Shepherd on a Hill

Fellowship of San Antonio

“A loyal friend who brought me in and with whom I was able to spend time would have changed my life”. – Braden

“I could be so far off course. Thank God for shepherds.” – Braden’s Dad

“Go out. And BE the Church”– Retired Senior Pastor: FOSA


Wouldn’t we all like an opportunity to re-map some path in our life or perhaps even entirely delete a poorly written chapter? There’s no such thing as time travel. Still, authors and Hollywood writers attempt to weave fantasy stories about that possibility.

In mathematical theory it’s been proven that by outpacing the speed of light you could literally turn back time. Although we’ve come a long way, I don’t expect we humans will ever find this a trick we’ll be able to perform. Still, if we were afforded one chance to go back, would we? The more compelling question is, should we?

If so, it begs the next question: Where along our life lines would any of us purposely return or hit a restart button? It certainly wouldn’t be a positive experience or a decision that had a favorable outcome. More likely it would be some event or decision so horrible it had a disastrous impact on us and those around us. It would be something so bad we would quickly take the chance to re-script history.

Returning to those months and years prior to losing Braden October 30, 2018 would certainly be tempting for me as a father. I would return in a heartbeat to undo wrongs although done with every good intent. I’d accept and love Braden more unconditionally and encourage him more frequently.

On the other hand. There are chapters with experiences and with people (many who were strangers) which would never be written out of our story. Without some of these strangers who happened along our paths, some of us might have blown off course to a place distant and dark. Certainly, we’d be less well off.

This weekend I watched a live FaceBook feed from The Fellowship of San Antonio as a very special individual was celebrated for his 52 years of ministry for Christ. On this occasion, it’s important to share with you about him and how he has served me as a shepherd and a friend.


Until age 18 I lived in west Texas where “Cotton was King” (Wine vineyards are king now). We were the typical farm family before corporations took over. Then, farming was simple although uncertain and highly subject to the whims of Mother Nature.

As a teen, somehow life fell into my lap with few if any problems or crises of note. Summers meant Vacation Bible School. Sunday mornings had us all in Sunday School and “big” church (even some Sunday evenings and the occasional Wednesdays). What a lot of kids had been dealt in life just didn’t get served to my plate in large portions until years later. Of course, then I got the “All you can eat buffet”.

Social life during that time was relatively easy. After all I had a twin brother and we never lacked for friends. Still, as with every teen, you must find “your” place and your own identity. Beginning high school I decided the wisest choice for a core group was with the church youth, but I didn’t think I’d fit in. Even in west Texas, I felt like the hokey “farm kid” though you’d think that was an easy fit. It would be, but for the fact that the youth at First Baptist Church were all town kids.

At age 16 I drove a 1970 Ford pickup our dad had worn to its last thread pulling a thousand double-towed trailers overloaded with cotton. That truck was like a well aged suit. What looked good on the outside was ready to fall into a heap if shaken too much. No one else in the youth group drove a pickup not to mention lived on a farm.

One late Sunday afternoon, from my room I could hear my brother Mike’s trap set rattling the house. He’d fallen in love with drums when we were little kids living on the west side of town. Santa delivered his first toy set but this was a real one. It was well worthy of the double insulated walls dad had installed to muffle the noisy racket just to make living tolerable for us. We thought we were drowning him out, but neighbors were complaining half a mile away across open acres of dirt fields.

That Sunday, a total stranger was visiting our home. He was the youth group leader at First Baptist looking for a drummer to play in his choir called the “Celebration Singers” and “Sonshine Company”. Our sister, Karla was a singer in the group and they were preparing for a “summer tour” heading to California with stops along the way. A young Ronnie Hill was scouting talent for the group’s instrumental section.

As I sat in my room listening, I hoped somehow to get a chance like Karla and Mike were getting. To be invited into a place to plug in. Although my only talent had been first and second chair trumpet in junior high band, I might be able to do something, anything to be included. Heck, I could even do lighting.

As Ronnie was leaving, it was clear he was impressed and wanted my brother to join the group. Then he turned and looked up the hall toward my room. He came in and introduced himself. Seeing an old junk guitar standing against the wall, he asked, “Do you play “GUT-TAR?” (Until then, I had pronounced it “GIT-TAR”).

The neck had long warped and the bridge was almost completely unglued, leaving the strings a good quarter to half inch above the fretboard. To play it was painful at best and bloody at worst. I had a few songs I could play in single notes and only about three measures in length. “My Dog has Fleas”, (an old favorite), “Secret Agent Man”, and “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. This was long before “Stairway to Heaven” had even been written.

This old “instrument” was scratched up by years of poor treatment and who knows how many kids trying to bang out tunes over time. The sound never came out quite flat nor sharp but somewhere just south of pleasant. Still, this was a chance to go on “tour” and Mike was being invited. This might be my chance!

“Do you know how to play?” Ronnie asked again.

“Uh, yeah”, I replied. And that’s how I learned to play the guitar. On the job training. More importantly, it’s how I learned about shepherds and how Christ uses them to enter into uncomfortable places, to find those left behind, and invites them when least expected. That one instance was the start of a lifelong friendship. One where I learned more about being a “Christian” than I perhaps ever would otherwise. It is certainly a chapter I’d never remove from my story.


We played the “Summer Tour”. About ten churches and a mall or two of uninterested shoppers. I kept my Mel Bay’s “How to Play Guitar Chords in Three Simple Steps” book hidden in my case. The whole tour, I mock played my “GUT-TAR” with the volume turned off completely. After each show, we’d have a fellowship and audience members would say, “Hey, I could hear everyone else but you. Man, you need to turn up your volume”. I always nodded and replied, “Yeah, it’s best for a guitar to just blend in”.

Pretty lame, but true. Still, I was invited. That was ALL that mattered then and a complete stranger named Ronnie Hill made a choice to do that. I’d not realize what he was doing until far later in life. That one choice he made changed my life entirely.


As a youth in Brownfield, either kids met at the “drag”, stayed home, or found some other place to gather. The drag was a one mile stretch on the Lubbock Highway between Coleman Park and the Sonic drive-in. Ronnie’s door never was locked and when his youth were unsure where to go, we could knock on the door knowing when it opened we had a place.

We played not only Christian music but popular music and many times the kids would just sit around talking and laughing. This was a completely new experience for me and I suspect for most of the others. Still, it was a place of absolute acceptance, inclusion, and encouragement.

As I became more comfortable as an outsider, I’d stay late after the other kids left. Ronnie and I would throw darts, tell jokes, and laugh until our sides hurt. Many times he pulled out board games and never acted like it was an imposition on his time. Ronnie had a knack for erasing the age gap and his kids felt we belonged, were valued, and we had a purpose.


Ronnie was later “Called” to move to a church in Dallas as a youth minister. There, he became just “Ron” and we remained friends. He actually wrote old fashioned letters that required a stamp. They were brief, sincere, and always asked how I was doing along with a scripture reference. I rarely returned the gesture but he didn’t stop.

After college graduation, I was in search of a job and headed for the big city of Dallas. Ron opened his home for a place to stay while job hunting. Once or twice we’d have a pretty good argument and once he even kicked me out. It was short lived but well deserved. I was being a selfish idiot.

Years later, Ron served as my singles minister in San Antonio. Most recently, he invited me to the church he founded and pastored for almost eighteen years. He asked me to share testimony about our son’s life and his death, openly and without shame. Ron’s church planted a tree in their prayer garden in memorial of Braden. Following Ron’s leadership and example his flock welcomed my family as their own and when we visit there, it feels like a second church home.

I could share so many stories about my friend and our friendship it would quickly grow boring. Suffice to say, they are memories we’ll both take into chapters yet written.

In prayer garden near Braden’s Tree

Here are just a few things I learned from this shepherd. Perhaps we all could better see how Christ works in the background and how we each should serve as His shepherds wherever lost sheep can be found.

Lessons from Ron

God blesses his children if we just look for those blessings.

God sends helpers so be looking for them.

God loves laughter. After all, He created it.

God loves us just as we are and He hears short prayers as clearly as long flowery ones.

God loves the humble, the unloved, and the outcast.

GOD LOVES ME and offers unconditional grace.

A shepherd’s primary responsibility is the safety and welfare of the flock.


Matthew 18: 12 

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?”

Today was Ron’s very last message to the flock he leaves in search of his next. Perhaps his next flock will be scattered to all corners of the world. He loves travel, so that will suit him well. As he left the stage this morning, before they cut the microphone, he exclaimed “Now, go OUT. And BE the Church!” How perfect.


Prayer: Lord, thank you for sending us shepherds. I consider myself blessed to have met several along life’s path. Please open the eyes of the lost today in need of a shepherd who will choose to leave the beaten path and help bring others to You. Bless the Shepherds and may I serve as one to someone else. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Hurts, Helps, & Hopes

I allowed my hopes and God’s Truth to become overshadowed by Satan’s lies. Please help others know where they will find eternal hope. Love you all, Braden

“God told me I needed to do this job at no cost”– Prosper Contractor

“I need help! I have to talk to someone right now!” – Youth group student


I forgot my mask last night. Just as well. We had a business meeting scheduled but being such a large crowd, I figured my absence wouldn’t be noticed.

Instead of bothering to go home and returning, I decided to revisit some memories. I’ve learned sometimes this helps. Revisiting places where Braden walked is probably just asking to hurt. Still, at times even feeling pain is better than feeling numb.

First, I drove by the junior and high schools.

Reynolds was where we had registered Braden for school. It was literally the first thing we did upon arrival in our new community. On the run for the Fall semester with a U-Haul trailer in tow behind Cathy’s Toyota 4Runner double parked outside. We had just one day left to get enrolled upon our hasty arrival in Prosper, Texas.

The trailer was loaded with items the commercial carrier couldn’t legally haul, like paint and other combustibles. Plants, fertilizer, etc. Also, there was a snake named Jake and a tortoise named Spoons. Braden’s pets.

Next stop was PHS. As I sat in the parking lot, I could clearly see him trudging along in the dark, lit by the car headlights of parents arriving to gather their band kids. He was dressed in his overheated band uniform, carrying his trombone from the football game on a hot sweaty Texas Friday night. Exhausted. Hanging in there.

That night while the Prosper Eagles screamed, Braden played in the “suicide squad”. At half time, the higher performing players in the trombone section presented a crazy but fun show where they all bent and swung their horns in different directions. If just one player missed a single beat, it was very dangerous. I later thought the name of their ensemble to be beyond ironic.

Then I recalled our family waiting in the late hours at the band hall for him to exit. Sometimes he’d be smiling, hanging with a buddy. Often one of the last to leave, other times walking out alone.

The final stop on the memory tour was Frontier Park where the students of the Class of 2018 held a candlelight vigil. That November night we had at least a hundred kids and their parents circling near a beautiful fountain. Over two hundred crying eyes, praying and wishing they could have helped. That night by just being there, they did help our family have some hope. I added my two crying eyes along with inward cries to Heaven to help others not to have to experience our hell.

From the first dawn I saw our son at his birth until the last night I saw him on this earth, my goal had been to give him a good life. Through his loss, as parents we’ve learned that some of the most important things we consider to be our full responsibility fall well outside our control.


A few months ago we decided it was time to begin the difficult process of working on Braden’s bedroom. Although it sometimes felt like a dark place when he was sad, after he left it became cold. Starkly barren. No carpet. Just tacks around the baseboards. The bed frame sat without a mattress or springs. The nightstand without a drawer. The ceiling without a coat of paint. If Braden had been here, he’d be wanting us to finally get around to fixing up the room. I would have replied, “Everything in its time, son”. It was time.

As we began the monumental task, we were once again amazed as we have been countless times. Out of nowhere, a local contracting company offered their help. They wanted to paint and refinish the walls for free. A month or so later, another company came to re-carpet the room. As I sat upstairs working from home, I’ll never forget hearing the contractor say to Cathy, “God told me to do this, so I’ve decided to do this job at no cost”.

Before the work could begin, we’d need to remove the furniture and anything on the walls and floor. Not a task either of us wanted to begin. One late night, Cathy decided to go up and remove Braden’s many books from the shelves. With each book came a thin layer of dust having been still and unopened so long. Finally, Cathy began just stacking them without allowing her emotions to distract from the task.

Then, randomly she opened a book to thumb through its pages. In that book was a handwritten note Braden had hidden who knows when. His note read that he’d decided he didn’t want to be here any longer. It also said that he wanted to take his dad on a cruise for a guy trip and to take his mom to Italy where they had always dreamed of going together, even as a young child.

Like opening a time capsule and catching a glimpse of our son, this note contained his deepest feelings and hopes which he’d long kept hidden and never expected to share with anyone. It hurt to read, but helped to know he is now experiencing joys far above any he had hoped here in this world.


Two Asides: Questions with Too Few Answers

First. Braden’s sister, Caitlin is our dancer. Unfortunately, since the Covid lockdown began in March, she’s been in severe pain. We thought it was an ACL tear in her knee but after two MRIs and three doctors we still don’t know what’s causing her problem. If you’re a parent, you understand. Few things hurt us more than knowing our child is in pain yet we are helpless. The best we can offer is our assurance that we’re simply there, no matter what happens.

Secondly, just last week, a local church youth leader had us to speak with a group of middle and high schoolers on the topic of suicide. It was very uncomfortable yet something I’ve prayed about doing since the day Braden left. We’ve wanted to have the chance to speak openly and honestly about the reality of this epidemic called suicide.

Immediately after the talk, the lights dimmed and the microphones were turned off. Two young girls approached the stage separately. The first was a smiling and beautiful girl who wanted to say thanks and to share that she had attempted suicide just a year earlier. She assured us we were on the right track and to keep speaking to kids. There was a visible glow in her spirit and her joy was palpable. She now had a sense purpose not only for herself but for others she would help.

Next, another young lady approached weeping heavily. From the floor, she yelled, “I need to talk with someone right now!” As the youth leader and I listened, she shared that she had come that night knowing she needed a message of hope and help. One of her friends has been tweeting about taking her own life. This child’s face was just the opposite of the other teen. This girl was wrought with pain and her eyes were yearning for any wisdom or guidance.

Sadly, I was at a loss for words. It was that same lousy feeling when Braden needed help or when his sister needs help still with the pain she feels but can’t fully explain. I felt totally lacking but we thinly assured her that it would be alright and commended her for coming forth. I told her to just be there for her friend and to pray. As my mouth sounded out the words, I know they seemed empty to the listener.

Just then, the words shared by one of my new friends who had dealt with thoughts of suicide in high school came to mind. He’d said, “I realized I simply needed to TELL someone”. Too often, we think keeping our hurts inside will help them to go away or somehow diminish the pain. Ironically, just the opposite is true. Satan absolutely thrives in secrets and in loneliness. If he can keep us quiet, he can own our minds. Only when we open up, share and ask for help can we find healing and hope.

That evening, in addition to our encouragement to follow Christ’s example of peer relationship, we concluded as we always do. We emphasized how vital it is to find and to grow a personal relationship with Jesus who’s love and unconditional love never waivers. As a husband, father, child of God, and one who has experienced hurt beyond explanation, I can confidently say Christ is the only real answer to these impossible questions.

From now on, that’ll be my first response when presented with the unanswerable question: “How can you help me when life brings unmanageable Hurt?” First, TELL SOMEONE and get immediate Help. Then simply seek Jesus Christ who brings eternal Hope. He’ll do the rest.


Parents, Teachers, and Teens

We certainly don’t have all the answers when another person is in crisis, do we? What we have learned is by process of elimination one thing we can NOT afford to do is to ignore the problem and just hope it just goes away. Kids today are desperately needing others who are willing and eager to step forward and help them by coming alongside and walking with them. Encourage them and seek help from mental health professionals, counselors, and ministers.

Most importantly, just STAY. They need your help and hope. You not only will make a friend, you may very well save a life.


Jeremiah 29:11-12

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.

Lost and Found


“Meant to tell you, I met someone. Let me introduce you.” – Braden

“Braden was always so kind. We talked mostly via Snapchat. I told him I hardly knew anyone in my lunch and he asked if I wanted to sit with him and another friend at their table”. – Student

“If you can see it, it won’t last. The things which truly last are those things you cannot see”. – Dennis Swanberg


It’s been a while. Certainly not for lack of subject matter. It’s National Suicide Prevention week and only God knows the names of each teen, who this very moment are seriously contemplating or even perhaps planning when and exactly how to take their own lives.

I’ll try not to be morbid nor overly zealous, but just ponder this: Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers. That fact is hard to even take in. As a parent, if you’re thinking your teen hasn’t at least entertained the thought, you are deceived. It’s the topic of the day. The thing to consider. In fact, it’s become “just another choice on the menu” as several youth have told us. Since March 2020 (the beginning of COVID lockdowns) that number has increased to nearly 50% of teens and young adults 16-24.

Since the loss of our son, in hopes of helping others walking in our shoes, we remain committed to sharing about the nightmare many today are living, yet too few are willing to discuss. Writing and speaking about this is like talking to a counselor hoping to better understand what can never be fully understood. Two mirrors facing together with unending reflection.

Last year, I met yet another father who had lost his son to suicide. The young man had graduated high school and begun his college career. These parents have become friends, sharing similar ground in losing a child while working to keep things on track personally and in the role as parents.

Although I never met my friend’s son nor those of numerous other parents who have survived the loss of their children, when we share stories it’s like we’re all talking about the same kid. Loved but not feeling loved. Accepted, yet not feeling accepted. Caring, still feeling uncared for. All living with a pervasive struggle of depression and hopelessness.

That evening, my father friend asked how our non-profit, “Braden’s Voice” was developing. I admitted, ironically with the pandemic and all that’s going on right now, teen mental health and the epidemic of suicide has seemingly faded from the radar. I told him for now we’ve backed off and are waiting to see what God wants for this mission. Surrendering to and trusting in God has sustained us and His plans will be made clear soon enough. Still, inside I was thinking it seems futile.

When I got home I prepared to drop to sleep, but couldn’t relax, my mind kept occupied by my friend’s question: “What are you doing to help others who face the same struggles your family faced?” For two hours I stayed wide awake trying to answer that question in my mind. It certainly begs an answer. Finally, I gave up trying to sleep and decided to scan email.

The first was the standard junk mail from one of a thousand realtors trying to sell our house though we’ve never given serious thought about placing it on the market. Then a charge card bill, like I needed reminding at midnight that we have a Visa bill to rival the national budget.

The next email was from a total stranger. A student from Braden’s high school who had been a freshman when they had first met. The message was one I’ll never forget and one which renewed hope that God continues to quietly work even when we grow weary of trying.

The writer gave permission to share the following. Keep in mind, their identity will remain confidential until such time they wish to share their testimony directly. Still, this is a message that shouts to be shared.


The message began:

First off, I want to properly introduce myself. I’m 17 years old. I read your blog often and it is very touching. In 2017, I was a brand new student at Prosper High when I met Braden through a mutual friend. He was so kind and we talked (mostly on SnapChat). I confided knowing hardly anyone in my lunch hour and he asked if I wanted to sit with him at his table with his friend. I accepted his invitation and sat with him and a couple of other students.

Unfortunately, just weeks later, my schedule was changed so I didn’t have the same lunch time anymore. I never got to eat lunch with Braden again. It was about a year later when Braden passed.

When I found out about it, I was so upset. After all, I had known Braden. I’d sat with him at lunch. I had waved to him in the hallway and had talked to him. I attended the candle lighting at Frontier Park with my dad and had tears running down my face.

A couple of months later I saw a strange notification from Snapchat saying “Braden Speed is typing”! I was so confused! Then when I went to open the message, it was from you.

The day I found out about Braden I’d sent a message to him on SnapChat thanking him for being so nice to me when I was new to High School and for inviting/ welcoming me to his lunch table. Of course I realized he was gone and would never read the message, but I felt it was important to express my gratitude and grief.

You gave me your number and said you’d love to talk to me sometime about Braden. I was nervous, being young and carrying a ton of anxiety. I never could gather the courage to respond to you.

My next school year of high school I was going through stuff and felt so alone. I attended the first two days of school and after that I don’t know what came over me. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like the whole world was against me.

It was at that point when I attempted suicide.

I was placed into inpatient treatment for a week and subsequently outpatient therapy for a week. When I was discharged from the hospital I went straight to your blog. It gave me hope. I’ve regretted not responding to you in 2018 when you’d shared your number.

Thankfully, I am in a much better place mentally than where I was at that time. I just wanted to thank you and Cathy and Caitlin.

Signed, A Prosper Student


There have been many “God moments” where I’ve felt Him sending a message of hope saying, “I have a plan to defeat Satan where he had plans to destroy”. Still, it’s difficult to recall when a specific message arrived so timely and one more encouraging.

I’d dug into Braden’s social media almost two years ago to find anything to help put together the pieces. Instead I found messages all saying, in essence they “wish they’d known” and they’d do something different. To me, it’s telling that only one out of all those kids decided to respond. That’s not an indictment on them. After all, they are kids. Still, it’s further evidence of the problem. Complacency and a lack of willingness to make a difference.

Hope Squad is now in every school in Prosper. These are kids identified by their peers as a safe person in whom to confide. The primary means to truly impact teen suicide is peer to peer. These are kids who can and will make a difference in saving lives by being consciously aware of red flags and subtle signs to indicate a friend who is in crisis.

One of several friends who share daily devotionals sent one recently which contained the following quote: “If you can see it, it won’t last. The things which truly last are those things you cannot see“. We will not see our son until we each take turns in returning to our eternal home in heaven. However, what Braden left us and those he touched in his brief life will truly last.

Among far too many to list, our family is grateful for the bold courage of this one young person and for the many who want to make the difference in finding and helping the lost.


Parents:
Our kids are getting lost. If not literally, they’re getting lost spiritually. We must teach them that we’re all lost and in search of our value, purpose, and connection. Remind them the only lasting source of acceptance and meaning is in a personal relationship with Jesus who readily invites them so they may be found.

Prayer:
Lord, as we begin a new school year and especially during this month recognizing those “lost”, grant our kids the hearts and the eyes of Christ in their comings and goings. Make them bold and courageous in reaching through uncomfortable invisible barriers and finding the lost.

May Your Name be glorified. Amen

A Father’s Blessings

Dad, I’m proud to call you my earthly father. You are celebrated and loved by your family. Every day is a gift from your Heavenly Father. Remember to celebrate each one!” – Love, your son. Braden.

The best gifts are those you can’t buy and which can not be taken away” Love, Daddy


Over the past few weeks I can’t put a finger on why, but I’ve felt an unusual sense of blessing and contentment. That’s foreign to me. Normally, I just go about life trudging through it like I’m on a long uphill hike with no time to stop and appreciate the simple beauty of the very mountain I’m climbing. Sadly lacking clarity on where I’m even trying to go.

Through most of the previous two years, I’ve been rope climbing a ragged cliff rather than walking up a steep mountain. Each day a part of me felt I could misstep at any moment and fall helplessly to the bottom. Many days I believed I was already there, flat on my back at the foot of Mount Everest.

At this point I won’t go too deeply into the details. That’s for another time. All I guess is needed today is to acknowledge the fact that God has stuck with me and our family on this path. He always has. Out of infinite grace and love, He reminds me once in awhile how amazing life can be while I’m so busy striving toward some unknown destination yet to materialize.

Certainly, among these blessings undeserved are my family and friends about whom I could write volumes. Suffice today to simply take stock in these particular blessings. Ones that continually help sustain in life’s “climb”.


Speaking of not taking time to smell the roses. Someone please explain to me what happens along the way when most guys no longer get excited about life events like birthdays and holidays? It may just be me, but a lot of my friends (if they get honest) admit the same. “Oh, we stopped giving each other Christmas and birthday gifts years ago. I mean, there’s nothing either of us can’t just buy when we want it.”

Not to stereotype, but typically this is a man’s perspective. There are exceptions, but more often than not, it’s the guy who considers such events just another day. I’ll confess. That’s me. Of course, wedding anniversaries and Cathy’s birthdays are different… (especially if she is reading this).

About a month ago, our 13 year old Caitlin said to me, “Daddy. Are you excited about Father’s Day?” Being the pragmatist, I figured I may as well come clean early in her life and admit it, “Not so much, honey. I just think of it as another day. That’s not to say y’all can’t be excited, but dad just doesn’t really get excited about much these days”. Her face deflated. I’m sure she was confused as to why a day designated to celebrate someone for a specific reason wouldn’t be cause for complete elation.

Of course, I felt like a heel. What’s new. I mean, let’s get honest. These days, what does a man need or want that he can’t just buy? (I’m guessing you’re ahead of me here).

Last night, watching TV late. Again, Caitlin said excitedly, “Daddy, this weekend is Father’s Day! Are you excited yet? I am!” Suddenly, I thought to myself, shouldn’t I be thankful if nothing more, that I have a child and moreover, one who is eager to celebrate and recognize her father?

This morning, after an all-night rain it was cool and breezy outside. I sat and read as I do most every morning to start the day. After praying, I looked around. I’m sitting in a beautiful back yard. I have an amazing and loving wife who has stuck with me in sickness and in health. Currently, I’m healthy. I have a paying job. One I’ve learned to enjoy even though it isn’t the leadership career track I was on before choosing to change paths. My life is full of friends. The best kind. The ones who daily send blessings and are there every step of the “climb”.

Although we lost one of our most precious gifts in Braden, we still have each other and the confidence that we’ll be reunited. The list of blessing is too long and certainly not one for bragging purposes. Yet, it is a list worth acknowledging and one in which to take stock.

We are taught in church that God is most pleased when His children acknowledge and celebrate Him. I’ve been in church all my life but embarrassed to admit I’ve not really grown much in my relationship with my heavenly Father until the past 20 or so months. When we sing worship songs or hymns, I used to think it was just to fill the half hour before we got the sermon. Kind of like a lead in or opening act. A routine.

I’ve come to realize the songs and praise we give to our Father are of mutual benefit rather than us trying to convince Him of some emotion or feeling. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of a relationship between a perfect loving Father who brought us into this world and His children.

We give Him acknowledgment, praise, worship, and honor. He gives us assurance and perfect peace. Confidence. Counsel. Healing and eternally far more than we could ever give Him.

Being a dad whose eyes were opened a little wider through the loss of our son, I find the comparison interesting to consider between our perfect heavenly Father and us earthly imperfect ones. The differences are as broad as the Grand Canyon. Although we strive, we always fall short. I have in the past often and most certainly will every day of my life.

The most amazing thing to me is this. While I am a father, I’m also a child. As a child who is still learning I make mistakes and always will. Yet, my heavenly Father forgives me each time, always there to guide when I seek Him. That’s reason to celebrate EVERY DAY!

I guess I need to preach to myself today. Maybe other fathers might need it too. Who knows. Tomorrow I plan to be thankful that my child is excited about Father’s Day and will commit to praying for a child’s eyes, thanking my dad and my heavenly Father for all they both mean to their child.

Prayer for parents/ dads:

“Lord, sometimes I’m blown away by the clarity You instill in me, reminding me of Your love, grace, and awesome blessings I take for granted too often. I pray over every parent today who is too busy striving toward an unseen goal or invisible destination. Open our eyes as your children as moms and dads, to be thankful for what we have in the present.

Happy Heavenly Father’s Day! In Jesus’ name, Amen”

Beautiful World

“Stop. Observe what God has created for you. Although it doesn’t come even close to Heaven, it’s the next best thing.” – Braden

“I wish we could have just one more summer vacation to see something beautiful. Together.” – Braden’s Dad


Before we moved from Houston to Dallas in 2014, north Texas had been bone dry. They’d had a drought the likes not seen in decades. Cotton fields were burning up and a lot of farmers were giving up. I’d been raised with the west Texas weather patterns. There was limited predictability, but the forecast there was almost always, “Dry, with little to no chance of rain”.

When I met Cathy in 1997, I’d met a true native Houstonian. Still, I swore to never live or work in Houston. I perceived it was hotter than blazes, humid, and full of hateful people. Like New York in Texas. Then, due to circumstances at my company, we were forced to move there.

The Gulf of Mexico constantly feeds warm moist air into southeastern Texas. That, along with rich dark soil makes things grow where they never would anywhere else. The Gulf also brings an indescribable amount of humidity.

Against every prejudice I had about Houston, I grew to love it. The people there were real. Many come from farmlands across the country, working in the petroleum industry. We found it to be home for us.

Just as we began our Houston home, we were again abruptly “relocated” to Dallas. This was move number five and we were completely spent, giving up yet one more established place of community. How would Braden and Caitlin deal with this move?

I remember hoping Dallas wouldn’t be a dry, brown, and desolate place. That would just add to the depressive feelings we already had about the move.

I prayed that it would just please rain.

It did. And it rained… and it rained. When we settled into our new community in Prosper, we began frequently hearing weather forecasts about heavy thunderstorms, winds, hail, and possible tornadoes. Tragically, Garland had a devastating tornado the second year after we arrived.

What had happened to the long historic draught? We joke still that we brought Houston rain to north Texas.


Recently, we had yet another north Texas storm. Here, storms arrive in the deep of the night. In west Texas you knew when a storm was coming. They typically arrived before the sun went down. You could see clouds building typically to the west and moving to the northeast.

In north Texas, Mother Nature tends to act randomly. Here, a tornado might drop out of any low hanging cloud at any time and too often in the middle of night when you can’t see what’s coming. Out of nowhere there might come a cloudburst not even the most avid weatherman could have predicted. All to say, you’re pretty much on your own in Tornado Alley.

Recently, such a rain storm emerged. Out of nowhere, rain came in a sudden barrage along with a strong north howling wind. It was near midnight. The winds blew so hard that rain entered through the downstairs windows. We still don’t know why, but when the conditions are just so, water drips from the second story through the windows in the living room.

We had to move the furniture. Shoving the couch away from the wall and placing pitchers, bowls, and every Tupperware container in the sills to catch the leaks. The winds continued, the draining water continued, and the thunder kept rolling. Then. The rain finally subsided. The night became quiet. Peaceful. Like the storm had never even visited.


The next morning, the sun was out. The curtains remained splayed forward over the couch which had been pulled away from the wall. Pitchers, bowls, and every Tupperware in the cupboard stood their post along the window sill, half filled with rain water.

I picked up the containers, combining each into one and spilling it into the kitchen sink and righting the curtains. I pulled the couch out just an inch beyond where it had been to be sure nothing had been damaged underneath.

I hesitated, knowing Braden had hidden away things under the couch over the years. Remnants of memories I feared but knew I would happen upon. Such moments bring about unexpected emotion, like suddenly seeing him and instantly losing him again.

Braden hid things: Discarded candy wrappers. Hershey kisses, Fruit by the Foot. Even handwritten notes.

I pushed the couch further away by a couple of inches, finding a coffee table book. A large one. On its cover, I read the title. “Beautiful World”. Immediately, I knew I’d stumbled upon another remnant of our son. As it always does, came a mix of elation and depression in the same instance.

The following morning, I woke for my morning quiet time. Something I’ve done as a ritual every day since he left. Honestly, I’ve exchanged that brief time for sleep. Escaping by closing my eyes to make the feelings go away. At least for a few minutes.

That morning I opened the book and enjoyed absorbing each page. Traveling mentally with Braden to each new amazing place.

Braden had the rare gift of seeing the world from a completely unique perspective. He saw things as they actually are as opposed to what they should be. He was capable of experiencing every moment in real time. To me that’s taking a huge risk. One not many of us are willing or capable of taking. I wish I could. It just might make me who I want to be and who God created me to be.

Thanks, Braden for leaving behind remnants of who you were and allowing us to find them at just the perfect moments.

Our Mother

“Our Mother had the most amazing ability to love with an abundant heart. I held that heart tightly in dark moments when I wanted to give up. She was always there. Ours was an amazing and unique bond. Happy Mother’s Day to one most deserving to be honored”. – Braden


I’ll never forget the very first moment Cathy and I met. Through friends, we were introduced. A blind date. Both having experience with blind dates, neither wanting anything to do with them.

We called several times. I was impressed by her willingness to listen deeply and her unselfishness. She was a great conversationalist and I was blown away by the sincere joy in her voice. Of course, I played the game. Not calling back for days. Waiting for her to show her cards first.

C’mon. When was she going to call? Well, she never called. That was new to me. This girl didn’t play the traditional dating games I’d become good at playing. As the guy, it was my place to make the call and she wasn’t about to let me get away with anything less.

While we dated, I soon came to learn some interesting things about my future wife. She loved to talk. She REALLY loved to talk. Also, I learned she loved to listen. She had the largest heart of anyone I’d ever known. She was the toughest and most courageous person who never gave thought to herself. That was brand new to me.


Every time I made the drive from College Station to Humble for a date, Cathy would come running from her apartment with her arms held high waiting for a hug. That one experience alone helped me decide she would become my wife. It had been far too long since I’d felt that kind of love.


Fast forward to College Station when we made our home together and began a family. We still laugh about how it began.

One night we watched a documentary about Mother’s Day. It was a touching story about parents who had conjoined twins. I was moved by the story and out of the blue, I said, “Do you think we could make one of those?” She looked at me like I was crazy for a minute. Then, realizing I meant I wanted to start our own family, she fell into my lap crying.

Braden came along as if scheduled nine months to the day when we decided to have him. He was an easy pregnancy and delivery. Traditional. No problems. He was healthy, beautiful, and strong. Yet he needed a sibling.

Soon, we became pregnant again. Three times. Tragically losing all three.

After six years trying, Caitlin finally came along. I could write an entire book about that six year period of time. But this is an abbreviated version of the story.


When I met Cathy, I fell in love almost instantly. When I entered her home the first time, I felt at home.

I was amazed by her heart. Of course it didn’t hurt that she was as beautiful outside as inside. But not until years later did I come to realize that her beauty came from deeper places. I came to learn that she had lost her mother who had been her dearest friend. I became close friends with her father who died tragically two years after Braden came along.

With such losses and the fact that she remained one of the most joyous people I’d ever met, I realized I’d not only married a beautiful and loving woman, but one who had more strength and endurance than any person alive.

Cathy welcomed me into her family of friends. Relationship and community the likes I’d never experienced. These people had walked through life together with every variety of triumph and tragedy. Over 20 years, they have become part of my family and I a part of theirs.

Until Braden died, I had never experienced personal loss. I’d seen it but I had never personally felt it. Cathy and I had talked a lot about this. Realizing it was only a matter of time, like a cloud on the horizon. Little did I know my first experience with such loss would be our son.

This day, I simply wish to briefly acknowledge the blessing of Cathy Speed. Without the strength, courage, faith, and sheer perseverance of this amazing woman, our family would have imploded long ago.

Lord, thank you for sharing with us your very special daughter.

Jumbled Pieces

“Happy birthday son. You were an amazing and beautiful gift to this world.” – Braden’s Family

For my birthday gift, release your guilt. Smile and laugh about a memory we had. Shed tears, but make them joyful ones for once. For my birthday celebration, simply blow out a candle and make these three wishes come true. Beyond words, I’m so sorry for leaving so early. I am hugging you all forever. I hope you feel them.” – All my love, Braden

You were my very first Mother’s Day gift on my first Mother’s Day. I can’t express how I feel and how much I miss you. I’ll try to make your three wishes come true today”. Love, Mom


In December 2018 we began a very bizarre journey.

This was not a topic I ever dreamed would be on my tongue. However, the alternative would be acting like it hadn’t happened. That would make me an accessory to the problem and very likely I would fall to pieces realizing our son died for absolutely nothing.

Talking with a friend recently about what has transpired over the past two years since that October, I heard myself say, “To save my life, I can’t imagine how these things have happened.” My friend responded thoughtfully, Well, maybe it’s been exactly that. These things may have happened to save your life”.

I’ll never shake the visual image of our son the night before he left. In fact, I recall every second of his life, too often in slow motion. It’s like what I call a “treadmill dream”. One where you’re working and working and working, incessantly to achieve a goal. If you can just work harder, you perceive it possible. But it’s futile.

That goal for us has been to at least help prevent others from our experience. To help that one teen on a cliff from taking the step. I may never truly understand why, but we decided to aim our sights on that goal. Knowing all along it will never be fully achieved. Still, I believe it be a worthy goal and one Braden would be proud to be part of.

Helping build something better from nothing.


Braden absolutely loved to build. Like every inventor, some attempts turned into dismal failures, but more often he created something beautiful and astounding.

Minecraft is a computer simulation game where a virtual world is built by the imagination of the user. It’s a whiteboard where the imagineer has full reign to create anything from nothing. When he was very young, this was a place Braden could make into his own world. While some kids chased “creepers”, for Braden it was a place where he could build.

For weeks, I’d watch him lie on the couch with his laptop, seemingly wasting time. “Son, why don’t you get up and do something?” “Dad, I’m building something. You’ll see”.

Later, I came to learn he’d built fantastic resorts with waterparks and landscaping. Once he built an entire cruise ship in virtual reality to include staterooms, each fully furnished. We gazed at it in complete amazement. He’d created virtual dining, dancing, and theaters, all just from his memories of our family travels.


Around age five or so, Braden became a lover of Legos. He was addicted to putting the pieces together and watching something come from nothing. To create. It made him feel like he’d made the world better in some small way. He’d sit and actually hum in his playroom putting the pieces together.

By age 12, he was building sets designed for adults. Among just a few, he built a functioning carousel, an elaborate Star Wars battleship and a community building (of course before social distancing). Braden had a keen eye for a world well beyond what most of us can perceive and I’m so blessed and glad I was there for him. I sometimes feel guilt for not having appreciated his gifts.

I realized there would be a day we would face the task of saying goodbye to some of his prized possessions. Although we’ll keep most of his things, there simply is not room to keep all of it. Particularly difficult would be letting go of some of his Legos pieces, which we still had although he had long since outgrown them. We will forever keep the large projects still intact, although after moving too many times, several of his projects were now just jumbled pieces.

Last week we met a young father, who was a homeschooler and engineer. He loved legos as a kid and enjoys using them to teach principles of homeschooling to his 12 year old son. It was something they enjoy doing together. We sent them home with several boxes of legos in pieces, and were ecstatic to get home and begin putting those pieces together.

Over the past two years, we’ve tried to put together the pieces of our family. It’s certainly a work in progress. With every memory we find that we’d packed away like a child’s toy or stuffed animals. His car. His high school diploma. Of all those little pieces to which we’ve had to say goodbye, we will never let go of the bigger ones.

His huge heart. His gorgeous smile. His contagious laughter. His love for his family and his deep friendships. With each small “thing” we let go, we receive an equal share of peace knowing that things are only temporary, but we will have eternity together.

Cathy and I sat down after the father left. We’d released some of what we’d held onto for so long. Realizing another sweet little boy would soon be building and creating alongside his dad with the very pieces Braden loved so much. It brought us at least some measure of peace.

Happy 20th Birthday, Braden. We have some peace and hope in what is being built out of the jumbled pieces you left behind.


Prayer for families who‘ve lost a loved one or who face darkness

“Lord, only You could know our hearts. You experienced pain and heartbreak like we will never even fathom. You sent Your only son to this dark and lost world with the specific intent for Him to die. For us.

Thank You for the free gift we don’t deserve and thank You for assurance that we are held in your everlasting arms. All we need do is trust in You. Grant us peace as we face another tomorrow.

Amen

Braden’s Tree

Braden’s Tree

Mom and Dad. I would have turned 20 this May, and it will soon be another Mother’s Day. I know you’re hurting. Please trust that I’m ok. I want you to all find peace like I have found. Seek and trust Him in these times. He will hear your hearts. All my love. – Braden


Some months ago, I wrote a short story about a small and fast-growing tree in our backyard titled, “Stained and Scarred”. Years earlier, Braden had chosen to aim his first arrow at this tree with his brand new high tension crossbow. The kind that sinks its arrow deeply into the target. So deep, it could never be retrieved, leaving a scar. I later learned a deeper meaning in that experience and forevermore it became Braden’s tree.

While I’d worked to finish the staining project in the blazing summer sun, I was certain the effort would ultimately be worth it. And it was. I still recall waking from a nap that afternoon and how God distinctly spoke into me. I recognized the connection between that tree and my own life.


Fast forward. The other night, Caitlin wanted to watch movies by the pool to celebrate completion of seventh grade. We have a TV outside and like to watch shows by the light of tiki torches. While we watched, I drifted away mentally. I was missing our son. He’d loved watching movies with our family sitting outside at hotels or on cruise ships. We roasted S’mores and drank cocoa. Traditions meant a lot to him. They were like oxygen.

In particularly rough moments, I often park on the couch outside to pray. To observe and listen to what God has to say. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. Simply sitting still, allowing the peaceful breeze to flow over me is amazing mental and spiritual therapy. And it’s free!

That night while we watched TV, I began tuning out the movie and tuning into that familiar sound coming from the eastern corner of the backyard. In west Texas, the wind usually subsides at night. However in north Texas it blows almost all the time. Frankly, that isn’t my favorite thing about living in the Dallas area, but you learn to adapt and to tie down your lawn furniture.

The sound of the leaves that evening was distinctly different. As the cooling breezes wafted in and out, I realized none of the other trees made a single sound. They weren’t moving at all. How was that even possible? The only thing that was capturing the north Texas winds in our yard that night was Braden’s tree.

It sounded to me like a peaceful ocean. Serene and casting calm on anyone who would listen. The sounds had been there all along, but I hadn’t heard it until I chose to tune into it. I realize this sounds odd, but I needed connection and reassurance that our son was ok and that our family would be too. God brought both answers instantly.


It’s no longer small, but it certainly remains fast-growing. Thriving. Yet, still scarred. Only could my Creator have been so intuitive in that moment to provide a sense of peace through a simple thing like a tree.

Philippians 4:7 

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Prayer for Readers

Lord, How can we express our gratitude.

I pray over those who, in this very moment want to cut their story short. I pray against the lies infiltrating their mind. Especially during this season of isolation, we pray against Satan’s lies and spirits in those dark places. I pray peace and wisdom for the “Braden’s” who are battling hard in this very moment to stay the course. We pray over their families who are struggling more than anyone can fathom.

We pray Your peace beyond our understanding. In Jesus’s name. Amen

Easter Saturday v2

“Mom has a lot on her heart she needs to share.” – Braden


Following is a re-post Cathy Speed wrote one year ago. It was written by a grieving mother on a Saturday morning before Easter Sunday only months after we’d lost our son, Braden.

Yesterday, ahead of the rains predicted for the weekend, Cathy and Caitlin went in search of some wildflowers to take family pictures in the sunshine. It was a long tradition we’ve kept since the kids came. This year I couldn’t bring myself to go. Our son wouldn’t be in the picture and I wasn’t in the spirit.

I’m glad they went together though. The relationship between a mother and daughter is far too deep to explain. Although different, the relationship between a father and his son is uniquely indescribable. Whenever Braden hurt, I felt pain. It’s hard to explain, but every caring father understands that reality. Of course, as men we certainly can’t let our feelings show. Still when he dealt with struggles, it was as if it was happening to me personally.

In the Old Testament, reading about Abraham taking his son to an alter to kill him as a sacrifice to God is insane. I can’t fathom choosing or allowing my only son to die for any reason. Moreover, I could never allow him to die for the sake of someone far less deserving.

Yet, that’s exactly what our Heavenly Father did to His son, Jesus. He purposely planned well before we were created to send His only son to a lost world, allowing Him to be the perfect and final sacrifice. One the world could have never produced. Murdered on a tree so we who are completely undeserving could be saved and brought into relationship with our Creator.

Easter, like no other season confirms how much God loves us. It affirms that we are saved from our sin and given the free gift of eternal life in Him.

For that I am grateful and forever hopeful.


Written on Easter weekend 2019 – By Cathy Speed

Anyone who has ever met me knows this has been the hardest year of my life. And I’ve had some rough ones. Today I’ve been thinking a lot about Easter SATURDAY… The day nothing happened.

Before the big event that truly changed everything, there’s Saturday, when we prepare for Easter. We mow grass for egg hunts, easter outfits ready… dye the eggs… We celebrate Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified and Easter Sunday, the death defying, grave defeating, hope and joy inspiring day of His resurrection. But Saturday is silent. And I will never again see Easter Saturday the same.

Never has Easter SATURDAY spoken to me like it does this year. It was the day when hope seemed lost. It was all over, and there was no reason to think anything would change. Disciples were alone. Everything they had believed in seemed lost and their souls were crushed. No answer seemed possible. The crowds had gone home.

The Saturday after Good Friday is the only day in over 2000 years that not one single person on earth believed that Jesus was alive. No one could understand God’s plan. This year, that day speaks loudly to me. While we wait to see what on earth God’s plan could possibly be. I’ve been an extremely unwilling participant in His plan this time. Mine seemed so much better. I’ve had quite a few arguments with Him.

Right now it’s still Saturday and heaven feels quiet. Why did there have to be a Saturday in between the day every hope and dream seemed crushed, and the joy and answers God had planned? It’s hard to figure out what to do on Saturday, hard to hold onto the belief that God has to have a plan. But if Jesus could be found in a grave on Saturday, If He could be found in hell itself, is there anywhere that I can’t find Him?

So I have chosen today to trust God’s promise that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning”. Even though I don’t like this plan I’ve had to live, I will choose to believe our “Sunday” is on the way. And know that His work on the cross was finished, but His plan for me is not.

Missing Connection

“Dad. Don’t take anything for granted. This is all temporary and fleeting. Be assured that God’s greatest gift is not temporary but eternal life” Braden

“We miss you, son”. Braden’s family


Not to be negative, but I really dislike online meetings.

They’re distant, cold, and uncomfortable. And while I’m complaining, I’ve grown weary of every conversation being solely about this epidemic. Social and public media run rampant with every variety of opinion and spin. Let’s face it. As human beings, we all work to fill-in-the blanks to appease our minds and to grapple with foreign emotions. That’s what we do best when left open to “Not Knowing”.

For ours and several earlier generations, strife and uncertainty are completely new concepts. This certainly applies to me. I’ve never had to wonder if my job and income or investments would still be there on Monday or if the grocery store would have eggs or bread (or even more important, toilet paper). Uncertainty is now a new reality.

Our family has been house-bound several weeks now, but we count ourselves blessed to at least have some space and breathing room. I feel for those in metropolitan areas locked in their small apartments or worse. We at least have a front and back yard with plenty of space in the house to “distance” when things get too close for comfort.

Talk about “work/life” balance. I sequester my job upstairs on two desktop screens, “clocking in” at 8am every morning and clocking out at 4:30pm. At the end of each day, I come downstairs and try to make things humorous, to lighten things and to build in some traditions that make life seem somewhat normal. Still, we all know life is not “normal” right now.

Our family views online church services, “Hope” devotionals, and daily live feeds from various sources trying to stay connected spiritually. This Sunday morning we even woke to find Caitlin watching Hope Fellowship on her phone. She, like all of us hungers for things to return to routine.

Cait does her virtual dance regimen three or four days each week which has kept her somewhat on track and occupied. Still, nothing online can equate with real social contact. Touching. Hugging. Shaking hands. Eye contact. Human Connection.

Today, our extended family gathered around computer screens across the country and held a “Zoom” family reunion. This is a virtual app I’d never used before. The screen resembles the opening theme of the Brady Bunch where multiple users can see one another. I actually liked it for once.

We were able to all get just a glimpse inside one another’s’ living spaces and to share our unique yet similar experiences. We saw the newest addition to our family in Georgia and cousins from Tennessee. We all shared laughs about the current rush on toilet paper and how we all need to be “aware of the square”. TMI!

As we connected just over a half hour today I began feeling differently about virtual connection. I could see faces of the people I love most in this world. We were each able to tell our own stories and to share our struggles, at least to some extent.

Then… suddenly without warning, the app timed out. Our screens all went blank.

If you don’t know, “Zoom” is limited to 40 minutes and none of us had been aware. Just as we’d become comfortable and feeling connected, our time together had come to a sudden and unexpected end.

Isn’t that the way life goes when we think it’s all going our way? We think things will always just remain the same. It’s always been that way. However, in the past month uncertainty has become more real and evident to every one of us. What we’ve relied upon as a constant can be gone in an instant.

Many have lost loved ones. Businesses. Jobs. Health. Security. Comfort. Normalcy. All, gone without warning.


After the family call today, Cathy and I sat down at the kitchen table over a puzzle we’ve been working on together. It’s a way to take our minds off of the worries of the world and relax. As she and I found missing pieces together and bragged about who was finding the most, I heard myself blurt out what was on my heart.

“I’m really missing Braden”. Honestly, I was shocked to hear it come out, but she immediately confirmed that she felt the same. In our family frame during the online family call, our son was not with us. He had gone so quickly and without warning.


Readers

During and following this temporary crisis, we encourage families to take the time God has appointed to love and care for one another. Re-connect by whatever means possible during this relatively brief moment in time.

Children and family are blessings we too often take as a given. Instead, take advantage of these times rather than considering them without benefit. Parents, let’s grow in our own faith during trials and model a faithful life for our children to rest in God’s everlasting peace.

We never know how long we will have the opportunity to do so.