For the Love of Ice Cream

July is officially National Ice Cream Month. Until this week, I never knew such a month existed. But what could be more newsworthy? Most folks are familiar with the well-known phrase, I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.”  In reality, this isn’t a famous quotation, rather it’s a song title and lyrics written and first published in the late 1920’s by Billy Moll, Robert King and Howard Johnson. “It was recorded by Walter Williams and Waring’s Pennsylvanians,” states the Website www.culinarylore.com. “This song became a Dixieland Jazz standard, and was favored by such important outfits as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans.” Some sources erroneously credit Woody Allen with composing this tune. The reason is that he used it on the soundtrack of his 1973 movie Sleeper, but “…none of the actual songwriters are mentioned in the credits.”(www.culinarylore.com)

Why is ice cream so important? If you ask many individuals, especially those of the female gender, it’s way up on their list of most desirable comfort foods. In the article, “5 Reasons Why We Crave Comfort Foods,” from Psychology Today by Shahram Heshmat Ph.D., “Comfort foods are typically energy-dense, high fat and sweet, such as chocolate, ice cream, and French fries.” There’s a reason we crave these kinds of foods when we are feeling down, low-energy, or have been dumped by a significant other. “They give distinctive pleasure or make us temporarily feel better,” writes Dr. Heshmat. “Highly palatable foods activate the same brain regions of reward and pleasure that are active in drug addiction.”

This isn’t good news, because in our nation, obesity is at an all-time high. If occasional cravings turn into a routine, the scales can reflect this lifestyle. Something as seemingly harmless as a Turtle Sundae could cause gradual weight gain, if you indulge in one three times a week for years like a friend of mine did. Said friend has to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, but by cutting back her sundae habit she lost quite a few pounds almost effortlessly. Still, this should not negate the delight that can be derived from eating an occasional ice cream treat.

Apparently, ice cream became such a popular part of American culture that “President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month with the third Sunday of the month being National Ice Cream Day” according to www.nationaldaycalendar.com.

People have been eating ice cream for centuries. “Nero of Rome was said to have enjoyed harvesting ice or snow, then flavoring it with honey or other flavorings,” also reports www.nationaldaycalendar.com. “In the summer of 1790, George Washington spent approximately $200 for ice cream…Thomas Jefferson actually made his own recipe of ice cream, too.” As for ice cream’s origin, “The Chinese are generally credited for creating the first ice creams, possibly as early as 3000 B.C.,” proposes www.foodtimeline.org. Another BBC news Website states that, “An ice-cream-like food was first eaten in China in 618-97AD.”

Honestly, who cares who first invented the incredibly tasty stuff? Most Americans are just grateful it’s been a part of our history for as long as we can remember. Personally, as a little girl it was thrilling to go for ice cream and select a chocolate cone from the countless choices. I could never understand why people ordered Butter Pecan, Black Cherry, Orange Sherbet, and on and on, when they could have chocolate. Today, I’m a much more sophisticated connoisseur with my favorite flavors expanding to include: Sea Salt Caramel, Rocky Road, Cookies and Cream, Turtle, Moose Tracks, etc.

When we were first married over fifteen years ago, my sweet husband would bring home a half gallon of one of my favorites. He thought I would be pleased, and was surprised when I told him that it was too tempting to keep ice cream in the freezer. I am not proud of the amount of ice cream that I can consume when craving comfort food. This confused him, because the poor man mentioned how he had come home on more than one occasion and found me eating ice cream, while watching a movie. Guilty as charged, but it was a chick flick, I’m sure. A girl can’t possibly watch a sappy romantic movie without a Hot Fudge sundae. As the famous song’s lyrics also say, “…Tuesdays, Mondays, we all scream for sundaes, Sis-boom-bah!”

There’s more, but I think I hear the sound of an Ice Cream truck in the distance.

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her first novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be released this fall. 

 

 

 

 

 

Overcoming Fear: “Do It Afraid!”

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” This quote is commonly attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, but according to www.quoteinvestigator.com that might not be so. “An exact match for this quotation appeared within a June 1997 essay by Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. She began her article with the statement: ‘Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out,’ and she continued by presenting a staccato sequence of items of advice aimed at young students,” reports Quote Investigator. Among those items was the phrase, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

If Roosevelt, a well-known social activist of her day, did coin this challenging saying, it was not based on a characteristically fearless nature. In her 1960 book, You Learn by Living, the late First Lady explained, “Fear has always seemed to me to be the worst stumbling block which anyone has to face. It is the great crippler. Looking back, it strikes me that my childhood and my early youth were one long battle against fear.”  Like Roosevelt, many of us have some kind of fear we must overcome to do anything worthwhile. Or else, we don’t overcome it and simply live within the confines it creates.

In a 2014 Washington Post article, “America’s top fears: public speaking, heights, and bugs,” the title includes the most obvious internal fears many of our country’s citizens possess. In a related 2016 USA Today newspaper column, “Survey reveals what Americans fear most,” more external fears were: 1) corruption of government officials, 2) terrorist attacks, 3) not having enough money for the future… [and even] 8) identity theft.

 

In his article, the “The Difference between Fear and Phobias,” Dr. Todd Farchione PhD writes, “The distress associated with the specific object or situation and the need to avoid it can become so intense that it interferes with a person’s life.” The Boston University researcher added, “It’s this interference with everyday life and ability to function normally that turns a fear into a phobia.”

What keeps you up nights worrying? For many people something like having to make a public presentation at work can be a real anxiety inducer. Personally, I have been a public speaker for 25 years this month. I’m sure I must have been beyond terrified that first time when I spoke at a storefront church. Still, due to professional training and decades of experience speaking at about any kind of venue imaginable, I rarely get excessively nervous before an upcoming event. But a very real fear that affects my everyday life is driving in heavy traffic. Being involved in a serious car accident a decade ago produced this particular anxiety.

I can’t rationalize this fear away, since distracted drivers are everywhere, texting, talking, and even overdosing on heroin on I-75. Many individuals I encounter also seem to have some sort of fear or even deep-rooted phobia they grapple with. Often, these issues cause daily anxiety and keep them from doing the very things they are called to do. For instance, I have a relative who has no problem driving in big city traffic, who would rather have a tooth drilled without Novocain than to fly on an airplane. After all, the fear of flying is another one of those activities that lots of folks dread.

Joyce Meyer knows firsthand about overcoming the fear created by a childhood filled with sexual abuse and dysfunction. Today, the national speaker who leads a worldwide ministry encourages others to “Do it afraid!” whenever she addresses the topic of fear. Whatever you want to do in your life, you might have to do “it” with your knees knocking together according to Meyer. There might be that sick anxious feeling in the pit of your stomach, too. However, when you make a decision to do whatever it is that you are afraid of doing, with some divine assistance, you can find the courage to succeed in accomplishing almost anything.

Joyce Meyer always tells others to, “Do it afraid!” Whatever fear it is that you need to overcome.

Maybe that is what this year’s graduates need to know. The world seems scary. The economy is volatile, and the job market is erratic. But follow your dreams no matter how frightening or impossible they seem. Follow them one baby step at a time, never allowing fear to stop you from achieving your goals. As Meyer says, just “Do It Afraid!” That’s what I do whenever I get behind the steering wheel of my SUV and head for the Interstate.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

An Attitude of Gratitude

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote these words in his famous book, “Letters and Papers from Prison.” It’s inspiring that that the German theologian, who was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp for his resistance to the Hitler regime, was writing about feeling grateful shortly before his untimely death at the tender age of 39. Maybe your circumstances have also been difficult lately, which unlike Bonhoeffer, can make it very challenging for most of us to have an attitude of gratitude. Whether it’s a chronic health crisis, a broken relationship, the death of a loved one, a prodigal child, a financial or employment dilemma, life’s big and little problems can really get you down.

Down was where John Kralik was when he began to write his 2010 memoir, “365 Thank Yous.” The then 53-year-old attorney was financially struggling, going through a second divorce, forty pounds overweight, and rapidly losing hope that he would ever achieve his career goal of being a judge. I first heard about Kralik’s insightful work through a woman I interviewed who had once lost an adult child to cancer. It just felt like something I needed to read. On the back cover it says, “An inspiring, true story about how a simple old-fashioned act – writing thank you notes – led a hopeless, angry, middle-aged man out of despair and into a wonderful life.” Kralik’s book is more practical than spiritual, yet gratitude has been said to be one of the greatest of virtues. The lawyer certainly convinces his reader that gratitude is indeed a powerful tool, since eventually his life is restored and he even fulfills his dream of becoming a Los Angeles court judge. In 2013, the New York Times best-seller was rereleased under the title, “A Simple Act of Gratitude.” The message of “365 Thank Yous” stays with me, because it is not so much about writing thank you notes, as it is about becoming grateful. Truthfully, I know a lot about thank you notes being raised in a generation where the correct response to a gift was a mandatory card of appreciation. But, I haven’t always known a lot about gratitude.

Rather, I lived much of my life with the cup half-empty mentality, like many Americans concentrating on what I didn’t have.  Not so much desiring material things, rather missing the everyday blessings that are easy to take for granted. Then there are folks who seem to be naturally thankful for everything. “Gratitude is inclusive,” writes the late author Brennan Manning. For example, in his book, “Ruthless Trust” Manning shares about an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where a man named Tony once said, “If I had to choose among all the diseases that afflict human beings, I would choose mine [alcoholism], because I can do something about it.”

Being grateful for being an alcoholic is one thing, but what about finding gratitude in the midst of heartbreaking loss? Loss like writer Ann Voskamp experienced when as a little girl, she witnessed her 18-month-old baby sister being run over by a delivery truck. As author of the book, “One Thousand Gifts,” Voskamp admits that she spent many years battling depression and anxiety. The wife of a farmer and mother of six finally finds gratitude by conscientiously observing 1,000 simple gifts in her daily life and poetically writing each one down. “Child sobs ebbing, boys humming hymns, laundry flapping, book pages turning, toothless smiles, forgiveness of a sister, and her list goes on and on.

That an alcoholic man and a grieving woman – both find thankfulness – is sobering. I know it’s a terrible pun, but I think Tony would like it. After all, according to Manning at the A.A. meetings that he attended, Tony “introduced himself as a ‘grateful recovering alcoholic.’”

No matter what is going on in our own lives there is still much to be thankful for. Gratitude is a daily decision. Not only an attitude, but a way of life. May we find beauty in the ordinary. Whether it’s a colorful blossom, the green leaves on once barren trees, or the laughter of children playing outside again, may our hearts be filled with thankfulness for the blessings that each new day brings.

For those whose lives are truly in a time of agonizing mourning and unbearable grief, let’s pray that we can somehow bring hope to them. All the while, being grateful that God can use one broken human being like ourselves to comfort another in a season of brokenness that is even greater than our own.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

.

A final good-bye and last words

Most often when people die suddenly, it comes as a terrible shock to those left behind. There is no warning or opportunity to say “good-bye.” Yet occasionally, there seems to be a supernatural sense that one will soon be departing this world. For instance, on July 7, 2016, Sergeant Mike Smith was one of the five Dallas police officers who died in a brutal massacre. Fifty-five-year-old Smith had been part of the Dallas Police department for 28 years. Following the policeman’s death, his daughter Caroline made news nationwide when the nine-year-old courageously shared his special good-bye to her before leaving for work that day. “What if this is the last time you ever kiss me or hug me?” Sgt. Smith had asked Caroline.

“That was probably the first time he ever said that,” the grief-stricken child told TV reporter, Omar Villafranca. Fighting back tears, she added that her father’s good-bye kiss was unusual, too. “It just felt different to me. I felt something bad was going to happen.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. possibly had an awareness that his time on Earth might also be short. In the civil rights leader’s famous sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct,” that he delivered two months before his April 4, 1968, assassination, there was a prophetic foretelling.

“And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral,” said Dr. King Jr., and near the end of the message. “… And every now and then I ask myself, ‘What is it that I would want said?’” Often, we only write about this dynamic leader during January when we celebrate the national holiday that honors his birthday or during February’s Black History month. For me, Dr. King Jr. is a role model all year long. This started, because of a long-ago conversation with a man incarcerated in an Ohio prison. “I don’t relate to those people you are using for examples of inspiring individuals who have bettered their lives,” said the young Black prisoner candidly.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Spending more than four years as a female prerelease speaker in the male prison system, I rarely had one-on-one conversations with inmates and never without staff present. That morning, this inmate could have corrected my oversight publicly during the question and answer session that followed my presentation to a large group at a medium security Ohio prison. But not wanting to embarrass me, he waited patiently until he could address me alone with only the social worker present. “Who would you relate to?” I asked, earnestly wanting to understand.

“People like me, who are Black, and maybe poor, or who have overcome problems more like mine,” he suggested. Instantly, I realized my illustrations of those who had overcome adversity to lead successful lives weren’t relatable. Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison might have had real obstacles, but they were white men in another era who had nothing to do with the challenges this inmate had experienced in society.

Living in a state institution as a teen myself, I could see how out of touch my examples were. I began studying the lives of a few African American men who had made incredible contributions to society in spite of daunting challenges. For instance, Ray Charles battled not only childhood poverty and blindness, but also decades of a heroin addiction. Still, the talented musician rose to fame, and finally beat heroin.

Then there was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., www.history.net reports that the Black leader suffered, “Personal abuse, arrest, and the bombing of his home…” Yet he never resorted to violence always offering a pathway of non-violent resistance with love as his primary weapon. I began incorporating testimonies of these courageous overcomers, and found that the wise inmate’s advice resulted in a greater response. Sometimes, I included a few lines from Dr. King Jr.’s prophetic “Drum Major” message of what he wanted at his funeral. He asked that his Nobel Peace Prize, his hundreds of awards, and schooling not be mentioned.

Instead, “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others…. did try to feed the hungry…to clothe those who were naked…to visit those who were in prison…[and] …that I tried to love and serve humanity….”
Tragically, only two months later, a recording of these very words was played at his funeral. Another tragedy is that as time passes, we are forgetting this slain leader’s poignant example. He never stopped trying, and neither should we.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Black History: The power of love

It’s Black History month. Once again, our nation celebrates the amazing contributions of African-American men and women who overcame daunting odds to better our society. Over a hundred and fifty years have passed, since Abraham Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. According to www.history.com, “…[Lincoln] issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states ‘shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.’” The historical website also records, “While the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave, it was an important turning point in the war, transforming the fight to preserve the nation into a battle for human freedom.” Ultimately, slavery was abolished, but our nation has continued to fight the enemy of racism.

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t aware of discrimination. All I knew was that when Clemmie hugged me or my brothers and sisters, or took care of my very ill mother, she loved us. Her skin was dark brown, and we were white and didn’t have a lot of money, but somehow God made us family in the worst of times. She fed us, bandaged scraped knees, and painstakingly nursed my mother back to health. Clemmie was a compassionate worker of miracles, that’s why at six-years-old I didn’t know racism existed.

Rosa Parks is booked.

But since it was the 1960’s, while growing up I became conscious of the battle for civil rights listening to nightly news casts. There were riots, valiant lunch-counter sit-ins, courageous Rosa Parks taking a seat on the bus, heroic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being assassinated, and there were more riots. For the next couple decades, there were also folks who tried to overcome the racial tension that never really healed.

Fast forward to the 1990s, to a humid summer evening when I was driving by myself. I heard beautiful music coming from a small church that I passed. I felt so alone and like such a failure that particular night. I was a young single mom doing my best, but it just wasn’t good enough in lots of ways. I had been refinishing furniture earlier that afternoon, and my white t-shirt and old jeans were soiled with wood stain. I stood next to my car listening to the melodious voices of what sounded like a Heavenly soulful choir, desperately wishing I could go inside the unfamiliar fellowship.

The sign said that the Lima church was AME [African Methodist Episcopal]. Over 25 years ago, AME churches had almost exclusively black congregations. Just then, another car pulled up and a couple of older black women got out and headed towards the brick church. One grandmotherly lady stopped to ask if I was alright. I told her that I was listening to the beautiful music. Maybe she could sense that I was a troubled soul or maybe she was simply kind, but she encouraged me to come inside the church.

“But I’m such a mess,” I protested pointing to my stained shirt and jeans.

“It’s not how you go. It’s that you go,” she countered enthusiastically. So, dutifully I followed her up the steps of that church where in the years to come I would be a welcome visitor on numerous occasions.

There were two ladies who attended the church who would also become close friends, Maggie Breaston, and her sister, the late Georgia Newsome. Growing up in the south and moving to the Midwest in the mid-1950s to escape racism, these courageous women told me story after story about the subtle racism they encountered once they arrived in the north. Yet, they refused to become bitter. Miss Georgia even became known as an expert on Black History in Lima.

In the end, what I know about Black History is that people who could have hated me for the color of my white skin, showed me love when I needed it most. Unconditional love like Clemmie displayed by helping my family, love like the woman who invited me to her church, or love like Georgia Newsome and Maggie Breaston always shared, despite experiencing the sting of discrimination firsthand.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that love was the only force capable of destroying prejudice. To quote Dr. King Jr., “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

A Tea Room Proposal and Forever Promise

With Valentine’s Day upon us, sentimental folks might recall their own romantic moments. My special memory begins in the early 1990s, when I was the owner of a shabby chic store. Back then, as a thirty-something single mom, it wasn’t easy to make ends meet selling the discarded treasures of others. Auctions, flea markets, and garage sales were the way I stocked my vintage shop.

One summer day, I stopped at an estate sale. The attached garage of the stately brick home was filled with the earthly goods of an elderly widow. As she walked towards me, the old woman’s fragile condition caused her to lean heavily on a three-pronged cane. She was liquidating over a weekend, what had taken a lifetime to collect. Her gray hair was disheveled, and her eyes reflected the resignation that must have cost her a great deal. The widow needed to sell everything, and move to a place where she wouldn’t be alone. The newspaper’s classified ad didn’t say all that, but it didn’t take much to figure it out. I decided to buy a few things to help her in her season of transition.

“To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…a time to keep and a time to cast away.” I had always liked this insightful wisdom from the Book of Ecclesiastes, but the verses weren’t very comforting in light of this woman’s heartbreaking circumstances. After all, it was my “time to keep,” and her “time to cast away.” That’s why I let her do all the talking. I never even asked the stranger her name, since she didn’t volunteer it.

There was a vintage blouse among the possessions I selected to purchase. When the widow saw it her eyes seemed to look far away. It was as if she was transported to another time. A time when she was young and in love, and her future lay before her. Decades earlier, I think she said it was the 1940s, the lace top had been part of her wedding attire. Fifty years later, her husband was gone, and she could no longer care for herself. Reluctantly, she gently handed the blouse to me. My original intention was to resell it, but learning the garment’s history, instantly my plan changed. Before I realized what I was doing, I blurted out, “I promise you that I will keep it always.”

I’m not sure, whether the aged woman gave me a look of disbelief, relief or resignation. Her reaction didn’t matter. I made a promise, and I intended to keep it. For years, I hung the bodice on a satin hanger displayed with some antique hats on an oak coat rack in the apartment where my young son and I lived. I never planned on wearing it, because being divorced for over a decade, I assumed my days of being a bride were over. Then I met Larry Claypool. Larry was a forty-something school administrator who had never married. Almost right away, we both felt that divine providence had brought us together.

On February 9, 2002, I sensed that Larry was going to propose. That morning as I dressed for our date, I instinctively reached for the ivory top, which represented decades of a marriage that had lasted. I had never worn the blouse before, so I carefully removed it from its satin hanger and put it on over an off-white camisole. Larry surprised me by taking me to the Swan House Tea Room in Findlay, Ohio, where he knelt down on one knee, and asked me to be his wife. The busy teahouse filled with women fell strangely silent. When I said, “Yes,” the hushed patrons erupted in congratulatory applause and joyful laughter.

Recently, an older never-married-friend whom I hadn’t seen in over 15 years invited me to her bridal shower the first week of February 2017 at the Swan House. Exactly fifteen years to the week of my romantic proposal there. It was only right to wear the antique top to the tea room again, because this June Larry and I will celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary. The vintage blouse remains a cherished memory of my own proposal coupled with another bride’s long ago wedding day. Unfortunately, I will never know her name. Still, I intend to keep my promise to her to care for it – for as long as time allows.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Broken resolutions and Life Lessons for 2017

The holidays are over, and life is back to normal. For those of you who made New Year’s resolutions, maybe you’ve already broken some of them. I’m not saying this to criticize. At the beginning of January in decades past, making a resolution then breaking it a short time later often caused me some discouragement.

The website, www.timeanddate.com reports, “…according to some studies almost 80 percent of all people who make New Year’s resolutions abandon them sometime during the year.” That’s why, a couple of holidays ago, I made a resolution not to make any more resolutions. Instead, when I need to change something in my life, I try to work on it right away.

This philosophy is coming straight from the keyboard of a former procrastinator. After all, one of the most noteworthy lessons I’ve learned along life’s path is that important tasks that we put off, rarely get done. It’s best to tackle an issue as soon as possible to make sure that it doesn’t get lost in the whirlwind of everyday living. This anti-procrastination principle is more significant than some other beliefs that are part of my life repertoire. For example, I’ve also come to believe that a person should never buy a single pair of socks or gloves. The law of probability ensures that when socks are placed in the dryer, frequently they will disappear into what I refer to as Sock Heaven. Solo socks take this mysterious journey into the unknown never to be seen from again.

This theory holds true when purchasing gloves, too, although I doubt there is a metaphorical heaven for missing mittens. Instead my lost gloves are probably strewn throughout Ohio left in restaurant booths or on roadways. Missing gloves aren’t too high on the life lesson priority list, but keeping in touch with family and friends is crucial. In our hectic-paced world, social isolation becomes a daily challenge.

This means taking time to share more than an occasional Facebook “Love you” post, text, or hurried email. Instead chatting with a true friend or loved one over a meal can be exhilarating. Don’t take your cellphone along, as the constant distraction will frustrate the flow of genuine conversation. When we are with folks who truly care for us, we somehow remember who we really are. The pieces of our life fit better, and we can bask in the camaraderie that comes only from authentic relationships, where we are accepted imperfections and all. Still, getting together can be especially tricky in this geographically mobile society where families and close friends are often separated by countless miles for employment opportunities.

Although speaking of not being perfect, another painful lesson that I’ve learned from life is that people won’t always like you. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s true. No matter how hard you try, you fall short in their acceptable category. According to clinical psychologist, Dr. Ben Michaelis about 15 percent of folks won’t like you, if you are emotionally healthy. “If 85 percent of the people you meet like you, you are probably doing something right,” writes Michaelis in an archived  Huffington Post blog, “If everybody likes you, you are doing it wrong….you are probably doing too much to get along.”

The experienced psychologist says that when, “You ignore your own needs in favor of others,” it’s not healthy. Of course, they like you, everybody likes a doormat. Unfortunately, a doormat gets worn out and has to be thrown away after too much use. Yet, if more than 15 percent of people don’t like you, you might actually be too difficult to get along with.

Lastly, there is a life lesson that involves “letting go.” It can be a spiritual breakthrough forged in prayer. Or an internal follow your heart and instincts moment that allows a person to sense when it’s time to cut your losses and venture out on a new path. It might be something as substantial as a job change or having the courage to end an emotionally destructive relationship. To let go and embrace change willingly is a challenging life lesson, because by nature most human beings are creatures of habit who hang onto familiar circumstances.

So, for the first month of this New Year, I didn’t make or break any resolutions. Yet, I did celebrate another year of new beginnings, counting my blessings, and reminiscing about all the lessons learned on life’s path.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

The First and Last Time

Corsage and CrownThere is a first time for everything. Whether it’s attending a prom, a kiss, buying a home, or watching our children take their first steps, these rites of passage are forever imbedded into our memory. Last winter, a few weeks before Christmas, I witnessed what appeared to be a toddler’s first experience with the simple phenomenon of Christmas lights. I was pretty low on holiday spirit and not looking forward to all the work that the preparation for the season would necessitate. Then just before sunset, I observed a neighbor man stringing Christmas lights with his little boy looking on.

The December darkness had begun to settle in, and there was no traffic on the deserted street. It was cold, but not the blustery kind of cold that produces snow or ice. Still, the toddler was bundled up against the elements, reminding me of decades ago when my now grown son was about his age. The youthful father completed the task of wrapping the green strands of clear lights around the bushes in the family’s front yard. He headed into the nearby garage to switch on his handiwork. His about three-year-old son stood next to the shrubbery by the open garage not moving. When the twinkling white lights came on, his little chubby face lit up in amazement.

Christmas Tree 2015I happened to be walking by at the exact moment when the tiny boy’s uninhibited delight made me reassess my own lack of enthusiasm. It’s this gift that children give us of seeing the beauty and excitement in this world, because often adults take so much for granted. We get buried in the day-to-day struggle, the hectic pace, and the tedium produced by aging, forgetting that there is so much wonder constantly surrounding us.

 

First times can be memorable, but sadly often we don’t know when a last time will occur. I thought about this the other day when I saw the Facebook post, “Cherish every moment and every person in your life, because you never know when it will be the last time you see someone.” Many of you reading this can relate to the trauma created by the unexpected loss of a loved one. Grief is tinged with horror and disbelief. We doubt if we will ever be able to breathe again without feeling a giant lump in our throat, and we silently argue with God about the unfairness of the circumstance. Then regret can take over. We think of all the things we should have said or done, if we could have just had some preparation that someone who meant so much to us was about to be unpredictably ripped from this existence. Besides, even if a terminal illness prepares us, we are never ready to say, “Good-bye,” to those we love. Sadly, some people get stuck in loss. Hopelessness and bitterness swallow them up. For most individuals though, in time—life goes on. Reluctantly, we learn to accept what we cannot alter, adjusting to a new normal.

Yet everything changes in that instant. Then the holidays arrive, and this blessed season can be a reminder of the precious people who are no longer here to celebrate it. Maybe in youth, one can blissfully ignore the chasm death and even geographical distance create. But as we grow older, we often become nostalgic for those who were once a vital part of our celebration, causing us to cling to traditions that are no longer useful. Instead of getting stuck in what was, why not create something new?

After all, there is another recent quote attributed to best-selling author, John C. Maxwell that asks, “When was the last time you did something for the first time? …Or are you still doing what you’ve always done?”  Whether it’s about creating a new Christmas tradition or reaching for a goal that we’ve had simmering on a back burner, Maxwell’s sage wisdom might be one key in moving forward. Of course, human beings are usually terrified to take risks, because risk can result in failure. “Trying new things – and sometimes failing – is one of the best ways to grow,” counters the national leadership expert.

As we wind up the final month of 2016, may we all be more like the toddler who experienced the wonder of Christmas lights for the first time. There’s a whole world of firsts out there, regardless of our age. Let’s go fearlessly explore!

6353664 - CopyChristina Ryan Claypool is a national Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. She has appeared on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV program. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Breakfast with a not-so-famous Tony Bennett

Click on Chewbacca Mom photo to see Youtube video.

It’s easier than it’s ever been to become famous. When a cellphone video goes viral, an individual can gain instant popularity. Last May, 37-year-old Candace Payne became an overnight sensation when she filmed herself laughing hysterically, while wearing a Chewbacca mask. The video became so popular, that Payne ended up being featured on Good Morning America and The Late Late Show with James Corden, among countless other appearances. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg even invited the Texas mom to visit the social media website’s headquarters.

In my formative years before the advent of the Internet, overnight success was almost non-existent. Still, back then a lot of little boys grew up wanting to become a well-known president, and girls dreamed of being a famous movie star or the wife of someone important. When feminism hit in the seventies, a lot of young women also decided they wanted to be president. I’ll bet not too many young people today would desire the notoriety of the oval office, but that’s a whole other column.

Celebrity has never been a huge draw for me. Of course, it would be great to win a Pulitzer Prize like poet Sylvia Plath, or a Nobel Peace Prize like civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Yet like many renowned people, fame exacted a tremendous cost. The brilliant Plath took her own life, and the inspirational Dr. King was senselessly slain for his convictions.

Anyway, dependent on the size of your pond, there will always be a more famous fish. More importantly, if you climb to the top of the ladder, there’s a good chance you will have to experience the long climb down more than once.tony-bennett-2

For example, famed singer Tony Bennett was definitely not at the top of his game, when I served him breakfast in the late 1970s. I first saw the musical legend early in the morning, as he sat waiting for a server at the former Cascade Holiday Inn in Akron, Ohio. He was alone, reading his newspaper for what seemed like an eternity, while the small group of waitresses where I worked, argued about who should wait on him.

My co-workers seemed awed by his celebrity, so nobody wanted to take his table. I assumed the poor man was hungry, and even though he wasn’t in my section, I volunteered. Mr. Bennett needed breakfast, and I was a struggling college student in need of a good tip. Honestly, I had almost no idea who he was. By then, his career was in a downward spiral, and he was on the fast track to becoming a has-been. Two of his mid-seventies albums had failed to gain popular success, and he had parted ways with his record label. I had heard of his 1962 hit, “I left my heart in San Francisco,” but was too young to be impressed.

tony-bennett-billSadly, I took the singer’s order for Eggs Benedict and served him without even acknowledging that I knew who he was. The talented performer was very polite, and I should have at least complimented him on his incredible voice. Thankfully, Bennett didn’t need my affirmation, because the test of time has proven his enduring talent. By 1986, with a new album and his son as manager, the Italian crooner was back on the map, and more Grammys would eventually follow. The vivacious senior turned 90 last August. Decades since that fated breakfast, he remains an icon among celebrities. For instance, his 2014 CD with Lady Gaga titled, “Cheek to Cheek” won a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

For me, meeting this amazing performer was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve always regretted my omission of not recognizing the importance of his musical contribution. Especially, when he was at the bottom of his game. So, Tony Bennett, if you somehow get a chance to read this, I would like to publicly apologize for being an ignorant kid, who didn’t realize how much joy your music would give to our world. I think you are the greatest. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me, and would you please autograph a “Holiday Inn” breakfast napkin and send it my way?

christina-driving-copyChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio AP award-winning freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com, especially if you happen to know Tony Bennett, and you can pass along my sincere apology to him. 

When Thanksgiving isn’t Happy

photo (9)A not-so-happy, “Happy Thanksgiving,” to you. I don’t want to bring you down, but not everyone is happy this Thanksgiving. Some folks are in tremendous pain having lost a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or the very worst, a child this past year. There will be an empty place and a voice missing as they sit down to their Thanksgiving celebration. Inside of them, there won’t be any celebration at all. I have to ask you to be gentle with these grieving ones, if their tears fall, or if they don’t show up at all, overwhelmed by all that will never be again.

Others are experiencing the heartbreak of divorce, maybe a broken relationship with a prodigal child, or the betrayal of their own body brought on by illness or aging. This always seems worse as the holidays approach. There are also those who have no family to fit into. Single moms and dads who pack up their little ones and send them off to a family they are no longer part of, while spending the day alone. They act brave in front of their children, waving good-bye from the front door, but when they close it, they often feel the sting of rejection.

Some people have grown so used to spending Thanksgiving by themselves, that it becomes easier to decline the offer from a well-meaning co-worker or church friend, than to be a part of someone else’s gathering reminding them that they have no real relatives of their own. Long ago, their family might have been broken by circumstances too painful to remember.

All of these folks, even the grieving ones, are brave and forge ahead most days, trusting that God has a plan and that He does all things well. But on holidays, they feel small, weak, and orphaned, wondering what on Earth they have done to end up so isolated when everyone else seems to be a part of so much more. The Gospel tells them to go help someone in need, but they can’t even help themselves, so that becomes one more burden of guilt. Yet, their heartbreak does not go unnoticed by a God who has big shoulders, and can take it, when His children get angry that life seems so unfair. The Creator steadfastly loves them, when they are at the top of their game, but He holds them closest when they are at the bottom. Psalm 147:3Psalm 147-3

For whatever reason, if this Thanksgiving is not a “happy” one, we must be careful not to get swallowed up in self-pity, because that can open a door to long-term depression. Instead, it’s important to realize that probably half the world feels lonelier at holiday celebrations than any other time of the year. Besides, it is so easy to concentrate on all that is gone, but what remains? What is there to be thankful for? Even if the word, “thankful” might be a difficult pill to swallow right now, what is it that you can hang onto? Hang onto that, with all you are worth. You are not alone. You are loved more than you can imagine by a God who sees every tear, and even when you don’t believe He hears your prayers, He is still listening. Ask Him to help you get through this day. If you are like me, remember, “It’s [always] one day at a time!”