Hurts, Helps, & Hopes

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

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

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


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

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

First, I drove by the junior and high schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Two Asides: Questions with Too Few Answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Parents, Teachers, and Teens

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

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


Jeremiah 29:11-12

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

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.