Category Archives: faith

Faith for Real Life

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.

 

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.

FaithWaiting

I enjoy making up words. I loved word play with my children. We now have several words only our family knows. Today I made up this one: FaithWaiting.

FaithWaiting is different from regular waiting.

All waiting is pretty excruciating. Waiting for admission to that certain college. Waiting to turn 16. Waiting for the wedding day. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for the biopsy results…or really, almost any results. Waiting to hear if you got that job. All kinds of hospital waiting is agonizing.

In our family we are waiting on a baby to arrive.  Pregnancy is so long! There are so many unknowns. My daughter is now down to the baby-could-come-at-any-time part of pregnancy. She and I are planners and we are having trouble with our plan making because we DO NOT KNOW WHEN THIS WILL HAPPEN. She is going to the doctor weekly now. Last time I asked her if the doctor said when this will happen and she reminded me rather sternly that they do not tell you WHEN.

I am planning to be there when this impossible-to-know thing happens but I live 5 hours away so how do I plan? How do I wait? How do they wait? How does anyone FaithWait verses plain old anxious waiting?

A few tips for FaithWaiting:

Do what you can. In my case that includes keeping gas in my car, suitcase mostly packed, making lots of casseroles to fill my daughter’s freezer when I get there, keeping my phone nearby.

Remember what you know. God is faithful. All will be well. You are not and never were in control. You are in God’s hands. Waiting is a gift, a discipline and an exercise in faith.

Trust. Today’s entry in Jesus Calling reminds us of God’s word to us, Waiting on Me means directing your attention to Me in hopeful anticipation of what I will do. It entails trusting Me with every fiber of your being, instead of trying to figure things out yourself. Waiting on Me is the way I designed you to live: all day, every day. 

Pray. Pray for peace as you wait.

Keep your routines and rituals. Sometimes keeping a schedule is an act of grace that calms us down and reminds us of God’s presence in the daily routine acts of life. Eat, exercise, work, rest, repeat.

I’ve preached and written before about how hard it must have been for the followers of Jesus on that day of waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. How did they bear it? Can you imagine the sorrow, angst, worry, uncertainty and pain they must have felt? The Bible says very little about that Saturday but I believe it is one of the most important times in the whole Bible because it was a whole day of not knowing when all they could do was FaithWait. I imagine time just painfully crawling that day, oozing with despair.

Waiting is what the Christian life is all about. We do not know the plan. We do not know what the future holds. Most of the time we barely know what God wants us to do.

The difference is we wait as those who have hope. That is FaithWaiting at its finest. Psalm 33:20-22 offers this prayer: We wait in hope for the Lord; God is our help and our shield. In God our hearts rejoice, for we trust in God’s holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you. 

Casserole by casserole, I FaithWait.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, breast cancer survivor, Mimosa to Keller and his soon to arrive baby brother and one who waits with hope.