Happy Birthday, Bubs!

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. 
There are so many more memories I could recall and share with you. It's making me so happy to write these. If you have memories (or comments), please share them too! I think it's the great memories that are going to pull us all through.

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.


  1. Happy Birthday Austen! Ashleigh this brought tears to my eyes, you are such an amazing sister and Austen and everyone else is so lucky to have you. Austen will truly be missed by so many!

  2. Ashleigh, I could barely get through all of this; my heart hurt and smiled all at the same time. You are an incredible woman and amazing sister. Thank you for blessing me by letting me in on you and Austen's special bond. Praise God for how good He is and how we can all be certain that Austen is living a life in Heaven that we so eagerly wait to experience! I love you Ashleigh! Happy Birthday to your sweet brother, Austen!

  3. Thank you for that blog Ash. What a beautiful memory of Austen! As we sing in hymns, "the battle belongs to the Lord" - Austen's battle is over as he is now with the Lord. Happy Birthday Austen, we love you!

  4. That was beautiful my friend! My prayer is that you all have a wonderful day of celebration and laughter.

  5. I love you Ash! That was such a beautiful celebration of Austen. Your airport memory brought back so many hilarious memories with you and your siblings on trips. Austen was always in the middle of our schemes ;). But as much as yall picked on each other, your bond and love for each other was undeniable. His huge heart and hugs will be missed by so many. Happy Birthday Austen!

  6. ShARI READE-KEYSERMarch 27, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    Oh Ashleigh, that is so beautiful! I know Austen would love it!

    I feel so honored to have had the pleasure of watching you two grow up. In addition to "Ashleigh and Brendan" it was also " Austen and Ashleigh". It has always seemed impossible to say one without the other!

    You two never seemed to fuss with each other or have "sibling stife". but rather lovingly tease, always with big grins.

    After I left Texas, it didn't take long for me to realize Texas was where my heart was! I anxiously looked forward to moving back! One of my favorite memories is durning a trip "home", I woke up one night feeling a presence in the room. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness on the edge of the bed I saw Austen! He was about 3 and in the zipper footie pajamas, sitting on the bed, eyes wide open and that smile that lights up the room! I explained that it was too early to play and asked if he wanted to sleep with us. Austen crawled up between Uncle Joey and I! That was the best welcome home ever!

    Austen had the most easy going, loving personality. And always hungry! Austen loved to sit close to "the girls" when eating. Always willing to taste what I ordered and finish what I couldn't eat.

    when I was in the hospital recently under going major surgery, Austen would call Uncle Joey to make sure I was okay. The plan was for Austen to keep me company while I was recovering, playing cards and watching movies...

    Austen, my heart is with you always. I look forward to the day I see you again! I miss your bear hugs and your smile! I love you so very much! Happy birthday! Aunt Shari

  7. Ashleigh,
    Thank you for sharing this. What a beautiful rememberance of Austen. He was such a joy to be around. I am thankful for the short time that I knew him. And we are ALL sinners, which makes me so thankful for our forgiveness in Jesus Christ (which is beautifully written in Psalm 32). I also rejoice knowing that sweet Austen is praising God in heaven now. I know this is a difficult time and am confident that you and your family will find refuge in God's arms. For it is written in Psalm 34:18, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Steve and I love you all so much.

  8. What a beautiful testimony your brother has...I say that because he lives on as you well know, just not right here. Which is the very tough part for you and your family. My prayers are with you, your family, his friends, and people he never even knew. May his testimony continue to change lives.
    Pam Bruce [Ashley Crowder's Mom]

  9. Ashley OldenettelMarch 27, 2010 at 4:56 PM

    What an amazing post.....your brother was such a fun and wonderful person. I have so many great memories of him and your family! I don't think I'll ever forget hearing my Mom ask Ali if she "pantsed" Austen in elementary school one day. When Ali said "No" my Mom quickly replied "Well your Principal called and said you did". Once Ali fessed up we found out she pantsed him because he was pulling on her necklace, trying to get her attention, while in line for the water fountain! It's become one of our favorite stories! I remember so many other similar stories and of course all the fun we had in the Virgin Islands! I know he's up there looking over you and everyone else. Much love!! :)


  11. Thank you for sharing this Ashleigh. Loved reading this. What a sweet friend and brother and you of course a great sister. Grateful that Austen knows Christ! Continued prayers for you and your family through the sweet memories and the great sadness.

  12. I have always viewed you as an amazingly positive person, but this tops it all. This must have been the most heart-wrenching week for you, and yet you are already blogging (which of course is what you do best!) encouraging others with happy memories of your brother and the hope we have in Christ. Thanks for being a great example of what it means to trust God in our grief.

  13. What a beautiful post about your brother, Ashleigh, and the assurance we have from God. That is an amazing comfort in what can be our darkest days. Prayers and Hugs!

  14. Ashlea,

    What a beautiful post. I have found that throughout this process sharing and remembering has truly been the best medicine. Austen was the first friend I ever had. I remember the morning I met him at Hunters Creek like it was yesterday. Austen always had the same effect on me that he had on you. He reminded me not to take life to seriously, to chill out, and that everything was going to be ok. I have so many stories of your brother and I that I will hold and cherish until the day I see him again. Austen defined friendship as he always put those closest to him first, and always had your back. Happy birthday Stone. Rest in peace.

  15. Sweet Ashleigh,
    What a joy it has been for Mr. Allen and I to see you grow into an incredible Christian young woman. Your beautiful writing has unleashed so many wonderful memories of Austen. One of them being the trip our families took together to Michigan when Austen, who was around 9 or 10, tried with all his might to chop wood with a huge ax so that he could provide warmth for all of us who were freezing in a cabin with no source of heat. That same trip, we saw his love of fun and laughter as he egged Mr. Allen to continue his "Mr. Chow" impersonation for as long as we could stand it. I'll never forget Austen's love for caring for others, his hugs, his smile and laughter. Thanks for sharing your brother with us in this special way. I love you. Mrs. Allen

  16. Ashleigh, what a beautiful post! I cried and smiled throughout it. My little bro holds such a special place in my heart too, I cannot imagine the pain your heart feels right now. It is so special that you have that email and can see God's love and sovereignty in this moment. What an amazing God we serve and that now your brother is praising in Heaven with the angels. I will continue to keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. Take care!

  17. Ashleigh this post has left me a puddle of tears. I am so thankful that you have some wonderful albeit mean (lol) memories of your brother. I lost my own brother a year and half ago. He too struggled with many things including drugs an it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do - making it through his funeral and there after. I hope that you are really able to take the time to spend with your family and surround yourself with love.

  18. What a heart-wrenchingly beautiful post, Ashleigh. I can't imagine the deep ache you're feeling with this loss, but I am praying that God will hold you close and give you peace and even joy in this time.

  19. Ashleigh, our prayers are with you and your family. My heart breaks for your loss, but I know God has you in his arms and is wrapping you up in his Peace. Please let us know if you ever need anything.

  20. I'm so sorry about your brother.

    One thing that a friend told me when my Dad died was - the only thing that could make it hurt less is if you loved him less. I thought about that and realized I didn't want to give up any love or memories to make it hurt less now (this helped a control freak like me feel better).

  21. my dear Dilly,
    you did yourself proud here. I am proud of your courage as you have had to say good by to your brother, even if just for a little while. I am proud of your openness and willingness to share his story, which will be a light in
    someone else's life. and i am proud of your love and faith in God and in Austen.
    love you,


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