Leaving a Legacy

What would you do, if during your child’s last hour on earth, they asked you to make a promise to carry on their work?

Six years ago today marks the last time I ever saw my brother.  My husband, Austin, and I went to see a movie and laughed together.  I had no idea it would be the last, that the very next day he would be missing.  I think he did though.  I think he had a plan for the next day that we still don’t know all the details of, but meant that we would never see him again.  I think that night out might have been a gift, something he gave me without me knowing at the time what it meant.  Or maybe that night changed his plan, not wanting to bring pain into our home.  Or maybe there was no plan that night, maybe there was only laughter and the illness of depression took it’s final stronghold that next morning.  We may never know.  We have lots of maybes, and very few knowns.

I struggle with those questions, and with what he would want us to be doing six years later.  I don’t think he could have seen, in the darkness of depression, that what he did would still be so heavy on us.  His heart was too good and loving to want this for us.  But I do believe if he could see now, he’d be proud of what we’re trying to do.

Last week I had the great honor of hearing a man speak, a man who almost 18 years ago made a promise to his dying daughter.  She asked him to carry on her work.  Her name was Jenny Eller, and she’d battled Leukemia for almost four years.  During that time, she was a fierce advocate for donating blood, as she had herself needed hundreds of units during her treatment.  Her father, Dean Eller, started fulfilling that promise just a few days after her death when he spoke to a group about the need for donating blood, a group she was scheduled to speak to.  He went on to become a tireless advocate, and eventually to lead the Central California Blood Center where he helps ensure that there is always blood for any patient who needs it.  I’ve been in the beautiful building that he had a vision for, named for his daughter, and seen donors in the chairs fulfilling that promise.

He is fulfilling a promise.  He is leaving a legacy.

Since hearing Dean speak, I’ve been thinking more about my message and my legacy.  Not just for Austin, but for my own sons.  When I’m gone one day, what will I have left or impacted.  What do I want my message to truly be?

I want to help others find their purpose and leave their legacy.

Dean helps ensure that there is blood for everyone who needs it.  (And we should be a part of that by donating at our local blood center!)  My mom Christy works in Search and Rescue, helping families like ours, and is leaving a legacy of service.

What is your passion?  Where can you have an impact?  Never think that your story, your voice, or your life is too small.  Never think that what you do doesn’t matter.  It matters.  You may not have a platform like Dean, or the skills of my mom.  But what you have can have an impact of your family and the community around you.  And when you teach your children to be involved, to care, to donate, you are leaving a legacy.

This year, I have a new purpose, to grow out of my comfort zone and go where God is calling me.  This year I plan to speak to groups, churches, and my own community, about finding your purpose.

I can’t wait to see where that takes me.  It can’t take me back six years to another day with my brother.  But maybe it can help others facing that same darkness of loss.

 

The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them.
~ Proverbs 20:7, NLT

The Roller Coaster Ride

It’s not unusual for a year to go by with nothing new to report on in our search for Austin.  That’s true of most of us with a cold case missing person, and it may be one of the hardest parts to accept.  But we’ve had some activity in the past few weeks, and I wanted to share some of what it’s like to go through the roller coaster of ‘what if’ and ‘maybe’.

One of the most respected women in search and rescue, Monica Caison had been encouraging my mom to search one specific area we never had, the property around the house where Austin and I grew up.  Mom was hesitant for her own reasons, and I pushed every now and then to please make it happen.  The plan was for a small group to go, just a few people from her own search team, as it’s quite a small area.  Monica helped scout on a Friday, and on that Saturday, four searchers including my mom, began to work.  While they worked, I wrote some thoughts, always praying that when I shared this, I’d be sharing about the day we brought Austin home.  Here’s what I wrote as I waited:

“From where I stand… Birds calling, crickets chirping, occasional dog barking, leaves falling, trees towering, sun shining warm,  quiet, peaceful….
As I write, a small search for Austin is underway.  We’ve had quite a few, so I have a somewhat nonchalant attitude towards them usually. In the beginning, I would always think “today is the day” and be nervous.  As time has gone on, most searches have been repeats of the same areas or areas we didn’t feel that strong about.  So I lost that feeling for the most part.  Pulling up to a team of searchers always gave me a moment of belief that today might be the day, and leaving with no results always gave me a bit of a letdown, but less and less over time.

Today is different.  Today it’s just 4 people and 3 dogs.  Today my mom is searching instead of organizing.  Today we’re home, meaning we’re where Austin and I grew up, where I have the most feeling of home and where he did too.  Though we don’t own the house or property and haven’t for years, we still visit out here because of close family friends who are still here.  When I turn down the road, it still feels like going home.  It’s where we made most of our childhood memories, its where we made lifelong friends, its where we were a family.  About halfway through college for me, and halfway through high school for Austin, our parents split and things changed a lot.  Austin still lived there for a few years, and I spent one more summer there, before Dad made the decision to sell.  I don’t know if Austin’s last few years here tarnished the good memories so much that he didn’t still feel the strong connection to it that I do.  I was gone, living an hour away through the worst of that, so I don’t have the same viewpoint.

I wasn’t convinced that the pull here would be strong enough that he’d come back here for his final moments.  But we’ve searched everywhere else that seems to make sense.”

My kids and husband came and we played baseball and soccer for a few hours while they searched, reminding me how abnormal it is for my kids to think it perfectly normal to play yards away from a search, a search for their own uncle.  My youngest doesn’t know, but my oldest is well aware.  A few hours later, the team packed up and left without any find.  It turns out that the area really is too grown up and too dense for that small a team, and some heavy equipment is needed.  I left sad, with that feeling that this wasn’t really the place, and knowing it would likely be months before the next search happened, meaning more time of just waiting.  That’s the road for a family member though, always having sparks of hope that you have to allow and have to feel, while wanting to instead protect yourself from the letdown that comes after you allow yourself to hope.

Fast forward a week and a half or so….

I was getting ready to walk out the door to work when I realized my husband and mom were talking and there were words like ‘serial number’ and ‘police’ floating to me.  I stopped and listened.

My mom had been awakened about 3:30am by a phone call from someone who scavenged for metal, and had found bones in carpet, almost buried in dirt the night before.  He’d called the police and they’d sent uniformed officers, but they hadn’t taken him seriously it seemed, and he couldn’t sleep.  So he was searching online for information about missing people in that area, and came across Austin’s info.  On that was the Finder’s Hope logo, and from there he found my mom’s phone number- not realizing she was also Austin’s mom.  He’d read about the shotgun we were also looking for, and was startled by the fact that he’d found the barrel of a shotgun (same brand) months ago, broken down and half buried, in another nearby spot that we had searched very near to.  The bones were several blocks away, but also between the Pawn Shop (where Austin purchased the gun and was last seen) and where he’d found the gun.  He still had the gun, including the serial number and would be glad to hand it to police.

We couldn’t piece together how both could be related to Austin, but one or the other very possibly could, and if not him, it could be someone else’s missing loved one.  I let work know I’d be only partially available as we figured out what to do, and my mom started calling the missing persons unit, leaving messages and calling back until she was able to speak to someone who listened.  Thankfully, the detective said he was jumping in his car to go check it out right then.  He asked us to wait till we heard back.

That lasted about 10 minutes, until Michael and I drove by the entrance to the site where the bones were found, and then by the house where the guy lived.  Once we realized the detective was indeed there, we went on, waiting anxiously for any word.  We lasted a little bit longer, before my mom left and sat at the entrance where there were now two empty unmarked cars, leading us to believe they were looking for the site.  I tried to be somewhat productive, with a few work phone calls and emails, as I had something fairly large and difficult going on there to deal with too.  I knew that it was unlikely to be the day we had answers, but as my husband reminded me, “it has to be one day.”

My mom and I returned to the site, with both of my boys in the car and my husband off to class, because even in the midst of days like that, we have to continue on with life, though I knew he was keeping his phone close and would rush back if needed.  By this time, another search team member and friend of my mom’s was on her way with her dog, in case help was needed.  And I’m sure though she didn’t say it, in case the gun was his or the bones confirmed human, to be there with us.

As we pulled up, I told my oldest, “we’re going stopping by a search to talk to some police, I need you to stay in the car” and almost laughed as we saw once again how normal these things were to him.  We approached the officers, six in total, and introduced ourselves.  They shared that the bones had been located, and that their dog was on the ground to determine if they were human, as it was a small amount of bones.  They were large enough to be human potentially.

Four of the six plainclothes officers immediately separated themselves away once we introduced ourselves, not even acknowledging us.  We didn’t know the remaining two but were told that the detective we’d talked with, along with the K-9 and his handler were a bit beyond view.  We were probably some of the most composed family members they’d seen, as we tried to chat with them about search and rescue, laughed about my fear of snakes that kept me from being a searcher, and discussed the fact that we were out there for us, but also for any family who might be about to find answers.

It was probably no more than 5 minutes later when the detective, the K-9 and handler walked in to the clearing and started towards us.  My mom kept chatting, while I realized that we were either about to have hope dashed, or have the start to the longest few weeks of our lives while we waited to learn who it was.

They were dashed.  The remains weren’t human.  The gun’s serial number didn’t match.  We thanked the detective and walked back to our car where I cheerfully told my son that the search had found some bones, but just an animal and we were going home.

I returned home for an afternoon of conference calls and work, and mom picked up to do whatever she had planned for the day.  The searcher friend was turned around, and our lives went back to normal.

But our normal is not that normal and I’m always aware of that.

Last night I heard an inspirational message from a singer who had lost his voice and had it restored through a risky surgery that threatened his career and his passion.  When his voice did return, it was better than before, and he learned a lot about trusting God when all seems bleak.  I’ve heard so many other stories with similar messages, and I sometimes feel the weight of wondering when our turn to have a completion to this ‘story’ is.  When I’ll be able to tell about our struggles, but with a conclusion to our years of searching instead of this open ended story.  But I heard so clearly last night, that the longer we search, the more powerful our story of keeping hope no matter the situation becomes, and the more people to know of Austin, and be able to celebrate with us when there is an end to the search one day.  I’d still like it to be today.  The roller coaster is no fun.

But I share because that is the only action I can take, I share that someone may see the HOPE we still have, and will always have.  And I share that when we do find Austin, even more will know the struggle to get there and be able to see how God worked.

Thank you for those who ride the roller coaster with us, and for those whom we know we can call when we need you, even if you never knew any of this was going on.  We did keep all of this fairly quiet for a variety of reasons, and often have to.  But do know, that when the day comes that there is a different end to this story, we’ll be so thankful you’re there.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Prevent & Protect

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, a day to increase awareness worldwide about suicide and prevention. Did you know:

– Every year, almost one million people die from suicide; a “global” mortality rate of 16 per 100,000, or one death every 40 seconds.
– In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. Suicide is among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15-44 years in some countries, and the second leading cause of death in the 10-24 years age group; these figures do not include suicide attempts which are up to 20 times more frequent than completed suicide.
– Suicide worldwide is estimated to represent 1.8% of the total global burden of disease in 1998, and 2.4% in countries with market and former socialist economies in 2020.
– Although traditionally suicide rates have been highest among the male elderly, rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk in a third of countries, in both developed and developing countries.
– Mental disorders (particularly depression and alcohol use disorders) are a major risk factor for suicide in Europe and North America; however, in Asian countries impulsiveness plays an important role. Suicide is complex with psychological, social, biological, cultural and environmental factors involved.

As you probably know, we believe Austin was suicidal and that we’ve focused search efforts on a search for remains. If you’ve read any of my posts, you probably also know I have some guilt over that, because the issues were clear but no one realized how real. So I don’t like reading about prevention a lot, I don’t like the what ifs. What I could have or should have done.

But it’s there, the need to educate all over the world, and to make changes that can help. Suicide costs us all- those left behind, our society…. the true cost is too high to know, too tough to measure.

Austin helping me at a fundraising event for ACS

In Austin’s case, he worked at keeping us from knowing, and he succeeded.  But there is still one person that I think could have been educated more, could have been more aware, could have had policies to prevent those last steps.  Austin arrived at a pawn shop by taxi, and attempted to buy a pistol.  He obviously knew nothing about guns, nor about buying one.  He didn’t know that he’d have to wait three days to buy a pistol.  He didn’t know he wouldn’t be able to get ammo there.  So, he bought a shotgun instead.  He left it there while he went down the road to buy ammo, and came back to finish the purchase.  Him buying it was perfectly legal.  But I don’t understand why there weren’t warning flags seen, that he was intending to hurt someone.  He couldn’t wait three days?  He needed ammo before he walked out with the gun?  He preferred a pistol, but a shotgun would do as long as he could get it today?

Depression is what caused Austin to do what he did.  But why it was so easy….   And what can we do to put barriers up when there are warning flags?  The cost is too high to not be having this conversation on a global scale.  The World Health Organization hopes to bring awareness and believes that governments need to develop policy frameworks for national suicide prevention strategies. At the local level, policy statements and research outcomes need to be translated into prevention programs and activities in communities.

Take a moment today and visit the American Association of Suicidology and see what you can do to help.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

A Boy Named Austin

Austin

Austin is a fairly common name today, and we regularly meet kids named Austin, which always makes me pause for just a moment.  We know sweet kids and goofy kids, kids who make us laugh and kids we cheer for at baseball.

But besides my brother Austin, my favorite little guy named Austin is this one.  He’s a cutie!  He’s almost two.  We got to play with him and love on him a bit a few weeks ago, which is a treat because he lives in Oklahoma, far from us.

Matt and Austin

His Dad is one of my ‘other brothers’, those not made from blood but forged from years of being as close as family.  Matt is a great “kid”, that I remember asking 1,000 questions, loving animals to extremes, and then joining the Air Force and growing up before my eyes.  He and Austin were just a year apart, and also much like brothers.

Matt was very upset when Austin went missing, and called to check on progress or ask what he could do more than most .  It was always comforting to know that though I didn’t have my brother here, I had him checking in and knowing that someone else missed him too.

So when Matt and his wife were expecting their son, they asked about naming him for Austin…. though hard at first in a way, we knew we’d love this little guy and loved the honor.  I think my brother would love this kid, and would laugh at knowing someone had been named for him.  But knowing how much he cared for Matt, I know he’d be honored.

Thanks for sharing your Austin with us, we love him.

Ben and Austin

What’s In a Name

A handful of people have asked about the title of my blog.  Most likely haven’t given it any thought, but for some people who spend their lives searching for missing, they wonder why it isn’t titled ‘Finding Austin’ and I had trouble articulating my reasons.  But here goes.  
I say ‘Losing Austin’ because it was a process that started much earlier than June of 2007.  I think it started quite a few years before, as he faced some things that kids shouldn’t have to, but many do, including unexplained physical pain, and family issues that caused emotional pain.  I’ve hesitated to ever put that thought into writing, but it’s not to point blame.  It’s my view of when we started losing him.  We lost him a little more years later when injury and heartache compounded, and from that point never seemed to really find him again.  He was standing in front of us, but we didn’t see all that was really there.  
I say ‘Losing Austin’ because I feel some of the blame of not catching him before he was gone.  
I say ‘Losing Austin’ because that’s the starting point of this journey.  
‘Finding Austin’ sounds to me that all our hope and faith resides around that event.  We pray for it, hope for it, believe on it, but our real hope is in God’s faithfulness regardless. 
‘Finding Austin’ would say, to me anyway, that our focus is on finding him and our story stops there.  I pray that I one day write about this crazy significant point.  But our story doesn’t and can’t end there.  Our story is about our response to losing him, and being called to work through it.
‘Finding Austin’ would seem to say that I really contribute to efforts to find him.  I don’t even know how at this point.  
‘Finding Austin’ would seem to signify that once we find him, all is well.  But all will not be well, it won’t bring that magical mythical “closure” that many goodheartedly say we need.  When we no longer have a missing loved one, new challenges begin, and new healing can begin.  Begin is the key word. 
‘Finding Austin’ might keep me mentally and emotionally focused on that goal, almost stuck until we reached it.  I didn’t need a reminder of our goal; it’s never far from mind.  What I needed was an honest look at where I’ve been, to help direct where I’m going.  
I believe and hope that there will be a post titled ‘Finding Austin’ one day soon.  What I do know, is that he was never lost to God, has been in his hands always.  We just get to keep working on filling in the details.

Isaiah 41:10  fear not, for I am with you;  be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you,  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Five Years….

Five years ago today was the last time I saw Austin.  Five years ago tomorrow is the last time anyone we know of saw him or spoke with him.  It’s truly unbelievable.  Honest to God unbelievable.  As in, sometimes I have a moment of thinking I’ve made up this whole thing in my head and laugh at how crazy I am for making it up.  Then I remember it’s real.

I’ve been trying to think of how to express what I feel, and I’m still at a loss.  But this photo might tell it best.  I’m standing beside those I love, with the past in the near distance, and holding out that smiling face hoping that someone will see the color and the life and remember Austin.  It’s not that our lives are now in black and white- but that our lives are now a canvas for sharing our story of hope, and any talents that we have, for those who are hurting.    

I’m not sure if Austin being gone was truly God’s will, or if Austin being gone was God allowing Austin free will while working in it and through it regardless.  I’d rather him just be here.  I’d rather not have to explain what I feel on the anniversary of the last time I saw him.  I’d rather not say that I don’t recall what we said, what he wore, or if he was laughing or smiling.

I’d rather not have had my son mention yesterday, on his birthday, that five years is a long time and we don’t know if Austin is alive or not.  I’d rather Austin have just been here to help us celebrate.

We don’t have that choice, so instead we hold him out, hoping someone remembers.  And we hold our story and our talents out, hoping we can help others who are hurting.  We remember what’s behind us, but we focus forward. 

Now that I write this out, I do know how I feel today.  Mostly, I feel grateful….that I had a brother, and that there have been so many willing to share their hearts and their talents with us.  And that makes the hurt so much easier to share.

**I also want to thank a good friend for taking these photos that express today so much better than words could.  Talk about sharing your talent….  George Bass Photography

Day One

Two years ago I wrote about the day we realized Austin was missing. It was actually the day after his last known whereabouts, but we didn’t know that for a few more months.  I’ve already forgotten many of these details, and even what some of it felt like.  Remembering is painful, but remembering is good.  And since writing this I’ve come to understand how much sharing can help.  Both myself, and others who may need hope.  Thanks for taking this journey with us, all five years of it. 

Day 1
I often don’t remember details well.  I remember emotions, and I remember the overall feel of things, but not all the details.  But this day is different; this is a day I remember the details of. 
I went to work and had a normal day, nothing special.  I was wishing I was at the beach with my Mom and Drew, but was so glad he was spending time with family and knew he was loving it.  I missed him terribly, it was after all his first time away from us, but I was relaxed, knowing he was safe and I had a quiet house to head to.  But then my cell phone sounded with the ring tone of an unknown number.  I usually don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t know.  But something prompted me to pick it up- maybe it was the ease of the day, or maybe God prompted me.  
Later learned it was June 26

It was a voice I had heard once before, a voice to a face I had never seen.  But her voice, that call, would change everything.  It was Austin’s friend and co-worker (and more I would later learn), Kelly.  She was panicked sounding and said that Austin hadn’t shown up for work that day, and wouldn’t answer her calls.  She told me he had called in the day before and she hadn’t been able to get in touch with him since.  She said it was unlike him.  She said he had never just not shown up for work.  This was after all, a job he loved.   She said that I needed to call the police.  I told her I’d think about it, and would probably call.  I wasn’t sure I would, but wanted to calm her.  

    
I took it all in, with my mind quickly making up reasons why there was no cause for concern.  Sure I hadn’t seen him the night before or that morning, but he was an adult, I didn’t check in on him.  There was one moment of panic, that maybe he was in his room and was “gone”, the image of him with a gun flashing through my mind.  Michael was home, so I called him immediately.  I didn’t want him unprepared for what he may find, even as strong as he is.  So, I let him know about the call, and asked him to please check in the room.  I stayed on the phone, not breathing, but still driving down I-10 until he said “he’s not in there.”   But he also said that Austin’s computer was there.  Austin didn’t go many places without that.  His things all seemed to be there, no clothes missing, all 25 pairs of shoes in place (possibly an exaggeration, but he did love shoes).  
I called my mom, while still driving down I-10 and heading home, sure that I could piece the puzzle together and all would be fine.  I just needed to get home.  The closer I got, the faster I drove.  When my mom picked up, I quickly told her about the phone call.  It was another moment where I thought that it would become less real instead of more, after all, Mom solves everything.  Even when she doesn’t solve it, she brings rationale and helps you solve it.  I wish Mom could have solved this.  She stayed calm and asked questions, wanting to know all that Kelly told me, all that anyone knew.  There is a somewhat unfounded- okay, completely founded up until that time- thought in our family that I can’t handle difficult things.  It’s not that I can’t so much, as I just don’t.  I’ve always lived by a thought that if you ignore the issue, it may just go away.  Tasks and jobs I handle great, just once the decision of how to handle the issue is out of the way.  This is one of many things that has changed since Day 1.  
Mom and I discussed calling the police.  I had a strong belief that if I called and reported Austin missing, that he would come home in the middle of it, or shortly after, and be mad about it.  He would be mad that I thought he wasn’t responsible enough to handle himself, mad that we had looked through his things, mad that I had talked with Kelly.  Or laugh.  He laughed a lot.  I also had the completely untrue belief that most of the country has, that you need to wait 48 hours before law enforcement will take a missing persons report.  I have one other memory from years past, of a missing persons report trying to be filed on a loved one.  I recall police saying that it hadn’t been 48 hours, if they weren’t back by then, to call them (thankfully, they were found safe).  
Regardless, it was decided that we should call, and since he lived with me, I needed to be the one to do it.  I did some quick checking online as soon as I arrived home, and saw on the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office website that the person didn’t have to be gone 48 hours.  I also read that being suicidal was one of the possible reasons to get action quicker.  While I still wasn’t convinced, I called and said I needed to file a report.  
While waiting, I decided I needed to bite the bullet so to speak, and call my Dad.  I let him know what was going on, and he was immediately concerned and looking for something to do, something to help quickly solve the question of where he was.  I called my Mom back as well, letting her know I had called the police and would let her know what they said after.  She tried to stay calm, but I think it was tough.  I believe that they both had a similar reaction as I did- a bit of concern, but a belief that he would walk through the door shortly.  We all felt there was no real need to panic.  
The house was oddly quiet without the sound of the television or constant chatter and noises of Drew that normally filled the house.  There were no distractions, the house was very clean because we had just put it on the market to sell and had cleared all the clutter away.  I just waited.  
A uniformed officer arrived about an hour later.  I can clearly picture him standing, he refused the offer of a chair, which meant I stood also.  Michael paced around the house.  The officer stood at the end of my kitchen counter with his laptop turned away from me.  As soon as I gave the basic info, he pulled Austin’s information up and got wide eyed.  That alarmed me.  I remember telling the officer that I was aware that he had some outstanding tickets, and had a court date coming up for his recent arrest, but that it was all misdemeanor things.  I hoped I was right, hoped there wasn’t more we didn’t know about.  He confirmed for me that nothing serious was on his record, and nothing from the past week.  He had just been surprised at the number of tickets a 26 year old could accumulate, with several of them yet unpaid.   While the officer was nice, I instantly felt like he was being nice out of respect for me, while writing Austin off as a troublemaker.  
It was in the moment of the officer giving me the unsaid impression that he had no real concern, that it hit me- this was real, there was real reason for concern, Austin was gone.  I turned from being the passive report filer who thought there ‘may’ be a problem, to serious about it.  I gave the officer details of the recent discussions Austin had with Kelly, intent on convincing the officer that Austin was suicidal and they needed to take this seriously.  I gave him details of Austin’s life over the past three years, from breakup to job changes, to constant physical pain, all in an attempt to get the officer to understand.  As I convinced the officer, I convinced myself too.  Looking at just the facts, this could be bad.  Looking back, I had no idea how bad, no idea where this would lead and how our lives would change.  But at least I finally understood that it was real.  
The officer left after telling me that it would probably take about 10 days for a detective to be assigned to his case.  He emphasized that our family should take the lead in looking for him.  He suggested calling everyone we knew who he could have been in contact with, but not much else.  When he walked out of the door, while I still thought Austin may just show up, I knew we needed to start taking action.
Calls to the few contacts of Austin’s we had yielded nothing.  So Day 1 ended.  No one slept much in our family that night, or for many nights to come.  But, being the one person in the world who can sleep anytime anywhere, I did eventually drift off.  I woke repeatedly, always hoping I’d heard the lock turning, but never actually hearing it happen.  Michael stayed mostly quiet, but didn’t sleep much either.
The Early Weeks 
I won’t try to detail the steps and actions that everyone took.  There is so much that I won’t remember, or do justice.  I only know for sure, what happened from my perspective.  There were so many people involved, so many people that we will be eternally grateful to.  They may think they did no good because they didn’t find him.  They are wrong.  If you’re reading this and you helped in any small way, you did us a world of good.  You gave us hope.
By the morning after the report was filed, my Mom and a few family members from the Mexico Beach area (who had been gathered together for vacation) were on their way to my house.  By that morning, I also later learned that my Dad was tromping through woods all around my house.  Since Austin had been wandering in those wooded areas just days before, we all felt that if he had taken his life, that’s where he would be found.  No one wanted my Dad in the woods alone, his physical health wasn’t suited for it.  Thankfully, he had wonderful friends who stepped in and made sure he wasn’t alone after those initial hours.  We all knew that regardless of his health or physical ability, he would be there.  I loved him for that.  
Michael and I went to work, but he stayed as close to home as possible.  I tried to work, but I’m sure I wasn’t very productive.  I didn’t know what I should be doing, but I knew it wasn’t at the office.  But since I didn’t know what I should be doing, and I wasn’t comfortable asking for time off to search, I stayed.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing that I was able to continue on, or maybe it shows my previously mentioned pension for ignoring issues.  But it’s what I did, right or wrong.  
My Mom, two aunts and two cousins arrived that evening.    It was so nice to see them, that for a few brief moments, I almost forgot why they were there.  These are women of action though, so they got to work.  A flyer was designed quickly and taken to a print shop for copies to be made.  Every taxi company in town was called since we believed he may have planned to take a taxi to take care of the tickets.  His room was searched.  Boy was that a mess.  I was actually pretty mad with him over that since we had just put the house on the market and his room was not ready for prime time, or even close.  So not only was it searched, it was cleaned.  Homeless shelters were called.  Hospitals were called.  Media outlets were called and sent flyers.  
Speaking of the media…. Ah, the media and the misconceptions that the public has about the media and how missing persons cases are presented to the public.  We quickly learned, much to our naïve surprise, that it was all about the ‘story’ and not much about the person.  Austin was a 26 year old male, and though he had a sweet baby face with dimples, wasn’t too much of a story.  So getting any coverage was very tough.  There are cases that the public becomes wary of, with children or young women constantly shown.  They may have interviews on all the national networks.  They may have signs made and displayed at businesses and churches.  Their family members may turn down requests for interviews because so many come in.  That wasn’t the case with us.  That isn’t the case with most missing persons, but especially men.  Our family, and so many more we’ve met, had to beg for coverage.  We literally begged reporters and producers to show Austin’s face.  Because we didn’t give up, we did get a few interviews and did get his face shown a few times.  We were fortunate, so many don’t.      
We weren’t getting any information from the calls being made, so we decided to start getting flyers out.  Austin’s friend Kelly stayed involved and got a friend to make many more copies of the flyer than we thought we’d need.  In those early days we thought this was a sprint, didn’t realize it was a marathon.  Oh how I laugh at our innocence now.  While Dad and others continued foot searches of the wooded areas, we took to the streets with flyers. 
We actually had fun, which I know sounds odd.  At one point, I was in a vehicle with my cousin Mark driving, and friends Bart and Jason with us.  We had grown up spending time together in the summer, playing till all hours of the night.  So we laughed together about old times, about funny memories, and more.  I spoke earlier of irrational fears, and another surfaced with the flyers.  I had a real fear of going in places and asking to hang a flyer.  It makes no sense, I have no idea what ‘terrible’ thing I thought might happen, but the thought of doing it made me queasy.  Thankfully, we had Bart with us.  Bart knows no stranger and I’m pretty confident, has no fears.  Our differences can be listed out for miles, but I appreciate that quality in him.  While we went one direction, others in mom’s family went other ways.  
While we did that, others were organizing more ground search help, primarily friends of my Dad.  Word was also starting to spread and friends had started to venture out into areas on their own.  Often, we didn’t even learn about that until much later.  Everyone who knew about it wanted to help.  For some reason, I kept it quiet with our circles, and I honestly don’t know why.  It might have been a belief that if I started telling people it would become more real.  I think it had more to do with being confident we’d find answers quickly somehow, and didn’t need everyone involved.  (Here’s another spot to laugh at my ignorance, I won’t count them, it would be too self defeating).  
I did pray a lot through these early days.  Probably more than I had in years, even though my faith was active and strong I thought.  It was strong; it had just never been tested quite like this.  It was during this time that I started to think that I needed to redefine hope for myself.  It had always been a lightweight word, conjuring images of things I wanted and prayers answered in very specific ways.  The hope I had in my life was more about a bright sunny spin on life, a belief that ‘it will all work out’ than something real that had depth and meaning.   I wasn’t yet sure that I knew fully what was blooming, but I started to have a change in my heart.

Austin, We Will Always Remember

As the five year mark of Austin being missing approaches, so did time for me to write another guest post on Time’s Up.  I shared some thoughts and hope you’ll visit there and read them.

Then, check out ‘About Austin’ and help us remember him over the next few weeks especially.  Milestones are difficult, but also give us the chance to remember and share more about him.

Thanks for letting me share my journey. 

Austin, we will always remember.

Getting Messy and Birthday Cakes

I’m attending an amazing conference that kicked off tonight- but has already rocked my world in a way I wasn’t quite prepared for.  The speaker, Reggie Joiner, talked about how we can’t reach people without it getting messy.  It gets messy for us to be involved and share ourselves, and it gets messy for them.

I don’t like messy.  What I mean is emotionally messy- lives intertwined, issues faced together, sharing hurts and feelings.  Surface is easier.  Surface is safer.  So in order to keep a bit more control in this crazy life where very little is under my control, I control that.  I let few people in very deep, and I don’t get very deep with others.

But I’ve wanted to be a bit more messy, I’ve wanted to share, thus this blog.  But you notice it’s been a while since I posted.  It’s been too hard lately, anything I would have said would have required me to share more than I really wanted to.  But yet I keep asking God to use me.  But you know, without the mess.

It doesn’t work that way.  I’ve let few things get messy in almost five years, and truthfully avoided it usually even before then.  For almost five years I’ve stayed out of ministry areas of the church that required me to get messy with people with few exceptions, and I’ve been involved in missing persons work but in the least messy way possible.  Tonight was like God was speaking directly to me though- letting me know that I can’t do the work I’m called to do without being willing to be messy and uncomfortable.

It might be baby steps, but here is my first go at it.  Writing a post when I’d rather keep it private.  And sharing this:  Yesterday was Austin’s 31st birthday and in my no mess style, I made one post on Facebook and didn’t think about it much again- because you know, I’m fine.  But I wanted to take a cake home to eat with my mom and the boys and recognize the day, so I stopped at the grocery store.  I thought I’d get something he’d like.  And that’s when the minor meltdown happened, when I realized that I don’t remember what he liked.  I walked in a circle around the bakery for 10 minutes, long enough for four employees to ask me if they could help find something.  I left empty handed and brokenhearted.   

I don’t know what good may come of sharing that simple honest look at a tough day, but I know that like 2 Corinthians 3:3 says, our lives are a letter from God, meant to show Him to others.  I hope that someone can see that in my letter there is pain and trouble but there is an ever present hand of God.

Getting messy isn’t going to be easy, but I’m going to be trying more.  Feel free to ask me how it’s going and keep me in check- because I know Reggie was right.  Ministering to people is messy.

Out With The Old

Trash pickup has never been an eventful day for me.  I don’t even take the cans out, just notice them as I leave, thankful that my husband takes care of things like that.  This Monday morning was a bit different though, with me actually considering taking a photo of our trash- and then almost tearing up when I realized they had just taken it away and I didn’t even see them load it.

Just a few days ago I decided that we really did need to get rid of the dirty broken jeep that has been in our yard.  Even though Ben likes to sit in it, it needed to go.  No big deal.  Sunday night I dragged it to the front, glad to have it gone.  But the next morning, I had a moment of questioning if I could really get rid of it, as Ben saw it through the window and wondered why it was there.

It’s just a silly 4+ year old kids toy, but it is in the last (and one of the only) photos I have of Drew with Austin.  It was from the last Christmas Austin was with us.  Watching Drew’s eyes light up, a sweet 4 year old so happy to see what Santa had brought, with family around that he loved.  It was a special moment as a mom.  And as a sister too, as I saw my brother share in it.

But I let it go, because it isn’t the memory, just a yellow piece of plastic.  The photo and the memory remains.  But it didn’t stop me from walking out into the driveway to see it drive away one last time.