Do you have milestones only you remember?
I’m having one today. June 14th is the 35th anniversary of my ordination into Christian ministry. Over the past decades, year after year, it is mostly just me remembering the day that changed my life forever. Well, just God and me, remembering.
I’m not writing about it to get you to tell me happy ordination anniversary or to make anyone feel guilty for missing it. I’ve grown to love this quiet, private, humble anniversary.
I still remember kneeling in my home church, First Christian Church in Arlington, Texas at the foot of the red carpeted chancel stairs and all these hands placed on my head and shoulders. I still remember which professor prayed the prayer of ordination over me. I still remember thinking how heavy all those hands felt on me, heavy and hot. It was a June day and I had on my brand new, cut-for-a-man clergy robe. It was only the beginning of the heat I would feel in clergy robes in the years to come. Thank goodness, later I was able to buy clergy robes designed for women which helped me take those first steps toward being me. It took me a while to learn that God called me, Cindy Guthrie Ryan, into ministry and wanted me just to be myself.
I remember when the prayer ended, the hands were lifted, and I stood up ordained. I truly felt different. Something happened as I knelt. I can’t quite name what happened, but I believe it was God’s Spirit igniting in me in some new way, giving me pastoral authority or at the very least, some new awareness of what had been always implanted there.
Last night I watched an ordination service online for two young clergywomen I know. They were ordained, along with others, in a service for the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church has different categories of ordination but both women knelt, had hands laid on them as prayers were prayed. I think of both of these women as clergy colleagues but last night, it hit me, my clergy sisters are just now at the beginning of this road I’ve been on a while.
The presiding bishop preached about how hard it is to answer a call from God and how messy it gets. He mentioned how bogged down and filled with doubt one can become in ministry and how easy it is to become focused on the wrong things, to veer in the wrong direction or even worse keep looking backwards. I found myself nodding and reflecting on all my decades of ministry. He was speaking truth.
What I can say now is that when I said yes, I had no idea what I was saying yes to. I knew I was scared and out of my comfort zone. One of the first bargains I made with God was that I’d say yes to ministry if I never had to speak in public. I was too shy.
What I can say now is ministry was even harder and more unbelievably stretching than I ever dreamed. It was also more deeply surprising, beautiful, bittersweet and rich in a way I do not have words for. What I can also say is that God never once left my side. When I had no words, God provided. When I had no energy left, God provided. When I had motherhood and family challenges, God provided.
From funeral homes, hospital rooms, places where death filled the room and places where new life was undeniable, God walked with me. Through imperfect bosses and church politics, God reminded me who was in charge.
God provided specific friends and the strangest array of coworkers for each part of the journey. God provided bread for my sustenance and cold cups of water to refresh me…sometimes literal bread and water, sometimes symbolic. God provided beauty and grace in the most unexpected places. Over and over, God taught me lessons, humbled me and showed me truth. God taught me that I was resilient and that the worst was never ever the last word.
And today, on this appropriately quiet 35th anniversary of kneeling before God and standing up changed, God whispers, I’m not finished yet. You do not retire from the spiritual life. Keep on sister, keep on.
I have a couple to marry this weekend, upcoming retreats to lead, sermons to preach, blogs to write. I’m still organizing outreach efforts for children in need in our community. There is still hurt and injustice in our world so none of us can be finished. We march on because God’s not done with us, and our world is still broken and in need of every ounce of love we can muster together.
Do you have a quiet anniversary or a milestone that only you and God see? Maybe it is as it should be. Maybe the quiet dates are when we are most vividly reminded of the fullness of God’s presence and provision. Maybe it is quiet so we can see just how clearly God has our back, walks with us and never leaves us unattended or up to our own devices. Maybe there’s no people fanfare because we just need to see God.
Today, as I prayed, I thanked God for that time 35 years ago when I said yes to ministry…this ministry where I was never going to speak out loud. I laughed about how much I did not know or see coming. I marvel at what a sweet hard journey it has been and how God never once left me. Not once.
Genesis 28:15, Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go….I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, breast cancer survivor and Mosa to Keller, Pace and River. She is co-founder of Connect GCISD, an organization connecting students in need with community resources. To read more blogs, see her upcoming speaking events or to sign up for Cindy’s Inner Circle email which will resume in September, go to http://www.drcindyryanblog.com.