Laura Diehl grew up as a pastor’s child whose family moved frequently before settling in Milton, Wis. That’s where she met her husband, Dave, who had a career as an information technology director.
Laura’s job with Kids in Ministry International took her all over the world to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Australia, Columbia and England. She helped children develop their own personal relationship with God that goes beyond religion, and equipped them to share the realness of God’s presence in their communities.
The couple eventually had five children, consisting of three boys and two girls. However, their lives took a nasty turn in 1985 when their oldest daughter, Becca, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 3 – and on the due date their second child was to arrive.
Becca endured chemotherapy for nine months. But, because cancer had already destroyed the bone, her leg had to be amputated two months into the treatment. Years later, it was discovered the chemotherapy drugs weakened Becca’s heart to the point, by age 28, she required a heart transplant.
“What saved her at age 3 wound up taking her life on Oct. 12, 2011,” Laura explained. “I know she went to be with the Lord, where she is dancing on two legs and experiencing no more heart issues, but it was very devastating for us. I did not know that kind of darkness existed until we experienced the death of our daughter.”
Turning pain into purpose
Through everything Becca experienced, the Diehls were able to keep their marriage strong. Yet, it was a very difficult time for everyone. Laura grieved over Becca’s death for three years before waking up in the middle of the night feeling God was prompting her to write a book about her experiences.
“It was one of my childhood dreams to be an author someday. While some people save art projects and crafts from their days in school, I saved writing assignments. I loved to write,” Laura explained.
“When I woke up that night, I had a book title in my head and a lot of ideas for chapters. So, I wrote them down thinking, ‘Well, Lord, maybe I’m supposed to write a book someday,’” she added. “I started the book with the words ‘Three years ago today, I buried my daughter.’”
Laura titled her book “When Tragedy Strikes: Rebuilding Your Life with Hope and Healing After the Death of Your Child.” She didn’t know a thing about writing a book or getting it published.
“I thought I would have to figure it out on my own and self-publish the book,” Laura said. “During that time, I went to a conference for author entrepreneurs in San Diego. That’s where I connected with David Hancock, who just happened to have his own New York book publishing company, Morgan James Publishing.
“We had a brief conversation and he asked me to send him a draft of what I had so far, since I only had the first three chapters written,” she explained. “I knew I was doing what God called me to do because I was offered a contract to publish this book from a publisher I wasn’t even pursuing.”
Laura has since published nine books and started blogging as well. The entire operation turned into a ministry.
“We were leading a small, home group through our own church, and had to have a name for it,” she explained. “As Dave and I prayed about it, the name GPS Hope (Grieving Parents Sharing Hope) came to me.
“It was nothing we planned. It just started happening organically with God sending people to us who were asking for help and support following the death of their own child,” said Laura.
She also started speaking at parental grief support groups and national conventions for bereaved parents. Even then, neither Dave or Laura had any idea how big their ministry would grow.
Today, GPS Hope is an international ministry bringing hope and healing to thousands of people.
A lack of hopeful resources
As she tried to recover from the trauma of losing her daughter, Laura discovered there was a lack of helpful information available to grieving parents.
“A lot of what I was reading, as well as the Facebook groups I was connected to, were very dark in nature,” she explained. “I saw a lot of messages conveying hopelessness. The feeling being conveyed was that your life will always be horrible, you’ll never get past this and your life will always be dark.
“Personally, I had a really hard time with that,” said Laura. “Yes, I would never be the same because our children are part of who we are. It feels unnatural and out of order for parents to bury a child.”
There were some resources, which were not faith-based at all, that encouraged desperate parents to attempt to contact their dead child in the afterlife because they wanted some type of peace.
“In some groups, there was even a lot of animosity toward Christians and the Christian faith,” said Laura. “I felt believers needed specific resources because losing a child can be a blow to your faith.
“We all pray for protection over our children, and there are verses we stand on in the Bible that everything will always be okay,” she added. “But, when a child dies, it can send your faith spinning. You have to figure out whether God is really who you thought he was.
“There wasn’t a safe space for parents who lost a child to walk out their faith,” Laura explained. “They needed to be honest about how angry they were with God and feeling he betrayed them. They may no longer trust God.
“But, I knew God wasn’t blindsided by this situation. I knew God had not reached his limit for his ability to help people. Consequently, I knew I had the seed of hope,” she added. “I knew there had to be a way out of the darkness.
“I remember, at one point, either hearing or reading the phrase blessings come wrapped in trials. I grabbed my journal, wrote it down and responded that the death of a child is an awfully deep trial to wrap a blessing in,” said Laura. “I found myself writing what I heard God speak to my heart: ‘I know, because my son died, and it was wrapped in the blessing of you.’”
At that point, Laura decided she was going to be like Jacob, who wrestled an angel. She would wrestle with God, not letting him go until she started to see some of those blessings.
An expanding ministry
The Diehl’s message of hope and healing attracted the attention of parents who were starving for that reassurance. The small home-study group quickly expanded to the point they had to meet outside of their house.
Surprisingly, more ideas flooded into Laura’s mind and she started writing blogs. In fact, she completed five books over a span of 13 months.
“I don’t even know how I did it,” said Laura. “Once I started writing, it was just like a dam broke. I wrote and wrote and wrote.”
Laura still tried to continue her work in children’s ministry during that time; however, it proved to be difficult. After all, children’s ministry is usually a high-energy experience, but her spirit was deeply grieving.
After stepping down from the international children’s ministry, Laura’s previous leader and mentor invited her to a meeting of children’s pastors in North Dakota to speak about ways to support grieving parents.
“Children’s pastors are on the front lines in helping families through the grief of losing a child,” Laura explained. “On the way home from that conference, David and I started talking.
“If God was sending us into a ministry to walk with other parents, then perhaps we should get an RV and travel around the country,” she added. “Instead of staying in hotels and eating restaurant food for two or three weeks at a time, we could have something that felt like a home away from home.”
Making a straight path
For two years, the Diehls researched motorhomes and what their needs would be to take small trips for their ministry. They visited RV shows, conducted online research and talked to other RV owners.
“We realized RVs were crazy expensive, and we had no idea how we could afford a small one, much less our dream of a big Class A,” Dave explained. “But, God had a different story in mind.”
“I am convinced when God has something big planned for you, he just reveals a little at a time,” Laura added. “If he showed you the big picture all at once, you’d would say, ‘No way’ and quit because you felt overwhelmed.”
About this time, Dave’s firm was splitting into two different companies, and 1,500 employees were laid off, most of which were middle managers, like Dave.
For more than a year, he looked for another job and the Diehls even considered moving to a new community. However, there were few opportunities, and those doors would close when Dave applied for the job.
“I knew my resume was pretty good for an opportunity not to open up,” he explained. “As time went on, I had a feeling God was pushing us in a different direction.”
Laura had been praying through the situation, too. One morning, she was journaling and sensed God was telling her to sell their home, buy a motorhome and take their ministry on the road full time.
“At that point, I knew we wouldn’t be gone for two or three weeks. This was going to turn into a big thing,” said Laura. “But, I didn’t know how to approach Dave about it because it was such a shock. So, I read my journal to Dave, and he told me God had been speaking the same thing to him.”
Fifteen days later, the Diehls talked to a man who was selling a big Class A bus-type motorhome.
“The man needed to sell the motorhome quickly. But, when he found out we were Christians and what we intended to use the RV for, he sold it to us for just $15,000,” Laura explained. “It was a beautiful, older motorhome. When we walked in it for the first time, it just felt like home.”
“When we were looking into buying a smaller motorhome, we fell in love with the Newmar brand, and the man’s RV was made by Newmar. It was like God was giving us a little extra kiss,” Dave added. “We have looked at newer motorhomes since then, but we can’t find anything we like as well.”
Dave and Laura’s son bought their sticks-and-bricks home, and the Diehls found space to park their motorhome at a nearby campground in a large, beautiful permanent site overlooking a lake. They sold the remainder of their belongings and planned to spend the summer adjusting to the RV while preparing to hit the road in October. Everything appeared to me moving according to plan.
However, Christians are well aware of Satan’s antics and how he works to kill dreams, steal joy and destroy lives. Dave’s father died unexpectedly in August of 2018. That’s when they discovered his mother had dementia, but didn’t know how bad it was until she was living on her own.
“Her doctor immediately said she should not live by herself and that she needed someone to be with her 24 hours a day,” said Laura. “While we thought we would be spending the summer in our motorhome planning for the trip, we wound up taking turns living with Dave’s mom.
“We had already made commitments to speak at various venues, and our campground was closing at the end of October,” she added. “We were running out of options.”
Those are the best scenarios for God to step in and act in a mighty way.
“My mom had been married for 65 years and it was extra hard for her to lose the love of her life,” said Dave. “We were not going to add to her stress by pushing her out of her home and into an assisted-living facility. So, we just sat back and let the Lord do his work.
“One night, when I was with her, she called me into her bedroom. It was one of those rare instances where I knew she was fully present,” he added. “My mom said, ‘David, you and Laura need to do what God is telling you to do. Don’t worry about me. I know God will take care of me.’
“We told her that we did have an option for her to consider. The next day, we took her to visit an assisted-living facility, and she fell in love with it,” Dave explained. “Even though most facilities in the area had a waiting list extending for months, if not years, we were able to move her into that room within a few weeks.”
“God had so many things in place before we even knew this was what we were going to be doing,” Laura added.
Remembering the mission
In the process of moving out of their home to embrace an entirely new mission, God reminded Laura of the motivation behind the adventure.
“When she was growing up, Becca got a new prosthetic leg every year, starting at 3 years old. As we were cleaning out the house to move, I came across her first tiny little leg,” said Laura. “It was a perfect illustration.
“When you lose a child, you are never the same again. It’s as though a part of your very being has been amputated and cut off from you,” she explained. “You have to figure out how to live even though that piece of you is missing.”
Laura uses Becca’s little prosthetic leg as an illustration in her presentations.
“I don’t know why I kept it all these years, but God did. He knew way back then that this little leg would be used to help parents,” she Laura.
“There are things you don’t think about until you have to deal with an amputation, like how to buy shoes when one foot grows, but the other doesn’t,” said Laura. “There are things nobody thinks about until they don’t have a child with them anymore.
“Living without your child can be done. It’s going to look different and you’re not going to be the same. But, you can have hope again, and life will have meaning and purpose again,” she explained. “It’s because of my child’s life that I can continue to live and give away her legacy with hope of knowing I will see my child again someday.”
Tapping into previous experiences
When Laura was working with Kids in Ministry International, her job went beyond just teaching Bible stories to children. She also worked with pastors and children’s ministry leaders to improve their ability to help kids enter into the presence of God and to hear his voice.
Consequently, she spent as much time teaching adults as she did instructing children. Laura relied on all those experiences to launch GPS Hope.
“A lot of what I did was involved in training adults how to teach, but I also became an administrator of an online school which children’s pastors attended,” she explained. “When I look back, all those experiences prepared me to have my own ministry.”
Dave’s previous jobs also prepared him to handle the technical aspects of GPS Hope in setting up and maintaining an online platform. He also formats books, creates podcast episodes and posts weekly videos to their YouTube channel.
“Dave does so much behind-the-scenes to help. I’m the person who is speaking, writing and ministering directly, but Dave puts it all together online so people can find and access our resources,” said Laura.
“I learned some specific skills when working in IT, but I could use those skills to do what we needed to do. There was still plenty of stretching, too,” said Dave.
“For example, driving a 38-foot motorhome towing a car made it 58 feet long, and that was not a comfortable thing to do,” he added. “When we pulled out of the campground to begin a six-hour drive to Indiana, that was the first time I drove the RV more than three miles while towing something behind it.”
Dave’s work in posting content Laura writes or speaks about is paying off in a big way. The first year they started their ministry, the couple logged 15,000 downloads of podcast episodes alone. In 2023, they exceeded 145,000.
“There are several countries where some of our individual podcast episodes are ranked very high for all podcasts,” said Dave. “That’s so strange. When you consider the number of podcasts on the market, and then narrow it down to those focusing on grief, then narrow it down to bereaved parents and a Christian perspective, it’s a small niche. But, in some months, one of our episodes was at the top of the charts in something like 12 countries.”
Saving marriages, too
When Laura produces a podcast episode, it can include a mix of teaching Biblically-based messages of hope and interviewing people who have lost a child. She describes things she did to cope with the situation in hopes of helping others to walk through their grief.
“Sometimes I will address emails parents have sent me regarding specific things they are struggling with,” she explained.
Many marriages have ended following the death of a child or diagnosis of a serious illness. Dave and Laura found themselves being an example of how marriages can stay strong through tragic events, including the loss of a child. They occasionally do workshops on this topic as well.
“When Becca was first diagnosed with cancer, we had a wonderful pastor who invited us over for dinner,” said Laura. “He was aware of the statistics. Instead of fighting with each other, we pulled together to fight against the enemy.
“It was sad to see, but when Becca was going through chemotherapy, we saw parents getting divorced while their children were undergoing treatment,” she explained. “How can children not blame themselves for the destruction of their family, even if they survive the cancer?”
The Diehls faced a lot of things most families never have to contend with, and those go beyond cancer and the death of a child.
“We had to pull together intentionally and purposefully without blaming each other, because that is very easy to do,” said Laura. “We live in a culture where somebody has to be at fault. Take accidents for instance. They aren’t planned and they weren’t intentionally caused, but we still want to assign blame to someone and make them pay for what they did.
“In situations involving the illness or death of a child, parents will often blame each other,” she added. “They will say things like, ‘If you hadn’t done this, or if you would have paid closer attention to that, then it never would have happened.’”
Parents, being different people, process grief differently as well, Dave explained.
“Even though we know innately there is no right way or wrong way to grieve, when it comes to our spouse, we have a tendency to accuse them of doing it wrong,” he said. “If you’re not grieving like me, you are not doing it right. That’s not true at all.
“In our case, Laura wore her grief on her sleeve. She was very public about it,” he added. “But, I am much more of a private person. So all my grief was internal.
“Women will often pull out pictures or sit in the child’s room, smell their child’s clothes, look through their stuff and cry,” said Dave. “Mothers need to do that in order to process the loss.
“Men tend to go immediately into this protection mode, which often keeps them from processing emotion behind the loss,” he added. “We see our wives crying and respond by asking, ‘Why are you doing that to yourself? Put that stuff away. Can’t you see how it’s hurting you?’ We try to impose our way of dealing with grief on our spouse.”
Women are no different in imposing expectations on their husbands, Laura explained.
“Wives often think because their husbands won’t talk about their child and how much he misses him or her, he must need counseling,” she added. “Men do not process things by talking about it, but women need to talk through it.”
When conducting weekend retreats for bereaved parents, Dave and Laura spend time talking about the biological differences between brains of men and women. They are naturally wired to process information and emotions much differently.
“It is so important to have a tremendous amount of grace for other family members, especially your children,” said Dave. “They are all going to grieve differently. So, each person needs grace to have freedom to grieve in a way they need to – and to know they have the freedom to talk to parents about it.”
Couples wind up walking a tightrope through the emotions of losing a child.
“Laura had to be sensitive to my needs by not forcing me to talk about it and realizing it was okay for me not to talk about it,” said Dave. “Yet, I needed to be sensitive to her need to talk about Becca because that was how she was processing the deep loss. Watching someone grieve can be uncomfortable, but it is an essential way for couples to serve one another.”
Alainah and Laura with Savanah, the star of a children’s book they wrote together
A new direction
Earlier this year, Dave and Laura realized they needed to be closer to their own children and grandchildren for a while. So, after five years of living full-time in their motorhome, they returned to south-central Wisconsin and moved into a townhouse.
“We have not pushed aside the ministry, but have stopped traveling for a while. We will see whether God wants this to be a temporary pause or permanent,” said Laura.
However, while traveling, the Diehls acquired their youngest daughter’s cat, Savanah, who ventured with them to various speaking engagements.
“Two years ago, our granddaughter, Alainah, who was 9 years old at the time and very creative, started making up stories about Savanah’s experiences while traveling with us,” Laura explained. “The stories were cute and well written. I told her we could turn her stories into a book, or series of books, which we could publish together.
“Alainah didn’t know I was an author. When I showed her some books with my name on them, her jaw dropped. She was very excited about working with me to publish a book, too.”
Laura hired an illustrator to turn Alainah’s stories into a children’s book titled “Savanah Needs a Home.” It is about rescuing a cat from a shelter, and the cat traveling with her new owners to enjoy adventures. A portion of book sales is donated to animal rescue facilities.
“This is the first in a series of like 30 titles Alainah and I plan to write together. People love the book,” said Laura. “We already have the next two stories written, but we need to get them illustrated and published so people can buy them.
“It has been a welcome change from writing about grief. To do it with my granddaughter makes it even more special,” she added.
Alaniah was the first grandchild born after Becca’s death, arriving almost a year to the day after she passed.
“One of Alaniah’s middle names is Becca, and that’s a nice little connection to an aunt she never met,” said Dave.
Advice for people over 50
Laura sees a parallel between losing a child and struggling to figure out what to do after turning 50. Many people think their life is over, and lose their sense of purpose for continuing to live.
“You can’t imagine continuing life without your child. Sometimes, when people hit a certain age, they think the best of life is behind them,” she explained. “But, that’s just not true.
“There are things happening in your life that kind of stir up some excitement, so don’t feel guilty about pursuing it,” she added. “Since I was a child, I wanted to be an author. It didn’t happen until after I was 50 and my daughter died. So, life is not over.”
Laura recalled a story about a very good nurse who was told by a doctor that she should continue her studies to become a doctor herself. But, her response that that it would take 10 to 12 years, and she’d be too old after she completed the program.
“The doctor asked the nurse how old she would be in 12 years if she didn’t become a doctor? It’s all about perspective. She would be the same age in 12 years, whether she remained a nurse or became a doctor,” said Laura.
“So, don’t think your life is over. We all had dreams of things we wanted to do when we were younger, but those dreams were squelched in us,” she added. “There is no reason why you can’t do it now, even as a hobby. For example, if you liked to play a trumpet as a teenager, pull it out, practice and find a community band you could join.”
To connect with Laura or Dave, visit www.gpshope.org, especially if you’re a grieving parent or know someone who has lost a child.
To connect with Alaniah and Laura about Savanah’s experiences, visit www.savanahsadventures.com.
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.