All Ways Good

“Dad, the ways of this world can be difficult and dark but rest in knowing that God’s ways are right and indescribably good. He loves and wants the very best for His children. Keep your heart open and you’ll see!”– Braden

“This will be my song. That You are always good. I’ll sing it all day long and when the day is through I am left with You are always good.” – Braden’s dad

While waiting for my girls to wake today I was also watching the online Sunday service from Hope Fellowship led by pastor John Mckinzie as he spoke a prayer over the families of 9-1-1 and over our world. It moved me and its message struck a painfully familiar chord. God is always good about doing such when we open our hearts and listen. It led us to share the following story which will hopefully speak to someone needing hope today. That’s always our prayer.

It was a Friday night in late May 2018. I remember because May 9th had been our son, Braden’s birthday. I had prayed for weeks that our now 18 year-old stubborn son would accept his dad’s invitation to attend a weekend men’s conference at our church, Hope Fellowship in Frisco, Texas. He had not attended with us for about a year and the odds were very low that he’d accept this time. It wasn’t that Braden didn’t believe in God. It wasn’t that he lacked a relationship with God. In fact, he had accepted Jesus as his Savior just a few years earlier and had made it public in a small baptismal pool at Kingland Baptist in Katy, Texas. He did so after years of thought and reflection about what it really meant to take the step of accepting Christ as his savior.

Braden had an unusually deep sense of relationship with others and with God (especially for a male teenager). However, sometimes the closest and most valued relationships can involve hard feelings while still both parties maintain the deepest devotion. That was certainly the case with the very loyal heart of our son. Ironically, the same God he deeply loved and fully trusted just didn’t seem to be coming through with His part of the bargain. Our Sunday morning routine had slowly devolved from regular attendance to his showing up grudgingly but often leaving when youth group began. He’d sometimes sneak out and go home while his mom and I were still in the worship service at the church we were attending at that time. He just couldn’t understand why he wasn’t feeling a connection especially in “God’s House” of all places, and rather than faking it, he eventually dropped out completely.

A few weeks before the conference, I’d promised not to press him about going with me but just continued to pray for a miracle. Just days before, Braden finally agreed to go along but only if we could leave immediately without a hassle if he desired. That was against my control nature but it was important he return to church so I agreed.

During such events, church auditoriums are packed with Christian men, most of whom are highly motivated to be there. After all, these conferences usually begin on a Friday after work and resume on Saturday. Most of these guys come hungry for fellowship, learning, and worship (mostly singing). In our case, we were a less than motivated father who didn’t really get into such occassions but needed to be the good dad, and a very reluctant/ angry son. We were not quite the match made in Heaven as they say.

After the first speaker, the program agenda had some worship songs before an intermission and I knew it would feel unnatural. As a kid I was not a singer in church. Although I might mimmick the words they were rarely sung out loud. Heck, if someone raised their hands, we’d have thought they were a little crazy. It really wasn’t “manly” to express emotion and the words were usually written centuries earlier with lots of “thee’s, thou’s, and hallelujahs”. The first one that evening was more current though. It wasn’t a hymn at all. The song was titled, “Always Good” and was led by a praise band with guitars and drums. Miraculously, I was half-heartedly singing and tried not to look at him directly so as to keep things from feeling too awkward.

Halfway through the “Always Good” song, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Dad it’s time to go. I want to leave”. What?? I was at a complete loss. Why, in the very middle of a song talking about how good God is would my son suddenly feel uneasy and wish to leave? Still, I’d promised so we headed home only shortly into the first evening session. As an extension of my part of the agreement, I chose not to explore the reason behind his decision although I had my guesses. After all, this was his personal choice to make, not mine. Five short months later, Braden made another much more life-changing and permanent choice which we certainly would not have wanted him to make.

Fast forward to May 2019. Same church but this time it was a Sunday morning. Again, our son was not with us but sadly this time it was because he had gone, leaving us behind to try and deal with his final choice. Still, Cathy and I were putting in the effort to stay in church. In fact we sat just a few seats from where the father/ son “event” had been only a few months prior. As in most churches, a set of songs began the worship service before the pastor’s message. Trying to sing now was not only difficult for the previously mentioned reason, but now the words physically hurt to express aloud. They felt like fist blows to our chests, causing tears of pain and sadness rather than joy.

Then, without me immediately realizing, the same song I’d heard only months earlier which had moved Braden to turn and leave the church began to play: “Always Good“. This time instead of Braden leaving, Cathy did! The words hurt so much that before I could ask what was happening, she was gone. Moments later, a text from a leader on campus, Mike Martin (now campus pastor at Prosper Hope Fellowship) popped onto my cell phone requesting that I join him in the counseling offices with my wife. He’d seen her in the hallway and invited her in to talk. Upon meeting Mike, we quickly came to hear his own testimony about the loss of his entire family in a horrific car accident years earlier. I still recall wondering in amazement how this guy could still be breathing yet he was now sharing this tragic story and even holding a leadership position of a church? His story was probably the most tragic I’d ever heard and the details were beyond what I can fully develop here. Yet by his choice, this very story had become a miracle and a reflection to others of God’s goodness.

Over time, the mystery of these three separate events began to form into a clearer picture which we believe God wanted to reveal to our family. In the middle of a worship song about the goodness of God, Braden had refused to worship because of his difficulty understanding how God’s goodness could allow such pain and yet not seem to help him on his own timeline. In that very same place, his mom later had a similar response with her heart broken and conflicted about the worship in stark contrast with her personal experience and emotions. Then out of the sky (actually an empty hallway at Hope Fellowship), God would bring us a real-life eyewitness who, even coming from the absolute darkest of place this world has to offer could quickly convince us we are to acknowledge and worship God as ultimately good, always and in all ways.

The song’s words I’d heard before with my ears and even had mimmicked earlier with my mouth now began to sink into to my heart. By our own unwanted/ unexpected circumstances and after coming to learn of this pastor’s own story (and other families to later follow) we were learning that none of us are alone in facing unexpected and unspeakable pain and loss. Unfortunately, such things are too often a way of life in the fallen world in which we currently reside. The good news is, they are not the way of life in our permanant Home which is just around the corner. Thank God for such needed Good News because now I WANT to make a sound when I sing!

This morning I read several posts about the 9/11 tragedy. That terrible day is now 22 years in the past, yet we all recall exactly where we were when it happened. Families still have empty chairs at their dinnner tables and empty places on the opposite side of the bed. Literally thousands of people will never fully recover from the losses of those they held dear and precious. Friends and loved ones taken in a single breath. It sickens me to look at photos of the explosions and imploded buildings, still realizing we can’t deny it happened. Yet, I far prefer to see photos of the blinding white lights beaming heavenward from the ashes left behind. I guess it’s because I know now where hope lies and prefer to look there.

The words in the song I’ve mentioned here talk about how good God always is and I absolutely believe it. However, the hard reality is the world that God made and deemed to be “Good” was terminally damaged by our own choices. In many instances, His “good creation” became downright hellish in its current condition.

Our “planned” little journeys take each one of us on a uniquely designed path, each which vary and at times will become narrow or wide, bright or dark, steep or easy. Some journeys are long and others are sadly cut too short. Many times, our paths lead us off course by choices we make alone. Still others are caused by factors we don’t control at all. Rarely if ever does our ultimate path resemble the one we had in mind at the beginning.

What I can say with full confidence and hope is the words of this and other worship songs are eternally true: In ALL HIS WAYS God is good and He forever remains ready to lead us if we choose to follow Him. Our family prays every day for those who are in the middle of crisis and those who have lost cherished loved ones along their own path. We also pray that we will each choose THE Way which has been freely offered.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for those who have experienced unbearable tragedy and we trust that you are ready, willing, and able to give the gift of lasting comfort, unimaginable joy, and incomprehenable peace by our simply accepting it. Thank you for Jesus and for those in the world who reflect Him through choosing to serve as examples. Thank You for the promise of eternity with You and with those who have gone before us to a Home where all things will truly be “always” good. In Jesus name, Amen.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath. Psalms 104; 33

Our Moms

“Dad, please make sure our Mom knows how much she means to our family. Just try… that’s the only thing she really needs”. – Love, Braden

I promise, son. Thanks for the reminder and happy birthday!” – Braden’s dad

Sunday is Mother’s Day and Monday is our first child’s birth date. “It must just be God’s timing”, we all said on that pre-dawn morning waiting in the maternity room May 9th for Braden to arrive. This common phrase applies still today, but it’s now said with a much deeper meaning than before October 2018.

It’s been a long time between posts because I’ve tried to write probably fifty times but can never finish with a story that does much more than wander all over the page. Most of those journals remain “to be completed later”. Maybe they’ll be finished someday, but more likely they won’t. They’ll just remain jagged puzzle pieces that won’t quite fit together until the next life when the big picture will be far clearer.

By now, you’d think it would be easier and in some ways it has been. Still, out of nowhere (often on a sunny day like today) the emotions return to blow down our doors like a tornado. Unexpected, these kinds of storms arrive while we’re standing fully upright. Suddenly, we’re crushed not to the floor but through it. To occur, they require nothing more than a tune on the radio or a song at church. A familiar smell. A “memory” photo on the phone. A favorite old restaurant or change of season. A slight breeze itself can suddenly become a torrential storm of sadness. We’re not alone on this stormy path though. Many amazing parents share a similar walk. God is our most vital strength though. Without His hand extended and our faith to take hold of it, I can’t fathom how we’d survive. Sadly, many do not.

Losing a close “loved one” is something relatively new to me. During our lives, we have lost both sets of elderly grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. which are pretty normal for the course. I’m beyond blessed to still have both of my parents although they have narrowly missed a couple of close calls recently. They’re still strong, healthy, and somewhat active in their mid 80’s. I could write a book about our own “Janie Mom” and what her sacrifice has meant to her family.

Cathy was not as fortunate. Before we met, she tragically and unexpectedly lost her “mama” who was also her best friend. After we married, she lost her father tragically. He was a good friend to me and was crazy about his grandson, Braden. Cathy tells stories about her mom and from what I hear through her lifelong friends, looking at Cathy is much like looking at her mother. She was a walking heart which is how I best describe my wife. It’s the main reason I took a chance on asking her to marry me!

This woman who chose to accept me as her husband loves everyone she meets. She has more joy in her fingertip than I have in my whole body and would give her life for the benefit of any one of us. In a way she has done just that by successfully balancing the demands of being an “all-in” mom to an active teenage daughter while daily walking in the shadow of losing her only son. It’s beyond me to understand much less describe what that must require. Cathy does it though, not with a downturned smile or chip on her shoulder but with a song and faith in her heart while carrying an invisible tear on her cheek. Pretty darn amazing.

This past week I was determined to just get through another one of these annual weekends but this morning I was left alone with my thoughts. Cathy was off being a good mother by running our daughter to her dance studio halfway across the county. She does this every day and often twice daily without one complaint. Before starting my weekend routine of working around the house, I sat over coffee and happened upon a post on social media about moms who have lost their moms. It hit me like a brick about my wife’s experience on her Mother’s Day. Each year at this time she has a perfect storm of memories. April is her own mama’s birthday; her son’s birthday is May 9, and depending on the calendar year, her own Mother’s Day falls on the very same weekend.

They say women are far stronger than men in many ways. I’m a witness and can personally attest to this fact. In the storms of life, I’m guilty of often hiding below deck while Cathy not only deals with the same winds I do, but she experiences many more which I do not. All the while, she remains bravely on deck to tend the sails for her family to keep us on course.

I don’t do as well as I could at supporting, encouraging, and cherishing her but I certainly intend to try. After all, that’s what she needs most.


Heavenly Father, make us the husbands our wives deserve and make us the fathers their children need. Both are gifts unearned and certainly undeserved. You have entrusted us to be servant leaders to our families, but we can’t lead effectively unless we are first servant followers of you. Thank you for the gift of Our Moms. Help us to honor them as they deserve and to cherish them as the gifts they are to us. Amen

Below is the article posted on FB Prosper Speaks that spoke to me today about what Cathy and other moms who have lost their own mothers feel, especially during this time of the year. Prayers and thanks for all of our “Mamas” still here in this world and those awaiting their children to hug them again in the next.

Shared from Prosper Speaks

Our Daily Bread

“Dad, remind others that God knows and provides exactly what they need even though they may not realize or accept it. Most of all, remind people to share with others what He provides”. — Braden

“This was exactly what I needed today!” — High School Teen

“I’m new at this, but at least I’m teachable”. Braden’s Dad

I’ve taken a long writing break, not by decision nor lack of desire. Writing has greatly helped me process and heal. Hopefully another hurting soul can find some hope if they are navigating a similar path. God has thrown so many things our way this past few months it reminds me of the saying about water being served from a fire hose. Forming adequate words seems futile. Still, I believe it’s important to at least try to share at least a few drops.

Since October 2018, life has been much like a rollercoaster for our family. The obvious lows are the daily realization that our son, Braden is gone and won’t ever spend another holiday or help make new family memories. Those ongoing lows are becoming somewhat less traumatic since we’ve now experienced most of them at least once. Though we will never become comfortable with the breathtaking drops and twists of this rollercoaster, we’ve now had enough of them to know we will survive. Still, you never fully get used to this one.

As with every rollercoaster, the deepest lows are matched by higher highs. In this analogy, those “highs” have been the blessings God reveals to us each time we think our cart just may derail. God, thank you for assurance that this brief painful ride ends safely in Your arms.

One of the countless “highs” which God has blessed our family with continues to be through the hearts of others. I call it our “Daily Bread” and it’s certainly not the unhealthy kind, but rather the life sustaining variety. If there was some way to physically gather all the words of encouragement, prayers, offers of help and hope , our “Daily Bread” would feed us far more than we could ever consume.

This “bread” comes in various forms: A friend sends daily Bible devotionals each morning. He began serving this daily bread a few weeks after Braden’s memorial service and continues to this day. I know there’s a prayer behind each one. It comes in the form of cards sent on the anniversary of our loss with a handwritten note simply confirming: “We are Staying”. This daily bread has been served by men and women in small groups, mentors and by church ministers who continually remind us we are loved and prayed over. As I type even now my phone is buzzing with “daily bread” of hope and encouragement from several faithful brothers (Is that a blessing or what!)

This past weekend my daily bread came in the form of an invitation to join Grace Bridge Food Bank’s Giving Day. Grace Bridge is a north Texas faith-based community organization formed ten years ago and led by Carter Morris. They feed others who hunger not only for physical needs, but for hope and faith. Carter leads one of my men’s Bible studies at Prosper’s Fuse Workspace location where I currently work (Fuse is another unexpected blessing). Observing Carter and hearing his testimony, I wanted to learn more about what this organization does. I not only got a better understanding, but received more “bread” than I could carry!

Two brief stories stood out among too many to share here. The first occurred when I was helping grill the food. I heard some volunteers saying there were cars jammed in a long line along Preston Road feeding into the church parking lot. Each vehicle was occupied by a single person or more often, a family. “Encouragers” were located under a covered drive-through area and as each vehicle approached, these individuals connected with the drivers, explained the organization’s purpose, and extended a message of encouragement along with a prayer.

Carter asked if I wanted to watch for a while to see how it worked. I shadowed a gentleman named David who told me he’d done this for years and it was his greatest blessing to pray over the individuals and families in these cars. I’d never done anything like this, other than sticking pamphlets on windshields of parked cars or distributing door hangers at empty houses as a teen on mission trips. It always seemed a bit over the top to actually talk with people and I told David this.

After watching a dozen or so times, David was called away to another station so he asked if I would mind just speaking with one of the last drivers waiting in line. I suspected he’d planned this and reminded him that I hadn’t come to participate. He nodded, handed me his clipboard, grinned, and just walked away.

Slowly walking toward the blue minivan, I noticed the young mom had begun rolling down her window cautiously as if I might be packing a bomb. I apologized for my awkwardness, explaining this was my first time but that I just wanted to pray for her and her family. The mom had three kids under the age of eight all smashed together sitting perfectly still in the back seat. An older sibling was up front. The mom looked uneasy but I could tell her family was anxiously waiting for a hotdog or something to eat. When asked specifically if there was anything I could pray, she shyly replied, “Uh. I guess… finances?”. When asked if there was anything else at all, suddenly the flood gates opened. I prayed as best I knew how and opened my eyes. The mom was crying. Immediately it was clear her hunger was in her heart, not her stomach. Somehow, although my prayer was pretty darn weak, she and her family had been fed just a small piece of “bread”.

The next story was a high school teenager who appeared to be 16 or 17. I’d noticed him earlier when Carter first introduced me to David. I’d overheard this young man nearby mentioning that he just wanted to pray with someone. I had been listening to both conversations at once but tuning into this young man’s comment made a deep impression on me for some reason.

After the last few cars had finally passed through the line that day Grace Bridge had served over 450 hungry people. I went to shake the young man’s hand and to introduce myself. I told him I’d overheard his comment and then shared briefly that we’d lost our son three years earlier at just about his age. For some reason, I felt led to share a copy of our Braden’s Voice book since it might be of use in some way. I assured him that I had no idea why I felt compelled to share this with him. His reply is something I’ll never forget.

“Sir, I don’t know who sent you, but this was exactly what I needed today. Did someone tell you to do this?” I replied that I had no idea what he was talking about. He said, “I was in the very same place as your son not long ago. I had reached the end of my rope and didn’t want to live any longer. Someone offered me help and I’m glad I took it. By your speaking with me, I now understand why I was supposed to come here today”. We were now both speechless.

Although I was in shock, I was able to quickly give this kid a hug and tell him that something in his spirit had reminded me of our boy. I asked if maybe he could do me the favor of reading Braden’s story but before I could finish, he interrupted. “I have a friend who also needs this book. Can I share it with him?” I can’t help but believe the Holy Spirit was there in the parking lot that day with me and this young man. Standing right beside me I’d like to think Braden was there too. Grinning ear to ear.

As I left the church that afternoon, I spoke to God. I repeated aloud what this young stranger had asked me because I still couldn’t believe my own ears. “Did someone tell you to do this?” My first thought had been that he suspected his parents but they had not. I’d never met this family. My very next thought was to realize the reason I’d been offered my “Daily Bread” by Carter’s invitation. It had been so I might be fed and that I might feed a couple of people who were also hungry.

Reader: I have come to more clearly understand that every one of us has a personal story and an emptiness. Although each of us is completely unique we share this truth in common: We ALL hunger for true purpose and for lasting relationship. Without both, we’re only taking up space and missing the joy our Creator specifically designed for us to experience. I can honestly say I’ve never felt such a joy until too recently to admit. I guess I’m a bit slow. That’s ok though. It’s not a race, this faith ride. It has to come only when we are ready to get on the rollercoaster!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please provide to us each day our Daily Bread and give us your eyes so we may see others the way you see your children. May we learn to share with those who hunger in every sense of the word. After all, we may well be that child’s only chance to be fed. We thank you beyond words, which I often find hard to convey. In the Life-giving name of Your son, Jesus. Amen.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'”

Matthew 22: 36-39

If you or your family have physical or spiritual needs or if you feel led to volunteer to provide the kind of “bread” described, the following links are at least a few of thousands of ways you can serve or donate.;;;

Preparing a Place

“Dad, our Heavenly Father is not preparing a place here for you. He’s preparing YOU for a place here with Him”. – Remain true. Love you, Braden

“I won’t ever earn a place in Heaven, but my hope lies in trusting my loving Father will allow me in anyway”. – Braden’s dad

Our north Texas community is growing (as are many others) so fast it’s insane. Real estate prices have climbed through the roof as California moves to Texas. We have friends in real estate who say they have no lack of sales opportunities but the asking prices are far above the appraisal price. Banks don’t loan on anything above proven value.

Today, a prospective buyer in north Dallas arrives at the closing table with a significant amount of cash just to pay the difference between the real versus perceived value. They even have something real estate agents call “Love Letters” which are buyers trying to pull at the heart strings of a home owner to persuade them the sell.

What a terribly wonderful problem to have as a seller. Still if I sold tomorrow I’d have to pay twice as much to move to a similar property unless I buy a shack!

After our son, Braden took his life the morning of October, 30 in 2018, we’ve remained in family counseling. A couple of months ago, I had a conversation with one of them that stuck with me. The counselor asked me about “where I go in my mind” when I replay the day when Cathy called screaming into the phone. We talked about ways to “re-script” that horrific event in order to somehow cope with the trauma in a more healthy way. I was asked to think about our son and where he is in this very moment. What he’s doing? Where is he living? What does he look like?

The doc asked, “Do you believe you’ll ever join Braden again where he is now?” After a thoughtful pause, I finally replied, “Honestly, it’s about a ten percent bet. I’m completely assured he is in Heaven. He deserves the largest and most amazing mansion along with everything he didn’t have here, but I’ve not personally earned the chance to enter Heaven much less the opportunity to live in a mansion God has prepared there. I might squeeze in through a side door, but I’m lucky if there’s even a shack awaiting me”.

Although it was my attempt to make light of a heavy question, there was a hint of some truth in that response. The hard fact is I do have my doubts though rarely have they been verbalized. after all, how could my life here could earn me a ticket into Heaven. Fortunately, I have really good counselors who are strong in their Christian faith. The response to my fully honest answer was met with helpful wisdom.

“There are no shacks in Heaven. No one gets what we deserve based upon what we did or what we didn’t do here. Otherwise, Heaven would be totally empty. Even a shack in Heaven is far beyond anything the saints could have earned”

In my immaturity, I’ve always wondered, “Why would God build a mansion for me? Can’t He just blink and make that sort of thing happen?” How ignorant. The word, “Building” in this scripture means He is “Preparing”. Rather than swinging a hammer or sawing a 2×4, my Heavenly Father is spending His time right now every day, preparing ME for the place He eternally has always had prepared which is with Him.

My faith and my sustenance lie in knowing I won’t have to pay even one dime toward any mortgage for my “Heavenly mansion”. The only price for such an awesome gift is my surrender and faith in the Builder.

Prayer: Lord, help us give up our selfish will for your perfect blue printed plan. Find and watch over those who are in dark places right now, falling prey to a lie by thinking they don’t deserve to receive your promises.

In Your Son Jesus’ name, Amen.

John 14: 1-4

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”


“Dad, the two most effective weapons Satan has are Fear and Worry. He knows people are addicted to both and as long as they are distracted, he wins. Don’t let him win. God has His children securely in His Hand”. Love you, Braden

“Thanks for checking me on this. I look forward to experiencing Heaven. No worry. Fear long forgotten”. Braden’s Dad

Ever wake at a pre-dawn hour when the rest of the world is dead asleep? Your mind rolling over and over about something all-important? It’s always around 3AM for some reason for me and it feels like swimming in quicksand. Trying to solve or “fix” something through worrying. Often, it’s some minor thing no one else would give a single thought. I’ve come to learn by talking with others that many people do this. I guess there’s some comfort in knowing we are in good company as members of the 3AM Worry Club.

My twin brother and I got our first guns around age ten. In west Texas, there wasn’t a lot of talk about “Shooting your eye out”. Boys fully expected to get their first BB gun before age 11 and within the next year or so to promote to a .22 rifle, a 20-gauge shotgun, advancing to a 12-gauge, and ultimately to a deer rifle. The progression was almost certain, Every boy got their guns.

Upon receipt of our first gun, the immediate question was, “What can we kill?” Killing in this sense wasn’t necessarily a literal term. It could just be a Coke bottle, a telephone wire insulator, or another inanimate target. Still, after killing so many boring inanimate objects, the next target became something that breathed.

With our brand new Daisy BB guns in hand on a freezing west Texas Christmas morning, we were off searching to shoot. Anything would do. I recall a lone frozen bare pecan tree about a hundred yards south of our house. Inside our home it was warm and colorfully decorated. Outside, the world was gray and freezing, but the warmth of anticipation insulated us from the frigid air. I put the butt of the rifle on the ground while pulling the air pump with everything I had and looked towards the barren frozen tree. A single scrawny little bird sat alone high in its branches. The thing was so small, it was hard to tell if it was a bird or a dead pecan. I aimed carefully and tried to account for the north breeze. “I’ll miss, but what if I don’t? What then? Will it matter to me? Will its parents miss him? What about his brothers and sisters, or his kids?” (Keep in mind I was seven and hunter’s instinct kicked in later).

I closed my eyes and squeezed the trigger. It was just a plain every day little worthless sparrow. No one would ever miss it. The BB’s power weakened quickly in the wind and the lucky little thing flew away, possibly to return to its family of hungry babies or to be shot later by a more accurate marksman. It didn’t matter, after all it was just a sparrow.

First Baptist Church of Brownfield, Texas. I can’t describe a more traditional place of worship. We had one Sunday morning service, unlike many churches these days. Each service began with a carefully measured twenty minutes of hymns. We only sang the first, second, and fourth verses. That third verse somehow got mysteriously lost and trust me, we kids (and I suspect many adults) were silently thankful.

There were a number of traditional hymnal songs which even today bring back instant visual images. “I Surrender All”, “Amazing Grace”, “Oh, How I Love Jesus” and many others. At a Brownfield Church of Christ funeral ceremony for my great aunt, the choir of 90+ year old singers nasally whined the a cappella version of “In the Garden”. To this day, I can’t smell a rose or go to a funeral home without being hit with song ringing in my ears. That would be a sweet sound only a loving Father could appreciate! Still, there were other church songs I recall in a more hopeful way. One that stands out is titled “His Eye Is On the Sparrow”. These lyrics still return when I’m struggling with anxious thoughts, and even sometimes nightmares.

Anxiety is a problem growing with lighting speed in this fast paced, over-scheduled, social media driven world, affecting millions. Recently, a study indicated today’s teens face a level of high anxiety that during the first half of the Twentieth century would have three out of five of them placed under a doctor’s care . Psychology Today recognizes an emerging epidemic of anxiety in today’s children and teens and adults. In all of the “noise” of the world, in the carefully crafted images of social media, in unrealistic expectations, too often we see ourselves as a “sparrow”, without significant value. Not enough, uncertain about our purpose. Feeling isolated, unseen or un-noticed.

Today is Easter Saturday. If you haven’t read Cathy Speed’s post on this day two years ago, I encourage you to do so. It still comforts and amazes me how her message stands the test of time. Last evening marked the day Christ was crucified and before that (perhaps 3AM?) Jesus actually sweat blood while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. That event and that image of God’s only Son praying for peace and assurance are confirming today. Imploring God to pass the cup from Him for the final task to finish His work here can’t be compared to the worries or fears any of us have today. My belief is the Bible registered that story just as Christ was leaving to return home so you and I can be assured we are not alone, that life is temporary, and we have purpose right here and right now.

Reader: In Matthew 10:29-31, God’s Word tells us that He even watches over the sparrows in this world and how much more He cares for His children. We are invited to “be anxious for nothing”, but instead to bring our worries and our fears to Him, and to find rest.  My prayer is for whoever may be reading this today and feels worthless or lost, that He will be your source of lasting peace and purpose. Amen.

His Eye is On the Sparrow

“Why should I feel discouraged
Why should the shadows come
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for heaven, home

When Jesus is my portion
A constant friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me”

“And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭12‬:‭7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Gold Friends

“People take relationships as a given part of life when they should count them as priceless blessings. Love you Dad. Hang in there.” – Braden

“Son, you were a rare treasure to us. We thought you were ours but all along God knew you belonged solely to Him. Missing you.“ – Mom, Dad, & Caitlin

The mind is an amazing creation and arguably one of God’s most miraculous. How could the least significant memories sometimes become locked there to reside for years or even a lifetime, only to be recalled at some critical moment. Maybe it’s God’s subtle way of lending us guidance or clarity in an otherwise completely lost and confusing world.

Especially in the past couple of years the most insignificant memories have helped to sustain me. These memories can arrive as a gentle drip and at other times as huge waves.

As kids, “Going to Grandmother’s House” was a big thing to a couple of farm boys living outside a small west Texas town. The phrase meant freedom to pursue adventures beyond those found on a section of dirt and cotton. Don’t get me wrong. Our place out west of town was home. There were endless possibilities to find there, but Going to Grandmother‘s was just different.

It was a change of scene and a chance to hang out with our buddies. Her house had more TV channels, paved streets for bike riding, and a miraculous thing called central air. Mornings meant rising out of bed with our feet meeting a warm carpet without freezing to the floor.

As a child in small town America, riding bikes was complete freedom with no limits. In those days we could set out early morning and not return until late evening.

I could write a book about the adventures we had together with our friends. In today’s tech world those stories would likely bore most readers. Still. There isn’t a video game on the planet that could even come close.

Having grown up during the Great Depression, Grandmother Dickson was a woman of habit and routine. Poverty doesn’t allow much room for risk. They too often end with very serious consequences. We’re largely affected later in life by the adults from our childhood. Through the years, I’ve grown to better understand that and why I took on some similar characteristics. Familiar is safe and her home was that to me.

She had “her” chair. Most grandparents do. A Lazy-Boy rocking recliner with hand-knitted warming blanket draped over its back. To the left of her chair on a wooden lamp table she kept notes and collected memories. Pictures of grandkids, and her Bible, decayed and worn from years of daily use.

Next to her Bible stood a tiny silver plated easel with an old adage in cursive writing.

“Make new friends but keep the old. The new are silver the other, Gold.”

That distant memory was recorded in my memory bank now too long ago to admit, but to me it was only yesterday. I still remember thinking, “Who are my friends and which would I consider Gold?” They’re similar in the fact that both are valuable yet the difference is, only a very few of them are most rare.

The Twenty-first century opened with a wake up call on 9/11/01. Braden was just 14 months old and we were shocked into the reality that our “secure” world was an illusion and not secure at all. In fact, it continues moving deeper towards chaos no matter how we wish it was “going to get better next year”. The year 2020 has been a double dose of reality and even life- changing for many. Some more than others.

In 2020, the world had the first pandemic of our lifetimes. Many laughed off the benefits of protective masks. The world’s economy was thrown off balance and many lost their livelihoods. Others lost their families. Still others lost their very lives not only from physical illness but perhaps worse, mental illness. Depression, isolation, and addiction.

A majority of individuals who contracted the novel virus called “Covid 19” returned to full health with little more than a cough or mild fever. Some of us even wear a badge of pride that it visited our home with no more than a mild fever and that we’re probably immune. Many others with weakened immune systems due to age or health conditions didn’t have it so easy.

This past year, many have been touched closely by the loss of love ones, not just from The Virus but from cancer, heart failure, mental illness, etc. Many of those reading now have personally experienced such indescribable loss. In the final months of 2020, our parents lost two of their friends.

The “Gold” kind. The rarest life long friends. Senselessly and Suddenly. Gone.

Anita Hancock and Mom; Hill Country lake home

Mom wrote a four page letter to all of her children after Anita Hancock passed. It was her attempt to capture how much her friend had meant throughout their long lives together. She recalled memories of them raising their families both as farmer’s wives. Anita and her husband, Donald had two boys and one girl. Mom and dad had three boys and one girl. This common ground and their shared faith in God bonded them tightly through shared trials and successes.

Mom and Anita soaked up every second they shared together, never growing weary of each other’s company. They loved their reunions at our Texas Hill Country home and in many foreign places like the Holy Land where they floated on the Dead Sea, visited the Jordan River, and even rode camels. They shared memories of laughter and tears in a tightly knitted friendship worth more than all the gold contained in Fort Knox.

One of Dad’s “Gold Friends” was E.V. Murphy. He was a guy you really would have to meet to appreciate. He and his wife, Jeanne were like a brother and sister to our parents. In fact, “Murphy” accompanied mom and dad to Lovington, New Mexico as teenagers to witness their elopement and beginning of our family.

Dad’s Best Man

I remember E.V. as a work horse, providing for his family. He just never stopped. Always smiling, laughing, and joking.

What made their friendship unique, from my observation was no matter if they had a rare difference of opinion on something, they remained unconditionally loyal. Most times, dad would go visit “Murph” at home or on his job without so much as a call. He always welcomed dad in and they’d talk sometimes for hours. Pretty rare.

I’m not sure why it was important to write about this. Maybe it’s because almost everything I do and observe now is often framed in two questions:

1) How might have Braden and others today dealing with depression be helped by our own experience; and

2) How might I learn to live my own life differently to help avoid the loss of others.

I know Braden had at least two “Gold Friends” in his life outside his family. Sadly, although they remained close at heart, both lived hundreds of miles away and weren’t physically near at the time he was in his worst crisis.

Like gold, these kinds of friends don’t have to be physically present to hold their value. Just by knowing they were in our lives and how that made all the difference is most important. No matter if living 800 miles away or on the next street, no matter if friends here on Earth for 90 years or 18, they’ll always be part of us. That’s enough, for now.

I think a lot more these days about those who have lost loved ones, no matter the cause. Even more, I pray for those of us left behind after they leave us here, even though temporarily. We will never let go of them realizing they remain eternally treasured. We are assured of an awesome and eternal reunion.

Prayer: “Thank you, Lord for Gold Friends, even if just one. May I be that kind of friend, that kind of spouse, brother and son. Where there is one of your children today in search of such a Gold Friend, please help them be found. Most importantly, may they accept Your son’s invitation to be that eternal Gold Friend.”

Choosing Thanks

Don’t just be grateful for comforts in life. Be even more thankful for difficulty”. – Braden

Today, family came in. It’s become a routine to have our Tennessee and West Texas family come together at our home in north Texas for Thanksgiving. Guess it just makes sense logistically. We’re located near the middle between the two. Still, I’m convinced it’s more than mere geography. It’s become a tradition.

Caitlin’s closest cousin, Lena Grace was able to be here which has been an answered prayer. When you’re from a family who got a late start, you get the raw end of the deal. Cait’s cousins are grown and gone for the most part now.

Lena has had a rough life at age 13, but she’s as strong and feisty as a Tennessee mare. When I first met her, she was just a little girl. I still recall her spinning around a pole at the funeral home in Maryville. The occasion was the memorial service for her baby sister who had died within weeks following her birth from a very rare heart condition. When Lena and I first met at the funeral for her baby sister, little did I know the next loss would be my own son.

Death is horrific. Surreal. Devastating. The last thing we consider. Arguably more terrible for the survivors. Today is Thanksgiving. How can survivors even consider giving thanks in such tragic circumstances.

After Braden died, we received hundreds of letters, condolence cards, texts, phone calls, books, and emails. So many reaching into our lives. Today, I’m still reading numerous devotionals and texts from friends. In fact, I can rely upon a text each morning from “brothers” who have remained diligent and unrelenting in their support. There is no word in the dictionary to accurately describe that kind of loyal friendship.

During the first week after that terrible October day, we had a postal delivery to our front porch from Amazon. It was a fairly large package from Tennessee. When we opened it, we were moved to tears. It was a memorial candle sent from a very special young couple who had one child. A son.

We lit the candle immediately and placed it on the kitchen counter, centered among flowers, cards, and keepsakes. Our family believes in and practices traditions. Every holiday, it can be relied upon that we follow the tried and true. Traditions are the way we stay connected to the familiar in a world full of uncertainties.

Tonight, as we began our Thanksgiving tradition with our Tennessee and West Texas family, I lit the memory candle for our son. To most, it would seem a small insignificant thing. To us, it symbolizes Braden remains with us still and he always will.

Tonight I’m thankful to have family, knowing many do not. Thankful for the long list of blessings too often assumed to be somehow earned although they are undeserved. Thankful to know my Creator by His first name and to be certain He knows me. Thankful for friends, brothers, sisters, neighbors, and a community of fellow believers.

In the very midst of the hell we face in this temporary place, I’m grateful to know I will see my son and spend eternity with him. For these things, I am thankful.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Life Choices

Dad, people are making decisions based on false information. They are being told lies by dark, invisible, yet very real forces “. – Braden Speed

“Two years now, son. Has your death meant anything to the world you left behind? God, please say it has.” -Braden’s Dad

October 30, 2020. God has proven loyal in coming nearest when we hurt the worst. The last two years have seemed like twenty. Time’s supposed to heal all wounds and to some extent that holds true. Still, maybe they should rethink that adage and make it time heals most wounds but others you just have to live with (doesn’t quite have the same ring though).

The Library of Congress lacks sufficient space to house the stories that will be written about this year in world history. Of course, there have been far worse years statistically. Some of biblical proportion. Still, every person living on a civilized slice of Earth has faced completely new realities in 2020. Circumstances and choices none of us have ever dreamt of and many which would, under normal circumstances be a nightmare shared in fading detail upon waking. “You won’t believe the nightmare I had last night”. But it’s real.

Decisions aren’t new, but this year we’ve each been presented unique ones, and many with high risk price tags attached about our future. Employment. Education. Safety and security for our families. Who will govern our country. Do we stay the course with that small business/ career or take an uncharted course never before considered. Does a young couple start the family they’ve dreamed about so long or wait until things “get better”. Does a young teenage girl choose to keep an unplanned pregnancy.

In thousands and perhaps millions of real life situations, right now such decisions are being formed. Studies estimate on average, we make between 30,000-35,000 choices per day. The small and large decisions: When or will I roll out of bed? Should I hit snooze again? Do I wear this or that? Breakfast or coffee on the way? How do I react to the guy who just shot past and cut me off? Where do I place my faith? Who are my friends and which of them are to be trusted as true friends? What is my future? Should I go to college or enter the work world? How will we navigate and how will I best serve as a spouse and parent in all this?

Simply said, life is an unending and innumerable series of choices.

Not to be morbid, but let’s get honest. Tragically, in this very moment many today are grappling with the most timely and important personal decision of all: Whether to stay for another day or to check out early. To drive this even closer to “real”, kids are thinking seriously about ending their lives at the expense of not only their hopeful future but that of those left behind.

Within that small secret and dark population, their decision isn’t only if, but when and even how to leave. Today or tomorrow, next week, or perhaps later this summer when it will be somehow less painful or obvious to school peers. Those were the choices Braden faced two years ago on the morning of October 30, 2018.

One literal hell of a choice.

What he chose to do in that moment of mental and emotional confusion will impact our family for the rest of our days. It’s also helped to focus on the most important things which we too often allow to get fuzzed by the noise of a very distracting world. Today, here’s the big question that begs an answer and it’s framed in first person intentionally:

Do I choose to proactively live my brief few years (life) or do I just get through the next day?

As long as I knew Braden in the relatively brief time we breathed the same air, I never fully grasped his view of this world. I really wish I could, because in large part he had it right. Braden often asked the uncomfortable questions: Why are we here and why can’t we just go to Heaven once we’re saved? I had ready “Dad” answers to most every question until those were posed over a dinner table when he was just a little boy.

It’s at least become a little clearer since that day. Maybe I’ll have a better answer next time someone asks.

  1. Why are we here? Life is an infinite series of choices and struggles forcing us all to wonder why we’re here. We’d be idiots if we didn’t. The amazing thing is we were created with the innate and unique ability to choose how we think, feel, or respond to any of life’s challenges. If we mentally choose to be victims of circumstance, we will be. Alternatively, if we choose instead to be victors in the midst of even the worst life deals us, we are that as well. This way of living also plays out on a broader scale by positively impacting others around us. Trust me. We’ve had so many impact our family in life changing ways! Each one by a conscious choice made by someone to care, pray, and support.

2. Why wouldn’t we just go to Heaven when we are saved? See answer 1.

Life is exclusively about decisions we each make while we’re here. Our heavenly Father certainly desires his children to make wise choices yet I’ve made thousands of poor ones that fall miles from God’s plan. However, one decision I made which won’t be a regret is the choice to surrender to my Creator and He has infinite grace for mistakes made yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

If one good thing comes from this, we can testify with confidence that Christ has walked every second of every day with us through the worst this world has to offer. We have decided to share our testimony openly about this experience because failing to do so gives Satan a victory and we’ve decided not to allow that.

Parents: Our kids are hungry for real answers in a world that doesn’t make sense to them. Although it doesn’t sometimes make sense to us either, we are compelled as parents to learn, grow, and lead them in the way they should go. They are desperately needing guidance.

Teens: Look around you and learn from the mistakes of others. Don’t allow yourself to fall into traps Satan has set. They are invisible yet deadly. Watch for danger signs because they’re everywhere. Focus on making wise decisions. What some call, “The next right step”. Life will be a never ending series of choices and each one matters. YOU MATTER even when you think you don’t. If you’ve not done so, make your next decision one for your eternity and for true abundant life today.

Isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts”

Ephesians 6:13

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places”.

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”– Ron Hill; 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 whose acceptance 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.