Have you ever lived paycheck-to-paycheck? Contrary to what anyone may have told you, an author has to sell an astronomical amount of books to ever make any money. My average month from book sales is around $35. I’d gladly show you the Amazon receipts. And I promise you, that pay doesn’t come close to balancing out the time I spend at the keyboard.
But I write because I love it. I write to connect with you. To spread the message of messy grace, to fight the stigma of mental illness in the church and society at-large, and to give people hope. Sure, I’d love my writing to actually pay my bills, but it hasn’t for the past 10 years, and yet I find myself right back here, in this seat, telling another story.
Last week, I checked my bank account and we were down to $26. That’s right. Twenty-six bucks to last a family of four a whole week. Sadly, that’s the place we find ourselves about one week out of every month. And we don’t live an extravagant life. Lindsey and I live in a 30-year-old, 2 bedroom townhouse, and both drive cars that are more than twenty years old. We don’t have any kind of lavish lifestyle. But we do have bills and student loans, and two little ragamuffins, whom we love with all our hearts.
It takes a lot of money to live these days.
I was stressed all weekend over the fact that we only had $26 to last us another week. I knew we’d have to choose again: gas or groceries? And then on Sunday I decided to check the PO Box. To my surprise, there was a check for $100 from someone I love.
It’s not a guarantee. It’s not an expectation. It’s not promised. But it has shown up regularly for several months now.
I breathed a sigh of relief. We could get some groceries and some gas. And I could give Lindsey a positive story, instead of confessing that the money had run out before the month….again.
I’ve been talking about heavy stuff lately. Theology and questions. Faith and doubts. I’ve been demanding answers from Jesus that I didn’t have the guts to utter 15 years ago. And I’m tired, friends. Dog tired. I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of arguing. I’m tired of wrestling. I’m tired of wondering if I’m even “saved” any more.
Whatever that means.
Then again, $100 in my PO Box let’s me know I’m saved. Salvation comes for my family when I can feed my children and have enough money to get to work. I don’t know what the afterlife will be. I have no idea if the rapture is real or if Jesus is the only way to God. But my kids aren’t concerned with those things, as long as the crackers and apple juice don’t run out.
I think the same was true in Jesus’ day, too. Blind Bartimaeus didn’t care if Jesus was the Christ, or just a Rabbi with special powers. He just knew that one day, he was blind, and now he could see. The woman at the well didn’t sit with Jesus and debate the prophecies of Isaiah or get into a discussion over a pre, post, or mid-trib rapture. She just knew this man had told her everything she’d ever done wrong and was still compassionate enough to offer her Living Water.
These days, I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I am less certain about matters of faith today than I’ve ever been, but I’m still thankful for gas, groceries, and grace.
The #AskSteveAustin Twitter hashtag is really taking off. I’m getting new questions, every single day, and trying to answer as many as possible.
What’s your biggest question?
What’s the question that keeps you up at night? The one that gnaws at your soul? The one you feel you can’t ask anybody else? Is it about your spouse? Your child? Your parents? Do you have a question about your faith that you feel would surely have you excommunicated if you uttered it louder than a whisper?
May you have questions about one of these…
Recovery from addiction
Recovery from a suicide attempt
Maybe your question is something completely different from the ones listed above. I’m so excited to launch The #AskSteveAustin Podcast for people just like you and me, who have questions but feel they have no place to ask them. This show is a safe space to come and bring that one hurdle you can’t seem to get over. If you feel stuck, I’d love to help!
No question is off-limits! Just make sure you’re ready for some stone cold advice from a guy who’s been there.
3 Myths of the Pinterest-Perfect Marriage via @iamsteveaustin #valentinesday #marriage #relationshipgoals
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I'm so glad I got married pre-Pinterest.
Pinterest and I have a love-hate relationship. I'm a pretty crafty chic, but even on my best day, I cannot recreate miniature custom wine bottles with our name and date in gold dust as favors to go home with every guest. Some of the ideas on Pinterest would require the staff of Martha Stewart.
Our wedding day was perfect - if by “perfect” you mean borrowed folding chairs from the Baptist church and a catering team that consisted of grandmothers, aunts, and best friends. We were so busy dancing and mingling that we didn't even get to eat our own wedding potluck. After the guests dispersed, we sent my husband’s best friend down the street to Subway, the only place still open in rural Alabama at that time of day, for a sandwich and chips.
In the eleven years since that day, my husband and I have loved hard, fought hard, and earned some hard-won wisdom along the way. But I still love to browse Pinterest, and in doing so, I’ve found 3 myths of the Pinterest-perfect marriage.
Engagement Announcement, 2007
Myth: Read the Pinterest list, “75 Ways to Respect Your Husband” and follow it as if it were the Bible.
You’ll find stuff like this: never ask him to do a household chore. Doesn’t he have have enough responsibility being the breadwinner and protecting your family? Is it really fair to expect him to change a diaper or take out the trash? Have dinner ready at 5:30pm, with a smile and an apron on, and greet him at the door with his favorite frosty beverage. Respect the umbrella of authority, like it’s your j-o-b. Because really, it is.
Truth: If you think this is what the Bible meant by being a helpmate, we need to have a chat.
Find a man who loves the way you think and look, who enjoys your company, and - most of all - who respects you as an equal. If a man is looking for someone to wait on him hand-and-foot like his Mama did, keep moving, sister.
Myth: The Bible says not to be a nagging wife, which means to never speak up about your own needs.
Always put your husband and children first. Christ came to serve, not to be served, and this should be the goal of every Christ-like wife. Follow Titus 2:4 by studying your husband and children, to make their lives easier. This is your highest calling.
Truth: Does anyone else smell a load of BS?
Should it be your desire to care for your husband and children? Sure! But does that mean you ignore your own soul and never create time for yourself? Of course not.
Here’s the truth: if you don’t take care of yourself, nobody else will. Life is busy, marriage and children are demanding, and if you don’t speak up for yourself, no one else will! Say what you need and don’t be afraid to confess what you want. Mamas are not machines!
Mamas are not machines! via @iamsteveaustin #momlife #marriage #relationshipgoals
Myth: Do the study on The Five Love Languages and make sure you are speaking your partner’s love language at every opportunity.
Truth: The Five Love Languages is a great book, but you two are the only people who live inside your specific marriage.
No one else lives in your house, knows what your spouse is like behind closed doors, and no one is going to stick this thing out but you. You are the one doing the hard work to make things last (and hopefully thrive). The Five Love Languages is not the Gospel. Give yourself and your spouse a break. And that goes for any marriage book. If you read something that resonates with you and makes your relationship better, that’s great. But if a certain book doesn’t jive with you and your partner, move on.
Let’s get real: marriage is hard work. These days, both partners typically work, which means chores around the house and responsibilities with the children should be equally divided. This is not 1950 and you are not June Cleaver.
If you’re tired, overworked, and underpaid, listen to the voice of Jesus saying, “Come to me and rest.” Even if all you’ve can do is lock yourself in the bathroom for an extra five minutes of peace.
Marriage is a partnership and there is no perfect path. Communicate with each other to see what works best for you. It’s your marriage. If it’s great, it’s because you put in the work. If it sucks, put in more work or consider other options. Only the two of you can make your marriage strong. So brush away distractions, shut out negative opinions and unrealistic expectations, and do what it takes to make it last. And no matter what, don’t let Pinterest be your only marriage counselor.
According to the Miami Herald, 14-year-old Nakia Venant hanged herself in the wee hours of the morning on January 24th, while broadcasting her suicide on Facebook Live. Less than a month before that, Katelyn Davis, a 12-year-old from Georgia, killed herself during another live broadcast. Each news report shows the image of a beautiful young girl, gone too soon.
I clearly remember the first time I considered suicide as a viable option.
I was 18, and had just finished a day’s worth of college classes. I was sitting on Highway 17, on the outskirts of town. I had come to the end of the road. The yellow street sign in front of me had an arrow pointing in either direction, left or right. After months of misery and secretly wishing I could die, I felt I had to choose. I sat in my old Isuzu pickup truck on that hot summer day, and considered my options. Instead of going right, down this unfamiliar stretch of road, I chose to go home, back to what I knew. There was no flash of light, no voice from Heaven, I just decided to give it one more day, one more hour. I decided to live a bit longer.
For the ten years between my first consideration of suicide and the night I nearly died, I continued to perform. I allowed people to see the guy who was always “on” – the good guy, the big personality, the singer, the smiles. Everyone assumed I would become either a preacher or a politician. They got the first part right. I went from being the good student to being on staff at a few churches. I was the encourager, the life of the party.
I can’t imagine what my Mom would have done if I had died my freshman year of college. I know she would have been crushed. And shocked. Back then, no one suspected I longed to die because I was so ashamed of childhood sexual abuse. No one felt the dampness of my tear-soaked pillow as I begged God, night after night, to heal me from my raging porn addiction.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Parents lose children to suicide every single day. Know the warning signs. Start here. #suicideprevention” quote=”Parents lose children to suicide every single day. Know the warning signs. Start here. #suicideprevention” theme=”style3″]
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2014 CDC WISQARS)
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2014 CDC WISQARS)
More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 5,240 attempts by young people grades 7-12.
If you’re reading this after the suicide attempt of your own child, maybe you’re wondering what these statistics really mean. The first take-away is this: you are not alone. If your child was unsuccessful in their suicide attempt, thank God. Now the hard work begins.
The good news? Humans are hard-wired for survival. If you’re reading this article immediately following the suicide attempt of your child, you’re probably in fix-it mode. I would bet you are frantically researching everything you can find right now. You are most likely desperate to help your child. Maybe you’re surprised or confused by their behavior. Maybe you never saw this coming. And maybe you just want it all to be okay, to get better and feel normal again. Unfortunately, you are not the savior of the world, neither is the psychiatrist, and a psych ward isn’t going to magically make your loved one reappear as good as new.
What do I do now?
But remember this: there is no normal. There is only today. There is only this moment. You can’t change yesterday and tomorrow is far too predictable to even begin to predict. From my experience, trying to put former expectations on what life (behavior, goals, etc.) should be like, just won’t work. Former things don’t fit. It’s literally back to the drawing board, especially during the early days of recovery. Be patient with yourself and those you love. This is a new experience, a new leg of the journey. And you’ll make it, if you’re committed to the hard work.
After a suicide attempt, nothing else seems to matter except what is happening to the person you love. But there are two courses of action. First, you have to deal with the crisis. During that time, you’re putting out fires and taking the hits as they come. As things begin to calm down a bit, then you consider moving toward more long-term help.
Why didn’t I see this coming?
One of the most common questions caregivers ask is, “Why didn’t I see this coming?” You didn’t see it coming for a myriad of reasons: Maybe your loved one is an incredible performer, and has not been sharing his or her pain with you. I certainly was. And, assuming this was the first attempt, you probably didn’t know you were supposed to be looking. You can’t put the pieces of a puzzle together if you don’t know you’re supposed to be looking. The Jason Foundation reports that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. But they can be easy to miss, especially if you don’t know to look for them.
[clickToTweet tweet=”4 out of 5 teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. Know the signs. Start here. #suicideprevention” quote=”4 out of 5 teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. Know the signs. Start here. #suicideprevention” theme=”style3″]
In my own situation, I was faking it. Faking life, faking confidence, faking that everything was okay. No one – not my best friend, not my mother, not my wife – knew the depth of my despair. No one knew when I wrote suicide notes for the first time at the age of 18. I sat on my bed in my parents’ basement and had it all planned out. I would end my life the same way my aunt did, by hooking a garden hose to the exhaust of the car. No one in my life knew they were supposed to be watching to make sure I was okay.
But it’s not just the kids wearing all black who might attempt. It’s not just the quiet homeschooler or the angry foster kid. The child who seems to have it all together is just as susceptible to the lies and desperation that precede a suicide attempt as anyone else. In dark moments, it’s easy to believe that death will free a person from the pain, will give an escape from reality, or even will get back at their parents.
Most people don’t know what their loved ones are capable of. Once the truth is known, it is important to encourage them, with professional help, to identify some “red flags” for the future. Tell-tale signs you can both recognize that say, I am veering off the safest path for my life and I need to regroup. Is it a lack of sleep? Are there triggers causing flashbacks? Is it social situations? Or something as simple as low blood sugar spiking their anxiety? Is their depression seasonal?
Watch and listen to your children and pay attention to sudden changes in behavior that cause you concern.
Be willing to seek professional help and guidance if you feel your child is becoming depressed or contemplating hurting him/herself.
Talk openly and honestly with your child or your child’s friends about your concerns and be supportive in helping them cope with their feelings.
In knowing specific red flags, you can begin to create a defense for the future. But even with a great game plan, remember this: you can not “cure” your loved one. Give them space, allow them to own the path toward recovery, and know that this journey is long, difficult, and often unpredictable. But with love, patience, and grace, recovery is possible. I am living proof.
A handful of years ago, I became an aunt for what seemed like the bajillionth time. We have a rather large family, with lots of cousins running around from the age of thirteen on down, so when this little nephew made his debut, we had the “welcome to the world” routine down pat.
He was born two days before my birthday. I remember making jokes about how smart he was not to try to share the day with me by choosing his own birthday. I regretted that later when they rushed him to the hospital close to midnight the evening before I turned 40.
He stopped breathing.
He turned blue.
There was an undetected heart problem.
Two weeks later, after sixteen days of life, he died, and our family was devastated.
In the wake of his passing, his parents were overwhelmed with love and support and incredible acts of kindness from our extended family and the community. Meals were made. Expenses were covered. Prayers were felt. Needs were met.
Almost a year later, as we approached the anniversary of his birth, we were also expecting the arrival of his younger brother. This in many ways both eased and complicated the grief. I began to think about how we would remember such a tiny person’s short life span as time marched on.
As his aunt, it was likely that, in a few years, I would not feel the weight of the anniversary the way his parents would. I was afraid to forget. It was just 16 days out of my life. I mean, I’d already lived 14,610 days myself. Sixteen days seemed so insignificant, even though he was not.
As that anniversary approached however, so did my own birthday, and with that, I knew I wasn’t going to forget. I wasn’t going to forget all of the kindness his little life generated all around that time period. I wasn’t going to forget how good people stepped up and showed compassion during a difficult time.
I quietly came up with a little plan to pay tribute to a beautiful, but short lived life.
The first year I did it all by myself. No one knew except my husband. I made a list of sixteen random acts of kindness, and starting on his birthday, I followed through by marking one off each day for sixteen days.
leave a starbucks card in a library book
write a glowing letter to a company about an employee who served me
make dinner for a family
buy a cashier lunch
When year two began to roll around, I gently asked my kids if they remembered their little cousin who didn’t live very long. The older two did, but the youngest did not. I enlisted their help that year:
leave a $5 bill in a Redbox case with a note suggesting it be used for popcorn
leave a snack in the mailbox for the mail carrier
take a treat to our librarians
tape a baggie of change to a vending machine
They loved it! They thought up new ideas for us to do.
feed the birds
take the trash cans back up to the house for the neighbors on trash day
bake cookies and give them away
do a sibling’s chore without them asking
By the time you read this my kids and I will be well into our annual R.A.K. fest in honor of my nephew. My children will barely remember him, but I know they will at least remember what it is to be intentionally kind.
This was my nephew’s greatest gift to me in his short life. So in honor of him, and in memory of the random acts of kindness that were shown to his family, my children and I intentionally pay forward the kindness that our family was shown.
donate personal care items to the foodbank
write a note to someone who needs encouragement
send a package to a soldier
drop quarters in parking meters downtown
As we do this to celebrate his life each year, I pray my kids will take the desire to purposefully be kind with them through their whole lives.
Do you remember the first time you ever stood up to your parents?
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 17. I remember the awkwardness, the sweaty palms, and the way I had to force sound past the knot in the back of my throat to raise my voice to my Dad for the first time in my life.
I’ve lived in Birmingham, Alabama, nearly all my life. Southerners are known for our faith, family, and football. We’re extremely patriotic, we love country music, big mud tires, the elusive white tail, Robert E. Lee, and Ronald Reagan. Southerners have typically been considered to be a close-knit group, and we love sweet tea about as much as we love our Mamas.
What we don’t like is anyone who goes against the grain. We’ve been doing things the way they’ve always been done for a very long time. We don’t believe in questioning anything written in the Good Book. And if you go against what the preacher says, bring up too many doubts or concerns, you just might get the left foot of fellowship. Probably served you right.
Bless your heart.
And I haven’t met a Southerner yet who doesn’t know Rick and Bubba, Birmingham-based (infamous) conservative Christian talk radio hosts. You either love ’em or hate ’em.
The story my father tells is one of a lost lamb, covered in shame. In his public musings, he speaks of my sin. Without my consent, he uses me as a cautionary tale.
For the past three years, my father and I have been debating God’s stance on homosexuality. It started with my Instagram post at a Pride parade: a picture of a mother holding a sign saying “I love my gay son.” I got a text demanding its removal: “How dare you compromise my platform!?”, “Remember who you represent.”, “Are you a gay?”
When platforms are chosen over our children, I believe the heart of God shatters. I can only imagine how the spirit of this young woman has been crushed. Year ago, Rick Burgess lost one of his children in a tragic drowning accident in their family pool. In this article, he confessed to his wife that he has panic attacks and cannot go in the ocean since the accident. It seems to me that after losing one child, a father would do everything possible to cherish every moment with his remaining children. Isn’t close-knit family one of the great characteristics of a conservative Christian?
What about you? Are you the parent of an LGBTQ child? What’s your story? How did it play out? Leave your story in the comments.
What advice would you give to Rick Burgess? Do you feel that his response to his daughter Brandi on his radio show this morning was the right thing to do?
“I told you before and I’ll say it again you’re my daughter and I will always love you. But I love you enough to tell you the truth. I’m not going to come up with some version of love that really isn’t love at all, that pats you on the back to justify you all the way to hell.”
And for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, what advice would you give to Brandi, as she begins to own her story publicly and live out her truth? How does one move forward after being shunned by their family? When your dad says things like, “You think you’re so mod, so special. But you’re nothing. You’re typical.”, what do you do? Where do you find hope and acceptance, when you don’t feel welcome back home?
Where do we go from here? When politics and platform are chosen over kindness and love, how do we get back to decency? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. And please play nice.
This is one more reason why the 30-Day Kindness Challenge matters so much. Will you join me? The challenge starts Monday morning. I’d love to have you join me in making the world a better place, one person at a time. Sign up here. And if you want to be a part of the exclusive Facebook group, just click here.
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attending and practicing gratitude.”
My favorite Christmas was a very long time ago.
It was either the Christmas before I started school, or the Christmas of my kindergarten year. My family lived in a tiny house in the country, which couldn’t have been more than about 900 square feet. It was a Jim Walter “kit” home and my parents found it for a steal. Even though there were holes in the walls and my Mom cried the day we moved in, within a very short amount of time, my parents made this house a home.
There was one problem: that tiny house didn’t have a fireplace. I couldn’t fathom how Santa would ever make it inside to deliver my toys. I was convinced the sleigh and reindeer would likely skip over our little house for lack of proper parking. I could only imagine that Santa would move on down the road to Zach’s or Rachel’s or maybe my cousin, Melody’s.
What a sad Christmas it would be.
December the 25th, to my surprise, I woke up to a giant fireplace and a fire in our living room. Some time that week, my Dad snuck down to the Family Dollar store and purchased several sheets of white poster board, along with markers and colored pencils and created a chimney from scratch. In front of the poster board fireplace was a tiny space heater. In front of the “fire” was an electric train my Dad purchased from a local thrift shop and fixed up, just for me. The Pinterest Moms of 2018 would have been quite proud.
It’s hard to believe it’s been thirty years since my favorite Christmas. Since that time, I have found that life isn’t quite as simple as it was during our days in that tiny little house with a posterboard fireplace. My Dad and I have had our fair share of disagreements. We’ve hurt each other’s feelings more than once. We’ve said things we likely didn’t mean, and we have disappointed one another at least a time or two.
It’s that way with fathers and sons.
But no matter the conflict, each year I’m taken back to my favorite Christmas. I can almost feel the shag carpet between my fingers and I can still see the rust on the corners of that brown space heater.
And I may still be a young man, but I’ve been around long enough to know that the lesson isn’t in the poster board. It’s about learning just how easy it actually is to love people. Construction paper and a space heater really is good enough to say, “I see you. I hear you. I’ll help make a way, along with you.”
I love this memory so much because my Dad took care of what I needed as a little boy, beyond just food on the table and clothes on my back. It’s really just that simple to be good to the people we love. You don’t need Pinterest or the ability to pull an actual fireplace out of a hat. The greatest thing you can do for those you love is to simply show up when they need you.
Things don’t always turn out exactly like we hope. Nothing in life is truly perfect. We don’t always see eye-to-eye with those we love. And there is rust around the edges of some of our relationships. But each year, it’s the poster board fireplace I remember most.