Preparing a Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Your Son Jesus’ name, Amen.

John 14: 1-4

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


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

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

Ever wake at a pre-dawn hour when the rest of the world is dead asleep? Your mind rolling over and over about something all-important? It’s always 3AM for some reason and it feels like swimming in quicksand. Trying to solve or “fix” something through worrying. Often, it’s some minor thing no one else would give a single thought. Still, I’ve come to learn by talking with people, most of us humans do this. Well, I guess there’s comfort in knowing we are in good company as members of the 3AM worry club. Not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His Eye is On the Sparrow

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

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

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

Gold Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anita Hancock and Mom; Hill Country lake home

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

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

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

Dad’s Best Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Thessalonians 5:18

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

Life Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One literal hell of a choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 55:8-9

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

Ephesians 6:13

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

Shepherd on a Hill

Fellowship of San Antonio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In prayer garden near Braden’s Tree

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

Lessons from Ron

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

God sends helpers so be looking for them.

God loves laughter. After all, He created it.

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

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

GOD LOVES ME and offers unconditional grace.

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

Matthew 18: 12 

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

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

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

Hurts, Helps, & Hopes

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

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

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

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

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

First, I drove by the junior and high schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Asides: Questions with Too Few Answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parents, Teachers, and Teens

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

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

Jeremiah 29:11-12

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

Lost and Found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The message began:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was at that point when I attempted suicide.

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

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

Signed, A Prosper Student

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May Your Name be glorified. Amen

A Father’s Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for parents/ dads:

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

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

Beautiful World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I prayed that it would just please rain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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