Keaton was an offensive lineman on his high school football team. His role was not glamourous; his job was just to block. He created holes for running backs, and protected his quarterback so others could score. As we reflect on his 18 years of life, we realize he lived that way on, and off, the football field. The bible actually describes this kind of lifestyle:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16.
At age 16, a bizarre seizure came on suddenly while Keaton was at church with his family. Other than the occasional stomach virus and common cold, Keaton had always been incredibly healthy. The diagnosis felt agonizingly slow in coming, but when it DID, we looked in vain for the “returns and exchanges” counter. Brain cancer. The next two years were a blur of medical activity, both at Scottish Rite in Atlanta and at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. We’d always loved Keaton, of course, but those two years helped us understand that God had graced our family and our community with someone extraordinary. We began to see Keaton in a different light. We saw that he brought light to every dark corner that cancer tried to produce. He created holes in that darkness the same way he created holes in defensive lines.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5
Linemen don’t just make holes, they also protect. Keaton was fiercely protective of his family. He wanted to protect them from the darkness of fear that cancer brings into a household. He stayed positive for THEM. He wanted his two older brothers to keep moving forward and doing great things in their careers.
He continued to support them with his presence at their events during cancer treatment. He kept his faith strong. He wanted his parents to know that he was going to be alright, no matter where the path of cancer led. He protected them from the darkness of fear by being a positive and courageous son.
He continued playing football through cancer treatment. Please understand… when we say he continued to PLAY football, that’s exactly what we mean. No dressing out in a clean jersey and pads just to look good while sitting on the bench. Nope. He made holes and he protected. In fact, he never missed a practice or a game because he “just didn’t feel good.” In reality, were there days when he just DIDN’T feel good? Yes. Chemo and radiation tend to have that effect on a person. On those days, Keaton simply asked God for extra strength… and God supplied. He had a couple of brain surgeries thrown into the mix. One, just weeks before the season-opening game. No big deal. Keaton’s attitude was contagious.
His coaches marveled. His teammates and classmates rallied. His family rode his coat tails and cheered their hearts out. TV stations and newspapers did stories on his remarkable toughness. College football players supported him through social media. As for Keaton, he knew the real source of his strength was God, so he just kept making holes in the darkness every single day and bringing light with him wherever he went.
One of our favorite stories about Keaton epitomizes his journey through cancer. It was customary for his football team to end Summer Workouts with a difficult 5 a.m. run up Mt. Currahee. Linemen aren’t small, but Keaton ran hard for a big man. After finishing the run, Keaton stood tall, looked back down the mountain and without hesitation, headed back down. Why? To encourage and run alongside some of the younger linemen struggling to reach the top. Keaton didn’t do it for the attention. He did it because he understood his role in this life. “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” He did it because it was dark at the bottom of the mountain and he wanted his friends to be in the light.
We wish that God had allowed Keaton to live a long life on this earth. But we find comfort in this truth from scripture: “For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died and was buried with his ancestors.” - Acts 13:36. Keaton’s purpose was to carry God’s light everywhere he went, and allow that light to impact others. There is NO DOUBT… He fulfilled his purpose completely.
We look forward to a reunion with our son when Jesus returns. That reunion is a promise and we firmly believe it. Until that day, we will continue Keaton’s ministry through Thumbs Up Mission. We will block for other families journeying through cancer and we’ll shine some light in the darkness.