Yesterday, Ryan Woods died.
I’ve known of Ryan nearly his whole life. I went to church camp with his parents and his uncle was my first youth minister. His large family has cut a significant swath across Churches of Christ in the Northwest, my heart’s home.
But I got to know Ryan in the last 3-4 years. He entered our brand new master’s in missional leadership degree and was in our first class to graduate. He distinguished himself in our program as a student–as a careful thinker, as a creative minister, as a life-giving conversation partner. I know that Ryan loved his experience in our program. But the thing is, I know he became more important to me than we became to him.
I mourn his death to cancer for several reasons. I walked to work today and just felt his loss. It was palpable to me that he is no longer breathing or smiling or laughing or observing or loving here where I know him. (There is consolation in the fact that he is no longer hurting or limping or making trips to the emergency room. But they are the smaller part of what I feel today). I hurt for his beautiful family, for Jessica and Jones and India. And I am praying ferociously for them. And for Kevin and Brenda, his parents, and for Jennifer and Tara, his sisters.
But for me personally, I can’t reconcile myself to the fact that we have lost such a good minister, a rare light. A lot of us use the word missional to describe what we are up to. Ryan was missional. He had turned his entire life toward the call of the Kingdom. His entire life was an embodiment of the love of Jesus for the world. He knew how to love a neighbor, an increasingly rare gift. And in a day and age when we dearly need exemplars of new ways of being God’s people, Ryan stood out. I needed more time to learn from him. We all did. And I prayed for that time…
I will have to lean into the fact right now that Ryan taught me how to die. His honesty and transparency were amazing. The fact that he let us all share this journey, yet in a way that didn’t seem gratuitous or sensational or pornographic, could only be pulled off by someone pure of heart. And Ryan died the way someone does who fully believes in the resurrection. Though he was dying, he was fully alive. He didn’t crater to the powers of death. He lived in honest hope, not candy-eyed denial.
He taught me that. I learned that from him. He was my rabbi. He was real-life fruit of the resurrection.
I’m not ready yet to say that God can work in all of this for good. It’s not that I don’t think that’s true. It’s just too early for me. So give me some time to be sad about this. Don’t tell me today that at least he’s in a better place. (You can tell me you’re glad that his suffering is done, but don’t yet say to me better place). Don’t tell me today how God is going to use this to do amazing things. Let me be sad today, and a little bit angry. We can talk about the other stuff later and maybe even dream together about how to live in the large wake of Ryan’s life for the sake of the Kingdom. But not today. Not just yet.
Ryan, you are epic. And beautiful.