In Celebration of Women

I just spent an entire weekend at a women’s retreat. In between my speaking segments, I listened to lots of women’s stories. It helped me remember all over again how much I love the bonds between women and our strength, compassion and resiliency, especially when we have each other. While we were retreating, other women marched, spoke up and found their way to the streets all over our nation to express their hearts. Recently, through the Me Too movement, women are drawing lines in the sand about what we will tolerate. Something is happening, women are in the middle of it and I love it.

Recently, I had a request to republish a column I wrote that ran in the Colleyville Courier in 2013 in a newspaper column I had at the time called Real Life. Today seems like a good day to do just that.

It happened 25 years ago. To me it was a non-event; to another person it was a major event. How could two people have such different recollections of the same thing?

I have two girlfriends I still talk to regularly who were my friends then. I called both of them and asked for their memories of the event. “Do you remember that day when…?”

I am grateful to have women friends I have counted on year after year. And, of course, both of my friends remembered the event like I did and immediately took my side. That’s what girlfriends are for.

Gale Berkowitz writes, “Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our female friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach quivering-stress most of us experience on a daily basis.” She cites a UCLA study on friendships among women, which reports that women respond to stress differently than men. Women produce hormones, which make us actually seek one another out to “tend and befriend” rather than the male stress response of “fight and flight.”

The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely we are to develop physical ailments as we age, and the more likely we are to be leading a joyful life.

So there it is, scientific proof that women need women and that spending time together is good for us.

Jennifer Louden, in The Woman’s Comfort Book, suggests women should ask themselves the following questions regarding friendships:
Who do I call when I’m down?
Who energizes me?
Who do I like to play with?
Who would I call in a crisis?
Who would bring me food if I was sick?
Who would I give my house key to?
The answers you give are clues to your nurturing network.

Another set of questions:
Who makes me feel tired?
Who causes me to have tension in my jaw or a stomach full of flutters?
Who do I find myself breathing shallowly around?
The answers are clues to your toxic relationships.

The rest is simple. Spend more time with the life-givers and less time with the energy-drainers.

Today, I celebrate energy-giving friendships among women…where we can talk for hours and never run out of things to say; where we can ask each other, “do you think it’s menopause or am I just always this snappish?”; where we can commiserate about men and children and what’s wrong with society; where we can trust that our tears, our laughter and our occasional inappropriate words are going to be heard in the spirit intended; where we are given the “just right gifts” that our friend just knew we needed; where we can compare parenting techniques, recipes, work and body issues—and wonder of wonders, live longer and stronger because of it.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a writer and pastor. This column is written in honor of L.P. and her amazing circle of friends. 


Your Battery

A friend asked me this morning if I had quit blogging since I hadn’t written here since before Christmas. That’s the problem with working for yourself, sometimes you forget to work.

The truth is I’ve been focused on finishing the holidays, writing for some upcoming speaking events and getting my nest re-emptied again. It seemed like it took a while to clear all that out and get back on track with healthy living and such.

As 2018 begins, I’ve noticed how obsessed we all are with our phones. Actually I noticed that way before 2018 but now I’m paying attention to how we act about our phone batteries. Have you noticed?

We keep a close watch on our phone battery levels. At my house, we fight over chargers and we make sure every vehicle has one. I’ve noticed airports and other cool places now have charging stations everywhere so we can always plug our phones in on the run.

One of the most reassuring Christmas gifts I got was an inflatable solar phone charger so in case of a power outage, natural disaster or nuclear war, I can use my own breath and the sun to charge my phone and still play Words with Friends and check Twitter to see if the world has ended. Thank you Russell and Albert!

So, at the risk of pointing out something obvious, I would like to invite each of us in 2018 to care as much about our own personal batteries as we do about our phone’s charge.

When was the last time you told yourself, “I’m running low here, need to go plug in, unplug or take it easy?”  When was the last time you checked yourself in such a way multiple times a day?  When was the last time you deleted anything to save your own personal energy or power source?  Anybody out there taking specific personal actions to “clear out some memory” to make room for what is really essential?

I’m headed this weekend to speak at a Women’s Retreat from Friday-Sunday. I already think it is a miracle because a group of busy women managed to clear their weekend in order to re-fill and charge their own batteries.  We’ve already won. I probably don’t even need to say a word.

In a few weeks, I’m speaking at another event which is also by design, a time for women to re-charge. If you live near the Dallas/Fort Worth area, join us:

In the meantime, I’m going to consider that my need to re-fill is just as vital as my phone’s need for a full battery. And, that I need re-charging just as often. My phone and I are pretty much one entity anyway, we might as well fuel up together too.

A Baby, Why?

I was lingering over coffee with a friend this week when she suddenly said, “Why did God choose to come as a baby?” Yes, this is just one example of the delicious people I spend time with these days.

I told her I genuinely did not know but nothing could be more surprising, unexpected or tender. She added, “Or, in need of care.”

It somewhat paralleled another feeling I was having lately about my daughter’s pregnancy  Our world seems so divisive, chaotic, fearful, angry and upside down right now and yet, our family has another tiny baby boy coming our way in the spring.  I was thinking, “Thank God for a lovely, hopeful, opposite-of-everything-else, sign of new life.”

My friend’s words just keep ringing in my ears, “God’s revelation in Jesus came in need of human care.” God’s Word came needing flawed humans to keep it alive.  Isn’t that something?

An all-powerful, all-knowing God chose to be revealed to us but packaged that Word as an infant.

So here’s what I’m wondering this Advent,  are we looking in all the wrong places for Truth, Light, Righteousness and Justice? Maybe we are searching for BIG answers or an adult leader to be in charge of the world while God is delivering truth in tiny, fragile, unexpected ways that need us to see the truth, cradle it, feed it, sing to it and help it grow.

When our grandson was born, even though I had raised three babies of my own, I was stunned at how much he needed us. I was struck by the fact that he seemed to thrive and be comforted from day one by sleeping held closely on a loved one’s chest, hearing a heart beating next to his. I marveled at there flex he had to grasp a finger with his tiny hand and hold on.

What if God’s latest Word has already been delivered and it is like that, in need of human nurture, love and connection? What if it’s waiting on us to respond so it can thrive and transform us and our world? Are you looking this advent for some small, infant-like wisp of justice, goodness, grace or peace? Is there some tender piece of Good News that needs to nestle safely in your arms and grow?

It’s happened before…



Tree Trauma

Tis the season of gifts. You have your list and I have mine. Retailers are working as hard as they can to make sure we want to give what they have. Thankfully, our family’s gift lists have been trimmed down over the years due to our intentional simplification. Today I found a picture of Christmas from about 20 years. We were in a large room and the gifts were all over the room, a huge pile in front of each person, above our heads. We were sitting down, but still. And, this was just our celebration with one side of the family. Everyone had at least 15 gifts; there were 11 of us in the picture. You do the math.

In the Christian faith, we mark this season before Christmas as a time of watching and waiting. We decorate with the focus on a few candles. Sunday by Sunday we light one candle, then two as we talk about gifts, The gifts we talk about in Advent are the ones God wants to give us: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ. That’s it.

The older I get the less I want wrapped, bought gifts and the more I desperately crave God’s gifts.

Last week, we put up our tree. I love having the tree up and lit early so I can enjoy it for all the weeks leading to Christmas. Because of our empty nest, we are short on labor around here so I decided I could assemble the four pieces of our artificial tree by myself, get the stand and skirt on it, get the lights working, add all the red ribbon by myself and then coax my husband into adding ornaments with me later.

This proved to be a very difficult task for one person. It is still hot here in Texas so I was in a full body sweat by the time I got it all up, MOST of the lights working and ribbon swirling sort of attractively around it. For some reason my dog chose that time while I was distracted and sweating to help herself to a whole bag of pepper jack cheese. This cheese thing, plus the sweating really dampened my Christmas Spirit which comes and goes anyway due to the over-the-top nature of all things Christmas.

When my husband got home I shared my work of art and told him he had just enough time to add ornaments with me before the Cowboy game. He was motivated and moving fast. Then, in the midst of it all, I had a huge wave of Missing My Children which hit without warning as we put up ornament after ornament with their preschool and elementary age faces plus all the baby’s first Christmas ones and the ones we love the most and the ones that always make us laugh. So, yes, I started crying and telling my husband no one warned me about the empty nest tree part.

He coaxed me to move onward mostly because of the Cowboy game. At the last touches the tree seemed to sway a bit, then a bit more. He quietly asked if I’d secured the stand with the three big screws provided. I told him there were no screws provided and that I was sure we didn’t need them as long as no one ever brushed up against or came even remotely close to the tree. He disagreed.

What happened next involved both of us at times prone on the floor under the tree, yelling at each other better ways to do what needed to be done, needing a flashlight, dismantling the whole thing and sweating.

It’s up now, no longer swaying and quite beautiful.

Between the heat, the dog eating the cheese, the Empty Nest meltdown and the after the fact securing, I’m back where I started, just needing God’s gifts: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ.

Every one of us has our seasonal challenges, some are bigger than others, of course. May God’s best gifts continue to soothe you and yours this season.


Subtle and Simple

Redundancy alert! For those of you who have been around me a while or follow my blogs, articles, sermons and rants over the years, I’m going there again, to my favorite holiday topic. I almost didn’t bring it up this year but I felt like someone out there might just need to hear this, said in just this way, right now.

Jesus taught us many things. He said he is the “way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6 He said “Whoever wants to be first needs to be last.” Mark 10:44-45 He said to follow him and fish for people. Matthew 4:19  He said “Don’t worry.” Matthew 6:31-34 He said “Let the little children come to me.” Matthew 19:14 He told us to let our light shine. Matthew 5:16 He asked us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Matthew 5:43-44 He told us with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26

What he never once said was “Celebrate my birthday with as much food, partying, overspending, over scheduling, over decorating and stressful hoopla as you can manage.” He did not say, “In fact, celebrate my birthday so hard and so big that you have to begin in September or October to cram it all in.”  He never said, “Exhaust yourselves, fall off ladders putting up lights, go into debt and over indulge for me.”

For years, I’ve been preaching about this and talking mostly to myself about slowing Christmas down, simplifying it, letting go of pointless traditions, habits and the too muchness of the season. I’ve taken some flack for it. I’ve been called Scrooge. And, honestly, I don’t mind.

When Jesus was born there were no decorations. The only light was the subtle light of a star. The Christmas card was only sent to the lowest ones, shepherds out in the dark fields minding their own business. The gifts, if you recall, were simple ones for the baby, not for you and me. It was subtle, low-key and simple. And, it was enough to change the world forever.

I say all that to say what I always say at this time of year. It is okay if you do less. It is actually Biblical and theological to do less. If you love doing more, do more. If it is not serving you or others, then be brave enough to stop.

Years ago, our family started simplifying Christmas. Our breaking point was that year when we had only 30 minutes to pick out a live tree, rope it to the top of the car, screech home and literally throw it in the yard before our next activity.  That was the year, I woke up and said, “What in the name of Christmas are we doing?”

Slowly, we just started subtracting. We learned it was fine. We learned Christmas still came and in fact we enjoyed it more every year.

Our Christmas, like yours, was so over the top that we’ve been able to subtract some every year and still have more to subtract.

People who are grieving, sick or suffering life challenges of some kind this year need to hear what I’m saying the most. It is OKAY to do less. If you can’t bear the thought of facing the season’s challenges, expectations and traditions, then trim them down.

Maddie in San Angelo taught me this. I was a Hospice Grief Counselor and she invited me to her home in December after her husband died. She said she wanted me to see her decorations. When I arrived there was a votive candle flickering on a small table. She said, “That’s my decoration. It’s all I can do.” We hugged and agreed that her one candle was enough.

Yesterday, I received a sweet text from my sister-in-law. It said, “My co-workers were lamenting the fact of all the gifts they had to purchase for so many factions of their family and how much money they were spending and how little time they had to do it. It reinforces my thankfulness to you for saying several years ago that we should simplify. My holiday is so much more relaxing now….”  

What is important here is that it is not easy or popular to be the one who suggests doing things differently or who says out loud “this is all too much.” Sometimes it takes a lot of angst and tries before something actually changes.

If your family won’t do it. You can. You can say no. You can leave some boxes up in the attic. You can buy less. You can be Biblical instead of commercial. You can do less instead of more. You can simplify something.

When you do turn down the brightness and glitter of the season, I pray you will notice  more of God’s subtle starlight  When you have more space and less noise, I pray you will hear the coos and tiny cries of a newborn. When you buy less, you can give him a gift that honors his real teachings and his life. Be brave enough to light one candle this season and just see what God will do with subtle and simple.

Surely There’s a Saltine Somewhere

Have you ever had something so painful or traumatic happen to you that you are afraid of revisiting it? I’ve recently been wrestling with just such a thing and I quietly asked God about it. “Should I even open that drawer?” And the silent whisper in my spirit that was not me, answered back, “Yes, and not only open that drawer but make a list of what you are thankful for that is in there.” I wish everyone could have seen my shocked and incredulous face at even that thought. I find that idea just distasteful which is, again, how I know it was not my idea.

We are in the season of gratitude. My friends are posting on social media their sweet points of gratitude. I love this because it helps me to be grateful for things I might not have thought of on my own.

Lately, I’ve been reading about techniques for surviving adversity and a strange recurring theme keeps popping up. It is gratitude. Making a small thankful list at the end of each day has seen some people through some huge difficulties. Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, about the sudden death of her husband says that is the one thing that saved her in the midst of that momentous loss. She says it is a “practice”; something you have to train yourself to do. I agree.

I’d add a couple of other thankful thoughts to that one.

Zoom In. Sometimes, especially when life is really hard, you have to zoom in on the very small things to be grateful. In Texas, in this season, that is akin to looking at a pile of Texas brown leaves and finding the one sort of red or gold one to marvel at. You have to go small sometimes to find your gratitude. I have a friend going through some really rough chemo right now. She told me she found herself giving God thanks for a saltine cracker. No matter what is happening to us, there’s a saltine in there somewhere. Find it and give thanks for it.

Give thanks for what you are without. Sometimes it is the absence of something hard that we can be grateful for. Since I got off my cancer medication, I no longer have joint and foot pain with each step. I’m grateful for what is missing.

If you’ve lost something or someone you love, give thanks for what you had. It is a miracle that we cross paths with anyone at all, much less those who have enhanced our lives in some way. Give thanks that you met; knew each other, had fun, shared life, shared a journey or a season. Thank God that you had that job or your health or those children in your home while it lasted.

 See the funny. There is always something funny. Have you noticed how some of the best funerals are filled with laughter? I’ve laughed with people on their death beds or who have been through great tragedy. Laughter is grace.  Yesterday, my husband was taking a very deep Sunday afternoon nap on the couch. He was sleeping so long and hard, I feared he was about to miss something so I went to gently wake him up. Instead,  I tripped on his shoes and fell, with my whole self, onto his face. This is funny enough but then he didn’t even wake up at which point I panicked and started waking him up in a far less gentle way. He woke up to me shaking him violently and screaming, “I fell on you and you’re still sleeping!”  This is hilarious to me because he always sleeps harder than a human should and I always fall. But, both of those things don’t usually happen at the same time. I cannot quit laughing about this. See the funny. Give thanks for it.  It is grace in this hard life.

Give thanks in advance for what will be. In life, there are always hidden sweet surprises around every corner. You don’t know what they are. You can’t know. Most, we can’t even imagine. Maybe it will be a saltine, a red leaf, a memory, a new friend, laughter through tears. You don’t know what it is, only that it will be. Thank God now for the sweet surprises to come.


Is This War?

Sometimes I think we are at war. At war with the environment. At war with each other. At war with other countries. At war with whoever disagrees with us. At war with those who are different…even with those in our own families.

Yesterday, we all got word of another mass shooting, in another place where people are supposed to be free and safe. Shortly after that, the predictable war of words started because no one can agree on what to do. People immediately started criticizing one another about Why This is Happening Again. Someone even lashed out at the fact that someone else invoked prayer because “if prayer helped, people wouldn’t be shot in worship.”

All I know is it feels like more than any one of us can bear. It is too much. It is wrong. We are wrong. Nothing we are currently doing is working. Tearing one another apart is certainly not working either.

This Texas church shooting hits home for me because I’ve served the last 30 years as a pastor in a variety of churches in Texas. In the last decade or so, I sat in on meetings where we talked about what to do if this kind of unthinkable violence happened during worship. The sad truth was that no amount of security would help because churches are such open and welcoming places, filled with all kinds of people with all kinds of issues. Our doors, lots of them are open. I believe the same could be said of concerts, sporting events, parks…well, everywhere.

One expert said, “The best thing I can tell you as a pastor on the platform is to hold up a Bible or a hymnal and maybe you can deflect a shot…and then run.” I remember thinking, “I’m pretty sure I could not deflect a shot nor would I run from my people if that was happening. Never.”

I can’t even find words. I’m writing today to say, I can’t even find words.

In Isaiah, there is a glimpse of how it might be without war and it has to do with living more into the way we were created. As a person of faith, I still believe in that vision…where God’s reality includes no war. Swords, spears and even guns, vehicles and other things that destroy us turn into shovels, plows and hoes…tools for growing things and feeding people. Isaiah 2:4

God, today, I have no words. Can you please help us stop these wars? We cannot do it on our own.