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.
  

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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.   

      

Delight

Have you ever followed a toddler around? I think everyone should. It is a crash course in wonder and emotions. In the past week, I spent lots of time with a soon to be two-year old and he does not miss a thing. He notices super small feathers and the tiniest of snails. He brought me a withered spider and a thankfully deceased giant bumblebee carcass.

He lives near cows and a couple of donkeys and is transfixed in place by their sounds. He notices birds, airplanes, trains and helicopters. And tractors, oh my, he’s in love with tractors.

He delights in having a task to do, like feeding the dog, making a tower out of blocks or taking his diapers to the trash can. He’s learning to color but coloring directly on the table seems the most fun.

He is a dramatic one with melting falls to the floor when the tower doesn’t come together like he visualized. He will knock it down and cry “Oh No” before collapsing in despair. In remind him that he did the knocking down and ask what is he going to do about it. Problem solving quickly follows.

But most of all, I love his delight. He’s getting a sense of humor. I love to trigger it. His hat on my head is hilarious. Me pretending to drink his milk is super funny. When he hides in plain sight and I find him, he throws his head back and belly laughs.

His baby brother just received a new super soft blanket. When we laid it on the floor for the baby, big brother had to delight in it first, stretching out his arms for that first good long feel of softness.

Delight. The Bible is full of delight. In some places it is actually a commandment. God delights in us when we are grateful, aware and when we acknowledge our needs. God wants us to delight in creation, people and places. God invites us to a life of delight and mysteriously through that, promises to give us everything we need. Delight yourself in the Lord and God will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

Wow. If I delight, I’ll have everything? Money, security, good looks, eternal youth, no problems? No, I think it means delight, savor, notice, be grateful and joyful…that is everything your heart needs.

I’ve noticed joy in the strangest of places, in mothers who’ve lost children, in people living in poverty, in those in the midst of the worst kind of trauma. You’ve seen it too. Laughter at a funeral, the tiniest ray of light in an otherwise dark night, music in a hospital room.

Toddlers know how to delight. They do it in between and throughout all the other emotions of the day. Help me, God, to be like that.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace and breast cancer survivor. She is currently enrolled in a course on delight, taught by her grandson.            

Learning to Linger

In my previous life, I didn’t know how to linger. I remember once getting so angry with my son’s baseball coach because he wouldn’t tell me when baseball practice ended. I had two other kids, one was a baby and a full-time job. He said, Practice ends when it ends. I’d end up waiting in the car with that baby 45 minutes to an hour for the coach to be moved to end practice.

What is wrong with him? I fumed. Does he have any idea what I could get done in 45 minutes to an hour? I’m actually still kind of mad about that. You know how I can tell? The baby is 19 years old and I’m still writing about it. Whatever. The beauty of your own blog? You can vent as long as you need to.

Now, I am better at lingering. Subtracting a few big things certainly helps but it seems in any stage of life that lingering is better. In her book, Soulful Simplicity, Courtney Carver learned some lessons after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It’s amazing how a diagnosis can cause us to do what we should have been doing all along. Courtney radically changed her life. Among other things, she learned to linger.

She writes, You can infuse clarity and softness into your everyday life by reclaiming the lost art of lingering….incorporating vacation moments into your every day life is the better choice. This will take practice, intention, and a commitment to reprioritize, but what happens if you are successful is that you enjoy life more, and as a side effect become more loving, creative and productive.

There’s a mysterious Hebrew word in our Bibles, Selah. You will see it often in the book of Psalms and also in Habakkuk. It is used 74 times. The best anyone can figure out it means stop and listen or maybe even stop and praise God or some believe it is a musical directive, like pause here singers and musicians, take a breath. It may even mean stop and get ready for what is next.

I like it because it seems like we are being instructed to linger. Linger in the moment. Linger in God’s Word. Stop. Breathe.

I used to think it was funny when older people were depicted as sitting on park benches feeding pigeons all day. Except now, I get it.

Just today, on my morning walk, I paused a lot. I sat on a park bench. Selah. I noticed how green everything looked and then how the green was dotted with lots of red. Selah. The red was cardinals. More than I’ve ever seen on my walk. Selah. I found a patch of bluebonnets growing in the sun and let my dog linger there for pictures. Selah.

Selah. Lingering in grace.

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

God Kisses

In a class I attended on journaling we were told we should decide whether our journals would be about real life or spiritual life. The teacher said, “It can’t be both.”  “Wrong!” I said to myself then and now.

Real life is tightly braided with spiritual life. I believe that is how it is created to be. In our people, in creation, in little things that happen and all our very real moments, the Holy is always mixed imperceptibly with the Real.

When we sign up to be spiritual people, we are agreeing to Terms and Conditions that include seeing what cannot be seen, hearing what is not spoken aloud and believing in that for which there is no scientific evidence.  It takes faith to keep looking, listening and believing.

Last Monday, seven days ago, I once again witnessed new life come into this world. Pace Ryan, our second grandson, was born. There is nothing more holy than a little one entering the world. Later I marveled over the whole thing…how did my daughter’s body know how to labor? How did little Pace go from his previous life submerged in amniotic fluid to breathing air? How did his blood supply switch over to run on its own? How did he know to cry and clear his lungs? How did he know how to nurse?

And then this, he came with dimples. Dimples! Dimples no one saw coming. Dimples buried far back in his genetics that no one on either side can recall anyone having. It delighted me to the tips of my toes. Dimples!

I told my daughter I’d heard that dimples were a sign that God had kissed someone. It’s not in the Bible. Don’t go looking for it. But the Bible is full of language and teachings about the signs of God. It teaches us that once we have seen God, we are never the same. Hebrews 11:27 speaks of Abraham persevering because he had seen the one who is invisible.  Jesus said, Blessed are those who believe without seeing me. John 20:29  The Bible teaches us that our world is full of the signs and wonders of God for those who can see such things.

I have no doubt, not even one, that little Pace was kissed by God. I see it with my faith eyes, my heart and my soul.

Our God is a kisser. God kisses us with sunrises, sunsets, loved ones, rainbows, new life, wonders and surprises all of the time. Where have you seen a God kiss lately?

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and dimpled Pace, a breast cancer survivor and someone who loves a kiss from God.