Refresh Stories: Cynthia Heaton
Introducing Mrs. Cynthia Heaton. Cynthia was interviewed in between getting her kids out the door for school and heading to the offices at Cornerstone Ranch. She made time to share her story with us and I believe her faith walk will inspire you.
Can you give a short description about your faith?
I grew up in a home with parents who were on fire for the Lord. My mom lost my older brother shortly after childbirth and that catapulted them into their spiritual journey. Both of my parents were focused on knowing the Lord deeply, so naturally they wanted to teach us how to know Him as well. It was a very natural part of my childhood to have a church home and family devotionals. But everyone has to go through those seasons of allowing that faith to become their own, and that is what happened when I got to college. I had been very active in church and youth group growing up, but in college I really came to understand my faith and salvation in Jesus, and began my own journey into my calling.
Tell us your current stage of life.
My husband, David, and I have been married for 18 years. We have three children, ages 15, 12 and 9. We are, of course, busy raising and training our children, and David has been teaching at a private Christian school for the past 7 years. I recently started working full time at Cornerstone Ranch, the nonprofit David and I started 13 years ago.
How did Cornerstone get started?
David and I met in college. We had both been involved in YoungLife in high school, and I was on my way to a YoungLife meeting for high school students with special needs, when he asked to join me. That started us in a direction that neither one of us had expected God to call us to. We fell in love with the special needs population and with each other while on this journey together, and that’s what we spent our college life doing - spending time with each other and this population of people. We began to see the dire situation for these students after high school graduation. We saw the burden of care placed on the families and the fear of what would happen to their child after they died, and we felt very pressed and compelled by the Lord to do something about it. We believe it’s not the government’s problem, but the church’s responsibility to take care of the special needs population. After three years of doing ministry together, we got married between our junior and senior year. That summer we were driving to a Passion conference and along the way, God dropped this vision in our hearts at the exact same time, and we began to dream together. What if we did something about this? What if we built a community to meet as many of these needs as we could? We were dreaming about the volunteer opportunities it would create and the people it would impact. We started planning out the whole process. After this vision was dropped in our hearts, I spent my senior year at SMU creating a business plan for Cornerstone, getting us a step closer to this dream becoming a reality.
Tell us what Cornerstone is now and a little of how you got there.
Cornerstone is a private, nonprofit residential and day program for adults with special needs. The mission is to empower adults with special needs to live the abundant life they were created for. The vision is that those who come to live at Cornerstone will live out their life there bringing peace of mind to their families, knowing that their loved one is safe, being cared for, nurtured and challenged to grow.
Starting this was scary, and there were a lot of unknowns but we knew whatever God calls you to, He also equips you. He had called and equipped us from the foundation of the world for those things He destined us to do. We really believe this is Kingdom work for His glory.
After we graduated from college, we took three of the YoungLife kids we had been working with for those four years into our home. Cornerstone really began there. At 21 and 22, we became instantaneous parents of three children who were just a few years younger than us. It was an amazing experience and a great start to our journey.
About a year after that our son came. For the first 10 years of his life he was in this type of family setting. That was so impactful for him - growing up with a lifestyle of service instead of entitlement. All of our children have learned that life really isn’t about us, and that is such a gift.
We were eventually able to purchase land and build a house specifically for this purpose. We lived at Cornerstone Ranch for the first 5 years. We had another couple from YoungLife who were crazy enough to join the adventure. They said ‘yes’ to coming on staff to live in our garage apartment and help us. And six special needs adults moved in not long after we opened. It was our dream coming true!
As you look back on this dream coming to life, would you say there are parts that have been difficult?
Absolutely. A lot of this journey has been hard because we were walking into an unknown territory with no idea of what to expect. The nonprofit side of it was scary because we didn’t know anything about running a nonprofit. There was a freedom of knowing we were doing what God called us to do, but with it came physical exhaustion of the daily to do lists and normal life struggles. We stayed grounded through prayer and belief, and we loved what we were doing.
We built the house and invested in this community thinking it would be our forever life. Then 5 years into it, David started hearing from the Lord that he was going to be a teacher. When he shared this new direction with me, I became very unsettled - I was certain God had us where he wanted us. It took 6 months from when David brought it up for me to even be able to talk about it. It is not easy when God asks you to let go of your dream, and we knew this was exactly what He was asking us to do.
But now looking back on those first 5 years, we both realize that serving Him had replaced up knowing Him. Serving can easily become an idol in your life. We had to examine our hearts and realize that our faith was not equal to how much Cornerstone was growing. We needed to make a separation between our own walk with the Lord and the organization of Cornerstone. Even knowing all now, it was terrifying to me. To be told to walk away from this dream you thought was your forever was heartbreaking.
Through God’s goodness, He reminded me of how Cornerstone Ranch got its name from Psalm 118:22: “The rock the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” It goes on in verse 23 with “This is from the Lord and is His doing.”
Whenever you start to think you have done something on your own, God in His goodness, reminds you that He is the true builder and we don’t have to strive to make something happen. It happens in His grace and His power. It’s ok to let it go and trust God with His own work.
We hired new staff and made the transition off the Ranch. I remember driving away from the Ranch the day we packed up. It was so heartbreaking for me. I felt like I was leaving my family behind. Even though we were only moving 30 minutes away, the lifestyle change was immense.
As a pioneer and a dreamer, starting something and then being called to step back and trust it to someone else, what advice would you give to someone walking into that?
What I have learned is God works in seasons. He’s going to call you into different things and it is ok. If you’re really trusting Him, you can trust Him with the dream when He calls you to let it go. Because of this journey, we don’t consider anything in this life to be forever, except God. We live very open handed now.
I really do not like change. It is very uncomfortable to me, but the Lord has shown me how temporal this world is. That has allowed me to be free and stop holding onto everything here, and instead to hold onto my faith. His timing and seasons are perfect. Go along with God and His seasons.
When you walked away from Cornerstone, where did that obedience take you?
The journey away from Cornerstone led me to have a lot more time. My kids were all in school and my husband was teaching, so it opened up a chance for me to find something new to do. My parents had started a ministry teaching the Hebraic roots of our faith. I had always had the interest in teaching and sharing the things I was learning but I never had the time to do it. With all this new freedom on my hands, I began digging in the word and God ignited this fire in my heart to learn and study. This new season allowed me to deepen my intimacy with God, and His word came alive in me. I felt like I was pregnant with God’s word and I had to deliver that and the Lord provided opportunities. I began to have small group opportunities and Bible studies. This season was God solidifying my teaching gift and I felt like God would accomplish His purpose in me.
How do you handle discouragement when people don’t understand what you’re trying to do?
I’m not much of a people pleaser. I want to have strong relationships with people, but it all goes back to Him. I probably struggle more with the thoughts the enemy tries to attack me with - discouragement or lies. My battle is to continue taking those thoughts captive. I learned to fight those battles in my mind by worshiping the Lord and giving thanks in all circumstance, giving God glory. This repositions my heart and dispels the lies.
So where are you now and where are you hoping to be?
Now, seven years later, it’s coming full circle. We have always been active at Cornerstone, on the board of directors and volunteering. We have witnessed all the growth within Cornerstone, as well as, the growth within our own callings. What we felt was letting go of something when we drove away seven years ago was really just expanding our calling and our ministry. We recently began to feel a nudge to get back to Cornerstone, so we started praying about what it would look like and how we could serve there. Since January of this year, I have been back at Cornerstone as the full time executive director. It has been so amazing to see God bring me back there, even more so as I have been able to use my teaching ministry there as well. One of the main reasons we felt called back to Cornerstone is to shepherd the staff and steward the vision. We believe this is going to catapult it to new growth. We feel so honored that God would allow us to come back at this point to take it to the next season. If we would have stayed we wouldn’t have had the same perspective we have now or the equipping we needed to take Cornerstone to the next level. Cornerstone Ranch is not just about caring for adults with special needs. It is about advancing the Kingdom of God. It’s a place to display His glory. It’s such a bigger vision now, and to be able to encourage the staff with my teaching gift has been such an honor. We’ve shifted from the mundane to an eternal perspective and that’s exciting, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Written by Kelli Sommers
Kelli Sommers comes from a long line of storytellers and comedians. Through her stories she hopes to inspire others to know how much God loves them.
Kelli is married to a complete opposite who loves to watch her fly. She has 5 beautiful kids and serving her family is one of her greatest joys in life, but bedtime is one of her favorite times of day.
Kelli loves to read the Word and that’s the only book she has time for right now. If she is not at home picking up messes, you will find her out with a friend, having a long talk and some good food (probably tacos). She is passionate about unifying women. We are better together. You can find her on her blog and instagram.