Tag Archives: faith

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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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.

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.

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.

Beautiful Letting Go

It’s finally fall. In Texas we’ve been enduring ridiculous October days with high temperatures in the 90s. This makes us cranky, unable to breathe and creates fashion problems because you cannot wear sweaters and cute boots when you are having a heat stroke. We can’t decorate because pumpkins rot so fast in hot weather and rotting pumpkins is not the look we were going for.

Just this week the weather finally has turned for us. There are no words for how this feels. I made tortilla soup and pumpkin bread as fast as I could. I was ready with long pants, a long sleeved shirt and fuzzy socks for the first time in what seemed like decades.

Yesterday, I saw this quote for the first time, “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go.” I don’t know who said it, but it caught my imagination. My yoga teacher often says at the end of our practice, “let go of that which no longer serves you.” In yoga, for me, that is stress, a busy mind and the bound up feeling in my joints. I always think about what else I might need to let go of as well.

I’ve never before tied autumn to the practice of letting go. But, as the leaves release, perhaps so should we. Maybe it is time to let go of a bad habit, a toxic relationship or  the clutter in our homes. Maybe it is a season to let go of an old hairstyle, a resentment, an anger or a destructive grief. Maybe it is time to release the clothes we’ve not worn once 1977 or from 3 sizes ago. Maybe it is time to let go of a job, a burden or that worry that you will never fix. Maybe it is time to release our resistance to help and call the therapist, the doctor or call on God.

More than once, I’ve had to call on God’s spirit to let go of something that was no longer serving me. The prayer was simple, “God, I need you because I cannot let go of this alone.”

Imagine, in this new season as we marvel at the golden, orange and red leaves of fall, breathe in the crisp cool air, make and eat pumpkin everything, that we are also taking our cue from nature and allow a beautiful letting go.

 

 

 

Living Prayer

I wanted to write about pumpkins today. I wanted to celebrate October blue skies and the hope and golden orange crunchy nature of fall finally arriving, or at least the hope of it.

Instead, like you, I awoke to heartbreaking news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. My Twitter feed filled with bad images and violence and of course, chatter of all types.

I made my husband turn off the news because I actually felt the hurt and horror deep in my heart. I couldn’t bear it.

On top of this unbelievably awful thing, there are Other Things, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, politics, racism, sexism, discrimination, mistrust, a violent destroying of each other with our words and our angst.

Not to mention the Personal Things: normal struggles of life, death, disease, relationships, finances. Things that do not go as planned. Layers of Things, bombarding us and the people we love.

Any one of these Things is enough, too much actually. Instead they are coming these days in waves and clumps and avalanches, literally.

As I walked today, I asked God to guide me about what to write about. I almost just published a fourteen word blog, “Lord, have mercy on us. We are tearing your world and each other apart.”

Instead, a word of hope came in a song by Alison Krauss with these words with a twist from an old hymn, “Take my life and let me be a living prayer my God to Thee.” (A Living Prayer)

Let me be a living prayer.

To me this means we fall to our knees in prayer. We acknowledge that there is evil in our world and we are a part of it. We confess that our hearts are breaking, shattered even. And then we stand up and live a prayer.

We work for gun control or to increase awareness and action around mental health issues. We give blood, We mentor an at-risk child. We raise our kids with more love and compassion and less bigotry and divisiveness. We run for office or try to change something, somewhere because guess what? Whatever we are currently doing is not working too well. And, when we argue endlessly and hatefully about what to change and how to change it we, ourselves, set everything back.

Last week, I cried watching the beginning of a football game, (a football game!)  because I could see very real generational pain on the players’ faces. That whole thing was about so much more than patriotism. It was about how we are tearing each other apart–word by word, violent action by violent action, personally, systemically. It is about our culture…in this country. It is about how we treat human beings. Lord have mercy, seriously, have mercy on us.

I am heartbroken today. I’m also praying. I’m also asking God to help me be a living prayer. I hope you will join me in falling to your knees and then in getting up and doing something different, something better.