By Dr. Cindy Ryan, associate pastor, First United Methodist Church
Our senior pastor, my friend and colleague Ken Diehm, died suddenly in February 2011. Our congregation was rocked by waves of shock, grief, and change. I did the best I could to cope with my grief while pastoring a hurting church. I leaned daily on the words of Jesus Calling where I perceived God was telling me to look up and trust Him, no matter what.
Six months to the day after Ken’s death, I found a lump in my breast. I was forty-nine years old and was not overly concerned but decided to have it checked. My doctor sent me for a mammogram. Those doctors recommended a biopsy.
A few days after that, while at a staff planning retreat, I excused myself from my coworkers to answer a call from a number I didn’t recognize. A woman said she was Dr. Forte. I heard her saying words I could not take in: breast cancer and malignant. I listened, strangely calm. I wrote down more words she was saying to me: invasive ductal carcinoma. I remember thanking her for calling.
I returned to the planning session. I did not have my own car there. I could not leave. I could not even excuse myself. There was nowhere to go. Finally, hours later, we returned to church. I got in my car and called my husband. Together, we absorbed that news.
A Journey of Difficulty and Grace
A team of doctors was recommended to me. The most highly referred breast surgeon, the one I needed to see first, was out of town for two weeks. I knew I wanted her. I would wait even though two weeks was a lifetime. I decided that until I saw her, I had nothing to tell anyone. It was not time to tell my kids. It was certainly not time to tell my hurting church. In fact, I told myself, I will never tell the church. I will hide it. They cannot bear it now.
During that time, I had a huge speaking event at the church coming up, and hundreds of women had pre-purchased tickets to hear me speak. Despite my shock and confusion, I determined “the show must go on.” I decided to speak at the event without sharing my diagnosis.
I prayed hard, with so much emotion before that night. I prayed God would give me strength and courage. I read Jesus Calling every day as I prepared, and on September 8, the night I was to speak, the entry perfectly addressed my need:
Accept each day exactly as it comes to you. By that, I mean not only the circumstances of your day but also the condition of your body. Your assignment is to trust Me absolutely, resting in My sovereignty and faithfulness.
On some days, your circumstances . . . feel out of balance: The demands on you seem far greater than your strength. . . . I will infuse My strength into you moment by moment, giving you all that you need for this day. Trust Me.
Those words could not have been any clearer or more meaningful to me, and I as I prayed, I felt God’s power, presence, and strength.
That night, to that crowd of women who filled our chapel, I spoke with humor and grace. I alluded to life’s hard situations and talked about how important it is to look up and trust God. It was not me speaking. It was the Holy Spirit. There is no way I could have done that on my own.
One woman at the event, Rhonda, whom I had never met before, was also newly diagnosed with breast cancer. She left telling her friends, “She was speaking right to me.” Rhonda would turn out to be my soul sister through breast cancer. God gave me a friend for the difficult journey.
Peace Through Devotions in Jesus Calling
After all the women had left the event, I sat down on the front pew and whispered a prayer of gratitude to God. I had been infused with God’s strength. I had made it through. At that moment a woman named Betsy sat down beside me. She said, “I have a gift for you.” It was a leather-bound copy of Jesus Calling with my name embossed on the front. She said simply, “I don’t know what all is going on with you. I just know you need this.” She gave me a hug and left. I sat and stared at that book for the longest time.
That is the copy of Jesus Calling I have read daily since then, making notes each year about what is happening in my life. In it are notes from the fall of 2011; the day I told my children, family, and friends of my diagnosis; the day I decided I did need to tell my church and let them love me and pray for me; my surgery day; the day I received the news that my lymph nodes were clear; and the day the doctors decided I did not need chemotherapy.
In that book I counted down my six weeks of radiation. I recorded the burns I endured and the beginning of a daily pill, Tamoxifen, that continues to this day, with unpleasant side effects. In that book I still record my visits to the oncologist that occur every six months. In that book I celebrate each “all clear” I have heard since then. I am now close to five years past the diagnosis and so grateful for my health and the good care I still receive.
Because Jesus Calling helped me personally through grief and my cancer journey, I wholeheartedly tell others to get it and use it during their hard times. Because it helped me, it started helping others in our church and led to the stories you may have read about on this blog, heard on the Jesus Calling Podcast, or seen on the YouTube video “One Church’s Walk with Jesus Calling.”
Jesus Calling changed me. It changed our church. Today I am happy to be a part of Words of Peace, an effort to give away two thousand copies of Jesus Calling, in memory of Amy Wicke, to people at a local cancer treatment center, a drug and alcohol treatment place, and an eating disorder treatment facility. Our church now gives a copy of Jesus Calling to all our first-time guests. Our pastors and staff have copies in their offices. Our church members know they can have as many books as they want to give others. My office is crowded with boxes of Jesus Calling marked with notes about where each box is going. And we have given the books away in English and Spanish to all those who are a part of the mission/outreach ministries of our church.
I experienced firsthand the power in the pages of Jesus Calling; through its passages which are delivered in a short, daily, personal way. Our church recognized how God was working among us as our stories of peace brushed up against each other. Now we are only beginning to understand the power of sharing this powerful devotional with others. Can you imagine the impact on our community if two thousand copies of Jesus Calling were placed directly in the hands of those going through tough times?
In July our daughter is expecting her first baby, our first grandchild. Five years ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at such a young age, I didn’t know if I would see my daughter get married, see my sons graduate, or even be here for grandchildren. Yesterday a church member told me she already bought my grandson a gift; his own copy of Jesus Calling for Little Ones. It is a baby board book for this yet-to-be-born baby boy. God is so good, and the gifts just keep coming.