“If I could get one perfect gift this Christmas, it would be God bringing me my baby sister.” – Braden;  December 23, 2006

“Braden. I have good news and I have bad news.  The bad news is Santa will need to postpone his delivery a couple of days.  The good news is, you got your perfect Christmas gift this morning.” – Braden’s dad;  December 24, 2006

Christmas is almost here!  Well, not exactly.  To be precise, it’s six days; 15 hours; 52 minutes; and 42 seconds away.  I know this because Braden’s sister, Caitlin informs us of the update on an hourly basis.  She has an app from the Norad Santa Tracker online site and she watches it like a starving hawk.

Reader:  Please indulge me for a little “Night Before Christmas” story

Caitlin was a tough pregnancy to say the least.  We tried unsuccessfully for six years, losing three pregnancies, always wanting a second child and sibling for Braden. He yearned for a sister or brother.  Running out of options, we finally bought a dog… then, Boom! We got pregnant. However, Cathy had “HD” : Hyperemesis Gravidarum.  This is basically unrelenting nausea. It’s so bad, it puts the mother in bed for weeks or months and can be life threatening.  This wasn’t what we tried six years to get!

Our family was planning to get through the holidays and we scheduled delivery around the second week of January.  How convenient. On December 23rd, we went ice skating and that night, we all three went to bed with visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in our heads. Well, maybe not me.  I was actually thinking how sore I was. You see, annually around this season, I suffer from “AASS”: Advanced Age Skating Syndrome which is basically feeling like you should never EVER skate again.

Around 2:15 am Cathy woke me with a clatter (ok, I got going with the theme, so just stay with me).  “Mark, I don’t know why,  but I woke up and just think I need to go to the hospital”.  I asked if she felt any contractions or pain but she had none.  Just a “feeling” she should go. I trusted her intuition and she drove herself immediately while I called our on-call babysitter Louise, to come stay with Braden. I then sped (over 100mph) to the hospital.  The monitors found a heartbeat but it was faint.  We delivered within minutes of admission.  Caitlin Grace Speed had entered the world. Pre-mature, but right on time.

Folks, had Cathy not woken and sensed the need to go in, the delivering doctor later told us Caitlin would not have lived to see the sunrise. God, thank You for answering my prayer that morning while speeding down Grand Parkway.  I promised You that I’d tell everyone I could, if You would just let us have our daughter.  This was a very real miracle and only one of many to follow.

As dawn began to break and Caitlin was safe in her warmer, I had the awesome privilege to return home and deliver the good news to Braden. He was just waking as I arrived.  I remember still how I presented the news. “Buddy, I have good news and I have bad news.  The bad news is Santa will need to postpone his delivery a couple of days.  The good news is, you got your perfect Christmas gift this morning.”

In the animated kids movie, “The Incredibles”, the family has a little boy named Dash who runs so lightening fast, he suddenly disappears and then instantly re-appears at his destination.  Braden got in my car just a fraction of a second slower than that.  He got to hold Caitlin and couldn’t keep his eyes off of her.

This Christmas story doesn’t have the traditional ending. Braden never once asked when Santa would come.  What other gift could compare with having another kid in his life?  His perfect Christmas gift.

Nice story, but what’s the point? 

Braden deeply needed people. Specifically, kids his age. The most valued gifts are those given out of sincere care for others and without expectation of a return.  We’ve had so many such gifts from those who care dearly about our loss and about the need to make life-changing/ culture changing impact.  In fact, tonight a family we’ve never met texted to invite us to dinner and to meet their family.

They didn’t ask nor would they want something in return.  However, they did get a return. We all did.  We gained new friends and were all made better by their CHOICE to do something outside the comfort zone.  Our kids all witnessed it and received a gift of modeled relationship MAKING. Our family most certainly felt cared for and valued.

Readers: What can we do to reduce the epidemic of depression? 

Teach your kids specific and ongoing behaviors to make another kid feel important.

Today, I asked my standard question of Caitlin.  “Did you find him?”  (code phrase for finding a person to reach into and act).  “Yes, I did!  Her name is….. and she was at a table by herself.  I told my friends, ‘Let’s ask her to sit with us’.  She was really shy but we kept trying to talk with her even though it was hard. I think it made her feel good and it made us feel good too”.

Tonight, when that child goes home and her mom asks how the day went, she’ll talk about a girl named Caitlin who invited her and stayed.  I expect the parents will sleep good tonight as will their little girl.

                        Braden’s Birthday Poem and Gift to Caitlin

My Little One, my Christmas gift;

God sent you here to give me lift.

Into my life you came and stayed;

By being mine such joy you made.

If I could gift you in return,

I’d give you just one thing I’ve learned.

Your purpose as my Christmas gift,

Is live for Christ and give Him lift.


Prayer for all readers and your families:    Lord, please make us all givers of gifts with a No Return policy, just like you did in giving us your sweet baby boy, Jesus.  We want to live as He did by inviting and staying.

30 thoughts on “Gifts

  1. Your family has touched my heart very deeply.
    I am a mom, a teacher, and a person who longed for connection growing up. My calling in life is to look into the eyes of my students…to discern whether someone is hurting…to connect. I wish I could have known your sweet son. Bless you. I send prayers of comfort and hope for you. Your journey is shining a light for so many.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This story of Bradens first adventure as a big brother is both touching and sweet. You are both such special parents to be teaching and modeling that love to Caitlin. How much better the world would be if everyone reached out to those that may feel that they don’t fit in or belong. This story was inspiring and one I won’t forget. I, too, like to think of that shy little girl and her mom feeling such sweet contentment as they fell asleep that night.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brother, that was very moving. May The Good Lord continue to pour out His grace on you as you share your heart (& Braden’s). I know this will touch many lives. God bless you, Cathy, & Caitlyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I well remember that special Christmas we spent with your family. Caitlin was the tinest baby I had ever helped car for….yet she was perfect. To have a baby at Christmas time makes us more aware of that Special baby sent to be our Savior. Sent to live and die so that we could actually experience that personal relationship with The Father. I know that He knows how you feel in your grief, because He hurt when His child was being bullied, taunted and then killed in a very brutal way. He grieved……and Mary grieved…..even though they knew it was His purpose for coming. As you go through this next week, I pray you will feel God’s Presence in a powerful way….knowing that He is closer than your very breath. And He will give you the peace that only He can give in times of sorrow as you pursue with passion the path He has laid on your hearts.
    Father, please our out Your love and blessing on Mark, Cathy and Braden in the weeks ahead.
    Love, Mom

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Such beautiful words, Mark! Each post hits home in a special way for me. My son suffers from anxiety and depression and so did my Dad. Thank you! I can see God speaking t
    hrough you each and every day.
    Hugs and prayers for you and your family this holiday season.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Darla. It tears us up when we hear of other Braden’s but people are there and they just need to be more aware of what can change lives… the cool thing is, many are actually doing it more! Merry Christmas. God Bless you!


  6. “Every good and perfect gift is from above” James 1:17 has been my focus this month. What you wrote clearly portrays this verse in real life. Thank you for being Braden’s voice and sharing his stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! I am literally sitting at work with tears running down my face. What a beautiful story of the love sweet Braden had for his sister. Please know your family is making an impact and like I told Cathy because of that, Braden lives on! Continuing to pray daily for all of you and remember we are here, just a few house away if you ever need anything. Hugs, Jennifer

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You should have been writing a blog all along. Love reading it and makes me wish I read this when my kids were young at home. What you are doing is faaaaaaarrrr reaching and I’m so proud of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful, Mark! I’m so grateful that you are sharing your story, Braden’s story, with everyone. It is a powerful voice for good in a world that sorely needs it!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. After I read your posts, I have goals. One goal is that in the spring, when we talk about Digital Citizenship (which always works its way around to kindness in general) I will make SURE I talk to them about STAYING around. This past two weeks I have made certain to talk about the classroom as a community and about how , as a community, mistreating one is mistreating all. It takes us all to look out for one another. And I think of Braden every single time.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My daughter Faith has several times been friendly to a special needs young man at her jr high. That makes me more proud of anything she’s ever done on a field or court. God bless you and your family Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love reading your posts. As much as I love you, Cathy, Braden and Caitlyn my love grows for each of you after you share your thoughts. I feel uplifted and encouraged to try harder and to do just a little bit better. God bless each of you this Christmas season and may you feel the love and influence of your most special Guardian Angel not too far away.

    Liked by 1 person

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