“Why would anyone want an app where the message disappears?” – Braden’s Dad
“You don’t understand. Everyone’s on SnapChat and I have thousands of friends. Still, I feel alone.” – Braden
“You’re family is not alone. You are never forgotten”. – Letter from a Prosper family
January 9, 2019. Christmas is officially over. Our first season has ended without our son and Caitlin’s big brother. This year, we went all-out with family traditions. This is nothing new for us, but this year it was much more important. Traditions gave us the sense that Braden was still with us in spirit, that he was still close. We will never forget him. Traditions are how we find comfort in the familiar. I’m confident our family will keep these traditions for the rest of our lives.
Caitlin said it best: “We are still a family of four. We’re just a party of three”.
Sometimes kids do have a way with words.
Gone in a Snap
Caitlin was born with Plannerosis [plãn-er-rose-iš], a rare and chronic condition. It can be genetic, because her dad suffers with it too. These people require a checklist and they need to plan every detail of important events. It can be difficult to accept for people who don’t have this annoying efficient and useful condition.
Caitlin’s Plannerossis flares up during the Christmas season. For her Christmas Eve birthday celebration our family annually follows this checklist to the letter:
TO-DO: Family photo; Cracker Barrel for breakfast; Family picture in front of mall tree; Ice skating; Cookies at Nestlé Toll House Cafe; Whataburger for lunch; Christmas movies and popcorn; NORAD Santa tracker; NORAD Santa Tracker; more NORAD Santa Tracker; Bedtime for Santa to arrive; and finally, my secret tradition includes taking four Ibuprofen and a hot bath to recover from my own ice skating condition.
That morning while waiting at the Cracker Barrel to be seated, I spotted a Dillon Caramel Candy bar and thought it would be funny to send a picture of it to one of Braden’s true best friends, Dylan. He lives across the state, but knowing he was on SnapChat, I sent him the picture as a “Snap”. (On SnapChat, messages disappear immediately after being read).
…Dylan. If you’re reading this, please know how much our family misses you and your family…. Also, we have finally forgiven you guys for for taking our house! …
We had breakfast and made our way to the next item on the list: skating. While parking the car, I noticed Dylan had replied with a heartfelt message. He wrote that he still misses Braden and even reads our blogs to feel closer to our son. His brief note meant the world to me. In just a few words, it comforted me. I instantly felt closer to Dylan and to Braden. I responded and assured him Braden is happier than he’s ever been and although we here are very sad, we’ll get the chance to see him again.
When we finished skating and returned to the car, I wanted to share Dylan’s note with my girls. I just knew it would comfort them too. I accessed SnapChat and searched friend activity. Then I clicked on “Notifications,” only to find the note had vanished!
NO! That note was far too important to lose. I needed to keep it and share it with my family. I needed to have it to re-read over and over again. But, it was gone.
Letters Worth Keeping
Following our loss on October 30, 2018 we’ve had many families and individuals, churches, and neighbors reach into our life. We’ve been deeply touched and felt surrounded by others who sincerely care and want to walk with us through this. We’ve received cards, notes, texts, emails, and letters. Each one will remain in our physical possession, but more importantly within our hearts.
We received one letter from a mother who didn’t know us. She was so deeply moved to hear of yet another teen lost, she sat in her car praying at 5:30am two days after it happened. She wrote a prayer. It began, “Man down… Man down”. It spoke about how God’s warriors are being attacked and taken out; especially those with great potential to fight the spiritual warfare in this world.
The second letter was from a family we’ve still never met. Their family drops coins in a jar throughout the year and determines at Christmas time what family needs their prayers. This year they chose us. They secretly placed their coin jar and a personal letter on our doorstep on Christmas Day.
This year, Caitlin worked for hours and hours in her room on the gift she wanted to give her mom and dad. Cathy and I wondered what in the world she could give us that would take that amount of time and effort? It was two jars, each filled with 365 sticky notes. One note for each day of the year to open and to be encouraged, loved, to laugh, and to read God’s Words. We think the time she spent was more than worth it.
We will keep each and every single sticky note, card, and letter. Our family will always treasure the care from our community and the sincere the heartfelt prayers penned by people, some of whom we never will meet. In fact, re-reading these letters will become another one of our annual Christmas traditions.
Might we all benefit from being “letter writers” in our relationships by investing the time and effort to go deeper, to slow down, and to know each other below the surface? We miss too many chances to leave others feeling they are important and to leave them with something that will last. Ourselves.
Teachers: What can we do?
- Look for “Bradens” every day in your school.
- Watch A Teacher’s Action Plan to”Make” a Difference
STUDENTS: What can you do? You make the real difference here.
Let’s face it. Change ONLY occurs when individuals not only realize it is needed, but are willing to pro-actively make that change become a reality.
A group of students at Prosper High School I call Team BradensVoice have been courageous in reaching outside their “comfort zones”, each wanting to help make a real impact on teen suicide, depression, and culture change in your school.
We are amazed at their courage and conviction. These young people have given us tremendous encouragement. We are confident, through the Holy Spirit’s guidance they will find the hope and be agents for needed change. Please support them and consider becoming part of their effort.
Remember to Invite and Stay. Don’t ever allow others to feel forgotten.
Prayer for readers and families:
Lord, help us to all be more intentional about finding and reaching into the lives of others. Teach us to slow down, to include, and to stay as You modeled for us, without selfish expectations.
In an invisible yet too real World War, your soldiers are being attacked. We are losing some every day. Please raise up many more warriors for every single one we’ve lost in battle.