Easter Saturday v2

“Mom has a lot on her heart she needs to share.” – Braden


Following is a re-post Cathy Speed wrote one year ago. It was written by a grieving mother on a Saturday morning before Easter Sunday only months after we’d lost our son, Braden.

Yesterday, ahead of the rains predicted for the weekend, Cathy and Caitlin went in search of some wildflowers to take family pictures in the sunshine. It was a long tradition we’ve kept since the kids came. This year I couldn’t bring myself to go. Our son wouldn’t be in the picture and I wasn’t in the spirit.

I’m glad they went together though. The relationship between a mother and daughter is far too deep to explain. Although different, the relationship between a father and his son is uniquely indescribable. Whenever Braden hurt, I felt pain. It’s hard to explain, but every caring father understands that reality. Of course, as men we certainly can’t let our feelings show. Still when he dealt with struggles, it was as if it was happening to me personally.

In the Old Testament, reading about Abraham taking his son to an alter to kill him as a sacrifice to God is insane. I can’t fathom choosing or allowing my only son to die for any reason. Moreover, I could never allow him to die for the sake of someone far less deserving.

Yet, that’s exactly what our Heavenly Father did to His son, Jesus. He purposely planned well before we were created to send His only son to a lost world, allowing Him to be the perfect and final sacrifice. One the world could have never produced. Murdered on a tree so we who are completely undeserving could be saved and brought into relationship with our Creator.

Easter, like no other season confirms how much God loves us. It affirms that we are saved from our sin and given the free gift of eternal life in Him.

For that I am grateful and forever hopeful.


Written on Easter weekend 2019 – By Cathy Speed

Anyone who has ever met me knows this has been the hardest year of my life. And I’ve had some rough ones. Today I’ve been thinking a lot about Easter SATURDAY… The day nothing happened.

Before the big event that truly changed everything, there’s Saturday, when we prepare for Easter. We mow grass for egg hunts, easter outfits ready… dye the eggs… We celebrate Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified and Easter Sunday, the death defying, grave defeating, hope and joy inspiring day of His resurrection. But Saturday is silent. And I will never again see Easter Saturday the same.

Never has Easter SATURDAY spoken to me like it does this year. It was the day when hope seemed lost. It was all over, and there was no reason to think anything would change. Disciples were alone. Everything they had believed in seemed lost and their souls were crushed. No answer seemed possible. The crowds had gone home.

The Saturday after Good Friday is the only day in over 2000 years that not one single person on earth believed that Jesus was alive. No one could understand God’s plan. This year, that day speaks loudly to me. While we wait to see what on earth God’s plan could possibly be. I’ve been an extremely unwilling participant in His plan this time. Mine seemed so much better. I’ve had quite a few arguments with Him.

Right now it’s still Saturday and heaven feels quiet. Why did there have to be a Saturday in between the day every hope and dream seemed crushed, and the joy and answers God had planned? It’s hard to figure out what to do on Saturday, hard to hold onto the belief that God has to have a plan. But if Jesus could be found in a grave on Saturday, If He could be found in hell itself, is there anywhere that I can’t find Him?

So I have chosen today to trust God’s promise that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning”. Even though I don’t like this plan I’ve had to live, I will choose to believe our “Sunday” is on the way. And know that His work on the cross was finished, but His plan for me is not.

Missing Connection

“Dad. Don’t take anything for granted. This is all temporary and fleeting. Be assured that God’s greatest gift is not temporary but eternal life” Braden

“We miss you, son”. Braden’s family


Not to be negative, but I really dislike online meetings.

They’re distant, cold, and uncomfortable. And while I’m complaining, I’ve grown weary of every conversation being solely about this epidemic. Social and public media run rampant with every variety of opinion and spin. Let’s face it. As human beings, we all work to fill-in-the blanks to appease our minds and to grapple with foreign emotions. That’s what we do best when left open to “Not Knowing”.

For ours and several earlier generations, strife and uncertainty are completely new concepts. This certainly applies to me. I’ve never had to wonder if my job and income or investments would still be there on Monday or if the grocery store would have eggs or bread (or even more important, toilet paper). Uncertainty is now a new reality.

Our family has been house-bound several weeks now, but we count ourselves blessed to at least have some space and breathing room. I feel for those in metropolitan areas locked in their small apartments or worse. We at least have a front and back yard with plenty of space in the house to “distance” when things get too close for comfort.

Talk about “work/life” balance. I sequester my job upstairs on two desktop screens, “clocking in” at 8am every morning and clocking out at 4:30pm. At the end of each day, I come downstairs and try to make things humorous, to lighten things and to build in some traditions that make life seem somewhat normal. Still, we all know life is not “normal” right now.

Our family views online church services, “Hope” devotionals, and daily live feeds from various sources trying to stay connected spiritually. This Sunday morning we even woke to find Caitlin watching Hope Fellowship on her phone. She, like all of us hungers for things to return to routine.

Cait does her virtual dance regimen three or four days each week which has kept her somewhat on track and occupied. Still, nothing online can equate with real social contact. Touching. Hugging. Shaking hands. Eye contact. Human Connection.

Today, our extended family gathered around computer screens across the country and held a “Zoom” family reunion. This is a virtual app I’d never used before. The screen resembles the opening theme of the Brady Bunch where multiple users can see one another. I actually liked it for once.

We were able to all get just a glimpse inside one another’s’ living spaces and to share our unique yet similar experiences. We saw the newest addition to our family in Georgia and cousins from Tennessee. We all shared laughs about the current rush on toilet paper and how we all need to be “aware of the square”. TMI!

As we connected just over a half hour today I began feeling differently about virtual connection. I could see faces of the people I love most in this world. We were each able to tell our own stories and to share our struggles, at least to some extent.

Then… suddenly without warning, the app timed out. Our screens all went blank.

If you don’t know, “Zoom” is limited to 40 minutes and none of us had been aware. Just as we’d become comfortable and feeling connected, our time together had come to a sudden and unexpected end.

Isn’t that the way life goes when we think it’s all going our way? We think things will always just remain the same. It’s always been that way. However, in the past month uncertainty has become more real and evident to every one of us. What we’ve relied upon as a constant can be gone in an instant.

Many have lost loved ones. Businesses. Jobs. Health. Security. Comfort. Normalcy. All, gone without warning.


After the family call today, Cathy and I sat down at the kitchen table over a puzzle we’ve been working on together. It’s a way to take our minds off of the worries of the world and relax. As she and I found missing pieces together and bragged about who was finding the most, I heard myself blurt out what was on my heart.

“I’m really missing Braden”. Honestly, I was shocked to hear it come out, but she immediately confirmed that she felt the same. In our family frame during the online family call, our son was not with us. He had gone so quickly and without warning.


Readers

During and following this temporary crisis, we encourage families to take the time God has appointed to love and care for one another. Re-connect by whatever means possible during this relatively brief moment in time.

Children and family are blessings we too often take as a given. Instead, take advantage of these times rather than considering them without benefit. Parents, let’s grow in our own faith during trials and model a faithful life for our children to rest in God’s everlasting peace.

We never know how long we will have the opportunity to do so.

Empty and Out of Control

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Miles to Empty: 0

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Prayer for Readers

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

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

Great Expectations

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was about 18 years ago.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course”.

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

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

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

“Certainly not. No.”

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

“Well, of course not, Mark.”

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

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

And I always fell far below His expectations.

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

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


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

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

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

Prayer

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

In Jesus name, amen.

Time and Tears

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

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


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

Then again, it’s never really “done”.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Penny and Mike Martin

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

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


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

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

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

Prayer for Readers

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

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 

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

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