Tragedies happen on a daily basis. The neighbor has cancer, the teenager ran away, the family pet succumbs to old age.
Then there are the shootings, the murders, the terrorist acts around the globe and in our backyards.
But as terrible as all that is, as deeply tragic and equally horrific as some of those acts are, every once in a while a tragedy happens that grips our hearts and our communities.
Austin and Perry.
I say those two names together and we all immediately envision two young teenagers with fishing tackle in their hands and ocean in the background. We see their smiling faces and we remember the weeks of prayer where we begged God for those boys to be found. Leaving Jupiter Inlet one sunny day, they never returned, presumably lost in a terrible microburst of a storm that raged briefly yet mightily that one July afternoon. I can still see the wind as it whipped trees in my backyard that afternoon and I remember looking towards the ocean– hoping fisherman had made it back in before the gale.
Austin and Perry did not.
And my town’s heartbeat stopped.
We gathered to pray. In churches, in schools, in restaurants as we pondered the impending outcome. Some of us fasted. My family and I went to the inlet everyday to pray that week. We hoped and begged and believed and finally had to realize– the happy homecoming would never happen.
The mothers of these two boys held it together and held each other, inspiring all of us nightly on the news that their boys were survivors and they would be found. I don’t know how those mamas did it– but they managed to comfort US in their time of tragedy.
And then there was Blu.
Blu is Austin’s dad. I don’t know Blu personally but he’s related to one of my neighbors and my husband’s youngest sister knows him well (typical small town stuff). Blu is like any other of your local South Florida hometown rough-around-the-edges, salt-of-the-earth but a-heart-of-gold guy that totally epitomizes our local gang of sea loving men. These guys are as true and good as the day is long and if you are ever in a tough spot they help you out, no questions asked. Blu is the kinda guy that makes me absolutely love where I live. Guy Harvey shirts, flip flops and cigarettes. Good guys. Seriously.
Blu was steadfast. He was going to find his boy. Tirelessly– on planes, in boats, searching endless miles of ocean– he could be seen on the nightly news camera only as long as it took to get from one searching airplane to the next. Up the southeastern coast, with the coastguard and after the official search had been abandoned for days Blu was searching privately as people flooded money in to help cover the cost of the extended search. Our community, indeed our country was gripped with the hope of finding Austin and Perry. And I have to ask…in the wake of everyday tragedies…why?
Because all of us have been teenagers. All of us remember the risks we took. Things we did. Times when WE could have easily had an ending like Austin and Perry’s. All of us parents with teenagers remember when our teens could have very well been lost at sea, in a car accident, or name any other number of ways kids can find trouble or accidentally fall into it.
Man. It’s honestly a miracle when they make to adulthood when you think about it.
Today, I’m at the beach with about 30 teenagers. It was storming earlier and now it’s a beautiful sunny afternoon. I look out over that ocean and all I can think of is Austin. Perry. And Blu.
Because Blu, to me, represents the heart of a loving father who never gives up. Searches endlessly. Pursues lovingly no matter the cost, no matter the reason the kid is in trouble. I can still hear Blu’s voice the week of the search, see his tears as he continued to explain his hope for his boy, how he wasn’t going to give up the search. It was this kind of love that gripped our community and our country in a plight to find and search and bring home and love.
To Blu and the entire Stephanos family, to the Perry family– our prayers are with you. We haven’t forgotten.
And to Blu, thank you. Thank you for showing us all what real fatherly love looks like. The kind that always hopes, always believes, always perseveres. You showed many of us the heart of our Heavenly Father with His wayward children. And in honor of Austin and Perry, may we all endeavor to show one another that same love.