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 (Memorial Day poem)

[I wrote this after my Papa died seven 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

Our Daily Cross; Our Daily Joy

Sometimes our eagerness for practical bible application becomes woefully misguided. When we hastily push a text into our own respective situation we may blunt its force. This is a sad exercise, because the word is a sword that slices our soul, not a butter knife that scrapes our skin. Take Jesus’ words:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up his cross daily and follow me Luke 9:23

It’s not a terribly bad interpretation to say this verse applies to harvesting an habitual practice of self-sacrifice and self-denial. But when we accept such vague terms before long such “sacrifice” begins to look like fasting for a day or being nice to mean people. Pretty soon we’ve decided we are almost martyrs for enduring such “crosses” as headaches and past due mortgage notes.

At times we can be so ego-centric in our eisegesis we begin to sound like the deacon who said to his counseling pastor, “Pastor, I guess my anger is just the cross I’ll have to bear the rest of my life.” The pastor replied, “No, your anger is the cross your wife will have to bear the rest of your life.”

Application of a text means nothing if the meaning of a text is not unearthed first. Diluted milk is bad for the body, especially the bride’s.

The shocking force of the words would not be lost on Jesus’ first century audience. What they heard was, “Follow me, and you will be signing your own death sentence in your own blood.” Or in more contemporary speech, “Follow me and you will be tying the hangman’s noose around your own neck everyday of your life.”

This heavy rhetoric is no way to grow a religion or church. I’m sure our modern church growth experts could school the Son of God in “proper contextualization.”

In the Roman Empire, the cross was the beam condemned criminals carried to their place of execution. These words had haunting applications for a first century audience that we miss in our daily grind of skinny lattes, gas prices, and Facebook drama. Jesus was not metaphorically calling his disciples to daily tidy acts of servanthood and patience, though we should do those.

The proper response to Jesus’s strict call would sound a lot like Paul when he says “I count my life as nothing….”(Acts 20:24)

Everything in my old nature rails against the clear penetrating words of Jesus. That’s why God gives us the grace to present ourselves again and again as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:2)

Jesus was enlisting men and women in an impossible undertaking that would defy all odds and likely leave them dead by way of excruciating means. This could happen any moment. Under Roman and Jewish persecution it was a given to the early Christians that they would have to prepare literally “daily” for their own trial and funeral arrangements. To follow in Christ’s footsteps means to set one’s face like flint to Jerusalem, and to count it as an honor to die outside the gates like a street dog. He is our reward, and as long as we are with Him it is more than worth it.

I love the words of GK Chesterton: “Jesus promised the disciples three things-that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”

Completely fearless because Christ was with them. Absurdly happy because Christ loved them. In constant trouble because Christ called them to fight for a different Kingdom.

Bryan Daniels

Remnants of a Sore/Conspiratorial/Grieving Yet Hopeful Week

1. I recently began a new workout regimen. I’m trying to ease myself back into a consistent weight training program for the first time since college.

I read a lot from the experts about “muscle confusion” as the way to go. After three days into the plan, I think I know what they are talking about. Every time I work out my muscles are severely confused as to what the heck is going on. They cry out with unwarranted pools of lactic acid, “Why are you doing this to us!?”

When I pick up my two year old son, Josiah, I now have to prepare myself mentally like I’m about to clean & jerk a new Olympic record.

2. I’ve recently been pointed towards an interesting subculture in the world of Christian conspiracy theory. G. Craige Lewis of “Ex Ministries” brings to light some interesting parallels of modern Hip Hop and the occult. It’s a shady underground that includes many radical claims, such as: Jay-Z is a leading member of the Illuminati and Beyonce is a practicing black magic witch. What the Ordo Templi Orientis, Freemasons, and the biblical Nephilim have in common with contemporary Hip Hop can make for one twisted and fascinating tale.

Of course, all of this should be taken with a healthy grain of salt, but I am surprised to admit that behind the shock value there is more smoke than one would first imagine. Many hip hop artists use some very heavy handed and dark symbolism in their lyrics, videos, and performances (Jay-Z has claimed to be “God” multiple times). Whether hip hop artists liberal use of these occultic themes is consciously subversive or merely for entertainment purposes, I don’t know. But this ancient symbolism comes from somewhere, and if not from Scripture, then what are the other options?

Left Eye Triangle? This dude must be a 33rd degree Mason!

If we can learn anything from fringe ministries like Beale’s, it’s at least that we should be careful to filter what popular culture is preaching to us. Everyone worships something or someone, and everyone has a theology of God, even Lil Wayne and Lady Gaga.

One should also be equally careful when delving into the cult of conspiracy theory. Too much tinkering in the darkness and you may find yourself groping in a rabbit hole of fanaticism for awhile (ahem, Jack Van Impe). Know the biblical gospel and share it boldly. Every “principality” and “power of the air” must submit to King Jesus in the end.

3. Jessica’s grandmother, Francis Pitner, died Monday of this week. The past month the doctor found her body was racked with an aggressive form of cancer, and her passing was as relatively quick and painless as one could hope.

She was known for going straight “Jerry Lewis” on the piano in her heyday, and up to recently her signature peach pies would make you smack your momma twice. She passed on her legacy of discount and antique hunting to her youngest granddaughter (my wife).

Most importantly, she loved Jesus and believed she would be healed up until the end. Well, in His presence she is ultimately healed forevermore.

At her viewing, I picked up Josiah to show him his “Manny” for the last time. He looked with a slight grin and put a little finger to his mouth, “Shhhhh! She’s sleeping!”

Yes, she is. She is only dead to this fallen world. And she has awakened to real life now, unbroken intimacy with the Father and Son (John 17:3).

Bryan Daniels