Senior Year

Senior picture for year book

“Son, you worked so hard and deserved to see graduation day, but you never got that experience. You’ll never have your own family. A fulfilling career. A long life. A hope for tomorrow and a future.” – Braden’s mom & dad

“I do have a future, but one you can only imagine in your most perfect dreams. Please don’t grieve our temporary separation too long. It’s just a flash in time. Know I’m waiting for you and it isn’t sad here. I’m excited and anticipating our reunion! Try to stop focusing on what tomorrow could have been, and remember to have joy in what today already is.” – Braden Thomas Speed

May 2, 2019.  Graduation is in the air.  The Class of 2019 is roaring to get out and move into the next phase. Many parents are mixed about that.  Most are relieved they’ve gotten their kid to a huge milestone in life,  but with it comes the uncertainty.  Are they ready? Are we ready?  What if they don’t come back?  A mixed bag of emotions.

Remembering my senior year in small town Brownfield, Texas. Every student looked forward to the summer break ahead. Freedom at last! Swimming, riding bikes, family camping vacations. For younger ones it was Vacation Bible School and playing at the grandparent’s house. For older kids, summer jobs, and lazy days recouping from the pressures of the school year. Recharging for the next.

Teen readers: I’m sorry to inform you. Summer break used to be a full three months. Over time, somehow that’s become more like two. Most of the last weeks now are in preparation for the approaching Fall season. Band, cheer, track, football, or whatever other expectation schools and parents place on kids for tomorrow’s performance.

The year we graduated, BHS seniors (including myself and my twin brother) were looking toward a very different summer break than we had in previous years. CLEP testing, pre-college prep and plans, finding a roommate, financial preparations, student loans, scholarships, and car payments. Should we keep our current relationships or make a fresh start? Where would we live? Would we find a girlfriend? Would she be “The One”?

Could we do this thing called “Life” on our own… WITHOUT our parents?

The last year of primary education is likely one of the most pivotal in a young person’s life. Granted, preparing for Fall band, football two-a-days, golf team try-outs, and the like are stressful. However, senior year means preparing to leave home, without the safety and protection provided from the outside world. It brings on a vastly heightened level of uncertainty, anxiety, and let’s just admit it: Fear of uncharted territory ahead.

Nineteen years ago. May 9, 2000. 3AM. College Station, Texas. Cathy woke me calmly yelling, “It’s time”! Braden Thomas Speed was ready to come into the world. A short four hours later, he arrived.

Our hospital room had an east facing wall of a huge window, the curtains fully opened wide to the world. I still recall the doctor saying, “You’re blessed. Your son will get to have his very first sunrise this morning”. I was the first person to see the top of his head as he entered into this world and just as the sun rose over the horizon. It was an absolutely gorgeous and perfect beginning. I heard his very first breath on this planet. Like we all do. With our very first breath of air, we cry.

I knew right then I’d forever remember the blessing God gave me as a new father. To be there. Very present in that special moment. I was first to hold him and believe me, the tears rolled when the nurse said, “Ok, Daddy. Come with me, we’re taking your son to the nursery.”

In a flash. Our lives can change. Ours certainly did.

Cathy’s first Mother’s Day fell within just a few days of her first child’s birth. What an immeasurable blessing and one she well deserved. This month will be tough for us all. Expect we’ll have our traditions to hold dear. Still, it just won’t be the same. It’s what everyone tells us will be our “New Normal”. It certainly does not feel normal.

I have to be honest at the slight risk of offending friends. This year, I have to scan quickly past pictures at prom or groups of students preparing for college. I trust our friends get it. Watching as parents experience the sheer joy, pride, accomplishment, and angst of seeing their babies growing successfully into adulthood churns too many memories. Thoughts of missed tomorrows.

Braden’s high school graciously offered a senior page in his honor. The gesture touched us beyond words. The school wants to remember him and to acknowledge his life will serve a purpose. He thought others would quickly forget him if he was gone, but he didn’t realize his tomorrow would be in heaven while other teens might find some hope. That’s certainly our daily prayer.

I’m nearing the end of my professional career in just a few years. My goal? Retirement, of course. That’s my “Tomorrow”. Pretty shallow, admittedly. All our lives, we each focus ahead to “That Day”. That event. That promotion. Whatever the driving change that makes us want to get out of today and move on to tomorrow. We think tomorrow will certainly come and somehow it will be better.

I have too many good friends who have worked all their lives to achieve seniority and ultimately, to move onto that sweet and perfect place we call retirement. Several have made it. Yet, sadly we have lost so many to early death or loss of health long before achieving their dream.

On October 30, 2018 I stopped looking at tomorrows as I had before. We had a wake up call. We’d looked past today with preparation and expectation about a tomorrow which would not quite look like we thought it would.

Recently I had the privilege to meet Don Piper. He wrote a book called “90 Minutes in Heaven” which tells of his near death experience and visit to heaven. When my friend introduced me to Don, I’ll never forget his response. “I’m so very sorry to hear of your temporary separation from your son”. Then, Don said something else. “Braden is not sad. There is no sadness in heaven. Just know he’s fully aware you’re coming and he’s greatly anticipating that day”. I must confess, that’s a tomorrow I long to see.

Looking back, I’ll never forget the beauty of that very first sunrise with our baby boy and the radiance in his young eyes that outshined the sun. Braden’s life was amazing. It just didn’t become the tomorrow we had envisioned. God has His Way and plans which are not always pretty, yet still, certainly perfect. Along the way, He gives us signs if we will just slow down and see them in that moment.

Storms and rainbows. Laughter and tears. Sunrises and sunsets. He constantly wants us to know we have tomorrows right in front of our eyes every day.

Now, we look for hope and beauty in a simple sunset. Ultimately, tomorrow’s hope is knowing a peace beyond this temporal world and one where we will reunite with our son and live eternally with our Creator.

“Looking east I saw a rainbow. Looking west, I saw this.”

Prayer for parents, students, and our graduating Class of 2019

Heavenly Father. we pray over each and every person reading this right now. Please help us remember to take each day for exactly what it is. A gift from your hand to us. Help us not to look past the moments given to us towards what we falsely perceive is yet to come. I pray for every graduating senior and ask they surrender their futures into Your capable hands. Grant parents and their families peace beyond any understanding as they enter into uncharted territory. For You are the Author and Navigator of our lives if we will simply stop and listen. We praise You for all You are and may our lives be lived to please You and only You for it is in Your Son, Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

11 thoughts on “Senior Year

  1. You’re helping so many with your messages and putting so many things into perspective. I’m now looking forward to reuniting with my father, grandparents, etc that I’ve been “temporarily separated from”. So true… Praying for you…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful words Mark!! I remember that day vividly. I remember waiting just outside the door, waiting for that beautiful boy to make his entrance. I remember Cathy’s face anticipating him and knowing her life was about to change forever and me telling her this is what it’s all about. You will not fully realize the love of a mother until you become one! Man that was one of the cutest little faces I have seen. She and you were both so excited and I saw your eyes light up holding him. You will know that feeling again when you hold him again!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! I relived all those moments with you of Braden’s birth! Such a perfect miracle and I remember you telling me “ I have never felt so protective toward anyone or anything as I do this baby. “ And we all watched as he grew into such a smart little boy. Sometimes using words we could not imagine he knew at such a young age. ( I remember using the word ‘ yonder’ once & he informed me that was NOT a word!) He didn’t grow up in West Texas!
    I’ve been thinking about all of you so much knowing these weeks ahead are going to be difficult for you. I pray you can literally feel God’s Presence and find strength & peace. I am in awe of your ability to put your thoughts into words & willingness to share them with others. May God’s glory come down upon your household & all who enter.
    All my love , Mom


  4. Mark,

    Thank you for speaking from your heart. Please know this momma takes no offense if you scroll past any post I may put out there. Believe me when I tell you, I have questioned myself many times when I do, thinking of you and Cathy and hoping by my doing it I am in no way hurting you. That would never be my intent. Our family loves your dear family and my heart hurts for all of you. I’m thankful we believe in a God that will one day unite us again with our loved ones. I love the vision in my head of Braden and my sweet brother Roger no longer hurting and that they are finally at peace. Hugs to you all as you continue to navigate. We are here if you need us!


    1. Thanks, Jennifer. You always supported our son and encouraged him. We’ve loved watching your kids grow and never hesitate a second to share them with us! Blessings over you all.


  5. 😢😢 beautifully written Mark! We all miss so much by hurrying through the days. So guilty here!! So many days I wish I had “do overs”. May will be tough 😢 but These things remain-Faith , Hope, and love, sunrises and sunsets -the things He gives us that really bring hope for all our tomorrows! I haven’t walked in your shoes but I’m still walking beside you even from the distance! Love you little brother!

    Liked by 1 person

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