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It’s Easy to Love People: My Favorite Christmas Memory

“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.”  

-Brene’ Brown

My Favorite Christmas Memory: Just Show Up

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.

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What I’m Most Thankful for This Year

2016 has been a whirlwind, friends.
What I'm Most Thankful for This Year

It’s hard to believe my little boy is five and my princess will be three in just a few short months. Where does the time go? I’m so thankful for both of those little ragamuffins. They keep their Momma and me laughing, running like crazy, and always thinking. At this stage, Ben loves schoolwork, Legos, and Hot Wheels. Caroline is all about Disney princesses and would live out in the backyard if we’d let her.

Lindsey is the hardest working woman in show business. She’s a pre-K teacher, with fourteen 4-year-olds in her class. Aside from that, she keeps our house spotless, cooks amazing (and healthy) meals, cares for our children, and puts up with all my shenanigans. She’s my very best friend. We laugh, cry, pray, play, and dream together. She constantly teaches me what authentic faith looks like in real life. We’ve walked a long and often difficult road the past ten years, but God continues to make beauty from our ashes and I’m more thankful for Lindsey today than ever before.

It’s been a busy year for Steve Austin, the writer. A new website, a new blogging platform, published in The Huffington Post, Relevant, a stint as a staff writer for Venn magazine, a year on the Board for Altarwork, articles on The Mighty, Good Men Project, PsychCentral, and more. Plus three books! I feel incredibly satisfied at how productive and stretching this year has been for me as a writer and all-around creative guy.

Another thing I’m especially thankful for this year is a renewed motivation to be healthy. If you don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you may not know that I’ve been working incredibly hard the past nine weeks to get in shape. And it’s working! My main goal was for my mental health, but thanks to healthy eating and loads of exercise, the benefits reach farther than just mental health. In addition to the lower anxiety levels, I’ve lost 13 pounds! (Only 12 more to go.) I can’t stress the importance or the benefits of daily exercise enough. It has truly changed my life.

This year, our family also found refuge in my childhood church for several months, and since that time has helped launch a new church: something I never thought we’d do again. God is funny like that, right? The very moment we’re convinced that a certain thing will or won’t ever happen again, that’s the moment God snaps a finger or waves a wand (does She have a wand?) and brings the most unexpected thing into our lives. This year, like so many others, has taught me that God cannot be boxed-in, limited, understood, or easily explained. And for the first time in my life, I’m thankful for that.

2016 has also brought some new friendships, taken some away, and taught some really hard lessons. I feel more disconnected from the traditional American Church than ever before, and yet…I’m really thankful for that. I’ve learned what it feels like to stand up for myself and still show others grace in the midst of disagreement. I’ve also learned when to just walk away. And friends, no matter what anyone else says, you do have permission to just walk away.

As with every other year, I’m incredibly thankful for grace. Second chances continue to pour into my life, wash over my soul, and connect me back to the Spirit of God, which never fails.

What are you thankful for this year? What lessons has 2016 taught you? What gifts has this year given? Where do you find joy? And where do you find comfort? Leave me a note in the comments!

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What Does the Bible Say About Self-Care?

I’ve talked about my struggle with busyness before. It’s never been worse than during my days as a youth pastor. I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating well, and never slowed down. I was dying inside because I had  no idea that my greatest calling was to love my neighbor and greatest responsibility was to care for myself.
I failed to see the great need for cultivating a relationship with my wife and my children. Because of my lack of boundaries and an unwillingness to tell people “no”, I was keeping the people who loved me the most at a distance.

Eventually, the stress was more than I could bear, and I tried to kill myself.
Since those dark and desperate days, I’ve worked hard to focus on my recovery and have learned invaluable self-care tips and tricks. As a pastor, I’ve also noticed several places in the Bible where self-care is promoted.

What does the Bible say about self-care?

Click here to join me on Identity Network for 3 Examples of Self-Care in the Bible.


To order your copy of Self-Care for the Wounded Soul, just click here to go to MySelfCareBook.com

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To All the Tired Dads Out There…

I pride myself on being an involved Dad and husband. But there are days it’s really freakin’ exhausting.

Self Care for Tired Dads

Last night, I took my little girl to run a few errands with me. I initially invited her big brother, but he wasn’t interested, and she begged to go. She loves to ride in “Daddy’s twuck”. We had a blast in Target, “window shopping” down each aisle in the toy section at least twice. Caroline is going full-throttle in the Disney Princess stage. How long does that last? Do girls ever leave that stage? I sure hope not.

Target was easy. Target has buggies (you non-Southerners might call those ‘shopping carts’). Target has girly toys and girly clothes.

Best Buy is a different story.

Some guys have Lowe’s or Home Depot. I have Best Buy.

It’s my Mecca. Heaven. I breathe in the technology and exhale peace and happiness and dorkdom. Ah, Best Buy. How I love you.

But taking a two-and-a-half-year-old to Best Buy is not Heaven, friends. It. Is. Not. Heaven.

By the time we made it to the checkout line with my new FitBit, I had worked up a sweat. A real sweat. The cashier: a young, college-aged guy, smirked and said, “Daddy’s night out?” I squinted my eyes at him and said, “This was my idea”. We shared a laugh this young guy couldn’t possibly understand.

Fatherhood is the greatest gift in the world. And some very hard work.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

If you’re a tired dad, or know someone who is, click here to read 4 Self Care Tips for the Tired Family Man today on Good Men Project.

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3 Ways Tired Parents Can Practice Self-Care Today

Since my suicide attempt, I’ve learned the importance of personal space. I had no idea what I was missing, but my family certainly did. Now, instead of making major decisions without considering the impact on my family, I have made my wife and children my number one priority. As a result, I have started respecting their schedules and helping my wife balance duties at home. I’ve learned how important it is to unplug, to not live so focused on the next activity, to give myself time to just be.

3 Self-Care Tips for Tired Parents

Now I give myself space to rest and breathe. I start and end each day at the kitchen table with my wife and kids. We are more connected as a family than ever because I learned the hard way I do not need to be the savior of the whole damn world. We have less money, and fewer social plans, but that doesn’t matter to me any more.

What does matter? My family. My health. Knowing who I really am. Now that I no longer pretend to have either a cape or a cross on my back, I can live out this wonderfully unpredictable and imperfect life I have been given as a gift to myself and the world.

To read the rest of this post on HuffPost Parents, just click here.


 Win an autographed copy of my brand-new book, Self-Care for the Wounded Soul today! Contest ends 11/1! Just click here! 

Self-Care for the Wounded Soul

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How to Fight with Fear and Self-Doubt…and Win!

The fight with fear and self-doubt is universal, but as parent, it seems even worse.

The fight with fear and self-doubt.

 

It was 10:30 pm, and we were catching up on the last two episodes of Nashville when I heard Ben crying. “Go help him. He’s sleepy,” Lindsey whispered. She was holding a sleeping Cara. Peeling myself off that brown leather couch was the last thing I wanted to do, but my boy needed me. More importantly, Lindsey told me to go.

I got up and walked to the stairs. He was standing on the third step from the top, face red and cheeks soaked. “I’m sorry,” he wailed. His shorts and the bottom of his t-shirt were soaked. “Daddy, will you hold me?”

I held him.

Warmth spread across my t-shirt. Looking down, I saw little puddles on each step. I carried him to the bathroom where I found a bigger puddle. He had completely missed the toilet. I cleaned up the mess, wrapped the wet clothes in the bathroom rug, helped him change out of the pirate pajamas and into the Avenger set. At least he made it out of the bed. Towels are much easier to clean than mattresses.

“I’m scared of heights,” he said. It’s his new thing. He only says it when he wakes up in the middle of the night. I put him on the bottom bunk, because getting him back to the top bunk was a battle I wasn’t fighting that night. My own clothes felt cold. Even good dads have their limit.

I knew that sleeping in his sister’s bed would mean Cara would stay in ours, sending me to the couch for the night. But in the moment, it was the easiest thing to do.

The next morning, I awoke to his footsteps on the wooden stairs. A minute later, two fingers tapped lightly on my forehead. I didn’t even open my eyes. “Daddy,” he whispered loudly. “It’s morning!” I pulled back the quilt and he climbed in. I love the early morning, when he’s snuggly and sweet and wants to sing songs or talk about school, then play quietly with a Rescue Bot.

He wiggled in until he got comfortable, his left knee lodged into my right hip. Then he said,  “Dada, God told me something last night.” I stared at his bright blue eyes. I was suddenly transported back to a time when I was enamored with prophets and words of knowledge.

Like any good pentecostal, I first wanted to shout victoriously. My wife had given birth to a prophet after all! But instantly, I was also scared to death. Is God about to say He knows just how truly rotten I am and He has chosen to send this Word through my innocent little boy? My soul shuddered.

Fear is a real son of a bitch.

Here is my son, confident he has heard from God last night. Yet, I somehow managed to turn this entire situation around to make it about me. Me and my own fear. What an ass.

Why did I do that? What am I so afraid of?

Why do I assume if God had something to say, it’s naturally something against me? Why do I allow shame and guilt to override my hope in Jesus? I struggle constantly to be a good man: father, husband, son, friend, provider, and follower of Jesus. But I see myself as a failure in every area constantly. Why do I live with the constant fear of being “found out”?

When my precious son told me God spoke to him while he was sleeping, I was scared to death. So often, I feel like a fake. Like I’ve made no progress in the four years since the suicide attempt. That this is all just a big facade and I don’t deserve the life I have. I hear shame and guilt whispering their lies. No matter how much Brene’ Brown I read, with every temptation, every time I fail to set a boundary or live by one I’ve previously set, I hear that I am nothing but a phony.

When people say, “Confession is good for the soul,” I hear, “You better tell everybody everything you’ve ever done if you really want Jesus to love you.” But that’s not vulnerability or intimacy. It’s dangerous, and there are no boundaries there, either. Somehow I think I should confess every time I am even ever tempted and don’t fail, just so that others will see that I really don’t even deserve God’s love. Much less a beautiful wife and a wonderful family. The lies we believe.

Yet all Jesus wants to do is meet our needs. I don’t think Jesus is nearly as concerned with my sins as I am. When I take on my mistakes as my identity, when my failures tell me I am a failure, Jesus sees me as I am. He accepts me in my own very real mess. But failure isn’t even an accurate word. I don’t even have to fail to feel shame. Just being human makes me feel like I’m not enough. Like a cracked pot. The thing is, I don’t think God cares as much as I do.

“What did God tell you, last night?” I asked my son.

“I was sleeping and God told me to be good at school.”

There it was. Ben heard God encourage him to be a good boy. He wasn’t scared of the voice, or the message. It was just me.

I wish I had the faith to know God is always with me. Or maybe just to realize that God loves me the way I love my little boy. God is not nearly as bothered by my perceived lack (of self-control, godliness, etc.) as I am. He’s never disgusted or embarrassed by my weakness. He doesn’t obsess over my faults. Instead, He grabs a towel, sops up the mess, and holds me. He knows I’m scared. And it’s going to be alright in the morning.


If you enjoyed this post, here are a few related stories:

  1. Why I am Teaching My Children to Make Friends with Fear
  2. What a Car Wreck Taught Me About Marriage and Parenting
  3. My Son Isn’t the Only One Having Tantrums

Looking for more self-care tips? Need help with boundaries? Order my new book today! “Self-Care for the Wounded Soul: 21 Days of Messy Grace” is available at graceismessybooks.com

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6 Amazing Things I Would Have Missed if I Died By Suicide

https://youtu.be/isYUPq6_lYA
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who attempts suicide has lived the life of a tortured soul. In my situation, I had suffered with anxiety and depression, but I was also outwardly successful. When I lost my job, it seemed that my world was crumbling, and all of my years of secretly struggling caught up with me. I believed the lie that the only way out was to die.

I think it’s probably true for a vast majority of the people who attempt suicide every single year. For most people, there is a crisis moment in which suicide happens, but getting someone with suicidal ideations to see past that is vital. If you can help a desperate person see beyond the immediacy of a very difficult time, you could save their life.

Here’s a few of the things I would have missed if I had died four years ago:

6 Amazing Things I Would Have Missed if I Died by Suicide

Family

1) If I had died four years ago I would’ve missed my wife becoming my best friend. I would’ve missed her laugh when I tell a really dumb joke. I would have missed that stuffed chicken she makes and the way she puts rose oil behind her ears. It always smells so good. Most of all, I would’ve missed the amazing combination of strength and grace my wife has shown during my recovery.

Suicide is a thief. It would have robbed my children of their father and my wife of a husband. But it would have robbed me, too. I would’ve missed experiencing a thriving marriage with my wife. For years, Lindsey and I had a Facebook-perfect marriage, but the truth is: nobody has a Facebook-perfect marriage.

2) I would’ve missed the relationship I have built with my little boy. Ben Thomas turned one the day after I attempted suicide. I missed his first birthday, and I regret that. But I have loved every birthday since. Ben is my “joy boy”!

Ben teaches me the wonder of childhood. He reminds me to let my imagination run wild. He is Steve Austin shrunk down into an almost 5-year-old frame. He’s so much fun and adventure and stubbornness all rolled into one little dynamite package.

I wouldn’t have been able to make him grilled cheese sandwiches twice a day, I wouldn’t have seen him learn to walk, or heard his first sentence, and I would have missed the way he learned to swim like a fish as soon as he got in the pool. I wouldn’t have known his love for Spider Man, or Legos, or the way he can beat any adult around at putting a puzzle together. He really is brilliant. If I had died four years ago, I would’ve missed getting to know the incredible little human being that he is.

3) If my suicide attempt had been successful, my daughter Caroline would not exist. Nothing smells as sweet as my little girl, fresh out of the bathtub. Her curly hair and her giant blue eyes light up the world. The gap between her two front teeth makes her a spitting image of her Mama. She is equal parts sweet and sassy, but if I had died four years ago, Caroline never would have had the chance to make our family complete.

Adventure

4) I would’ve missed Alaska. Alaska had been our dream since before we even got married. We’d tried for years to go, but it was too expensive. If I died four years ago, I never would’ve lived in the little cottage on 2nd Avenue, the one with the red front porch. I wouldn’t have the amazing memories of Resurrection Bay or Mt. Marathon. I would have missed the honor of leading Seward City Church in worship as snow blanketed the world around us. I’ll never forget the beauty of living inside a snow globe.

That tiny seaside town breathed hope into my lungs and gave me permission to dream again. Alaska changed my life forever. And I almost missed it.

Faith

5) If my life had ended four years ago, I never would’ve had the opportunity to understand how who I am specifically connects with the church today. The church had given up on me, and I had given up on it. But four years into recovery, I have found a way to engage my faith and the local church again.

If I had died in 2012, I would’ve carried bitterness and confusion, resentment and anger with me to the grave. But because my suicide attempt failed, I was given a second chance to embrace both the church and my own humanity.

Community

6) If had never woken up, I would’ve missed the power of being an equal in community with others. I knew how to lead a group, how to sing a song, how to preach a sermon, and even how to write a blog. But I did not know how to be vulnerable with other hurting people.

In the past four years, the power of vulnerability, courage, and grace have made my life better. But it hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Transformation has come from connecting with other people through our brokenness, not in spite of it. Being willing to own my story and giving other people permission to own theirs is saving my life every day.

I wrote the book From Pastor to a Psych Ward to give hope that recovery is possible. My life is living proof that even in the midst of childhood trauma and mental illness, life I s worth living. I’d love to hear your story. Email me today at steve@iamsteveaustin.com!

I should have died four years ago. But I didn't.

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