Losing a Child, Parental Guilt, and Cooling off Our Hot Takes

Three years ago on a Sunday afternoon four adults scrambled frantically around my In Laws property and surrounding neighborhood scouring for the signs of a two-year old little boy who had been missing for less than five minutes. That little boy was my son, Gideon, and those less than five minutes felt like an eternity of getting punched in the soul by Mike Tyson.

Fortunately, I found him a couple of houses down, on our front porch playing with the water faucet wondering what all the fuss was about.

Three years before that incident with Gideon a similar situation happened with my oldest, Josiah. Another case of a Daniels two-year old who had taken off quietly and unwittedly, a sly escape from his briefly distracted adult caretakers. Out the door he went, and halfway down a busy street he walked pulling his little green Playskool wagon behind.

Fortunately, observant neighbors stopped their cars and redirected Josiah back to his fraught mama who by then had sprinted out roadside screaming out his name and expecting the worst.

Our children weren’t neglected at any moment during these incidents, but their caretakers were briefly distracted. Not for days or hours or even minutes, we’re talking distracted for seconds.

Moments like this are few and far between for us, but they happen to even the most careful helicopter hovering parents. The most doting parent has likely experienced this blood curdling parenthood rite of passage: The terrible moment we lose track of a young child’s whereabouts. Fortunately, for most of us, almost all of these experiences were only temporary scares that ended with us finding, running to, and embracing our little lost one like they were a lifetime missing prodigal child.

But, not all of these parental moments end in a crashing emotional conundrum of joy and tears of relief. As with the news of the gator snatching and drowning of a two-year old at Disney World Resort last Tuesday, some parents will get no respite from the eternal weight of a million gut level soul punches. A child lost under a parents direct care produces a guilt I’m sure that is unimaginable and inescapable.

For those of us who are shocked social media spectators to these tragic moments it may be helpful to take a few deep breaths and feel the hurt (before we feel the anger).

In our culture of fast food and quick easy Googled answers we need to slow down. We need to take a moment to collectively breathe. We want to assign blame for such tragedies too quick.  And inevitably the parents (who are victims in a tragedy too) end up in the crosshairs of society’s self-righteous indignation.

Whether it’s an alligator attack where the child dies.

Or a zoo accident where the child lives (but gorilla doesn’t).

Or what tragically happened last year to a local elementary school teacher and mother. Her sleeping baby girl forgotten in the midst of a morning rush, changed routine, and left in a hot car all day.

I. Can’t. Imagine. The. Heart. Break.

Yet it is not an exaggeration to say: It could happen to anyone.

Why my sons survived my moments of parental amnesia I don’t know. Some may say lucky or #blessed or providence. I bet those answers ring hollow to the parents currently being punched in the soul by grief. Where that bone chilling moment of immense loss replays in their mind like an unavoidable infinite video loop from hell.

And my knee jerk hot take on the matter may only serve to make that hell hotter for a grieving parent. A crass burn on top of a fresh gaping wound. A message that is thoroughly anti Christ in its effect (Isaiah 61:1). Maybe when Christ says the “first shall be last” he’s also talking about our propensity to form and offer an opinion in haste. To be the first to break the news and give groundbreaking commentary. Maybe, in certain situations, we can better proclaim the gospel by shutting our mouths.

I know I’m guilty.

But sorrow and empathy and prayers I’m sure are the order for such heartbreak; not judgment or guilt or shame.

Because as parents this much is true: we’re all five seconds of distractedness away from being the lead story on the evening news.

Yes, let’s pray that nightmare doesn’t happen to us and ours. But even more: let’s pray for the poor souls living that nightmare, with heartbreak and understanding.

“Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15)

Bryan Daniels

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The Sound of a Hero Dying (World War II Memorial Day Poem)

[I wrote this after my Papa Shep (grandpa) died eleven years ago. It’s about his last few days on earth. He was a World War II veteran marine who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima]

Calloused hands that loved little dogs

and showed little boys how to hook a worm

Tremble now, involuntarily and soft

Armchair politician with a dagger wit

and humor more arid than the August Mojave

Forgets now, wets his own bed

Broad hard marine with a bulldog tattoo

and played keyboard for the church of st. waltz

Withered now, Hospice choir sings

First the grandson became nephew

the nephew a Japanese conspirator

The sponge was a razor

the nurse a war criminal

Escaped his cell block while sleeping

He always preferred the back door

No national day of mourning

No brash parade in his name

Just my hold it together sobs

The only sound left of another hero dying

Bryan Daniels

The Duggars and Hypocrites Like Us

Scandal hits the Duggars

The Christian world was “shocked” such a lurid act could surface out of such a pristine family. They were paragons of conservative family values and modesty. Homeschool heroes.

Disclaimer: This isn’t really a post about a fifteen year old Josh Duggar and his young victims.

This is a post about our meta reaction when tragic news like this breaks upon our collective preconceived notions.

The only thing that’s shocking in this situation is that we continue to be shocked by these situations. Even after the Catholic priest scandal. Or Bill Cosby scandal. Or Ted Haggard scandal.

Fallen people gonna fall (Romans 3:23).

The more perfect, and nice, and homeschooly the Duggars were on-screen, the further the fall seems to us. But that’s because we falsely believe we’re adept at judging distances from God based on surface behavior. The Duggars are in the same sunk ship of humanity we all find ourselves in. They’re likely guilty of protecting their family name at all costs just as we would be given the same circumstances.

There’s only really two types of folks in the world: 1. Those high-profile figures who will fall publicly because of their sin and 2. the rest of us who aren’t high profile enough for it to matter when we fall.

That’s not to say our darkest blots would have heavy legal ramifications. Or that our misdeeds would scar the innocent in the same way Josh Duggar’s did. There should be definite legal consequences for such crimes. It’s just that we’re not very in tune with our own wicked thought patterns if we’re sucker punched every time a new scandal comes to light. I bet if every nefarious thought that popped into our head on a daily basis were projected on a public screen we’d be in a familyless friendless plight pretty quick.

The nicest most religious Midwestern values family you could write into a Mayberry neighborhood is as screwed up as the broken Detroit family with a crack addicted mom and transgender prostitute dad. The former is just better at hiding it.

Part of our cultural Christian church culture we in the Bible Belt have ingested is that we at least know how to act in public. It’s subversive and not overtly taught. But it’s there: We clean up nice, put on a good smile, have our kids under control, listen to Christian radio all day, don’t drink or curse in public, etc. We’ve conflated shining our gospel light with cleaning our cup on the outside (Luke 11:39). And we’ve become Christian actors, which is just a hop and skip away from becoming full-blown hypocrites.

In our hurried hiding of this hypocrisy we don’t realize this: it’s okay.

This is the freeing reality: Everyone is a hypocrite. Every. One. I expect my two sons to keep their playroom organized and clean. But they only have to look at the back seat of their daddy’s car/gym locker/office to see I’m selective with demands. There are petrified gym shorts in the back of my Honda that have been carbon dated to the paleolithic era.

The only unforgivable  place we could stay in the world is failing to admit our own hypocrisy. Which would be staying in our insulated safe world of Christian radio, Christian friends, Christian bumper stickers, Christian breath mints and acting for one moment like this behavior gets us one baby step closer to God.

The broken hypocrite who knows their own sin is closer than the blind hypocrite oblivious to it. (Luke 18:9-14)

The gospel of Jesus is for hypocrites. Because hypocrites are all there are in the world.

So come:

Actors and addicts.

Impostors and Irreligious.

Victims and Victimizers.

Duggars and Drunkards.

There’s a place at His table for all of us scalawags. Repent and believe that His grace in Christ alone is the scandal that can save even you.

Bryan Daniels

Sleeping Beauty Can Be Ugly

 

The other morning Josiah received a Cyberverse Transformer from my garage-sale-hopping wife (I can neither confirm nor deny she’s addicted). I wouldn’t have recognized this character had his name not been on the unopened box: “MudFlap.” When he’s not a Decepticon-fighting Autobot he’s drag racing the streets as an orange tricked out Chevy Traxx. So he’s a good guy.

But when we lifted his head out of the hood my six year old had a couple of questions:

Mudflap got beat by the ugly tree.
Mudflap got beat by the ugly tree.

“Why is Mudflap ugly? Is he bad?”

I stumbled over an answer and tried to explain how good guys can be ugly too. As parents, we have attempted to sow into our sons the truth that looks have nothing to do with a person’s character. But the dominating wind of culture seemed to blow all those seeds away for a moment.

It got me thinking.

My first crush was probably Ariel, from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” I was seven. Other than fish scales for legs, she was a knockout redhead with a Barbie body and a voice like a choir of baby angels. A mythical creature.*

Ariel, The Little Mermad

She was good.

And Beautiful.

But this disgusting obese Octo witch wasn’t:

Ursula the Seawitch, Little Mermaid
Bad and Ugly

Sleeping Beauty didn’t have an overbite. Prince Charming didn’t have a double chin.

They’re good.

And beautiful.

Even when the culture tries to get it right, it still gets it wrong. “Beauty and The Beast” has good intentions from the outset, but the chivalrous premise disintegrates in the end. The “Beast” is actually a dude who looks like this:

I mean, come on.
I mean, come on.

You didn’t think a beautiful girl would live happily ever after with that ponytailed Giant Schnauzer did you?

It’s not just a Disney induced disease. “The Avengers” movie series has a similar premise, just for an older audience:

Other than the roid raging Hulk, the main characters consist of 1. A cocky billionaire playboy with a hot wife and genius wit (Iron Man) 2. A god King with a chiseled frame and flowing Fabio like blond hair (Thor) 3. The perfect boy next door and patriot who may be part timing as an Abercrombie and Fitch model (Captain America).

All good guys. All good-looking.

Even though we know this shouldn’t be true, we drink this Kool Aid down. It’s the toxic air we passively breathe, so we rarely notice it. Modern renditions of Christ confirm this. How many commercial caricatures of Jesus make him a tall white Vidal Sassoon spokesman with six-pack abs? A pure and holy pretty boy. A soft Savior:

Not Jesus

You want to know what Christ looked like on earth? Go to any Iraqi village and look into the sun worn face and dark brown eyes of the average male peasant there. You’ll be closer to truth.

But the truth isn’t sexy. And most times, neither is good.

The most evil creature in the world masquerades as a beautiful angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). So beauty, in all of its alluring draw, can be flat-out bad. It can be twisted for the worst.

Let’s reject the fallen outlook that only values what is seen.

The real knights in Shining Armor may have acne.

The real Princesses may be quite plain.

But they shine like stars (Philippians 2:15). Now and ever after.

Bryan Daniels

*I married my very own bombshell redhead 14 years later

It’s My Second Love’s Birthday Today

He is my second love.

The years have changed him.

His hair from bald to reddish to sandy blond. His size from fitting on my forearm to being tall enough to ride the Miracle Strip plane rides solo. His vocabulary from grunts to “Transmurners” to telling me how “ridiculously” fast the neighbor’s car passed our front yard. His smile from gums to baby teeth to that big missing front tooth grin today.

The years haven’t changed him.

He’s still got his mama’s brown eyes and long eyelashes. He’s still got a sensitive streak, one that’s concerned for any soul who cries or shows a tinge of sadness. He still holds the same “Blue” at night-time, the stuffed puppy he had in his baby crib and is now jumbled amongst the Spider Man pillows and Hot wheels in his top bunk.

And he challenges me with his childlike wonder and love and faith everyday.

“We forgot to pray!” he’ll remind me before supper time when my first world hunger strikes and I’ve hastily wolfed down a bite of grilled chicken.

“We need to pick some flowers for mama,” he firmly suggested last week as we walked through the empty lot next door (putting my husbandly duties to shame.)

“You look beautiful mama” he’ll commonly catch my wife with this heart melter whether she’s on her way to church or just waking up in her pajamas (he’s always trying to show me up!).

“Man, we’re so blessed!” he’ll exclaim with a high pitch on special occasions, like when he was opening his Easter basket full of cheap candy the other day.

and many more.

Josiah Evan Daniels is six years old today.

I held a precious little 7 pound 11 ounce swaddled soul in my arms six years ago this evening and made an instant covenant to die or kill for him. He’s my Red Power Ranger. My football player. My Spider Man. My worker man. My speed racer.

Most of all, he’s my second love. The second one I fell in love with head over heels, after his Mama and before his little brother Gideon.

Happy Birthday Jo Jo.

Bryan Daniels

 

Santa Claus: The Anti-Christ?

I’ll confess, my 5-year-old son, Josiah, knows all about “Santa Claus.” I wouldn’t say it’s a hallowed family tradition we’re passing on to him. He seems to already know the idea of an omnipresent fat man squeezing down every chimney in the world is a bit ridiculous. This time of year we talk of Santa with a playful wink and grin and he’s cognizant of the inherent silliness.

Santa Claus

I’m not against the idea of upholding mystery and levity early in childhood. I wouldn’t be considered puritanical in my approach to Christmas trees and giving gifts. And in the midst of the festivity: My wife and I always try to stress to our children that the birth of God’s Son is the highest purpose of the season.

But the stark juxtaposition of Santa Claus and Jesus Christ has struck a deep chord with me lately. And it has caused me to take a more cautious approach to this jolly old saint as modern culture has rendered him.

Santa is dressed in a red suit bearing toy gifts for children.

Jesus is dressed in red from his own blood bearing up his own body as God’s gift to us.

Santa only gives good gifts to good kids

God only gives the perfect gift (His Son) to bad kids. Good kids are left clinging their own filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)

Santa makes obedience a legalistic requirement for his good favor.

God through Christ gives undeserved favor that spurns obedience.

This is where I have to be careful with the precious 5 year old soul God has entrusted to me.

We’re hardwired to expect the law out of people. Even our children. You do this right for me, you get this good thing in return. You only get what you’ve earned with your good work. It’s convenient (and unbiblical) for parents to use a mystical authority figure like Santa as leverage against a child. “You’re on the naughty list and the only hope in life for good stuff is behavior modification.” But this manipulation can only last for the season.

Santa’s legalistic demands virtually flip everything I want my son to know about the gospel of grace.

If I can be frank: Santa Claus, in some ways, is the Anti-Christ.

We’re hardwired to assume God holds the law over us. In Christ, He does not. The law rightly taught reveals our naughtiness (Romans 3:20). The gospel rightly taught heals and covers all that shame and guilt (Romans 8:3-4).

That’s the beauty of the Incarnate God with us in a dirty stable.

He comes to bring a good and perfect gift.

To bad folks like me.

And my little boy.

Thankfully,

Jesus, and His Father, are the Anti Claus.

Bryan Daniels

A Glass Raised To Our Worst Days

Being alone with our thoughts is a noisy brutal exercise.

Unmet desires parade across the screen of our mind. Untouchable. Voices speak. Some tell us what we are, others what we are not. In this world of supposed haves and have nots, what we lack becomes what defines us.

A lack of human affection in hand.

A lack of money in the bank.

A lack of purpose in career.

And we feel stuck in a perpetual posture of always reaching yet never grasping. Chasing the American Dream is like chasing bubbles. Through our fingertips it floats off and mockingly lands in our neighbor’s manicured yard in plain sight from our cracked kitchen window.

That dream dangles ever before us. And it’s attached to a string. The string is attached to a stick. And the stick protrudes from our soul; an obtuse and painful reminder of what we don’t possess.

Yet in reality, I have so much. Even on my worst days.

On my worst days I have a beautiful wife who is also my best friend and partner in clowning folks.

On my worst days I have two healthy boy ninjas who play Avengers on the living room floor with me.

On my worst days I have a career I enjoy with an opportunity to impact future generations in a lasting way.

On my worst days I have a roof, clothing, and an abundance of food and water at my disposal.

My worst days, even days of inconsolable longing, ain’t so bad.

Even on my worst days, I’m granted so much more than I deserve.

Especially that grace that just won’t stop. Relentless in its generous affection. Radiating from our elder Brother and Savior who sits and invites us to sit at His Banquet table. This spread surely awaits us regardless of the quality day we’re having right now. The date is saved and sealed with His own bloody ring.

So here’s to our worst days.

We can eat, drink and be merry. For tomorrow we will live to do it forevermore.

Bryan Daniels