There is a lot to share about Liam. When I first met Liam he was three years old, the same age as my daughter. He was a focused kid with a quick smile at humorous and silly things. It was a joy to joke around with Liam and say crazy things. He would say crazy things right back to me. It was fun to be with Liam. He was a gentle blend of very intense and extremely silly.
Liam was a pray-er. When I first heard Liam pray, it was in a home. Our home group makes it a priority for children to lead in prayer. When his family would visit our home group, Liam was sometimes shy about praying and sometimes quick to pray. Liam would offer his requests to God, always for other people. It was a joy to watch Liam bow his head, intertwine his fingers, and bring heaven and earth together in word.
Liam was a soccer player. When I first met Liam on the soccer field, he had never played before. He had a love for soccer, he had the equipment, and he had a family eager to surround him in this new adventure. I was his soccer coach along with my daughter Lizzie and their teammates (Nathan, Emery, Nicolas, and others).
When Liam had the soccer ball, I used to chase him like a Tie Fighter. This was a game I did with my own son, Nathan. I needed a way to get Liam out of slow intense focus and launch him into “light speed” toward the goal. It worked. The focused Liam and the silly Liam took to flight toward the goal. That year we all watched Liam score his first goal and his second goal and often many goals each game. It was fun to watch Liam run and play, score and laugh.
On the soccer field, we learned the rules through silly things we imagined. The goal box could not be entered and so it was a “Shark Pit.” The boundary line was a “cliff" that would drop the ball off into the sea. The soccer field was an outdoor world of fun and imagination. It was fun to watch Liam play his favorite game “kick the coach.” This was a game where all the kids chased the coaches dribbling their soccer balls. They would kick the ball at the coach, and coaches if hit had to take on the sound of the animal the player chose. Liam loved kicking me. It brought the serious task of learning to play soccer together with the silliness of life.
Liam was an artist. He had an artistic view of the world. There was attention to detail and yet there was also play and creativity. One must have both to look at this deadly serious world full of so many ridiculous things. His artwork was often described by parents and detailed by Liam. It was shown and given to friends. The creativity of his artwork brought photographers to his room and reporters to his bedside because it was an art that did something.
About a year ago, Liam was diagnosed with Leukemia – a rare and aggressive form of Leukemia. It meant that he spent a lot of time in isolation. It meant that he could not return to his soccer team. It meant that he could not be around as many of his friends. It meant that he could not return home. It meant that life was different. Life was still filled with family, friends, soccer, art, and games, but life was lived on a different schedule.
I didn’t intend to tell you about Liam being seriously silly or a soccer player or an artist. I wanted to tell you about what Liam began with his parents while in a hospital bed. He cared about the world. His concern for the world was focused on the needs of kids in Africa who did not have clean water.
Liam was quite aware of the money spent to fight his disease and keep him alive for as long as possible. He compared that to the little money that would be required to give other children something extremely basic – water. Liam had all the water he needed or wanted for watercolors, to turn his Gatorade into fluid, to wash the sleep out of his eyes, or brush his teeth. The thought of other kids having virtually no water, led him on a trail of questions to his parents, that resulted in launching Liam’s Wells in the summer of 2010.
Liam’s Wells was his attempt to do something from his hospital room to bring water to others across the globe. Liam’s illness and Liam’s resolve brought people and money together and saw the completion of at least three new water wells. It was a joy to watch Liam live outside of his body and his life.
Last week, just a few days after his seventh birthday, Liam’s body ended the fight. With treatments long since exhausted but chased to their complete end in Nashville, his life, as we knew it, was over.
There really are not appropriate words for such sorrow. There are not encouraging things to be said that can be any kind of medicine for a wounded family and many friends. In the same way that Liam’s treatment ended, there just is not medication to make this disease of death less difficult.
Prayer and love pave the only path I know. I have seen prayer through the lips of my daughter Lizzie’s lips. Every day since diagnosis (I mean every single day), Liam’s life has been spoken from her heart to the heart of God. Lizzie has led all of us in remembering Liam and his family. She would raise her hands in a crowd of adults and ask them to pray, at bedtime she would pray, and at church she would pray. Nathan, Lizzie and our family prayed together and individually for Liam. Continued prayer and love is the only path I know.
After receiving the news, I was walking home for lunch and I found “a secret message,” at least that is what I would tell my kids and wish to tell Liam, too. It was lying in an alley blown against a fence. The secret message was a piece of white notebook paper, blue lines, with a red line guiding writers to a starting point. It was wavy with having been soaked in water or tears, but crisp because the water was long since removed. Written on the paper in a bold black Sharpie was a passage I treasure. These words are marked in my Bible. A man named John, who was a very close friend of Jesus, wrote these words long after his friend Jesus was brutally murdered. As I read these words, I heard something different
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. [1 John 3:1-3]
We are children of God – all of us. Right now this is true, “you are children of God.” This states reality as it is. This was true of Liam, too: “Liam was a child of God.” I am glad to think of others and myself as children of God. Liam and my own kids give me confidence that we are children of God right now.
What caught me with some freshness, given the reality of Liam’s death, was something new for Liam. He was a child of God – this is true. However, what he is now has not yet been revealed. John writes that what we will be and what Liam will be is somewhat hidden from us. John, this friend of Jesus, gives us a hint about what this ‘unrevealed existence’ will look like. We will be like Jesus. We will be like the glorified Son of God. We will be like him because we will be able to see Jesus as he really is in fullness.
This is an amazing and mind-blowing thought. Liam was a child of God. Liam will be revealed and will be like Jesus. Think about that one for a moment. Liam’s life has not ended but will go on without end in the same way that Jesus’ exists.
Now, let me be clear. This is not a passage about death. This is not merely a passage about what happens to someone when they die. This is something that for those who have eyes to see is happening. Liam, a child of God, was living out this story before our eyes. He was already helping us look at Jesus as Jesus is. A Living Liam was living as a glorified Jesus.
We have opportunity now to live for the good of others. We have occasions to give our lives and our money to benefit those who have far less. We have minds that should give us pause when we make choices about what to buy because our purchases vote for the poverty or well being of others. The clothes and electronics we buy can support slavery. The things that we waste or toss or dismiss or take for granted might make someone else’s life better.
Liam was a child, just a child of God. Liam was seriously funny. Liam was a soccer player. Liam was a child of God who stepped into a world far bigger than most of us exist in. What Liam will be has not yet been revealed, but the indications are pretty amazing. For now, Jesus has shown those of us who remain behind the way to live this life that has present and eternal implications.
Our family will continue to pray for Liam’s family. We will grieve for Matt & Amy, Mary, Sandy & Gary and all the extended family. We will hope and intend to live our lives to be like Jesus and we will long for the coming of time when we will see him as he really is.