Thursday, March 21, 2013

Celebrating God and Austen

The third anniversary of Austen's death is coming up on Monday. And his birthday on Wednesday. Part of me can't believe he has been gone that long, that he's still gone. And another part of me feels it's been so much longer.

This year I've been thinking about how to integrate my brother's memory into my family, specifically this time of year. I want my kids to know how important my brother was (and is) to me. I want them to know they had an uncle, who was constantly nagging me about when he would get the title "uncle" and who would have adored them. And really, especially this time of year, I need to do something. I need to know that even if my brother is gone and I now have my own family, in a way he isn't gone because he's still very much alive in my memories.

Of course, I talk about Austen year round. And I have his photo up in many places. But the anniversary, more so than his birthday, has been a day of sadness for me. I know it's important to let myself be sad and to grieve his loss, and I plan to. But I also want to celebrate the life he had and what God has done since then.

You see, after Austen died, I began praying that God wouldn't let Austen's death be in vain. I really didn't want to pray that at first. I cried the first many times I prayed it. How could God use something so terrible to do something great? I had no doubt He could, but truthfully I didn't want Him to. I kinda wanted to sit in a place of mourning for a long while. Nothing could ever justify my brother's death. And then God whispered to me, I feel your pain. He is my child. I don't want to justify Austen's death. I want to redeem it. Trust me to bring something good from this. So I trusted. I handed it over to the Lord and continued praying. And God has done great things.

To name a few of the things He has done...
  • First of all, before Austen died, the Lord used the book Epicenter and my sweet husband to bring my brother to Himself. He knew about Christ from growing up, but he was floundering. Though this clearly wasn't done through my brother's death, I am thankful that the Lord didn't take him before then. And every time I think about what God has done, I can't help but praise Him for this.
  • Secondly, He gave us Lilleigh. You can see why we chose her name here. But briefly, it means "new life." After many months of trying to get pregnant, God had his own perfect timing in giving us Lilleigh just a couple months after Austen passed away. Austen died around Easter, and being that the Easter lily represents the new life that I am so thankful Austen now has, it seemed only fitting to name our child after that.
  • Through going to Grief Share and counseling, the Lord gave me the tools to grieve my brother's death. And He has given me a great peace about it. He surrounded me by others who experienced loss and allowed us to comfort each other.
  • Additionally, I've begun walking the road of recovery, something I never would have done with Austen alive. There's a radio commercial that says, "When people ask, I never say my brother just got out of rehab. I say my family is finally on the road to recovery." Years ago I wouldn't have understood this. But in these last few years, I have realized that addiction doesn't just affect the addict. It affects the whole family system. I think that my revelation first came when I read this book. It made me realize that in a family, we all affect each other, and one person being free of an addiction doesn't make the whole family free. I've realized that I have hurts, hang-ups, and sin in my life that just aren't going to go away on their own. Sure they don't manifest themselves in an addiction - and I'm thankful for that - but they aren't something I can sweep under the bed either. I tried Al-Anon and felt out of place since "my addict" is dead.  So I switched to a Bible-based 12-step program, and I am currently going through what our church calls ReGeneration - aka Celebrate Recovery.
  • Lastly (well, for the moment!), the Lord allowed my uncle (might as well be a cousin... he's 30) go through a downward spiral after my brother passed, and recently he reached his lowest point, began AA, and has decided to reconnect with the Lord. Since he gave up on God years ago, even before Austen's death, this has been something I've prayed for for years. I am incredibly thankful to God for His answered prayers.
While I am still filled with grief this time of year, there is a lot to praise God for! So I've decided that on Monday I'm going to release balloons for my brother. I thought about doing 23, since that was his age at death, but 23 just sorta seems overwhelming. And then when I thought about God's goodness through all of this, I realized that I really want to celebrate not just Austen's life but also what God has done through His death. So I may release a balloon for each thing above, or I may release three balloons, since it's been three years. (Though once we get to 10, that's a lot... I'll need to figure out a new game plan... ha) I'm still deciding. But I wanted to share!

How do you remember the death of a loved one?

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