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.

jester_mom

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.

 

 

 

Little Adventurer

The biggest adventure most two year old’s get is a trip to the zoo.  But most two year old’s don’t have a missing uncle and a grandmother who does search and rescue work.

So my two year old had a big adventure this week, getting to tag along on a short search.  He of course had no idea what they were truly doing, no idea what they were looking for, and thought it simply was a fun walk with women who laughed at his antics (which are many).  

Beyond adventure, what he got was the start of a legacy being handed down.  A legacy of serving others, with nothing in return for yourself.  Serving others, even when no one is looking.  I’m thankful that he gets to witness that in action, and has from his earliest days.

I pray that we show him more than tell him how important serving is, so he can pass that legacy on as well.  It’s what is right, it’s what we’re called to do.  How cool, that he gets to witness it in action from such an early age.

1 Peter 4:10
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

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.

Friends In the Woods

Growing up, we lived on a few acres at the end of a dirt road, bordered on two sides with woods.  Austin and I made fast and forever friends with the kids who shared another side and had even more property..  We spent countless hours exploring those woods, always in a pack and always finding something to get into.  They really weren’t that dense or deep, but we had such a sense of independence in being able to roam.

Years later, Michael and I bought our first house in a small neighborhood not too far from where I grew up.  Just about a week before Austin disappeared, he found himself depressed and unable to settle down in the house for the night, needing some space and time to wander.  He cut through a neighbor’s yard and out into the woods, wandering much of the night, even though the pain in his knees grew with each step.  I had been alerted to his mental state by a friend, and I worried but had no idea what was coming.  When asked about what was going on after finally coming in, he insisted he was okay and had just needed some time.  A few days later, he again insisted the same to my mom when she came to visit, and after hours of conversation with him, she also didn’t know how serious it was or what was to come.

The morning after we realized Austin was missing and the report had been filed, those woods were walked and searched by several people who had no formal training, but were driven to find him.  I’ll never forget my Dad searching ceaselessly, and worrying that he couldn’t withstand much more of the heat and terrain with his breathing difficulties.  But he wouldn’t stop until he felt he had covered it all.  I was so worried about him holding up for what might take days or weeks.  I had no idea it would be years.

There were more woods in that area than I ever could have imagined.  We had no idea what needed to be covered, so we traversed it all the best we could.  We called in volunteers and friends, had family drive hours to help (time after time) and kept at it.  But we couldn’t believe how many square miles of woods were around us, the aerial maps astounded us.  What was also hard to believe were the numbers of people living in them.  There were whole families, young kids to elderly people, all making their home right there.  They were off the beaten path, and out of the public eye, so easily overlooked or forgotten.  They were mostly kind, mostly offering hope that he would be found.

The sheer amount of woods and the people living there made such an impression on everyone involved.  How could we live right there all along and not really see what was there?  

But what I’ll never forget about those early days, more than anything else, were the friends in the woods.  Each of us had friends involved, and I’ll forever be grateful to them all.  But the ones that stand out to me the most are the friends who never knew Austin, yet quietly and without being asked went into the woods.  I am rarely caught without words.  However, I’ll always remember when I heard about a group of five ladies who ventured into the woods together to help.  They weren’t asked.  They didn’t want to be thanked.  They faced fears of spiders and snakes, got dirty and scratched.  They gave me hope.  Several months later, another friend casually mentioned that he felt sure Austin wasn’t in a specific area because he had been searching there.  I looked down as he spoke and realized that his arms were covered in scratches that were quite bad.  He had not been asked, and didn’t want to be thanked.  He gave me hope.  I had no words to thank any of them then, and barely do today.

As a kid, the woods were magical but as an adult they’ve become a place of learning.  Learning about Austin’s last days, learning about seeing what’s around us, and most importantly about how real friends will go anywhere, even in the woods. 

Tribute for a Mom

This Mother’s Day I’ll be eating breakfast my guys cook and wearing a fancy hat to church. This Mother’s Day my mom will eat in a camper and test her search skills.This Mother’s Day I’ll have sweet hugs from my sons. This Mother’s Day my mom won’t have her son here to hug, so she’ll work towards a certification for leading searches. This Mother’s Day I’d like a jewelry box. This Mother’s Day, my mom wants the gift of being able to help bring someone’s child home.

Since Austin isn’t here to say ‘I love you’ or ‘thanks’ I’d like to say it for him. Thank you for being willing to sacrifice so much for him, for me and for others. Thank you for loving us always, teaching us about life, pushing us when needed, supporting us no matter, teaching us the value of hard work and to never give up.

Austin talked to you when no one else, knowing you would comfort but always help also. He respected you and loved you. If here, he would say thanks in a simple and quick way, but would mean it deeply.

Though I have my own methods, I hope and pray that my boys grow to know what Austin and I always knew- that they are loved by us and by God, and can never stray so far to be out of our love. Thank you.



Mom with Monica Caison, being presented with a CUE Keeper of the Flame Award, 2011

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