“Dad, remind people to just simply S-L-O-W — D-O-W-N. Remind them to be LOOKING for those who need someone to give them hope. Thanks for listening. I love you”. -Braden
“I’ll certainly remind people, but I’ll also take this advice into my own heart as a father. Son, I’m sorry for being too late in getting it.” – Braden’s dad
“Our boys had many similarities, they could have been friends. Goofy, hilarious, creative, and loving. There are so many like them still alive today, it’s tragic ours had to leave before eyes and hearts would be opened to see the need for change”. – Christian’s mom (Wendy)
Summer getaways are one of my favorite things in life. If we’re honest, most of us revert to our childhood when we go on vacation. In all our years raising two kids, I’ll admit to my excited anticipation when planning a special family trip. It’s just so fun to think of new ways to make unique memories. I’ve always considered it making “memory deposits” into our family “heart bank” so those can be drawn upon for the rest of our lives. Especially, during difficult days.
Our last Speed Family Vacation we’ll ever take with Braden was to Destin, Florida in the summer of 2018. His last summer trip before life got real and plans began forming to move to the dreaded, “Adult Phase”. Sadly, his heart was not totally in it and he often chose to stay in the condo rather than joining us on the beach or parasailing. Still, we wanted so much to cheer him up and to bank happy memories before his senior year ahead. Lord knows he needed deposits in preparation for the coming year. Prom. Graduation. College prep/ planning. Life…
After a few days in Florida, as we returned towards our home in north Texas, a thought struck me that maybe he’d like a surprise side trip to see New Orleans. That would be fun. I joked that the steering wheel just kept fighting me and veering south. Honestly, looking back, it was me not wanting to return home where he would spend too much time in his room, feeling alone and sad.
Have you ever been on a vacation where it’s an all-out effort to make fun happen but one of the party is absolutely miserable? It might be your spouse (Cathy, that was not a reference to us…). It may even be an invited friend. I’ve not read any studies to support this theory, but my bet is that often that misery maker is a teenager. I was one myself for five years and my parents would attest to this fact.
We settled into the hotel and decided to stroll the French quarter to see the “other side”. You know, “Let them see how bad some people have it so they can really appreciate what THEY have”. I’m probably the only one who’s done this. It was really disgusting, especially during a hot June day on Bourbon Street. We all agreed, they needed to take a big tanker of bleach and scrub that part of the city with a giant Brillo pad. Cathy and I soon realized this had been a bad idea and I tried to navigate everyone towards the river front and Jackson Square. Still not great, but hopefully better than this!
As we veered to a hopefully safer place, we passed a young man sitting against a wall at the Famous Door Lounge [please don’t judge, we’d already realized this area had been a bad idea]. I guess him to have been maybe 18 years of age. This young man was obviously homeless and clearly in a very dark and isolated place. Honestly, I thought little of it. After all this was Bourbon Street, which they must have modeled after the downtown district of the Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. After we’d walked about two blocks past the stranger, Braden, who was dragging behind, yelled, “I have to go back!” Being my selfish thoughtless self, I returned the yell, “Why? No! We are not going back. We’re leaving now, c’mon, speed up!”
Let’s just say this was one of those memory deposit opportunities which quickly became a significant withdrawal for the whole family. I’m not proud but I am at least truthful. Braden was beside himself with sadness already, and I had pulled the plug on any remaining chance for “fun” this vacation. Cathy spent some thirty minutes talking with Braden as I impatiently paced and muttered. I mean after all, we needed to get on with having fun because the clock was ticking!
I later came to learn that Braden had seen the deep sadness in the young stranger I had so casually dismissed just minutes before. He’d felt the need to talk with the boy, to give him some sign of hope. You see, when you have experienced pain and loneliness, you can see it in others immediately. You have a “radar” for them. Cathy and Braden did go back to find the young man. When they got there to give him all the cash in our pockets, the boy was gone. He had left his belongings on the sidewalk, but as they placed the money into the notebook he left open on the sidewalk, Cathy glimpsed some of his writings. “Even though life seems to hold no hope for my future, I can’t let myself give up”. They knew they had done the right thing as they hid the money in his book and prayed over him, before returning to find me.
I will forever regret not turning around and listening to my son’s heart, and changing our route from what I wanted into what he knew he needed to do. That was to help a fellow suffering human being. From Braden’s perspective, even if coming into that person’s world was brief , he wanted to believe it could make a difference. Even if a very small one.
Last week, I joined a group of local educators in Provo, Utah observing youth from elementary, middle, and high schools who have implemented a program called “Hope Squad” on their local campuses to educate kids on how to be “radars” for signs of depression and personal crisis in their peers. These kids are trained in how to be a safe and trusted place for others. Where they can feel comfortable coming into their dark world. They are then able to help navigate in a lost place. Basically, to find support, care, and to know they are valued.
This isn’t just another “Flavor of the Day” program. Over a 15 year span, schools that have implemented the Hope Squad model have taken suicide statistics to almost zero. You really can’t argue with results like these.
Observing our school leaders and teachers attentively learning and asking questions about how to bring this program into our local community moved me profoundly. That’s an understatement. I wept more these last few days than I have in several weeks. Perhaps, if we’d had this in place before October 30, 2018 our son could have been walked out of his darkness by a caring peer. We can’t look back, but I certainly have been. My new friend, Wendy Tyler was there to make her own son, Christian Tyler’s death somehow purposeful as well. Wendy and I came to know each other November 3, 2018.
Only four days after Braden’s death. Wendy led the “Prosper Out of the Darkness Walk” the morning of Braden’s funeral. I was in a complete fog that day but something compelled me to have friends and family join me to walk for our son. It was important. I still really don’t remember much about that day nor how I was able to actually put one foot in front of the other, but I do know the Holy Spirit took each step for me. In faith. (see “Surrender” post).
Wendy is an educator but she was there primarily as an observing parent who experienced the loss of her son, wanting his life to make a difference in the lives of other teens and their families. Her son, Christian had an amazing gift of humor. He and his friend put together a short video that had over 12,000 hits called Sold Out. She shared Christian’s video with me and I had a much needed laugh. What a talent! His and our son’s lives continue to make a difference months and years later.
Our two boys were what I consider to be soldiers fighting a real battle in this world. But they weren’t the only ones in the war. Every day, we all pass by them somewhere. They’re in every school. Every church. They are working beside us at our workplace. They’re possibly even in our homes. They’re on every corner, but we must be looking.
Trust me. When we find them and if we step into their life, our culture will change from selfish to selfless.
What Can We do?
Parents: (Ok… Dads); take a lesson from a dad who lost his son. A dad who was more driven to keep on a plan and to “make” a memory. Slow down. Stop pushing. Remember, your kids are the ones who determine what they consider to be memory makers. If they think stopping to pray for a stranger on a street corner is more of a memory than going to point at a statue for a picture, give them consideration. They may put memory deposits in YOUR heart bank.
Teachers and Educational Institutions: If you want to truly make an impact on the current rate of depression and suicide, I strongly encourage you to explore “Hope Squad”. We have included a link on the Resource page. I don’t sell anything I wouldn’t buy and this is a tried and true model for school culture change. If interested, contact us or go to the Contact Us link on the Hope Squad site. If you would like to discuss with myself or Wendy Tyler, drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Church Ministers: We have talked with so many people who face uncertainty about this sensitive topic. We challenge you to face the ugly reality and to speak into it rather than allowing the topic to be swept under a rug. Your 21st century congregation is very keen and perceptive. They need your leadership and clarity on this topic.
Face it. Kids are dying from self choice and the epidemic is real. Ask yourself: Am I uneasy about the topic of suicide? What am I doing as a shepherd to my flock in speaking and guiding in this treacherous area of their lives? Do I understand and do I lead on this topic from a scriptural perspective?
Readers: It’s been almost a month without writing. When I began this blog, I promised it would only be updated if/when I felt clearly compelled by the Holy Spirit to whom I surrendered the night of October 30, 2018. I have heard and read from readers who have encouraged us to post more frequently and that is certainly my desire as well. However, I have to stay true to my commitment. That is to follow His direction, period. You can trust that when I write, it’s only my hands, but God’s words. Please send any specific prayer requests and I commit we will pray over them as a family.
Our prayer: Lord. You amaze us beyond any written or spoken words. Thank you for those you bring into our lives. They have lifted us up and also trained us up during a very dark time. Thank you for bringing sight in our blindness. We pray over every reader and every family facing a similar path. We ask that you provide them comfort, wisdom, and peace beyond any understanding they could fathom.
Help us also to open our blind eyes to others who need us desperately to see them and to come into their lives as lights in a dark world. We know the lost and lonely are on every corner. Let us find them and walk with them out of the darkness. In your Holy Name, amen.