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

Life Through The Eyes of a 4 Year Old And His Lego Camera

For Christmas, Josiah got a digital Lego Camera. It’s virtually indestructible and the picture quality is circa 1980s Polaroid. I think the pictures kind of have a vintage quality about them. This is home life interpreted through the eyes of a four-year old. The first is a self-portrait. Most of the rest comprise of his favorite subject, his little brother Gideon:

Lego CameraLego Camera Lego Camera Lego Camera Lego Camera Lego CameraLego Camera

Lego Camera

Email me for booking info if you want Josiah and his Leg Camera to capture your family portraits. Between being Spiderman, Bumblebee, and a good big brother his calendar is pretty full these days.

Bryan Daniels

To My Lover Girl: 8 Reasons I Don’t Deserve Her

 

My lover
Yeah, she’s hot.

1. She is deeply in love with the person of Jesus Christ; More than she’ll ever love me (that’s a good thing). When I first met her she had an irresistible contagious quality about her walk and talk. Confession: I’m a bit jealous over my wife’s intimacy with another dude…..named Jesus.

2. She’s seen me naked numerous times and hasn’t laughed or thrown up once…as far as I know.

3. She’s a hot little red-headed senorita. I’m a chubby balding white dude.

4. She makes me laugh. She’s one of the few people in the world who can actually make me laugh out loud. If making fun of people on TV were a degree we’d be black belt. As a side note, she has a GREAT laugh (too glorious to describe).

5. She’s an excellent mother to our two sons. She would literally punch a grizzly bear in the throat if she felt a threat to her boys. Her “boys” includes me too.

6. She’s a hard worker and savvy business lady. Along with full-time mommy duties she’s building her own business to help out with the bills. As a natural salesperson she could sell rehab to Lindsey Lohan.

7. She puts up with my childishness. I get grumpy when I’m hungry. I’m not a good handy manny. I watch Spongebob with Josiah when I should be paying the Comcast bill.

8. She’s my wife. My help mate. My covenant partner. My little lover girl.

I thank God He delights to give us what we don’t deserve.

Our “first dance” wedding song, still relevant today:

Bryan Daniels

Orcs, Gunmen, and Bad Guys Like Me

While watching a Lord of The Rings Scene my four-year old son, Josiah, caught a glimpse of an Orc, a miserable snarling subhuman warrior for the “Army of Shadows.”

As his inquiring mind processed the battle scene before him, Josiah asked,

“Why is that guy mean?”

Before I could respond he answered his own question:

“Because he’s bad?”

Sounded like a sufficient reason to me:

“Yes, baby, he’s a bad guy.”

Such a description easily rolls off the tongue when encountering hypothetical terrorists on a movie screen. But when the perpetrators become human and the victims flesh and blood it seems our ability for succinct language becomes squishy and vague.

Whether it is the recent murder-suicide by NFL player Jevon Belcher.

Or the more recent Portland mall killings by a crazed gunman.

The response of many public network pundits has been the same the past few years:

Legal experts and resident psychologists will try to psychoanalyze the mind of the killers: social constraints, political persuasions, chemical reactions, or stunted emotional growth are all posited as the source of the madness. The whole world goes straight Dr. Phil in its obsession with the dark mind(lessness) of these murderers.

I don’t want to neglect the socio-economic, genetic, psychological, etc, factors that make up a person’s character. I don’t have anything meaningful to add to the timeless nature vs. nurture debate. But I believe something unfortunate is lost in our culture when we try to process man-made tragedies while altogether omitting words like “evil”, “bad”, or even “depraved” from our vocabulary.

Some times the “bad guys” aren’t just in a movie script.

Whether the heartless violence happens in Arizona, Norway, Columbine, or a mall, the social commentary in the aftermath shouldn’t always swirl around periphery issues like gun control, childhood upbringing, bullying, and poverty. Not that any of these don’t matter. Just that most of this chatter is to the neglect of personal responsibility for the evil actions of an evil man.

I know the world bristles at any value judgment that has moral overtones but that shouldn’t matter.

I want my son to keep this “bad guy” moniker in his vocabulary.

Not because he is “better” than anyone else, but because he could be much worse than anyone else. I want him to see that apart from the grace of God the natural bad guy that lives within his own nature can also manifest itself in horrifying ways.

I want him to see his daddy as one of the “good guys” not because I have anything inherently noble about me, but because I don’t. What separates any good man from the bad man is nothing but undeserved grace through the God Man.

Sometimes my mind goes places I don’t even begin (or want) to understand. I imagine if our thoughts could be projected for all to see we would be horrified, embarrassed, and left utterly friendless in less than a few hours. If we don’t believe in words like “evil” it may be because we haven’t lifted up the floorboards of our own nature and peered in to see what really lies beneath our daily facades.

There is real evil.

There is real invincible grace that trumps real evil too.

That’s the story we should tell. But if we keep denying with our words the natural-born bent toward wickedness in us all, then we’ve denied the need for the overpowering righteous given at the cross (2 Cor 5:21).

And for bad guys like me, there is no other hope in the world but the gospel of Jesus that saves sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)

Bryan Daniels

God Wants To Be Annoyed

I live with my own personal four year old petitioner/investigative reporter. He asks what seems like a 1000 rapid fire questions throughout the day:

What’s that?

Where are you going?

Can I see?

Can I have arcoons (translation: cartoons)?

Can I go to Mimi’s (grandma)?

Can I go to Mickey’s (other grandma)?

Can I go outside?

Can I have a sandwich?

Can I have juice?

Can I (play) fight with you?

Can you fix my train/car/airplane/transformer/monster truck/etc?

Where’s momma?

Where’s Gid (brother)?

And maybe his favorite default question of all, said with boyish wonder:

What happened?!

I’m sure I’ll miss his little inquiries when he becomes a quiet self-confident teenager who believes his pops is out dated and irrelevant. Questions are the mark of humility: as a small child, Josiah knows he doesn’t know the answer to many questions and he trusts someone else to give it to him (me!).

Unlike this fallen impatient dad, the heavenly Father always loves to have His sleeve tugged on, to be incessantly implored, to be uncompromisingly interrogated by His adopted children. He wants us to keep asking, seeking, knocking, and ringing the doorbell like an overzealous girl scout.

Amazing isn’t it? As a whiny son with trivial requests I take this to heart:

God the Father through the blood of His own Son wants to be annoyed by our prayer requests.

Crazy.

Bryan Daniels

Why I Love Being An Educator (Satanic Bibles Excluded)

The Kids

This particular reason could equally be the leading point in a corresponding blog post titled “Why I Hate Being An Educator.” But seriously, my job is ALWAYS interesting and it ALWAYS keeps me on my toes; and ninth graders are the main reason for that. You never know what off the wall question, what bipolar mood, what hilarious comment, or what surprising encouragement you may get from day-to-day. I could be stuck in a sterile office environment and chained to a screen and desk.

But I am entrusted with real humans with real issues and real potential that I may play a part in tapping. There is high risk/reward in such an endeavor, especially when factoring in raging hormonal activity.

But maybe their relatively short experience in my class will help them garner a life skill, a moral lesson, a thirst for learning, or just an appreciation for a person that cared about their future. That’s a gamble worth taking.

The Schedule

I coach football and track, so I don’t have as much free time as others, but as an educator family time is easily planned and executed around holidays and summer time. When my oldest son, Josiah, starts kindergarten  next year I will be even more thankful for our corresponding schedules. Being an educator really is a family friendly occupation and I venture to guess that is one reason many of my coworkers are young mothers.

Also, do you remember that feeling you had as a kid anticipating Christmas morning? Teachers, in part, still get to have that.

I get to celebrate and revel in the arrival of Thanksgiving/Christmas/Spring/Summer break as much, probably more than, my students. I’ve even been known to blare Rebecca Black’s “Friday” given the weekend occasion, and at the end of last year I can neither confirm nor deny my class may have heard Will Smith’s “Summertime” on the last day of school.

Being an educator keeps me family focused and keeps me young.

The Ministry

As a public school educator, there are some legal constraints as to what I can say in my daily dialogue with students. But being in the mission field of a public high school the past 4 years has kept me cognizant of how lost and hurting and broken this youth generation is. When I was involved extensively in church youth ministry I always felt there was a religious facade that had to be penetrated before real ministry began with a young person. Spiritual games can be easily played at a church.

That facade doesn’t exist in the context of a high school hallway.

Not in the emo kid (with an absentee father) who brings his Satanic Bible to class instead of his Algebra book.

Not in the ninth grade athlete with a violent short fuse because his mom tragically died last year.

Not in the pregnant fifteen year old whose baby’s daddy is in jail for grand theft auto.

These are real kids with real issues. Sure, they can be hyper-emotional, rude, angry, lazy, disrespectful, and scallywags in general. By nature we all can be. But many of those attributes were learned in their early nurturing. And all of them need the same basic virtue applied to them that has been generously bestowed on me by One greater: Grace.

When I can’t give that overtly in words, hopefully they experience it in the way I treat them.

There are certainly more reasons than these, but these three are enough for me to be thankful for my calling/occupation.

Do you love what you do? Why?

Bryan Daniels