I remember the storm so clearly. We were on our way home from a day of running errands and the sky had turned an eerie green as wind whipped the trees violently and rain pelted our van angrily. Debris flying through the air and thunder clapping overhead, we ran into the house as the electricity flickered off and on. Summer storms in South Florida are common in July, and usually a welcome nap time tradition…but this storm was different. It was mad. Violent. Tempestuous. And little did I know as I watched it blow through our backyard golfcourse view only 300 yards from the Atlantic Ocean, that at that very moment, Austin and Perry were likely fighting for their lives.
Growing up in the North Palm, Juno, Jupiter area means kids can operate water vehicles before they can ride a bike. Shirtless and shoeless most of their childhood, the local kids roam the beaches and the waterways in salty freedom and adventure. I love that about our town. I love the flip flop locals (them’s dress shoes ’round here!) who wear board shorts and vintage Guy Harvey shirts with fish stories as long as their hair. It’s the way Austin and Perry grew up– so for them, taking their boat out on the water this fine Florida afternoon was just another day in the life of some happy local teenagers.
Until that storm.
By 6pm, local news was reporting two missing boys off the coast of the Jupiter inlet. Immediately every fisherman with a dinghy went out looking for the boys and people combed the beaches looking for clues. Larger search parties evolved and the Coast Guard was now in full search and rescue mode. The entire town stopped breathing for days as we waited to for the good news of the boys’ discovery and safe return home.
Their mothers appealed on television for continued prayers and searching. Like pillars of strength, I marveled at their composure and my family and I went daily to the Jupiter Inlet to pray. Hours became days, days became a week, and everyone was glued to the news.
All I remember was watching Austin’s father, Blu Stephanos going from plane to plane, state to state, in an effort to continue searching for the boys. His red eyes weary from straining to view the open seas, from tears that flowed incessantly, haunted my prayers and thoughts. The picture of a loving father, never giving up on his lost boy, reminded me so much of what our Heavenly Father feels when one of us goes astray. When the Coast Guard called off the search, Blu kept going. Inexhaustible in his efforts to recover two boys who would never be seen again.
Our entire town came together to support the families of these boys. Beach memorials, prayer vigils… all culminated into a devastating loss for two families and a heartbreak of legendary proportions. Naysayers and rumormongers criticized the parents…but those of us with kids that same age all knew– it could be any one of us on any given day in a similar situation. Who or what happened to those boys, we may never know this side of heaven…but this much I learned:
Parents, we can’t control or protect our kids from everything. We can try, but the storms of life happen and we have to know in our hearts we did our very best. Mistakes. Accidents. Miscommunications. Downright disobedience. Circumstances. Sometimes the perfect storm of any or all of the above can amount to a heartbreak we could have never even guessed would happen.
Our Father loves us. I watched Blu Stephanos every news report and he made my heart break and then swell as I realized that his incessant love for his boy and unconditional faith in finding him are just a small reflection of the love our Heavenly Father has for us.
Parents can’t judge one another. We don’t have a clue what goes on behind closed doors or how this or that family should have or could have handled or avoided some mistake or tragedy. That criticism is only cast by those perfect parents who’s kids have never screwed up (yeah, right…find me that guy) or for people who have never had the responsibility of raising a human from birth to “grown up.” This job’s frickin’ hard as hell and on any given day any one of us could be in some similar situation as the parents of these two boys. If you aren’t going to be a part of someone’s solution, if you aren’t willing to love, encourage, and help a family out, then shut your trap and keep your head low because the blow is coming your direction one day.Not one of us gets out of this parenting thing unscathed... Trust me on that one. Click To Tweet
And every day that I pass the Jupiter Lighthouse, that I visit the Inlet…that I see a storm come in off the ocean or the wind whip up violently at nap time…I think of the families of Austin and Perry. I’m reminded of the fragility of life and the vapor our memories and last kisses can become. As the anniversary marking the two years since the disappearance for the boys comes, I’m asking you to continue to keep their families in your prayers.
*This post was written well in advance of any news release about the lawsuits stemming from the tragedy. I refuse to let my website become a place of hurt or pain for parents who are suffering the unimaginable, so if you have something ugly to say about EITHER of the families, your comments will not be posted here.