A heart fully committed

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Tyler’s 23rd birthday is tomorrow. If some Christian producer wished to make a movie about a young man completely sold out to God, confident in his faith, always willing to be a positive witness, and one who demonstrated his relationship with Jesus in his life, he need look no further.

Tyler always believed in God somehow. Oh, he had the positive influence of a Christian mom and others but, in the teen years, even the most dedicated tend to go through a crisis of faith. His came early.

It was in the 4th grade when he began to question the existence of God. Was there a God? Are we created by him or are we just accidents of the universe? Typical, even at that young age, he decided to investigate and analyze.

He acquired the book, “The Lie,” by Australian Ken Hamm and, reading it, concluded that God was real indeed. He never looked back and never wavered nor faltered after that. His faith was cemented and kept growing. From that time his heart was fully committed.

A believer in creation, as opposed to evolution, in the 6th grade he was troubled by a teacher’s emphasis on evolution as a fact, not a theory. Having developed a firm opinion on the matter, Tyler debated the teacher. In a short time, his mother, Janece Risty, was called to the principal’s office.

The teacher was complaining that he spent so much time debating Tyler that he was getting farther and farther behind in his lesson plan. The solution was offered: Tyler would stay in the office for the remainder of the teaching and, in return, would be given an “A.”

Tyler asked for more — he requested permission to start an after-school club for students interested in studying about creation. He received it and a group of about half a dozen students met together regularly.

There would be a price to pay. Six classmates, who looked unfavorably on Tyler’s open Christianity, took it upon themselves to mercilessly bully young Tyler. Finding their courage in the mob, the boys continually punched him and pummeled him at school. It was when they cornered him at school with a box cutter and told him they would kill him the next day that he was removed from the public school and placed in a private one.

In Lynchburg, Va., he began to blossom. He was athletic and played sports, especially football. While a high school freshman, he became a member of “Skiers and Snowboarders for Christ,” and competed in snowboarding competitions. He took up playing the guitar and, unusual for a boy his age, took an interest in the “Rat Pack,” an informal group of entertainers from 1955, and he especially enjoyed the music of Frank Sinatra. He was a good student and labeled “super-smart” by his mother.

His sophomore year began at Northgate High School in Coweta County, Ga., after the family relocated. Tyler continued to live out his faith. In the mornings before school, he would read the New Testament for half an hour. At school, he would invite students to come early to school for Bible study. At night, in addition to school work, he would find time to spend another half hour in the Old Testament.

Mother and son attended Dogwood Church in Peachtree City and, in 2013, were baptized together. Tyler was also involved in the youth group at South Metro Ministries in Coweta County and was a participant in two additional Bible studies. He also hosted a monthly group at his home.

A teacher sent his mother an email sharing how it was a joy to have Tyler as a student. She said that he was always preaching his faith in Christ through English writing assignments which he would then volunteer to read.

Again, his open faith would carry with it a price. He was threatened by so-called tough guys in the school who threatened at lunch time to “F*** him up.” Tyler’s response was to pray for his tormentors and skip lunch altogether for the rest of the year and study in the library. He didn’t hold grudges, didn’t become angry. He simply shared with his mother that, “They just need Jesus.”

Girls liked Tyler. For one thing, he was wickedly handsome and, for another, he respected them. He believed in boundaries, including the boundary of no sex before marriage. Girls were safe with Tyler.  Ironically, Tyler’s plans for the future did not include being a minister. He had designs on being a mechanical engineer. At one point he expressed interest in working for NASA.

On December 21, 2013 Tyler had a dream in which he was on an operating room table surrounded by doctors working around his head. Then, he saw himself on a mountain top with Jesus standing next to him pointing into the valley. His aunt, Angela Northrop, had the very same dream. In the aunt’s dream, Jesus took Tyler’s hand and together they ascended.

It was on July 21, 2014, while at home with a girlfriend, that a massive headache sent him to the ground and triggered a seizure. He told his girlfriend, “Call Mom.” The ambulance and the hospital followed. Nine days later, Tyler Gabriel Liebl, age 16, was dead from a massive brain bleed.

Tyler died on a Wednesday. That evening, the youth at South Metro Ministries held a memorial service for the young man who was so much a part of their lives. During an altar call some 30 teens committed their lives to Christ. The funeral service, days later, was held at a standing room-only Christ the King Church. Other young people made a commitment there, too.

In the days that followed, Janece found even more evidence of Tyler’s faith in a diary, in notes left in his Bible, and in letters he wrote to God. In these letters were prayers that he prayed for the bullies, questions that he had, and praises that he offered. Every letter to God was signed: “Love, your son, Tyler.”

Through the miracle of modern medicine, Tyler’s life of sacrifice continued with organ donations. Twenty-three people had their lives saved or impacted by Tyler’s organs. Seventeen-year old Lance Frye of Irwin, Penn., was the recipient of Tyler’s heart. Janece became quite close with Lance and his family which resulted in visits to Pennsylvania and reciprocal visits to Georgia. The two families vacationed together.

One of the most meaningful gifts Lance gave to Tyler’s mom was a teddy bear. When she squeezed the paw, the toy would emit a heartbeat. It was a recording of Tyler’s heart now beating in Lance’s chest.

A few years later, Lance was diagnosed with cancer. Janece visited him and his family in Erwin, Penn. When things got worse, she stayed with him in the hospital when Lance’s parents needed some recovery time. She prayed with him and, upon returning home, prayed with him every night on the telephone. Just before Christmas 2018, Lance died. He was 21 years old, having been given an extra four years by Tyler’s heart.

Tyler had a dog, a female boxer named Brigeta, called, for short, “Bree.” To this day, when the paw of the bear is squeezed, Bree hurries to the bear and lies down on it, her head near the beating heart.

Tyler Libel would have been 23. It is said that the only thing one really leaves behind, our only true legacy, how we continue to live on, is in our family and in the influence we have had on other people. If this be Tyler’s measure, then, truly, he lives. He lives.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the crisis, the church is live streaming at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays at http://www.facebook.com/cctksharpsburg/ He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]