Happy Birthday Drew

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This blog post is a little different than our typical post. We each felt compelled to write Andrew a birthday note so we compiled them all together here. It’s a really beautiful picture of who Andrew was: a husband, a son, and a brother. Each letter is special and meaningful. Andrew’s life uniquely meant so much to each of us. We love you Drew, we miss you, if you were here today these are some of the things we would say to you. Can’t wait to see you again soon.

A Letter from Kayla:
To my Andrew, 

Today we honor and celebrate your life. A life cut short, but a life well lived. If you were alive today, you would be turning 31, and only growing better looking with age. You wouldn’t have wanted a big party or elaborate gifts; you would just want to be together. 

I miss you Drew, with all of my heart, I miss you, I wish you were here.

When I think about you, there is a specific period of time I always find myself going back to. I close my eyes really tight and imagine what it would be like to be back there, if only for a moment. We are at our old house, the kids are laughing and racing their bikes around the backyard, there is a Laker game on in the background, it’s the perfect time of day, the golden hour, and you are standing over a hot grill on the patio cooking up some dinner for your crew. An easy flawless night at home.

I would do anything to go back to those days. The days of backyard barbeques and Laker games. The days where we would put the kids to bed and then find ourselves cuddling up on the couch watching a show, me quickly drifting off to sleep in your arms, and you desperately trying to keep me awake so we could spend more time together. The everyday things I took for granted, the things I thought would last forever, I hold them so close to my heart, every moment, every memory, every thought, a special gift from you. Thank you for loving me so well. 

I wish I could take you out to dinner tonight and catch up on life, you would be shocked to see how everything has panned out, but I know in the same breath you would be so proud. Proud of your girl, for showing up, for being bold, and for staying close to God and proud of your boys, for just being themselves and keeping me on my toes. They still tease me and laugh at me just like they did with you, I know that would make you smile.

Last night we gathered together to celebrate your life. We drove down to the beach, the same spot where we celebrated your birthday last year. We sat around a bon fire, ate all of your favorite foods and remembered you. Before the sun went down, we each wrote a special note to you on a white balloon. We walked down to the water, counted to three and with a big “Happy Birthday,” sendoff we released them up into the sky.  I told the boys we were sending the balloons to heaven. I don’t know if they reached that far, or if you have any idea what they said, but I know there are three little boys who drifted off to sleep last night dreaming about their daddy sitting next to Jesus catching white balloons and smiling from ear to ear.

May 19th will always hold a special place in my heart, and every year I will think of you. I will remember every beautiful day we spent together, and I promise I will make sure your boys remember those days too. You are loved, you are cherished, and you are deeply missed. 

Until we meet again, with all of my love, 

Your girl


A letter from Carol:
To my amazing son Andrew,

At the very first flutter of you inside my growing belly, the miracle of becoming a mother was beginning to feel real. Anticipation. Excitement. Curiosity of the unknown. A bit of new-mom nervousness. And the beginnings of mom-love. I was so very much looking forward to meeting you and beginning our adventure together. You are a miracle of God’s hand and one of the best expressions of the precious love and oneness that Dad and I shared. It felt so amazing to be starting a family together with this wonderful man who I knew would be an incredible father.

On the night you were born when the nurse placed the precious bundle of you into my arms for the very first time, the overwhelming feelings of love I felt for you took me by surprise. I had never felt mom-love before, and this was it! Of course, I knew I would love you, but not like this! In that moment the only words that would come out of my mouth were, “I thought I knew what love was.” I kept saying it over and over because my understanding of this bond with you that I was feeling was taking its time to sink in. You introduced me to a mother-love that is different than any other. It’s powerful. It’s extreme. It’s deep and expansive in the heart, in the gut, in the mind, and in the spirit. It’s sacred. You rocked my world in that moment when I first gazed into your beautiful face and you looked back at me with your little blue eyes squinting under the lights of this new world you had just entered.

 It was so fun to watch you grow. Those squinting little eyes turned into big bright eyes with beautiful long lashes that everyone noticed. You were the most protective older brother. I had to remind you that you didn’t need to worry about Paige and Austin with the cars in the parking lot because I would do that. I loved watching your creativity. You were the ring-leader of all the sibling adventures with the old stroller or with some duct tape and cardboard. Dad loved your creativity, but I think he loved even more that you were good at sports. It was so fun to watch you play baseball, soccer, basketball, skateboarding, surfing… all of it. And I’ll never forget when you came to Dad and me to tell us that you felt called into ministry. We told you to go do something else, anything else… if you could be fulfilled. But you knew that God’s calling on your life was the only thing that would be truly fulfilling. You were called, you were extremely gifted, and you were so good at it… whether it was one-on-one, in meetings, or on the stage. 

I miss you so much that I can hardly stand it. It hurts my heart. I miss your handsome face and your beautiful blue eyes. I miss your gentle hugs. I miss your care and concern for me. I miss your dry sense of humor that you got from Dad. Believe it or not, I miss your tattoos, each one with special meaning. I miss watching you be a dad to your wonderful boys. I miss your creativity and passion for life and ministry. Always wanting to make things better. I miss our long conversations. I know you cherished them, too. I miss cheering you on every Sunday from the front row. No matter how many services there were, it never got old. It was helping to ease my grief of missing Dad doing the very same thing. I loved seeing you “in the zone,” using your incredible, God-given giftedness. It was beautiful to experience. God used you in so many ways to help point people to a God who says that “People Matter.” Everyone matters, and you were so passionate about helping people see that. We all so deeply wish it could have been longer. Much longer. Decades longer. I am proud of you. I’m proud of the man you are and the life you lived. I’m proud to be your mom. Always will be.

 I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for not realizing the depths of the struggle with anxiety and depression. I’m sorry for not realizing what it all meant. It seemed to barge into our lives so suddenly and I wasn’t smart enough, educated enough, or aware enough to help you in all the ways that you needed. My mom-heart aches with the regret that I wasn’t able to protect you and nurture you through the dark season that I know we could have overcome. I’m sorry that at certain turns in our short journey with mental illness, I didn’t help you, guide you, understand you, see you in the ways I wish I had been able to. I would do things differently if I could, but sadly I cannot. 

God is helping me with my regrets and grief. Even though I hate what happened, He is a good God who is close to the brokenhearted and whose comfort is beyond what this world can offer. I am leaning into Him in the deep ache of missing you, and I can’t wait to see you again.

 It will feel so good to hug you again when I get to heaven. I keep reminding myself what Dad and you always said. This time we spend here on earth is just the first inch. The perspective of that truth helps me as I trudge through this vast and tormenting sea of deep grief. Remembering that truth is helping me to see that God still has a purpose for my life here and I want to be obedient to His purposes. We will enjoy heaven together forever. It’s a true truth. We have something good to look forward to. It’s real.

 I am so very much looking forward to seeing you again and beginning our heaven adventure together.

 I love you my dear Andrew-son,

 Your forever mom

A letter from Paige
Dear Andrew, 

You left us way too soon. I still can’t fathom the thought that you aren’t here. They say grief happens in stages, but I would disagree. Some days I feel angry and other days I’m in denial that you’re even gone. The fact that I’m writing you a letter like this and unable to tell you happy birthday in person feels awful and I hate it to my core. It still doesn’t feel real. I don’t think it ever will.

I am so proud and fortunate to have grown up with you as my older brother. Being 18 months apart meant that we did almost everything together when we were little. As your little sister, I felt like you were a permanent part of my living, my future. You would always be part of my life. How could it be any other way?

So many memories flood into my mind. I remember one of our favorite things to do was to make forts, but not just any fort. This was a highly constructed and thought out piece of architecture, made out of chairs tied together with shoe strings, a cardboard roof, and doors that zipped open and closed made with sleeping bags. You did most, if not all, of the constructing as I gathered all 27 of my stuffed animals and lined them up inside. We would let Austin join in too, but he couldn’t touch anything. Growing up with you was so much fun. Your imagination ran wild and Austin and I would follow along mesmerized by all your ideas. Like your idea to make a stream winding all throughout our campground site.  You walked around telling us where to dig and where to pour the buckets of water, and we absolutely loved it. As kids we didn’t think of the mud and the mess that would create, and mom wasn’t too thrilled! I remember on one of those camping trips when you caught your first fish. You were so proud and I thought you were the coolest right then and there. 

One of my favorite memories, of which I hold close to my heart, is when you called me while I was a freshman in college living in Indiana. I remember it was winter and I was sitting at my little desk in my dorm room watching the snowfall. You called to check in on me, which made me so happy, and you began to tell me about this girl you were dating named Kayla. Your voice got nervous and shaky as you said, “I told her I love her, don’t tell mom and dad yet.” I felt so special you shared that with me, and I haven’t told anyone until now. 

You were a leader then and grew up to humbly lead our family and church well through dad’s illness and even more so after he passed. I couldn’t have been more proud as your little sister to sit and watch you take on the leadership role at IHC. Your confidence on stage and ability to deliver effective messages and communicate biblical truth into the hearts of so many people amazed me. I’d sit there thinking, I’m only 18 months younger and I could never do what he’s doing.You truly had a God given gift and everyone saw it. 

I hold tight to those many memories we created and want to tell you that I promise to continue to make more happy memories just like those with our family. We all feel a little lost right now as the dust is settling and we’re getting a glimpse of what this new life is like without you and dad, our people who led us so well. We so badly don’t want to do this life without either of you. Just the thought of that is heart wrenching. None of this will make sense on this side of heaven, but I am trusting that God has a greater purpose in all of it. Thank you for being my caring, protective, funny, imaginative older brother. Thinking of you in heaven with dad, both happy and healthy, maybe playing basketball, and surrounded by a peace that surpasses all understanding. I can’t wait to see you again soon. This is just the first inch.

I promise to keep telling people that God’s Got This, no matter what.

Love and miss you, 

Paige

A Letter from Austin:
Brother,

It seems like I can’t do anything without thinking about you.
It’s hard to relax. It’s hard to be in public or crowded spaces. It’s hard to go to church. I know that I’ll have to get over that. It’s going to take me a while...one of my many battles. Every day is a battle, really. I know that you would never want me to feel the way that I do or be in the position I’m in, and I would never dare blame you for that. It’s not your fault. It will never be your fault. I’ve got that much figured out. The only thing that has and will bring me out of the darkness is reminding myself that you are at complete peace now, in heaven. I try to imagine what it’s like, but my mind can’t comprehend.

Well, today is your birthday down here on Earth. To be honest, it’s been a really hard past two weeks, just knowing this day was coming and anticipating the feelings that come with that. Any significant day - holidays, birthdays, etc...are really difficult for us. There’s no way around it. All I want to do is take you to go play golf, and watch a playoff basketball game over at your house. I can see it and feel it - that was our happy place. You, me, and dad! That’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s an incredibly hard pill to swallow - knowing that I won’t get that back until heaven, someday. It feels like I’ve been robbed of so many potential memories to be had with you guys.

I wanted to take a minute to update you on my life:

I got married! It was an amazing day filled with both joy and sadness. Smith was my best man. He did so good, dude. I took him to lunch before the wedding and explained to him how special it’d be for him to stand up there with me, and he fully understood it. He took immense pride in his job that day. You and dad should’ve been there...both of your absences were felt tremendously. It was very weird to be face to face with the reality that two of the pillars in my life were just...gone. But we persevered through that day, and I felt God with me the whole time. Our friends and family felt it, too.

I also helped Kayla move into her new house - even installed a fan in her bedroom. I know you’d be proud of that. I wish I could fix things and be as handy as you were - I’m working on it. I still use your tools and often wear your clothes. You are everywhere with me. I try my best to carry your confidence on my sleeve. That was something I admired about you and I am learning to have more of. You taught me so much and I’m so angry when I think of all the knowledge and wisdom that I’m missing out on because you’re not here. There is nothing like an older brother. You were the best one.

I know that there’s no way I can replace you or fill your shoes in our families lives - nobody can. My focus lately has mainly been on your boys. I’ve been keeping our Stoecklein humor in their daily lives. I’ve been digging with them in the dirt, skateboarding, playing LOTS of basketball, teaching them manners, good character, and occasionally I tell them a good brother story about you. Sometimes I surprise them by picking them up at school and taking them to the park to play. I know how important it is that they have a godly man to look up to and learn from on a consistent basis. I will do my absolute best to do that for them.

I’ve also been working lots on God’s Got This. It’s amazing to see the impact it’s had on so many peoples lives - and to think..we are just getting started!! I want to do it all with the excellence that you did everything with. When I design things I always stop and think to myself - would Andrew dig this? I will never stop doing that. I promise God’s Got This will continue growing and the message will continue to spread and impact people all over the world. We are committed to that in honor of you and dad.

Andrew, thank you. Thank you for being the best big brother to me and Paige. Thank you for being a leader. Thank you for everything you sacrificed for your family and the church. Nobody will ever know the true grit and discipline that it took to do your job, and be a good husband, father, brother and son at the same time. There is so much more that I could write to you... there are just so many layers to all of this, but in this very moment I am reminding myself that this is just the first inch, and we still have more memories to make together, in Heaven.

I love you with everything. See you soon.

Austin

God's Got This