Tag Archives: God

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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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.        

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.     

The Golden Thread

In ministry and life I’ve seen a some hard things. Some have been difficult things for me personally so many others have been the excruciating things other people have had to endure.

I could name them all from work to relationships to financial troubles to church woes, or our mental and physical health issues, but you know what I’m talking about. You’ve experienced the same or watched others do it.

Loss and illness happen to everyone but it is so much harder when death and sickness come calling personally on your family and friends.

I’m wading through something now with someone that has been unfolding for over a decade. It is a thing that is not only tough but it is filled with all kinds of messy emotions, overflow and backwash. I’m sure you have something similar. It will never go away. It is a chronic painful messy situation. It hurts.

Once again, the words of Sarah Young surprised and comforted me this week. In Jesus Always she writes these words as if Jesus was speaking, Ask Me to take this dark, ugly thing and transform it into something lovely. I can weave bright, gold strands of Glory into the most heart-wrenching situation.

When I read this, I physically took an extra breath. It hit me suddenly that I needed to look for bright gold strands of Glory in the tough places in life.

I even wrote down a few dark situations I have been through and started identifying the golden threads. Sometimes it is easier to see the thread shine after the fact than it is when we are slogging through something.

Consistently, faithfully the gold thread was there. Moments of comfort. Rock bottom times with new life on the other side. Grief, unbearably smothering that found a way to keep breathing. Joy, laughter, grace, in spite of troubles and worries. Lessons learned. Lives changed.

Everyone is going through something. Take a moment today and find a shiny bit of golden thread glinting in God’s Light, and give thanks.

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

  

 

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.

Soul Care 101

I’m currently immersed in a favorite topic of mine, Soul Care, as I prepare for another women’s event. About 15 years ago, I learned the stunning fact that my soul required care. Before that, I never thought about it and I’m a pastor. In seminary there was talk about Self Care. This was about taking some time for oneself for exercise, play, family time, study and quiet. We learned about balancing our days–not working morning, noon and night, for example. We touched on the Sabbath but not as much as you would think.

No, I learned about Soul Care the hard way through a series of Wake Up Calls that illustrated very vividly that my Soul was weak, sickly, pale, dehydrated and running breathlessly behind me asking if we might sit a while and take a breath. My Soul spoke so softly and breathlessly that she was very easy to ignore. After all, I had three children, a big job, a calling, a ministry I was passionate about and lots of people demanding my attention. I ran on fumes and it is a tribute to God that I ever managed to do anything spiritual at all in that state.

As I re-read favorite authors on the topic of Soul Care and remind myself again of what was so transforming, I thought I’d share some Soul Care tips in case you or someone you love is in need of a refresher course.

Plato and Socrates spoke of the Greek concept of therapeia of the soul which means either care or service. Socrates says it is like the care you’d give a horse on a farm: you feed it, brush it down, exercise it, give it water and clean its stall. Thomas Moore writes this is the model for Soul Care.  Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Every Day Life 

I’ve never had a horse but I have cared for children and dogs and I’m thinking it is the same. The idea is that our souls are living, fragile and in need of our attention.

What is it that your soul needs to thrive?

Your soul needs space. Space to breathe, to rest, to pay attention to unseen things.

Your soul needs solitude. It does not matter if you are an extrovert and get your energy from people. Your soul is not. She needs alone time.

Your soul needs to inhabit your body. That means your body needs to be rested, hydrated, fed, exercised and open. Emily Dickinson said the soul needs to stand ajar, ready to receive inspirations.

Your soul needs people. A soul needs to be connected to a family and a community. Thomas Moore writes, The soul prospers in an environment that is concrete, particular and vernacular….nothing is more suitable for care of the soul than family because the experience of family includes so much of the particulars of life. 

Your soul needs beauty. Sunrises, sunsets, nature’s vividness, art, music, creativity. When you see or feel beauty your soul is fed.

Your soul needs alignment. My yoga teacher speaks about alignment often. She tells us to adjust our alignment many times in each class. Your soul needs to align with God. This, to me, is what prayer is: aligning our will and thoughts with God’s will and thoughts. My soul is capable of getting off track. She needs to adjust her alignment often.

Your soul needs laughter and play. The soul has a child’s heart. My favorite almost-two- year-old has a fun sense of humor already. He thinks lots of things are funny, like putting a sponge on his head and calling it a hat. I love being silly with him and making him laugh. I can tell it feeds my soul.

I believe our world would be a better place if there was more Soul Care happening.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the needs of the world and the hurt and trauma all around me. In my better moments, I refocus on caring for my soul so at least what I toss out into the universe comes from a place of grace, God, centeredness, health and wholeness.

Jesus had his own way to advocate for Soul Care. He said, What good will it be for a person to gain the whole world but lose his/her soul? Matthew 16:26

Soul Care 101, a must-do for summer 2018.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace, writer, speaker, breast cancer survivor and one who tends to her soul.