Gaze or Glance?

Problems are part of life. We have them in our families, jobs, country and world. We have health problems-mental, physical and spiritual. We have neighborhood problems and church problems. The problem list is long.

I have a tendency to glare at the problems that come my way, usually angry, frustrated and dismayed that they are happening. I over analyze them. I then bring my best resources to the eliminating of those problems. I’m a good fixer.

Just this morning as I walked, I mulled over the Problems of the day. I played out different scenarios and solutions. I pictured myself addressing and repairing what seems broken. All this a familiar and comfortable pattern for me. I was in my element.

The only difficulty in what happened today was that I had just read a devotional from Jesus Calling Evening by Sarah Young. Yes, I read the evening entry in the morning. I’m a 100% morning person.

Sarah Young’s writing always cuts to the core of my very real issues of the day, surprising and sometimes convicting me. Today’s words: Gaze at Me; Glance at problems-this is the secret of victorious living. I have called you to live supernaturally, and I have empowered you to do so. Ask My Spirit to help you fix your gaze on Me. p. 395  And this, 1 Corinthians 4:18 We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.

As I walked, I kept thinking about the Problems. And then I refocused. I kept having to repeat the mantra and asking myself, “Are you going to gaze or glance? What are you going to focus on?”

I found myself complaining internally because this gazing verses glancing directive was hard. Then, I realized that’s why it requires God’s supernatural assistance.

Gaze at God? Glance at Problems? or will you Gaze at Problems? Just Glance at God?

Problems are a part of life. Where we focus is the secret to everything.

My prayer today: God, I need your help. I cannot, on my own, keep my eyes off my problems and on you. Help me to refocus so my gaze is on you. Amen    

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace, breast cancer survivor and part-time problem solver.

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A Voice, Crying Out

People ask me sometimes how I write. Where do your ideas come from? Is it hard? Does it take a long time?

Every day, when I journal, read scripture and devotional materials, ideas usually flow freely. I jot in the back of my journal different blog ideas. Ideas also come to me when I walk each day. Or, I might set out on a walk with a tiny idea and along the way it blossoms. I consider this to be divine inspiration. Then, when I sit down to write out a fully blossomed idea, often it morphs into something quite different which always surprises me, pleasantly.

I try to just yield to the whole strange, uncomfortable process. I’m always paying attention to current events and news items that touch me and others.

Sometimes, I hit an empty patch where no ideas come.  I just let that be and pause, sometime skipping a weekly blog entry. Sometimes I just need to let something simmer and not try to express it.

This week something unusual happened. Words usually come very freely to me when I sit down to write. I wrote a bit and then got very stuck. I left it. It stayed stuck. I prayed…still stuck. I walked…stuck.

So today, I’m sharing with you something very sputtering and partially formed. I think the problem is I cannot find my voice. I cannot put into words all I feel.

Politics aside, really, here goes:

Years ago, we had the privilege of flying on airline passes due to a relative working for the airlines. We took a short vacation within the state with our almost three-year old daughter. She had to have a real ticket, so she boarded with some friends who also had tickets but were flying on to another state. We were to get on the plane closer to departure time. Something happened having to do with the airline’s commitment to a ‘very on time departure’. While we waited, boarding passes in hand, the doors suddenly shut and the plane took off, with our two and half-year old on board, without us.

I had not anticipated in any way that this would happen. I cannot tell you the terror I felt. I had not explained to her this possibility. All she knew was we were not with her. I had no control over this, none. She was going to land in Dallas. Our friends had a connecting flight. I was shaking, crying, pleading with the airline personnel. Nothing helped.

This scenario worked out. I had parents in the area who left their jobs, rescued our daughter, fed her SpaghettiOs, let her swim and take a nap until we got there.

It was my only taste of my child being torn from me. I’m marked by it still.

Can you even imagine your child torn from you?

This is happening right now, in our country while we accuse each other of lying; while we try to justify who broke what law and who can fix it. People are citing scripture as to why this is good, proper and business as usual. Christians I know are on social media essentially asking what is the big deal, aren’t criminals deprived of their children all the time?

Breast fed babies are being pulled from their moms and their only known source of sustenance. Children are plaintively crying “momma, papa” while we debate whether these children are being incarcerated in prisons, interment camps, cages or simple fenced in enclosures. I’ve heard people say, don’t worry, the children are being fed and shown videos. Now we are being told there are whole facilities for babies. Really?

Statements are being issued by so many while so many others are strangely quiet. All living first ladies (where are their husbands?) and whole Christian denominations are making statements. Corporations are vowing to be a part of constructive change. And yet, this continues.

What is wrong with us?

I have scripture to share too. These two keep ringing in my head. God saying though the prophet Isaiah, Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the child of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Isaiah 49:15 God’s deeply entrenched love and connection to us being likened to a nursing mom’s physical, emotional and spiritual attachment to her nursing child.

And this, A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more. Matthew 3:18, quoting the prophet Jeremiah.

I’ve used this scripture at the funerals of children just to put it out there that there are some losses that nothing can help. Children being ripped from their parents is one of them. There is no consolation for that. There is no law, no wall, no political stance, no reparation or making it right.

My words do not flow today. I can’t find my voice. My mom’s heart, my pastor’s heart, my American heart is breaking. What is wrong with us, collectively, politically, spiritually?

There is no consolation for this.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and nursing baby Pace. She is a breast cancer survivor.

Soul Care 101

I’m currently immersed in a favorite topic of mine, Soul Care, as I prepare for another women’s event. About 15 years ago, I learned the stunning fact that my soul required care. Before that, I never thought about it and I’m a pastor. In seminary there was talk about Self Care. This was about taking some time for oneself for exercise, play, family time, study and quiet. We learned about balancing our days–not working morning, noon and night, for example. We touched on the Sabbath but not as much as you would think.

No, I learned about Soul Care the hard way through a series of Wake Up Calls that illustrated very vividly that my Soul was weak, sickly, pale, dehydrated and running breathlessly behind me asking if we might sit a while and take a breath. My Soul spoke so softly and breathlessly that she was very easy to ignore. After all, I had three children, a big job, a calling, a ministry I was passionate about and lots of people demanding my attention. I ran on fumes and it is a tribute to God that I ever managed to do anything spiritual at all in that state.

As I re-read favorite authors on the topic of Soul Care and remind myself again of what was so transforming, I thought I’d share some Soul Care tips in case you or someone you love is in need of a refresher course.

Plato and Socrates spoke of the Greek concept of therapeia of the soul which means either care or service. Socrates says it is like the care you’d give a horse on a farm: you feed it, brush it down, exercise it, give it water and clean its stall. Thomas Moore writes this is the model for Soul Care.  Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Every Day Life 

I’ve never had a horse but I have cared for children and dogs and I’m thinking it is the same. The idea is that our souls are living, fragile and in need of our attention.

What is it that your soul needs to thrive?

Your soul needs space. Space to breathe, to rest, to pay attention to unseen things.

Your soul needs solitude. It does not matter if you are an extrovert and get your energy from people. Your soul is not. She needs alone time.

Your soul needs to inhabit your body. That means your body needs to be rested, hydrated, fed, exercised and open. Emily Dickinson said the soul needs to stand ajar, ready to receive inspirations.

Your soul needs people. A soul needs to be connected to a family and a community. Thomas Moore writes, The soul prospers in an environment that is concrete, particular and vernacular….nothing is more suitable for care of the soul than family because the experience of family includes so much of the particulars of life. 

Your soul needs beauty. Sunrises, sunsets, nature’s vividness, art, music, creativity. When you see or feel beauty your soul is fed.

Your soul needs alignment. My yoga teacher speaks about alignment often. She tells us to adjust our alignment many times in each class. Your soul needs to align with God. This, to me, is what prayer is: aligning our will and thoughts with God’s will and thoughts. My soul is capable of getting off track. She needs to adjust her alignment often.

Your soul needs laughter and play. The soul has a child’s heart. My favorite almost-two- year-old has a fun sense of humor already. He thinks lots of things are funny, like putting a sponge on his head and calling it a hat. I love being silly with him and making him laugh. I can tell it feeds my soul.

I believe our world would be a better place if there was more Soul Care happening.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the needs of the world and the hurt and trauma all around me. In my better moments, I refocus on caring for my soul so at least what I toss out into the universe comes from a place of grace, God, centeredness, health and wholeness.

Jesus had his own way to advocate for Soul Care. He said, What good will it be for a person to gain the whole world but lose his/her soul? Matthew 16:26

Soul Care 101, a must-do for summer 2018.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace, writer, speaker, breast cancer survivor and one who tends to her soul.

 

 

 

We Have This Spirit

I walked into worship this week with my emotions swirling. On Friday, there was another school shooting. These shootings cause me to be unable to breathe or even to string my thoughts together. This time, the shooting was in Texas. This time, it was in the high school in Santa Fe, Texas where our daughter served as a Speech Pathologist in the past few years. This time, it was the halls she walked, the students she knew and her colleagues that faced the unthinkable.

Our youngest son is going into the military. I am worrying in advance for his safety. On Friday, I realized I need to worry equally for my daughter, my middle son and my husband because they all work in schools. Could this really be our reality?

On edge about that, I was also aware of the tender time of year it is with graduations and school year milestones, recitals, programs and stress. I was feeling, as well, the weight of  people’s stories: difficult diagnoses, grief, job angst, aging parent woes, struggles with mental health and more.

I sat in the pew wondering how in the world we could even bear it all.

Then, the children’s sermon reminded me. The children were asked what special day it was right now. No one said anything about the royal wedding (although wasn’t that a refreshing reminder of the power of love and new life?) No one mentioned the Preakness or the weekend’s golf tournament. The kids didn’t mention end of school or graduations, reunions or recitals. After a bit of awkward silence, just one child said softly “It is Pentecost.”

How that child knew that I have no idea. I’m sure the majority of the adults gathered probably didn’t quite know that. It is, to me, one of the hardest to grasp of the Christian days. It is the day we celebrate the gift of God’s spirit sweeping in to empower, change and embolden the Christian movement.

It is our yearly reminder that we Christians have this resource, this Spirit that helps us bear all things. As spiritual people, we are called to see what is not visible. We are asked to receive our power. energy and coping skills from some part of God that is more like wind and flame than anything black and white. We are asked to live by, in and through something no one can even see.

It’s so flimsy and hard to grasp that I even sometimes forget and I have been an ordained Christian pastor almost 31 years now.

We have this spirit, this manifestation of God that is always with us. This spirit equips us to face the unbearable. This spirit gives us the courage, the voice to make changes where there is evil, injustice and pain. This spirit calls us forward in big, new and surprising ways.

If we were left on our own, I do not believe we could go on. I do not believe we could find hope. If we were left to our own resources, we would be lost/hosed/doomed.

But, thank God, we are not.

Once, I spoke at a very difficult funeral. I did not know what to say so I shared this:  “I told God, I cannot bear this. I cannot. And God whispered back, ‘You can’t bear it. It is too much. Just hold it up to my Light.'” That whisper was the Holy Spirit, our resource. Come, Holy Spirit. We cannot bear this world alone. Amen 

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace and breast cancer survivor. This blog entry is written in memory of Lina Finau.
  

RR

I married an RR. Our boys have those initials too. When we talk about our someday in the future, we like to dream about a place with some land that has an RR on the gate.

R & R is also a military term meaning Relaxation and Recuperation. It is often assigned to soldiers, especially after they’ve been through something rough. I believe it is often mandatory.

The 10 Commandments lists R&R right up there as a “Thou Shalt” which is just as important as say, not killing someone. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Exodus 20:8-11. Interestingly this commandment uses more ink than any other with several verses describing to us what this means. It means: take R&R, stop doing everything you do, every week.

Why are we so bad at it?

A friend just went through a pretty big surgery. Afterward she told me her biggest challenge would be to make herself rest. And, I totally understood. I’m the same way. Or, I used to be, finding it challenging to rest.

I used to burn the candle at both ends. I pushed through fatigue. I let over-responsibility and perfectionism run my life.  A therapist told me that everyone, especially clergy, should take 3 hours off for every intense, emotionally charged hour with someone. I remember not even being able to digest her words because it seemed so ludicrous. So many days, every hour was filled with something difficult, intense and emotionally charged. I went through cancer treatment working full-time with that kind of stress and never thought once about it.

Now I’m better at R&R. I understand how important it is. I understand why it is a commandment. We were created to rest. It is not optional. My yoga teacher says the hardest yoga position for many people is shavasana, the corpse pose, where you literally lay on the floor and do nothing. Is it telling about us that doing nothing is harder for us any other yoga pose?

Matthew Walker is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science.  Our middle son, a football coach, coaxed me into listening to a podcast about this because “it changed my life.” To summarize what I learned: sleep is everything. We need 8 hours of it nightly. We cannot make it up. It is wonderful for us mentally, physically, spiritually. It is the mechanism by which our bodies reboot each night, clean out toxins, memorize important things and even the way we can enhance just about any performance. Check out Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams to read more. Stunningly, the average American is existing on about 6 hours of sleep or less a night. We are walking around fully unrested.

A recent entry in Jesus Calling had Jesus speaking these words: Many of my precious children have fallen prey to burnout. A better description of their condition might be “drainout” Countless interactions with needy people have drained them, without their conscious awareness. You are among these weary ones, who are like wounded soldiers needing R&R. p.139.

Is it hard for you to rest? When neuroscientists, yoga teachers, the military, God and Jesus all agree, I try to listen, because that doesn’t happen very often.

Recently, I was digging through mementos at my parents’ home and found an award  from my younger brother’s kindergarten files. It was a construction paper medal that said Russell: Best Rester.  I love it. Now I have a new life goal.

Dr Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace, breast cancer survivor and is currently competing for the highly coveted Best Rester award.

 

A Mom’s Broken Heart

She called with the most devastating news. Her 15-year-old great nephew, David, had taken his own life. My stomach dropped. I sat down to be able to hear what she was telling me.

Rhonda and I are breast cancer friends. Despite living in the same community, we’d never met until we were both diagnosed with the same kind of breast cancer within a week of each other. We had the same set of doctors,  same insurance, same treatment plan, same prognosis. We met and have clung to each other these past seven years.

At my last radiation treatment, my skin was burned and my fatigue relentless. Rhonda used her old patient key card to get to the radiation waiting area. Because she’d been through it all, she knew I would be there after that last treatment to gather my things, change and leave.

She had pink roses and fudge. Fudge! You bet I’m going to cling to a friend like that who  breaches security to bring flowers and chocolate. I could sob now just thinking about it.

When a friend like that tells you her sweet great nephew, a boy she’s known his whole life, held as an infant, played with as a toddler and a big boy, seen grow into a teen, celebrated birthdays, holidays, family milestones and vacations with has taken his own life at age 15, you listen, you cry, you go to God in prayer for her, his parents, teachers and friends, the whole reeling family.

David’s death was tragically connected to cyberbullying. I hate thinking about bullying. I don’t like visualizing children being cruel to each other. I hate hearing stories about that taking place in our neighborhoods, families, schools, churches, anywhere. It is especially hard to get my mind around cyberbullying because I don’t understand all those dynamics about how people communicate these days. I know when parents figure out one medium, like Facebook or Snapchat, we are already behind because new cyber-ways to communicate pop up daily.

I’ve known several families over the years who have lost children. Some of them, despite their grief, have bravely risen from the loss to make a difference. David’s parents, Maureen and Matt, and his brothers, Cliff and Chris, started speaking out almost immediately against cyberbullying and the responsibility we all have to wake up. They founded David’s Legacy, http://www.davidslegacy.org, a non-profit to end cyber-assisted bullying, promote kindness and change laws. They have made great progress in a short time.

Maureen, David’s mom is coming to our school district, Grapevine Colleyville ISD, on Wednesday, May 16  at 6 p.m. at Dove Elementary in Grapevine to share her story and to raise awareness for how we can help our children and youth and prevent cyber-assisted bullying. Event Flyer

She is flying in from San Antonio just to speak to us and flying home late that night in order to work the next day. Why? Because her broken mom’s heart does not want us to lose one more precious child to this.

May is the fullest of months. We all have so much to do. This event is open to everyone in our community not just the Dove Elementary family, not just to GCISD families, teachers, parents, grandparents but everyone.

I do not like to think about bullying. I do not understand this cyber world our children and youth use to communicate. But, when my friends hurt, I hurt. When moms and dads with broken hearts speak to us through their tears for change, I will listen.

Lets pack to overflowing the cafeteria at Dove Elementary in Grapevine on Wednesday, May 16 at 6 p.m. because David’s voice deserves to be heard and we need to listen.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace, breast cancer survivor and co-founder of Connect in GCISD. 

Night Verses Light

Our daughter has always had fun with words. She twists them, turns them and creates new ones that make more sense. When she was about three she told us she smelled a “Stunk”.  Skunk is a great word but, my goodness, stunk is better. No wonder she grew up to be a very good speech pathologist.

When she was young, she would tell me things her “Sleep Brain” was telling her. Not dreams really but crazy, untruths. She somehow knew, even as a girl, that her awake brain and her sleep brain had two different points of view.

Because of her use of language, I’m able, even now, to examine a thought or perception that happens in the night as just my “sleep brain” talking. Every once in a while, in that state between wake and sleep my brain will be insightful, useful or come up with the answer to a problem from earlier in the day. “Oh, my headphones are in my hoodie pocket!” “Her name is Mary Ann!” I always marvel at my brain to work on something long after I forgot to think about it anymore.

But most of the time my sleep brain is not logical. She magnifies and distorts reality. She makes me worry and dream about pointless problems. Because I gave my heart, soul and career to the church for thirty years, my sleep brain still does a stunning amount of church work even though I let that go almost two years ago. I’ve spent many a night trying to organize sermon notes, make it to the sanctuary on time and find my clergy robe.

Basically, there is a huge difference between night thinking and light thinking. I try to keep my thoughts exposed to the light of day. I journal every day so I can be real with myself. I write down night thoughts and dreams. Sometimes I’ve even recorded my “Night Thinking” and listed right beside it my “Light Thinking.”

The Bible is redundantly about light. Ephesians 5, selected verses from The Message translation, You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer, you are out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get with it! The good, the right, the true–these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours….Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busy work, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham that they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on…the darkness…see how attractive everything looks in the light of Christ.

Night verses Light. Which one do you choose?

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace and a breast cancer survivor who loves God’s Light.