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.

2020 Hindsight

Decades are just brief moments in time.

Dad, time moves faster than you could ever imagine. Don’t take it for granted. This long path you consider to be endless will be gone in the flash of an eye. – Braden

I’m torn between thanking God for hurrying time forward to get beyond the past and then praying time will slow for a chance to enjoy the moment. – Braden’s Dad


Happy New Year! Merry Christmas! Happy Holiday!

Though we wish these sentiments were always heartfelt (and sometimes they are), speaking for myself, too often they’re just another seasonal greeting with a shallowness that seems to grow a little more hollow every year. Especially, this past year.

Our family of three loves tradition and routine. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve are biggies. Sadly, against all odds and certainly against our wishes, Christmas and New Years Eve tanked this year. We aren’t flu shot people but that might very well change. We were hit hard. Influenza basically killed our holidays more assuredly than a Dollar Store bug zapper.

On New Years eve, after remaining determined to stay up until New Orleans celebrated in the Central time zone, I had some time to think over the past year and what it meant to turn a page into a new decade.

Historically speaking, decades have been chapters with clearly delineated bookends. One hundred years is nothing on the scale of our world’s existence. Just that many years ago this month, we were entering the “Roaring” Twenties. The days of Dillinger, Al Capone, and “Flappers”. Prohibition. Available indoor plumbing, electricity, and private ownership of cars were all just beginning. That’s hard to fathom, only ten decades ago!

Only ninety years ago we had the Great Depression and World War I. A brief eighty years, World War II. Seventy years ago, our country was entering the Korean conflict/ Buddy Holly, Elvis, and Rock-N-Roll (now, that’ll make you feel old).

Sixty brief years ago we entered the Vietnam War with three assassinations that rocked our world. Fifty years ago, Watergate and wars were looped on the news in living rooms and the dissolution of the American dream was in full bloom.

Only thirty to forty years ago, the Reagan Era and Middle Eastern conflicts and the fall of the Berlin Wall were the news. Whew! Time moves like lightening and it seems decades now run together more than in the past. They’re not as distinctly identifiable as they once were. Maybe that’s just me. It does leave me wondering what will this next decade bring. Will it be the roaring 20’s again or something else. We’ll see.


New Year’s Eve 2020! That’s crazy. In my youth, I recall thinking ahead to that strange year, 2000. What a foreign idea, a century called “The 2000’s”. Everything after 1999 had to be like science fiction. Hover cars. Futuristic communities. Clothing would have to be so different, after all it would be “THE YEAR 2000”.

I recall as a child thinking as we approached the new millennium, things would either be much better or far worse. Technology would bring forth new frontiers no one had even fathomed, but what if the predicted benefits of science had a reverse effect? For example, who’d have guessed a device no larger than a human hand would bring such change to the fiber of our society.

Yes, and who can forget doomsday predictions of the year 2000. In the Eighties, college professors and tech experts were saying the first second of 2000 would generate a global shutdown since the infrastructure of computers was built on a date system of two digits from a 00-99 framework. Anything after the last day of 1999 would not be recognized and would throw financial systems and the power grid into chaos.

Of course informed people “knew” this was not true, yet the computer didn’t exist at the prior turn of the 20th century… there was no precedence to rely upon. . . electrical grids were non-existent on December 31, 1899. These intelligent and informed people wanted to trust that the world would not go dark as their digital clocks ticked away on December 31, 1999.

I initially thought everyone was acting foolishly and perhaps had lost their minds. Then we got pregnant with projected delivery of our first baby in May 2000 and my world view completely shifted. What If something did happen and I’d not prepared my family? What kind of father doesn’t prepare for the cataclysm of doomsday? (If you’ve ever been a brand new parent, you get it).

As New Years’ Eve approached, Cathy and I joined friends in Kingwood, Texas for the celebration. As midnight neared, everyone was trying to put on a brave face but all knew inside we weren’t sure what to expect. After all, this was one of only a few times when mankind thought we were prepared, but no one was fully certain.

As we traditionally did, we all circled together to pray for the coming new year. Everyone was in that moment where no one would admit it but we were each a little terrified the end of the world may be coming. Still, our rational sides would not allow such nonsense. We closed our eyes, clasped hands, and waited…

Although I want to say the lights may have flickered, that was likely only my imagination. That, or my friend Mike, who always can be counted on for a prank, clicked the lights. In either instance, the fear and danger we all felt seconds earlier vanished instantly. One single second past 11:59PM the lights were on, the TV was still showing the New York Time Square celebration and all was well with the world. Well, maybe not so much, but we had survived.


Between that midnight in 2000 until October 30, 2018 will forever run as a long, yet too brief chapter in our family’s life. A series of endless family videos and pictures running together. It was almost two decades, but these images are framed as the 18 years we had our son with us.

Similar to the night we all wondered what would happen when the clock clicked midnight, I still wonder what will happen next, following our 18 year “decade”. with Braden now gone. I expect we’ll all try to act as if it will be ok, and that our world will remain normal. We’ll dread the dark times and pray things will not fall into chaos, but it’s largely a practice in futility. Yes, fewer days are filled with tears now, but they’re always one single blink away.

A song, a smell, a picture, or video. A memory is all it takes to flood our minds and hearts. Looking back, I don’t know how we could still be standing but for the assurance the Holy Spirit provides. I thank God for the time we had and for the memories we made. I pray He will continue to sustain us and help navigate into tomorrow.


Readers:

Human nature makes most of us easy targets for the lies Satan tells us. I fall prey far too often. He wants us to fear and dread the days ahead. This serves his kingdom well, as it distracts away from God’s promises.

A life filled with doubt and worry is one where God is trying to get in but the door is nailed shut. Remember, God wants nothing but good for His children. Anything you’re hearing to the contrary is coming from the enemy.

Let’s remember to teach our children about Satan’s lies and God’s truths. We might make their tomorrows even brighter than we could ever imagine.

Psalm 71:1-4

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
    turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge,
    to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
    from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.

Dear Caitlin

Dad. I miss y’all and this season of tradition. Please give my precious sister the happiest of birthdays. She was always a gift to me and to our family. Give her a kiss for me. I’ll see her soon”. – Braden

Son,you get to spend your Christmases with Jesus in Heaven itself! Give Jesus a kiss from us. We’ll see you both soon.” – Braden’s family


I’ve missed writing, focused on maintaining some semblance of employment while putting together a book derived from these blogs and experiences around our loss. Tentatively, the book, “Braden’s Voice, You’ll See I’ll Stay” should be out by April in time for Easter. A time for hope and promise.

From day one with BradensVoice, I admitted to not being a “blogger”. Neither am I a writer of books. It’d be a decent wager, the initial printing of 250 books will be found, after my death in boxes in our attic collecting dust. That’s ok. After all, it was my best work and one can’t do better than their best work.

A book? What a learning time for me. I figured, you write a book, you publish it, and it takes hitting the “Publish” key. Not so. A decent book requires more re-writes and edits than you can imagine. Sure, I could publish a book without that effort, but this will very likely be my first and only. In honor of my son I want it to be my best effort. That takes a lot of time, toil, and prayer.

As we prepare to hit the “Publish” key on the book, we approach Christmas. In fact, it’s only the day after tomorrow. The only thing between today and that special date is our baby girl, Caitlin’s birthdate. Not just any birthday this year. It’ll be the Big 1-3.


I’ve written, re-written, and revised this story to connect the dots but find it best to transparently copy a letter to Caitlin written just after she was born. Also, if you read the post, “Gifts” hopefully you will more clearly understand.


A letter from a dad to his newborn daughter

December 24, 2007

Dear Caitlin,

Happy 1st birthday, my sweet baby girl! I wanted to write a letter to you on your first birthday so that when you’re old enough to understand, you could learn about how your life started.   

You did not come along as easily as your big brother.  After Braden joined us, we knew we wanted to add to our family, but God had different plans.  through the next seven years, we prayed a lot and experienced several disappointments along the way.  Braden yearned for a sibling and also prayed a lot about you.  

When news arrived that Mommy was going to have you, we were in shock.  After so long and so many trials, could it be true?  Well, God does things in His time and we can’t ever fully understand why He waits.  All the waiting and praying was worth it, though and we learned so much through it.  

Your Mommy spent the next eight months in constant pain and her tummy was sick all the time.  She and I prayed a lot and the family supported Mommy by helping do things she normally did.  I learned by watching her that she is much stronger and courageous than I could ever be.  God blessed us with a wonderful Mommy, didn’t He!

We know God hand selected YOU to become part of our little family.  You’ll agree when you hear the story of your birth. We had plans to deliver after the Christmas and New Year holidays.  We all went shopping and ice skating on December 23rd. 

That night, we all went to sleep with visions of sugar plums, never dreaming that around 3AM, God would awake your Mommy with a feeling that she needed to call the hospital.  She didn’t have any pain at all, but you were not moving much.  Mommy woke me and said the doctor told her to come in immediately.  Louise Yates was a family friend who came to keep Braden while he slept.

Let me tell you, Mommy and Daddy were scared.  After all this time, would God’s plan be to not have our baby?  When we arrived at the hospital and they checked Mommy, the doctor said, “We’re going have this baby girl today!”  Little did we know there were complications and the doctor was trying not to upset us. 

In less than one hour, you came into the world.  I still remember the first time I saw you and doctor handing you to me.  The doctor later told us that had Mommy not awoken and come to the hospital exactly when she did, you would not have lived. The doctor also told us that every doctor and nurse in the delivery room was praying as they worked to deliver you. 

God’s grace and love during this time is how you took your middle name.  We tell this story often as testimony to God’s hand in our lives. 

When I came home to share the news of your birth with Braden, he was so happy that he forgot all about it being Christmas Eve!  Not once did he ask about his gifts or if Santa would come.  He ran to the car and said, “I want to go see my baby!”

I have seen a lot of brothers and sisters in my life, but never have I seen one who had so much love and pride in his sister.  You’ve been blessed with a wonderful big brother.

During your first year, you had a little colic at first but not bad.  We traded off holding you and I found that swinging you in the car seat helped soothe you.  Soon, you began scooting around and I made a song, “Little Scooter you’re the one, Little Scooter  sittin’ in the sun, Little Scooter all the way, Little Scooter what ya doin’ today”.  Silly, but you laughed and brightened every time I sang it.

People stopped us all the time saying how beautiful and happy you were.  That happiness is something we saw early with your brother too.  I hope and pray the joy you have in your heart as a child remains as you go through life.  Happiness is free and no one can take it from you. 

I’m excited about what God has in store for you and for your brother.  You are two special angels.   In fact, I am blessed to have three angels in my life.  Your Mommy was the first and my children are the other two.  Of all the things I could tell you, two things are the most important. 

First, God loves you and is with you always.  He will never fail you.   Second, God blessed you with family that loves you completely and unconditionally. 

No matter where life takes any one of us, we will forever be a part of one another.  My prayer is that you and Braden will invite Jesus into your hearts.  As I told your brother, I will tell you. 

Throughout this life, just remember that if we’re ever separated by distance or by death, that we’ll all be together again.  Your family will always be there for you. 

            Here’s to a good life.

                                                My Love Always,

                                                     Dad

A Prosper Family


Throughout the past twelve months our family’s walk has not been alone. To the contrary, it has been with a community: Our Prosper Family.  


Family

The unexpected and unimaginable happens. But just for this brief moment, try to imagine it happening in your own home… to your own family…

You have just experienced an unspeakable tragedy. One you’d think you could never again open your door. Then imagine finding a jar filled to the brim with coins placed on your doorstep. The Mason jar is wrapped in Christmas ribbons with a note attached from a family you’ll never know but who knows you and your story. They chose you to pray over each day and place a coin in the jar. 

This family knows your circumstances and they hurt right alongside you.  They don’t want to be identified and never will be. In fact, they do this every year.  You’ve come to learn of others in the community who have found this jar placed anonymously on their front porch in dark seasons.   

Imagine a mom whom you’ve never met.  She’d just dropped her kids at school and heard the terrible news.  It’s still dark and it’s raining. She sits alone in her car weeping uncontrollably. She prays aloud and begins writing down a prayer over your family.  She doesn’t even know you, but in the coming weeks her family will invite yours to dinner and present the prayer poem. 

Imagine a minister, one of several you’ve never met. You sense in some way they’ve known you all your life waiting for this very moment, to come into your home and into your family’s life to help sustain you when you could never fathom walking another step.  He wants to invite you to his church because you are hurting deeply.

Imagine a church, one of several who will love on and pray over your family.  This church is not a building but rather a community of faith-filled individuals who love you like Jesus, before you even open the door.  This church welcomes you and your family like the prodigal son of the Bible. They invite you in and provide a feast of not only a meal but more lasting, of love and unequivocal acceptance.  Peace beyond understanding.

Imagine neighbors, many whom you have never met.  These neighbors lavish your family with love and sincere care. They put together a food train. This “Food Train” is one of those like you park beside and shut off the engine on First Street past Coleman.  It’s going to be there for a long time.  Our “Food Train” meant full meals delivered and stored in a cooler on our front porch for over two months. 

Imagine going away for a few days and returning to a fully lit house with Christmas decorations installed by someone you may have never met and may never meet.  How would you feel if you had neighbors call and shortly arrive with rakes, trimmers, yard bags, and an eagerness to wash out your rain gutters? 

Imagine what it would be like to live in a community such as this.  You can stop imagining. This community actually exists. Prosper, Texas.


The experiences we have had in the past year are testimony not only to what can be when a community loves on each other, but one that confirms what our youth can do by that very same example. 

We are confident our son resides eternally with our Heavenly Father and that we’ll have a great reunion one day soon. In the meantime, we listen, observe, and share in transparency so hopefully others may gain insight, hope, and encouragement. Mostly, we pray the words we write or say aloud may bring peace and a seeking for a relationship with the perfect peace maker. Jesus Christ.

Our family wants to humbly say “Thanks, Prosper”. May God bless you each and your families this year as well as in the years to come. – The Speeds

Thanks Giving and Taking

“Kids are out there right now. Lonely and missing connection. Please do your best to help them find it. I love you., When ya comin’ home, Dad? – Braden

I’ve surrendered to do everything possible to help them. I’ll get there as fast as God lets me. By the way, why did we get TWO dogs?”. – Braden’s dad


When we began writing, we had no idea how the blog would resound with others walking a similar path. It might surprise you to know this simple blog has reached readers in more than 73 countries and over 67,000 readers. This confirms the experiences we describe are now common to so many. That’s both sad and hopeful. Two sides of a coin.

In the Internet world, sometimes telling an honest story can make an impact even when the author has not an ounce of skill in telling that story. The good Lord knows I’m no story teller, but a heartfelt tale shared in honesty can evidently make a connection. We’re glad and sad that it has.

To be certain, I detest this story and would prefer a brighter one. Maybe one about a blessing in disguise or a success in light of failure. On the other hand, maybe that’s what our story is after all. As determined the day our son took his life, our mission remains to surrender to God’s plan. That others may hear and perhaps learn something.

In my thinking, it would be wrong not to share it.


2:30PM Saturday.

The girls are at a dance convention. This is one of those marathon weekends when it’s ALL about dance. Fathers may make a trek in for a few brief dad sitings, but conferences are about learning technique and finesse. Details. Unlike recitals, “Dad participation” expectations are low at conferences, which works well for me. I have lots to do around the house.

Early November means the annual final mowing of the grass, cleaning the pool, new a/c filters, bringing boxes out of the attic for holiday decorating (I haul the boxes, she does the detail work), and cleaning up the yard for winter.

Cleaning the yard includes one of my least favorite chores: dog duty. More accurately cleaning up dog doodie. We buy the 50lb giant size dry Purina Dog Chow. Nothing fancy or extravagant like many others who feed their pets like humans (or royalty). We have one friend who feeds her “FeeFee” human gourmet food! Not us. We keep it simple. Still. 50lb of chow intake by two large dogs and do the math on the weight of this unpopular chore.

I’ve got the method down. I use a mini rake and scoop. Picture the person at every theme park scooping up trash. No bending or squatting, just swiping into the scoop and then into a Walmart bag for disposal. This afternoon, while the girls are dancing, I’m mowing, trimming, leaf blowing, and pooper scooping. Did I mention I hate this chore?

Still, as this weekly routine is going on I’m thinking to myself, “Why would I even do this job? Why did I get two dogs in the first place?” The answer, as often happens, came quickly. “Because, dummy, you have two dogs and a yard”.

When I was in college, I’d always dreamed about having my own private back yard with kids playing with their dogs. I didn’t think about the hard work to keep such a dream alive, but it didn’t matter at the time. It was just a dream.

Thanksgiving Tree

Every year, we are into traditions at holiday season. Cathy and the kids have always loved doing a Thanksgiving Tree. We have a small tree placed in the center of our home and each day we write something for which we are grateful. I (as always) am the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving. Putting off doing my thankful leaf.

While coming to clarity on the pooper scooper curse / dog-back yard blessing, I began thinking of other things in my life that had perhaps similar upsides with an offsetting downside: Career/ work; Children/responsibility; Marriage/ differences; Friends/ disappointment; Faith/doubt; Health/laziness. Etc.

Suddenly, I realized every single blessing comes with a cost. Every single cost comes with a blessing. In an instant, I was much happier completing this unpopular distasteful chore. Dog duty wasn’t such a bad thing in the larger scheme of God’s plan.

I just needed to give thanks for the things I take for granted. This year, I will commit to being first to do my “Thankful Leaf”.

Parents:

Think about what you always wanted. Was that dream a home? A family? Children? A spouse? Health?

Do you have one or more of the things you dreamed of having?

If so, give thanks for each one.

Never take for granted anything. They can be taken just as quickly as they can be given.

Then take stock in what God has granted toward that dream. Take time to give thanks for what you take for granted.

Prayer

Lord, we’re grateful for every blessing undeserved, unearned, and unacknowledged. Forgive our selfishness and for our taking as a given, what we are given. We love you so much and ask this season be one of deep and sincere thankfulness. We pray also for those in this world who are lost, lonely, hungry, and without. Bless them in their circumstances. Bless them with your peace and assurance. Fill them with your presence.

In your son Jesus’ name, Amen.


Colossians 3:17

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.