I was doing my daily Bible reading on the morning of September 9th.. and while reading through my current studies on living a life of Godly purpose, a thought popped into my head. "I should dye a colorway in memory of Aaron [my brother] and I'll share his story."
Sharing his inspiring story is something I have the desire to do every year, but often life gets in the way of actually doing it. So this prompting thought during my Bible Devotional reading seemed extra important.
You see, the day before this thought was a day which always carries with it a certain set of emotions. 17 years ago on September 8, 2006 I was going through my first personal experience of great loss and incredible grief as it was the day my brother went to heaven.
I never knew a day without him. He took care of me when I was a little baby and my entire life I looked up to him. You see, his life is quite a story and one of incredible hardship and struggle but somehow, through it all, is a story of a life of extraordinary joy through every up and down. That's not to say he didn't have moments of frustration or disappointment, but this guy was special. He somehow turned the scary dark times and disappointment into joy. Always smiling, always cracking jokes and serving others even when he was in the thick of his own battles.
Let me start at his beginning...
Aaron was born on March 27, 1982 with a congenital heart defect. My parents didn't know anything was wrong until he started turning blue. He was born with a condition called Tricuspid atresia, which in his case, meant he was born without one of his ventricles. What this meant was immediate surgery when he was an infant and another when he was about 5 years old, plus a lifetime of regular check-ups at the Children's Hospital, daily medication with side effects, summers of wearing heart monitors... and so much more.
It brought a lot of extra challenges to his life and for our family. My parents were told that his condition meant that his life would likely be shorter. But they told them to let him live his life and to not let it hold him back from doing so. Whether or not they listened to the doctor, that is precisely how he lived his life. It didn't matter if he overheated easily and couldn't play certain sports, he still loved them and even played some Little League Baseball. Since he wasn't physically able to pursue that path, he took up a hobby in video games and computers that really would take him to some exciting places in his career.
As for me, when I was born he was 2 years old and he was my hero from that point forward. I wanted to be just like him. I didn't know he was any different than me (other than better in every way in my eyes) for a long time and even when I was old enough to know something was different, it made no difference to me. He was extremely extroverted, goofy, fun and could quickly make friends with anyone in any situation no matter how different they were. Meanwhile, I was an extremely shy introvert. He was the one that typically got me out of my shell, especially when I started to withdraw more and more. He dragged me out to social get togethers and eventually church groups and attending a new church.
Even though we grew up in a Private Christian School and had a foundation of the Christian lifestyle from an early age (I suppose that helped my Mom after the stress of having a child with a heart defect) it never really CLICKED with me until I was quite a bit older. Around the time my brother started having arrhythmia problems, I was in my total angsty punk rock phase. Without his example and encouragement, I would likely have ended up going down a very different path.
When I was fresh out of High School and even more depressed with low self-esteem and a growing reclusive nature, he somehow convinced me to go to a Christian College and Career Group with promises of good music and good fun. I truly felt like a fish out of water, let me tell you, but I did enjoy the music and the people I met. What I didn't really know at the time was that at some point my brother really began further seeking out God and growing his faith. I wish I had sat down with him and had an in-depth conversation with him about when, why and how that started. Not that he didn't have the foundation but something had changed. He blossomed. He became an incredibly fearless disciple of Jesus and that would only become more and more apparent in the few short years he had left.
Through that college and career group he was referred to a new church and when he told me they were doing a sermon based on The Matrix series, I accepted his invitation to go with him the second time he went. In a short time, he would do what he always did best. Connect with people and serve others. He helped with the production team and even was a story teller for the Kids ministry. Totally channeled his geeky background and was a nerd character named Screech. He brought so much joy to so many. There were so many lives he blessed in that time that I never even knew about until later.
At the same time, his arrhythmia problems were returning more and more frequently. Each time meant a hospital visit to be cardioverted back into rhythm. And each time the doctor would warn it would keep happening and maybe it was coming time to try other methods. More open heart surgeries? A transplant?
They decided to try and do an "update" to the surgery he had as a kid. Which was a very serious open heart surgery procedure (and relatively a new procedure at the time) that he had to travel out of state to have done.
As most of his procedures did, that one went flawless. We were all overjoyed and thankful and thinking that his life was extended for a little while longer. He resumed living his life to the absolute fullest and serving others more than ever.
The next 5 months were jam packed. He started a new job got to travel for work and overall had some really incredible experiences.
Unfortunately, shortly after his 24th birthday he started feeling funny and ended up passing out in the middle of a church service. To all of our shock, we were told he was in heart failure. Essentially after years of stress to his heart from everything it had endured, it had aged prematurely. The only remaining option was a heart transplant. That summer he became a resident in the hospital waiting for his new heart.
Let me tell you, he was a rock star every time he was in the hospital. He was sweet as pie to all the nurses and had them all wrapped around his finger but he also would go around to other patients on the same floor, connect with them and talk to them about God.
Again, most of the time we had no clue the impact he was making on others. Talk about living a fulfilling life. This man was facing one of the scariest circumstances and he was still serving others around him. My Dad even asked him once when he visited him in the hospital. "Aren't you afraid?" to which he responded: "Why should I be afraid? It's a win-win! Either I get a brand new heart and live with a full heart for the first time or I get to meet my Lord and Savior!"
And it wasn't just words. He said it with absolute certainty and seriousness. Looking back that memory always gets me. He was living a life completely surrendered to God's Will and in that knowledge of being in the palm of God's hand he had total peace.
Even though we lost him during his transplant procedure, those words would give us comfort in our grief. To know without any doubt that this young man was in Heaven waiting for us.
The ripples of his life continue to move to this day. After his passing we got letters upon letters of how he set people on the right path and sometimes it was just his joyful aura that impressed upon others so much that it made them seek after the same joy. Every time we met someone or heard a story of how he impacted people and brought them to Jesus it just made our hearts overflow with emotion. He not only changed their lives, but the lives in our own family. His life gave me courage to make healthy changes and step out of my comfort zone and he even radically changed the life of our Dad.
So in light of all of this, I decided to dye a seasonal Autumn orange colorway to honor his memory. Orange was his favorite color and when he worked for NASA, he always wore orange every Friday and eventually everyone he worked with ended up turning it in "Orange You Glad It's Friday" so, I present you with this colorway we'll offer for a limited time: Orange You Glad It's Autumn
It is my hope his story will inspire you to reflect on your own life, your own struggles and realize there is still SO much good. It's living with gratitude for being alive that helped my brother live with such incredible joy. When we are grateful for what we already have and then use that to try and help others, then we can know what living with joy truly feels like.