into her school and has danced on many a stage. Just recently, Cathy and I walked together onto the floor of a gymnasium full of middle school students to speak about how they could play their part in saving lives and in changing their culture. We’ve all walked paths we never dreamed.
Only a month ago, I finally opened Braden’s bedroom door all the way. I went to the blinds and opened them fully and sat down to allow the flood of tears to wash away some pain. I prayed against the forces of darkness that once filled that space. And I thanked God for revealing His truth, that we do face unseen forces but not alone.
Who knows where God will lead from here. All we can do is surrender to Him and remain determined to walk out of the darkness.
Prayer: Although we lost one battle, Lord thank you for assurance that you already won the war. Protect us in our battles. In the all powerful name of Jesus. Amen.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
– By Mosaic
Peace… Bring it all to peace The storm surrounding me, Let it break at Your name
Still.. call the sea to still The rage in me to still Every wave at Your name
Jesus, Jesus, You make the darkness tremble Jesus, Jesus, You silence fear
Breathe… call these bones to live Call these lungs to sing Once again, I will praise
Jesus, Jesus, You make the darkness tremble Jesus, Jesus, You silence fear
Your name is a light the shadows can’t deny Your name cannot be overcome
Jesus, Jesus, You make the darkness tremble Jesus, Jesus, You silence fear. Your name is alive forever lifted high
“I loved family movie nights and doing things together. I could always use a good long hug. That made me feel secure, like everything was ok”. – Braden
“A hug lasting seven or more seconds produces oxytocin. This natural chemical restores damaged brain cells, allowing them to live again and to give a sense of well being. Everything will be ok. A sense of hope.” – Sarah Feuerbacher, family counselor
“Could we have held you longer and might you have held on just a little longer… enough to find your way?” Braden’s mom and dad
Lately, I’ve been overcome by the need to write. It’s been like a flood building against a dam of time constraints, distractions, and the difficulty in conveying so many thoughts and emotions pouring over my mind.
We’re approaching one year now since last Fall. Writing somehow allows a tiny stream of emotional relief through that dam. It can flow out as humor, reflection, or too often just tremendous sadness. Fall 2019 begins this week and although no rain is forecast, we can expect to have a flood or two.
Pizza Nights and Groundhog Days
I began writing this late one Friday afternoon. Many parents know what Friday evening means. The pizza chains certainly do. Families want fun and memorable experiences together without having to cook. They need an easy way to feed their kids and a little self indulgence at the end of a hectic work week.
A few weeks before Braden left, I was heading home on a Friday evening after a full work week . The Friday night routine call home… “So how’s it going? My ETA is around 6:15. What’s the plan?”
“The kids want pizza”. Mark concedes, “Ok. What’s their order?” Cathy: “‘Braden wants pepperoni and she wants cheese only”. No surprise. They never agreed on the same toppings and neither choices were my preference.
“Ok, get what they want and a meat lover’s for me. Also some of those crunchy thingies sprinkled with cinnamon sugar”. This is the Friday night equivalent to the movie, “Groundhog Day”. You know. The one where the lead character wakes each morning and goes through the exact same day hundreds of times over and over again.
Of course this is a slight exaggeration, but whether it’s movie night, game night, or inviting friends over, somehow Friday nights always seem to involve a similar experience. Pizza, zero pressure, acceptance, warmth of the familiar, and a good chance everyone is wrapped in their own TV blanket.
I must finally admit it’s not all bad, this Groundhog Day thing!
…And a Different Kind of Fort Nite
Sometimes family night included video games together. Before we lost Braden, he went through a phase of playing a virtual game called, Fort Nite. This is another one of the “kill or be killed” variety and once your character is killed, you lose. We tried to play with him, but always lost. Braden had his wins but when he lost, you’d hear him yelling from three houses away.
A few months before we lost him, Braden helped his sister build a “blanket fort”. She loved those. Later, Caitlin planned all summer to build an “Epic, Ultimate Fort”, before 7th grade began.
One night, she begged me to bring in the Little Giant ladder from the garage and split it in half. “Can you build the two ladders?” “Sweetie… I’m completely exhausted… but, Ok”.
Later I arrived home to see that my girls had built that “ultimate fort”. Trust me, I know how to build a fort. My brothers and I built hundreds of them in the dirt fields and in living rooms of childhood friends, but nothing like this.
That night all three of us were in the ultimate fort watching TV together. Like her brother, she loved it because it felt close. Safe. Cozy, and this sort of activity together built memories.
I lay on the floor and Caitlin moved from her comfortable chair, laid next to me pulling up our “love blanket” (the quilt I’d bought Cathy one Christmas) and laid her head on my stomach. As we watched our movie, I gently patted her back and snuggled her in close.
Suddenly she was not a twelve year old fort builder about to become a young lady. She was just my baby girl. The tiny little bird I’d held before they put her into the warmer on Christmas Eve morning 2006. She was still so innocent, and I knew she would be gone too soon. You see, you can’t hold on too long or little birds won’t fly.
Without warning I had to try and deny the tears silently beginning to fill my eyes. I couldn’t even sniff or else she would realize her daddy was crying. I was so much missing Braden in this special moment, realizing we’d never have another one like this together, at least this side of Heaven. Still, I could hug his sister tight. And I did.
As the father to a teenage boy I consciously chose to show physical affection to him daily. Did I do it out of my heart or from my head? It doesn’t matter, I did it because it was important. But did I do it enough? What’s enough? What’s too much? Who really knows? I would say however, yes, I did it from my heart and that more is better than less.
Science of the Mind and Heart
A few months ago, out of our own experience and with the Holy Spirit’s direction, we formed with other parents struggling during the adolescent and teen years. We come together on a monthly basis to learn about shared challenges. Those things we’ve historically faced alone.
Last week during our second PTP (Parents-R-Partners) session, family counselors Sarah Feuerbacher and Ardis Lo presented on the topic of social media. Within their slide presentation, they depicted the physiology of the brain.
They presented the scientifically proven fact that when a person is physically touched or hugged for as long as seven seconds, the mind has an interesting and amazing reaction. It stops thinking negatively about stressors and instead fires a chemical called oxytocin. This natural body chemical tells the brain everything is ok simply because it is being loved. Not judged. Not too short. Not too tall. Not ugly or unaccepted. Just. LOVED.
Furthermore, this chemical has healing properties for the mind. Neurotransmitters long damaged or killed by cortizol and adrenalin, are mended and recovered. As a result of the injection of this natural “Love Potion”, the brain instantly feels “ok” and it recovers in proportion to the amount of time and frequency of the “injection”.
I don’t know about you, but this simple science lesson will help me as a father to know that unconditional love and physical touch (again, specifically hugging / holding longer than before) can impact the brain and emotional well being of those I love.
Since losing Braden, we’ve heard so many stories about other children or even adults dealing with depression. Many are so similar in detail it reminds us of a movie with the exact same storyline but different actors. Fortunately, in more cases than not, their stories have had a better ending than ours. Still, too many end in the same way ours did.
Recently, a woman confided to having failed at five attempts to end her own life and thanking God she was spared. She said, “One time the doctors pronounced me dead and actually informed my family, but they demanded that the doctors keep trying to resuscitate me. It was a terrible time, but it got better”. She continued, “I’m glad God saved me, and that my family held on for me when I couldn’t hold on for myself.”
Readers: If you are contemplating harming yourself , taking your own life, or if you or someone you know has a plan, we plead and pray that you’ll take it seriously and get help immediately. You see, the world needs you here. Perhaps to make a difference in someone else’s life.
We would give anything to have had that be Braden’s story, had he just held on.
Holding On to the Everlasting
We all want and need to hold our children. Subconciously we hope they won’t grow up, while in the very same moment we pray they will. Our Heavenly Father wants His children to accept His promises and assurances. He wants us all to lean into His EVERLASTING arms. IF we model this and if we do so ourselves, we stand a very good chance as do our children of finding that perfect peace for which we all hunger.
Our Father wants us to just hold on and watch for His perfect plan.
Prayer over readers and families
Heavenly Father, You know our hearts and our minds. Thank you for creating us in your wonderous image. Of all your creations, you made your children uniquely capable of recovering from damage done by this world if we will simply take time to love you and love one another. Your word confirms these two things to be the greatest of all commandments. We love you so much and pray for every person and every family reading. May you direct us to share your message with others who may need encouragement and hope. In your son Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Matthew 22: 36-38
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”