“This doesn’t look like what I’d planned. I’m completely lost.” – Braden’s Dad
“Dad. Just remember to surrender. He’ll provide the way” – Braden
School’s in session again. Another summer in the memory books. The summer of 2019 was at least a somewhat brighter than the 2018 Fall and Winter. The warm months have been a time for healing and connection with friends and families.
In early September 2018. I’d simply had enough. Seventy hour workweeks and little to no quality time with family. I’ll leave out the details, but after a very successful career in leadership at a company I married straight out of college, the price of success was becoming too expensive.
Just one month prior to losing our son, we decided to make a major change. I elected to self demote and re-tool for the remaining years until retirement. Scary and some might say foolish. Ironically, most describe the decision as courageous. I really don’t care what anyone thinks. Not one time have we looked back with an ounce of regret.
Unplanned, this change afforded us time to deal with the loss of our son, rebuilding health in our family, working on a mission to help others facing a similar nightmare, and culture change in our schools. Certainly, we had a significant reduction in income, security, and the sense of accomplishment in my life’s work. Still the exchange has been worth it and long over due. This summer was one filled with time together without distractions of working from home and a ridiculous level of stress.
What’s ahead on our path? TBD. We’re just taking one day at a time and trusting God. It will be interesting.
Before the 2019 summer break, our family was graciously invited to a Christian family camp in southern Colorado by Sky Ranch. This is a not-for-profit organization founded in the latter 1950’s with camp sites in Texas, Oklahoma ,and Colorado. This particular location is on the Horn Creek in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range of the Colorado Rockies. It was amazing and needed. (Thank you Sky Ranch!)
Funny story. The nearest town with a grocery store is Westcliffe, CO. A town of approximately 500 residents and a very laid back feel. Mid-week, I dropped the girls at camp and headed to town for supplies, the three basic camping food groups: Chips, Cookies, and Cokes.
Unlike the Super Walmart in larger towns, Westcliffe Supermarket is the only option within at least 50 square miles. That day there were only maybe ten people shopping. As I entered the checkout line I asked the clerk and her customer how long they’d lived in Westcliffe. Both proudly responded. “Where ya from?”
“Dallas”. “Oh… Bless your heart”.
Bless my heart?? Really? As a Texan and moreover a Dallas Texan, I suddenly felt somehow disadvantaged. Guess everything is a matter of perspective. Big cities have everything you could want within five minutes. Small towns have simplicity and serenity.
A Very Non-Griswold Vacation
Family Camp is a foreign vacationing concept for us. I grew up with the traditional version of vacations to include the imitation wood-grained panel station wagon, landmark roadside stopovers, and fussy family drama. In my adult years, vacation has meant Disney, cruises, or similar.
In my mind, “summer camp” always reminded me of the song, “Camp Granada”, or something for a funny movie plot. I mean, people don’t actually send their kids to formal summer camp much less go as a family, do they?
Still. What an amazing blessing! I felt God must have something planned in this. I told Cathy we’d need unscheduled time alone without rigid plans or worries of being someplace at some specific time. I selfishly needed rest and total withdrawal. She agreed.
All week, the Weather Channel projected evenings would bring heavy rain showers and/or the threat of hail or tornados. I thought we were leaving those in Texas! We did have a few rough nights. One where the whole camp hunkered in the laundry room and took cover from a tornado, covering the windows with sheets. Yet, each morning was amazing. Crystal and deep blue skies, cool temperatures and gentle breezes.
Tuesday morning was ideal. After breakfast and Bible study, it was a perfect chance to sneak away and spend time. Just me and God.
I struck out southwest on a trail about a quarter mile just beyond the group of cabins. A simple route, just seeking a shade tree where no humans were within sight or earshot. Maybe I’d even take a nap.
Finding the perfect spot, I sat on a pallet of leaves and pine needles, along with some overly friendly ants, biting my legs. Trying to focus on prayer and reading, while itching and swatting. After an hour of uncomfortable peaceful bliss, I stood to return to camp. It should be a quick ten minute walk to the cabins for lunch. Heading: northeastward.
After about a hundred yards, I came across a barbed wire fence? This wasn’t here before. Must have just not remembered it. Then another fence just a few yards beyond. No problem. Yet, there hadn’t been any fences on my original trail to my perfect place.
About a half mile into the return hike, things continued to look increasingly unfamiliar. Where was the creek bed I had walked and those railroad ties leading into camp? Where was the dadgum (look it up) sign warning, “Beyond this point, hike at own risk”? Now the worry sets in. “What if I’m lost? Well, I still have my trusty iPhone. I’ll just ask Siri”.
“Hey, Siri. Where am I right now?” [No internet connection]. Are you kidding me? No signal? Really? I’ve heard of this before. Guy goes for a short walk and is later found dead of dehydration. Alright, I’ll admit to letting my imagination run a bit loose, but stay with me.
Cell data is non-existent in such a remote location in the mountains. Trying to avoid over-think, in my mind I said a prayer for connection. Then, maybe fifty yards forward one tiny bar displayed. The signal lasted just long enough to find where I was which was: fifty yards from a blacktop road and about two miles past the cabins.
This was a familiar experience. Just weeks earlier, the Fellowship of San Antonio planted a tree in their prayer garden in Braden’s memory. The garden has a mile-long walking trail which I decided to hike while spending a few days in town. The garden also has a cautionary warning at the trailhead to walk at your own risk . The area is a bit over grown and it’s difficult in places to clearly discern where the trail is cut.
About half way through the hike, my natural worry mode set in: What if the worst happened and no one knows I’m out here alone. What would my family do? Right then, out loud I said,”God, please give me direction here, about where to go and which path to follow”.
At that very moment, I looked up and saw a tower with a cross at the very top. I began walking through the woods and across cut trails towards that cross and I was able to find my way. Here’s the interesting thing: It had been there the entire time, yet I’d been focused on finding the right trail on my own.
In my walk in Colorado and on the hike in San Antonio, out of no where I received signals and signs. No cell lines were within miles of my mountain location. Still, I got a signal. On the garden trail, there was no map. I simply looked up to find my way.
Today, I had lunch with a good friend who came into our lives the day we lost Braden. He’s a Prosper fire chief who’s crew answered the 911 call. He was the first to enter Braden’s room and he’s also a father of two teenage boys. His crew has a lot of dads with teens. I’ve long wondered how a father could witness such a horrific scene and continue doing that job. I could not. I can’t begin to describe how we are amazed and respect these heroic men and women.
Today, Stuart and I had a long talk about fatherhood. I finally asked the question. “How in the world can you witness such things as a dad and keep doing what you do?” He pulled out his phone and read aloud the “Serenity Prayer”.
That was my answer. It was also his advice to me personally as a father. Only God knows the dark path we’ve been walking. But I’m so grateful God placed this friend there, in that moment to help guide the way. So many have been that to us. They know who they are.
When I left a comfortable career path. After we lost our son. When we began writing about it. I had no clue if, when, or where to move ahead. The trail is unmarked and subject to wrong turns. Still, I’m convinced every step of the way will be directed by the Holy Spirit as long as we surrender to Him. Only by accepting the serenity available through surrendering our own plans can we find true and lasting peace. We count on His plan. Evidence here is that sometimes not at all pretty, His plan is far better and purposeful than our own.
Lord, we are lost. Thank you for providing signs to help guide us. Thank you for the blessing of a community of Christian brothers and sisters who help serve as your guiding hand on our path. You alone are our Shepherd. (Psalms 23).
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.