Tag Archives: children

School Goals

I am the little girl climbing the pole. I was in kindergarten. I remember that pole being a whole lot taller. Also, this was the peak of my athletic career. Who knew I would bloom athletically so early?

I look at that little girl and see her face filled with fear, pride and determination all at the same time. I was trying to reach a goal for the first time I guess. I wouldn’t have been climbing that pole except that it was a school thing. School inspired me to do all kinds of things I would not have done on my own…from climbing that pole to receiving a doctorate degree lots of years later from TCU.

When I close my eyes, I can still remember starting school and my mom and I buying my school supplies. If I breathe deeply I can smell manila paper and freshly sharpened pencils. I remember the joy of a new bottle of glue and a fresh box of crayons. I was the one with the green handled left-handed scissors which never helped me cut anything. I always had something new to wear on the first day of school and felt ready to learn.

I didn’t know it then, but I was a lucky little girl. Not everyone gets to begin school so prepared. Some students show up with no supplies on the first day of school.

For the last seven years in the Grapevine Colleyville ISD, our entire community has come together to insure that all students have a chance to start the school year prepared. With one in four students here falling in the Economically Disadvantaged category, our numbers have forced us to think big and to utilize all resources in order for all students to be ready to learn.

I wish you could see the faces of the students when they arrive at our GCISD Connect Back to School Fair. Their smiles are broad as they see their teachers, principals, counselors and school administrators greeting them. None of the school staff gets paid to be at this Saturday morning fair. Then, there are hundreds of community volunteers from service organizations, businesses, faith groups, fire and police departments providing resources and one-on-one guidance as the children and the families walk through the fair.

The parents, who seem worried and overwhelmed at first, begin to relax as they experience the warm greetings and see their children’s faces light up. The first stop is the backpack table where everyone picks a new backpack to fill. GRACE http://www.gracegrapevine.org brings packs of clothes for every size of child. Those in need of clothing receive school clothes right there. Families wind through the vendors receiving snacks, information and resources. They sign up for school transportation and have eye screenings.  The last stop is the school supply table where the Grapevine Chamber Women’s Division http://www.grapevinechamber.org members hand each child a full grade appropriate pack of supplies. Joy, relief and pride in learning seem to be the words of the day.

It takes all of us to make such a big miracle happen every year. This year 1400 students are pre-registered to attend. We need you too. If you can volunteer the morning of the fair Saturday August 11 from 8:30-noon at Grapevine High School, sign up here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0b4eaeac23a5f49-7thannual. We will train you the morning of the fair to be comfortable in your role. You can donate new backpacks for all ages until August 9 by dropping them off at GCISD Central Office at 3051 Ira E. Woods Avenue, Grapevine, TX 76051, Monday-Thursdays. You can donate money at Grapevine Colleyville Education Foundation, PO Box 292, Grapevine TX 76099 (mark your donation Connect) or donate at Grapevine-Colleyville Education at Facebook.com.

I always started school ready. A quality education made a huge difference in my life. I’m so grateful our community wants that same gift for all children.

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

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A Voice, Crying Out

People ask me sometimes how I write. Where do your ideas come from? Is it hard? Does it take a long time?

Every day, when I journal, read scripture and devotional materials, ideas usually flow freely. I jot in the back of my journal different blog ideas. Ideas also come to me when I walk each day. Or, I might set out on a walk with a tiny idea and along the way it blossoms. I consider this to be divine inspiration. Then, when I sit down to write out a fully blossomed idea, often it morphs into something quite different which always surprises me, pleasantly.

I try to just yield to the whole strange, uncomfortable process. I’m always paying attention to current events and news items that touch me and others.

Sometimes, I hit an empty patch where no ideas come.  I just let that be and pause, sometime skipping a weekly blog entry. Sometimes I just need to let something simmer and not try to express it.

This week something unusual happened. Words usually come very freely to me when I sit down to write. I wrote a bit and then got very stuck. I left it. It stayed stuck. I prayed…still stuck. I walked…stuck.

So today, I’m sharing with you something very sputtering and partially formed. I think the problem is I cannot find my voice. I cannot put into words all I feel.

Politics aside, really, here goes:

Years ago, we had the privilege of flying on airline passes due to a relative working for the airlines. We took a short vacation within the state with our almost three-year old daughter. She had to have a real ticket, so she boarded with some friends who also had tickets but were flying on to another state. We were to get on the plane closer to departure time. Something happened having to do with the airline’s commitment to a ‘very on time departure’. While we waited, boarding passes in hand, the doors suddenly shut and the plane took off, with our two and half-year old on board, without us.

I had not anticipated in any way that this would happen. I cannot tell you the terror I felt. I had not explained to her this possibility. All she knew was we were not with her. I had no control over this, none. She was going to land in Dallas. Our friends had a connecting flight. I was shaking, crying, pleading with the airline personnel. Nothing helped.

This scenario worked out. I had parents in the area who left their jobs, rescued our daughter, fed her SpaghettiOs, let her swim and take a nap until we got there.

It was my only taste of my child being torn from me. I’m marked by it still.

Can you even imagine your child torn from you?

This is happening right now, in our country while we accuse each other of lying; while we try to justify who broke what law and who can fix it. People are citing scripture as to why this is good, proper and business as usual. Christians I know are on social media essentially asking what is the big deal, aren’t criminals deprived of their children all the time?

Breast fed babies are being pulled from their moms and their only known source of sustenance. Children are plaintively crying “momma, papa” while we debate whether these children are being incarcerated in prisons, interment camps, cages or simple fenced in enclosures. I’ve heard people say, don’t worry, the children are being fed and shown videos. Now we are being told there are whole facilities for babies. Really?

Statements are being issued by so many while so many others are strangely quiet. All living first ladies (where are their husbands?) and whole Christian denominations are making statements. Corporations are vowing to be a part of constructive change. And yet, this continues.

What is wrong with us?

I have scripture to share too. These two keep ringing in my head. God saying though the prophet Isaiah, Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the child of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Isaiah 49:15 God’s deeply entrenched love and connection to us being likened to a nursing mom’s physical, emotional and spiritual attachment to her nursing child.

And this, A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more. Matthew 3:18, quoting the prophet Jeremiah.

I’ve used this scripture at the funerals of children just to put it out there that there are some losses that nothing can help. Children being ripped from their parents is one of them. There is no consolation for that. There is no law, no wall, no political stance, no reparation or making it right.

My words do not flow today. I can’t find my voice. My mom’s heart, my pastor’s heart, my American heart is breaking. What is wrong with us, collectively, politically, spiritually?

There is no consolation for this.

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

Whispers

I never knew why older people cried at weddings. It seemed obvious to me that it was  a happy time. I didn’t get it.

I met Julie when I was an 18-year-old freshman at Texas A&M. We decided to be roommates the next year and have been close friends since then.

I’ll never forget the day I picked her up from her workplace for lunch. My newly married friend got in my car as pale as the palest ghost. I said, “What is wrong with you?” She swallowed her nausea and managed the word “pregnant.” We were both stunned. We’d never done pregnancy before.

Five babies, many milestones, lots of life, challenging jobs, countless lunches and shopping sprees later, the baby she was pregnant with thirty years ago got married, this past Saturday night.

Suddenly, I’m the person in the congregation crying because, oh my goodness…life!  Her baby boy looked the same as he always had except now he was the groom. My friend looked gorgeous as the glowing groom’s mom.

Our weekend was filled with celebrations and people we had not seen for years. The entire time I’m asking myself how this happened. How did the college girls get to be moms of adults?

When I was younger older people used to whisper to me the secrets of life. I was moving too fast to listen. It seemed like they were telling me something about babies growing fast and time flying.

Now, I’m the one whispering and crying happy tears in the pew because, to me, a wedding is so much more than two people marrying. It is a lifetime of moments, relationships, parenting, angst and friendship all squeezed into a few sacred Holy moments where love and hope once again emerge.

When all that awareness hits you at once, it’s bound to seep out in joy-filled tears.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, writer, mom, Mimosa to Keller, breast cancer survivor and tearful wedding guest. She is speaking at The Well women’s event at First UMC Grapevine, Texas on February 8, 2018. Some tickets are still available at http://www.fumcg.org/cindyryan 

Their Faces

We are all still trying to enjoy and eke out the best last bits of summer. No one wants to think about back to school things but I have to bring it up because of their faces.

I’m talking about the faces of the school children and their parents. In our community we are less that three weeks away from our 6th Annual Connect GCISD Back to School Fair where the economically disadvantaged students in our school district receive full school supply packs, backpacks, clothing and a huge array of district and community resources all in a one hour stop.

I’ve seen the joy on the children’s faces when they select their own brand new backpack and when they receive a huge bundle of supplies appropriate for their grades. I’ve seen them when they see their principals and teachers there; their school nurse and other adults in the community. I’ve seen the relief on the parents’ faces too as their children are provided for and ready to start school, equipped to learn. The teachers and counselors faces beam as well because they know they won’t have to scramble in those hectic first days of school making sure all their students have the basic supplies to be successful.

Every year we get a little better at the fair’s logistics.  This year, over 1300 children are pre-registered. We know from experience, the children and their parents will show up. This year, for the first time, we are not scrambling through the summer to provide funds for the school supplies. Because of the fundraising efforts of the Women’s Division of the Grapevine Chamber and because of generous donations to Connect, all the school supply packs have already been paid for.  I love our community, by the way.

Our community vendors, civic organizations, police and fire, faith based organizations are all ready to serve these families. Dentists are coming with their toothbrushes; vision screenings will be done by the Lion’s Club (every year we find hundreds of children who need glasses). Families will receive information about parenting and the services of GRACE (Grapevine Relief and Community Exchange). Even children who qualify but didn’t get pre-registered will receive school supplies from GRACE at the fair.

Really, we just need two things:

1) We need elementary age new backpacks. The little kid backpacks are the most fun to buy. Drop them off between now and August 3 at the GCISD Administration office, 3501 Ira E Woods Ave, Grapevine, 76051  Last year some people ordered from Amazon and had them shipped to this address. Do that!

2) And, we need you the day of the fair, Saturday, August 5 from 8-noon at Grapevine High School. 18 and older please! We like every single family to have a guide who walks them through the fair. We will teach you how and make you comfortable. We want these families to be seen, to feel loved and equipped and a personal guide seems to be a great way to do it.  Sign up here: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0b4eaeac23a5f49-6thannual or respond below and we will be in touch.

Last year, a little girl I know from the community, rushed up to me to give me a hug and showed me her new pink princess backpack. She said, “I saw my principal and my teacher from last year and they said they can’t wait to see me when school starts!” Her face was radiant. Faces are attached to hearts. That little girl felt loved and valued….and, I’m sure, ready to learn.

No one wants to think about back to school just yet, but we will, together, because of their faces.

     

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.

The Under Toad

I’m finding comfort in reading John Irving novels. Currently, I’m reading The World According to Garp. I like Irving’s writing even though I’m sure I don’t understand parts of it. His work always intrigues and challenges me.

In this novel, the Garp family talks to their young sons at the beach every year about the under tow. They describe what it can do to you. One of their boys becomes particularly afraid. Finally, they get to the bottom of his fear. He believed all along they were saying, “Watch out for the Under Toad.” He was picturing a massive frog-like toad, lurking under the dark of the water, big-eyed, slimy, ready to grab him by the legs and steal him away.

After that, whenever anxiety popped up in their family, they called it the Under Toad.

I’m seeing quite a bit of the Under Toad lately, are you? I see it in the news, in my Twitter feed and other forms of social media. I see it in families and friendship circles. I see it in schools, churches and in the community. Last week, I had a conversation with a relative over politics at her initiative that sent me rushing out the door, emotional, sweating, uttering bad words and covered in Under Toads.

One of the ongoing lessons I have learned in my adult life is that the Under Toad does not help anything.  It is bad for marriages and parenting. It is bad for leaders and followers. The Under Toad moves us from being thinking, calm people to overly emotional, reactive ones.

I hate it because it is so much fun to blame others, but the truth is we cannot manage other people’s Under Toads, only our own. When anxiety is high, all you can do is manage your Toad.

Sometimes our fears are real and based in fact. There really is, for example, an under tow out there which we should know about and respect. But, it is not a huge, amphibian-like monster plotting to get us. Millions of people do not die each year because of Under Toads. In fact, no one has even been hurt by one, ever.

How do we manage our Under Toads?

Everyone is different, of course, but here’s my list of anxiety-busters:

Establish some spiritual touch points and routines that anchor you like prayer, journaling, meditation, scripture. Do these whether you feel like it or not. Don’t wait until inspired. That is not how it works.

Engage with nature. Creation feeds our souls. The colors, the smells, the wonder of outside eases anxiety. Sunrises and sunsets are my favorite twice a day Toad repellent.under-toad

Music works every time.

Comedians. Thank God for the funny people. Did you know, laughter cannot co-exist with Toads?

Babies. Children. Find some. Rent some. Volunteer near some. According to Psychology Today, 4 year olds are reported to laugh 300 times a day. 40 year olds? Only 4. Find a small person, play and just laugh when they laugh.

Disconnect. I’m beginning to think our media feeds our hungry Under Toads and when our Toads are large and scary, we keep going back for more. When they see what sells it is like supply and demand. Maybe we should take a little break.

Breathe. Mary Oliver, the poet, writes, “Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget to breathe deeply, especially when being pursued by Toads.

Exercise. It is amazing how we are made. Exercise is good for us and breaks the anxiety chain. It helps us feel better, look better and sleep better. I walk. Every day. Outside, in nature. I breathe there. I disconnect there.

Act. Do something. Go ahead and act. Today, I spent a couple of hours with some amazing women strategizing about how we would help serve the economically disadvantaged students in our public schools with school supplies and other resources. It kept the Toad at bay.

Love. Love people. Love strangers. Love your family. Love those who feel differently than you do. Try to listen but also take care of you. Learn to say, “Can we change the conversation? I’m having an allergic reaction to a personal Toad problem right now.” I promise they will stop talking.

Thank you, John Irving, for your writing. You showed me the power of the Under Toad…and more than that, you showed me it is not even real.

 

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Leaning

When I was a little girl the church we attended had a children’s church. It was not at all like children’s ministry today with colorful murals, indoor playgrounds, kid-friendly music and cool video based Bible lessons. It was called “Little Church” and it was literally a tiny child-sized sanctuary with little pews, a little pulpit and little hymnals. I remember attending Little Church when my legs were too short to allow my feet to touch the floor. I was too little to find the hymn number before the song was over so I just had to remember the words. I doubt I could even read yet. We sang songs like “Come to the Church in the Wildwood” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” We didn’t do the leaning motion during that song in Little Church. We were a little too formal for that. I learned that later at church camp. As we sang, we’d actually lean…as far as we could lean without falling.

All my life I’ve been practicing leaning: leaning on friends and family for help sometimes; leaning into tough challenges; leaning into school and study; leaning into marriage and parenting. I talk a lot about leaning into seasons because it took me so long to figure out how to not fight a season rather to lean into it. I’m not talking about actual seasons of the year but those are fun to embrace too. I’m talking about realizing the season you are in and leaning into it. Maybe it is a season of grief or a season of parenting.  Maybe it is a season of illness or a time of healing. Maybe you are in season of caring for a loved one or a tiny baby. Maybe it is a season of intense work or major projects. Don’t fight it.  Lean into it. Declare to yourself “this is a season of ….” and lean.

I once heard a therapist say “We must lean into that which is difficult.”  That’s a new idea, isn’t it? Instead of running from that which is hard for us, lean into it. Have that tough conversation. Bring up the subject no one talks about. Lean into facing what is hard to face. Do that thing that terrifies you. Lean into it.

This morning, my favorite devotional book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young had a line that jumped out at me. “Go gently through this day, leaning on Me and enjoying My presence.”  I guess we had it right way back at Little Church, our little voices singing about leaning.