9 years

9 years.
Everything has changed. Well, almost everything.
9 years ago, I was driving home and got the call that you hadn’t shown up for work. I had no idea where you were.
That hasn’t changed. 9 years later, and I still have no idea.

But yet, I was driving home to a home we no longer live in.

Your nephew had just celebrated turning 4, and now we marked 13 two days ago. He has lived this story, so he remembers stories, remembers searches, and knows your face well.
He won’t say so, and I don’t ask, but I doubt he remembers you, other than what he’s been told.
He was so sweet, asking people to “help me find my uncle austin” without really understanding what was happening.
Now he’s a kid that reminds me much of you (and me). He’s a smart ass, and speaks sarcasm fluently. He laughs at me, like we laughed at our mom.
The morning of an awareness event we did for you about 6 weeks after you went missing, I walked him across the busy street, his hand in mine, to register him for t-ball. We’d looked forward to that day for so long, and I didn’t want to skip it. We signed up, walked back across, and continued our quest to raise funds and awareness for an upcoming search.
The plan was to find you quickly, and get on with letting that cute kid learn to play ball.

9 years later and he’s a pretty darn good ball player, driven to be great. He is now a big brother, to the sweetest boy in the world (who is also a bit wild) who is already older than when you last knew Drew.
Then there is the precious toddler who brings new life to our home, who has her own difficult story that I’ll tell when you meet her. Well, I don’t think you’ll meet her, but maybe you already know… or if not, this isn’t the place.

But you see, everything has changed.

Michael has long ago given up his football playing cleats for coaching cleats, and stopped chasing his own trophies and instead now builds them. His health hasn’t been good.
Our mom and dad… well, they have their own stories to tell, I suppose they aren’t mine to share. They love us, love my kids, but your void can’t be filled.

9 years later and it’s still surreal. I still avoid discussing it much. What can I say?

9 years later and it’s still the same, because we still don’t know where you are. We still miss you. But yet it’s all so different, because time cannot stand still. It just doesn’t work that way.

9 years….

(note: this is a bit disjointed and not very poetic, and yet it fits because that’s how it is.)

 

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8 Years

If you turn the number 8 sideways, it looks a lot like the infinity sign.

If you’ve lived without knowing where your brother is for 8 years, it feels a lot like you’re turned all sideways and have been for infinity. But that sideways becomes your norm and you function quite well walking around sideways.

But after 8 years, I can still hear his laugh with no trouble. And in those moments it seems like maybe I’ve made all this up and he’s here, that at most I just saw him yesterday.

That’s what it’s like. Forever and yesterday, and turned sideways and sometimes feeling right side up, tears and laughter.

There is no new news, no new search or anything to mark the day. Sometimes that’s the way it is after 8 years. You get up, go to work, love your kids, go see a movie with friends, and carry on. I’m okay with that today. I couldn’t forget if I wanted to, but today I choose to focus on the laugh. My oldest ‘baby’ comes home from camp today and I’ve missed him and will hug him lots! One of our best friends is leaving in another week and we’ll hang out with his family and laugh. Each year is a bit different, and we each handle it differently. And there are other sorrows I could easily focus on right now, but not today.

Job 8:21

He will once again fill your mouths with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.

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Showing Up

A few weeks ago marked the annual “worst week” for us, which is the week 7 year ago that started with such joy, and ended with such heartbreak.

7 years ago, a little boy was turning 4 and celebrating with people who loved him, with cake and swimming and toys. The world was perfect that afternoon. One of his favorite gifts was a big green dinosaur that moved and roared, from his Uncle Austin. He was excited most of all to be going on a trip away from mom and dad for the first time, heading to the beach with his beloved Nina.

The trip was cut short, the beach had to wait, as he and his Nina rushed back to help find Austin.

This year, that little boy turned 11 and he celebrated with people who loved him, with cake and swimming and electronics, and a carbon copy 4 year old brother. The world was almost perfect for an afternoon. He slid down roller coaster type water slides, posted photos on his new Instagram account from  his new phone, and stuffed his face with pizza. He was excited about his baseball trip the next weekend, ready to hit the clay.

But before that trip, he helped welcome his Nina back, as she came to help find Austin.

So much the same.

7 years ago, friends and family rallied beside us, determined to help find him. Now, in all honesty, most of those who knew Austin don’t show up anymore. But more people than we ever could have asked for, that never knew Austin, do show up. They showed up in large groups, from all over the Southeast (and a few even further).

And the same story was told over and over. They showed up, because my mom shows up. She showed up and sat with them on the side of the interstate while their son was pulled from the water. She showed up and wouldn’t go home when planned, because they needed her. She showed up and handed out tough love, pushing searchers hard. She showed up and was cut and bruised and swelling and kept going.

There is so much to be said for showing up.

This group stood together, on the side of a busy road and hugged and cried and loved. They showed up. For my mom and for Austin. For Rosemary and her family. For Mark and Bryan and their families. For Josh and his family. For John and his family. For the others represented there that night.

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And then they searched.

For 2 days, in 100 heat index weather, in long pants and long sleeves and boots, with short breaks for water and snacks.

Including my mom.

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And we reached the end of this part of the journey. Austin wasn’t brought home. And that creates more questions than answers. It felt like our story of the search for Austin was coming to an end. But instead, it was the end of what we know to do for now.

I don’t know what’s next. Before I even thought about it, we needed to go enjoy some family time and be reminded of all the joy there still is. We cheered on Drew in baseball. We swam in freezing springs. We listened to bullfrogs and crickets and horses. We reconnected with friends and twirled sparklers on a beach in the dark.

We celebrated summer like we didn’t get to 7 years ago.

We won’t ever stop searching. We won’t ever stop yearning for answers. We won’t ever stop aching with miss.

But we’ll keep showing up. For me, that mostly means showing up for my kids. Because they deserve summers full of all the things my brother and I enjoyed.

And I’ll keep hearing his laugh, knowing that we haven’t lost all of him.

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What’s keeping you from showing up in areas you maybe should? For hurting friends, for fast growing kids, for yourself.

Showing up can look like many different things. It can look like a hug, a text, a card. It can look like a freshly mowed yard, a plate of cookies or an afternoon entirely dedicated to them.

Something is coming to mind- somewhere you need to show up.

Show up. Celebrate. Laugh. You won’t get today back.

 

 

 

Not Our Ending [and wondering if there ever will be one]

I read things from all these brave people, who put their heart and emotions out there like gifts, for people who need to hear them, to know that their own emotions and shortcomings and failures are no worse than anyone else’s. I read them and I break. Because I measure out what I share in very tiny doses. I compartmentalize and bottle up. And almost two years into this journey of sharing my words here, I still am terrible at it.

So I’ll try to tell you about it. About this week, about another search for Austin, about walking away again empty handed.

It started almost two years ago really- back in August of 2012- when Monica Caison, the CUE Center for Missing Persons founder had a few days of not being able to stop thinking about Austin and where he was. She had images in her head of an area that matched the description of where we grew up. My mom had always thought that area was too far away from where he last was and didn’t make much sense as an option. I always thought it did. I’ve even had dreams over the years that we find him there. The only other area that we felt strongly about has been covered so many times, and that was all that really seemed left.

And in January of 2013, a small search took place. (You can read about it here) Much of the area was under water, and there were areas that really needed to be cleared to be able to fully search. It was swamp like and forest like, all at the same time. So the decision was made to come back at a later time, with equipment and more people, when it was also dry.

Then, 15 months went by. 15 months is a long time when you’re trying to stay hopeful that answers will come one day. It’s times like that where I start feeling like we’ll never know, and we’ll never bring him home. Where it feels like the positive outlook I’m constantly trying to keep up is crumbling. I tread very lightly and don’t ask often, because it’s a lot different when your mom is also a searcher.

But finally, a few weeks ago I got a call that they were coming back.

A group of people that we love and respect so very much arrived on Tuesday. These are the toughest women (and one man) that you’ll ever meet. They come from all walks of life, and from different areas around our state. They are a force that can’t be matched. Including my Mom.

But, it’s Spring in Florida, and the area that wasn’t covered previously due to how thick and wet it was was even more wet than before. And no less thick. So though some areas were researched, some are still undone. The team and their caravan of equipment, dogs and searchers kept on though, researching other areas that had always concerned us, and some that never seemed likely to me.

And left empty handed once again.

They worked hard, sacrificing time and money and emotions that they could have easily spent elsewhere. When I say they are heroes, it’s only because I don’t know a bigger word. I stood with them and laughed and shared and could not possibly have any more respect for them.

But yet, here we are.

And for one of the first times ever on this journey, I’m out of hope.

That’s the raw truth. I can no longer envision how this story ends, how I help someone else going through darkness with the hope that I know is true. I can no longer picture a service where we finally get to say goodbye and honor his life.

I’ve always said that Hope wasn’t about an outcome, but about knowing that good can come in any darkness, and we’re not alone. I know that’s true. I know that God isn’t limited in how He uses us, requiring a bow on a story. But how I wanted that.

Not the happy ending, but some ending.

Today hurts. Tomorrow will be better.

Thank you for loving us, for showing us Hope in human form, for searching with us or praying with us or feeding us or laughing with us.

 Tomorrow will be better.

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monica_mom

outofthewoods

How to Survive Your Heart Exploding

True to my last post, we’ve been trying to do more NOTHING. And for the record, we still fail most of the time and still stay crazy busy. But I’m finding more moments to rest, and am taking those moments to just enjoy and focus on our family, and to also think through what my real goals and dreams are- and which of those can be worked towards now, and which of those God may be saying “wait” on. That’s why I’ve been here less.

Sunday we did nothing. Both boys have been coughing like crazy, I’d had a pretty awful week, and Michael was feeling some effects from lots of new medicine. So we did nothing. And as the day wound down, I purposefully took a few more minutes with the boys, first laying in bed with Ben and then going to Drew’s room. He’s old enough that he rarely asks me to lay with him now, so I jumped at the chance when he asked me.

The conversation that ensued both broke my heart and reinforced my plans to spend more days like this.

As I laid by him and held him, I simply asked him how things were going with him. I usually just get one or two words to any question, and have to pry. But tonight I quickly got more.

We made a deal earlier in the day that exchanged some gift cards of his for an iPod (he hasn’t had one for quite a while after sending it through the wash, and I wanted to teach him the value by offering him one, but at a price) and he was upset about it. But not about not being able to spend the money. He didn’t want to lose something that someone he loved had given him. He was worried that if they went missing one day like his Uncle Austin did, that he would wish he’d saved everything they’d ever given him.

I couldn’t breathe for a moment. I thought my heart would explode.

Drew was just two days past his 4th birthday when Austin disappeared. A month younger than Ben is now. He remembers so little of him, but that seems to make it worse in ways, because he wishes he knew him more. He wishes he had more of him saved away.

Losing my brother is hard. But it’s nothing like the pain of watching my son lose him and not be able to give him answers.

I wish there was more than, “we just don’t know.” He deserves more. We all deserve more.

But while I couldn’t offer answers, I did remind him of a box in his closet. One that he never looks at, but I stash things away in. Cards from family, special things from school, and beside the box sits a big green dinosaur. That was the last gift Austin gave him, for his 4th birthday. And we’ll add these gift cards to the box. Not so much as a reminder of who gave him the cards, but of the night I was reminded how deeply he feels and loves, and how important it is to help save memories.

I can’t take it all away, but I can teach him that we never lose our memories or our love. And we don’t need stuff to keep that alive.

But I still won’t be throwing those gift cards away.

giftcards

 

 

 

Christmas Gifts

The stockings are hung, the presents are wrapped, the goodies are baked.  We’ve rehearsed our Christmas Eve KidStuf show, decorated for the Christmas Eve candlelight service, watched the favorite Christmas classics, and even cleaned the house.  We’ve bought the last minute presents and should be sitting back relaxing and enjoying it.

But I’m on day two of migraines and getting enough relief to barely function but nothing more.  And Michael is on week three of an episode that hasn’t landed him in the hospital but has made me contemplate the need for it many times.  So just like usual, I’m feeling a bit sorry for us, and mostly for him.  He should be able to enjoy this season, but we’re here once again and he’s struggling with the emotional battlefield that creates.

But God keeps sending us these small surprises that help keep us going, and remind me that we’re not forgotten.

First, there was this gift.

As I dug through my wrapping paper supplies, which includes old Christmas cards that I use as tags, I saw handwriting that I hadn’t seen in years.  6 1/2 years actually.

Austin’s last Christmas with us we made quite a few sweet memories.  One of them was him helping me with Michael’s Christmas gift.  Austin was a computer whiz, and I asked him to set up and configure the new laptop that he’d helped me find.  He met me at Panera and we drank coffee while he worked on it, to make sure Michael didn’t see.  He then bought a warranty to go with it as Michael’s gift, and what I found was his handwritten note saying that he’d bought him a warranty.

It’s the kind of thing I’d normally throw away, and I’m not sure why I kept it.  I’m not sure how it sat in that box of supplies for so long without me seeing it either.  But as I sat wrapping presents this year, with Michael asleep near me, and me hoping for a miracle for him this year, I got a small one of my own.  A reminder of my brother and of the love he had for us.

Later that night, last night, another completely unexpected gift was given.

A small company, UnMarketing, who says to ‘Stop Marketing, Start Engaging’ did just that through granting items from wish lists for a fairly large group of people.  They asked you to send them Amazon wish lists, and they’d be selecting some people to pick an item off the list and send it.  No questions, no fuss, no contest.  They didn’t make you share it to win it, or like them on Facebook, or fill out an application.

Within 10 minutes, two items off of Michael’s Christmas list were ordered and a personal note sent about why the man behind this chose those- he didn’t just throw money (which was cool enough on it’s own) but he took time to connect.  They weren’t high ticket items, but they’re items that he’ll love.

And with those two gifts, I’m reminded….

We’re loved, we’re taken care of, we’re not forgotten.

I wish I didn’t have to write a post like this every year- that I didn’t struggle with balancing the great and true Joy of the God we’re celebrating and the kids who have my heart with the heartache of this illness and my brother being missing.  I often feel like I’ve said as much as I can say on these topics, and have nothing more to give.

But maybe, you’re like me and facing the same things year after year and needing the reminder that just because you are doesn’t mean you’re forgotten, or unloved.

He loves us more than we can know, which is after all why we have Christmas to celebrate.

Merry Christmas my friends.

 

Christmas 2009

Christmas 2009

 

Come Home

Do you see the same stars and sky tonight?
Are you warm and dry with a friend to make you laugh?
Do you hear melodies that calm your soul?
Are you held tight by one who knows your heart?
Do you long to come home?

Or

Maybe the stars are watched with their maker.
Maybe the joy never ends.
Maybe the songs are true and sweet and full of praise.
Maybe the very one who made your heart holds you tonight.

Maybe you are home.

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These were the words of my heart a few days ago as I was reminded that despite us missing Austin, God knows where he is, and some days that has to be enough.

It’s the very reason that I can be hopeful.

The hope doesn’t come in believing we’ll find him alive, but in believing that God has this. God has him.

Are you in a place today where you wonder if God is there, if he sees you or hears you? I’m there sometimes, wondering if despite His love for me, my hopes and dreams don’t matter as much as others.

But he says this-

Come Home. Rest in me.

No matter where we are, Home is waiting.

 

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Looking skyward from our Home

I’m Back

I’ve been absent here for a bit.  Some of you know that when there’s been a bit between posts it’s usually because I’m struggling with how to turn junk going on in our lives into something positive or sharable here.  It’s a bit different this time, with a conscious decision to give myself time to get through some stressful stuff and come back later.  It felt good.  But I also missed writing.  So here’s what you missed. 

 

The CUE Center for Missing Persons does an annual event called ‘Road to Remember’ that helps raise awareness of missing person cases, most of whom haven’t had as much attention as they need.  Monica Caison and her crew travel for about 10 days, on a loop that starts and finishes in North Carolina, but covers several states with multiple tour stops each day. 

 

Though the tour was coming through Florida this year, we decided not to host a stop.  In truth, we don’t need more awareness for Austin, we need more searches. 
And though we want to help with awareness of missing persons in general, and specifically of the families in Jacksonville we know with a missing loved one, this year the amount of work it would take during a very busy time wasn’t a good tradeoff. 

 

But then Austin was named as the tour’s honoree, right about the same time that my mom confirmed her job offer that would mean moving away and likely starting her first week the same week of the tour.  When the date/time of our tour stop was given to us, it also fell two days before I left out of town for a week, a day when I was being requested to travel to another city, and on a weekday afternoon when we wouldn’t have the help and support of the people we could normally count on. 

Super.  {eye roll}

But I managed to stay in town that day and made it work.  My mom managed to put off her start date a week. My fabulous aunt came in to town to help us too.  It happened.

 

For the record, I hate these events.  I like thinking, I don’t like feeling.  I like taking action, not looking back to remember.

 

Though very few people attended, we did meet our one goal.  We actually exceeded it.  We hoped to get just one news story about our missing shown, and we had one story air three times, showing the names and faces of many of our missing in the area.  We also had another story shown multiple times, again with many of their names and faces shown.

 

So, I guess after all there was progress and there was action.  It was a good day.

I spent the next 10 days immersed in a busy work week of travel and catching back up with my boys.

 

But I’m back after the craziness, and happy to be sharing with you again.

Hope you’ll stick around.

rally

Circles

Longing, missing, yearning
Laughing, living, enjoying

 
Piece lost
Pieces found

 
Regretting, questioning, seeking
Smiling, hugging, playing

 
World stopping
World giving

 

Changing

Growing

Focusing

 

Conflicted, divided, confused
Awakened, whole, complete

Complicated but beautiful
Life

 beach

Charlie & The Least of These

Earlier I was reading a blog post that was really powerful, but I had such a strong response to that I had to stop and wonder why.  You’ll have to go read it to fully understand, but in essence, Josh Collins reached out to truly see someone that most of us would overlook, a guy named Charlie.

I’ve never been that guy- the one who has so little, is unseen in society, or could disappear with no one noticing.  So why did I connect?  Because, if Austin is alive, he is no doubt one of “the least of these.”  And I realize that Charlie is loved by someone and maybe even missed by someone.

He may be someone’s Austin.

My brother didn’t disappear because he wanted a different life or because he was on the run from criminal activity or afraid for his life.  He didn’t take money and isn’t living the dream on an island in the Caribbean.  Austin disappeared because he was ill, because depression had taken over, and because he’d stopped seeing that it could change.  We believe that.  The only missing piece is what happened after those last moments we know about.  Did he become a Charlie?  Or are we right in focusing our search on a search for remains?  It’s unlikely, very unlikely, that he’s alive today.  But if he is, he’s almost certainly living a life like Charlie.

And maybe someone like Josh Collins is showing him some compassion and seeing him just for a few moments as God does.

Josh wrote that he thought about Charlie’s family, and about where Charlie had been and was going.  I pray that if Austin is out there somewhere today, that he encounters someone like Josh.  Someone who can see him worthy of being acknowledged and spoken to, and even helped.

Sometimes it’s harder to picture Austin out there facing a hard life alone than it is to picture him in the arms of God.  Sometimes for me, hope looks like the opposite of what people expect because of that and I shut out the possibility.

But I thank God that there are people willing to stop and see the Charlie’s of our world.  Not just because that’s what God wants from us, but because in someone else’s story, Charlie may just be named Austin.

 

** Josh, you impacted more than just Charlie.  Thank you.

 

Austin in happier days

Austin in happier days