My co-worker, bandmate and close friend passed away almost a week ago. Today we held his memorial service at a local church, which was filled with his family, friends, fellow educators, and many students – past and present. I was asked by his sweet wife to speak on his behalf and to play the harmonica. I stayed up until nearly 2 a.m. writing and practicing “Amazing Grace.” Though it was strange to play solo without my buddy by my side on his guitar, I asked my friends and family for prayer, and the Lord delivered. These are the words I shared today for my dear friend and for my hurting co-workers, bandmates, and our students.
Before I share some memories and thoughts about my friend Darren Ryan, I want to share something else with you.
Like many people in this room, I experienced a flood of emotions when I got the news. I was sad, angry, confused, distressed, and mostly stunned. It didn’t make any sense that my friend Darren was gone.
Here’s what has encouraged my heart the past few days. I hope it encourages you.
Though I don’t have any answers, and I don’t think God promises us answers, I do believe he promises us peace. I find this promise in scriptures like Philippians 4:7 which talks of a peace that surpasses understanding to those who trust in Him. Jesus talks about this peace in John when he says, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives… Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
The passage that I’ve thought on the most has been in Psalm 107. We are told “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress… For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.”
I believe these promises are for you and me, especially in times like this. Are you troubled? Cry out to the Lord. He’s not bothered by your doubt or shame. He knows, and his response is love and grace and mercy. He’s rich with it. And He’s longing to pour it out. So ask him.
Mr. Ryan prayed hard over me when I was unconscious in a hospital bed in Denton more than two years ago, as did many others. My family told me stories later of his fervor in prayer and how it blessed them in those desperate moments. God heard those prayers. So I don’t think he’d have any problem with me asking you to plead with God for peace in moments like this.
Darren Ryan has been my dear friend for the better part of the last ten years. We were colleagues and bandmates. We bonded over good food, bad puns, and great music. I want to speak briefly to a few groups of folks here who knew Darren.
To my bandmates in the Grenadines and anybody who ever came to hear us play, I’m so glad for you and for music. Because that was my entry point to bonding with Darren and getting to see his beautiful spirit and loyal friendship for all it was. Darren had a habit of wearing sunglasses on stage when he played, even indoors. I know it’s because he got a touch of stage fright before our performances. But all that melted away when he started to make those Fender guitars moan and wail, and a smile as wide as these Texas skies would stretch across his face. Occasionally, he’d turn himself over to the music completely – it was usually late in the evening – during a performance of Mustang Sally or Play that Funky Music or Fire by Jimi Hendrix, and he’d go completely off-script on a solo – and we’d follow him. I’d throw a glance back at Eddie on the drums, he’d shrug and smile back. Darren was in a good place, lost to the music.
To my fellow faculty and staff members at LHS, I know well how much love you have for your own, and how much more for someone as beloved as Darren. I know you’ve already gone out of your way to care for and support Pam and his family, just from the way I’ve experienced it as his friend. Here’s what I’ll remember about Darren as a colleague. How much he cared about doing what we do so well. How he always got to school early, was always going the extra mile to prepare for his classes and support his fellow teachers, especially those in his department. And how he did it all with that 100 watt smile and signature sense of humor… I’ll miss bumping into him in the hallways or the faculty workroom where he always called me Dr. Hale, and I always called him Dr. Ryan. It’s impossible to measure how much LHS meant to him. Which brings me to the last group…
His students… past and present. I knew when I was gathering my thoughts for this moment that you would show up here by the boatload… and I was right. I know this because, like many of his friends, I remember so many times out and about in Lewisville with Darren when we were interrupted by “Mr. Ryan! Mr. Ryan!” So many former students would come out of the woodwork to speak with him, and I swear, hand to God, that Darren would remember the names of practically every one. He’d remember details too… or even the fact that he had their brother or sister in class as well. You loved him. And he loved you too. You must know that. He rooted hard for all of you. He was a role model to me in that sense. I asked my students time and time again to tell me what their hardest class in high school, and almost every time I’d hear AP Psych with Mr. Ryan. Then I’d ask the same students who their favorite high school teacher was, and without hesitation, they’d say Mr. Ryan. You could not have paid him a higher compliment. Truly. I mean that.
Darren told me once years ago that he was considering leaving the teaching profession. I asked him what he thought that he might do. He didn’t have a clear answer. And he stayed on the job. The next year he was named campus Teacher of the Year. Have no doubt, that Mr. Ryan could have had any number of careers and been successful. He is one of the most capable, reliable, talented men I’ve ever known. But I believe God made him a teacher. And I see evidence of that in the pews here today. You are Darren Ryan’s legacy. And if he meant something to you, take that to heart and live your lives well. Live passionately and love others extravagantly. That’s what Mr. Ryan would’ve wanted.