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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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

Tornado Alley

Life is like a constant tornado right now.  We have a two year old human tornado that does more damage than I ever remember his big brother doing, including:  “look at me!”  as he jumps from chair to couch to pile of folded towels that go flying.  Then there’s the demanding job that has involved a lot of travel lately, sometimes making me feel like I’m blowing through places.  Commitments at church keep me hopping and spinning, always a few days behind.  And then there’s baseball.  Travel baseball is not for the weak mom.  The time commitment alone makes my head spin, and when you combine that with the challenges of helping your kid deal with the pressure, you’re dealing with other parents that you’d like to forget, and still trying to balance the rest…. well, life feels like a tornado and I’m getting blown every which way. 

In trying to stay grounded and take a few deep breaths I had this vision of what Austin would be doing in response to my spinning.  It’s almost like I can see him there, sitting in a chair in my living room, with a sly smile on his face.  Sitting back and watching it all, and laughing.  Laughing at me, laughing at my boys, laughing at the tornado.  I’m trying to do that a bit more, just enjoy it.  Just laugh.

As I reflect and enjoy more and get carried away less, here are some thoughts to share, that Austin would probably approve of.

– It’s a season of life, this fast pace won’t last forever and I’ll miss knocked over piles of towels and clay from cleats on my floors.

– The job is a job.  It’s a good one, one I usually enjoy.  It pays the bills, it lets me see a few sights, and I work with a lot of people I care about.  At the end of the day, if I gave my best and know I acted in a way I wouldn’t want to hide, I can smile and leave.  And try again tomorrow.  If this job ends, there will be another.  But learn all I can now.

– Baby steps toward goals are okay, they’re steps.  This past month I took a few pretty big steps towards my goal of sharing the real message of Hope with people.  More about that to come, but I’m so excited.  And I’m not going to worry about how many steps I didn’t take. 

– The contentment of knowing real friends is a comfort like no other, even when the tornado is whirling and you’ve lost sight of them momentarily in the wind.  The rest of the people?  Love ’em, but don’t let them hurt you.  I do NOT have this one nailed!  But I’m working on it.  The people who repeatedly hurt you are those you need to forgive but let go.

At my wedding, 2001

Austin had these concepts down pretty well for most of his life.  It’s part of why I hate depression so much- it robbed him of the ability to be the real him, the one who could laugh through it all, and always know what really mattered.

Sometimes the advantage of the tornado is you don’t have time to stop and miss…. I miss him today.  Maybe the tornado isn’t all bad.   

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

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

Yahtzee!

Yesterday, Ben was digging through a stash of board games and found an old Yahtzee box. He grabbed my hand and pulled me over, asking me to play with him. We play a lot of games in our house. If we’re eating we’re playing something. If we’re driving we’re playing something. We play games, make up games (Shoopahat should be marketed!), shop for games…. we love games.

It’s no surprise I married a man as competitive (and fun loving! game loving = fun loving or so I tell myself so I don’t just seem a competitive crazy!). Once upon a time I had to play Yahtzee with my mom for 4 hours because I was winning and she couldn’t stop until she got back in the lead- I finally quit ahead, knowing she’d never give up.

Sometimes I forget small details about Austin, wrapped up in the last days and the what nows… but Ben gave me a gift when he dug through the game stash and pulled out the Yahtzee box. Not only did he confirm that he’s one of us, but when I looked down at what he was scribbling his ‘scores’ on, I saw this:



It was a small reminder of when we could sit down and play a game, laugh together, and postpone difficult things for a few minutes of fun.

It made me smile. It made me not mind the mess Ben made, and sit there playing even longer.

By the way, it’s hard to tell from the score sheets who won- he had fewer games on the card, so not sure which matched up against which. Wish we could settle it with a rematch. I might even let him win…. nah.

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