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.

Empty and Out of Control

“Expect the unexpected. Remember this is a spiritual war and although battles will rage, be assured it has already been won.” – Braden

Lord, through our experience we’ve come to trust that You remain with us even during the very darkest moments of our lives. We trust that You are in control and that Your plan is far greater than any we could imagine.” – Braden’s Dad


Shocked. Sad. Angry. Empty. Alone. Fearful.

These are just a few emotions our family feels this week. Likely, you could add to the list. One Prosper family lost their 2-year old baby boy last week and I’m confident they feel these very same emotions, yet for a different reason. Loss is loss. Grief is grief. Our prayers go out to this hurting family in the middle of multiple crises.

Following a recent job change, a shift at home in schooling, and with numerous other demands, life has become suddenly overwhelming. It’s been a strain at every level just to keep the wheels on the bus. Add this global virus, which hasn’t happened in more than 100 years to add fuel to the flame.

This week reminds me of an evening some time ago when Cathy asked if I could fill up her car with gas. She was running low and had to get the kids to school the next morning. This was a cold winter evening about 10PM and to be honest, I was not in a gracious spirit. Why hadn’t she let me know earlier in the day?

I dragged myself off the couch, shaking my head asking, “How low are you?” She replied, “I think it’s near empty”. Great, I grumbled under my breath. Grabbing her keys, I slammed the car door and jammed the key into the ignition. A warning light instantly illuminated along with an annoying chime for low fuel level. As I started the engine, the same warnings were blinking, but with a banner:

Miles to Empty: 0

Really? Are you kidding me? How can that be? You can’t run a car on a completely empty tank!

Making my way to the filling station, I had to avoid the compelling desire to drive at a normal or faster speed just to get there. It was late. It was cold. I had to be at work the next morning and I certainly didn’t need to be stranded relying on a neighbor to help me find a way to get some gas.

I remained in control. Creeping slowly forward, turning off the heater, dimming the headlights, turning off the stereo, and moving like a snail. Holding my breath and even leaning forward which obviously helped.

Finally, I was sitting at the gas pump fuelling up the Explorer and wondering how in the world I’d made it. The gas gauge had been far south of empty and although the car’s computer had calculated it was completely out of fuel, there must have been something left in the tank.


Right now, many of us are running on tanks well below “E”. Our family certainly is. Only three weeks ago, we all heard the news about this foreign flu virus that originated from the other side of the globe and today it’s arrived here with a full dose of disruption, uncertainty, and fear.

Confession. Lately, when I go to the grocery store I try to act casual like everything is normal. Passing through the meat, dairy, and bread aisles I begin to get a queasy feeling. “My God, there’s literally no food. What will happen if things don’t return to normal soon?” I might be wrong, but I suspect most of us feel the same: Out of energy and out of control.

Parents, although we like to think we’re in control, the harsh reality is we aren’t. Just take a glance at the world around us right now. Due to factors outside our reach, our families are being negatively affected. It’s particularly hard to see it on the faces of our kids.

Carona is called a “novel virus”, but it’s not novel. It’s just another version of the same thing that has existed since the world was created. We’re all humans and this is a fallen world in need of saving.

We’re all inclined to burnout at some point. We can become deeply discouraged, exhausted, fearful, and sometimes we feel we can’t take one more step. I feel that way lately, and I still fight my human nature to naively think I’ve got a handle on everything around me.

When I get honest with myself and when I fall prone to the weight of this world, acknowledging that I’m completely out of control helps me find peace. My Heavenly Father has this. He always has and always will. This “novel virus” is just another variation on the same old story.

Our Creator knows His children and remains in full control. I’m going to trust Him and try to just rest easy.


Prayer for Readers

Heavenly Father, we pray over our communities, families, and individuals who are in the midst of crisis and uncertainty at this very moment. Grant us wisdom, peace, and healing both physical and spiritual. Be with those across the world who are experiencing every variety of emotion. They are experiencing loss, sickness, separation, and desperation.

Remind us to look to You alone when we feel empty and out of control.

Great Expectations

“Dad, if you had only one thing you would tell people about this experience, what would it be? No pressure here”. Braden

I’ve learned that what I once considered to be important pales in comparison to a personal relationship with Jesus”. Braden’s Dad


Recently, I met again with a friend (my ex-boss) for coffee. We’ve met more frequently since our moves to Dallas following a major corporate overhaul. I’ve come to look forward to these brief moments over a cup of Starbucks. She likes the fancy version and I just order their plain drip. This morning was my turn to buy. It was an interesting conversation as they always are, but this one was different.


All my life, I’ve been on the standard upwardly mobile career track with the same company and throughout those years, I always looked ahead to that next level, job assignment, or tier of achievement. Sacrificing whatever it took to reach the “next level” and to gain another stripe for my prideful shoulder and career reputation. Isn’t that just what we do?

Through a series of promotions and/or re-locations over the years, my company placed me into various leadership roles, each presenting its own set of challenges but bringing recognition and another achievement notch to add to my career belt.

After an initial move to a first line leadership position in 1994, moving to San Antonio, I later promoted again in 1997. When that job offer was presented, I was only listening to hear if I was demoted or promoted. During a reorganization those are your options. My answer came. “Mark, you are being offered a Team Manager position in College Station, Texas. Do you accept?”

All I heard was, ” Offered a Team Manager position”. The part about the opportunity being located in a remote central Texas community called College Station went past me. I’d never even visited the place. I immediately blurted my answer. “I Accept”.

That’s the way my career worked during that season of life. For the sake of exposure, an offer to promote or even just move was to be accepted, no matter where or when, nor if it involved moving to the moon or possibly even worse, College Station. It was, after all, the almighty “PROMOTION”.

That move to College Station (which we in Texas fondly refer to as AggieLand) was challenging. The only thing in AggieLand is Texas A&M University and co-eds. I won’t share my age at that time, but I wasn’t college co-ed material. Thankfully, my best friend living in Houston and his girlfriend knew a friend named Cathy See. Cathy and I met and married soon after a hilarious and memorable blind date.

After starting our family with Braden two years old, we ultimately moved again to Houston where I worked for a manager who shared my background growing up in a cotton farming community in west Texas. Although we shared that common history, she remained tough with me.

She was the kind of manager that, if you didn’t perform well you better look for another job. She was not hesitant in the least about addressing performance shortfall. Still, although tough, her team respected her because she was fair.

Over a short period of time, this manager came to know and appreciate my ability to perform. We even shared personal experiences surrounding the challenges of family and raising little boys. I still recall her asking and being sincerely concerned about the struggles we faced at home while juggling work demands.

That was about 18 years ago.


Fast forward. In mid-2018 I decided job promotions and managerial stripes were no longer important in light of the demands on me at home and Braden’s need for a dad. I chose to step down and to take a road less traveled. Leaving leadership by choice was actually a promotion in a way. For myself and our family it would provide additional benefits of work/life balance and time with them, although it meant a significant financial shift.

My ex-boss and I have now become friends. We meet for coffee once in a while to catch up with our families and to talk about life. Just recently, we did just that. As she sipped her fancy coffee, she stopped and looked sharply into my eyes.

“Mark, I have a question I’ve been really wanting to ask for awhile.”

“Ok, ask me anything, I replied”. I’ll never forget her question.

“What is the most impactful thing you’ve learned about faith through this experience?”

Typically, when asked a question from someone I might be trying to impress or convince in an interview, I’ll think very deliberately and speak very carefully. Yet, my answer came before I could even stop myself.

I asked, “Do you remember when I worked for you?”

“Of course”.

“Do you recall that you rated my performance based on what I did or what I did not do, subject to your own expectations of me?”

“Well… Yes”, she answered, wondering where this was going.

“Then, let me ask you something in answering your question: While we’ve been sharing coffee this morning, have you one single time even given a thought as to how I’ve spoken or presented myself to you?”

“Certainly not. No.”

“Have you once been concerned that I might say or do something that fell below or outside your expectations of me?”

“Well, of course not, Mark.”

“That, my friend is the most important thing I’ve learned. We no longer give thought to superior versus subordinate. We have developed a relationship.

I told her, before I surrendered my life to Christ that horrific night in October, I always believed God existed to measure my performance on this earth. He was the judge of what I said, did, or what I didn’t do. I perceived that His purpose was to gauge my performance and measure the results I provided.

And I always fell far below His expectations.

Through this very personal experience, I’ve come to now realize that my Creator loves me unconditionally. Period. He even prefers that I mess up once in awhile, because after all I am only human. If I had it all together, there’d be no need for Him. He simply wants me to fall down so I can look up to Him.

That’s what I’ve learned and I’m really glad my friend asked the question.


Coincidentally, after writing and posting this short story Saturday night, this morning’s Sunday message at church was in line and informative. The pastor said God (YWH -Yaweh) is beyond the NEED for anything at all. Yet still, He DESIRES a relationship with us because He is a “relational God”.

How perfectly amazing and truly unique is this characteristic in the one TRUE God. He’s not needful, but yet He is desirous of one and only one thing and that is the love of His children. He’ll never demand it, but He desires it.

IF we have a real relationship with Him, shouldn’t we strive to please our Creator knowing what He desires? Shouldn’t we also lead our families in the same way? I’ll keep trying… and YaWeH will eternally grant His grace and unconditional love when I fall below my own expectations.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, thanks for those minor moments in our lives when we are given the chance to realize things are really very simple when we just stop and listen. Thanks for helping me realize ALL you desire is a relationship with us. Continue revealing who You are to us and to those we can serve as witnesses. Help us a parents to love our children unconditionally as you do your children.

In Jesus name, amen.

Time and Tears

Lately, I’ve felt no emotion. Like a barren dry desert. Then, tears begin to fall out of nowhere…” Braden’s dad

“Daddy, you think you have it all together. You don’t. You think it will end. But it won’t. You can keep the tears at bay for awhile, but don’t be surprised when they spill over the dam of your own strength. You have a flood of emotion still yet to be felt. Only God can get you through.” – Braden


It’s finally done. The book is published and behind us. The final chapter and epilogue to the story have been written, edited, vetted through at least ten proofs, and placed onto paper for all to read. A year of blogs I never thought I’d write are now pressed permanently between the covers of a book and placed onto a shelf to begin collecting dust. Thank God, it’s over.

Then again, it’s never really “done”.

This “old dog” is learning a lot of new things lately with now recently two different career transitions. Having stepped out of a leadership role just prior to Braden’s death, I have been selected to do yet another completely different job within my company. It keeps me on my toes to develop new skills and to remain my most effective.

I’m also learning some other personal lessons. Mainly, about this strange thing called grief. It’s completely new to me and it has an aspect I never considered possible. Specifically, grieving can be ever-present and never ending.

Of course, it evolves. Our grief today isn’t as intense as it was in the very beginning but still, it is not gone and may likely never be. They say time heals. It’s been fourteen months and time has helped some by presenting distractions of work and life. But time hasn’t done its job well. It hasn’t healed.


Recently, we met with a local school board candidate. Cathy and I wanted to get to know about her background and philosophies regarding education and the need for culture change in our schools. I was listening to her share thoughts about school counseling, teaching, administration, and some initiatives we might be able to consider. However, as the conversation shifted into what BradensVoice’s mission was, I became inwardly emotional.

Our ultimate mission and vision for the non-profit organization we’ve formed is to have a peer-driven suicide awareness/ prevention program in every Texas school within our lifetime. As I shared this vision with our new friend, I became consciously aware that suddenly tears were coming to my eyes for the first time in months. I had to just shut down and collect myself. She never knew, but I did and it felt strange. “What was that about,” I thought.

Later that week, someone asked for a book to be signed and as I scribbled a personal message on the title page, my eyes filled with tears for absolutely no reason. As we watched a movie later that evening no one knew but I had tears rolling down my face out of nowhere. And it was a comedy, no less.

Even as I write this short story this early morning, a flood of tears blur my vision as they fall from my eyes. These are the first tears I’ve experienced in well over two months. This grief thing is a complete mystery to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been around it and have had losses in our family and extended family. Cathy lost both her parents and I was there when her dad died. I’ve mostly watched as others experienced grief, but my wife warned me it would happen some day and I wouldn’t be ready for a devastating loss like this. I have come to know several who have lost a child either through natural causes or by suicide.

Penny and Mike Martin

One friend, Mike Martin, lost his entire family in a horrific car accident some years ago. I could never imagine the loss of our son and can’t fathom how my friend continued breathing after his entire family was taken in an instant. He and his wife, Penny are an awesome inspiration to us and to many, having not only overcome the tragedy but then moving forward with Christian ministry. How does that even make sense?

As cliche as it sounds, I suppose it has to do with God allowing bad things to happen which offers us each an opportunity to wither or to grow in our faith. That’s what my friend would tell me. And he should know more than anyone. Even after having a new start and a beautiful second family, I’m confident Mike still weeps from his grief, and he always will.


As mentioned, I’m learning new things at work and in life through our experiences and those of friends who have lost loved ones. What I’m learning is no matter how certain our future seems, God’s plan can look entirely different and His new map could arrive at any moment in any of our mailboxes.

I’ve learned that faith, family, and friends are the three most important things in this life. God never wants His children to hurt, but He loves us enough to allow it and to hold us up and dry our tears when we weep. He only wants us to be confirmed that we can’t stand on our own strength and must rely solely upon Him.

I’ve learned that no matter how long or brief our lifespan might be, we have a short time here on this earth and that grief comes with the territory. I’ve learned that tears will come when I least expect them but that God will dry those tears in His everlasting love.

Prayer for Readers

Lord, thank you for being there to dry our tears when we hurt. Thank you for blessings we too often take for granted. Remind us daily of those blessings and allow us to come to you for assurance that this is temporary and You are eternal. We pray for those who need that assurance right this minute as they are in dark places and need your light. We pray in Your Son’s name, Jesus. Amen

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;  a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.