On September 1, I got a new hip. I’ve never had major surgery before. I’m less than three weeks into the recovery. Because I was in so much pain this summer leading up to the surgery, I took the summer off from writing and speaking. I missed it but I was hurting so much I could only focus on the pain and the energy it took to make it through the day.
When I finally was able to have the surgery (thank you science, technology, medical care and God’s design for bodies to heal), I knew I would regain energy and the space to resume writing. With joy and the magic of technology, I launched my back-to-blogging day the same day as surgery day. In the last 18 days, this is my fourth blog. I didn’t plan this, but the blogs ended up with an education theme of subtraction, addition and homework. This one is also about education, specifically education in our community and more personally, what I’m being taught right now by God.
My husband is a school superintendent. He assumed the leadership of Grapevine-Colleyville ISD in 2010. Currently, the district he leads is in a tough season, as is every school district in America. Things were already tough in these past years with all the ongoing changes and challenges in education. Then we had Covid. We still have Covid. Everyone is aware of the huge challenges of educating students in the pandemic environment. The pain and discomfort of our hurting, uncomfortable pandemic existence has intensified rifts in our community which seem to mirror the rifts in our nation.
Unfortunately, out of all that pain, it seems like anger, mistruth and discord have ruled the day. In our local district in the last few months things have become even more divided and difficult around racial issues. I suppose if you don’t know what I’m talking about, or if you don’t live here in Grapevine Colleyville, there’s always google to give you more specifics. Please remember as you research anything, things are certainly not true just because they are on the internet. We all know that right?
September 16 is our oldest child’s birthday. My husband and I began the day celebrating her and re-living the day she was born and how her coming into this world changed our lives forever, for the better as we became parents. September 16 will always be a milestone day for us.
This year, our special day, September 16, ended with an unexpected, loud, invasive, racial protest in front of our house. The aim of the protest was at my husband.
We’ve lived in the same quiet neighborhood for 25 years. Our home was originally a church parsonage which was a part of my compensation as a pastor at First United Methodist Church in Grapevine where I served on the clergy staff for close to two decades. From the beginning we loved this home. It was perfect for our growing family. All our children were able to attend GCISD schools from early elementary until graduation. They all attended Timberline Elementary school, one of the most racially diverse schools in the district. We treasured the friends they made there, the staff there and embraced the diversity from day one. We had other options for their education through the years as my husband served different districts. We never waivered in choosing Timberline and the other GCISD schools for them, long before he became the superintendent here.
Back to September 16, friends had been feeding us, because of my surgery, for more than two weeks. The kindness of our community always takes our breath away. As we ate a delicious meal of comfort food from our neighbor, my husband mentioned that a group from Dallas, NGAN, Next Generation Action Network, was protesting at the high school that evening. He mentioned it to let me know he might have to take a phone call during dinner (which we usually don’t do). He’d asked some of his team just to let him know how it was going. When the call came, saying the protesters had arrived and were in the right place and peacefully protesting. I googled them. I’m not supposed to use my phone at the table either (same family rule) but I did anyway. NGAN’s tagline is Standing Against Racism and Bigotry in the Education System.
As I read about them, I felt sad. I thought, in normal times I’d be marching with them. I looked at the pictures of their staff and volunteers. I celebrated in my heart how glad I was that young leaders were spending their time speaking up and making a difference.
Because of my husband’s role, politics and community dynamics, I often choose to be quiet. As a pastor and a leader in our community, I weigh my words all the time. I’m careful about how I use my platform and try to use it for good and not division or just to serve my own needs. But yes, I thought in normal times, I’d be right there with the protesters…for sure I’d be right there in my heart.
I always think of myself as younger than I am. Then, I remembered again, my current reality, you can’t march, you can’t even walk right now. Because of full hip replacement on September 1, I’m still hobbling around on a walker, one tiny, somewhat painful step at a time. I’ve joked lately that even though I’m 59, I feel like I’m 99.
My husband returned to the table, reporting all was well. We resumed talking about the wonder and joy of September 16 in our lives.
After dinner, I changed into my comfy pjs, parked my walker by my red chair. We settled in for a show.
Then, the quiet of the night suddenly erupted with the sound of cars and horns. It was louder than anything we’d ever heard in our neighborhood in 25 years. At the same time my husband’s phone exploded with text messages and phone calls. The police were calling to let us know, to their surprise, that the peaceful protest had moved from the high school to our home.
I sat frozen in my chair, feeling vulnerable in every way. The horns turned to yelling, chants, bullhorns and drums. I could hear some of what they were saying. It was about justice. They were calling my husband by name. It seemed so loud, harsh, wrong and scary. I thought about our neighbors and what they must be thinking. I felt guilty that we were bringing this chaos into our quiet neighborhood. I tried to think how I might communicate with the the neighbors but couldn’t figure it out.
Suddenly there was a police officer in our house. I felt exposed in my pajamas. I didn’t feel safe enough to hobble through the house to change. I wondered if we might have to try to get out of our house…like run through the backyard and hop the fence. Then I remembered I couldn’t walk much less run or leap.
The next hour was filled with my distracted husband, the police and the chants. My dog proved to be a useless force against protesters. She just snoozed on her bed like normal. To her defense: she’s a morning person like me and this wasn’t her best time. She’s never had protest training either.
The officer assured us he would stay inside with us the whole time. I texted our children just to let them know what was happening. I forgot it was our daughter’s birthday.
Finally the protesters were asked by the police to leave. They left peacefully but were chanting, we will return.
Before the police officer left that night, he asked me if I was okay. I said, no. I pretty much never say I’m not okay so that troubled even me.
As I was going to bed, I experienced what I think was my first panic attack ever. I felt the physical pain, all at once from my surgery. I had trouble catching my breath. When I tried to talk, I could only cry. I don’t think my husband understood me but what I was trying to choke out was that for 25 years this home had been my sanctuary place. We raised our kids here. When I no longer was on the staff at First Methodist, we bought the home from the church, because we wanted this home. I’d always felt safe here and now after surgery, I needed my home to continue to be my safe, sanctuary, healing place. All of that seemed shattered. I felt scared, not safe.
Thank God for sleep. When I woke up. Everything seemed less awful. Our home seemed safe again. In the new calm of the morning, I remembered being told by someone that mosquitos had been attacking the protesters. I asked how the person knew that, he said, the protesters were slapping themselves relentlessly.
By the morning light, my thoughts were so different. It is why we should always wait when we are in pain in the dark of the night. Our sleep brains, as our daughter calls them, aren’t that reliable. The anger, fear and worry that haunts us at night, often vanishes as God’s morning light filters through.
You know what my morning brain wished? I wished I had taken them some mosquito repellant. I wished I would have hobbled out there on my walker, in my pjs, like a 99 year old on a mission. I wished I would have interrupted their shouts with kindness, a smile, bug spray and cold water bottles. I wished I could have told them I was a pastor and that I believed in essence of their message. I wished I would have found the voice to say we are not enemies, we are on the same side. Why couldn’t I, as a pastor, a human, a mom and a Mosa not find my voice that night and be about the greater good? Why couldn’t I believe the best in people instead of the worst? Why was I so scared, frozen and panicky?
As the sun came up on September 17, I asked God to forgive me. I asked God to show me how to be quicker to love. I told God if the protesters did indeed return like they said they would, to please help me be ready. My walker has a very cool bag on the front of it that I proudly bought to carry all the things I cannot carry right now.
Next time, if my brothers and sisters from Dallas come back to speak up for injustice, I’m going to, with God’s help, be ready with bug spray and cold water in my walker bag. I want to meet them in my street with love and kindness instead of fear and hate. Because, God is the God of second chances, I’m not going to sit in my house and have a panic attack. Maybe when they see a smile and my bug spray they will be able to hear me gently say your good work is aimed in the wrong direction when you stand and shout at our house and my husband.
Maybe they will be able to hear me and believe that my husband and I and countless others in our community have worked for decades against racism and bigotry in education. Maybe, in that less harsh and divided space there would be room to talk about the real programs, schools and relationships that have been built toward this end. I would love to talk about Connect, the district’s Big Brothers and Big Sisters partnership for school based mentors, the Collegiate Academy, the Diversity Advisory Council, Student Advocate Counselors on every campus with ethnic and socioeconomic diversity and so many more exciting and hopeful steps made in GCISD. I can imagine our protesters know of amazing programs that we would love to hear about.
Maybe in that same grace space there could be dialogue about what is still broken and how to work together on inclusion, equity and diversity instead of just having a fearful loud stand off in the street.
Maybe if each of us asked God to show us how we might change, how we might be a part of the problem, then maybe, together we would be rewarded with a softer, kinder, more gentle world to live in. Wouldn’t that be better for each of us and our children and grandchildren? This is the morning light prayer of my heart.
September 16 will always be a day I claim as the most beautiful day of new life I have ever experienced. The protest on our quiet street will now become a part of our memories of new life and God’s never ending ability to bring good out of ALL things.
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three grown children, breast cancer survivor, Mosa to Keller, Pace and River. She is the Co-Founder of Connect GCISD: A non-profit organization begun in 2011 specifically to connect GCISD students in need with community resources. She is also the proud owner of a brand new hip. To read more blogs or to sign up for Cindy’s Inner Circle monthly emails go to http://www.drcindyryanblog.com