written by Jean FitzGerald
When Tim took Ryan to Christ in the Rockies in 2012, it was hard. We were not in a financial position to spend money on a father/son getaway to the mountains. The timing seemed all wrong, but God’s timing is always perfect.
Ryan was 15 at the time. He was stubborn, combative, sweet, caring, rebellious and very smart… generally a pain in our (back)side. He was so much like his father in temperament and personality. He loved to have fun—and not always the kind we wanted for him. We knew the kind of man he could be. He was leading a small group at church, he watched out for the marginalized kids at school, and he was loyal to his friends to a fault.
Our relationship was strong. He was extremely protective of me and turned to me when things were tough. Sure, it was strained at times, but he was my baby. His relationship with Tim was more complicated. Because they were so much alike, the sparks flew. Did I mention he was stubborn?
Being the kind of dad Tim is, he was searching for Christian-based father/son camps. We eventually found Christ in the Rockies. God was all over this. The curriculum was based on the book Raising a Modern-Day Knight, and the adventures the camp offered looked perfect. When he presented it to Ryan, he was all in. So, we put the camp and the airfare on our credit card and prayed. This was a financial burden, no doubt, but it was an investment in our son, which was so much more important.
Their experience at CITR changed their relationship. It changed our family. Were things perfect? No. But were they better? Absolutely. Improving relationships takes time and effort. CITR provided the tools and the backdrop for change. Tim and Ryan went back the following year, at Ryan’s request, to volunteer at CITR. That’s how important it was to them both.
In 2015, Ryan ran ahead of us to heaven. He was 21 and was truly becoming the man that God had intended him to be.
In the movie American Sniper, Chris Kyle’s father tells his sons at dinner one night, “There are three kinds of people in the world. Sheep, who think nothing bad will happen; wolves, who prey on the sheep; and sheepdogs, who protect the sheep from the wolves.” That was Ryan, and we have no doubt that the time he spent at CITR and the work God started in him at camp were instrumental in developing the “sheepdog” in Ryan.
Jean and her husband Tim, who is now a board member for Christ in the Rockies, started a program Sheepdog Connection after Ryan’s passing that helps “building men of character, honor and faith.” The FitzGeralds have been generous supporters of Christ in the Smokies and the Taylor Strickland Legacy Foundation.
The Taylor Strickland Legacy Foundation offers scholarships for fathers and sons to attend Christ in the Smokies, so that no one will miss out on this life-changing experience due to financial hardship. Click here to nominate a father/son who would like to attend CITS.