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.

Fishtrap and Legacy

“Prosper: A Place Where Everyone Matters” – Town motto

Dad, I wish I had someone to hang out with. Just one real buddy”. – Braden

You were loved and your life meant a great deal to others and still does. We will never stop missing you“. – Braden’s Mom, Dad, and Caitlin


According to Wikipedia, Prosper, Texas is… “an affluent suburban town located in Collin and Denton Counties within the state of Texas, United States. The Town of Prosper is located within the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, the population was 9,423; As of 2019, the estimated population was 28,039.  Prosper High School cost $113.5 million to construct and is 590,000 sq ft.”

If you’re thinking, “Holy cow, that’s a large school by any measure”, you’d be correct. It’s like a mall, right down to the Burger King and Chick Fil-A in the cafeteria. We have another school the same size set to open in the Fall of 2020 and yet another just a couple of years beyond. Expect there’ll be another mega football stadium to throw in there too.

Local farmers had a large cotton yield in 1902 and initially wanted the town’s name to be “Richland” but since that name was taken they went with “Prosper”. Land was being sold at only three bucks an acre. Now Prosper is more synonymous with being the land of plenty but not just cotton. I bet those old prosperous cotton farmers are laughing all the way to the bank, counting their money from us city folk.


This post began after a very full Sunday afternoon with my brother, his wife, and our family shopping for Christmas. Yes, I know. It now starts before Halloween… Although our family often has full Sundays lately, it’s too often that Sundays can be particuarly down days for many. It may be biological but more likely it’s psychological.

Kris Kristofferson wrote about it, “On A Sunday Morning Sidewalk”. What a depressing yet honest country song about a guy who’s got no family and no one to call a friend on a day when people typically enjoy fellowship with both. One such Sunday in 2018, our son was experiencing that sort of a “down” day when he asked if we could do something together.

As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, Braden had a passion for shooting or blowing up things just to see what would happen. He hand built a catipult and potato gun. He loved shooting his crossbow, pellet guns and a Marlin .22 gold trigger I gave him along with a Remington 12-gauge shotgun. We often went to the Frisco gun club for target shooting.

That Sunday he wanted to just get out of the house. He’d had his fill of video games and social media, both being full of empty. He just wanted someone to share his time with, preferably a buddy to go “do nothing” with. As often was the case, that day he’d have to settle for his dad.

We loaded the car with guns, ammo, clays, and targets, headed west for a location. As a teen in west Texas I could always find an open field most anywhere outside the city limits of Brownfield. Very few fences or “No Trespassing” signs existed there. However, leaving the Prosper city limits was quite a different story. We drove a few miles west looking for open fields but everything was marked for suburban land tracts soon to be built out.

Waiting for dad to throw a clay

First Street becomes a black top road named Fishtrap and the first dirt road I could find to leave civilization was one named Legacy. I’m sure it’ll be a six lane thoroughfare by the time Caitlin graduates.

We headed north about a half mile and pulled into a grassy field to set up targets where we began destroying things. Just then, a flashy black SUV approached. The driver rolled down his window and waved me over. Expecting to be busted I asked if it would be ok to shoot targets. Pleasantly, I was surprised at his response. “Absolutely, just don’t shoot each other”. He was a very nice gentleman who manages land investments for the Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones.

We talked about our sons. We shared about the trials and joys of being fathers. He had taken his boy out shooting years earlier and we agreed that open land is becoming harder to find. We talked about how our community’s growth was both a blessing and a curse. How in such a small town, growing this fast we were watching quaintness becoming chaos before our very eyes. How businesses, roads, and the schools were bursting at the seams as a result of the boom.

In May, 2019 around Braden’s birthday, I found myself on Fishtrap Road again. This time I wasn’t carrying a trunk filled with guns and targets. It was just me. Along with memories. To save my life I didn’t know why I was going out there. Later, a friend told me it had to be that I wanted to be near my son and that’s where we felt close.

I drove slowly westward and stopped to stare at the sign where we’d turned north onto Legacy. Parked the car in the same place we always parked. The ruts of my tires long plowed under for plots where young families would soon be building new homes for fresh starts and new beginnings.

Then, I began to think. “There must be something here to remind me of his being here”. All remnants of our memories had to be buried six feet in the freshly broken ground. Still, I kept looking. After just a few minutes, I stumbled onto a spent shotgun shell. A Remington 12-guage shotgun shell.

I picked it up and sniffed for that familiar powder smell we both loved. But the scent was long gone. Just the hull remained. However, I could remember the smell and I remembered my son. That empty hull remains with me today as a reminder of our son and of his legacy to help others. Although he could never be convinced, his life ultimately had purpose.


That evening as the sun faded and I stood alone, I thought how far we’d come since October 30, 2018. The longest year of our lives. How many positive changes have been helped forward in the wake of that horrific October day. Perhaps how many like him have since found hope. Before leaving our shooting field, I spoke aloud, “Braden. I miss you, buddy. I hope you’re proud”.

Legacy is defined as something with value transmitted by a predecessor or from the past. When we hear of even one person who postponed or elected to stay instead of taking their life, I can’t help but think of the word, legacy. It’s not the way any of us would have chosen, but we don’t always get that which we seek.

This upcoming weekend, we join our friends and family for a suicide awareness event called, “Walk Out of Darkness”. Ironically, we will be walking within less than one mile from Fishtrap and Legacy in a subdivision filled with new families, making their new beginnings.

Funny how God maps out things when we don’t even realize we were lost.


A note from a parent to parents:

1) Love your kids unconditionally. Tell them you are proud of them but most importantly model it and confirm that their Heavenly Father loves and is proud of them. Remind them no one’s opinion of themselves has more weight than their own.

2) Spend that time with them you don’t think you have. Time is what you make of it. Don’t give too much of it to your employer or to your business.

3) Make sure YOUR legacy is one your children and family will always remember and know they were more important than your work.

Prayers:

Thank you Lord for allowing us the brief opportunity to borrow the special spirit we called Braden Thomas Speed. We pray his brief time in this world will play even a small part in your greater plans. That’s what he’d want.

For those who are alone or struggling in this moment, we say a special prayer for peace and strength to stay the course. Grant them a sense of hope and encouragement. Tomorrow is a new day of hope. In Jesus’ name. Amen