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Iliad: Remembrance and Testimony

by Earl & Phyllis Mullins

(Reprinted from Facebook with permission of Earl & Phyllis)

(Iliad Michael Mullins passed into the arms of Jesus on Jan. 23, 2019 at 11 months old)

    It has been over 6 months since the passing of our beloved grandson, Iliad Michael Mullins. We, Earl and Phyllis Mullins, decided to share some thoughts about the events of Iliad’s life and death as we witnessed events related to Iliad unfold in the midst of our family. We composed or assembled (from journals and notes we had kept) these thoughts in the days which followed Iliad’s home-going, but we have waited a few months to post these thoughts. With the passage of these few months, it seems the time is appropriate.
As you read the ramblings of an old man and an old woman born out of a painful and personal journey, we ask your forgiveness or tolerance. We (especially Earl) rarely post anything, but we feel the personal (perhaps therapeutic or even selfish) need to share a portion of the journey our family has had (and continues to have) with the loss of the beautiful life of “illy”.
     A little family context and background is in order. We have 4 sons and 3 daughters in law (we say daughters in law but each of them is a daughter to us) and we acknowledge how we are truly blessed with and in this family. In this family, we have 7 beautiful and beloved grandchildren. Each of them is a special gift of God to their parents, to their families, and to us (as well as the other grandparents with whom we share these beautiful grandchildren). As with each of these precious souls, Iliad, the youngest of the 7 seven grandchildren, was special in so many ways.
     Our grandson, Iliad was born on February 23, 2018 and passed out of this life 11 months later on January 23, 2019. His 11 months on this earth were indeed precious but heart-breaking months. Because of the disease which attacked his body (a rare form of brain cancer called ATRT) and upon discovery of the disease at age 5 months, we knew that his life might be shortened unless God intervened. With that knowledge, all of his family pressed in to support his parents and to love Iliad knowing time might be compressed.
     As this journey began to unfold with the unwanted diagnosis of ATRT brain cancer and as it became obvious the true nature of the battle in which Iliad would be involved, we began to notice people and events which we saw from time to time and we made note of them (people and events).
     Some thoughts and journal entries of people and events came in the early months of anticipation not knowing how God would respond to our constant prayers. Some thoughts and journal entries are more recent, born out of and in the savage, raw pain of Iliad’s eternal homegoing. Some thoughts and journal entries came in times in between anticipation and great grief. What follows are a part of those journal entries as well as certain reflections on these events. They are our (Earl and Phyllis’) shared thoughts and not that of the rest of our family. We share them with no real goal in mind and certainly with no agenda except to share and to bring glory to Jesus Christ.
     First, as grandparents of baby Iliad Mullins, please accept our deepest gratitude for the many, many blessings so many have given to and showered upon our family in this most difficult season. The blessings of the multitude of prayers, overflowing words of encouragement, sacrificial gifts and more are spectacularly beyond comprehension but nonetheless moving. We have been brought to tears over and over again by the blessed words and actions of so many. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!!!. Beyond our endless gratitude to so many of you, we thank our great God for what He has done through you which has had and will continue to have eternal impact.
     Secondly, we want to let you know, even though this is a season of indescribable pain, the love, grace and mercy of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ has, is and will get us through. We will continue to cry and grieve even as we lean into the Eternal Father through His Spirit. As the scriptures state (2 Corinthians 4: 7-9): “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Our treasure is Christ in us, and a part of our Christ given family treasure is the time we spent with Iliad whom He sent into our family. Though we have many Christ given family treasures as it regards Iliad, we hurt and hurt deeply. Nonetheless, we will not abandon our faith because our faith brings us a relationship with Jesus which is an indescribable treasure and is our only source of comfort and hope.
     One illustration of the pain we have, and which is very personal to Earl is a song he sang to and with the grandsons. When our first grandson, Sam, was born and because he lived several states away, Earl did not see him often in the early months and years of his life. When Earl visited with Sam for the first time shortly after his birth, a silly song was born in Earl’s mind and he began to sing it to Sam regularly. The words were simple- “That’s my baby, that’s my baby, Baby boy, Baby boy, That’s my baby Sam, That’s my baby Sam, Yes, it is, Yes, it is”.
Earl has sung that song to all the grandsons as they came along changing only the name as was appropriate. He sang that song to Iliad from his birth and sang it to him constantly through this journey. Iliad always responded even in times of great sickness and would turn his face towards Earl and smile as Earl sang. In Iliad’s last days, Earl either sang that song to him as he held him or Earl read stories from the Bible to him, especially stories of Old Testament heroes. Earl sang or read even more in those last few days when Iliad was not as responsive, sleeping most of the time.  We have noticed that since Iliad’s homegoing, Earl can’t sing that song. Perhaps one day he will be able to sing it again but for now he can’t because of the rawness of the pain. We all hurt and hurt deeply.
     It is important that we (Earl and Phyllis) state a few things boldly and clearly and as we state them, we believe that these observations would be and are shared by our immediate family. Here is what has been confirmed to us in this painfilled journey:
     1.) We believe in and are disciples of Jesus Christ, the living Son of the One True God. We are His and He is Ours and we are unapologetic for this. We have personal relationships with the Creator God through Jesus Christ, and He, the Way (as He describes Himself in the Scriptures) has been with us every step of Iliad’s way (i.e. journey). We cannot fathom and have no idea how anyone could face this kind of tragedy without God and His Grace present in their life;
     2.) No Christian is exempt from the corruption and decay of this world. Sometimes and, if God allows it, Christians will experience cancer in their children or grandchildren, or they will experience other horrible life experiences. For those who are children of God by way of a personal relationship with Jesus, when these horrible events occur, we have the right to plead with God for mercy and grace in the form of a miracle of healing, but there is no promise of God in His Word that we will always receive the desired healing in this world. It is according to His Will and, in this case, God answered so many prayers as we prayed but for His own reasons, He did not intervene to heal Iliad of ATRT on this earth. He simply reminded us that He would be with us, that Iliad was loved by the Creator Savior God and God would not give us more than we could bear;
     3.) Even though our grandson’s life was in His hands (even from before his birth), we pled (constantly and without ceasing) with God for the grace of a miraculous healing and we did so as long as there was life (see 2 Samuel 12:15-23) in our grandson (and even afterwards as we prayed for a Lazarus type resurrection which God could have done). That is our right as citizens of the Kingdom of God and as His children and we exercised that right as we had never exercised it before;
     4.) We will see our grandson again someday. Soon after Iliad passed, Phyllis commented that when Iliad died, her mother who passed in the fall of 2018 from the ravages of Alzheimer and had never seen Iliad (because of her disease), saw him and held him in her arms upon his homegoing as did his great, great grandparents Dave and Dorothy Haas, great grandfathers Earl Mullins and Jesse Montgomery and a host of other loved ones who were faithful saints now with Jesus;
     5.) We would not wish Iliad back into this world (particularly if it meant he would have to constantly battle ATRT and be tied to an IV pole for his life) for such wish would be the height of selfishness for us (though we wish with all our hearts that we could hold him again here on this earth);
     6.) We are weeping because of the circumstances and we will perhaps weep more in the days to come, but that is OK. God made us to be “family” and to bond in and at the deepest levels possible, according to His eternal and Biblical model of family. When we see a loved one suffer or when the bonds of family are paused even for a temporary time by the passing of a loved one and because of our personal commitment to the Way of Christ and because of the way we are created, we will grieve (but as believers in Christ we grieve not as the rest who have no hope);
     7.) We are so proud of our son, Michael, and daughter-in-law, Tess. It is beyond imagination for us to understand the depth of their loss as we can barely fathom our own. Yet we saw them act heroically on behalf of their son especially when the terrible diagnosis came. We saw them continue to act heroically as Iliad entered the difficult season of ATRT treatment. We saw them continue to act heroically as Iliad passed while in their arms from this life into the arms of the angels who carried him into the presence of Jesus;
     8.) We were faithful to God as these events unfolded. We were faithful even though we didn’t understand it all. We were faithful to God even as we questioned God’s decision to withhold the desired healing. Some may question whether there was more that could have been done to cause God to move miraculously to spare Iliad’s life, but such questioning is without any foundation. Our grandson died of cancer because God allowed it and not because He couldn’t do a miracle of removing the cancer. Our grandson died of the ravages of brain cancer and not because we failed as a family to say enough prayers or we failed as a family to anoint baby Iliad with oil enough times or we failed to use oil from a “gopher tree found in the Holy Land”. Iliad did not die because we didn’t know or speak the “right” or “magic” words which God would require before He would move on behalf of Iliad. Our family is far from perfect and we have a lot to learn about faith in Jesus Christ, but we have followed Jesus Christ in a personal relationship with all our lives and that includes our son and daughter in law. The start of following God was from long before Iliad was conceived, long before he was born and long before cancer was diagnosed in him. We have had and continue to have a SIMPLE faith in Jesus based on what God’s Word (the Bible) says and it is Simply faith upon which we have relied and upon which we will continue to rely;
     9.) Early in this journey when the depth of the challenge of the disease which was attacking Iliad became apparent, our thoughts naturally turned to bargaining with God for Iliad’s life. However, as we took inventory, we found we had nothing with which to bargain. We are far from perfect in our walk with Christ but as committed disciples of Christ we had already given Christ all that we are-all our talents, all our time, all our skills, our finances, our relationships, our energies, our passions, etc. There was simply nothing left with which to bargain. It would have been silly for us to pray that if God would spare Iliad’s life, we would go to church faithfully or give Biblically or pray constantly or be committed to His Word or anything else. With vast room to grow in all these areas, we knew we had already given everything to Him. However, having surrendered long ago to the person and Will of Jesus Christ has brought an immeasurable benefit which became more important than ever in this season. The increased benefit (or at least increased awareness of the existing benefit) was we had the God of the Universe, the Creator God, the Savior God on our side, for indeed we were and are His and He was ours and He loved Iliad more than we do.
     10.) Our God has not failed us in any way in this (or any) season. Our Heavenly Father knows what it’s like to see a Son die in circumstances that should never have been from a human perspective. God has been faithful. Our grandson has been healed just not in the way we preferred, and we leave that decision that with our Good God. We don’t say “God didn’t fail us” as if trying to make something good out of a bad situation, or because, after the fact, we are trying to appease God or for any reason other than because it is true;
     11.) We know that the impact of our grandson’s life on us was immeasurable and incredible. Moreover, and in the same way the impact changed our family, his life changed the lives of so many. The impact of his short life stretches all around the world and continues. Though the grief we felt (and feel) was deep and unrelenting, Iliad’s celebration service was a wonderful and healing event and illustrated in small measure how God used the life of an innocent baby to impact so many, far and wide. The testimonies shared in that season both in person and by social media confirms how God used this little baby for His purposes.
     12.) We were so proud of our son and daughter in law as they shared at the celebration service a small portion of their journey with Iliad and as they praised Christ for their time with Iliad. The words they spoke at Iliad’s celebration service (it is hard for us to fathom that they could even speak) were heroic words which honored not only Iliad but also honored God. These parents have done extra-ordinarily well in a nightmarish circumstance and their testimony is worth noting. We wonder what God will do with and through them because of this journey. We don’t know how, we don’t know what, but there are great possibilities of incredible God honoring service to others to which God may call them. (As to the celebration service-Thank you, Andy and Richie)
     13.) So many people wanting to bless us in this time of great grief have encouraged us by stating Iliad is now an angel or he got his wings upon his death. As lovely as that sentiment is, the truth is even more encouraging and exciting for us. The truth is Iliad is so precious to our great God and Savior, he (and all others like him) is not an angel rather he is served by angels. How incredible is the love of our great God for Him to give angels to take care of Iliad until we are joined with him?
     14.) Though our grandson has died to this world (and is now alive with Christ), we shall not forget the many miracles which God has performed in the midst of this trying time. We shall not forget the many blessings He showered upon us and our family. How shall we forget the following?
a.) We shall not forget the countless thousands of prayers that went up daily for our family and for Iliad;
b.) We shall not forget the Sunday in late July when over a 100 people stood with Michael and Tess in the surgery waiting room when Iliad was in surgery at Norton’s Children’s Hospital. We prayed, we cried, we hugged, and the journey began;
c.) We shall not forget that our son’s family was supported economically by the monetary gifts of many to the extent that Michael could be with his wife and son at St Jude’s Hospital for 6 months without worrying at all about his expenses in Memphis or back home in Indiana;
d.) We shall not forget that the first week Michael, Tess and Iliad were at St Jude, a Memphis restaurant owner, as a Christ follower, gave our son $600 when he heard the story of Iliad as our son and some of the family ate in his establishment;
e.) We shall not forget our son and daughter in law have been a blessing to so many, many families at St Jude who, in many instances, do not have the support system they do. They have attended the funeral of two other “St Jude” babies since the passing of Iliad and their connection to other families who are still at St Jude or who they met at St Jude remains incredibly strong and supportive even as they grieve;
f.) We shall not forget a person stepped forward and anonymously gave $240 per week for every week our son and daughter in law were at St Jude (thank you Hillview Christian Church congregant);
g.) We shall not forget a local church took up a collection one Sunday and gave over $4500 to Michael and Tess while another church took up a collection and gave $2000 and yet another gave several hundred (thank you Hillview Christian, Borden Church of Christ and Pekin Baptist);
h.) We shall not forget the incredible moral, spiritual and constant financial support of Michael and Tess’ home church, Lifepointe Church in Louisville. That church was so involved in encouraging Michael and Tess while they were in Memphis, and that included encouragement from the adults’ ministries as well as the children’s ministries. That church encouraged and encouraged and encouraged and then gave and gave and gave;
i.) We shall not forget coffee shop owners in Sellersburg held a pancake breakfast fundraiser on a Saturday at the start of the journey and then later opened their establishment on a Sunday when it is normally closed to allow a time of prayer and encouragement just before the family left for St Jude (thank you Kerry and Jena);
j.) We shall not forget the incredible times of intercessory prayer including family times and public times like the sendoff prayer meeting (thank you Doug, Ray, Andy and Dane for public prayers and thank you Phillip for family led prayers) and a special time of prayer at Sellersburg Elementary and another special time at a church in Henryville;
k.) We shall not forget that there were bunco fundraisers (thank you Laura, Allison Tina and the Sellingers), coffee cup fundraiser, Decal fundraiser, home party fundraisers-(31 Scentsy, Mary Kay), #IliadRocks sale, Beef’s Beef Apparel, Band T-shirts/Onesies, Tattoo shop fundraiser, “Goodie baskets” Fundraiser, golf scramble fundraiser (thank you Matt, Savannah, Daniel, Felicity and others), Christmas ornament fundraiser, all which yielded extra-ordinary results;
l.) We shall not forget that a local and sizable corporation adopted Michael, Tess and Iliad as the company’s Christmas charity and donated an incredible amount of money which allowed Michael and Tess as it turns out to spend time grieving without worrying about bills after Iliad’s homegoing (thank you Richie and Brent and your company)
m.) We shall not forget that friends donated (at absolutely no cost to our family) shirts and hoodies for sale which yielded great revenue for Iliad and his family and all at the personal expenses of these friends (thank you JR and Kim);
n.) We shall not forget that a man wanting to remain anonymous dropped off $400 dollars at Earl’s law office with a note to use for Iliad and his family;
o.) We shall not forget the MANY monetary gifts which came by check, cash, Zelle or PayPal, as Prayer Warriors sent encouraging notes.
p.) We shall not forget the gifts of snack baskets, food items, gift cards, homemade blankets, stuffed animals, wreaths, special clothes, Kozy Kandles (Iliad’s candles) etc.;
q.) We shall not forget meeting extraordinary doctors, nurses, practitioners and staff first at Norton Children’s Hospital and then at St Jude, all of whom who quickly fell in love with Iliad and his parents and we with them;
r.) We shall not forget the wonderful pastor/chaplain we met at St Jude who walked the St Jude journey with the family (thank you Mark);
s.) We shall not forget the caring teams of professionals who cared for Iliad in his time of treatment and then as he was placed in the care of the “Quality of Life” team (amazing people whom God directed);
t.) We shall not forget the tears of the many professionals at St Jude who came to comfort Michael and Tess at Iliad’s passing with each citing how they wished there was more that could have been done;
u.) We shall not forget the wonderful pastoring which several men of God gave all our family (Thank you Andy, Daniel, Richie, Duane, Dave, David, Paul, Ray, Jim and so many others) Also, Phyllis will not forget the amazing Women of God who called or met her to share encouraging verses and/or prayers over the months. (Thank you, Mom, Alice, Beth, Terri, Carrell, Abby, Savannah, Bonnie, Lisa, Lydia, Rachel, Debbie, Linda, Paula, Marilyn, Anna, Betty Ann, Anne and others)
v.) We shall not forget how immediate family did incredible things for family in the midst of the “storm”. Phyllis and Stacie lived in Memphis for 6 months and were the immediate support team for Michael, Tess and Iliad. Phillip, Abby, Matthew, Savannah, Kenzie, Jake and Corey were towers of encouragement and strength. Terri worked tirelessly (where do you even begin to describe all of the fundraisers and work, she did). Carrell painted beautiful pieces of art to raise money. Robby and Allison worked bracelet, shirt, and candle fundraisers and came to Memphis sacrificially. Ron and Pat Back cared for Michael and Tess’ Sellersburg home with the help of Jake and Chuck. Alice cared for our home when we were gone. Stephen, Richard, Beth (and Joe) and Mom were encouragers and prayer warriors;
w.) We shall not forget the prayers of children for Iliad (thank you Annie, Amelia, Evie, Sam, Mattox, Raylan, Brighton, the children of Lifepointe, Amy’s two precious girls, and so many others);
x.) We shall not forget one of the most memorable family gatherings in our family’s history which was in Memphis in an Airbnb where Phillip, Abby, Matt, Savannah and their children along with us were joined for 3 glorious days by Michael, Tess and Iliad (in between hospital appointments and treatment) for wonderful family time, all in the midst of the “storm”. It was unfortunate that Kosuke was not able to join us during this gathering, however he was able to make the trip at a later time and was a source of emotional and financial support for Michael and Tess.
y.) We shall not forget the huge number of friends in addition to family who journeyed to Memphis to encourage our family while Iliad was in the hospital, as well as countless family and friends that prayed endlessly because they were not free to travel to Memphis (Sami, Hughe & Rachel, Matt & Jennifer, just to name a few);
z.) We shall not forget a church where none of our immediate family are members but knowing that Iliad’s memorial celebration would be large, volunteered to allow the visitation and services to be held in its facilities (thank you Eastside Christian, Dave, Duane and others);
aa.) We shall not forget the outpouring of support from local school communities who sold t-shirts and allowed their students to wear Iliad supportive clothing to school and school events, who prayed for Iliad, and who hosted many supporting events like volleyball tournaments, basketball skills event, etc. How our hearts are warmed as we continue to see Iliad’s memory honored as we see those wearing Iliad shirts and bracelets. (Thank you, Silver Creek, Henryville and Portland Christian, among others);
bb.) We shall not forget the donation of a complete furnace system which was raffled as a part of a fundraiser and supported Michael, Tess and Iliad in their temporary home in Memphis (Thank you Johnstone Supply, AccuTemp and Bree’s Blessings);
cc.) We shall not forget the owner of a storage facility in the Sellersburg, Indiana area who unashamedly put the words “PRAY FOR ILIAD MULLINS” for weeks on his electronic sign on Highway 31;
dd.) We shall not forget those who took care of our home as we spent weeks and months in Memphis supporting Michael, Tess and Ilaid. Friends came and took care of the pool, the dogs, Christmas decorations, cleaning, etc. (Thank you, Hecker family, Borden church family, and Alice among others); and
ee.) The list of memories and “God events” and “God Blessings” goes on and on and on but in all these the fingerprints of our gracious and miracle working God is seen.
     Please know we have many questions about this journey, and we have deep, deep pain but we cannot imagine going through this without the One True God being with us and beside us. As David said at the death of his first son with Bathsheba, “My son will not return to me but one day I will go to him”. We cling to that truth.   

     May we expand on this truth by telling you that we believe that sometime in the future Christ will physically reign on this earth for 1,000 years and all of the saints who have died as believers as well as all children (by way of their innocence) who have died will be there. We do not bind that belief on anyone, nor will we make our cherished belief a test of fellowship. Nonetheless, if our belief is what happens according to God’s plan, then we will once again hold our grandson on this earth, we will play with our grandson on this earth, we will go to Jerusalem with our grandson to see Jesus and, on the way, Earl will sing a silly song to and with our grandson, with the words --“That’s my baby, that’s my baby, Baby boy, Baby boy, That’s my baby Iliad, That’s my baby Iliad, Yes it is, Yes it is” (Thank you Lydia for reminding us of this beautiful hope.)
     In all of this and as we finish this lengthy writing, we simply end with these words, words spoken at Iliad’s celebration service, “He (our great God) gives and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” We note there is purpose in the plans of our great God, and for whatever reason (reasons unknown to us at the present time) God chose to bring Iliad to Himself in what we consider to be untimely. Yet He gives and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.


Editor’s Note:  For many years the Mullins family have been active Christians in the Louisville, KY/Southern Indiana area and they are loved and appreciated by all those who have the privilege of knowing them.. The beautiful words of this testimony will have touched your heart, just as they did ours.

2 Responses to “Iliad: Remembrance and Testimony”

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33