The Community of Grapevine United Methodist Church was in turmoil. After the sudden loss of their pastor, Associate Pastor Cindy Ryan set about to put the pieces back together for their flock. It was then that she was faced with another, very personal crisis; an unexpected cancer diagnosis.
Cindy Ryan: In 2011 in February, we had probably the most difficult thing that’s ever happened in the life of our church to happen. Our senior pastor at that time Ken Diehm, was a wonderful leader, a good man, a good friend and had led our church through some amazing times where we really started to understand who we were as Christ’s followers. He helped us see that really our mission was simple and should just be to be the hands and feet of Christ. That seems like a simple thing to teach but it really caught on and he empowered people to go with their God-given calls to ministry and act on those, and so a lot of amazing things were happening.
Narrator: The community of Grapevine United Methodist Church was in turmoil. Their beloved pastor had fallen ill and the members was in a state of shock and grief. Cindy Ryan, the associate pastor at that time, began to help put the pieces back together for her flock. Little did she know she was about to face another traumatic event that would have her fighting for her own life as well.
Cindy: We were working on Sunday morning projects and getting ready for worship. We ended our work week on a Thursday like we always did and then on Friday night, I got a call that Ken was in the hospital, and that he had a brain bleed. He’s one of the healthiest people I ever knew, so it was so shocking and by that Saturday night, he died. And, the suddenness of it, the shock of it, the impact on our congregation was just huge and devastating. A therapist told me later, it might as well had been like a bomb went off in our church for the ripple effect, the way in which it touched children and youth and adults and it touched our faith and it touched our community and so, it was a really difficult time.
Narrator: On today’s Experience Jesus Calling podcast, we conclude our series of stories from the members of Grapevine United Methodist Church. Associate Pastor Cindy Ryan supported and led her church community as they suffered the loss of their pastor; yet a new crisis was on the horizon for Cindy that would have her fighting for her own life as well. Cindy describes what happened as she and the members of her church slowly began to pick up the pieces after losing senior pastor Ken Deihm.
Cindy: It was at that time that Pat gave me Jesus Calling.
Pat Laster is the one who gave me the book at the time when Ken died. Pat is a wonderful, quiet leader in our church. She’s a spiritually anchored person, and you know how they are, sometimes people in your church who you just know pray and that you are grounded in the word, and she reads a whole lot,
I was so shocked and in so much grief that you know, I didn’t pick it up. About 25 people gave me books at that time and so, I had this whole shelf of them. But somehow in the last, in the couple of weeks after he died, I picked that book up and started reading it on a daily basis.
It helps me to calm down. It helped me to trust. And so I just knew right then that it was this powerful tool and that it was helping me.
Ken Diehm was just a wonderful person, a great leader. He led our congregation to lots of exciting things, especially in reaching out to our community and so, of course, his death was shocking and devastating. And yet, I learned recently from his wife who’s still a member of our congregation that the book he was reading at the time he died was Jesus Calling. And that it was the book on his bedside table and that for a while after his death, as you can imagine, she just simply couldn’t even touch it. It was just too personal. And It took her like about six months. And she said she finally picked it up and started reading it and immediately began to feel the power, the sense in which God was reminding her in her grief to trust and to not be anxious and to understand the bigger picture. And so she’s been doing like I have been doing for the past four plus years reading it every day.
Jesus Calling has also had a tremendous effect on my life personally. In August, 2011, I received a breast cancer diagnosis that really shocked and upended me. I was 49 years old. I had three kids. My youngest was just 13 and I really wasn’t expecting that news.
I was just so shocked. It was a strange time just having that news but then the surgeon that I decided to visit with and was out of town for like two weeks. And so there was a two-week period of time where I knew the diagnosis but I didn’t know the plan and I was waiting on her to get back in town and decided at that time, it wasn’t time to tell the church because I didn’t know what to tell them and it wasn’t time to tell my kids yet because same thing, I didn’t have a plan. And so that I would just need to wait and keep that to myself. My husband knew.
And during that time, I had a speaking engagement here at the church at a women’s ministry we have. So I had that challenge of speaking to these women, knowing what I knew about myself and yet not being able to say it. And it was a really difficult speaking engagement looking back on it, probably, I could have just opted out somehow and said no, it’s not a good time and not done it but I thought I needed to, and so I spoke at that event. After it was over, everybody laughed and I sat down on the front row and just took a deep breath and said to myself, you know, we made it through with God’s help, you know, I don’t know how, but you did.
A member of our church named Betsy came up to me on the front row where I was sitting and she said I don’t know why, but I know you need this and she gave me this copy of Jesus Calling, which is a leather bound edition with my name on the front and I just thought, how could she, how could she know? She had to plan ahead to have that and have my name on it and so that has become a copy that I’ve now used for four and a half years and that I go through every day.
This book, every day, Jesus Calling has anchored me. It has kept me remembering God’s promises. Kept me remembering to stay in the present day, to not be anxious and to draw on God’s peace.
I write in it what’s happening that year, and so some years it was counting down my radiation treatments. Other years, good things were happening and then difficult things were happening but they’re all noted in here and so, it’s just become this kind of like mini-journal of what’s been happening to me and in the church and in my family and I just, I love it. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of total room on each page but I treasure it.
In my cancer journey, I’ve really been very fortunate. I had surgery. I had to have radiation but not chemotherapy. I’ve had to take a medication for the years since and my diagnosis that is sort of a form of chemotherapy. I mean there have been side effects with that and challenges with that medication that I’ve kind of endured through the years but I’m grateful that there is a pill I can take that addresses it, because some women, their type of breast cancer, there’s nothing that they can do like that. And so, even though I hate it half the time, I’m grateful for it and so, I continue to be scanned and checked every six months and have continued to be healthy and cancer-free and so, I’m incredibly grateful and blessed.
Narrator: Cindy’s day-to-day reality as a cancer survivor is still unfolding, much like the journey of her church members as they begin to rebuild after the loss of their pastor. They’ve all found hope and healing through these difficult times. Again, Cindy Ryan.
Cindy: I only just can now look back and see the way in which God all along has been trying to give us the word and give us reassurance and give our congregation practical help. It’s always been there and I suspect God tries in a variety of ways to resource us. And so I think it’s just incredible to look at our congregation and see the way in which we’ve been provided for. God has been there before we ever even knew how much we would need this.
And now that’s going beyond our community of faith, out, into the communities we serve, which are not only local but International.
What I’ve realized now is that the story of Jesus Calling in our congregation is still unfolding. But that what I can see looking back and sort of tracing the history of this book with us is that in several people’s specific lives, Ken’s, Lina’s, Amy’s, this book has been important to them and yet continues beyond their deaths even to speak to people, to help people. It has allowed us to rely on God’s provision and to be faithful even after death. I love that the story is still unfolding. We still don’t know what all is is going to happen and how far this may reach.
Narrator: The members of Grapevine United Methodist church have been faithful to pass on the hope and the healing they’ve found in the pages of Jesus Calling to those who need it in their community.
Next time on the Experience Jesus Calling podcast, The Mayor of Sioux Falls, South Dakota talks about the impact Jesus Calling has had on his life and what led him to give a very special gift to the attendees of his daughter’s wedding.
Our excerpt from Jesus Calling for this show comes from the August 20th entry:
I am a God who heals. I heal broken bodies, broken minds, broken hearts, broken lives, and broken relationships. My very Presence has immense healing powers. You cannot live close to Me without experiencing some degree of healing. However, it is also true that you have not because you ask not. You receive the healing that flows naturally from My Presence, whether you seek it or not. But there is more—much more—available to those who ask. The first step in receiving healing is to live ever so close to Me…I rarely heal all the brokenness in a person’s life. Nonetheless, much healing is available to those whose lives are intimately interwoven with Mine.
Do you have an experience with Jesus Calling that has had an impact on your life? We’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com and share your story with us.