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.

Minor Notes


“We all have good days and bad. Ups and downs. Keep mindful that without darkness you won’t truly experience light.” – Braden

“Thanks for this reminder, son. We miss you so much and long to see you in the everlasting light of Heaven”. Dad


We are officially a “Dance Family”. Much of our time is spent preparing or performing. Not me. I just watch… and pay. Confession: I never knew how expensive this was until I had a “Dance Daughter”. Might be cheaper to put her under a private Olympics coach!

Most popular sports have a season. The NFL just closed out their most recent football season with the annual Superbowl, establishing the national championship team. Those players are now in their off-season, preparing for next Spring. Dance is constant. I’ve come to wonder if there even is an off-season.

Cait recently had a winter season “Dance Soiree”. Eighty (80) dances in one day. We love to watch Caitlin dance, but a 77:3 ratio of watching dances our daughter isn’t in is a lot (in one dad’s opinion). Still, I forged through, fighting the urge to play a game on my IPhone.

Sitting at the large white linen-covered round table, I turned our chairs around to face the stage. Having lost one child, one tends to appreciate what too many take for granted. In that mindset, it was more enjoyable to soak in the moment. We listened and watched their routines, enjoying what they were doing as they showed off their very best efforts to a supportive audience of parents.

Modern dance can be… let’s just say… different. During one set, the music sounded like an extended electrical short of hissing and buzzing without melody or lyrics. Still, there were people in the room who were moved to tears because it was their child.

There were sets with jazz and tap. Some with rap, and still others with a slow and elegant lyrical style. They all had every heart in the crowd moved in some way.


As kids, my brother and I were encouraged to take piano lessons. We were much more inclined to riding bikes, playing trucks in the field, or having dirt clod fights. To appease our parents, we took our lessons at the piano. We each alternated 30 minute sessions, keeping a timer. Mom sat pointing to each note and placing our finger positioning for scales, practiced over and over… and over and over. Once more with feeling, playing the scales. Again and again.

Mike and I hated piano lessons and I learned little more than proper posture. Also, we learned the notes on the scales and how they translated to the instrument. Like a puzzle, putting the notes together produced a song. Songs like “Camptown Ladies” and “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain”. The classics.

Later in life, I found this basic training helped me learn to play a guitar which I actually enjoy. Guess it was worth the effort after all.

We also learned the white keys are “whole” notes. Playing only white keys produces a major chord. The black keys are called “half” notes and form a minor chord. Not to get too deep into musical theory, the black piano keys make a flat or sharp sound in a melody. Blended properly, a minor chord makes a sound that is thoughtful, somber, or even sad.

I’m not exactly sure how this works but a minor tone in a song immediately affects the listener’s emotion. Think of the theme for the movie, Forest Gump for example. You know, the feather floating around at the opening. That song is loaded with minor notes to produce emotion with the movie audience. If you recall the plot, Gump had a lot of triumphs as well as many tragedies.

Why would we want to include minor notes in a song? Who wants to feel sad when listening to music, watching a dance “soiree” or a feel-good movie? It’s because when the sad and joyful sounds blend together, they make a beautiful song. Hope is woven into the melody along with sadness. A well written song with both parts can be an amazing thing to experience.


In this life, we all have our ups and downs. Without them, life would be boring and without color. Life is a melody made of major and minor chords. Sometimes they seem like one huge dark minor note but more often they are blended together and balance with one another. As much as I hate to admit it, I wouldn’t want a life without some ups and downs… and the hope that lies in trusting Jesus to bring light in our darkness. Hope in Him sustains.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the hope you bring in finding joy even in the midst of despair. Thanks for blessings like a dancing daughter who brings light when things look so dark at times. You provide hope and peace beyond understanding. Be with those today who are in the middle of a very dark moment in their life and remind them You alone should be their song.
It is in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Too Alike


Son, did you ever experience real joy in your lifetime here?” – Braden’s Dad

“Dad, I occasionally felt happy when something good happened, but it never lasted. I’m glad I had a relationship with Jesus. I now live in eternal joy.” – Braden


Meet my identical twin brother, Mike. If you can tell which one he is, you’re better than me. It took me a long time to decide I’m the one on the left… I think.

“The twins”. That’s what we were called throughout our childhood years by many, including our parents, friends, and relatives. Our dad loved us like crazy but still liked to tease. We looked so much alike that he’d kid us by saying, “Hey, where’s your ugly brother?” Thank goodness we didn’t have thin skin!

Growing up together, Mike and I were best friends and the worst of enemies. We fought against each other at home and defended each other in the world. Mike would die for me and I for him. There were also occasions we wanted to kill each other. Our twin brother stories would fill volumes. Maybe I’ll write that book someday. There’ll be a special chapter just about dressing the same and getting the same gifts. What’s the deal with that?

Being a twin is a unique blessing, especially when your brother is an exact mirror image of yourself. When you finish each other’s sentences or can share a memory that you only recall partially but he can complete it, that’s very rare. According to biology, we were literally “identical”. At least that’s what I thought until just a few years ago.

All my life I believed since we looked, talked, walked, and thought alike we must be identical. After all, our relatives often jokingly called us “Mi-ark” to hedge their guess when they couldn’t tell us apart. We traded classes and even once swapped dates as a prank to see if we could get away with it. One of us did, and it wasn’t me. When the concept of personalized license plates started, I ordered “2-Alike” for my 1976 Cutlass Supreme. Is there any better evidence of “twin-ness”?

Years later, someone asked, “Are you guys identical?” As always, I proudly responded, “Yes”. But our mother interjected, “No, Mark. You boys were born in different birth sacks. That technically makes you ‘fraternal'”. She had to have her facts wrong. Mike and I were just too close with too many similarities.

I have to admit, losing our uniqueness in being identical twins was a bummer. After all, that had always been our identity… until that moment of truth.


An interesting aside: Some months ago our pastor at Hope Fellowship spoke on the topic of joy and happiness. He talked about how much they might look alike but in reality, are very different. I’d always just assumed the two were synonyms.

More on this in a moment.


We recently became friends with a family who has shared our tragic experience. They lost their son only a few months after Braden. Their boy was often the life of the party at social events. He was outgoing, successful in sports and most anything at which he tried his hand. Yet, as so many youth do today, he still considered himself alone and missing something.

One night after leaving a college party, he called his mom and dad in desperation. He couldn’t take life any longer. There was not one single person he could say he felt intimately close with. Even in a crowd, he felt empty. Alone.

How can that even be possible? From his father’s account, this young man seemed happy. He was always with others, interacting, and laughing. Yet, still he was depressed to the point he didn’t want to continue living. Before his parents could get to him, sadly their son had taken his own life.

Their story is far too common today and lands very close to home. Many details these parents shared have reminded us of our own experience. These young men might have been very different in personality and in social settings, but they both shared a lack in the same thing over which they were both willing to end their lives: A lack of lasting and true joy.


Returning to Pastor John’s sermon: Happiness versus joy. The two descriptors initially appear to be identical. However, I’ve come to the conclusion they’re vastly different.

Pastor John McKinzie

Happiness is an involuntary and temporary feeling. It’s very much in the moment. Be it a piece of good news or a humorous joke, happiness can last a minute, an hour, or even a season. However, it’s always fleeting.

In contrast, joy is a conscious choice and if practiced can become a permanent characteristic. Joy rises above the moment and the seasons. It thrives even in the midst of darkness, anxiety, fear, and grief. Joy can exist when all evidence would indicate the person should feel in misery and desolation.

The pastor went on to say that lasting and eternal joy comes only from having a personal relationship with our Creator through Jesus. You can lease happiness for a brief time, but you can’t buy joy. It’s totally free of cost if we simply choose it. Suddenly, it dawned on me the differences between happiness and joy are as large as the Grand Canyon.

In learning more about our friends’ son and knowing ours well, I’ve come to the conclusion that both young men were actually happy at times. Some days more than others. What they held in common was the missing piece that helps us go on when all seems hopeless. Their missing piece was missing peace in something called true joy.

I can’t speak for our friends’ son. Although I’m confident Braden had a personal relationship with Jesus, I’m not convinced he chose joy in the very darkest moments of his life. We believe he was being barraged in a spiritual battle for having maintained hope for so long. You see, Satan hates joyous people and will go to any length to ensure it gets zapped by this world.

Looking back, I’m not so sure I did a good job in modeling joy as defined here to our son. To him, the way I lived my life and how the world looked to him appeared too much alike to be a reason to choose his joy. In our trials of life, did I personally choose joy or was I just blending in and coasting along, satisfied just being happy in the moment?

I’ve been encouraged to not live in the past by continually questioning the “what ifs”. We are to move forward, learning from yesterday’s mistakes, even when today many of them continue to look too much the same.

Today, as we stayed home from church with a sick Caitlin, we watched the live stream of the Sunday message from Hope Fellowship. As they baptized several members, the worship team sang a song I’ve always loved and felt compelled to include the lyrics today. May the words remind readers and those in dark places there is a real reason we should choose joy in Christ.

Prayer for readers

Lord, let us grasp the difference and help us choose joy in knowing You over temporary happiness. The latter is empty and worthless. The former is eternal and a valuable treasure. Amen


Who You Say I Am ~ Hillsong Worship

Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me?
I was lost but He brought me in.
His love for me Who the Son sets free, is free indeed.
I’m a child of God!
Yes I am Free at last, He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep.
While I was a slave to sin,
Jesus died for ME!
I am chosen,
Not forsaken,
I am who You say I am.
You are for me,
Not against me.
I am who You say I am.
In my Father’s house
There’s a place for ME.
I’m a child of God, yes I am!

At Risk

Lord, help. How many are there dealing with this problem?” Braden’s Dad

“More than you could even fathom, Dad. Most aren’t ever reported because they don’t succeed. Even more want to try, but they’re afraid. They’re at risk and no one is even aware.” – Braden


This week, I received a note from a desperate mom. She’d just gone through two draining days in a local ER and was buried in red tape to get her suicidal teen admitted into a treatment facility. Her child wanted to take their own life and she had no insurance or means to pay for needed care. In west Texas-speak, “That’s one helluva note”.

We put out the word on social media and were blessed to have a number of donations through our non-profit organization called “BradensVoice”. Through readers’ generosity, we were able to give them enough funds to get and pay for a full two months of insurance premiums. [THANKS to those who contributed. It meant the world to this family].

By taking the bold and courageous step of getting help for her teen, this mom prevented a crisis from becoming a tragedy… at least for the time being.

Cathy and I recently met and talked with her. We spent several hours sharing stories and discussing cause-and-effect of schools and social culture in correlation with depression, anxiety, and suicide in this generation of teens. Her child had been deemed “At Risk” due to learning difficulties at a very young age. Ironically, the child’s IQ was at genius level, although reading was difficult.

We are praying for this family, as we do for all impacted by mental health issues. I’m confident they will navigate and trust God will guide their way.


I’ll never forget the first time we realized Braden had ADHD, and therefore “At Risk”. It scared me to think he would struggle to transition successfully into the responsibilities of adulthood. The battles this mother described with the schools, teachers, and administrators was exhausting just to hear, much less have to live. However, we did live them at times, in our own way.

We shared our own challenges with PPSP: “Parenting and Public School Politics”. Frankly, as we talked I became increasingly upset about circumstances, some of which Cathy knew but I’d not been fully aware. Public school systems are not presently well-suited to consistently help kids who are struggling. Specifically, those who are a square peg and not designed to fit into a round hole.

Today, more and more kids feel like “square pegs” on the inside even though, on the outside they look completely well-rounded. Some of these kids, if not a majority, are silently screaming “help” while drowning in pressures from parents, school, peers, college expectations, sports and the drama of social media. I would submit, these children are “at risk” as much or more than kids who typically get labeled with ADHD, dyslexia, autism, or other disabilities.

Each one of these conditions are labeled very specifically in medical journals, which makes dealing with them and compartmentalizing them much easier for everyone, in theory. The less convenient problem, which most will admit if they get honest, is that of the common child who gets along well with others, doesn’t fall behind academically, maybe excels at sports or another area, but who is destitute inside, not feeling purpose or true personal connection.

I have come to know many families who have lost a young person to suicide. There is no single profile, but rather every one is as unique as a thumbprint. One stands out, as their son was considered a very popular young man. Handsome, successful in school, and in most every sense well on his way to a hopeful future. Still, sadly he was missing a depth in relationship with “friends” and just thirsting for more. He took his own life without warning and it shocked the world around him.

Recently, in “Common Ground”, I wrote about the commonality a large number of today’s youth express in feeling a lack of deep connection with others. They feel alone in a large over-crowded world, many grappling with private pain. Many turn to self-harm or contemplate taking their own life.

Some will say, “That’s just part of growing up”, but the pressures our kids feel today are not the healthy kind nor at a sustainable level. Check the stats. Kids are killing themselves or attempting to do so at alarming rates today. Many are not going quite so far, but they are self-harming. In the past, these instances were extremely rare and far between. Now, we hear of so many kids involved with these thoughts or behaviors it’s become commonplace.


We have recently become more aware of how schools are required by mandate to provide very specific help for students, but many school districts aren’t following the rules set in place. Many of us don’t even know about the educational and mental health laws and regulations in place to deal with kids who are “At Risk”. I’m guilty.

Sadly, most school administrators, board members, and teachers have only a cursory knowledge about the laws and benefits state legislators have formed in this area. That’s not meant as an indictment, but parents MUST get proactively informed, and if we don’t remain in tune with our children, they are all at risk.


Parents

Today’s children are smart, savvy, and in-tune with us as parents. We should be even more in-tune with them. We need to ask them and routinely gauge their pressure in the areas of academics, peers, sports, etc. Let’s also involve them in a church community and model what it looks like to have our sole purpose and identity in Christ.

Kids are wrapped too tightly today with the stressors of their culture. As we teach them the way they should go, let’s model where to go for their source of peace in the midst of worry and fear.

Also, I’m personally doing the research and encourage you to do so in your own community. Know the people serving on our school boards Show appreciation for their service. Vote for change if they are uninformed about programs and regulations our state mandates to provide needed help. Because aren’t they all at risk?


Prayer for Parents

“Heavenly Father, guide us in our role to play an active part in knowing our children better and modeling lives they will find inspiring enough to draw them to You. Provide us the needed wisdom and discernment in our leadership of Your children.

We also pray over those kids who are out there right now feeling alone and hopeless in a busy and over-expecting world. Let them know they only need to seek You and there they will find peace beyond understanding. In Your Son, Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Proverbs 22:6

One

“Dad, you’re not going to fix everything. This is bigger than you. You can’t save everyone but thanks for trying.” – Braden

“Son, I know… trust me. This is bigger than us, but it’s much smaller than God. If we save even one, it’s more than worth it.” – Braden’s dad


Lately, I’ve been writing more frequently for some reason. When I began this endeavor, honestly I thought there would be maybe two or three times I’d “blog”. If you follow, I hope you understand there’s no rhyme nor reason in when things pop into mind. Sometimes it feels like one of those hand-eye coordination games where you hit the weasel as it pops up.

I never see a topic coming, but when a thought rears its head, I feel compelled to clock it with a hammer of a brief (and hopefully meaningful) message. I call this the “Chucky Cheese Effect”. Not really.

Since October 2018, I’ve been in transition mode. Working a full time hourly job after leaving my leadership role of over 25 years. I’ve been learning a new job just to pay the bills, keeping gas in the tank, food on the table, and dance expenses paid.

I’m still glad I took the less traveled road and wouldn’t go back for twice the price. Without the pressures and demands of my prior job, in its place have come chances to relax in the opportunity to reflect, write, and see where BradensVoice.org will go. Also to just think about the enormity of what we have experienced in the past 18 months.


Tonight as I’ve done for several nights, thoughts return to the evening before Braden took his life. He’d driven home in the dark after his final counseling session. Our counselor and now friend had called Cathy saying he was very concerned.

Braden had been on a new anxiety medication and doing, what we felt was pretty good. However, we came to learn he had the roughest counseling session ever, spending the entire time crying uncontrollably and in complete turmoil. However, at the very end of the late evening consultation, he sat up and asked his counselor a sobering question.

“If I killed myself, would I still be able to go to Heaven?”

Can you imagine being the counselor, the friend, or the parent to answer such a question? The answer was spot-on and I’d answered the same: “You can’t un-sin your way into salvation and you can’t sin your way out of it. If you trust in Christ and have a relationship with Him, you are in the Book of Life. Yes. With God’s grace, you will go to Heaven no matter the sin”.

To hear his counselor tell what happened next confirms Braden was thinking of leaving. He describes his countenance as a visible glow of peace. Braden had asked us several times if he would go to Heaven if he took his own life and we confirmed it so. He was ready.

That night, we watched a movie together and out of the corner of my eye, I watched him. He was grappling with something I sensed he could no longer deal with. He had a bat in his hand he liked to hold for comfort. He just kept spinning it around on the floor, while staring down.

I was very sad and frankly at the end of my rope as a dad. “Son, I want you to know your mom and dad would do anything on this earth we could do to help you right now”. He replied, “Dad, there isn’t one thing you can do. In fact, there is nothing I would want you to do. At this point, I don’t even want it to get better”.

I hugged him and said, “I love you son. Good night.” He replied, “I love you too, dad. Good night.” Those were the last words Braden said to me on this earth.

The next day, our son was gone.


Every step I’ve taken. Every decision we’ve made about our purpose with BradensVoice has been based upon this final experience with our son. I’ll never forget those visual and emotional final moments. The hopelessness in all our eyes. They keep me striving to help in some way to save those in similar circumstances. It’s our new purpose.

A good friend shared the well known story of the starfish. The little boy throwing starfish into the sea to save them from death on a dry beach. A man comes along scoffing and saying, “You can’t save all those starfish” and the boy replies as he tosses one more into the life saving sea, “I just saved that one”.

Recently, we’ve learned of other school districts taking on the Hope Squad model. This is a culture-changing and proven life- saving program. It’s currently in all Prosper middle and high schools and to launch into elementary schools in the Fall.

We continue to speak when invited and will do so again at Rock Creek Church to a youth group in March. Every single breath and effort is towards helping to save and make lives.

We recently set up a non-profit called BradensVoice.org which has the ultimate mission of having a peer-driven suicide prevention program in every Texas public school. We hope you will support and pray for this life-saving initiative.

Prayer

Lord, the night I surrendered to you, the deal was I’d give you my life, body, and mind in order to keep others from experiencing our loss. You amaze me at the response to this prayer of surrender. I pray each and every day over those who are facing a similar darkness and that You will hopefully use us as messengers to help save even one.

In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Common Ground

“My story isn’t rare, dad. Talk of suicide is a daily conversation”. – Braden

“If you aren’t bent towards depression and suicide, you’re considered an oddity. In fact you are left out because anyone and everyone should be suicidal given the condition of the world”. Coffee house barista

1418 Coffeehouse

Several months ago, we received a private message from a reader named David. He’d been praying for our family every day since we began writing. This was a complete stranger who wanted to meet me at some point so we could get to know one another’s stories.

I’m blessed he did. David owns and operates a local coffeehouse and café in old town Plano, Texas. He offered to treat me to a cup of coffee. I responded, “You had me at free”. Never had I expected anything like what I experienced.

We met on a late Monday afternoon since my current job has me reporting on a time clock at 8AM. I’m glad we settled on a late meeting because I had the opportunity to meet his late shift barista team of youth.

David and I talked for a long time. Sharing God stories of ways He surprises us if we simply surrender and listen. He offered his coffee house to help our cause in any way possible. We agreed, God has something to show us both in 2020 and we have no idea yet what it will be. But it will be impactful.

As David and I were winding down, the conversation shifted to the impact of social media on our youth. I mentioned wanting to find the best social media platform to bring awareness or our ministry and our message, asking where might young people tune in?

Instantly, David turned and waved over a young man who had been wiping down the counter behind the cash register. It was almost as if to say, “C’mon. You’re on deck”. David introduced me to the young man as the father of Braden Speed who had taken his life just months ago. I extended a handshake and in that moment instantly felt a common bond.

This young man looked right through me and said, “Mr. Speed, I completely understand what your son was dealing with. In fact, I know too well. You see, only two years ago I tried unsuccessfully to take my own life. I’m here today though and have learned so much. I’m glad I was not successful”.

He went on. “Social media is killing kids. I know because it was killing me. Everything was either negative talk about someone or something else or negative talk about ourselves. On Snapchat, the ‘Eyes Only’ feature is a place no one can view other than you and it’s a very dark place. Pictures captured of anything and everything you can imagine.”

He added, “On social media, you perceive others who are living their full lives but you aren’t invited and it doesn’t look at all like your own life. I deleted my account. I decided I didn’t need that negativity. I have never felt more free”.

This young man shared the disturbing fact that suicide is now a common topic among young people. Most times, it’s so prevalent that it remains an unspoken, but is a foundation of the current culture. Music and social media glorify suicidal ideation as the norm versus the rare exception it used to be.

My new friend then said that today’s teens joke about suicide as a way to make it less real because it is all too real in the minds of teens. This shook me to my core. Here’s this “kid” who looks a lot like my son, who survived the moment that took Braden but he’s breathing and talking about it with me.

I really wanted to hug this young stranger as the embodiment of our son who had survived suicide. We had instantly found common ground. I reached out my hand again.

“Buddy, I’ve never met you before and my opinion means very little but I’m proud of you. Dropping an addiction of social media is extremely rare. You have survived suicide and now you have a story to share. I hope you will tell it, and I hope we can do that together someday”.

He smiled confidently and replied, “I want to do that”.

As I arrived home that night, Cathy said she’d had contact from the Dallas CBS news affiliate looking to do a news piece on suicide but this time, rather than talking to parents, they wanted to talk with a panel of youth effected by suicide.

Cathy asked, “Mark, do we know any youth who would be good for this?”

“I just might. We shook hands just one hour ago”.


So many God moments. This was just one more of hundreds. Confirmation that God is in control and if we’ll listen and surrender, he’ll show the way. Who would have ever guessed out of a blog, we’d connect with another Braden. This one alive to be another voice and sharing common ground.

Prayer

Lord, you blow me away in how You work when I surrender to Your will. Please keep me out of the way. Thank you for people whom you bring into our lives. They are like angels in a fallen world.

Thanks for showing us we have others in our lives who share common ground. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Puzzled

Missing pieces

“When people ask what they can do in despair, tell them to trust in Christ alone. That’s the missing piece all people need but too many fail to seek or to accept”. Braden

“Thanks for this reminder, son. I too often find myself frustrated by trying to force pieces together that look right but which don’t fit.” Braden’s Dad


The holiday season is behind us and let’s face it, there is some solace in returning to routine. After all, lax time around the season can get boring. Our kids annually put up a puzzle table to work while waiting for the “eventful” moments like opening gifts or a get together with friends. We don’t rush the project as it’s just a way to relax, talk, and laugh as we work to put the pieces in place.

This year, we worked on a pretty intricate puzzle. Honestly, it was my first time to participate as I tend to be impatient and give up after looking for the matching parts and failing for ten minutes or so. However, this year, I decided to play along and was somewhat encouraged and proud to say I found some success. Not to brag, but I got most of Santa Claus’ beard and bag done on my own.

As we neared completion, it began to look like we would finish before Christmas Day. The pace picked up as we could see the picture coming into full focus. We were only about ten pieces away from solving the puzzle when it became obvious some pieces were missing. Apparently, the dogs wanted to play along too and had gotten hold of three puzzle pieces, chewing them beyond recognition.

Here was this perfect picture and one we’d all worked with hopes of completing fully, but now it was futile. I mean, you can’t order one replacement part for a 2,000 piece puzzle so we were left a little discouraged. All our effort to complete the project and to make it suitable for framing fell short in the end. Oh, well. Maybe next year.


Since we began a not-for-profit ministry called “Braden’s Voice.org” there have been numerous opportunities to present to schools, churches, and youth groups. Most recently, I found myself in front of the congregation of the Prosper United Methodist Church. A ministry advocating for teen relationship-building and suicide awareness had never been on my radar. It certainly didn’t fit the puzzle of what my life would look like when I started.

Prior to that church presentation, Cathy and I were invited to speak with two church youth groups who gathered to discuss teen depression, culture, and relationships. The discussion was an open forum where we presented our story and the kids were asked to present honest questions.

It was going along great. We shared about life prior to the teen years and how changes presented challenges in the middle and high school years. How Braden found himself outside social circles looking in through a computer or phone screen. We talked about the false front social media puts on the world and how important it is to not fall for that façade.

The participation and engagement was outstanding. Several of the youth were outspoken as to their desire to make a difference in their culture and among their peers. I thought, “Wow. This is going well”. Then, we got a question that stumped me. It was from a teenage girl.

“Mr. Speed. All this talk about helping the Braden’s of the world is great. What can you tell us to do when we fall into despair, loneliness, or depression? What do we tell a friend who wants to hurt themselves and sees no hope in their world? What can you tell us about that?

… I have to admit I lost some breath at the bold question. This young lady was dead serious in her questions and desperately needing a real and practical answer. My response was knee jerk and I still regret how shallow it came out. “Talk with your minister, your parents, or a counselor”.

I still can see the look of disappointment in this child’s eyes when she heard the standard answer to such a heavy question until then, unasked. However, it was the most important question all night. I didn’t give her what she needed. After all, we had dealt with that very dilemma and as his parents, along with the capable help of counselors and ministers, we still couldn’t save him.

Through the following weeks after the youth group meeting, I prayed and sought wisdom on this most-important question. After a process of elimination of what DOES NOT work, I’m left with one solitary and crystal clear answer to the missing puzzle piece of a meaningful and valued life… simply this: Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned, we had a subsequent invitation to the Methodist Church several weeks after the youth group discussion. That week’s Advent candle was about Joy.

I knew the missing piece had to be identified and the answer had to be ready if and when the question was asked. The answer couldn’t be a traditional response: to get with the counselor or a parent. Although both are important, they are not the missing piece this and other teens need to identify.

So when Sunday at United Methodist came and I was again in front of now a full size church congregation, the pastor finally asked me the puzzling question: “Mark, our church has a number of teens today who you have an opportunity to speak into, following your family’s loss. What do you have to say to them?”

This time, my answer was better

“I know you are struggling right now. Some of you may even be thinking you don’t want to stay the course of your natural life. You may wish to leave early. I understand that and you need to know there is a better way. After living through this as a father, I’ve come to one conclusion, and that is to place your identity in no one nor in anything of this world”.

I went on. “I talk about going to your counselor or to your parent. Well, let me rephrase. Go to The Counselor who is your Heavenly Father and place your faith in a personal relationship with Him alone. We’ve proven the world is full of really cool stuff and millions of distractions. These things can bring about temporary happiness. However, there is a huge difference between happiness and joy.

Happiness is fleeting. It frequently comes but it always goes. Joy in knowing and having a true relationship with our Father in Heaven is ever-lasting even through the sadness and gloom of this world. Jesus didn’t come here to judge you but rather to let you know you are loved beyond any of your shortcomings. So be joy-filled in knowing and trusting this one eternal truth. And Live a life of JOY in HIM”.

Weeks earlier, I had been speechless and without a worthy answer to that young lady’s heartfelt question. This time, though I had sought His guidance and counsel. I was finally relieved to find the one and only missing piece needed to complete the puzzle: Seek Joy in Him.


Readers

We spend far too much of our time putting effort into building a perfect image of what we think life should look like. We buy things or plan events, trips, etc. because we long for happiness. Yet, time and experience confirms happiness from things, desires, and even in people are passing things. Every single thing other than the love of Christ will pass away or break down. If you’re missing the puzzle piece of real and lasting joy, you can find it by simply asking Him.

Prayer

Heavenly Father and perfect Counselor, we accept your promise that if we ask, you will hear our plea. We do that now by seeking a personal and intimate relationship with you, our Creator and Savior. We pray against the temptation to be happiness seekers and instead to find joy in knowing You.

In your Son Jesus’ name we pray, Amen


2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.


Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in his wonderful face.

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.