Today my brother Austen would have been 24. We're only 16 months apart. I loved having a brother so close in age. Growing up I always had a playmate and a partner in crime when it came to picking on our younger two siblings, William and Anabelle. William didn't even come around until 1992, so for years it was just the two of us. And eventually we became 4 (siblings)... and now more... and our sibling love grew. But Austen and I will always have that special bond.
For those of you who don't know, my brother struggled with addiction for a long time. Thursday he lost that battle.
I can't believe it's only been two days. It feels like it's been an eternity since my mom (SMom, in this post) called me to tell me. I have amazing friends from school that took me home, packed me, booked me a flight, and got me to the airport. Thank you. I couldn't have done it without you.
A little about my brother... Austen, "Bubs," was someone that could always make me laugh. He didn't take life too seriously, which I loved. He would remind me to "chill out." While I'm very Type A, he's very Type B... we balanced each other out I guess. I kept him on track, and he made me stop to have fun.
What I really love is that he was 6'4" and 250 lbs - football player big - and that I'm 5'2" and 105 lbs. He was my giant. He gave the best bear hugs! When he hugged me, I felt I was being engulfed in love.
This picture was taken at my wedding 2 1/2 years ago. Austen was able to come home from extended care for it. I had not seen him in over 6 months and was so excited to share my big day with him. It meant so much to me to have him there.By the way... yes I am wearing heels AND standing on my tippy toes in this picture. He's a big guy.
I have some great memories of him...
- I remember waking up to the sound of happy shrills as he pulled my siblings down the stairs in a blanket. Sounds terrible doesn't it? They LOVED it. He would wrap them up like burritos and then pull them down our carpeted stairs. It was like a ride at a theme park or something. We have holes in a lot of blankets because of this.
- When I was in middle school and he was still in elementary, he would let my friends and I dress him up like a girl, just to be cool. I got to paint his nails. Put make up on him. Sound weird? It wasn't. He was so big and had such a huge heart. He just wanted to make us happy and to be included with the older kids. And once on an RV trip, he and William let me paint their nails! I was so entertained. Best brothers ever.
- Another time when we were in the airport, Austen got Anabelle (who was maybe 4 at the time) all stirred up. She started slapping him and kicking him because he wouldn't leave her alone. He just sat there and took it, without changing his facial expression. He went on talking to everyone else as if she weren't there and wasn't touching him. We made her believe that we were all unaffected by her touch and that she could not hurt him or any of us. It made her so mad. She started hitting him more and trying to do the same to me. (Remember this is a 4 year old - not some older child or adult. So don't think we're a violent family or anything. She was just mad.) She tried so hard to prove us wrong. She started pinching us as hard as she could. That's when my mom turned around. She didn't see us tormenting Anabelle and giving her a hard time. She just saw her little 4-year-old slapping her older siblings. And once again, team Austen and Ashleigh was a success... tormenting Anabelle and getting her into trouble. ...Love you, Anabelle! I think that was pay back for that blue zinc...
- Austen always bought me things as a child. We would be given spending money for Christmas gifts and on family trips. Yet somehow that money always got spent on me. (And no, I did not force him to buy me things!) In Disney World, he bought me a Tinkerbell charm for my charm bracelet and gave it to me as a gift. Another time, we were at the mall and he bought me A&F perfume. (Oh, back in the day when Abercrombie was cool - and not skanky!) Once at Christmas he spent waaay too much money on me, and my parents forced him to take back most of the gifts. He had a huge heart. And gifts have always been my love language. I know he loved me. I'll always treasure that Tinkerbell charm.
- Seeing him play football in high school was the best. I was so proud to wear his football button. I wore that big button so proudly and made sure everyone saw it. #70 Austen Reade.
One last one...
- At SMom and Wayne's wedding 2 1/2 years ago, I came and stood behind Austen, who was sitting in a chair. He didn't realize I was behind him, so when he scooted the chair back, with all of his weight, onto my foot, he about crushed it. I still have a red and purple scar from that. Doctors couldn't heal it either. The pain is still there. Sometimes I have to wear gel inserts to alleviate the pain. After a few doctors, I told Austen that the doctor said it probably wasn't his fault. Austen, the big teddy bear, had felt so bad about it. I think he was relieved. Was it his fault? Most likely. And I'll probably always have that pain because doctors have yet to solve the problem. But now instead of being burdened by the pain, I can smile and remember my brother. Austen always made a great impression... and now I literally have it on my foot. I never thought I would be so thankful for that.
So happy birthday, Bubs! I'm sad I won't get to squeeze you and say those words one more time. I miss you dearly.
And one more thing. I wanted to share this with you all. Austen wrote this email to Brendon March 22, 2009 - almost exactly one year before his death.
After reading about christ converting Muslims to Christians through dreams in Epicenter I decided to research these stories. I have found through some research that this is even bigger than I Imagined. Christ is showing himself to Muslims not only in dreams but in real life visions. Tens of thousands of Muslims are Turning to Christ through these visions. God is truly at work in our world. I have always felt that I believed in God and had a relationship but I still felt something was missing. I couldn't ever feel the holy spirit inside of me. Today for the first time I know for 100% that the holy spirit is inside of me. It is the most amazing feeling ever. I'm sharing this with you because you are one of the only few buddies I have that is very strong in faith and can understand how I'm feeling. Thank you very much for letting me read the book Brendon. It has truly changed my life and has blessed me with knowing I can achieve everlasting life through Jesus Christ. Thank you Brendon.
These words are a sweet assurance that my brother is in God's presence now. I will treasure them forever. In college, Austen had been on my "top 5 most wanted" list... the top 5 people I wanted to make sure knew Christ and share His love with. I married Brendon after college in 2007, and Austen loved him. Brendon didn't judge my brother for his partying or addiction struggles. He loved him. And Austen knew it.
We don't bring people to Christ. Christ brings them to Himself and simply uses us in the process. My husband allowed himself to be used in the life of my brother. What I could not accomplish, Brendon did. And my brother's destiny is changed because of it.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
Hebrews 6 assures me that if someone truly believes, they cannot lose their salvation. This is a huge comfort because the fact is we all sin. And when someone loses their life to an addiction or something of the sort, it's easy to question their salvation. Their life at the time of death looked drastically different from the life God intended for them. But my brother knew the Lord! I am so thankful that he wrote this email to assure us all. And while I hate what happened to him, I am so comforted by this.
God is sovereign. He is enough.
Austen knew that. I hope you do too.