Sunday, May 29, 2011

Shining Down

Yesterday was our second annual fundraiser for Austin's Legacy, the scholarship fund we started in Austin's memory.  The cornhole tournament we hold Memorial Day weekend, during the Beaver Dam Strawberry Festival, is our primary fundraising event.

This past week has been chaotic and a bit stressful, trying to get all the details ironed out, ensuring all the inkind donations were in, as well as a lot of manual labor in hauling the many boards and supplies we use for the event.  I've also kept a cautious eye on the weather, saying little prayers, that we would again be blessed with sunshine, even though the initial forecasts called for a chance of rain.

I took a vacation day on Friday to ensure everything was ready to go, as we'd already have an early morning Saturday - the day of the event.  While family and friends help out in small ways, through lending their cornhole sets or securing door prizes, the bulk of the work lands on Tim and me.  And even though it's a lot to do and I often wonder if it'll all get done, I'm ok with the load.  Every task, every trip, each thing that we do is a way for us to honor Austin.  His spirit and memory keeps us going all the way through the event.

I will say though that my mom was a huge support this year, as she took on the bulk of securing our inkind donations to be used for our 1st and 2nd place prize baskets.  Because of her work, we collected more than $300 in certificates and prizes from area businesses.  Noah was also a big help and I know that Austin would have been so proud to see him working so hard.  From set up, to helping staff a booth, to running a billion errands for us, he was right there, even wrapping his arms around me for the photos we took during our opening presentations.

Though I was physically exhausted by the end of the day, my muscles sore from hauling and lifting boards, my skin flushed from the heat and the burn I managed to get even with sunscreen, every ache was a gift to Austin.  Emotionally, I was just as spent, with a mixture of memories of him, feeling expressions of love from family and friends throughout the event, and knowing how touched Austin would be with this outpouring of support.  As tiring as this event is, it is worth it because we do it for him.  And there were a few extra special highlights during the day that just emphasized to me the need for us to continue.  Through them all, I could feel Austin shining down on us and the event.

The first was our second presentation of the scholarship to Kami.  Her family and friends came out (some even played in the tournament) and it was evident the love they had for her, how proud they were, and how honored the family was to accept this gift.  From her asking if she could hug me during the presentation, to the sincere appreciation of her parents, to the many flashes of the camera as we presented the giant check, it was a wonderful moment.   

Second was the fact that we had a youth play in the tournament this year.  He was eleven but eagerly signed up and stood out there among the men ready to play.  His mom had sent me a message earlier in the week, asking if we had an age limit.  I told her that we never set limits on Austin - he did things well before his time, accomplished much that even adults couldn't do, and we were always proud when he did so.  In fact, that spirit is what led us to choose the scripture that is on his memorial stone. 
1 Timothy 4:12 "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."  It was a pleasure to award Dylan Alsman as the youngest player and it felt so much like "an Austin Moment."

Our final goose bump moments came from the first place winners of the tournament.  By this point, the majority of the teams had left, and all that remained were the winners and a few supporters.  Before taking pictures and passing out awards, we asked the players for any input or suggestions for the coming years.  In the midst of our conversation one of the guys shared a story about his son.  He lost his 17 year old son ten years ago from a car accident.  Pulling out his cell phone and showing a photo, we paused and shared a memory.  There's an unspoken bond between parents of child loss.  I felt blessed to award them as the first place team and could feel Austin's love and presence during those moments.

Though I left the event in tears and went home to continue to cry for several minutes, it was a joyous event.  There can be sadness in happy moments, there can be tears in joy.  My emotions were just the closing credits from the day.  Is this what I would have chosen for my life?  No.  I wish Austin were still here, I wish I could still see his smiling face, here his big laughter fill the room, and watch him grow into the wonderful young man I knew he would become.  But I can't turn back time and I can't call the future.  So, I make the most of the moments I'm given and I work to fulfill the purpose of why I am here and he is not.

Forming this scholarship in his memory may have not been in my plans but it is something I'm honored to do.  Knowing that the work we're doing in his memory is changing the futures of other youth (for the better) helps me get through the difficult times that come.  Austin's Legacy is just that - it is a reminder of the sweet soul that touched this earth but for a brief 14 years and it is a continued hope and inspiration in making this world a better place in Austin's memory.


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