Category Archives: faith

Faith for Real Life

Chocolate Grace

Last week I wrote about friendship and the power of speaking truth to each other. I shared about my friend telling me I needed counseling to deal with a sticky, chronic family situation. I did not want to do what she suggested but I did.

I do not hesitate to get help for plumbing issues at my house or physical health issues. I get my car tuned up regularly. I Google things all the time. Why would I not get help with something so emotional, difficult and family related?

When I set up the session, the counselor asked if I was afraid of animals or had allergies. I thought those were strange intake questions until I arrived at my session and was greeted by Grace, a chocolate Labrador Retriever who does therapy alongside her owner. We had a Chocolate Lab when my kids were tiny so she looked very familiar.

I’ve seen therapy dogs in hospitals, schools, rehab centers and hospices but never in this kind of therapy.

She greeted me politely at the door and then settled down beside her owner’s chair.

I spent half of my life not being a dog person. We had some strange dogs growing up. Those dogs were not into human bonding at all so I didn’t even know it was a thing.

Then I read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It changed me. The entire beautiful story is from the dog’s point of view.

Now I have a yellow lab who is bonded to me like glue. She and I walk every day. She prefers to be by my side in whatever room I’m in. When we are traveling somewhere alone, even a place with no fences, I don’t have to leash her. She will not leave me. She often will give me a little lick just to let me know she is close.

Many times, I’ve marveled over my dog’s quiet closeness to me as similar to the closeness I perceive in God’s presence. Silent, comforting, near, as close to me as my own breath.

During that first counseling session, I cried. Gently, Grace relocated closer to me, laying on my foot, just a little, like my dog does. On my second visit, she actually pressed into me.

I see the world in metaphors, color, symbolism and unspoken meaning. I always have.

I believe those who have spiritual eyes see God often in unexpected places. I’ve learned not to doubt thar reality, just to receive those sightings, gratefully. I am a God of surprises, so look for me everywhere. Jesus Always, p. 267.

When you are working through hard things, talking to a stranger through your tears, trying to find a way and Chocolate Grace lays gently on your foot, then presses into you, you are home and God is close.

For by Grace you have been saved by faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God….Ephesians 2:8

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

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That’s What Friends Are For

Today’s blog requires you know the following:

I am not good at admitting I’ve run out of resources, ideas or strategies for solving problems. I am overly responsible, even about things that are not my responsibility.

I am also not great at showing how I truly feel about something. That is partially created by the training I received to be a pastor and my professional need to appear as if I have it all together when speaking, teaching or leading worship services.

For the last fifteen years, my extended family has been dealing with a family member who is not doing well due to mental issues and substance abuse. This has been a long, worrisome, exhausting, roller coaster of a journey. In the last months it as taken another downturn and lately I’ve come to the brick wall understanding that I’ve run out of resources.  Maybe you or someone you know struggles with something similar. Maybe you understand the heartbreaking feeling of wanting to help yet being unable to.

As luck, schedules and providence would have it, a friend and I spontaneously got together for coffee. For some reason, she asked about this family member. She knows the journey I’ve been on. We had lots of other things to talk about, yet she asked about this first. She remembered.

Then, she listened to my latest heartbreak over no longer knowing what to do. See point one above.  She helpfully shared a couple of examples of her own of this dynamic and how it has played out in real life.

As we wound our way through the conversation, I cried. I don’t cry in front of others much, especially in the middle of Starbucks. See point two above. She cried with me. She literally cried with me. Real tears were rolling down her face.

She prayed. She stopped talking and prayed with me. She just took my hand and prayed a one line prayer for God’s help because it seemed too big for both of us.

Then she took a breath, looked me in the eyes and spoke truth to me. She said, “You need counseling. This is long, ongoing and sticky because it is family and you need outside counsel. You just do.” I told her that’s what I usually tell other people, not what they tell me. She said, “I know but I’m telling you.”

She was right. Her words pierced my heart.

This what friends do for each other. She remembered and asked. She listened. She felt it so hard. She cried with me. She prayed. And, then she told me the truth, to my face, briefly, adamantly, with love. When she spoke that truth, it resonated in my soul and I knew she was right.

Oh my goodness, I am so grateful for her in that hour, on that day, with this situation.  I want to be exactly that kind of friend.

Above all, love each other deeply. 1 Peter 4:8

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

Think About Such Things

Twitter is such an angry place. Facebook can be. All news channels can be. The old-fashioned newspapers are too, lots of negative, lots of fear. The political rhetoric is outlandish right now. I’ve read that young people are becoming more and more despondent over the state of our world. I don’t blame them. As of late, it feels like we have so many things to be concerned about.

Every single time, I get like this, I have to draw myself back, kicking and screaming, to the present moment. I have to put my phone down, turn off the tv and ask myself, what do I see, feel and hear in this present moment?

This weekend, the present moments included a trip back to the college where my husband and I met. Memories are embedded in the landscape and buildings there for us. It was our son, living in the dorm his dad lived in…such a full circle feeling.  It was a visit to see our sweet grandsons. Sunny, end-of-summer precious days by the pool with them. Watching the five month old grimace but triumphantly eat green beans. It was hugs, laughs and toddler kisses. In the past week, it was all three of our grown kids connecting with us, asking advice, telling us funny things…just being amazing human beings in our mixed up world.

As I write, right now, it is with the window cracked and the sound of rain, a respite from the oppressive Texas heat and the feeling that fall will likely come…such a beautiful and hopeful idea.

I try not to write about things that are overstated. I try not to throw more words into the universe unless they really need to be said.

This scripture, Philippians 4:8, seems like it could never be said enough, If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. Sarah Young writes, This may sound easy but it’s actually quite countercultural….it’s even contrary to human nature.  Jesus Always, p. 258.

Or consider The Message translation, Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious–the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.  

Does the world seem negative and harsh right now? Is social media unbearable? Here’s an idea, don’t add to it. Don’t post anything that would not support this Biblical idea. Disconnect from the negativity you’ve been consuming and generating. Draw yourself into the present moment. Consider what is right before your eyes in the here and now. Think on these things. Be these things.

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

Wound Up

A black lizard with a bright blue tail was sitting on my open journal when I returned to the deck with my refilled cup of coffee. Later, Google told me it is actually a skink and has a venomous bite. Wow. All I know is that’s not usually the kind of thing I usually see on/in my journal.

In the same week, I got frightened by three different armadillos in two different states. What’s up with the scary armadillos?

Oh, and I heard a beaver/nutria/groundhog thing under the same deck rustling, screaming and then running out from the deck in the bright light of day. Every single time I’ve ever heard an animal scream it does me in.

The two times my children have seen me the most frightened and out of control involve animals behaving strangely. Once, we were aggressively surrounded by nutria while on a picnic (picture a mom and two children on a table screaming). The second time was when someone’s formerly pet squirrel crawled up my leg but I didn’t know it was a pet. My kids still talk about these times of Mom losing it.

I’ve been decompressing from a season of too much…too many things my husband and I’ve been trying to do, battling some sickness and allergies, dealing with tough ongoing family situations, sending a kid back to college and all of it in a compressed time period.

Finally, I arrived at a time of many of those things being over and a time of settling back in to routine, relaxation, rest and regrouping.

Then suddenly, skinks, armadillos and beaver things screaming.

What does it mean?

I think it is just God’s humorous way of telling me I’m not quite relaxed yet. I need to settle down more, unwind more, cease doing things for a while. From Jesus Always by Sarah Young, God says look for Me. Sometimes I show Myself in grand, glorious ways. At other times I show Myself in simple, humble ways that only make sense to you. (page 252)

Is there a skink on your journal? Is a groundhog screaming at you? Is an armadillo scaring  you or a squirrel running up your leg?

Might be time to unwind. Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10.

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

The Long Game

Sunday was a strange day for me. I spoke first at the 125th anniversary of the church I grew up in. They invited me back as the “Voice of the Past” which was very humbling and also horrifying. I do not know how I got to be the voice of their past when it seems like just yesterday I was a teenager there.

After that, I spoke in the evening at the church where I first served as a full time ordained pastor, 30 years ago.

Through the day, I saw people I hadn’t seen in 30-40 years. Some of those people looked exactly the same. Some I could barely recognize.

At both places, I essentially said the same thing: How did this happen? How in the word did life go by so fast? Shouldn’t someone have warned us?

At both places, I also saw something quite clearly that I was unable to see during my time in each place. Now, I can see the Long Game.

In churches, at work or school or in families, it is so easy to get caught up in the drama that is the present. We get immersed in that world, that microcosm, and it feels like these things have never happened before or that we will be here forever, spinning in this current situation.

When I went back to the places from my past, this time I could see the Long Game. I could now see that we are all in just a relay race. We are only here for a bit. Then we pass the baton to the next pastor or the next staff member and they continue the race.

God has a Long Game and we are only runners in a small part of it.

Maybe one of the most helpful things we can do when struggling with the angst or drama of our current situation is to Zoom Out, to try to see the Long Game, to look at it from God’s perspective.

At the second place I spoke, a young man emerged from the crowd when I was finished. I didn’t recognize him at first because he was a teen thirty years ago. He was one of my biggest challenges when I was a youth pastor. He once threw about 100 pencils successfully into ceiling tiles at the church. He always leaned too far back in his chair and fell out each week as the conversation began getting serious or prayer time began. I still  talk about him now as an illustration about problem children or challenging people. He knows that he made me think more than once about quitting when I was his youth pastor.

He reminded me on Sunday that he’s an emergency medical worker now, yes, the kind that saves people. He has led youth Bible Studies. He said he has two boys that look and act like he used to. He told me, “I would never miss the chance to hear you speak, you meant so much to me.”

When I was in the stressful situation, I could not see God’s Long Game.

Are you in the midst of something tough? Are you caught up in the drama of some present situation?  Zoom Out. Imagine the story 30 years later or a lifetime later or long after you are gone. Remember it is not all on your shoulders, you are part of a relay.

Run as hard as you can in your segment of life in this world, do your best, be kind, matter to others and then go where God calls you next and let God’s Long Game play out. Zoom Out.

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

Your Plate

You are about to fill your plate at the party or potluck dinner. You tell yourself, like you always do, that you will not over do it. Little by little, with only a bit of this and that, it happens. The empty plate you started with is soon over-filled with small amounts of good things. If you really didn’t plan ahead you may require a whole other plate for salad and dessert. Worst case scenario, it is a paper plate that does not stand up to all your good choices.

We are entering the back to school and fall season of lots of good choices. Summer is winding down and families and individuals are gearing up for the fun and activity of fall. What’s on your plate?

I’m in a season of too much right now. I did it to myself. I said yes to some great things a long time ago and they are now all on my plate at once. That happens sometimes. What do you do when it does?

Here are some coping mechanisms in a season of too much. I’m implementing these myself right now. I’m sharing just in case you also are walking through life with a too full plate.

  1. Remember it is okay to subtract something. Just scrape it right off the plate. You do not have to explain why to anyone. I’m unable to do that will work just fine. Our family once just said no to all select baseball, for example. We just scraped it away and guess what? We have all been just fine without it. One time my middle child asked if he could join a very good organization. I said, No, you can’t. He later thanked me for that.
  2. Your plate has to have white space. White space is margin; space between activities; unscheduled time for breathing, resting, regrouping. You need white space every day.
  3. When evaluating the fullness of your plate, count everything. You need sleep on your plate. You need meal time. You need exercise time. You need time to do the basics like laundry and taking out the trash. The most dangerous time for mental health begins when people start sacrificing these basic tasks in order to get other things done. If your home is filled with trash you don’t have time to take out, you are in trouble. If you don’t have time to wash your hair, body or clothes, you are in trouble.
  4. You also need to count those things you wish weren’t on your plate like grief, chronic problems or new challenges you are facing. These all take time and emotional energy too. You have to be able to be honest with yourself and admit you are in a season of dealing with extra items on your plate before you ever arrived at the potluck.
  5. If your plate is full, turn down some other noise. In my seasons of stress, I end up with a loud tv on or too many podcasts in my ear, when what I need is some silence or soothing faith music instead while I’m carrying around the full plate.
  6. Lean on your spiritual resources. Martin Luther once famously said, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer. I think he is maybe overdoing it on the time allotted there, but I now understand the point. When I have a full day, I get up earlier to pray, journal and read scripture. I do not skip it. We’ve been commanded to honor a weekly sabbath, to see our bodies as God’s temple and to guard the gift of life that we’ve been given. I wonder why we ignore all that and instead worship our busyness? I have had to learn to stop leaning on my own understanding and my own capabilities and instead depend on God for prioritizing and giving me the energy for all the good things in my life. My inability to manage my plate has kept me dependent on God and I am grateful for that.
  7. Practice gratitude. When juggling too much, it is hard to be grateful. With less, it seems easier. Simplify in order to enhance your gratitude. Create white space and quiet so you can see what you have and hear God’s whispers of guidance.

Personally, as families and even as spiritual beings our life depends on good plate management skills. It is a balancing act for sure. What’s on your plate?

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

The Pleasant Surprise

One of the best parts of life and sometimes one of the hardest parts is that we never know what will happen next. You can try to predict the future. You can try to control it. You can worry full-time about it. But, truthfully and probably blissfully we do not know what will happen next.

One of the fun things about being alive awhile is that you begin to see things come full circle. You get to witness how stories end or what the next chapters are. You can see your life as having a narrative arc with themes and twists and ironies woven in.

As a child and teen I was painfully shy. I never spoke to adults if I could avoid it. I melted if someone called on me in class. This lasted all the way through seminary. Imagine my surprise that I would become a preacher. Even when I first perceived God calling me into ministry I quietly said, “Okay but I’m never going to say anything out loud or in public.” Surprise! If God smirks, I bet God was smirking.

I love seeing the surprises of life. I’m the one laughing now as the first teens I had in my youth group are parents of teens. I truly didn’t see that coming. The ones that gave me the most trouble are leading youth Bible studies now. I also did not predict that one.

One of my favorite Bible stories is recorded in Acts Chapter 3. Peter and John, disciples of Jesus, are going to the temple for a prayer meeting. There is a man there begging at the gates. He has been crippled from birth. Peter and John heal him and he starts walking, then dancing and praising God. Everyone who sees it is freaked out. Peter can’t help himself, he starts preaching with this opening line, “Why are you all surprised? This is God at work, right before your eyes.”

I love the pleasant surprise. I love picturing a smiling, even funny and ironic God at work in big things, like healings and transformations and the littlest things too.

God always surprises me with sunrises and sunsets and their glory and timing.

I believe God places signs and surprises in all our lives if we are awake, aware and in touch with spiritual possibilities.

I have a controversial grandma name, Mimosa. It was chosen for me before I had grandsons and I have embraced it because of its sparkling festive uniqueness. It seems people older than me hate the grandma name Mimosa and they always tell me. They’ve been telling me my grandson would never be able to say it. They have been right about that. We’ve been coaching him now for two years to say any version of Mimosa, like Mo or MoMo or Mosa. He has refused. However, just this week he started calling me something. It has been one of those delightful funny life surprises. He calls me Mocha. Mocha. No one saw that coming. How, I wondered, did he go ahead and pick a different tasty drink to call me? It makes me smile whenever I hear it or think about it, such a pleasant funny surprise. A gift. The name will evolve more, of course. We do not know yet what it will be. Today though, I’m Mocha.

I like pleasant surprises so much I try to give them to others as well as a way of sharing God’s surprising grace-filled nature. Our college age son is supposed to mow our yard each week to earn back to school money. Sometimes my husband and I will do the yard for him. I pay him anyway. My husband thinks that is outrageous. I think it is instead the gift of a pleasant surprise.

I wonder what would happen if we watched our lives for pleasant surprises, endings and chapters we didn’t see coming as well as other twists and turns and gifts? What would happen if we started being the authors of pleasant surprises for others?

Healings, miracles and grace gifts happen every day. Sometimes they are laced with humor and fun. Sometimes we are overwhelmed and just call it a coincidence. Still, Peter’s words echo through the years, “Why are you surprised? This is God we are talking about.”

Dr. Cindy is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa/Mocha to Pace and Keller, breast cancer survivor and transformed shy person.