Category Archives: Friends

Remembering my friend

Darren plays guitar for our band, The Grenadines, at a show in The Colony in 2006.

Darren plays guitar for our band, The Grenadines, at a show in The Colony in 2006.

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.

Darren poses in our old school building on the last day for us to be inside before it was demolished to make way for the new building. He was a student himself in this old building, class of 1983.

Darren poses in our old school building on the last day for us to be inside before it was demolished to make way for the new building. He was a student himself in this old building, class of 1983.

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.

From Darren's Twitter. Graduation the Saturday before last.

From Darren’s Twitter. Graduation the Saturday before last.

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.

Thank you.

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Kiwi, hold the keys

I was blessed today to share what might be my last meal with a good friend, at least perhaps the last North American meal.

I met my friend Paul James and his brother Mike at Weck’s for lunch. I’ve known Paul for a few years, one of several great people I’ve met through several incarnations of a homegroup at the Village Church. I once drove him to Dallas so he could get his eyeballs laser-beamed or something like that. He’s actually come to hear my band play more than once. We’ve even jammed some together with mutual friend Adam in my living room.

We drifted apart a bit when he moved to Tyler a while back, but we’ve always kept up via technology, blogs and texts and Twitter feeds. And this is the second time in the past six months that he, Mike and I have gotten to meet at Weck’s and share what’s going on in our lives over a plate of tasty goodness.

In a little more than a week, Paul is hopping a plane and moving to New Zealand. He’s in love with a girl named Lydia who lives there. I’ve never met her, but she must be pretty great, because Paul is one of my favorite people on the planet.

He’s sold his car, and is boxing up everything but some clothes, his Mac, a digital camera and a baby Taylor guitar, which will accomany him on his flight to the land where they filmed the Lord of The Rings, and to a lesser extent, Xena: Warrior Princess.

During our lunch, he noted that when he checks out of his apartment in Tyler, he won’t own a single key.

“Do they use keys in New Zealand?” I asked. “Or do they just scan your thumbprint?”

“They used to have them in Old Zealand,” he replied quickly. “But they left all that behind when they came to New Zealand.”

I love this guy.

The rest of the conversation was good – with goofy jokes about putting a video evidence on YouTube of how New Zealand toilets flush backward, and good affirming talk about both of our struggles to feel accepted and loved by our Creator. I left feeling so thankful for the time together, for the friendship, and for the guidance that seems evident in each of our lives.

We paid and said our goodbyes… Paul gave me the heads up to go ahead to start looking for a plane ticket to NZ so I could come visit him. I told him I’d do my best. I gave him a semi-awkward but totally sincere hug. And then we left… both heading the same direction because we had parked near each other.

“Isn’t it awkward when you say goodbye to someone and then have to walk with them to get to your car?” Paul said.

“Don’t say goodbye again,” Mike added.

“Don’t even make eye contact,” I chipped in, laughing.

It was a great way to leave a guy whom I’ve always felt on the same wavelength where sense of humor is concerned.

Lord,

Thanks for Paul and Mike. Thanks for a great meal and conversation that ran deep and full. Bless him as he leaves the States. Bless he and Lydia and whatever you have in store for their future. Thanks most of all for loving all of us with a love so big and wonderful that we can lose ourselves completely in its midst. And give us the grace to do just that.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen