“Dad, our Heavenly Father is not preparing a place here for you. He’s preparing YOU for a place here with Him”. – Remain true. Love you, Braden
“I won’t ever earn a place in Heaven, but my hope lies in trusting my loving Father will allow me in anyway”. – Braden’s dad
Our north Texas community is growing (as are many others) so fast it’s insane. Real estate prices have climbed through the roof as California moves to Texas. We have friends in real estate who say they have no lack of sales opportunities but the asking prices are far above the appraisal price. Banks don’t loan on anything above proven value.
Today, a prospective buyer in north Dallas arrives at the closing table with a significant amount of cash just to pay the difference between the real versus perceived value. They even have something real estate agents call “Love Letters” which are buyer’s trying to pull at the heart strings of a home owner to persuade them the sell.
What a terribly wonderful problem to have as a seller. Still if I sold tomorrow I’d have to pay twice as much to move to a similar property unless I buy a shack!
After our son, Braden took his life the morning of October, 30 in 2018, we’ve remained in family counseling. A couple of months ago, I had a conversation with one of them that stuck with me. The counselor asked me about “where I go in my mind” when I replay the day when Cathy called screaming into the phone. We talked about ways to “re-script” that horrific event in order to somehow cope with the trauma in a more healthy way. I was asked to think about our son and where he is in this very moment. What he’s doing? Where is he living? What does he look like?
The doc asked, “Do you believe you’ll ever join Braden again where he is now?” After a thoughtful pause, I finally replied, “Honestly, it’s about a 10 percent bet. Yes, I have faith he’s in Heaven. He deserves the largest and most amazing mansion along with everything he didn’t have here, but I’ve not personally earned the chance to enter Heaven much less the opportunity to live in a mansion God has prepared there. I may get in through a side door, but I’m lucky if there’s even a shack awaiting me”. It was really weird to hear that honest admission come out of my mouth.
Though I’ve secretly thought it, I’d never verbalized it. I’ve never believed my life here could earn me a ticket into Heaven. Fortunately, I have really good counselors who are strong in their Christian faith. The response to my fully honest answer was met with helpful wisdom.
“There are no shacks in Heaven. No one gets what we deserve based upon what we did or what we didn’t do here. Otherwise, Heaven would be totally empty. Even a shack in Heaven is far beyond anything the saints could have earned”
In my immaturity, I’ve always wondered, “Why would God build a mansion for me? Can’t He just blink and make that sort of thing happen?” How ignorant. The word, “Building” in this scripture means He is “Preparing”. Rather than swinging a hammer or sawing a 2X4, my Heavenly Father is spending His time right now every day, preparing ME for the place He eternally has always had prepared which is with Him.
My faith and my sustenance lie in knowing I won’t have to pay even one dime toward any mortgage for my “Heavenly mansion”. The only price for such an awesome gift is my surrender and faith in the Builder.
Prayer: Lord, help us give up our selfish will for your perfect blue printed plan. Find and watch over those who are in dark places right now, falling prey to a lie by thinking they don’t deserve to receive your promises.
In Your Son Jesus’ name, Amen.
John 14: 1-4
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
“Dad, the two most effective weapons Satan has are Fear and Worry. He knows people are addicted to both and as long as they are distracted, he wins. Don’t let him win. God has His children securely in His Hand”. Love you, Braden
“Thanks for checking me on this. I look forward to experiencing Heaven. No worry. Fear long forgotten”. Braden’s Dad
Ever wake at a pre-dawn hour when the rest of the world is dead asleep? Your mind rolling over and over about something all-important? It’s always 3AM for some reason and it feels like swimming in quicksand. Trying to solve or “fix” something through worrying. Often, it’s some minor thing no one else would give a single thought. Still, I’ve come to learn by talking with people, most of us humans do this. Well, I guess there’s comfort in knowing we are in good company as members of the 3AM worry club. Not really.
My twin brother and I got our first guns around age ten. In west Texas, there wasn’t a lot of talk about “Shooting your eye out”. Boys fully expected to get their first BB gun before age 11 and within the next year or so to promote to a .22 rifle, a 20-gauge shotgun, advancing to a 12-gauge, and ultimately to a deer rifle. The progression was almost certain, Every boy got their guns.
Upon receipt of our first gun, the immediate question was, “What can we kill?” Killing in this sense wasn’t necessarily a literal term. It could just be a Coke bottle, a telephone wire insulator, or another inanimate target. Still, after killing so many boring inanimate objects, the next target became something that breathed.
With our brand new Daisy BB guns in hand on a freezing west Texas Christmas morning, we were off searching to shoot. Anything would do. I recall a lone frozen bare pecan tree about a hundred yards south of our house. Inside our home it was warm and colorfully decorated. Outside, the world was gray and freezing, but the warmth of anticipation insulated us from the frigid air. I put the butt of the rifle on the ground while pulling the air pump with everything I had and looked towards the barren frozen tree. A single scrawny little bird sat alone high in its branches. The thing was so small, it was hard to tell if it was a bird or a dead pecan. I aimed carefully and tried to account for the north breeze. “I’ll miss, but what if I don’t? What then? Will it matter to me? Will its parents miss him? What about his brothers and sisters, or his kids?” (Keep in mind I was seven and hunter’s instinct kicked in later).
I closed my eyes and squeezed the trigger. It was just a plain every day little worthless sparrow. No one would ever miss it. The BB’s power weakened quickly in the wind and the lucky little thing flew away, possibly to return to its family of hungry babies or to be shot later by a more accurate marksman. It didn’t matter, after all it was just a sparrow.
First Baptist Church of Brownfield, Texas. I can’t describe a more traditional place of worship. We had one Sunday morning service, unlike many churches these days. Each service began with a carefully measured twenty minutes of hymns. We only sang the first, second, and fourth verses. That third verse somehow got mysteriously lost and trust me, we kids (and I suspect many adults) were silently thankful.
There were a number of traditional hymnal songs which even today bring back instant visual images. “I Surrender All”, “Amazing Grace”, “Oh, How I Love Jesus” and many others. At a Brownfield Church of Christ funeral ceremony for my great aunt, the choir of 90+ year old singers nasally whined the a cappella version of “In the Garden”. To this day, I can’t smell a rose or go to a funeral home without being hit with song ringing in my ears. That would be a sweet sound only a loving Father could appreciate! Still, there were other church songs I recall in a more hopeful way. One that stands out is titled “His Eye Is On the Sparrow”. These lyrics still return when I’m struggling with anxious thoughts, and even sometimes nightmares.
Anxiety is a problem growing with lighting speed in this fast paced, over-scheduled, social media driven world, affecting millions. Recently, a study indicated today’s teens face a level of high anxiety that during the first half of the Twentieth century would have three out of five of them placed under a doctor’s care . Psychology Today recognizes an emerging epidemic of anxiety in today’s children and teens and adults. In all of the “noise” of the world, in the carefully crafted images of social media, in unrealistic expectations, too often we see ourselves as a “sparrow”, without significant value. Not enough, uncertain about our purpose. Feeling isolated, unseen or un-noticed.
Today is Easter Saturday. If you haven’t read Cathy Speed’s post on this day two years ago, I encourage you to do so. It still comforts and amazes me how her message stands the test of time. Last evening marked the day Christ was crucified and before that (perhaps 3AM?) Jesus actually sweat blood while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. That event and that image of God’s only Son praying for peace and assurance are confirming today. Imploring God to pass the cup from Him for the final task to finish His work here can’t be compared to the worries or fears any of us have today. My belief is the Bible registered that story just as Christ was leaving to return home so you and I can be assured we are not alone, that life is temporary, and we have purpose right here and right now.
Reader: In Matthew 10:29-31, God’s Word tells us that He even watches over the sparrows in this world and how much more He cares for His children. We are invited to “be anxious for nothing”, but instead to bring our worries and our fears to Him, and to find rest. My prayer is for whoever may be reading this today and feels worthless or lost, that He will be your source of lasting peace and purpose. Amen.
His Eye is On the Sparrow
“Why should I feel discouraged Why should the shadows come Why should my heart feel lonely And long for heaven, home
When Jesus is my portion A constant friend is He His eye is on the sparrow And I know He watches me
I sing because I’m happy I sing because I’m free His eye is on the sparrow And I know He watches me”
“People take relationships as a given part of life when they should count them as priceless blessings. Love you Dad. Hang in there.” – Braden
“Son, you were a rare treasure to us. We thought you were ours but all along God knew you belonged solely to Him. Missing you.“ – Mom, Dad, & Caitlin
The mind is an amazing creation and arguably one of God’s most miraculous. How could the least significant memories sometimes become locked there to reside for years or even a lifetime, only to be recalled at some critical moment. Maybe it’s God’s subtle way of lending us guidance or clarity in an otherwise completely lost and confusing world.
Especially in the past couple of years the most insignificant memories have helped to sustain me. These memories can arrive as a gentle drip and at other times as huge waves.
As kids, “Going to Grandmother’s House” was a big thing to a couple of farm boys living outside a small west Texas town. The phrase meant freedom to pursue adventures beyond those found on a section of dirt and cotton. Don’t get me wrong. Our place out west of town was home. There were endless possibilities to find there, but Going to Grandmother‘s was just different.
It was a change of scene and a chance to hang out with our buddies. Her house had more TV channels, paved streets for bike riding, and a miraculous thing called central air. Mornings meant rising out of bed with our feet meeting a warm carpet without freezing to the floor.
As a child in small town America, riding bikes was complete freedom with no limits. In those days we could set out early morning and not return until late evening.
I could write a book about the adventures we had together with our friends. In today’s tech world those stories would likely bore most readers. Still. There isn’t a video game on the planet that could even come close.
Having grown up during the Great Depression, Grandmother Dickson was a woman of habit and routine. Poverty doesn’t allow much room for risk. They too often end with very serious consequences. We’re largely affected later in life by the adults from our childhood. Through the years, I’ve grown to better understand that and why I took on some similar characteristics. Familiar is safe and her home was that to me.
She had “her” chair. Most grandparents do. A Lazy-Boy rocking recliner with hand-knitted warming blanket draped over its back. To the left of her chair on a wooden lamp table she kept notes and collected memories. Pictures of grandkids, and her Bible, decayed and worn from years of daily use.
Next to her Bible stood a tiny silver plated easel with an old adage in cursive writing.
“Make new friends but keep the old. The new are silver the other, Gold.”
That distant memory was recorded in my memory bank now too long ago to admit, but to me it was only yesterday. I still remember thinking, “Who are my friends and which would I consider Gold?” They’re similar in the fact that both are valuable yet the difference is, only a very few of them are most rare.
The Twenty-first century opened with a wake up call on 9/11/01. Braden was just 14 months old and we were shocked into the reality that our “secure” world was an illusion and not secure at all. In fact, it continues moving deeper towards chaos no matter how we wish it was “going to get better next year”. The year 2020 has been a double dose of reality and even life- changing for many. Some more than others.
In 2020, the world had the first pandemic of our lifetimes. Many laughed off the benefits of protective masks. The world’s economy was thrown off balance and many lost their livelihoods. Others lost their families. Still others lost their very lives not only from physical illness but perhaps worse, mental illness. Depression, isolation, and addiction.
A majority of individuals who contracted the novel virus called “Covid 19” returned to full health with little more than a cough or mild fever. Some of us even wear a badge of pride that it visited our home with no more than a mild fever and that we’re probably immune. Many others with weakened immune systems due to age or health conditions didn’t have it so easy.
This past year, many have been touched closely by the loss of love ones, not just from The Virus but from cancer, heart failure, mental illness, etc. Many of those reading now have personally experienced such indescribable loss. In the final months of 2020, our parents lost two of their friends.
The “Gold” kind. The rarest life long friends. Senselessly and Suddenly. Gone.
Mom wrote a four page letter to all of her children after Anita Hancock passed. It was her attempt to capture how much her friend had meant throughout their long lives together. She recalled memories of them raising their families both as farmer’s wives. Anita and her husband, Donald had two boys and one girl. Mom and dad had three boys and one girl. This common ground and their shared faith in God bonded them tightly through shared trials and successes.
Mom and Anita soaked up every second they shared together, never growing weary of each other’s company. They loved their reunions at our Texas Hill Country home and in many foreign places like the Holy Land where they floated on the Dead Sea, visited the Jordan River, and even rode camels. They shared memories of laughter and tears in a tightly knitted friendship worth more than all the gold contained in Fort Knox.
One of Dad’s “Gold Friends” was E.V. Murphy. He was a guy you really would have to meet to appreciate. He and his wife, Jeanne were like a brother and sister to our parents. In fact, “Murphy” accompanied mom and dad to Lovington, New Mexico as teenagers to witness their elopement and beginning of our family.
I remember E.V. as a work horse, providing for his family. He just never stopped. Always smiling, laughing, and joking.
What made their friendship unique, from my observation was no matter if they had a rare difference of opinion on something, they remained unconditionally loyal. Most times, dad would go visit “Murph” at home or on his job without so much as a call. He always welcomed dad in and they’d talk sometimes for hours. Pretty rare.
I’m not sure why it was important to write about this. Maybe it’s because almost everything I do and observe now is often framed in two questions:
1) How might have Braden and others today dealing with depression be helped by our own experience; and
2) How might I learn to live my own life differently to help avoid the loss of others.
I know Braden had at least two “Gold Friends” in his life outside his family. Sadly, although they remained close at heart, both lived hundreds of miles away and weren’t physically near at the time he was in his worst crisis.
Like gold, these kinds of friends don’t have to be physically present to hold their value. Just by knowing they were in our lives and how that made all the difference is most important. No matter if living 800 miles away or on the next street, no matter if friends here on Earth for 90 years or 18, they’ll always be part of us. That’s enough, for now.
I think a lot more these days about those who have lost loved ones, no matter the cause. Even more, I pray for those of us left behind after they leave us here, even though temporarily. We will never let go of them realizing they remain eternally treasured. We are assured of an awesome and eternal reunion.
Prayer: “Thank you, Lord for Gold Friends, even if just one. May I be that kind of friend, that kind of spouse, brother and son. Where there is one of your children today in search of such a Gold Friend, please help them be found. Most importantly, may they accept Your son’s invitation to be that eternal Gold Friend.”
“Don’t just be grateful for comforts in life. Be even more thankful for difficulty”. – Braden
Today, family came in. It’s become a routine to have our Tennessee and West Texas family come together at our home in north Texas for Thanksgiving. Guess it just makes sense logistically. We’re located near the middle between the two. Still, I’m convinced it’s more than mere geography. It’s become a tradition.
Caitlin’s closest cousin, Lena Grace was able to be here which has been an answered prayer. When you’re from a family who got a late start, you get the raw end of the deal. Cait’s cousins are grown and gone for the most part now.
Lena has had a rough life at age 13, but she’s as strong and feisty as a Tennessee mare. When I first met her, she was just a little girl. I still recall her spinning around a pole at the funeral home in Maryville. The occasion was the memorial service for her baby sister who had died within weeks following her birth from a very rare heart condition. When Lena and I first met at the funeral for her baby sister, little did I know the next loss would be my own son.
Death is horrific. Surreal. Devastating. The last thing we consider. Arguably more terrible for the survivors. Today is Thanksgiving. How can survivors even consider giving thanks in such tragic circumstances.
After Braden died, we received hundreds of letters, condolence cards, texts, phone calls, books, and emails. So many reaching into our lives. Today, I’m still reading numerous devotionals and texts from friends. In fact, I can rely upon a text each morning from “brothers” who have remained diligent and unrelenting in their support. There is no word in the dictionary to accurately describe that kind of loyal friendship.
During the first week after that terrible October day, we had a postal delivery to our front porch from Amazon. It was a fairly large package from Tennessee. When we opened it, we were moved to tears. It was a memorial candle sent from a very special young couple who had one child. A son.
We lit the candle immediately and placed it on the kitchen counter, centered among flowers, cards, and keepsakes. Our family believes in and practices traditions. Every holiday, it can be relied upon that we follow the tried and true. Traditions are the way we stay connected to the familiar in a world full of uncertainties.
Tonight, as we began our Thanksgiving tradition with our Tennessee and West Texas family, I lit the memory candle for our son. To most, it would seem a small insignificant thing. To us, it symbolizes Braden remains with us still and he always will.
Tonight I’m thankful to have family, knowing many do not. Thankful for the long list of blessings too often assumed to be somehow earned although they are undeserved. Thankful to know my Creator by His first name and to be certain He knows me. Thankful for friends, brothers, sisters, neighbors, and a community of fellow believers.
In the very midst of the hell we face in this temporary place, I’m grateful to know I will see my son and spend eternity with him. For these things, I am thankful.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
“Dad, people are making decisions based on false information. They are being told lies by dark, invisible, yet very real forces “. – Braden Speed
“Two years now, son. Has your death meant anything to the world you left behind? God, please say it has.” -Braden’s Dad
October 30, 2020. God has proven loyal in coming nearest when we hurt the worst. The last two years have seemed like twenty. Time’s supposed to heal all wounds and to some extent that holds true. Still, maybe they should rethink that adage and make it time heals most wounds but others you just have to live with (doesn’t quite have the same ring though).
The Library of Congress lacks sufficient space to house the stories that will be written about this year in world history. Of course, there have been far worse years statistically. Some of biblical proportion. Still, every person living on a civilized slice of Earth has faced completely new realities in 2020. Circumstances and choices none of us have ever dreamt of and many which would, under normal circumstances be a nightmare shared in fading detail upon waking. “You won’t believe the nightmare I had last night”. But it’s real.
Decisions aren’t new, but this year we’ve each been presented unique ones, and many with high risk price tags attached about our future. Employment. Education. Safety and security for our families. Who will govern our country. Do we stay the course with that small business/ career or take an uncharted course never before considered. Does a young couple start the family they’ve dreamed about so long or wait until things “get better”. Does a young teenage girl choose to keep an unplanned pregnancy.
In thousands and perhaps millions of real life situations, right now such decisions are being formed. Studies estimate on average, we make between 30,000-35,000 choices per day. The small and large decisions: When or will I roll out of bed? Should I hit snooze again? Do I wear this or that? Breakfast or coffee on the way? How do I react to the guy who just shot past and cut me off? Where do I place my faith? Who are my friends and which of them are to be trusted as true friends? What is my future? Should I go to college or enter the work world? How will we navigate and how will I best serve as a spouse and parent in all this?
Simply said, life is an unending and innumerable series of choices.
Not to be morbid, but let’s get honest. Tragically, in this very moment many today are grappling with the most timely and important personal decision of all: Whether to stay for another day or to check out early. To drive this even closer to “real”, kids are thinking seriously about ending their lives at the expense of not only their hopeful future but that of those left behind.
Within that small secret and dark population, their decision isn’t only if, but when and even how to leave. Today or tomorrow, next week, or perhaps later this summer when it will be somehow less painful or obvious to school peers. Those were the choices Braden faced two years ago on the morning of October 30, 2018.
One literal hell of a choice.
What he chose to do in that moment of mental and emotional confusion will impact our family for the rest of our days. It’s also helped to focus on the most important things which we too often allow to get fuzzed by the noise of a very distracting world. Today, here’s the big question that begs an answer and it’s framed in first person intentionally:
DoI choose to proactively live my brief few years (life) or do I just get through the next day?
As long as I knew Braden in the relatively brief time we breathed the same air, I never fully grasped his view of this world. I really wish I could, because in large part he had it right. Braden often asked the uncomfortable questions: Why are we here and why can’t we just go to Heaven once we’re saved? I had ready “Dad” answers to most every question until those were posed over a dinner table when he was just a little boy.
It’s at least become a little clearer since that day. Maybe I’ll have a better answer next time someone asks.
Why are we here? Life is an infinite series of choices and struggles forcing us all to wonder why we’re here. We’d be idiots if we didn’t. The amazing thing is we were created with the innate and unique ability to choose how we think, feel, or respond to any of life’s challenges. If we mentally choose to be victims of circumstance, we will be. Alternatively, if we choose instead to be victors in the midst of even the worst life deals us, we are that as well. This way of living also plays out on a broader scale by positively impacting others around us. Trust me. We’ve had so many impact our family in life changing ways! Each one by a conscious choice made by someone to care, pray, and support.
2. Why wouldn’t we just go to Heaven when we are saved? See answer 1.
Life is exclusively about decisions we each make while we’re here. Our heavenly Father certainly desires his children to make wise choices yet I’ve made thousands of poor ones that fall miles from God’s plan. However, one decision I made which won’t be a regret is the choice to surrender to my Creator and He has infinite grace for mistakes made yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
If one good thing comes from this, we can testify with confidence that Christ has walked every second of every day with us through the worst this world has to offer. We have decided to share our testimony openly about this experience because failing to do so gives Satan a victory and we’ve decided not to allow that.
Parents: Our kids are hungry for real answers in a world that doesn’t make sense to them. Although it doesn’t sometimes make sense to us either, we are compelled as parents to learn, grow, and lead them in the way they should go. They are desperately needing guidance.
Teens: Look around you and learn from the mistakes of others. Don’t allow yourself to fall into traps Satan has set. They are invisible yet deadly. Watch for danger signs because they’re everywhere. Focus on making wise decisions. What some call, “The next right step”. Life will be a never ending series of choices and each one matters. YOU MATTER even when you think you don’t. If you’ve not done so, make your next decision one for your eternity and for true abundant life today.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places”.
“A loyal friend who brought me in and with whom I was able to spend time would have changed my life”. – Braden
“I could be so far off course. Thank God for shepherds.” – Braden’s Dad
“Go out. And BE the Church”– Ron Hill; Retired Senior Pastor: FOSA
Wouldn’t we all like an opportunity to re-map some path in our life or perhaps even entirely delete a poorly written chapter? There’s no such thing as time travel. Still, authors and Hollywood writers attempt to weave fantasy stories about that possibility.
In mathematical theory it’s been proven that by outpacing the speed of light you could literally turn back time. Although we’ve come a long way, I don’t expect we humans will ever find this a trick we’ll be able to perform. Still, if we were afforded one chance to go back, would we? The more compelling question is, should we?
If so, it begs the next question: Where along our life lines would any of us purposely return or hit a restart button? It certainly wouldn’t be a positive experience or a decision that had a favorable outcome. More likely it would be some event or decision so horrible it had a disastrous impact on us and those around us. It would be something so bad we would quickly take the chance to re-script history.
Returning to those months and years prior to losing Braden October 30, 2018 would certainly be tempting for me as a father. I would return in a heartbeat to undo wrongs although done with every good intent. I’d accept and love Braden more unconditionally and encourage him more frequently.
On the other hand. There are chapters with experiences and with people (many who were strangers) which would never be written out of our story. Without some of these strangers who happened along our paths, some of us might have blown off course to a place distant and dark. Certainly, we’d be less well off.
This weekend I watched a live FaceBook feed from The Fellowship of San Antonio as a very special individual was celebrated for his 52 years of ministry for Christ. On this occasion, it’s important to share with you about him and how he has served me as a shepherd and a friend.
Until age 18 I lived in west Texas where “Cotton was King” (Wine vineyards are king now). We were the typical farm family before corporations took over. Then, farming was simple although uncertain and highly subject to the whims of Mother Nature.
As a teen, somehow life fell into my lap with few if any problems or crises of note. Summers meant Vacation Bible School. Sunday mornings had us all in Sunday School and “big” church (even some Sunday evenings and the occasional Wednesdays). What a lot of kids had been dealt in life just didn’t get served to my plate in large portions until years later. Of course, then I got the “All you can eat buffet”.
Social life during that time was relatively easy. After all I had a twin brother and we never lacked for friends. Still, as with every teen, you must find “your” place and your own identity. Beginning high school I decided the wisest choice for a core group was with the church youth, but I didn’t think I’d fit in. Even in west Texas, I felt like the hokey “farm kid” though you’d think that was an easy fit. It would be, but for the fact that the youth at First Baptist Church were all town kids.
At age 16 I drove a 1970 Ford pickup our dad had worn to its last thread pulling a thousand double-towed trailers overloaded with cotton. That truck was like a well aged suit. What looked good on the outside was ready to fall into a heap if shaken too much. No one else in the youth group drove a pickup not to mention lived on a farm.
One late Sunday afternoon, from my room I could hear my brother Mike’s trap set rattling the house. He’d fallen in love with drums when we were little kids living on the west side of town. Santa delivered his first toy set but this was a real one. It was well worthy of the double insulated walls dad had installed to muffle the noisy racket just to make living tolerable for us. We thought we were drowning him out, but neighbors were complaining half a mile away across open acres of dirt fields.
That Sunday, a total stranger was visiting our home. He was the youth group leader at First Baptist looking for a drummer to play in his choir called the “Celebration Singers” and “Sonshine Company”. Our sister, Karla was a singer in the group and they were preparing for a “summer tour” heading to California with stops along the way. A young Ronnie Hill was scouting talent for the group’s instrumental section.
As I sat in my room listening, I hoped somehow to get a chance like Karla and Mike were getting. To be invited into a place to plug in. Although my only talent had been first and second chair trumpet in junior high band, I might be able to do something, anything to be included. Heck, I could even do lighting.
As Ronnie was leaving, it was clear he was impressed and wanted my brother to join the group. Then he turned and looked up the hall toward my room. He came in and introduced himself. Seeing an old junk guitar standing against the wall, he asked, “Do you play “GUT-TAR?” (Until then, I had pronounced it “GIT-TAR”).
The neck had long warped and the bridge was almost completely unglued, leaving the strings a good quarter to half inch above the fretboard. To play it was painful at best and bloody at worst. I had a few songs I could play in single notes and only about three measures in length. “My Dog has Fleas”, (an old favorite), “Secret Agent Man”, and “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. This was long before “Stairway to Heaven” had even been written.
This old “instrument” was scratched up by years of poor treatment and who knows how many kids trying to bang out tunes over time. The sound never came out quite flat nor sharp but somewhere just south of pleasant. Still, this was a chance to go on “tour” and Mike was being invited. This might be my chance!
“Do you know how to play?” Ronnie asked again.
“Uh, yeah”, I replied. And that’s how I learned to play the guitar. On the job training. More importantly, it’s how I learned about shepherds and how Christ uses them to enter into uncomfortable places, to find those left behind, and invites them when least expected. That one instance was the start of a lifelong friendship. One where I learned more about being a “Christian” than I perhaps ever would otherwise. It is certainly a chapter I’d never remove from my story.
We played the “Summer Tour”. About ten churches and a mall or two of uninterested shoppers. I kept my Mel Bay’s “How to Play Guitar Chords in Three Simple Steps” book hidden in my case. The whole tour, I mock played my “GUT-TAR” with the volume turned off completely. After each show, we’d have a fellowship and audience members would say, “Hey, I could hear everyone else but you. Man, you need to turn up your volume”. I always nodded and replied, “Yeah, it’s best for a guitar to just blend in”.
Pretty lame, but true. Still, I was invited. That was ALL that mattered then and a complete stranger named Ronnie Hill made a choice to do that. I’d not realize what he was doing until far later in life. That one choice he made changed my life entirely.
As a youth in Brownfield, either kids met at the “drag”, stayed home, or found some other place to gather. The drag was a one mile stretch on the Lubbock Highway between Coleman Park and the Sonic drive-in. Ronnie’s door never was locked and when his youth were unsure where to go, we could knock on the door knowing when it opened we had a place.
We played not only Christian music but popular music and many times the kids would just sit around talking and laughing. This was a completely new experience for me and I suspect for most of the others. Still, it was a place of absolute acceptance, inclusion, and encouragement.
As I became more comfortable as an outsider, I’d stay late after the other kids left. Ronnie and I would throw darts, tell jokes, and laugh until our sides hurt. Many times he pulled out board games and never acted like it was an imposition on his time. Ronnie had a knack for erasing the age gap and his kids felt we belonged, were valued, and we had a purpose.
Ronnie was later “Called” to move to a church in Dallas as a youth minister. There, he became just “Ron” and we remained friends. He actually wrote old fashioned letters that required a stamp. They were brief, sincere, and always asked how I was doing along with a scripture reference. I rarely returned the gesture but he didn’t stop.
After college graduation, I was in search of a job and headed for the big city of Dallas. Ron opened his home for a place to stay while job hunting. Once or twice we’d have a pretty good argument and once he even kicked me out. It was short lived but well deserved. I was being a selfish idiot.
Years later, Ron served as my singles minister in San Antonio. Most recently, he invited me to the church he founded and pastored for almost eighteen years. He asked me to share testimony about our son’s life and his death, openly and without shame. Ron’s church planted a tree in their prayer garden in memorial of Braden. Following Ron’s leadership and example his flock welcomed my family as their own and when we visit there, it feels like a second church home.
I could share so many stories about my friend and our friendship it would quickly grow boring. Suffice to say, they are memories we’ll both take into chapters yet written.
Here are just a few things I learned from this shepherd. Perhaps we all could better see how Christ works in the background and how we each should serve as His shepherds wherever lost sheep can be found.
Lessons from Ron
God blesses his children if we just look for those blessings.
God sends helpers so be looking for them.
God loves laughter. After all, He created it.
God loves us just as we are and He hears short prayers as clearly as long flowery ones.
God loves the humble, the unloved, and the outcast.
GOD LOVES ME and offers unconditional grace.
A shepherd’s primary responsibility is the safety and welfare of the flock.
Matthew 18: 12
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?”
Today was Ron’s very last message to the flock he leaves in search of his next. Perhaps his next flock will be scattered to all corners of the world. He loves travel, so that will suit him well. As he left the stage this morning, before they cut the microphone, he exclaimed “Now, go OUT. And BE the Church!” How perfect.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for sending us shepherds. I consider myself blessed to have met several along life’s path. Please open the eyes of the lost today in need of a shepherd who will choose to leave the beaten path and help bring others to You. Bless the Shepherds and may I serve as one to someone else. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I allowed my hopes and God’s Truth to become overshadowed by Satan’s lies. Please help others know where they will find eternal hope. Love you all, Braden
“God told me I needed to do this job at no cost”– Prosper Contractor
“I need help! I have to talk to someone right now!” – Youth group student
I forgot my mask last night. Just as well. We had a business meeting scheduled but being such a large crowd, I figured my absence wouldn’t be noticed.
Instead of bothering to go home and returning, I decided to revisit some memories. I’ve learned sometimes this helps. Revisiting places where Braden walked is probably just asking to hurt. Still, at times even feeling pain is better than feeling numb.
First, I drove by the junior and high schools.
Reynolds was where we had registered Braden for school. It was literally the first thing we did upon arrival in our new community. On the run for the Fall semester with a U-Haul trailer in tow behind Cathy’s Toyota 4Runner double parked outside. We had just one day left to get enrolled upon our hasty arrival in Prosper, Texas.
The trailer was loaded with items the commercial carrier couldn’t legally haul, like paint and other combustibles. Plants, fertilizer, etc. Also, there was a snake named Jake and a tortoise named Spoons. Braden’s pets.
Next stop was PHS. As I sat in the parking lot, I could clearly see him trudging along in the dark, lit by the car headlights of parents arriving to gather their band kids. He was dressed in his overheated band uniform, carrying his trombone from the football game on a hot sweaty Texas Friday night. Exhausted. Hanging in there.
That night while the Prosper Eagles screamed, Braden played in the “suicide squad”. At half time, the higher performing players in the trombone section presented a crazy but fun show where they all bent and swung their horns in different directions. If just one player missed a single beat, it was very dangerous. I later thought the name of their ensemble to be beyond ironic.
Then I recalled our family waiting in the late hours at the band hall for him to exit. Sometimes he’d be smiling, hanging with a buddy. Often one of the last to leave, other times walking out alone.
The final stop on the memory tour was Frontier Park where the students of the Class of 2018 held a candlelight vigil. That November night we had at least a hundred kids and their parents circling near a beautiful fountain. Over two hundred crying eyes, praying and wishing they could have helped. That night by just being there, they did help our family have some hope. I added my two crying eyes along with inward cries to Heaven to help others not to have to experience our hell.
From the first dawn I saw our son at his birth until the last night I saw him on this earth, my goal had been to give him a good life. Through his loss, as parents we’ve learned that some of the most important things we consider to be our full responsibility fall well outside our control.
A few months ago we decided it was time to begin the difficult process of working on Braden’s bedroom. Although it sometimes felt like a dark place when he was sad, after he left it became cold. Starkly barren. No carpet. Just tacks around the baseboards. The bed frame sat without a mattress or springs. The nightstand without a drawer. The ceiling without a coat of paint. If Braden had been here, he’d be wanting us to finally get around to fixing up the room. I would have replied, “Everything in its time, son”. It was time.
As we began the monumental task, we were once again amazed as we have been countless times. Out of nowhere, a local contracting company offered their help. They wanted to paint and refinish the walls for free. A month or so later, another company came to re-carpet the room. As I sat upstairs working from home, I’ll never forget hearing the contractor say to Cathy, “God told me to do this, so I’ve decided to do this job at no cost”.
Before the work could begin, we’d need to remove the furniture and anything on the walls and floor. Not a task either of us wanted to begin. One late night, Cathy decided to go up and remove Braden’s many books from the shelves. With each book came a thin layer of dust having been still and unopened so long. Finally, Cathy began just stacking them without allowing her emotions to distract from the task.
Then, randomly she opened a book to thumb through its pages. In that book was a handwritten note Braden had hidden who knows when. His note read that he’d decided he didn’t want to be here any longer. It also said that he wanted to take his dad on a cruise for a guy trip and to take his mom to Italy where they had always dreamed of going together, even as a young child.
Like opening a time capsule and catching a glimpse of our son, this note contained his deepest feelings and hopes which he’d long kept hidden and never expected to share with anyone. It hurt to read, but helped to know he is now experiencing joys far above any he had hoped here in this world.
Two Asides: Questions with Too Few Answers
First. Braden’s sister, Caitlin is our dancer. Unfortunately, since the Covid lockdown began in March, she’s been in severe pain. We thought it was an ACL tear in her knee but after two MRIs and three doctors we still don’t know what’s causing her problem. If you’re a parent, you understand. Few things hurt us more than knowing our child is in pain yet we are helpless. The best we can offer is our assurance that we’re simply there, no matter what happens.
Secondly, just last week, a local church youth leader had us to speak with a group of middle and high schoolers on the topic of suicide. It was very uncomfortable yet something I’ve prayed about doing since the day Braden left. We’ve wanted to have the chance to speak openly and honestly about the reality of this epidemic called suicide.
Immediately after the talk, the lights dimmed and the microphones were turned off. Two young girls approached the stage separately. The first was a smiling and beautiful girl who wanted to say thanks and to share that she had attempted suicide just a year earlier. She assured us we were on the right track and to keep speaking to kids. There was a visible glow in her spirit and her joy was palpable. She now had a sense purpose not only for herself but for others she would help.
Next, another young lady approached weeping heavily. From the floor, she yelled, “I need to talk with someone right now!” As the youth leader and I listened, she shared that she had come that night knowing she needed a message of hope and help. One of her friends has been tweeting about taking her own life. This child’s face was just the opposite of the other teen. This girl was wrought with pain and her eyes were yearning for any wisdom or guidance.
Sadly, I was at a loss for words. It was that same lousy feeling when Braden needed help or when his sister needs help still with the pain she feels but can’t fully explain. I felt totally lacking but we thinly assured her that it would be alright and commended her for coming forth. I told her to just be there for her friend and to pray. As my mouth sounded out the words, I know they seemed empty to the listener.
Just then, the words shared by one of my new friends who had dealt with thoughts of suicide in high school came to mind. He’d said, “I realized I simply needed to TELL someone”. Too often, we think keeping our hurts inside will help them to go away or somehow diminish the pain. Ironically, just the opposite is true. Satan absolutely thrives in secrets and in loneliness. If he can keep us quiet, he can own our minds. Only when we open up, share and ask for help can we find healing and hope.
That evening, in addition to our encouragement to follow Christ’s example of peer relationship, we concluded as we always do. We emphasized how vital it is to find and to grow a personal relationship with Jesus whose acceptance and unconditional love never waivers. As a husband, father, child of God, and one who has experienced hurt beyond explanation, I can confidently say Christ is the only real answer to these impossible questions.
From now on, that’ll be my first response when presented with the unanswerable question: “How can you help me when life brings unmanageable Hurt?” First, TELL SOMEONE and get immediate Help. Then simply seek Jesus Christ who brings eternal Hope. He’ll do the rest.
Parents, Teachers, and Teens
We certainly don’t have all the answers when another person is in crisis, do we? What we have learned is by process of elimination one thing we can NOT afford to do is to ignore the problem and just hope it just goes away. Kids today are desperately needing others who are willing and eager to step forward and help them by coming alongside and walking with them. Encourage them and seek help from mental health professionals, counselors, and ministers.
Most importantly, just STAY. They need your help and hope. You not only will make a friend, you may very well save a life.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.Then you will call on me and come and pray to me,and I will listen to you.
“Meant to tell you, I met someone. Let me introduce you.” – Braden
“Braden was always so kind. We talked mostly via Snapchat. I told him I hardly knew anyone in my lunch and he asked if I wanted to sit with him and another friend at their table”. – Student
“If you can see it, it won’t last. The things which truly last are those things you cannot see”. – Dennis Swanberg
It’s been a while. Certainly not for lack of subject matter. It’s National Suicide Prevention week and only God knows the names of each teen, who this very moment are seriously contemplating or even perhaps planning when and exactly how to take their own lives.
I’ll try not to be morbid nor overly zealous, but just ponder this: Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers. That fact is hard to even take in. As a parent, if you’re thinking your teen hasn’t at least entertained the thought, you are deceived. It’s the topic of the day. The thing to consider. In fact, it’s become “just another choice on the menu” as several youth have told us. Since March 2020 (the beginning of COVID lockdowns) that number has increased to nearly 50% of teens and young adults 16-24.
Since the loss of our son, in hopes of helping others walking in our shoes, we remain committed to sharing about the nightmare many today are living, yet too few are willing to discuss. Writing and speaking about this is like talking to a counselor hoping to better understand what can never be fully understood. Two mirrors facing together with unending reflection.
Last year, I met yet another father who had lost his son to suicide. The young man had graduated high school and begun his college career. These parents have become friends, sharing similar ground in losing a child while working to keep things on track personally and in the role as parents.
Although I never met my friend’s son nor those of numerous other parents who have survived the loss of their children, when we share stories it’s like we’re all talking about the same kid. Loved but not feeling loved. Accepted, yet not feeling accepted. Caring, still feeling uncared for. All living with a pervasive struggle of depression and hopelessness.
That evening, my father friend asked how our non-profit, “Braden’s Voice” was developing. I admitted, ironically with the pandemic and all that’s going on right now, teen mental health and the epidemic of suicide has seemingly faded from the radar. I told him for now we’ve backed off and are waiting to see what God wants for this mission. Surrendering to and trusting in God has sustained us and His plans will be made clear soon enough. Still, inside I was thinking it seems futile.
When I got home I prepared to drop to sleep, but couldn’t relax, my mind kept occupied by my friend’s question: “What are you doing to help others who face the same struggles your family faced?” For two hours I stayed wide awake trying to answer that question in my mind. It certainly begs an answer. Finally, I gave up trying to sleep and decided to scan email.
The first was the standard junk mail from one of a thousand realtors trying to sell our house though we’ve never given serious thought about placing it on the market. Then a charge card bill, like I needed reminding at midnight that we have a Visa bill to rival the national budget.
The next email was from a total stranger. A student from Braden’s high school who had been a freshman when they had first met. The message was one I’ll never forget and one which renewed hope that God continues to quietly work even when we grow weary of trying.
The writer gave permission to share the following. Keep in mind, their identity will remain confidential until such time they wish to share their testimony directly. Still, this is a message that shouts to be shared.
The message began:
First off, I want to properly introduce myself. I’m 17 years old. I read your blog often and it is very touching. In 2017, I was a brand new student at Prosper High when I met Braden through a mutual friend. He was so kind and we talked (mostly on SnapChat). I confided knowing hardly anyone in my lunch hour and he asked if I wanted to sit with him at his table with his friend. I accepted his invitation and sat with him and a couple of other students.
Unfortunately, just weeks later, my schedule was changed so I didn’t have the same lunch time anymore. I never got to eat lunch with Braden again. It was about a year later when Braden passed.
When I found out about it, I was so upset. After all, I had known Braden. I’d sat with him at lunch. I had waved to him in the hallway and had talked to him. I attended the candle lighting at Frontier Park with my dad and had tears running down my face.
A couple of months later I saw a strange notification from Snapchat saying “Braden Speed is typing”! I was so confused! Then when I went to open the message, it was from you.
The day I found out about Braden I’d sent a message to him on SnapChat thanking him for being so nice to me when I was new to High School and for inviting/ welcoming me to his lunch table. Of course I realized he was gone and would never read the message, but I felt it was important to express my gratitude and grief.
You gave me your number and said you’d love to talk to me sometime about Braden. I was nervous, being young and carrying a ton of anxiety. I never could gather the courage to respond to you.
My next school year of high school I was going through stuff and felt so alone. I attended the first two days of school and after that I don’t know what came over me. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like the whole world was against me.
It was at that point when I attempted suicide.
I was placed into inpatient treatment for a week and subsequently outpatient therapy for a week. When I was discharged from the hospital I went straight to your blog. It gave me hope. I’ve regretted not responding to you in 2018 when you’d shared your number.
Thankfully, I am in a much better place mentally than where I was at that time. I just wanted to thank you and Cathy and Caitlin.
Signed, A Prosper Student
There have been many “God moments” where I’ve felt Him sending a message of hope saying, “I have a plan to defeat Satan where he had plans to destroy”. Still, it’s difficult to recall when a specific message arrived so timely and one more encouraging.
I’d dug into Braden’s social media almost two years ago to find anything to help put together the pieces. Instead I found messages all saying, in essence they “wish they’d known” and they’d do something different. To me, it’s telling that only one out of all those kids decided to respond. That’s not an indictment on them. After all, they are kids. Still, it’s further evidence of the problem. Complacency and a lack of willingness to make a difference.
Hope Squad is now in every school in Prosper. These are kids identified by their peers as a safe person in whom to confide. The primary means to truly impact teen suicide is peer to peer. These are kids who can and will make a difference in saving lives by being consciously aware of red flags and subtle signs to indicate a friend who is in crisis.
One of several friends who share daily devotionals sent one recently which contained the following quote: “If you can see it, it won’t last. The things which truly last are those things you cannot see“. We will not see our son until we each take turns in returning to our eternal home in heaven. However, what Braden left us and those he touched in his brief life will truly last.
Among far too many to list, our family is grateful for the bold courage of this one young person and for the many who want to make the difference in finding and helping the lost.
Parents: Our kids are getting lost. If not literally, they’re getting lost spiritually. We must teach them that we’re all lost and in search of our value, purpose, and connection. Remind them the only lasting source of acceptance and meaning is in a personal relationship with Jesus who readily invites them so they may be found.
Prayer: Lord, as we begin a new school year and especially during this month recognizing those “lost”, grant our kids the hearts and the eyes of Christ in their comings and goings. Make them bold and courageous in reaching through uncomfortable invisible barriers and finding the lost.
“Dad, I’m proud to call you my earthly father. You are celebrated and loved by your family. Every day is a gift from your Heavenly Father. Remember to celebrate each one!” – Love, your son. Braden.
“The best gifts are those you can’t buy and which can not be taken away” Love, Daddy
Over the past few weeks I can’t put a finger on why, but I’ve felt an unusual sense of blessing and contentment. That’s foreign to me. Normally, I just go about life trudging through it like I’m on a long uphill hike with no time to stop and appreciate the simple beauty of the very mountain I’m climbing. Sadly lacking clarity on where I’m even trying to go.
Through most of the previous two years, I’ve been rope climbing a ragged cliff rather than walking up a steep mountain. Each day a part of me felt I could misstep at any moment and fall helplessly to the bottom. Many days I believed I was already there, flat on my back at the foot of Mount Everest.
At this point I won’t go too deeply into the details. That’s for another time. All I guess is needed today is to acknowledge the fact that God has stuck with me and our family on this path. He always has. Out of infinite grace and love, He reminds me once in awhile how amazing life can be while I’m so busy striving toward some unknown destination yet to materialize.
Certainly, among these blessings undeserved are my family and friends about whom I could write volumes. Suffice today to simply take stock in these particular blessings. Ones that continually help sustain in life’s “climb”.
Speaking of not taking time to smell the roses. Someone please explain to me what happens along the way when most guys no longer get excited about life events like birthdays and holidays? It may just be me, but a lot of my friends (if they get honest) admit the same. “Oh, we stopped giving each other Christmas and birthday gifts years ago. I mean, there’s nothing either of us can’t just buy when we want it.”
Not to stereotype, but typically this is a man’s perspective. There are exceptions, but more often than not, it’s the guy who considers such events just another day. I’ll confess. That’s me. Of course, wedding anniversaries and Cathy’s birthdays are different… (especially if she is reading this).
About a month ago, our 13 year old Caitlin said to me, “Daddy. Are you excited about Father’s Day?” Being the pragmatist, I figured I may as well come clean early in her life and admit it, “Not so much, honey. I just think of it as another day. That’s not to say y’all can’t be excited, but dad just doesn’t really get excited about much these days”. Her face deflated. I’m sure she was confused as to why a day designated to celebrate someone for a specific reason wouldn’t be cause for complete elation.
Of course, I felt like a heel. What’s new. I mean, let’s get honest. These days, what does a man need or want that he can’t just buy? (I’m guessing you’re ahead of me here).
Last night, watching TV late. Again, Caitlin said excitedly, “Daddy, this weekend is Father’s Day! Are you excited yet? I am!” Suddenly, I thought to myself, shouldn’t I be thankful if nothing more, that I have a child and moreover, one who is eager to celebrate and recognize her father?
This morning, after an all-night rain it was cool and breezy outside. I sat and read as I do most every morning to start the day. After praying, I looked around. I’m sitting in a beautiful back yard. I have an amazing and loving wife who has stuck with me in sickness and in health. Currently, I’m healthy. I have a paying job. One I’ve learned to enjoy even though it isn’t the leadership career track I was on before choosing to change paths. My life is full of friends. The best kind. The ones who daily send blessings and are there every step of the “climb”.
Although we lost one of our most precious gifts in Braden, we still have each other and the confidence that we’ll be reunited. The list of blessing is too long and certainly not one for bragging purposes. Yet, it is a list worth acknowledging and one in which to take stock.
We are taught in church that God is most pleased when His children acknowledge and celebrate Him. I’ve been in church all my life but embarrassed to admit I’ve not really grown much in my relationship with my heavenly Father until the past 20 or so months. When we sing worship songs or hymns, I used to think it was just to fill the half hour before we got the sermon. Kind of like a lead in or opening act. A routine.
I’ve come to realize the songs and praise we give to our Father are of mutual benefit rather than us trying to convince Him of some emotion or feeling. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of a relationship between a perfect loving Father who brought us into this world and His children.
We give Him acknowledgment, praise, worship, and honor. He gives us assurance and perfect peace. Confidence. Counsel. Healing and eternally far more than we could ever give Him.
Being a dad whose eyes were opened a little wider through the loss of our son, I find the comparison interesting to consider between our perfect heavenly Father and us earthly imperfect ones. The differences are as broad as the Grand Canyon. Although we strive, we always fall short. I have in the past often and most certainly will every day of my life.
The most amazing thing to me is this. While I am a father, I’m also a child. As a child who is still learning I make mistakes and always will. Yet, my heavenly Father forgives me each time, always there to guide when I seek Him. That’s reason to celebrate EVERY DAY!
I guess I need to preach to myself today. Maybe other fathers might need it too. Who knows. Tomorrow I plan to be thankful that my child is excited about Father’s Day and will commit to praying for a child’s eyes, thanking my dad and my heavenly Father for all they both mean to their child.
Prayer for parents/ dads:
“Lord, sometimes I’m blown away by the clarity You instill in me, reminding me of Your love, grace, and awesome blessings I take for granted too often. I pray over every parent today who is too busy striving toward an unseen goal or invisible destination. Open our eyes as your children as moms and dads, to be thankful for what we have in the present.
Happy Heavenly Father’s Day! In Jesus’ name, Amen”
“Stop. Observe what God has created for you. Although it doesn’t come even close to Heaven, it’s the next best thing.” – Braden
“I wish we could have just one more summer vacation to see something beautiful. Together.” – Braden’s Dad
Before we moved from Houston to Dallas in 2014, north Texas had been bone dry. They’d had a drought the likes not seen in decades. Cotton fields were burning up and a lot of farmers were giving up. I’d been raised with the west Texas weather patterns. There was limited predictability, but the forecast there was almost always, “Dry, with little to no chance of rain”.
When I met Cathy in 1997, I’d met a true native Houstonian. Still, I swore to never live or work in Houston. I perceived it was hotter than blazes, humid, and full of hateful people. Like New York in Texas. Then, due to circumstances at my company, we were forced to move there.
The Gulf of Mexico constantly feeds warm moist air into southeastern Texas. That, along with rich dark soil makes things grow where they never would anywhere else. The Gulf also brings an indescribable amount of humidity.
Against every prejudice I had about Houston, I grew to love it. The people there were real. Many come from farmlands across the country, working in the petroleum industry. We found it to be home for us.
Just as we began our Houston home, we were again abruptly “relocated” to Dallas. This was move number five and we were completely spent, giving up yet one more established place of community. How would Braden and Caitlin deal with this move?
I remember hoping Dallas wouldn’t be a dry, brown, and desolate place. That would just add to the depressive feelings we already had about the move.
I prayed that it would just please rain.
It did. And it rained… and it rained. When we settled into our new community in Prosper, we began frequently hearing weather forecasts about heavy thunderstorms, winds, hail, and possible tornadoes. Tragically, Garland had a devastating tornado the second year after we arrived.
What had happened to the long historic draught? We joke still that we brought Houston rain to north Texas.
Recently, we had yet another north Texas storm. Here, storms arrive in the deep of the night. In west Texas you knew when a storm was coming. They typically arrived before the sun went down. You could see clouds building typically to the west and moving to the northeast.
In north Texas, Mother Nature tends to act randomly. Here, a tornado might drop out of any low hanging cloud at any time and too often in the middle of night when you can’t see what’s coming. Out of nowhere there might come a cloudburst not even the most avid weatherman could have predicted. All to say, you’re pretty much on your own in Tornado Alley.
Recently, such a rain storm emerged. Out of nowhere, rain came in a sudden barrage along with a strong north howling wind. It was near midnight. The winds blew so hard that rain entered through the downstairs windows. We still don’t know why, but when the conditions are just so, water drips from the second story through the windows in the living room.
We had to move the furniture. Shoving the couch away from the wall and placing pitchers, bowls, and every Tupperware container in the sills to catch the leaks. The winds continued, the draining water continued, and the thunder kept rolling. Then. The rain finally subsided. The night became quiet. Peaceful. Like the storm had never even visited.
The next morning, the sun was out. The curtains remained splayed forward over the couch which had been pulled away from the wall. Pitchers, bowls, and every Tupperware in the cupboard stood their post along the window sill, half filled with rain water.
I picked up the containers, combining each into one and spilling it into the kitchen sink and righting the curtains. I pulled the couch out just an inch beyond where it had been to be sure nothing had been damaged underneath.
I hesitated, knowing Braden had hidden away things under the couch over the years. Remnants of memories I feared but knew I would happen upon. Such moments bring about unexpected emotion, like suddenly seeing him and instantly losing him again.
Braden hid things: Discarded candy wrappers. Hershey kisses, Fruit by the Foot. Even handwritten notes.
I pushed the couch further away by a couple of inches, finding a coffee table book. A large one. On its cover, I read the title. “Beautiful World”. Immediately, I knew I’d stumbled upon another remnant of our son. As it always does, came a mix of elation and depression in the same instance.
The following morning, I woke for my morning quiet time. Something I’ve done as a ritual every day since he left. Honestly, I’ve exchanged that brief time for sleep. Escaping by closing my eyes to make the feelings go away. At least for a few minutes.
That morning I opened the book and enjoyed absorbing each page. Traveling mentally with Braden to each new amazing place.
Braden had the rare gift of seeing the world from a completely unique perspective. He saw things as they actually are as opposed to what they should be. He was capable of experiencing every moment in real time. To me that’s taking a huge risk. One not many of us are willing or capable of taking. I wish I could. It just might make me who I want to be and who God created me to be.
Thanks, Braden for leaving behind remnants of who you were and allowing us to find them at just the perfect moments.
“Our Mother had the most amazing ability to love with an abundant heart. I held that heart tightly in dark moments when I wanted to give up. She was always there. Ours was an amazing and unique bond. Happy Mother’s Day to one most deserving to be honored”. – Braden
I’ll never forget the very first moment Cathy and I met. Through friends, we were introduced. A blind date. Both having experience with blind dates, neither wanting anything to do with them.
We called several times. I was impressed by her willingness to listen deeply and her unselfishness. She was a great conversationalist and I was blown away by the sincere joy in her voice. Of course, I played the game. Not calling back for days. Waiting for her to show her cards first.
C’mon. When was she going to call? Well, she never called. That was new to me. This girl didn’t play the traditional dating games I’d become good at playing. As the guy, it was my place to make the call and she wasn’t about to let me get away with anything less.
While we dated, I soon came to learn some interesting things about my future wife. She loved to talk. She REALLY loved to talk. Also, I learned she loved to listen. She had the largest heart of anyone I’d ever known. She was the toughest and most courageous person who never gave thought to herself. That was brand new to me.
Every time I made the drive from College Station to Humble for a date, Cathy would come running from her apartment with her arms held high waiting for a hug. That one experience alone helped me decide she would become my wife. It had been far too long since I’d felt that kind of love.
Fast forward to College Station when we made our home together and began a family. We still laugh about how it began.
One night we watched a documentary about Mother’s Day. It was a touching story about parents who had conjoined twins. I was moved by the story and out of the blue, I said, “Do you think we could make one of those?” She looked at me like I was crazy for a minute. Then, realizing I meant I wanted to start our own family, she fell into my lap crying.
Braden came along as if scheduled nine months to the day when we decided to have him. He was an easy pregnancy and delivery. Traditional. No problems. He was healthy, beautiful, and strong. Yet he needed a sibling.
Soon, we became pregnant again. Three times. Tragically losing all three.
After six years trying, Caitlin finally came along. I could write an entire book about that six year period of time. But this is an abbreviated version of the story.
When I met Cathy, I fell in love almost instantly. When I entered her home the first time, I felt at home.
I was amazed by her heart. Of course it didn’t hurt that she was as beautiful outside as inside. But not until years later did I come to realize that her beauty came from deeper places. I came to learn that she had lost her mother who had been her dearest friend. I became close friends with her father who died tragically two years after Braden came along.
With such losses and the fact that she remained one of the most joyous people I’d ever met, I realized I’d not only married a beautiful and loving woman, but one who had more strength and endurance than any person alive.
Cathy welcomed me into her family of friends. Relationship and community the likes I’d never experienced. These people had walked through life together with every variety of triumph and tragedy. Over 20 years, they have become part of my family and I a part of theirs.
Until Braden died, I had never experienced personal loss. I’d seen it but I had never personally felt it. Cathy and I had talked a lot about this. Realizing it was only a matter of time, like a cloud on the horizon. Little did I know my first experience with such loss would be our son.
This day, I simply wish to briefly acknowledge the blessing of Cathy Speed. Without the strength, courage, faith, and sheer perseverance of this amazing woman, our family would have imploded long ago.
Lord, thank you for sharing with us your very special daughter.
“Happy birthday son. You were an amazing and beautiful gift to this world.” – Braden’s Family
“For my birthday gift, release your guilt. Smile and laugh about a memory we had. Shed tears, but make them joyful ones for once. For my birthday celebration, simply blow out a candle and make these three wishes come true. Beyond words, I’m so sorry for leaving so early. I am hugging you all forever. I hope you feel them.” – All my love, Braden
“You were my very first Mother’s Day gift on my first Mother’s Day. I can’t express how I feel and how much I miss you. I’ll try to make your three wishes come true today”. Love, Mom
In December 2018 we began a very bizarre journey.
This was not a topic I ever dreamed would be on my tongue. However, the alternative would be acting like it hadn’t happened. That would make me an accessory to the problem and very likely I would fall to pieces realizing our son died for absolutely nothing.
Talking with a friend recently about what has transpired over the past two years since that October, I heard myself say, “To save my life, I can’t imagine how these things have happened.” My friend responded thoughtfully, “Well, maybe it’s been exactly that. These things may have happened to save your life”.
I’ll never shake the visual image of our son the night before he left. In fact, I recall every second of his life, too often in slow motion. It’s like what I call a “treadmill dream”. One where you’re working and working and working, incessantly to achieve a goal. If you can just work harder, you perceive it possible. But it’s futile.
That goal for us has been to at least help prevent others from our experience. To help that one teen on a cliff from taking the step. I may never truly understand why, but we decided to aim our sights on that goal. Knowing all along it will never be fully achieved. Still, I believe it be a worthy goal and one Braden would be proud to be part of.
Helping build something better from nothing.
Braden absolutely loved to build. Like every inventor, some attempts turned into dismal failures, but more often he created something beautiful and astounding.
Minecraft is a computer simulation game where a virtual world is built by the imagination of the user. It’s a whiteboard where the imagineer has full reign to create anything from nothing. When he was very young, this was a place Braden could make into his own world. While some kids chased “creepers”, for Braden it was a place where he could build.
For weeks, I’d watch him lie on the couch with his laptop, seemingly wasting time. “Son, why don’t you get up and do something?” “Dad, I’m building something. You’ll see”.
Later, I came to learn he’d built fantastic resorts with waterparks and landscaping. Once he built an entire cruise ship in virtual reality to include staterooms, each fully furnished. We gazed at it in complete amazement. He’d created virtual dining, dancing, and theaters, all just from his memories of our family travels.
Around age five or so, Braden became a lover of Legos. He was addicted to putting the pieces together and watching something come from nothing. To create. It made him feel like he’d made the world better in some small way. He’d sit and actually hum in his playroom putting the pieces together.
By age 12, he was building sets designed for adults. Among just a few, he built a functioning carousel, an elaborate Star Wars battleship and a community building (of course before social distancing). Braden had a keen eye for a world well beyond what most of us can perceive and I’m so blessed and glad I was there for him. I sometimes feel guilt for not having appreciated his gifts.
I realized there would be a day we would face the task of saying goodbye to some of his prized possessions. Although we’ll keep most of his things, there simply is not room to keep all of it. Particularly difficult would be letting go of some of his Legos pieces, which we still had although he had long since outgrown them. We will forever keep the large projects still intact, although after moving too many times, several of his projects were now just jumbled pieces.
Last week we met a young father, who was a homeschooler and engineer. He loved legos as a kid and enjoys using them to teach principles of homeschooling to his 12 year old son. It was something they enjoy doing together. We sent them home with several boxes of legos in pieces, and were ecstatic to get home and begin putting those pieces together.
Over the past two years, we’ve tried to put together the pieces of our family. It’s certainly a work in progress. With every memory we find that we’d packed away like a child’s toy or stuffed animals. His car. His high school diploma. Of all those little pieces to which we’ve had to say goodbye, we will never let go of the bigger ones.
His huge heart. His gorgeous smile. His contagious laughter. His love for his family and his deep friendships. With each small “thing” we let go, we receive an equal share of peace knowing that things are only temporary, but we will have eternity together.
Cathy and I sat down after the father left. We’d released some of what we’d held onto for so long. Realizing another sweet little boy would soon be building and creating alongside his dad with the very pieces Braden loved so much. It brought us at least some measure of peace.
Happy 20th Birthday, Braden. We have some peace and hope in what is being built out of the jumbled pieces you left behind.
Prayer for families who‘ve lost a loved one or who face darkness
“Lord, only You could know our hearts. You experienced pain and heartbreak like we will never even fathom. You sent Your only son to this dark and lost world with the specific intent for Him to die. For us.
Thank You for the free gift we don’t deserve and thank You for assurance that we are held in your everlasting arms. All we need do is trust in You. Grant us peace as we face another tomorrow.
“Mom and Dad. I would have turned 20 this May, and it will soon be another Mother’s Day. I know you’re hurting. Please trust that I’m ok. I want you to all find peace like I have found. Seek and trust Him in these times. He will hear your hearts. All my love. – Braden
Some months ago, I wrote a short story about a small and fast-growing tree in our backyard titled, “Stained and Scarred”. Years earlier, Braden had chosen to aim his first arrow at this tree with his brand new high tension crossbow. The kind that sinks its arrow deeply into the target. So deep, it could never be retrieved, leaving a scar. I later learned a deeper meaning in that experience and forevermore it became Braden’s tree.
While I’d worked to finish the staining project in the blazing summer sun, I was certain the effort would ultimately be worth it. And it was. I still recall waking from a nap that afternoon and how God distinctly spoke into me. I recognized the connection between that tree and my own life.
Fast forward. The other night, Caitlin wanted to watch movies by the pool to celebrate completion of seventh grade. We have a TV outside and like to watch shows by the light of tiki torches. While we watched, I drifted away mentally. I was missing our son. He’d loved watching movies with our family sitting outside at hotels or on cruise ships. We roasted S’mores and drank cocoa. Traditions meant a lot to him. They were like oxygen.
In particularly rough moments, I often park on the couch outside to pray. To observe and listen to what God has to say. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. Simply sitting still, allowing the peaceful breeze to flow over me is amazing mental and spiritual therapy. And it’s free!
That night while we watched TV, I began tuning out the movie and tuning into that familiar sound coming from the eastern corner of the backyard. In west Texas, the wind usually subsides at night. However in north Texas it blows almost all the time. Frankly, that isn’t my favorite thing about living in the Dallas area, but you learn to adapt and to tie down your lawn furniture.
The sound of the leaves that evening was distinctly different. As the cooling breezes wafted in and out, I realized none of the other trees made a single sound. They weren’t moving at all. How was that even possible? The only thing that was capturing the north Texas winds in our yard that night was Braden’s tree.
It sounded to me like a peaceful ocean. Serene and casting calm on anyone who would listen. The sounds had been there all along, but I hadn’t heard it until I chose to tune into it. I realize this sounds odd, but I needed connection and reassurance that our son was ok and that our family would be too. God brought both answers instantly.
It’s no longer small, but it certainly remains fast-growing. Thriving. Yet, still scarred. Only could my Creator have been so intuitive in that moment to provide a sense of peace through a simple thing like a tree.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Prayer for Readers
Lord, How can we express our gratitude.
I pray over those who, in this very moment want to cut their story short. I pray against the lies infiltrating their mind. Especially during this season of isolation, we pray against Satan’s lies and spirits in those dark places. I pray peace and wisdom for the “Braden’s” who are battling hard in this very moment to stay the course. We pray over their families who are struggling more than anyone can fathom.
We pray Your peace beyond our understanding. In Jesus’s name. Amen
“Mom has a lot on her heart she needs to share.” – Braden
Following is a re-post Cathy Speed wrote one year ago. It was written by a grieving mother on a Saturday morning before Easter Sunday only months after we’d lost our son, Braden.
Yesterday, ahead of the rains predicted for the weekend, Cathy and Caitlin went in search of some wildflowers to take family pictures in the sunshine. It was a long tradition we’ve kept since the kids came. This year I couldn’t bring myself to go. Our son wouldn’t be in the picture and I wasn’t in the spirit.
I’m glad they went together though. The relationship between a mother and daughter is far too deep to explain. Although different, the relationship between a father and his son is uniquely indescribable. Whenever Braden hurt, I felt pain. It’s hard to explain, but every caring father understands that reality. Of course, as men we certainly can’t let our feelings show. Still when he dealt with struggles, it was as if it was happening to me personally.
In the Old Testament, reading about Abraham taking his son to an alter to kill him as a sacrifice to God is insane. I can’t fathom choosing or allowing my only son to die for any reason. Moreover, I could never allow him to die for the sake of someone far less deserving.
Yet, that’s exactly what our Heavenly Father did to His son, Jesus. He purposely planned well before we were created to send His only son to a lost world, allowing Him to be the perfect and final sacrifice. One the world could have never produced. Murdered on a tree so we who are completely undeserving could be saved and brought into relationship with our Creator.
Easter, like no other season confirms how much God loves us. It affirms that we are saved from our sin and given the free gift of eternal life in Him.
For that I am grateful and forever hopeful.
Written on Easter weekend 2019 – By Cathy Speed
Anyone who has ever met me knows this has been the hardest year of my life. And I’ve had some rough ones. Today I’ve been thinking a lot about Easter SATURDAY… The day nothing happened.
Before the big event that truly changed everything, there’s Saturday, when we prepare for Easter. We mow grass for egg hunts, easter outfits ready… dye the eggs… We celebrate Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified and Easter Sunday, the death defying, grave defeating, hope and joy inspiring day of His resurrection. But Saturday is silent. And I will never again see Easter Saturday the same.
Never has Easter SATURDAY spoken to me like it does this year. It was the day when hope seemed lost. It was all over, and there was no reason to think anything would change. Disciples were alone. Everything they had believed in seemed lost and their souls were crushed. No answer seemed possible. The crowds had gone home.
The Saturday after Good Friday is the only day in over 2000 years that not one single person on earth believed that Jesus was alive. No one could understand God’s plan. This year, that day speaks loudly to me. While we wait to see what on earth God’s plan could possibly be. I’ve been an extremely unwilling participant in His plan this time. Mine seemed so much better. I’ve had quite a few arguments with Him.
Right now it’s still Saturday and heaven feels quiet. Why did there have to be a Saturday in between the day every hope and dream seemed crushed, and the joy and answers God had planned? It’s hard to figure out what to do on Saturday, hard to hold onto the belief that God has to have a plan. But if Jesus could be found in a grave on Saturday, If He could be found in hell itself, is there anywhere that I can’t find Him?
So I have chosen today to trust God’s promise that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning”. Even though I don’t like this plan I’ve had to live, I will choose to believe our “Sunday” is on the way. And know that His work on the cross was finished, but His plan for me is not.
“Dad. Don’t take anything for granted. This is all temporary and fleeting. Be assured that God’s greatest gift is not temporary but eternal life” Braden
“We miss you, son”. Braden’s family
Not to be negative, but I really dislike online meetings.
They’re distant, cold, and uncomfortable. And while I’m complaining, I’ve grown weary of every conversation being solely about this epidemic. Social and public media run rampant with every variety of opinion and spin. Let’s face it. As human beings, we all work to fill-in-the blanks to appease our minds and to grapple with foreign emotions. That’s what we do best when left open to “Not Knowing”.
For ours and several earlier generations, strife and uncertainty are completely new concepts. This certainly applies to me. I’ve never had to wonder if my job and income or investments would still be there on Monday or if the grocery store would have eggs or bread (or even more important, toilet paper). Uncertainty is now a new reality.
Our family has been house-bound several weeks now, but we count ourselves blessed to at least have some space and breathing room. I feel for those in metropolitan areas locked in their small apartments or worse. We at least have a front and back yard with plenty of space in the house to “distance” when things get too close for comfort.
Talk about “work/life” balance. I sequester my job upstairs on two desktop screens, “clocking in” at 8am every morning and clocking out at 4:30pm. At the end of each day, I come downstairs and try to make things humorous, to lighten things and to build in some traditions that make life seem somewhat normal. Still, we all know life is not “normal” right now.
Our family views online church services, “Hope” devotionals, and daily live feeds from various sources trying to stay connected spiritually. This Sunday morning we even woke to find Caitlin watching Hope Fellowship on her phone. She, like all of us hungers for things to return to routine.
Cait does her virtual dance regimen three or four days each week which has kept her somewhat on track and occupied. Still, nothing online can equate with real social contact. Touching. Hugging. Shaking hands. Eye contact. Human Connection.
Today, our extended family gathered around computer screens across the country and held a “Zoom” family reunion. This is a virtual app I’d never used before. The screen resembles the opening theme of the Brady Bunch where multiple users can see one another. I actually liked it for once.
We were able to all get just a glimpse inside one another’s’ living spaces and to share our unique yet similar experiences. We saw the newest addition to our family in Georgia and cousins from Tennessee. We all shared laughs about the current rush on toilet paper and how we all need to be “aware of the square”. TMI!
As we connected just over a half hour today I began feeling differently about virtual connection. I could see faces of the people I love most in this world. We were each able to tell our own stories and to share our struggles, at least to some extent.
Then… suddenly without warning, the app timed out. Our screens all went blank.
If you don’t know, “Zoom” is limited to 40 minutes and none of us had been aware. Just as we’d become comfortable and feeling connected, our time together had come to a sudden and unexpected end.
Isn’t that the way life goes when we think it’s all going our way? We think things will always just remain the same. It’s always been that way. However, in the past month uncertainty has become more real and evident to every one of us. What we’ve relied upon as a constant can be gone in an instant.
Many have lost loved ones. Businesses. Jobs. Health. Security. Comfort. Normalcy. All, gone without warning.
After the family call today, Cathy and I sat down at the kitchen table over a puzzle we’ve been working on together. It’s a way to take our minds off of the worries of the world and relax. As she and I found missing pieces together and bragged about who was finding the most, I heard myself blurt out what was on my heart.
“I’m really missing Braden”. Honestly, I was shocked to hear it come out, but she immediately confirmed that she felt the same. In our family frame during the online family call, our son was not with us. He had gone so quickly and without warning.
During and following this temporary crisis, we encourage families to take the time God has appointed to love and care for one another. Re-connect by whatever means possible during this relatively brief moment in time.
Children and family are blessings we too often take as a given. Instead, take advantage of these times rather than considering them without benefit. Parents, let’s grow in our own faith during trials and model a faithful life for our children to rest in God’s everlasting peace.
We never know how long we will have the opportunity to do so.
“Expect the unexpected. Remember this is a spiritual war and although battles will rage, be assured it has already been won.” – Braden
“Lord, through our experience we’ve come to trust that You remain with us even during the very darkest moments of our lives. We trust that You are in control and that Your plan is far greater than any we could imagine.” – Braden’s Dad
Shocked. Sad. Angry. Empty. Alone. Fearful.
These are just a few emotions our family feels this week. Likely, you could add to the list. One Prosper family lost their 2-year old baby boy last week and I’m confident they feel these very same emotions, yet for a different reason. Loss is loss. Grief is grief. Our prayers go out to this hurting family in the middle of multiple crises.
Following a recent job change, a shift at home in schooling, and with numerous other demands, life has become suddenly overwhelming. It’s been a strain at every level just to keep the wheels on the bus. Add this global virus, which hasn’t happened in more than 100 years to add fuel to the flame.
This week reminds me of an evening some time ago when Cathy asked if I could fill up her car with gas. She was running low and had to get the kids to school the next morning. This was a cold winter evening about 10PM and to be honest, I was not in a gracious spirit. Why hadn’t she let me know earlier in the day?
I dragged myself off the couch, shaking my head asking, “How low are you?” She replied, “I think it’s near empty”. Great, I grumbled under my breath. Grabbing her keys, I slammed the car door and jammed the key into the ignition. A warning light instantly illuminated along with an annoying chime for low fuel level. As I started the engine, the same warnings were blinking, but with a banner:
Miles to Empty: 0
Really? Are you kidding me? How can that be? You can’t run a car on a completely empty tank!
Making my way to the filling station, I had to avoid the compelling desire to drive at a normal or faster speed just to get there. It was late. It was cold. I had to be at work the next morning and I certainly didn’t need to be stranded relying on a neighbor to help me find a way to get some gas.
I remained in control. Creeping slowly forward, turning off the heater, dimming the headlights, turning off the stereo, and moving like a snail. Holding my breath and even leaning forward which obviously helped.
Finally, I was sitting at the gas pump fuelling up the Explorer and wondering how in the world I’d made it. The gas gauge had been far south of empty and although the car’s computer had calculated it was completely out of fuel, there must have been something left in the tank.
Right now, many of us are running on tanks well below “E”. Our family certainly is. Only three weeks ago, we all heard the news about this foreign flu virus that originated from the other side of the globe and today it’s arrived here with a full dose of disruption, uncertainty, and fear.
Confession. Lately, when I go to the grocery store I try to act casual like everything is normal. Passing through the meat, dairy, and bread aisles I begin to get a queasy feeling. “My God, there’s literally no food. What will happen if things don’t return to normal soon?” I might be wrong, but I suspect most of us feel the same: Out of energy and out of control.
Parents, although we like to think we’re in control, the harsh reality is we aren’t. Just take a glance at the world around us right now. Due to factors outside our reach, our families are being negatively affected. It’s particularly hard to see it on the faces of our kids.
Carona is called a “novel virus”, but it’s not novel. It’s just another version of the same thing that has existed since the world was created. We’re all humans and this is a fallen world in need of saving.
We’re all inclined to burnout at some point. We can become deeply discouraged, exhausted, fearful, and sometimes we feel we can’t take one more step. I feel that way lately, and I still fight my human nature to naively think I’ve got a handle on everything around me.
When I get honest with myself and when I fall prone to the weight of this world, acknowledging that I’m completely out of control helps me find peace. My Heavenly Father has this. He always has and always will. This “novel virus” is just another variation on the same old story.
Our Creator knows His children and remains in full control. I’m going to trust Him and try to just rest easy.
Prayer for Readers
Heavenly Father, we pray over our communities, families, and individuals who are in the midst of crisis and uncertainty at this very moment. Grant us wisdom, peace, and healing both physical and spiritual. Be with those across the world who are experiencing every variety of emotion. They are experiencing loss, sickness, separation, and desperation.
Remind us to look to You alone when we feel empty and out of control.
“Dad, if you had only one thing you would tell people about this experience, what would it be? No pressure here”. Braden
“I’ve learned that what I once considered to be important pales in comparison to a personal relationship with Jesus”. Braden’s Dad
Recently, I met again with a friend (my ex-boss) for coffee. We’ve met more frequently since our moves to Dallas following a major corporate overhaul. I’ve come to look forward to these brief moments over a cup of Starbucks. She likes the fancy version and I just order their plain drip. This morning was my turn to buy. It was an interesting conversation as they always are, but this one was different.
All my life, I’ve been on the standard upwardly mobile career track with the same company and throughout those years, I always looked ahead to that next level, job assignment, or tier of achievement. Sacrificing whatever it took to reach the “next level” and to gain another stripe for my prideful shoulder and career reputation. Isn’t that just what we do?
Through a series of promotions and/or re-locations over the years, my company placed me into various leadership roles, each presenting its own set of challenges but bringing recognition and another achievement notch to add to my career belt.
After an initial move to a first line leadership position in 1994, moving to San Antonio, I later promoted again in 1997. When that job offer was presented, I was only listening to hear if I was demoted or promoted. During a reorganization those are your options. My answer came. “Mark, you are being offered a Team Manager position in College Station, Texas. Do you accept?”
All I heard was, ” Offered a Team Manager position”. The part about the opportunity being located in a remote central Texas community called College Station went past me. I’d never even visited the place. I immediately blurted my answer. “I Accept”.
That’s the way my career worked during that season of life. For the sake of exposure, an offer to promote or even just move was to be accepted, no matter where or when, nor if it involved moving to the moon or possibly even worse, College Station. It was, after all, the almighty “PROMOTION”.
That move to College Station (which we in Texas fondly refer to as AggieLand) was challenging. The only thing in AggieLand is Texas A&M University and co-eds. I won’t share my age at that time, but I wasn’t college co-ed material. Thankfully, my best friend living in Houston and his girlfriend knew a friend named Cathy See. Cathy and I met and married soon after a hilarious and memorable blind date.
After starting our family with Braden two years old, we ultimately moved again to Houston where I worked for a manager who shared my background growing up in a cotton farming community in west Texas. Although we shared that common history, she remained tough with me.
She was the kind of manager that, if you didn’t perform well you better look for another job. She was not hesitant in the least about addressing performance shortfall. Still, although tough, her team respected her because she was fair.
Over a short period of time, this manager came to know and appreciate my ability to perform. We even shared personal experiences surrounding the challenges of family and raising little boys. I still recall her asking and being sincerely concerned about the struggles we faced at home while juggling work demands.
That was about 18 years ago.
Fast forward. In mid-2018 I decided job promotions and managerial stripes were no longer important in light of the demands on me at home and Braden’s need for a dad. I chose to step down and to take a road less traveled. Leaving leadership by choice was actually a promotion in a way. For myself and our family it would provide additional benefits of work/life balance and time with them, although it meant a significant financial shift.
My ex-boss and I have now become friends. We meet for coffee once in a while to catch up with our families and to talk about life. Just recently, we did just that. As she sipped her fancy coffee, she stopped and looked sharply into my eyes.
“Mark, I have a question I’ve been really wanting to ask for awhile.”
“Ok, ask me anything, I replied”. I’ll never forget her question.
“What is the most impactful thing you’ve learned about faith through this experience?”
Typically, when asked a question from someone I might be trying to impress or convince in an interview, I’ll think very deliberately and speak very carefully. Yet, my answer came before I could even stop myself.
I asked, “Do you remember when I worked for you?”
“Do you recall that you rated my performance based on what I did or what I did not do, subject to your own expectations of me?”
“Well… Yes”, she answered, wondering where this was going.
“Then, let me ask you something in answering your question: While we’ve been sharing coffee this morning, have you one single time even given a thought as to how I’ve spoken or presented myself to you?”
“Certainly not. No.”
“Have you once been concerned that I might say or do something that fell below or outside your expectations of me?”
“Well, of course not, Mark.”
“That, my friend is the most important thing I’ve learned. We no longer give thought to superior versus subordinate. We have developed a relationship. ”
I told her, before I surrendered my life to Christ that horrific night in October, I always believed God existed to measure my performance on this earth. He was the judge of what I said, did, or what I didn’t do. I perceived that His purpose was to gauge my performance and measure the results I provided.
And I always fell far below His expectations.
Through this very personal experience, I’ve come to now realize that my Creator loves me unconditionally. Period. He even prefers that I mess up once in awhile, because after all I am only human. If I had it all together, there’d be no need for Him. He simply wants me to fall down so I can look up to Him.
That’s what I’ve learned and I’m really glad my friend asked the question.
Coincidentally, after writing and posting this short story Saturday night, this morning’s Sunday message at church was in line and informative. The pastor said God (YWH -Yaweh) is beyond the NEED for anything at all. Yet still, He DESIRES a relationship with us because He is a “relational God”.
How perfectly amazing and truly unique is this characteristic in the one TRUE God. He’s not needful, but yet He is desirous of one and only one thing and that is the love of His children. He’ll never demand it, but He desires it.
IF we have a real relationship with Him, shouldn’t we strive to please our Creator knowing what He desires? Shouldn’t we also lead our families in the same way? I’ll keep trying… and YaWeH will eternally grant His grace and unconditional love when I fall below my own expectations.
Heavenly Father, thanks for those minor moments in our lives when we are given the chance to realize things are really very simple when we just stop and listen. Thanks for helping me realize ALL you desire is a relationship with us. Continue revealing who You are to us and to those we can serve as witnesses. Help us a parents to love our children unconditionally as you do your children.
“Lately, I’ve felt no emotion. Like a barren dry desert. Then, tears begin to fall out of nowhere…” Braden’s dad
“Daddy, you think you have it all together. You don’t. You think it will end. But it won’t. You can keep the tears at bay for awhile, but don’t be surprised when they spill over the dam of your own strength. You have a flood of emotion still yet to be felt. Only God can get you through.” – Braden
It’s finally done. The book is published and behind us. The final chapter and epilogue to the story have been written, edited, vetted through at least ten proofs, and placed onto paper for all to read. A year of blogs I never thought I’d write are now pressed permanently between the covers of a book and placed onto a shelf to begin collecting dust. Thank God, it’s over.
Then again, it’s never really “done”.
This “old dog” is learning a lot of new things lately with now recently two different career transitions. Having stepped out of a leadership role just prior to Braden’s death, I have been selected to do yet another completely different job within my company. It keeps me on my toes to develop new skills and to remain my most effective.
I’m also learning some other personal lessons. Mainly, about this strange thing called grief. It’s completely new to me and it has an aspect I never considered possible. Specifically, grieving can be ever-present and never ending.
Of course, it evolves. Our grief today isn’t as intense as it was in the very beginning but still, it is not gone and may likely never be. They say time heals. It’s been fourteen months and time has helped some by presenting distractions of work and life. But time hasn’t done its job well. It hasn’t healed.
Recently, we met with a local school board candidate. Cathy and I wanted to get to know about her background and philosophies regarding education and the need for culture change in our schools. I was listening to her share thoughts about school counseling, teaching, administration, and some initiatives we might be able to consider. However, as the conversation shifted into what BradensVoice’s mission was, I became inwardly emotional.
Our ultimate mission and vision for the non-profit organization we’ve formed is to have a peer-driven suicide awareness/ prevention program in every Texas school within our lifetime. As I shared this vision with our new friend, I became consciously aware that suddenly tears were coming to my eyes for the first time in months. I had to just shut down and collect myself. She never knew, but I did and it felt strange. “What was that about,” I thought.
Later that week, someone asked for a book to be signed and as I scribbled a personal message on the title page, my eyes filled with tears for absolutely no reason. As we watched a movie later that evening no one knew but I had tears rolling down my face out of nowhere. And it was a comedy, no less.
Even as I write this short story this early morning, a flood of tears blur my vision as they fall from my eyes. These are the first tears I’ve experienced in well over two months. This grief thing is a complete mystery to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been around it and have had losses in our family and extended family. Cathy lost both her parents and I was there when her dad died. I’ve mostly watched as others experienced grief, but my wife warned me it would happen some day and I wouldn’t be ready for a devastating loss like this. I have come to know several who have lost a child either through natural causes or by suicide.
One friend, Mike Martin, lost his entire family in a horrific car accident some years ago. I could never imagine the loss of our son and can’t fathom how my friend continued breathing after his entire family was taken in an instant. He and his wife, Penny are an awesome inspiration to us and to many, having not only overcome the tragedy but then moving forward with Christian ministry. How does that even make sense?
As cliche as it sounds, I suppose it has to do with God allowing bad things to happen which offers us each an opportunity to wither or to grow in our faith. That’s what my friend would tell me. And he should know more than anyone. Even after having a new start and a beautiful second family, I’m confident Mike still weeps from his grief, and he always will.
As mentioned, I’m learning new things at work and in life through our experiences and those of friends who have lost loved ones. What I’m learning is no matter how certain our future seems, God’s plan can look entirely different and His new map could arrive at any moment in any of our mailboxes.
I’ve learned that faith, family, and friends are the three most important things in this life. God never wants His children to hurt, but He loves us enough to allow it and to hold us up and dry our tears when we weep. He only wants us to be confirmed that we can’t stand on our own strength and must rely solely upon Him.
I’ve learned that no matter how long or brief our lifespan might be, we have a short time here on this earth and that grief comes with the territory. I’ve learned that tears will come when I least expect them but that God will dry those tears in His everlasting love.
Prayer for Readers
Lord, thank you for being there to dry our tears when we hurt. Thank you for blessings we too often take for granted. Remind us daily of those blessings and allow us to come to you for assurance that this is temporary and You are eternal. We pray for those who need that assurance right this minute as they are in dark places and need your light. We pray in Your Son’s name, Jesus. Amen
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
“We all have good days and bad. Ups and downs. Keep mindful that without darkness you won’t truly experience light.” – Braden
“Thanks for this reminder, son. We miss you so much and long to see you in the everlasting light of Heaven”. Dad
We are officially a “Dance Family”. Much of our time is spent preparing or performing. Not me. I just watch… and pay. Confession: I never knew how expensive this was until I had a “Dance Daughter”. Might be cheaper to put her under a private Olympics coach!
Most popular sports have a season. The NFL just closed out their most recent football season with the annual Superbowl, establishing the national championship team. Those players are now in their off-season, preparing for next Spring. Dance is constant. I’ve come to wonder if there even is an off-season.
Cait recently had a winter season “Dance Soiree”. Eighty (80) dances in one day. We love to watch Caitlin dance, but a 77:3 ratio of watching dances our daughter isn’t in is a lot (in one dad’s opinion). Still, I forged through, fighting the urge to play a game on my IPhone.
Sitting at the large white linen-covered round table, I turned our chairs around to face the stage. Having lost one child, one tends to appreciate what too many take for granted. In that mindset, it was more enjoyable to soak in the moment. We listened and watched their routines, enjoying what they were doing as they showed off their very best efforts to a supportive audience of parents.
Modern dance can be… let’s just say… different. During one set, the music sounded like an extended electrical short of hissing and buzzing without melody or lyrics. Still, there were people in the room who were moved to tears because it was their child.
There were sets with jazz and tap. Some with rap, and still others with a slow and elegant lyrical style. They all had every heart in the crowd moved in some way.
As kids, my brother and I were encouraged to take piano lessons. We were much more inclined to riding bikes, playing trucks in the field, or having dirt clod fights. To appease our parents, we took our lessons at the piano. We each alternated 30 minute sessions, keeping a timer. Mom sat pointing to each note and placing our finger positioning for scales, practiced over and over… and over and over. Once more with feeling, playing the scales. Again and again.
Mike and I hated piano lessons and I learned little more than proper posture. Also, we learned the notes on the scales and how they translated to the instrument. Like a puzzle, putting the notes together produced a song. Songs like “Camptown Ladies” and “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain”. The classics.
Later in life, I found this basic training helped me learn to play a guitar which I actually enjoy. Guess it was worth the effort after all.
We also learned the white keys are “whole” notes. Playing only white keys produces a major chord. The black keys are called “half” notes and form a minor chord. Not to get too deep into musical theory, the black piano keys make a flat or sharp sound in a melody. Blended properly, a minor chord makes a sound that is thoughtful, somber, or even sad.
I’m not exactly sure how this works but a minor tone in a song immediately affects the listener’s emotion. Think of the theme for the movie, Forest Gump for example. You know, the feather floating around at the opening. That song is loaded with minor notes to produce emotion with the movie audience. If you recall the plot, Gump had a lot of triumphs as well as many tragedies.
Why would we want to include minor notes in a song? Who wants to feel sad when listening to music, watching a dance “soiree” or a feel-good movie? It’s because when the sad and joyful sounds blend together, they make a beautiful song. Hope is woven into the melody along with sadness. A well written song with both parts can be an amazing thing to experience.
In this life, we all have our ups and downs. Without them, life would be boring and without color. Life is a melody made of major and minor chords. Sometimes they seem like one huge dark minor note but more often they are blended together and balance with one another. As much as I hate to admit it, I wouldn’t want a life without some ups and downs… and the hope that lies in trusting Jesus to bring light in our darkness. Hope in Him sustains.
Lord, thank you for the hope you bring in finding joy even in the midst of despair. Thanks for blessings like a dancing daughter who brings light when things look so dark at times. You provide hope and peace beyond understanding. Be with those today who are in the middle of a very dark moment in their life and remind them You alone should be their song. It is in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
“Son, did you ever experience real joy in your lifetime here?” – Braden’s Dad
“Dad, I occasionally felt happy when something good happened, but it never lasted. I’m glad I had a relationship with Jesus. I now live in eternal joy.” – Braden
Meet my identical twin brother, Mike. If you can tell which one he is, you’re better than me. It took me a long time to decide I’m the one on the left… I think.
“The twins”. That’s what we were called throughout our childhood years by many, including our parents, friends, and relatives. Our dad loved us like crazy but still liked to tease. We looked so much alike that he’d kid us by saying, “Hey, where’s your ugly brother?” Thank goodness we didn’t have thin skin!
Growing up together, Mike and I were best friends and the worst of enemies. We fought against each other at home and defended each other in the world. Mike would die for me and I for him. There were also occasions we wanted to kill each other. Our twin brother stories would fill volumes. Maybe I’ll write that book someday. There’ll be a special chapter just about dressing the same and getting the same gifts. What’s the deal with that?
Being a twin is a unique blessing, especially when your brother is an exact mirror image of yourself. When you finish each other’s sentences or can share a memory that you only recall partially but he can complete it, that’s very rare. According to biology, we were literally “identical”. At least that’s what I thought until just a few years ago.
All my life I believed since we looked, talked, walked, and thought alike we must be identical. After all, our relatives often jokingly called us “Mi-ark” to hedge their guess when they couldn’t tell us apart. We traded classes and even once swapped dates as a prank to see if we could get away with it. One of us did, and it wasn’t me. When the concept of personalized license plates started, I ordered “2-Alike” for my 1976 Cutlass Supreme. Is there any better evidence of “twin-ness”?
Years later, someone asked, “Are you guys identical?” As always, I proudly responded, “Yes”. But our mother interjected, “No, Mark. You boys were born in different birth sacks. That technically makes you ‘fraternal'”. She had to have her facts wrong. Mike and I were just too close with too many similarities.
I have to admit, losing our uniqueness in being identical twins was a bummer. After all, that had always been our identity… until that moment of truth.
An interesting aside: Some months ago our pastor at Hope Fellowship spoke on the topic of joy and happiness. He talked about how much they might look alike but in reality, are very different. I’d always just assumed the two were synonyms.
More on this in a moment.
We recently became friends with a family who has shared our tragic experience. They lost their son only a few months after Braden. Their boy was often the life of the party at social events. He was outgoing, successful in sports and most anything at which he tried his hand. Yet, as so many youth do today, he still considered himself alone and missing something.
One night after leaving a college party, he called his mom and dad in desperation. He couldn’t take life any longer. There was not one single person he could say he felt intimately close with. Even in a crowd, he felt empty. Alone.
How can that even be possible? From his father’s account, this young man seemed happy. He was always with others, interacting, and laughing. Yet, still he was depressed to the point he didn’t want to continue living. Before his parents could get to him, sadly their son had taken his own life.
Their story is far too common today and lands very close to home. Many details these parents shared have reminded us of our own experience. These young men might have been very different in personality and in social settings, but they both shared a lack in the same thing over which they were both willing to end their lives: A lack of lasting and true joy.
Returning to Pastor John’s sermon: Happiness versus joy. The two descriptors initially appear to be identical. However, I’ve come to the conclusion they’re vastly different.
Happiness is an involuntary and temporary feeling. It’s very much in the moment. Be it a piece of good news or a humorous joke, happiness can last a minute, an hour, or even a season. However, it’s always fleeting.
In contrast, joy is a conscious choice and if practiced can become a permanent characteristic. Joy rises above the moment and the seasons. It thrives even in the midst of darkness, anxiety, fear, and grief. Joy can exist when all evidence would indicate the person should feel in misery and desolation.
The pastor went on to say that lasting and eternal joy comes only from having a personal relationship with our Creator through Jesus. You can lease happiness for a brief time, but you can’t buy joy. It’s totally free of cost if we simply choose it. Suddenly, it dawned on me the differences between happiness and joy are as large as the Grand Canyon.
In learning more about our friends’ son and knowing ours well, I’ve come to the conclusion that both young men were actually happy at times. Some days more than others. What they held in common was the missing piece that helps us go on when all seems hopeless. Their missing piece was missing peace in something called true joy.
I can’t speak for our friends’ son. Although I’m confident Braden had a personal relationship with Jesus, I’m not convinced he chose joy in the very darkest moments of his life. We believe he was being barraged in a spiritual battle for having maintained hope for so long. You see, Satan hates joyous people and will go to any length to ensure it gets zapped by this world.
Looking back, I’m not so sure I did a good job in modeling joy as defined here to our son. To him, the way I lived my life and how the world looked to him appeared too much alike to be a reason to choose his joy. In our trials of life, did I personally choose joy or was I just blending in and coasting along, satisfied just being happy in the moment?
I’ve been encouraged to not live in the past by continually questioning the “what ifs”. We are to move forward, learning from yesterday’s mistakes, even when today many of them continue to look too much the same.
Today, as we stayed home from church with a sick Caitlin, we watched the live stream of the Sunday message from Hope Fellowship. As they baptized several members, the worship team sang a song I’ve always loved and felt compelled to include the lyrics today. May the words remind readers and those in dark places there is a real reason we should choose joy in Christ.
Lord, let us grasp the difference and help us choose joy in knowing You over temporary happiness. The latter is empty and worthless. The former is eternal and a valuable treasure. Amen
Who You Say I Am ~ Hillsong Worship
Who am I that the highest King Would welcome me? I was lost but He brought me in. His love for me Who the Son sets free, is free indeed. I’m a child of God! Yes I am Free at last, He has ransomed me His grace runs deep. While I was a slave to sin, Jesus died for ME! I am chosen, Not forsaken, I am who You say I am. You are for me, Not against me. I am who You say I am. In my Father’s house There’s a place for ME. I’m a child of God, yes I am!
“Lord, help. How many are there dealing with this problem?” Braden’s Dad
“More than you could even fathom, Dad. Most aren’t ever reported because they don’t succeed. Even more want to try, but they’re afraid. They’re at risk and no one is even aware.” – Braden
This week, I received a note from a desperate mom. She’d just gone through two draining days in a local ER and was buried in red tape to get her suicidal teen admitted into a treatment facility. Her child wanted to take their own life and she had no insurance or means to pay for needed care. In west Texas-speak, “That’s one helluva note”.
We put out the word on social media and were blessed to have a number of donations through our non-profit organization called “BradensVoice”. Through readers’ generosity, we were able to give them enough funds to get and pay for a full two months of insurance premiums. [THANKS to those who contributed. It meant the world to this family].
By taking the bold and courageous step of getting help for her teen, this mom prevented a crisis from becoming a tragedy… at least for the time being.
Cathy and I recently met and talked with her. We spent several hours sharing stories and discussing cause-and-effect of schools and social culture in correlation with depression, anxiety, and suicide in this generation of teens. Her child had been deemed “At Risk” due to learning difficulties at a very young age. Ironically, the child’s IQ was at genius level, although reading was difficult.
We are praying for this family, as we do for all impacted by mental health issues. I’m confident they will navigate and trust God will guide their way.
I’ll never forget the first time we realized Braden had ADHD, and therefore “At Risk”. It scared me to think he would struggle to transition successfully into the responsibilities of adulthood. The battles this mother described with the schools, teachers, and administrators was exhausting just to hear, much less have to live. However, we did live them at times, in our own way.
We shared our own challenges with PPSP: “Parenting and Public School Politics”. Frankly, as we talked I became increasingly upset about circumstances, some of which Cathy knew but I’d not been fully aware. Public school systems are not presently well-suited to consistently help kids who are struggling. Specifically, those who are a square peg and not designed to fit into a round hole.
Today, more and more kids feel like “square pegs” on the inside even though, on the outside they look completely well-rounded. Some of these kids, if not a majority, are silently screaming “help” while drowning in pressures from parents, school, peers, college expectations, sports and the drama of social media. I would submit, these children are “at risk” as much or more than kids who typically get labeled with ADHD, dyslexia, autism, or other disabilities.
Each one of these conditions are labeled very specifically in medical journals, which makes dealing with them and compartmentalizing them much easier for everyone, in theory. The less convenient problem, which most will admit if they get honest, is that of the common child who gets along well with others, doesn’t fall behind academically, maybe excels at sports or another area, but who is destitute inside, not feeling purpose or true personal connection.
I have come to know many families who have lost a young person to suicide. There is no single profile, but rather every one is as unique as a thumbprint. One stands out, as their son was considered a very popular young man. Handsome, successful in school, and in most every sense well on his way to a hopeful future. Still, sadly he was missing a depth in relationship with “friends” and just thirsting for more. He took his own life without warning and it shocked the world around him.
Recently, in “Common Ground”, I wrote about the commonality a large number of today’s youth express in feeling a lack of deep connection with others. They feel alone in a large over-crowded world, many grappling with private pain. Many turn to self-harm or contemplate taking their own life.
Some will say, “That’s just part of growing up”, but the pressures our kids feel today are not the healthy kind nor at a sustainable level. Check the stats. Kids are killing themselves or attempting to do so at alarming rates today. Many are not going quite so far, but they are self-harming. In the past, these instances were extremely rare and far between. Now, we hear of so many kids involved with these thoughts or behaviors it’s become commonplace.
We have recently become more aware of how schools are required by mandate to provide very specific help for students, but many school districts aren’t following the rules set in place. Many of us don’t even know about the educational and mental health laws and regulations in place to deal with kids who are “At Risk”. I’m guilty.
Sadly, most school administrators, board members, and teachers have only a cursory knowledge about the laws and benefits state legislators have formed in this area. That’s not meant as an indictment, but parents MUST get proactively informed, and if we don’t remain in tune with our children, they are all at risk.
Today’s children are smart, savvy, and in-tune with us as parents. We should be even more in-tune with them. We need to ask them and routinely gauge their pressure in the areas of academics, peers, sports, etc. Let’s also involve them in a church community and model what it looks like to have our sole purpose and identity in Christ.
Kids are wrapped too tightly today with the stressors of their culture. As we teach them the way they should go, let’s model where to go for their source of peace in the midst of worry and fear.
Also, I’m personally doing the research and encourage you to do so in your own community. Know the people serving on our school boards Show appreciation for their service. Vote for change if they are uninformed about programs and regulations our state mandates to provide needed help. Because aren’t they all at risk?
Prayer for Parents
“Heavenly Father, guide us in our role to play an active part in knowing our children better and modeling lives they will find inspiring enough to draw them to You. Provide us the needed wisdom and discernment in our leadership of Your children.
We also pray over those kids who are out there right now feeling alone and hopeless in a busy and over-expecting world. Let them know they only need to seek You and there they will find peace beyond understanding. In Your Son, Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
“Dad, you’re not going to fix everything. This is bigger than you. You can’t save everyone but thanks for trying.” – Braden
“Son, I know… trust me. This is bigger than us, but it’s much smaller than God. If we save even one, it’s more than worth it.” – Braden’s dad
Lately, I’ve been writing more frequently for some reason. When I began this endeavor, honestly I thought there would be maybe two or three times I’d “blog”. If you follow, I hope you understand there’s no rhyme nor reason in when things pop into mind. Sometimes it feels like one of those hand-eye coordination games where you hit the weasel as it pops up.
I never see a topic coming, but when a thought rears its head, I feel compelled to clock it with a hammer of a brief (and hopefully meaningful) message. I call this the “Chucky Cheese Effect”. Not really.
Since October 2018, I’ve been in transition mode. Working a full time hourly job after leaving my leadership role of over 25 years. I’ve been learning a new job just to pay the bills, keeping gas in the tank, food on the table, and dance expenses paid.
I’m still glad I took the less traveled road and wouldn’t go back for twice the price. Without the pressures and demands of my prior job, in its place have come chances to relax in the opportunity to reflect, write, and see where BradensVoice.org will go. Also to just think about the enormity of what we have experienced in the past 18 months.
Tonight as I’ve done for several nights, thoughts return to the evening before Braden took his life. He’d driven home in the dark after his final counseling session. Our counselor and now friend had called Cathy saying he was very concerned.
Braden had been on a new anxiety medication and doing, what we felt was pretty good. However, we came to learn he had the roughest counseling session ever, spending the entire time crying uncontrollably and in complete turmoil. However, at the very end of the late evening consultation, he sat up and asked his counselor a sobering question.
“If I killed myself, would I still be able to go to Heaven?”
Can you imagine being the counselor, the friend, or the parent to answer such a question? The answer was spot-on and I’d answered the same: “You can’t un-sin your way into salvation and you can’t sin your way out of it. If you trust in Christ and have a relationship with Him, you are in the Book of Life. Yes. With God’s grace, you will go to Heaven no matter the sin”.
To hear his counselor tell what happened next confirms Braden was thinking of leaving. He describes his countenance as a visible glow of peace. Braden had asked us several times if he would go to Heaven if he took his own life and we confirmed it so. He was ready.
That night, we watched a movie together and out of the corner of my eye, I watched him. He was grappling with something I sensed he could no longer deal with. He had a bat in his hand he liked to hold for comfort. He just kept spinning it around on the floor, while staring down.
I was very sad and frankly at the end of my rope as a dad. “Son, I want you to know your mom and dad would do anything on this earth we could do to help you right now”. He replied, “Dad, there isn’t one thing you can do. In fact, there is nothing I would want you to do. At this point, I don’t even want it to get better”.
I hugged him and said, “I love you son. Good night.” He replied, “I love you too, dad. Good night.” Those were the last words Braden said to me on this earth.
The next day, our son was gone.
Every step I’ve taken. Every decision we’ve made about our purpose with BradensVoice has been based upon this final experience with our son. I’ll never forget those visual and emotional final moments. The hopelessness in all our eyes. They keep me striving to help in some way to save those in similar circumstances. It’s our new purpose.
A good friend shared the well known story of the starfish. The little boy throwing starfish into the sea to save them from death on a dry beach. A man comes along scoffing and saying, “You can’t save all those starfish” and the boy replies as he tosses one more into the life saving sea, “I just saved that one”.
Recently, we’ve learned of other school districts taking on the Hope Squad model. This is a culture-changing and proven life- saving program. It’s currently in all Prosper middle and high schools and to launch into elementary schools in the Fall.
We continue to speak when invited and will do so again at Rock Creek Church to a youth group in March. Every single breath and effort is towards helping to save and make lives.
We recently set up a non-profit called BradensVoice.org which has the ultimate mission of having a peer-driven suicide prevention program in every Texas public school. We hope you will support and pray for this life-saving initiative.
Lord, the night I surrendered to you, the deal was I’d give you my life, body, and mind in order to keep others from experiencing our loss. You amaze me at the response to this prayer of surrender. I pray each and every day over those who are facing a similar darkness and that You will hopefully use us as messengers to help save even one.
“My story isn’t rare, dad. Talk of suicide is a daily conversation”. – Braden
“If you aren’t bent towards depression and suicide, you’re considered an oddity. In fact you are left out because anyone and everyone should be suicidal given the condition of the world”. Coffee house barista
Several months ago, we received a private message from a reader named David. He’d been praying for our family every day since we began writing. This was a complete stranger who wanted to meet me at some point so we could get to know one another’s stories.
I’m blessed he did. David owns and operates a local coffeehouse and café in old town Plano, Texas. He offered to treat me to a cup of coffee. I responded, “You had me at free”. Never had I expected anything like what I experienced.
We met on a late Monday afternoon since my current job has me reporting on a time clock at 8AM. I’m glad we settled on a late meeting because I had the opportunity to meet his late shift barista team of youth.
David and I talked for a long time. Sharing God stories of ways He surprises us if we simply surrender and listen. He offered his coffee house to help our cause in any way possible. We agreed, God has something to show us both in 2020 and we have no idea yet what it will be. But it will be impactful.
As David and I were winding down, the conversation shifted to the impact of social media on our youth. I mentioned wanting to find the best social media platform to bring awareness or our ministry and our message, asking where might young people tune in?
Instantly, David turned and waved over a young man who had been wiping down the counter behind the cash register. It was almost as if to say, “C’mon. You’re on deck”. David introduced me to the young man as the father of Braden Speed who had taken his life just months ago. I extended a handshake and in that moment instantly felt a common bond.
This young man looked right through me and said, “Mr. Speed, I completely understand what your son was dealing with. In fact, I know too well. You see, only two years ago I tried unsuccessfully to take my own life. I’m here today though and have learned so much. I’m glad I was not successful”.
He went on. “Social media is killing kids. I know because it was killing me. Everything was either negative talk about someone or something else or negative talk about ourselves. On Snapchat, the ‘Eyes Only’ feature is a place no one can view other than you and it’s a very dark place. Pictures captured of anything and everything you can imagine.”
He added, “On social media, you perceive others who are living their full lives but you aren’t invited and it doesn’t look at all like your own life. I deleted my account. I decided I didn’t need that negativity. I have never felt more free”.
This young man shared the disturbing fact that suicide is now a common topic among young people. Most times, it’s so prevalent that it remains an unspoken, but is a foundation of the current culture. Music and social media glorify suicidal ideation as the norm versus the rare exception it used to be.
My new friend then said that today’s teens joke about suicide as a way to make it less real because it is all too real in the minds of teens. This shook me to my core. Here’s this “kid” who looks a lot like my son, who survived the moment that took Braden but he’s breathing and talking about it with me.
I really wanted to hug this young stranger as the embodiment of our son who had survived suicide. We had instantly found common ground. I reached out my hand again.
“Buddy, I’ve never met you before and my opinion means very little but I’m proud of you. Dropping an addiction of social media is extremely rare. You have survived suicide and now you have a story to share. I hope you will tell it, and I hope we can do that together someday”.
He smiled confidently and replied, “I want to do that”.
As I arrived home that night, Cathy said she’d had contact from the Dallas CBS news affiliate looking to do a news piece on suicide but this time, rather than talking to parents, they wanted to talk with a panel of youth effected by suicide.
Cathy asked, “Mark, do we know any youth who would be good for this?”
“I just might. We shook hands just one hour ago”.
So many God moments. This was just one more of hundreds. Confirmation that God is in control and if we’ll listen and surrender, he’ll show the way. Who would have ever guessed out of a blog, we’d connect with another Braden. This one alive to be another voice and sharing common ground.
Lord, you blow me away in how You work when I surrender to Your will. Please keep me out of the way. Thank you for people whom you bring into our lives. They are like angels in a fallen world.
Thanks for showing us we have others in our lives who share common ground. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
“When people ask what they can do in despair, tell them to trust in Christ alone. That’s the missing piece all people need but too many fail to seek or to accept”. Braden
“Thanks for this reminder, son. I too often find myself frustrated by trying to force pieces together that look right but which don’t fit.” Braden’s Dad
The holiday season is behind us and let’s face it, there is some solace in returning to routine. After all, lax time around the season can get boring. Our kids annually put up a puzzle table to work while waiting for the “eventful” moments like opening gifts or a get together with friends. We don’t rush the project as it’s just a way to relax, talk, and laugh as we work to put the pieces in place.
This year, we worked on a pretty intricate puzzle. Honestly, it was my first time to participate as I tend to be impatient and give up after looking for the matching parts and failing for ten minutes or so. However, this year, I decided to play along and was somewhat encouraged and proud to say I found some success. Not to brag, but I got most of Santa Claus’ beard and bag done on my own.
As we neared completion, it began to look like we would finish before Christmas Day. The pace picked up as we could see the picture coming into full focus. We were only about ten pieces away from solving the puzzle when it became obvious some pieces were missing. Apparently, the dogs wanted to play along too and had gotten hold of three puzzle pieces, chewing them beyond recognition.
Here was this perfect picture and one we’d all worked with hopes of completing fully, but now it was futile. I mean, you can’t order one replacement part for a 2,000 piece puzzle so we were left a little discouraged. All our effort to complete the project and to make it suitable for framing fell short in the end. Oh, well. Maybe next year.
Since we began a not-for-profit ministry called “Braden’s Voice.org” there have been numerous opportunities to present to schools, churches, and youth groups. Most recently, I found myself in front of the congregation of the Prosper United Methodist Church. A ministry advocating for teen relationship-building and suicide awareness had never been on my radar. It certainly didn’t fit the puzzle of what my life would look like when I started.
Prior to that church presentation, Cathy and I were invited to speak with two church youth groups who gathered to discuss teen depression, culture, and relationships. The discussion was an open forum where we presented our story and the kids were asked to present honest questions.
It was going along great. We shared about life prior to the teen years and how changes presented challenges in the middle and high school years. How Braden found himself outside social circles looking in through a computer or phone screen. We talked about the false front social media puts on the world and how important it is to not fall for that façade.
The participation and engagement was outstanding. Several of the youth were outspoken as to their desire to make a difference in their culture and among their peers. I thought, “Wow. This is going well”. Then, we got a question that stumped me. It was from a teenage girl.
“Mr. Speed. All this talk about helping the Braden’s of the world is great. What can you tell us to do when we fall into despair, loneliness, or depression? What do we tell a friend who wants to hurt themselves and sees no hope in their world? What can you tell us about that?
… I have to admit I lost some breath at the bold question. This young lady was dead serious in her questions and desperately needing a real and practical answer. My response was knee jerk and I still regret how shallow it came out. “Talk with your minister, your parents, or a counselor”.
I still can see the look of disappointment in this child’s eyes when she heard the standard answer to such a heavy question until then, unasked. However, it was the most important question all night. I didn’t give her what she needed. After all, we had dealt with that very dilemma and as his parents, along with the capable help of counselors and ministers, we still couldn’t save him.
Through the following weeks after the youth group meeting, I prayed and sought wisdom on this most-important question. After a process of elimination of what DOES NOT work, I’m left with one solitary and crystal clear answer to the missing puzzle piece of a meaningful and valued life… simply this: Jesus Christ.
As I mentioned, we had a subsequent invitation to the Methodist Church several weeks after the youth group discussion. That week’s Advent candle was about Joy.
I knew the missing piece had to be identified and the answer had to be ready if and when the question was asked. The answer couldn’t be a traditional response: to get with the counselor or a parent. Although both are important, they are not the missing piece this and other teens need to identify.
So when Sunday at United Methodist came and I was again in front of now a full size church congregation, the pastor finally asked me the puzzling question: “Mark, our church has a number of teens today who you have an opportunity to speak into, following your family’s loss. What do you have to say to them?”
This time, my answer was better
“I know you are struggling right now. Some of you may even be thinking you don’t want to stay the course of your natural life. You may wish to leave early. I understand that and you need to know there is a better way. After living through this as a father, I’ve come to one conclusion, and that is to place your identity in no one nor in anything of this world”.
I went on. “I talk about going to your counselor or to your parent. Well, let me rephrase. Go to The Counselor who is your Heavenly Father and place your faith in a personal relationship with Him alone. We’ve proven the world is full of really cool stuff and millions of distractions. These things can bring about temporary happiness. However, there is a huge difference between happiness and joy.
Happiness is fleeting. It frequently comes but it always goes. Joy in knowing and having a true relationship with our Father in Heaven is ever-lasting even through the sadness and gloom of this world. Jesus didn’t come here to judge you but rather to let you know you are loved beyond any of your shortcomings. So be joy-filled in knowing and trusting this one eternal truth. And Live a life of JOY in HIM”.
Weeks earlier, I had been speechless and without a worthy answer to that young lady’s heartfelt question. This time, though I had sought His guidance and counsel. I was finally relieved to find the one and only missing piece needed to complete the puzzle: Seek Joy in Him.
We spend far too much of our time putting effort into building a perfect image of what we think life should look like. We buy things or plan events, trips, etc. because we long for happiness. Yet, time and experience confirms happiness from things, desires, and even in people are passing things. Every single thing other than the love of Christ will pass away or break down. If you’re missing the puzzle piece of real and lasting joy, you can find it by simply asking Him.
Heavenly Father and perfect Counselor, we accept your promise that if we ask, you will hear our plea. We do that now by seeking a personal and intimate relationship with you, our Creator and Savior. We pray against the temptation to be happiness seekers and instead to find joy in knowing You.
In your Son Jesus’ name we pray, Amen
2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Dad, time moves faster than you could ever imagine. Don’t take it for granted. This long path you consider to be endless will be gone in the flash of an eye. – Braden
I’m torn between thanking God for hurrying time forward to get beyond the past and then praying time will slow for a chance to enjoy the moment. – Braden’s Dad
Happy New Year! Merry Christmas! Happy Holiday!
Though we wish these sentiments were always heartfelt (and sometimes they are), speaking for myself, too often they’re just another seasonal greeting with a shallowness that seems to grow a little more hollow every year. Especially, this past year.
Our family of three loves tradition and routine. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve are biggies. Sadly, against all odds and certainly against our wishes, Christmas and New Years Eve tanked this year. We aren’t flu shot people but that might very well change. We were hit hard. Influenza basically killed our holidays more assuredly than a Dollar Store bug zapper.
On New Years eve, after remaining determined to stay up until New Orleans celebrated in the Central time zone, I had some time to think over the past year and what it meant to turn a page into a new decade.
Historically speaking, decades have been chapters with clearly delineated bookends. One hundred years is nothing on the scale of our world’s existence. Just that many years ago this month, we were entering the “Roaring” Twenties. The days of Dillinger, Al Capone, and “Flappers”. Prohibition. Available indoor plumbing, electricity, and private ownership of cars were all just beginning. That’s hard to fathom, only ten decades ago!
Only ninety years ago we had the Great Depression and World War I. A brief eighty years, World War II. Seventy years ago, our country was entering the Korean conflict/ Buddy Holly, Elvis, and Rock-N-Roll (now, that’ll make you feel old).
Sixty brief years ago we entered the Vietnam War with three assassinations that rocked our world. Fifty years ago, Watergate and wars were looped on the news in living rooms and the dissolution of the American dream was in full bloom.
Only thirty to forty years ago, the Reagan Era and Middle Eastern conflicts and the fall of the Berlin Wall were the news. Whew! Time moves like lightening and it seems decades now run together more than in the past. They’re not as distinctly identifiable as they once were. Maybe that’s just me. It does leave me wondering what will this next decade bring. Will it be the roaring 20’s again or something else. We’ll see.
New Year’s Eve 2020! That’s crazy. In my youth, I recall thinking ahead to that strange year, 2000. What a foreign idea, a century called “The 2000’s”. Everything after 1999 had to be like science fiction. Hover cars. Futuristic communities. Clothing would have to be so different, after all it would be “THE YEAR 2000”.
I recall as a child thinking as we approached the new millennium, things would either be much better or far worse. Technology would bring forth new frontiers no one had even fathomed, but what if the predicted benefits of science had a reverse effect? For example, who’d have guessed a device no larger than a human hand would bring such change to the fiber of our society.
Yes, and who can forget doomsday predictions of the year 2000. In the Eighties, college professors and tech experts were saying the first second of 2000 would generate a global shutdown since the infrastructure of computers was built on a date system of two digits from a 00-99 framework. Anything after the last day of 1999 would not be recognized and would throw financial systems and the power grid into chaos.
Of course informed people “knew” this was not true, yet the computer didn’t exist at the prior turn of the 20th century… there was no precedence to rely upon. . . electrical grids were non-existent on December 31, 1899. These intelligent and informed people wanted to trust that the world would not go dark as their digital clocks ticked away on December 31, 1999.
I initially thought everyone was acting foolishly and perhaps had lost their minds. Then we got pregnant with projected delivery of our first baby in May 2000 and my world view completely shifted. What If something did happen and I’d not prepared my family? What kind of father doesn’t prepare for the cataclysm of doomsday? (If you’ve ever been a brand new parent, you get it).
As New Years’ Eve approached, Cathy and I joined friends in Kingwood, Texas for the celebration. As midnight neared, everyone was trying to put on a brave face but all knew inside we weren’t sure what to expect. After all, this was one of only a few times when mankind thought we were prepared, but no one was fully certain.
As we traditionally did, we all circled together to pray for the coming new year. Everyone was in that moment where no one would admit it but we were each a little terrified the end of the world may be coming. Still, our rational sides would not allow such nonsense. We closed our eyes, clasped hands, and waited…
Although I want to say the lights may have flickered, that was likely only my imagination. That, or my friend Mike, who always can be counted on for a prank, clicked the lights. In either instance, the fear and danger we all felt seconds earlier vanished instantly. One single second past 11:59PM the lights were on, the TV was still showing the New York Time Square celebration and all was well with the world. Well, maybe not so much, but we had survived.
Between that midnight in 2000 until October 30, 2018 will forever run as a long, yet too brief chapter in our family’s life. A series of endless family videos and pictures running together. It was almost two decades, but these images are framed as the 18 years we had our son with us.
Similar to the night we all wondered what would happen when the clock clicked midnight, I still wonder what will happen next, following our 18 year “decade”. with Braden now gone. I expect we’ll all try to act as if it will be ok, and that our world will remain normal. We’ll dread the dark times and pray things will not fall into chaos, but it’s largely a practice in futility. Yes, fewer days are filled with tears now, but they’re always one single blink away.
A song, a smell, a picture, or video. A memory is all it takes to flood our minds and hearts. Looking back, I don’t know how we could still be standing but for the assurance the Holy Spirit provides. I thank God for the time we had and for the memories we made. I pray He will continue to sustain us and help navigate into tomorrow.
Human nature makes most of us easy targets for the lies Satan tells us. I fall prey far too often. He wants us to fear and dread the days ahead. This serves his kingdom well, as it distracts away from God’s promises.
A life filled with doubt and worry is one where God is trying to get in but the door is nailed shut. Remember, God wants nothing but good for His children. Anything you’re hearing to the contrary is coming from the enemy.
Let’s remember to teach our children about Satan’s lies and God’s truths. We might make their tomorrows even brighter than we could ever imagine.
1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. 2 In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me. 3 Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. 4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.
“Dad. I miss y’all and this season of tradition. Please give my precious sister the happiest of birthdays. She was always a gift to me and to our family. Give her a kiss for me. I’ll see her soon”. – Braden
“Son,you get to spend your Christmases with Jesus in Heaven itself! Give Jesus a kiss from us. We’ll see you both soon.” – Braden’s family
I’ve missed writing, focused on maintaining some semblance of employment while putting together a book derived from these blogs and experiences around our loss. Tentatively, the book, “Braden’s Voice, You’ll See I’ll Stay” should be out by April in time for Easter. A time for hope and promise.
From day one with BradensVoice, I admitted to not being a “blogger”. Neither am I a writer of books. It’d be a decent wager, the initial printing of 250 books will be found, after my death in boxes in our attic collecting dust. That’s ok. After all, it was my best work and one can’t do better than their best work.
A book? What a learning time for me. I figured, you write a book, you publish it, and it takes hitting the “Publish” key. Not so. A decent book requires more re-writes and edits than you can imagine. Sure, I could publish a book without that effort, but this will very likely be my first and only. In honor of my son I want it to be my best effort. That takes a lot of time, toil, and prayer.
As we prepare to hit the “Publish” key on the book, we approach Christmas. In fact, it’s only the day after tomorrow. The only thing between today and that special date is our baby girl, Caitlin’s birthdate. Not just any birthday this year. It’ll be the Big 1-3.
I’ve written, re-written, and revised this story to connect the dots but find it best to transparently copy a letter to Caitlin written just after she was born. Also, if you read the post, “Gifts” hopefully you will more clearly understand.
A letter from a dad to his newborn daughter
December 24, 2007
Happy 1st birthday, my sweet baby girl! I wanted to write a letter to you on your first birthday so that when you’re old enough to understand, you could learn about how your life started.
You did not come along as easily as your big brother. After Braden joined us, we knew we wanted to add to our family, but God had different plans. through the next seven years, we prayed a lot and experienced several disappointments along the way. Braden yearned for a sibling and also prayed a lot about you.
When news arrived that Mommy was going to have you, we were in shock. After so long and so many trials, could it be true? Well, God does things in His time and we can’t ever fully understand why He waits. All the waiting and praying was worth it, though and we learned so much through it.
Your Mommy spent the next eight months in constant pain and her tummy was sick all the time. She and I prayed a lot and the family supported Mommy by helping do things she normally did. I learned by watching her that she is much stronger and courageous than I could ever be. God blessed us with a wonderful Mommy, didn’t He!
We know God hand selected YOU to become part of our little family. You’ll agree when you hear the story of your birth. We had plans to deliver after the Christmas and New Year holidays. We all went shopping and ice skating on December 23rd.
That night, we all went to sleep with visions of sugar plums, never dreaming that around 3AM, God would awake your Mommy with a feeling that she needed to call the hospital. She didn’t have any pain at all, but you were not moving much. Mommy woke me and said the doctor told her to come in immediately. Louise Yates was a family friend who came to keep Braden while he slept.
Let me tell you, Mommy and Daddy were scared. After all this time, would God’s plan be to not have our baby? When we arrived at the hospital and they checked Mommy, the doctor said, “We’re going have this baby girl today!” Little did we know there were complications and the doctor was trying not to upset us.
In less than one hour, you came into the world. I still remember the first time I saw you and doctor handing you to me. The doctor later told us that had Mommy not awoken and come to the hospital exactly when she did, you would not have lived. The doctor also told us that every doctor and nurse in the delivery room was praying as they worked to deliver you.
God’s grace and love during this time is how you took your middle name. We tell this story often as testimony to God’s hand in our lives.
When I came home to share the news of your birth with Braden, he was so happy that he forgot all about it being Christmas Eve! Not once did he ask about his gifts or if Santa would come. He ran to the car and said, “I want to go see my baby!”
I have seen a lot of brothers and sisters in my life, but never have I seen one who had so much love and pride in his sister. You’ve been blessed with a wonderful big brother.
During your first year, you had a little colic at first but not bad. We traded off holding you and I found that swinging you in the car seat helped soothe you. Soon, you began scooting around and I made a song, “Little Scooter you’re the one, Little Scooter sittin’ in the sun, Little Scooter all the way, Little Scooter what ya doin’ today”. Silly, but you laughed and brightened every time I sang it.
People stopped us all the time saying how beautiful and happy you were. That happiness is something we saw early with your brother too. I hope and pray the joy you have in your heart as a child remains as you go through life. Happiness is free and no one can take it from you.
I’m excited about what God has in store for you and for your brother. You are two special angels. In fact, I am blessed to have three angels in my life. Your Mommy was the first and my children are the other two. Of all the things I could tell you, two things are the most important.
First, God loves you and is with you always. He will never fail you. Second, God blessed you with family that loves you completely and unconditionally.
No matter where life takes any one of us, we will forever be a part of one another. My prayer is that you and Braden will invite Jesus into your hearts. As I told your brother, I will tell you.
Throughout this life, just remember that if we’re ever separated by distance or by death, that we’ll all be together again. Your family will always be there for you.
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.