Searching for Hope

This weekend, while many people spent their mornings leisurely sipping coffee while reading a newspaper, at a farmers market, at a ball field, or shopping for gifts, there were people choosing to spend their weekend another way.  They chose to leave their homes in various parts of Florida, coming in trucks with trailers, with four wheelers and generators, maps and flashlights, and dogs of all types.  They met in the cold morning air, full of coffee and energy, and with a focus on their goal. 

While some people thought about what gifts to buy a loved one for Christmas, they thought of how to give a gift to someone they love that could never be bought and the value of never measured. 

Sunday morning, while many went to church to seek God’s love, they went out to be God’s love exemplified. 

They thought they were searching for my brother.

And they were, but they were searching for more.  They were searching for renewed hope for us, that people still care and that we may one day find him.  They were searching for a way to show their love to someone who has worked beside them and become important to them, my Mom. 

They didn’t find Austin.  But they did find hope.  They did find a way to show love.

As the group pulled out Sunday evening, after days of exhausting work, they might have felt like they hadn’t brought anything back to us.  They would be wrong.

Thank you.

Labor Day Blues

Yesterday was a holiday, the end to a much anticipated long weekend. A planned beach day, a fun day. But yet again we found ourselves in a familiar spot, the emergency room.

Michael’s chronic health issues have an impact on almost everything we do as a family. He avoids triggers during rough times and starts treating early. I know the cues and know how to manage his care the best possible. I should have a honorary nursing degree. After twelve years, it’s not something that’s okay but it’s something we manage.

I sometimes get concerned that our boys have to manage more than they should, that Drew must know too much about bad days and how to help when needed. But he also knows that dad always gets better and always comes home. He’s learning that though some days are bad, life can still be good.

He has to learn that lesson with a missing uncle and with an often sick dad. But we face both the same way, with honesty on a level he understands and lots of communication. Just like we need to let him know it’s okay to be sad and miss someone, it’s also okay to get tired and pray for change to the situation.

But it’s not okay to let it be an excuse. It’s not okay to believe every day will be bad. It won’t. His dad is a great example of not letting something bad stop him, just working around it. He shows them daily how to persevere and I believe that our boys will grow stronger and be more caring as a result of all they’ve faced. But I also hope they’ll be happy and believe in good days ahead always.

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Missing his Uncle

Drew was just two days past his fourth birthday when we lost Austin. I didn’t know what to say to him, didn’t even know what to say to myself at that point. Drew loved his uncle, and with Austin living with us, he was used to seeing him daily. He was expecting a fishing trip soon and wondered when they could go.

Early on we decided to be honest with him but on a level he could hopefully understand. It all seemed fun to him in some ways, as family was in town much more than normal and we started spending time in new towns looking. But he knew we were looking for Austin, that he was lost and needed to be found. He would ask people he didn’t know to look for “Uncle Austin” and they gladly told him they would.

We tried to keep things somewhat normal. I have a happy memory of the morning we signed Drew up for tball, so looking forward to what was ahead. Drew was so little and so cute and was ready to play. But that same morning we were having a prayer rally across the street from the field at our church for Austin.
So like many days of this journey, we left a sad event for something joyous and back again.

I think through it all, that’s how we’ve helped Drew. We’ve let him know that we’re sad and miss Austin, but also let him know he was safe and loved and had good things ahead. He has asked many times about him, and always said he misses him.

It’s now been four years, and our explanations have changes yet remained truthful. Drew now knows that we truly don’t know where he is and truly don’t know if we’ll ever find him. At 8, Drew has now lived longer without Austin than with him. But he remembers him, even tonight saw something that reminded him of Austin and he said he missed him. What sweet joy to be reminded that Austin was loved and is missed, even by someone that I’m not sure truly remembers him.

I don’t yet know exactly what we’ll tell Ben about the uncle he never knew. But I know we’ll make sure he knows the level of truth he can understand, and that he’s loved and safe too. And we won’t pretend we’re not missing part of our family, won’t pretend there isn’t grief.

And I pray that as they grow, they’ll never pretend things are okay when they aren’t, but will be able to also find the joy in the midst of any circumstance they face. And if they remember Austin, that would make me smile too.

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Like a Brick

I think most people with a missing loved one adjust over time to the new reality.  Some adjust better than others, finding a new purpose and way to express their grief and help others.  Some adjust in a destructive way, not allowing themselves to fully participate in the life they still have and love that still remains.  But we all adjust and find a new normal over time.

One of the many reasons that someone with a missing loved one can’t move on, get over it, or go through all the stages of grief, is that the cycle repeats itself over and over. There are new searches to do, leads to track, people to call, issues to handle…. or sometimes no new leads, no new searches stretching out so that the lack of such is an event in itself.

Sometimes in the midst of that new normal, when you think you’re doing okay, something happens to remind you that there is nothing normal about this.  A new injury occurs every time, a new need to heal.

With Austin, we’ve had several of those.  The first that I clearly remember was about four months after he disappeared.  We missed him, we hurt for his loss, but we really believed we would find him alive, and soon.  Then it happened.  Our detective called my mom and wanted to meet with her alone to share some news.  The had learned that he went to a pawn shop and purchased a shotgun, then went to a store to purchase ammo, and left on foot with the gun in a duffle bag.  For most of my family, that ended the belief that we would find him alive.  It shifted our efforts and resources.  It shifted our world.

A year or so later, we hadn’t found him and were reminded at times about the money he had on him that would have gotten him a start out of town if he wanted, that we should still believe that happened.  But then another shot.  We received a letter from the payroll company his employer used, and learned that the final paycheck, the one that we thought he’d cashed, never was.  He had a check for almost $1000 that he never cashed.  Clearly another blow to the belief that he chose to go away.

There have been so many others, so many other days where it felt like a brick hitting us in the head with the reality of what we face.  The weeks I spent arguing with a bill collector that he really wasn’t living with us anymore, that I really wasn’t lying to them took a toll.  The birthdays missed, the holidays without him.  But after each one, we adjust.  It takes time, but we again find our way back to a new normal.

Today was a small brick.  Nothing monumental.  My mom receives emails from one of Austin’s old accounts, and today received an email from a recruiter, wanting to talk with him about a position that he seemed to match.  It would have been a great position for him.  It matched his skills, his qualifications, and sounds like one he would have enjoyed.  But he’s not here.  He’s missing out on so many things.  So often we think about what we’re missing out on, but today I’m reminded that he had so much to look forward to.

Side Note:  I love music to help lift a mood.  As I finished writing this, one of my very favorite songs was playing.  The words ring true to me.

Flood- by Jars of Clay

Rain, rain on my face
It hasn’t stopped raining for days
My world is a flood
Slowly I become one with the mud

But if I can’t swim after forty days
And my mind is crushed by the thrashing waves
Lift me up so high that I cannot fall
Lift me up
Lift me up – when I’m falling
Lift me up – I’m weak and I’m dying
Lift me up – I need you to hold me
Lift me up – Keep me from drowning again

Downpour on my soul
Splashing in the ocean, I’m losing control
Dark sky all around
I can’t feel my feet touching the ground

Calm the storms that drench my eyes
Dry the streams still flowing
Cast down all the waves of sin
And guilt that overthrow me

Lift me up – when I’m falling
Lift me up – I’m weak and I’m dying
Lift me up – I need you to hold me
Lift me up – Keep me from drowning again

How Many Days to Raise a Boy?

Yesterday I was relaxing and holding my sweet precocious little guy while he slept and thinking about how fast the days are flying by us.  It seems like just yesterday we were planning for his arrival.  Now we’re chasing him while he laughs, pulling him off of high places he shouldn’t be, and sometimes taking a golf club to the shin in all the fun.  And if it seems that the past 19 months have flown by, I look at Drew and can hardly believe that 8 years have gone by.  But yet I can’t remember life before him. 

Then I realize, we’re almost half way through the years of Drew at home.  We’ve already had the biggest impact we will on his personality, esteem, values and learning.  From here on we’re reinforcing what we’ve taught, intentionally or not.  We’re closer to the start of this journey with Ben, and I was just thinking that I’m glad for more days to mother and love on him, glad that we’re not so near the finish.

My boys and I recently

But I started debating how many years it would be before they were ‘raised’.  Is it 18 when they’re legally adults, or 21 or so when they finish school (I hope) or when they’re married and on their own, or…?  Maybe it’s none of those.  Maybe a parent’s job is never quite done, because when do you stop needing loving guidance of someone who loves you more than themselves?

Often when a missing person is an adult, the heartbreak and urgency is lost on those not close to them.  But to those that love them, they don’t need us any less.  They may need us less in the physical sense, but that’s far from everything.

No matter how old our kids get, we still are teaching them, guiding them, loving on them.  We’re still pulling them away from danger when we can, and hurting when they hurt.  We’re still getting hit in the shin so to speak at times.  And we’re thinking we wouldn’t trade it for anything, hurts and all.  The older my boys get, the more I understand the mothers who will never give up.  The more I understand that their age has nothing to do with it.  I think that is part of God’s plan too.  He didn’t tell us to honor our parents when we’re young, but our whole lives.  A parents love is the closest thing we have here on earth to His love.  It never ends.

So how long to raise a boy?  I don’t think I’ll ever be done to find out.

Justice For All

We just celebrated Independence Day, a time to be thankful for the land we live in, where freedom and justice define us.  A land of opportunity, a land of bounty.

While celebrating, the country shifted it’s attention to the biggest new story in months, the trial of Casey Anthony.  As anyone with TV or internet knows, she was found not guilty and it seemed as though the thread of who we are as a country unraveled in some people’s minds.  Justice hadn’t prevailed.  Freedom wasn’t deserved.

I first heard about the verdict from someone in my office, who walked in and said “a travesty has occurred in Orlando” and I read reaction from many people on Facebook later.  All were outraged.  Some at the jury, some at the prosecution, some at our system.  Within a short time, groups and pages had formed, with invitations to ‘sign the Caylee petition’ and ‘leave your porch lights on for Caylee’ among others.  Now I became outraged.

I have to say it.  I’m outraged by the numbers of people doing meaningless things in the name of Caylee, even though I know the intentions are good.  But I don’t believe that leaving a porch light on will help anyone, but will allow people to feel good for a few minutes that they’ve done something in a situation they feel powerless in.  I’m outraged by the media coverage of every minute of this trial, when there are parents of missing children who beg for help and can’t get their faces shown.  I’m outraged not that someone didn’t report their child missing, but that thousands do and nothing is done.

On the other hand, I’m not encouraged by millions of people turning on a porch light, but am by the hundreds who will be out volunteering on a search for someone’s missing loved one tomorrow.  I’m not encouraged by the person who started a petition to make not reporting a missing child a felony, but by the parents who have lobbied congress for years to pass bills that change how a missing persons case is handled once reported. 

Don’t get me wrong, Caylee’s death was a tragedy and so very sad.  But if each person who was so impacted by this case spent just as much time looking at the faces of the missing, we might have a surge of children found.  A million porch lights on is nice.  One missing child brought home because of the caring hearts of those moved by this case?  Now that would be a way to honor Caylee.  

Missing Children and Adults in Jacksonville and Ways to Help

Missing Children and Adults Nationwide Listed and Support for Families of Missing

Missing Children and Adults Nationwide Listed and Search Volunteer Needs

The Sisters

All my life I’ve seen my mom and her sisters as a strong trio of women, who would stand by each other no matter what.  Through the years they’ve had their disagreements, their differences, and times of wishing other things for each other.  They’ve put many miles between them, and sometimes gone long periods without being face to face.  But they’ve always shown unconditional love, and truly tried to support each other through all the good and bad of life.

When Austin went missing, they were both here right away.  When we celebrated his birthday and launch of Finder’s Hope the next year, they were there.  They’ve shown me the same love and support that they show each other.

On one particular occasion, I was actually upset by their display of love and support.  All I could think was that I no longer had my brother to share life with, wouldn’t have his support and love many years from now.  It didn’t seem fair as I looked at them thinking that together they could conquer anything.  But on that same occasion, they shared with the group about their 4th sister, the one no longer there.  JoAnn was the youngest of the four, and the next to youngest of the six kids (did I not mention they also have two brothers?) and was lost tragically in an accident as a teenager.

I realized, that though she’s not with them conquering the world, she’s always in their heart and on their mind.  They never forget that they aren’t three but four.  All they’ve been through, including losing her, combined with their faith, is so much of what makes them strong.

I may not have a sister, or any sibling to support me the way they do for each other.  But I do have them and I do have Austin with me in heart and memory, even if not here himself.  Like they have grown in strength from all their losses, here’s praying that so may I.  That I may one day be able to conquer the world too.

4 Years of Missing Austin

A new home, a new baby, a child growing up, ten tball seasons, Michael finding his funny stage voice, so many holidays, a new president, a much loved uncle dying, family get-togethers, the iPad….

Austin has been gone for four years today. Exactly four hears ago this morning, he made choices that would impact us all forever. He took a cab to a pawn shop and bought a shotgun. He went to Walmart and bought ammo and a duffel bag, then back to get the gun. He walked off, never to be seen or heard from again.

Those things listed above? Just a few of the many things he’s missed that our family or our world has had happen. What have we missed? Just him. Having him be a part of it all. We miss the son, brother, uncle. We miss what was and what might have been.

Today it seems we’re no closer to finding him, but we still will keep hope. We will remember him today, sad for all he’s missed but happy and grateful for all we did share.

Birthdays, holidays, his laugh, smiles full of dimples, help with our tech needs, days fishing with family, running through the woods, his easygoing nature, food cooked with love, laughing together at things we couldn’t change, watching him with my son, love for our family….

Those are the things we’ll focus on today. Not what is missed, but what wasn’t.

Love you Austin.

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Little Brother Complex

I was officially diagnosed years ago with little brother complex. No, you won’t find it in any medical journals. Yes, it was a self diagnosis. It also started many years before I lost my brother.

What is it you ask? LBC is an innate desire to take young men under my wing and care for them in my own unique way. I blame the strong male presence in my life, from cousins to friends to co-workers to my own actual brother. I always had more males around me growing up, and that shaped a lot of my humor, preferences and personality. I feel like I can take the female perspective, along with that my unique understanding of the male mind, and help them out. They don’t have to be younger than me, just have to be someone I’ve come to care for like I do my little brother.

It’s possible… okay, it’s definitely true that my caring can sometimes seem rough. I give them tough love, with real honesty and often on topics they’d rather not hear from me on. From relationships to health to schooling and careers. I want the best for them you see.

For a time I think I backed off from offering this tough love…. it didn’t exactly work out for me to help my own real little brother, though I certainly tried. But last night someone made me really laugh with his response to my (inappropriate) advice and called me a life coach.

While I’d love to have that kind of influence, we all do make an impact somehow. I think with Austin my impact was real. I don’t believe he ever questioned being loved by me or that he could count on me, even when he chose not to.

One day when my boys no longer think I’m the ultimate authority, I’ll be glad if they have people they’ll listen to who love them enough to be tough. Hopefully when it matters most.

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I Refuse

I just heard a song that talks about refusing to ignore what God has called us to do. I’m constantly amazed by people around us who have refused to allow us or other families of missing to face this alone. They’ve refused to allow excuses, troubles, or naysayers get them off their path. They’ve refused to ignore the need they see around them.

I’m refusing to allow circumstances to keep me from telling our story, from sharing the message of hope that I have. Just needed the reminder, and it came in this perfect way.

What are you being called to do? It may be a small thing or may be huge, but we all should refuse to be so focused on ourselves that we can’t see the needs around us. Maybe you needed the reminder too, if so the lyrics below may help.

I Refuse lyrics
Songwriters: Benjamin Glover;Joshua David Wilson

Sometimes I
I just want to close my eyes
And act like everyone’s alright
When I know they’re not

This world needs God
But it’s easier to stand and watch
I could say a prayer and just move on
Like nothing’s wrong

But I refuse
‘Cause I don’t want to live like I don’t care
I don’t want to say another empty prayer
Oh, I refuse

To sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
Oh, I could choose
Not to move but I refuse

I can hear the least of these
Crying out so desperately
And I know we are the hands and feet
Of You, oh God

So, if You say move
It’s time for me to follow through
And do what I was made to do
Show them who You are

‘Cause I don’t want to live like I don’t care
I don’t want to say another empty prayer
Oh, I refuse

To sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
Oh, I could choose
Not to move but I refuse

To stand and watch the weary and lost
Cry out for help
I refuse to turn my back
And try and act like all is well

I refuse to stay unchanged
To wait another day, to die to myself
I refuse to make one more excuse

‘Cause I don’t want to live like I don’t care
I don’t want to say another empty prayer
Oh, I refuse

To sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
Oh, I could choose
Not to move but I refuse

I refuse
I refuse

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Location:I Refuse