Robert Vore, who co-hosts the “CXMH” podcast about mental health and faith with Oxhandler, told RNS he and other friends of Austin had become worried about him in recent days. Several were on the phone together, trying to figure out how to reach him, when they heard of his death.
Vore, a therapist from the Atlanta area, said he will miss his friend’s “relentless belief in other people and his laughter.”
“He had one of the biggest hearts I had ever encountered, especially for people going through hard times,” he said.
Austin served as co-host of the “CXMH” podcast for about a season and a half and did a guest episode in 2018 about his book “Catching Your Breath.” Along with talking about mental illness and self-care, Austin, Vore and Oxhandler spent much of the time cracking jokes and delighting in each other’s company.
“Over the last handful of years, Steve has called himself a lot of things: life coach, emotional coach, pig raiser, church consultant, online pastor, and more,” Vore wrote in a blog tribute to his friend. “Some titles never changed: he was a husband, a dad, and a damn good friend to me. There was never a time I texted or called him that he wasn’t there for me. He could send a deep revelation about the character of God, followed by an inappropriate joke. He had a unique ability to be fully himself and, in doing so, to reassure you that you were allowed to be fully you.”
Friends spoke of Austin’s deep love for his family and his children.
In his Substack newsletter, Austin posted podcast episodes and reflections on mental health and faith, along with personal stories. He recently wrote about coming out as queer, something he said he’d had to hide his whole life.
“Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to perform your whole life for people who will only fully accept you if you deny anything about yourself that doesn’t meet their approval?” he wrote. “For the past three decades, I’ve lived a lie, hoping to appease a group of people who only support you if you follow their rules and live up to their unfair and unrealistic expectations.”
His last podcast was titled “Breath Prayers,” with the subtitle, “Inhale peace. Exhale Bullshit.”
Austin, who grew up in a conservative Christian home, and his family had attended the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Alabaster, Alabama, south of Birmingham, in recent years.
Christian children’s book author Matthew Paul Turner, who a year ago came out as gay, said he and Austin had become friends over the past year. The two had been texting on Saturday when Austin dropped out of contact.
He said Austin had a joy about him despite his struggles. He told terrible jokes — “he thought they were hilarious,” said Turner — and delighted in sharing picks of the pet pig he had recently acquired. And Austin had a way of drawing people to him and giving them permission to talk about their faith and their struggles.
Oxhandler described Austin as a beloved and tender “wounded healer,” a term used by the late writer and priest Henri Nouwen. Austin’s own struggles made him compassionate toward others, she said. And he made people feel like they mattered.
“He could sense when others needed joy or hope, and he could sense when others needed compassion. And he was so good at reminding people of the image of God within them,” she said.
Oxhandler said that when she spoke to Austin on Saturday, there were no indicators it would be their last conversation. She expressed deep grief and said there is “no making sense” of his passing.
News of Austin’s death led to an outpouring of messages on social media, marking his passing.
“Thank you for your life friend,” wrote Kolber. “Thank you for your light. See you again.”
Austin is survived by his wife, Lindsey, and two children. Funeral arrangements are pending. A GoFundMe page has been set up to benefit the family.
This article originally appeared here.