Love=Noticing

It’s Valentines Week, the time of year when we become Love focused for a bit. Some people feel sad during this time if romance isn’t in the picture. That’s unfortunate and it seems far more productive to focus on just upping our love game in general.

Lately I’ve been writing and speaking about the art of noticing.  I’ve declared that in my new life part of my job description now is be a noticer.

I started with creation. I noted that the sun rises and sets daily and maybe I should just watch and notice that more.

Then I realized all of creation is filled with beautiful and stunning things worth noting. I read somewhere that when we pause notice any part of creation it is as if we are worshipping God.

In a devotional reading this week, Oswald Chambers wrote The prophet Isaiah made people look up at the heavens in order to use their imagination properly. If we are children of God, we have a tremendous treasure in nature and will realize that it is holy and sacred. We will see God reaching out to us in every wind that blows, every sunrise and sunset, every cloud in the sky, every flower that blooms, and every leaf that fades. My Utmost for His Highest

Spiritual people are called to see with imagination what cannot quite be seen.  What if nature is infused with God’s unseen presence and signs? What if our job was simply to notice?

I imagine the call to notice extends to other living creatures as well. When my dog wants a pet she rolls onto her back, hoping I’ll notice. People crave being noticed and seen. Jesus was particularly good at seeing people.

Maya Angelou once said, Your eyes should light up when your child enters the room. I wonder what would happen if our eyes lit up when anyone entered the room?

I see you sunrise, sky, flower and tree.  I see you daughter, son, spouse and grandchild. I see you, dog needing a pet and hungry family struggling to make ends meet.

I see you person sitting alone or clenching your teeth in the grocery store line.  I see you person with hands and plate full.

Love doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It begins with noticing.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller, breast cancer survivor and noticer.

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J.T.’s Footwear

I enjoyed last night’s Super Bowl but was distracted by Justin Timberlake’s footwear. I like Justin Timberlake and believe he is a very gifted true artist. I’ve watched him grow up from his Mickey Mouse Club days to N Sync to his very cool current status. I especially love it when he performs with Chris Stapleton.

J.T. wore a nice pair of comfy white tennis shoes and they distracted me because I was picturing all the female artists who do all the same moves on 5 inch heels. As long as men get to wear shoes like that while women don’t, I’m going to claim that the world is not yet just.

Men get to wear comfortable undergarments, boxer type swimsuits and flat shoes. For some reason, they have no make up expectations, very few hair worries and only have to shave their faces.  The only thing I can see that might cause them discomfort is a necktie and they have control over how that feels. They don’t wear Spanx that I know of.

A couple of weeks ago, while shopping for a black tie event, I saw that they now have Spanx for arms. I nearly collapsed in despair right there in front of the display. A very rich woman named Sara invented Spanx and I have bought plenty and been quite grateful for their power to spare people of my lumps and bumps. But arm Spanx? No.

Is it not enough that we are smashing our thighs, tummies and rear ends into submission? Now, our arms too?

I can just picture us in all our Spanx, falling off our 5 inch heels, our carcasses exploding out of our Spanx like busted cans of Southern Style biscuits, while we lay there mumbling, “This is not the look I was going for.”

So today, I say no. If J.T. gets to wear comfy tennis shoes while dancing, so do we.

When my baby grandson was born, I had a ringside seat. I am freshly aware that he came into this world shoeless, Spanx-less, perfect, 100% fearfully and wonderfully made.

Scripture reminds us that we are created in God’s image, all of us, male and female. (Genesis 1:27)

We are enough just as we are. We are good. We reflect the divine. Maybe it is time to dress like we believe it.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, writer, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and breast cancer survivor. Today she is wearing comfy tennis shoes and no Spanx. You can hear her speak this week at The Well event for women on Thursday evening, February 8 at First UMC, Grapevine, Texas. Meal tickets are sold out but program-only tickets are available for $15 all week at http://www.fumcg.org/cindyryan.              

Whispers

I never knew why older people cried at weddings. It seemed obvious to me that it was  a happy time. I didn’t get it.

I met Julie when I was an 18-year-old freshman at Texas A&M. We decided to be roommates the next year and have been close friends since then.

I’ll never forget the day I picked her up from her workplace for lunch. My newly married friend got in my car as pale as the palest ghost. I said, “What is wrong with you?” She swallowed her nausea and managed the word “pregnant.” We were both stunned. We’d never done pregnancy before.

Five babies, many milestones, lots of life, challenging jobs, countless lunches and shopping sprees later, the baby she was pregnant with thirty years ago got married, this past Saturday night.

Suddenly, I’m the person in the congregation crying because, oh my goodness…life!  Her baby boy looked the same as he always had except now he was the groom. My friend looked gorgeous as the glowing groom’s mom.

Our weekend was filled with celebrations and people we had not seen for years. The entire time I’m asking myself how this happened. How did the college girls get to be moms of adults?

When I was younger older people used to whisper to me the secrets of life. I was moving too fast to listen. It seemed like they were telling me something about babies growing fast and time flying.

Now, I’m the one whispering and crying happy tears in the pew because, to me, a wedding is so much more than two people marrying. It is a lifetime of moments, relationships, parenting, angst and friendship all squeezed into a few sacred Holy moments where love and hope once again emerge.

When all that awareness hits you at once, it’s bound to seep out in joy-filled tears.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, writer, mom, Mimosa to Keller, breast cancer survivor and tearful wedding guest. She is speaking at The Well women’s event at First UMC Grapevine, Texas on February 8, 2018. Some tickets are still available at http://www.fumcg.org/cindyryan 

In Celebration of Women

I just spent an entire weekend at a women’s retreat. In between my speaking segments, I listened to lots of women’s stories. It helped me remember all over again how much I love the bonds between women and our strength, compassion and resiliency, especially when we have each other. While we were retreating, other women marched, spoke up and found their way to the streets all over our nation to express their hearts. Recently, through the Me Too movement, women are drawing lines in the sand about what we will tolerate. Something is happening, women are in the middle of it and I love it.

Recently, I had a request to republish a column I wrote that ran in the Colleyville Courier in 2013 in a newspaper column I had at the time called Real Life. Today seems like a good day to do just that.

It happened 25 years ago. To me it was a non-event; to another person it was a major event. How could two people have such different recollections of the same thing?

I have two girlfriends I still talk to regularly who were my friends then. I called both of them and asked for their memories of the event. “Do you remember that day when…?”

I am grateful to have women friends I have counted on year after year. And, of course, both of my friends remembered the event like I did and immediately took my side. That’s what girlfriends are for.

Gale Berkowitz writes, “Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our female friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach quivering-stress most of us experience on a daily basis.” She cites a UCLA study on friendships among women, which reports that women respond to stress differently than men. Women produce hormones, which make us actually seek one another out to “tend and befriend” rather than the male stress response of “fight and flight.”

The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely we are to develop physical ailments as we age, and the more likely we are to be leading a joyful life.

So there it is, scientific proof that women need women and that spending time together is good for us.

Jennifer Louden, in The Woman’s Comfort Book, suggests women should ask themselves the following questions regarding friendships:
Who do I call when I’m down?
Who energizes me?
Who do I like to play with?
Who would I call in a crisis?
Who would bring me food if I was sick?
Who would I give my house key to?
The answers you give are clues to your nurturing network.

Another set of questions:
Who makes me feel tired?
Who causes me to have tension in my jaw or a stomach full of flutters?
Who do I find myself breathing shallowly around?
The answers are clues to your toxic relationships.

The rest is simple. Spend more time with the life-givers and less time with the energy-drainers.

Today, I celebrate energy-giving friendships among women…where we can talk for hours and never run out of things to say; where we can ask each other, “do you think it’s menopause or am I just always this snappish?”; where we can commiserate about men and children and what’s wrong with society; where we can trust that our tears, our laughter and our occasional inappropriate words are going to be heard in the spirit intended; where we are given the “just right gifts” that our friend just knew we needed; where we can compare parenting techniques, recipes, work and body issues—and wonder of wonders, live longer and stronger because of it.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a writer and pastor. This column is written in honor of L.P. and her amazing circle of friends. 

Your Battery

A friend asked me this morning if I had quit blogging since I hadn’t written here since before Christmas. That’s the problem with working for yourself, sometimes you forget to work.

The truth is I’ve been focused on finishing the holidays, writing for some upcoming speaking events and getting my nest re-emptied again. It seemed like it took a while to clear all that out and get back on track with healthy living and such.

As 2018 begins, I’ve noticed how obsessed we all are with our phones. Actually I noticed that way before 2018 but now I’m paying attention to how we act about our phone batteries. Have you noticed?

We keep a close watch on our phone battery levels. At my house, we fight over chargers and we make sure every vehicle has one. I’ve noticed airports and other cool places now have charging stations everywhere so we can always plug our phones in on the run.

One of the most reassuring Christmas gifts I got was an inflatable solar phone charger so in case of a power outage, natural disaster or nuclear war, I can use my own breath and the sun to charge my phone and still play Words with Friends and check Twitter to see if the world has ended. Thank you Russell and Albert!

So, at the risk of pointing out something obvious, I would like to invite each of us in 2018 to care as much about our own personal batteries as we do about our phone’s charge.

When was the last time you told yourself, “I’m running low here, need to go plug in, unplug or take it easy?”  When was the last time you checked yourself in such a way multiple times a day?  When was the last time you deleted anything to save your own personal energy or power source?  Anybody out there taking specific personal actions to “clear out some memory” to make room for what is really essential?

I’m headed this weekend to speak at a Women’s Retreat from Friday-Sunday. I already think it is a miracle because a group of busy women managed to clear their weekend in order to re-fill and charge their own batteries.  We’ve already won. I probably don’t even need to say a word.

In a few weeks, I’m speaking at another event which is also by design, a time for women to re-charge. If you live near the Dallas/Fort Worth area, join us:  http://www.fumcg.org/cindyryan.

In the meantime, I’m going to consider that my need to re-fill is just as vital as my phone’s need for a full battery. And, that I need re-charging just as often. My phone and I are pretty much one entity anyway, we might as well fuel up together too.

A Baby, Why?

I was lingering over coffee with a friend this week when she suddenly said, “Why did God choose to come as a baby?” Yes, this is just one example of the delicious people I spend time with these days.

I told her I genuinely did not know but nothing could be more surprising, unexpected or tender. She added, “Or, in need of care.”

It somewhat paralleled another feeling I was having lately about my daughter’s pregnancy  Our world seems so divisive, chaotic, fearful, angry and upside down right now and yet, our family has another tiny baby boy coming our way in the spring.  I was thinking, “Thank God for a lovely, hopeful, opposite-of-everything-else, sign of new life.”

My friend’s words just keep ringing in my ears, “God’s revelation in Jesus came in need of human care.” God’s Word came needing flawed humans to keep it alive.  Isn’t that something?

An all-powerful, all-knowing God chose to be revealed to us but packaged that Word as an infant.

So here’s what I’m wondering this Advent,  are we looking in all the wrong places for Truth, Light, Righteousness and Justice? Maybe we are searching for BIG answers or an adult leader to be in charge of the world while God is delivering truth in tiny, fragile, unexpected ways that need us to see the truth, cradle it, feed it, sing to it and help it grow.

When our grandson was born, even though I had raised three babies of my own, I was stunned at how much he needed us. I was struck by the fact that he seemed to thrive and be comforted from day one by sleeping held closely on a loved one’s chest, hearing a heart beating next to his. I marveled at there flex he had to grasp a finger with his tiny hand and hold on.

What if God’s latest Word has already been delivered and it is like that, in need of human nurture, love and connection? What if it’s waiting on us to respond so it can thrive and transform us and our world? Are you looking this advent for some small, infant-like wisp of justice, goodness, grace or peace? Is there some tender piece of Good News that needs to nestle safely in your arms and grow?

It’s happened before…

 

 

Tree Trauma

Tis the season of gifts. You have your list and I have mine. Retailers are working as hard as they can to make sure we want to give what they have. Thankfully, our family’s gift lists have been trimmed down over the years due to our intentional simplification. Today I found a picture of Christmas from about 20 years. We were in a large room and the gifts were all over the room, a huge pile in front of each person, above our heads. We were sitting down, but still. And, this was just our celebration with one side of the family. Everyone had at least 15 gifts; there were 11 of us in the picture. You do the math.

In the Christian faith, we mark this season before Christmas as a time of watching and waiting. We decorate with the focus on a few candles. Sunday by Sunday we light one candle, then two as we talk about gifts, The gifts we talk about in Advent are the ones God wants to give us: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ. That’s it.

The older I get the less I want wrapped, bought gifts and the more I desperately crave God’s gifts.

Last week, we put up our tree. I love having the tree up and lit early so I can enjoy it for all the weeks leading to Christmas. Because of our empty nest, we are short on labor around here so I decided I could assemble the four pieces of our artificial tree by myself, get the stand and skirt on it, get the lights working, add all the red ribbon by myself and then coax my husband into adding ornaments with me later.

This proved to be a very difficult task for one person. It is still hot here in Texas so I was in a full body sweat by the time I got it all up, MOST of the lights working and ribbon swirling sort of attractively around it. For some reason my dog chose that time while I was distracted and sweating to help herself to a whole bag of pepper jack cheese. This cheese thing, plus the sweating really dampened my Christmas Spirit which comes and goes anyway due to the over-the-top nature of all things Christmas.

When my husband got home I shared my work of art and told him he had just enough time to add ornaments with me before the Cowboy game. He was motivated and moving fast. Then, in the midst of it all, I had a huge wave of Missing My Children which hit without warning as we put up ornament after ornament with their preschool and elementary age faces plus all the baby’s first Christmas ones and the ones we love the most and the ones that always make us laugh. So, yes, I started crying and telling my husband no one warned me about the empty nest tree part.

He coaxed me to move onward mostly because of the Cowboy game. At the last touches the tree seemed to sway a bit, then a bit more. He quietly asked if I’d secured the stand with the three big screws provided. I told him there were no screws provided and that I was sure we didn’t need them as long as no one ever brushed up against or came even remotely close to the tree. He disagreed.

What happened next involved both of us at times prone on the floor under the tree, yelling at each other better ways to do what needed to be done, needing a flashlight, dismantling the whole thing and sweating.

It’s up now, no longer swaying and quite beautiful.

Between the heat, the dog eating the cheese, the Empty Nest meltdown and the after the fact securing, I’m back where I started, just needing God’s gifts: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ.

Every one of us has our seasonal challenges, some are bigger than others, of course. May God’s best gifts continue to soothe you and yours this season.