Author Archives: drcindyr

About drcindyr

Mom, wife, pastor, breast cancer survivor, writer, reader...

Sweet Summertime

Yesterday, I spent a little over an hour relaxing between a lake and a pool. It was a cooler than normal Texas Sunday afternoon, with a breeze. The puffy white clouds provided a regular respite from the sun. I had a good book and a big glass of iced tea. It is ridiculous how happy I felt in that one precious hour, soaking in summertime.

Our family is about to spend a week together at the beach so I’m feeling in vacation mode already as lists are made; the most relaxing clothes packed; our favorite games set aside for fun in the evenings.

For all you moms of older offspring, I had a brilliant idea this year. I decided everyone who is anywhere close to being an adult would be in charge of a day of meals…not just me. I told them if their menus/shopping lists were submitted early enough, their cooking ingredients would be provided by a super shopper. The most amazing thing happened, menus have been planned that I would have never thought up. I will get to do about 1/7th of the work I usually do. The person (who will remain nameless) in our family we thought might not be on board, submitted the most amazing menus which included a Tex/Mex breakfast entrée, an afternoon fresh pineapple appetizer, a sweet fire chicken dish for dinner and some kind of rice wine served (get this) out of a hollowed out watermelon. My sense of awe cannot be measured. Moms, delegate and relax for a change.

I’m wishing for all of us this summer a little extra measure of down time, relaxation, wonder, sea air, mountain air or whatever fills you up. I’m wishing for you homemade ice cream, really ripe, juicy summer fruits, porch time, grill time, a breeze, some shade and all the wonder of nature.

Poet Mary Oliver wrote, I do not know exactly what a prayer is. I do knowhow to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass; how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

We don’t know what the future holds. But, we do have this day. Hopefully, we also have this one wild and precious summer to pay attention to. I pray you drink it in (maybe even served out of a hollowed out watermelon, with someone else doing the hollowing out).

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, writer, mom, Mimosa, breast cancer survivor and so much more. In honor of sweet summertime, her blog will be on vacation for a bit as she savors a wild and precious summer.         

When Broken Things Heal

Last year, on this very day, I was at our daughter’s home, awaiting the birth of our grandson, when I paused to take a picture of a beautiful sunset. I took one tiny step off their back porch and fell in an ever so slight hole with one foot and broke my ankle on the other foot.

It was about the worst possible time for such a thing to happen. I was there to assist. I was there to be on two feet doing things. I was going to be a whirlwind of helpfulness taking care of people I love.

When I called my daughter from the ER sobbing that it was indeed broken, she said, “Mom, this will be funny some day.” It is still, to me, one of the least funny things that ever happened. When my family tries to bring up my week-long stint with a walker before I received my walking boot, I make them stop because I can’t take remembering that horror.

The doctor told me it would take A YEAR to feel normal again. It still doesn’t. As I write, after walking 3 miles this morning, it is aching. I find it fascinating that it is still bruised in two places. How can it be still bruised?

But every day, I am grateful that broken things can heal.

Breaking my ankle taught me things that I seem to keep having to re-learn:

  1. I am breakable, vulnerable and human. To this day, my husband shows me curbs and holes. I keep saying “Just because I fell doesn’t mean I will fall again.” But, it actually does. I, like you, am capable of falling. I am breakable.
  2. Healing comes on a slow timetable. I have to keep being reminded by pain and aches that I am not yet healed. Healing is slow. One must be patient…more patient than you ever dreamed you’d have to be.
  3. Broken things don’t heal just as they were. My ankle is forever changed. So are people who lose loved ones, receive a diagnosis, endure a broken relationship or a devastating job loss. The good news is, you can heal. The harder news is that your brokenness will still be there even after you heal.
  4. God specializes in brokenness. So many times we believe our God is all about only a pristine perfection….turns out, not so much. Rather, God is perfect at healing real life brokenness. It’s not a clean and sterile kind of healing either. It is a messy, achy, wiser, kind of mending that God does.

Colossians 1:20-21b, The Message: …all of the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe-people and things, animals and atoms-get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies….You yourselves are a case study of what God does.

Imagine this truth: what is broken in you, on you and around you, can be a real life case study in how God can heal.

I have an achy, bruised, forever-changed, mostly healed right ankle and soul. I am so grateful.

  

30 Years

On Wednesday, I celebrate another milestone, the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination into Christian ministry.

I keep checking the math on that because I cannot believe it is true. On June 14, 1987,  I knelt on the sanctuary steps while the hands of many were placed on my shoulders and head. I remember being surprised by their heaviness and even thinking as I knelt, “I had no idea ordination would feel so heavy.”

I also remember, standing up feeling very much like something spiritual had happened in that exact moment and I was forever changed. That surprised me too.

After that, I never again worried about or argued with the people who tried to tell me  women should not be pastors or that it wasn’t scriptural. I still encountered those people, but I was different. God had called. I had answered. The church affirmed it. I never looked back. Thank God.

I began the week wondering what I’ve really learned in three decades. I wondered what I would say now to a newly ordained person or to any Christian or to someone just trying to make it through the challenges of life and faith.

Here’s what I know today:

  1. Knowledge is overrated. You would think after 30 years I would know more. I don’t. I always knew I didn’t know much. That’s actually why I got my doctorate. After my Bachelors and Masters degrees, I was so aware of what I didn’t know that I just kept going. The funny thing is even the doctorate didn’t help too much. I have learned to embrace mystery and wonder and to shamelessly admit I don’t know things. My favorite is when people assume you know where everything is in the Bible just because you are a pastor. I finally learned to say confidently, “I don’t know, google it.”
  2. Life is such a mixed bag of everything. Life is so sweet, tender, hard and gut wrenching at the exact same time. I don’t have words to adequately describe it. I wish I would have embraced this truth sooner and saved time being stunned and completely blown away by the bittersweet nature of things.
  3. Pastors are not that great at pastoral care. My doctoral degree is in Pastoral Care so I can say that. We aren’t. People are. People who love each other in the real life context of the community of faith are excellent at pastoral care. We clergy should stop believing this is our job and hand it over to the people. I also suggest we just start calling it what it is, People Care not Pastoral Care. 
  4. Humility is the best skill any of us can work on. We would be well served to stop trying to know all things and be all things and just be humble, human, broken and more relaxed.
  5. Speak up. This is definitely the hardest one because it comes at a great cost, like getting demoted, moved, labeled, not liked. Oh yes, and crucified. Looking back, I wish I had spoken up more about injustice, racism, sexism and how Christians treat people who they perceive as wrong, different or other. I think now I shortchanged some of the congregations I served by being careful  and not sharing everything I really felt.
  6. Pace yourself. Honor yourself. I believed for the longest time that if I loved Jesus, I needed to push through. I did not honor my body, my time off or the Sabbath. I believed I was invincible right up to the point when I clearly wasn’t. This was the opposite of humility.
  7. Trust God. Trust God with absolutely everything. There is no other good way to do ministry or life.

Jesus Calling, Evening Edition, had a line this week that jumped out at me. I tear up now even thinking about it. The author, Sarah Young, imagines Jesus saying to us, “One of My most challenging tasks is renovating your mind, and My Spirit is always at work on this project….”  Immediately, I turned it into a brave prayer, “Renovate me, God.” When I pray it, I want to cry because it seems so bold and scary.

Thirty years of ministry has absolutely renovated me. It has never once been what I expected. I am changed. I am a new creation.

God took a very shy young woman and made me a pastor, of all things. I am renovated. And the good news is, the project is not yet over. Thank God.

Milestones

In days gone by, a milestone was literally a stone or pile of stones which marked the distance along a route. A milestone reassured a traveler of the distance he/she had traveled and that they were still on the right path.

Now it also means an action or event that signifies a change in a stage of life or in one’s development. I think some seasons just have more milestones. May and June seem filled with them: weddings, anniversaries, reunions, school years ending and graduations.

Sometimes milestones seem to come along mildly and well-paced so you have time to mark them, to realize you are there, to feel all the feelings attached to that milestone and to move from where you are to the next phase.  You have time to breathe, take pictures and wipe your eyes with a special hanky. Sometimes you have time to make speeches,  celebrate and have parties and toasts.

And then, there are other seasons, when the milestones just fly by, one after the other with such a fastness about them that you feel out of breath, overwhelmed and wondering what just happened.

In the past week, our youngest child graduated from high school, accepted some scholarships and spoke at church on senior Sunday. We had three different family and friends gatherings, entertained relatives from out-of-town, celebrated his friends’ graduations and told him over and over how proud we are.

In the same week, I had a doctor’s visit where I learned for sure that I can stop taking the medication I’ve been on five years which has caused me countless side effects. I learned I only have to see the oncologist once a year now and can now do mammograms just like other women do, once a year. In the midst of all the other milestones, I cried in the parking lot happy tears of joy because it felt like a giant healing milestone. I wanted to feel it and to give God thanks for it.

Now, while we are still putting away graduation decorations, we are packing for our son’s college new student conference which begins in the morning. We will continue hovering around the milestone of getting him ready to leave the nest in just a couple of months.

In the midst of it all, our baby grandson was trying to play the piano while holding a toy (he’s a multitasker) and fell right on the corner of the piano bench getting his first big boy face boo-boo. His mom and dad were great saying, “Oh he will be fine and kids get bruised.” I could barely take it. I didn’t want that milestone to be at my house.

Milestones. They are everywhere…with so many feelings attached. Psalm 25:6, The Message translation, shares it as a prayer, “Mark the milestones of your mercy and love, God; Rebuild the ancient landmarks.”

God, be with us in our milestone moments. Help us breathe, pause and reflect at each one. Help us to notice the Holy, sweet, difficult passages in our lives and to let your mercy and love enfold each one. Amen

What the High School Students Taught Me

This past Sunday was our celebration of graduating high school seniors at church. We are graduating our third child on Thursday and about to have an empty nest. We have had a child in our home non-stop for 29 years, so yes, an empty nest is going to be fun/strange/sad/happy/quiet; so many things to feel. Seriously. Imagine all of those feelings at once wrapped up in this graduation week.

On Sunday three of the graduates spoke in the worship services, including our son. As they spoke, they taught me about the power of the community of faith. All three had been members of that particular church most of their lives.

Here’s what they said, summarized:

-They were grateful and could now see the many people who helped raise them and show them faith. For all, it was a long list beyond their parents.

-It wasn’t any one thing, it was all the things. It was cookies and snacks; the many Sunday School lessons and Bible studies. It was singing in the children’s choir and serving as acolytes in worship. It was Vacation Bible School and Mission trips. It was pastors preaching, people loving them and speaking to them, hugging them and recognizing their milestones. It wasn’t any one thing, it was this tapestry woven together by the community of faith with them and around them.

-They saw the church for what it is, imperfect, ever-changing, filled with real-life loss and challenges. They all had families that hung in there despite the messy imperfection of the whole thing. They had families that made them attend when they didn’t want to. They had families that invested, served, modeled faith.

-They noticed that the more you invested in the community the more you received.

At the end of this happy/sad/milestone morning, I wanted to grab the microphone and preach or at least give a mom’s rebuttal but it didn’t seem polite.

I wanted to say to every single person, child, tween, teen, young adult and older adult…”Can’t you see this happening before our eyes? This is an illustration of the God-infused super sloppy church. Where it is never one thing, it is all the things…embedded with prayer, worship, life, death, sickness, ritual, grace and forgiveness.”

I wanted to say to everyone. “No matter how old you are, join up. Attach yourself to a community of faith and do not let go. Don’t let conflict or imperfection or that piece of music, or preaching or person you don’t like sitting next to you stop you. Invest. Show up. Show up again and again and again. You may not see results for 19 or 190 years. Show up anyway.

Sunday I sat in the pew and saw it. It was a real-life, people-I-love example of the power of the community of faith to shape lives. 19 years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and we inserted him right in the middle of an imperfect community of faith from the time he was 2 weeks old and the pediatrician said he could go to the church nursery.

On Sunday, a confidant young man walked to the pulpit in that same church and shared his faith, his values, his future plans and his gratitude for the cloud of witnesses who loved him into that.

Everyone deserves to be loved and shaped like that. Everyone.

When I Was A Child Living in Poverty

It was a Poverty Simulation our school district hosted. It was only for a morning. I was invited to attend as a community member along with school counselors and personnel from the district and some parents. I knew at the outset it would be stressful and that I would leave with an awareness I already had, that poverty was horrible. I even questioned why in the world I would attend such a thing when I could be going to yoga class instead.

I was shocked when the simulation began and I was assigned the role of a 9-year-old girl named Whitney. I assumed I would be a grown up, not a child. I lived with my younger brother who had some special needs and my 50 something year old grandparents who were raising us because our mom was incarcerated for drug use and our dad had disappeared. Grandma had a low paying job and Grandpa was disabled due to diabetes.

We spent the morning living out a month in the life of this family. My grandparents were totally obsessed with surviving; going to work; trying to access community services; getting food; paying bills. Periodically, life would happen and our family would be thrown a curve that sent us into even deeper crisis.

As a nine-year old big sister, I felt incredibly responsible for my little brother. At school, I was distracted worrying about my grandparents. I kept checking to see if Grandma was at work because if she wasn’t, we wouldn’t have food. My grandparents tried but they were so focused on surviving they could barely acknowledge my brother and myself.

At the end, my grandpa went to the doctor and learned his medication would cost $350 and there was absolutely no way we could afford it. The whole family settled into the devastating news that grandpa would probably die.

After the simulation, our family debriefed. We all felt stressed, out of control and couldn’t believe that our best efforts and planning did not help improved our family’s situation one bit. In fact, things got worse.

As eye-opening as it was about the terrible reality of poverty, I left with hope because of some of bright spots in place in our community. We have not solved poverty, a staggering 1 our of 4 students in our district live in poverty. But, we have created some light her; some let’s-just-do-something strategies which matter.

When I was a child living in poverty sitting at school worrying about my grandparents, if a mentor had shown up to visit with me, even once a week, it would have changed me. No one at home could afford to pay much attention to me. Here, we have a school based mentoring program overseen by Big Brothers Big Sisters to serve students just like me. http://www.gcisd-k-12.org (search Mentor) for an application. We have plenty of students in need, we just need more mentors.

When I was a child living in poverty, if I had been given a bag of food to eat over the weekend, it would have truly relieved pressure on my whole family. It would have reminded me that someone cared. We have that program here, which currently serves almost 1000 students in our district through the school year. http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org (search Weekend Food).

When I was a child living in poverty, if my family had a community agency that would visit with us and provide resources for clothing, food, medical care, holiday needs, a summer lunch time food option, it would have made all the difference. We have that here. http://www.gracegrapevine.org

When I was a child living in poverty if someone offered my family a hot meal, at a large table where we didn’t have to worry about the cost or the clean up, where we were treated like guests, we would have felt like we were less alone.  We have that here. http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org (search Be Our Guest Meal).

When I was a child living in poverty, if there was a huge Back to School Fair where I could get school supplies, a backpack, countless community and school resources, all in a one-stop setting, we would have felt equipped and loved. We have that here. (search Facebook for Connect GCISD).

When I was a child living in poverty, if there had been an after school program for my brother and me, my grandparents would have had more time to oversee our home. Someone would be there to give us a snack, a hot meal, help with our homework and a place to belong. We have that here thanks to a partnership with our local police, school district and churches. http://www.grapevinetexas.gov (search Grapevine Community Outreach Center Vast).

Living in poverty was horrible. And I know, I really have no idea how horrible. But, at least there are bright spots here. At least there are places you can give, serve and work and know that you a bringing light to a child.  At least there is that.