Fireflies lit up my backyard this evening as I cried, grieving over the loss of my friend, Steve Austin.
I felt his presence in those fireflies. Of course he would circle back to me by twinkling light all around my dark backyard. Isn’t that how Steve existed in our world? Selflessly offering his light to others with sparkles and twinkles in dark spaces?
Steve Austin was a gift in our world. He was a gift in my life and he was a gift to so many who knew him.
Just three days + six hours ago, I was texting with him as my family inched closer toward his hometown. We would be staying the night in Birmingham, AL on our way home from South Carolina, and Steve and I texted in hopes that we could get together while I was nearby. A few hours later, he was gone, although I wouldn’t learn of his passing until this morning.
Steve and I connected in 2017, when a mutual friend introduced us on social media. At the time, Steve cohosted CXMH podcast alongside Robert, and we quickly realized the overlaps in our passions for all things faith + mental health. He also invited me to write guest posts on his blog, and to be a guest on his other podcast a few times. One of those times, we even spent a whole episode talking about Matthew 5:14-16 (“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”) and sang “This Little Light of Mine”… nodding to why I’m convinced the fireflies tonight were from him.
We echoed our shared hope of seeing more intentional integration of faith and mental health in this world. He invited me to endorse his books. He empowered and encouraged me in the research I was doing. And his voice was crystal clear in supporting my non-academic writing. He enthusiastically cheered me on in my own book writing process, which is where it is today in part because of him. He celebrated with me. He regularly made me laugh to the point of tears (if you don’t believe me, check out this CXMH episode of us talking with him about his book, Catching Your Breath).
He did good, meaningful, important work… and he loved others so well. He told me how much he loved his wife and how proud he was of his children. He was a gift and being a mere 12 hours into learning of his passing, I just cannot wrap my mind around the reality of a world without him. It seems impossible. Steve carried a larger-than-life heart and spirit within him in a way that drew others to him with his deep laughs, his tender heart to help others, and his quick-wit that I often couldn’t keep up with. He mattered so much in our world. He mattered to me.
And he was so very loved. I hope he knew it, but even more so, I hope he is deeply resting in that Love within this very moment that I knew he believed in.
Steve, I love you and miss you terribly. It hurts so much to write all of this this and it feels so unfair that the world and those closest to you had their time with you cut short. I know these waves of grief and their sharp pain will come and go. May I have eyes to see the fireflies you send to me to remember to keep laughing, to keep smiling, and to keep doing this work at the intersection of faith and mental health. May we continue letting our little lights shine as you did.
One final note…
Friends, when I say to please take care of yourselves, I wholeheartedly mean it. Life can be so beautiful AND this human condition can be impossibly hard. You are worth caring for and your presence matters so damn much in this world.
May we honor the unexpected grief when it surfaces to the best of our ability. May we lean into the vulnerability of grieving with others who also loved the person that’s no longer with us (thank you to those who I was fortunate enough to connect with today and in the days ahead). And may we see each day as the truly unpromised gift that it is.
ps. Steve’s book is coming out next month, Hiding in the Pews, and I sincerely hope you’ll preorder it if you haven’t already. I also just learned he had a playlist to go along with it and am listening to it now as I write this. Steve, thank you for the ways you unconditionally gave and gave and gave to so many of us with your whole heart. May we continue to steward the good work you’ve done by engaging, empowering, and encouraging as you did.
To those who have asked how to support Steve’s family, please visit this GoFundMe page and consider supporting Lindsey, Ben, and Cara through your donations and your prayers.
Edit 6/12/21: I also want to invite you to read Sarah Robinson and Robert Vore‘s loving reflections of Steve. He was a gift to the three of us and to so many others, and Sarah and Robert’s words echo this love for him, too.