A Tale of Two Cardinals

Two CardinalsI never thought much about birds, certainly not Cardinals. Undoubtedly, the males with their brilliant red feathers are eye-catching. Yet not that long ago, I believed that collecting bird memorabilia was better left to those with little to do. Now Cardinal keepsakes are finding their way into my home.

Most people who grow up in Ohio probably know that the Northern Cardinal is our state bird. It is also the state bird for Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

For most of my life, I was just too busy to even notice the crimson creatures who commonly nest in a pair. A pair, that’s what my late mother and stepfather of more than 35 years were. When they died less than five months apart eight years ago, I didn’t think that the holidays would ever be joyful again.

After all, every Christmas my husband and I would fill our car with food, gifts, and suitcases, and make the trip from Ohio to Philadelphia to spend the holidays with my parents. Both my mom and stepfather were musicians. She was a church organist and choir director. Neal also became a choir director later in life, although when he was young he traveled the world with the Navy band. They were an ecumenical couple, since my stepdad was a Baptist, but Mom played and directed music wherever the “Spirit” led.

My beautiful mother

My beautiful mother

Christmas at their house was all about music, too. When my husband and I would arrive, often Mom would invite us to join whatever choir she was currently directing on an interim basis. My hubby and I would both try to graciously decline, but somehow Christmas morning would find us reluctantly dressed in choir robes with my mother directing away.

On our last Christmas together in 2009, my then 77-year-old mother insisted I escort my stepfather to the church platform. By then, he was almost 80, and legally blind from diabetes. Still she wanted him to stand behind her as she accompanied the choir and congregation on the pipe organ as they sang Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. I can still hear his deep baritone voice, as he sang out the notes he must have known by heart.

It was such a shock when “Teddy Bear” as he affectionately called Mom died suddenly ten months later in October 2010.  Following her death, my stepfather’s broken heart stopped beating in less than five months, too.

After someone you love dies you often find out things about them that you never knew. For instance, after my mother’s death my sister shared how Mom would often look out the window above her kitchen sink to watch the birds that would gather in their foliage filled yard. I also learned that the crimson-colored Cardinals were a favorite.

After their deaths, as the holiday season began approaching, I was dreading another Christmas without them. I had no idea how I was going to be able to celebrate or create new traditions. Then one day, I was looking out my own kitchen window when suddenly I spied a Cardinal near the evergreen tree in my backyard. There was a second less colorful Cardinal who landed on one of the tree’s branches. Instantly, I realized that these birds were a couple.

I didn’t know then that Northern Cardinals nest as a pair, and that the female is tan, and often has red in her wings or tail feathers. Nor did I know that the male is incredibly protective and that he sings loudly to keep other males away.  So like my stepfather who always kept a watchful eye on my mother. All I could tell was that these two lovebirds were singing a duet. As I watched the Cardinals communicating, suddenly my gloomy mood turned to one of amazement and joy.Neal and Glenna Sprang with Christina Ryan Claypool, daughter

It was then I began seeing Cardinals everywhere, since they remain in the north all year long. For instance, while passing a store downtown bookstore displayed on the glass window, I saw a picture of the red Cardinal with a story about the Christmas legend that surrounds the beautiful bird.

As for the legend, according to www.relijournal.com, “The Cardinal [is] christened the “Christmas Bird” for its spectacular red color….A glimpse of this brilliant bird brings cheer, hope and inspiration on a gray wintry day. This is nature’s reminder for us to focus on our faith; the Cardinal’s scarlet plumage represents the blood of Christ shed for the redemption of mankind.”

For me, two Cardinals singing together were a Heavenly sign reminding me that those we love live on in our hearts. May this season of unexpected miracles bring you the renewed hope found in the One who is the Creator of Cardinals. Merry Christmas and God blessings to you and your family!

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio APME award- winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV Show and CBN’s 700 Club, and has an M.A. from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife was released fall 2018. 

A Novel about True Friendship

It was our last lunch together. My friend Kimberly had an aggressive form of cancer and knew her time was short. I hadn’t accepted the fact yet, because she was only in her early forties and had a loving husband and three children to finish raising. But she couldn’t fight anymore. Preparing for my friend of almost two decades to visit that fated day six years ago, you would have thought royalty was coming. I brewed a teapot of piping hot flavored tea, and set the dining room table with the good china, candles, and prepared a lunch feast, even though there would only be the two of us. Usually, lunch together meant going to a restaurant, but Kim had wanted to come to my home. It was our custom to bless food wherever we ate. Truthfully, I can’t remember who said grace, but I vividly recall her tell-tale prayer at the end, “And God, please give Christina a friend.”

Now, wait just one minute, Kimberly. I don’t need a friend, I have you. This thought raced through my mind denying the reality, she had already accepted. A few weeks later, she was gone.

Those of you who have also lost a close friend, empathize with how painful this loss can be. It’s a rare gift to find a faithful friend, although many folks have an ardent desire to experience intimate friendship.

But is friendship becoming extinct? One of the reason’s I wrote my new Inspirational genre book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is because I’m worried about friendship. I’m concerned it might soon be as outdated as last year’s technology, and I’m pretty sure technology is the culprit deserving most of the blame.

To explain, recently a school bus filled with adolescents passed me when I was driving, and I noticed a lot of their young heads were in a downward position. Many were probably listening to music, texting, or checking their social media accounts on their smartphones. This, instead of taking the opportunity to be social with the kid in the seat next to them.

Having a social media connection isn’t like having a faithful friend. A recent article on www.healthline.com, “Social Media is Killing your Relationships” reports, “What if every like, heart, and reply we give to someone on the internet is actually taking away from our energy for offline friendships?” The article’s writer Jennifer Chesak appears to believe we might be, “…unknowingly draining our social energy for in-person interactions.”

“Research shows that good friendships are vital to your health,” according to the Heathline article. “More specifically, having close friendships correlates to functioning better, especially as we get older.”

That’s why my recently released novel is about the friendship between an early 40s pastor’s wife and a sixty-something widowed coffee shop owner. I chose to make the main character a fictional minister’s mate, because there’s often an unrealistic social stereotype for this supporting ministry role, even within Christian circles. I empathize with the difficulty these precious women can have when trying to find a confidential friend to share their current issues or even past heartbreak. We often place ministerial families under a microscopic lens of scrutiny, and have the unrealistic expectation their lives should be perfect. Quite frequently, the needs and even existence of a pastor’s wife can also be overlooked, especially if her husband is an in-demand dynamic leader.

Plus, during my years working in broadcasting, I was asked to host a TV special, where pastors’ wives shared about their lives. One ministerial spouse was concerned about me interviewing her, apprehensive over my understanding of her situation, so only minutes before the show was to be broadcast, she anxiously asked what my husband did.

“He’s a public school administrator,” I answered nervously, unsure of how she would view this revelation.

My best friend hubby and me – photo courtesy Sharon E. Lange
www.sharonelainephotography.com

But instantly, she visibly relaxed, smiled a wide smile, and teasingly joked, “Oh, that’s the same thing.” This wise lady understood whenever you are married to a man in any kind of leadership role, it can be isolating and most challenging to find a trustworthy confidant, fearing you could jeopardize your mate’s position simply by being a flawed human being.

If we’re truthful, all of us are flawed, and burying our pain and problems forces us to wear a societal mask. And masks can become a type of prison that morph into a lifestyle of pretending everything’s perfect when everything’s a hot mess. The bottom line: “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is about the desire most women carry deep within to experience intimate friendship. The kind of friendship allowing us to take our mask off, sit down with a steaming cup of coffee or hot tea, and pour our worries out to someone who won’t judge us, and to be a listening ear in return.

Of course, if we’re married, our spouse should be our best friend, but as women we need other females who will walk this crazy journey of daily living with us. We don’t require hundreds of friends, not like on Facebook where friendship is created by clicking “confirm.” Instead we need someone with skin on to put their arm around us when we are hurting, to love us enough to tell us when we’re wrong, and to be present in our time of crisis or heartbreak, and we should be there in return.

 

A friend like Kimberly was to me or like Katie in my novel. The widowed coffee shop owner is a trustworthy confidant for Cassie, the pastor’s wife. I hope the book is an entertaining read. Yet at the end of the day, my desire is for this novel to provide comfort and encouragement for everyone who needs emotional or spiritual healing or support, the kind of support true friendship provides. 

 

Mike Ullery photo

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a national Amy and Ohio APME award-wining freelance journalist, Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, and Inspirational speaker. Her latest book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” was released fall 2018. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  The novel is available at all major online outlets including Amazon.com, or visit her website for more details. 

 

 

 

 

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Public Speaking

“Public speaking ranks as our No. 1 fear, even outranking the fear of death, says Peter Desberg, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University,” according to www.everydayhealth.com. The website also reports Desberg, who is the author of Speaking Scared, Sounding Good: Public Speaking for the Private Person as saying, “Some people have so much anxiety about speaking in front of an audience that they turn down promotions and ruin their careers.”

I intimately understand this phobic dread, despite being a public speaker for more than 25 years. Yet the first time I presented a brief message in a public speaking class at a Columbus college, I think I actually cried.

This occurred decades ago, leaving my memory about the terrifying experience a little fuzzy. I believe I also received the award for the “most improved” student that semester. Not the “best,” rather the one who no longer dissolved into a puddle of tears making a presentation. Later, I even became part of the Intercollegiate Speech Team at Bluffton University.

Back then, I would have never imagined I would eventually become a (former) TV reporter, speak in conferences, churches, civic meetings, or teach in a university setting. But like many folks presented with a challenging opportunity, we can either close the door due to fear, or we can walk through the open door with our hearts racing with anxiety.

After all, a famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote says, “Always do what you are afraid to do,” and public speaking terrifies lots of people. With this in mind, I’ve written a list of pitfalls a public speaker can avoid. Most of these, I’ve learned the hard way.

First, “Know your audience.” Define your audience and be aware of the specific demographics, dress appropriately and tailor your message accordingly.

Secondly, “Be prepared.” Absolutely, do a run-through for technical issues at the designated venue ensuring your technology is compatible with their technology. Plus, practice, practice, practice your presentation in front of a mirror, for a willing family member, or even for your dog. Also, make sure it fits into the allotted time slot. Thirdly, “Be confident.” Your knees might be shaking, your stomach might be rumbling, and you might be perspiring from terror, but employ the classic philosophy, “Don’t let them see you sweat.” Smile and act like “I’ve got this,” even if you feel like you don’t.

Back to the second point, by being well-prepared you will have the confidence to present the subject matter with authority. If, despite your best preparation, technology fails you, proceed without it, acting in complete control, despite the fact you are churning with disappointment.

The fourth vital point is, “Engage your audience.” Avoid the trap of constantly looking down at your notes or monotonously reading from them. It frustrates the listener to hear someone with a riveting message deliver it as though the audience isn’t there. Fear might cause you to look down, but look up. Avoid making eye contact with individuals who appear bored or disapproving, and lock eyes with supportive audience members. It’s the only way you will be effective.

“Engaging your audience” holds true whether you are speaking to a civic club, delivering a sermon, reporting for TV, or instructing a college class. Envision one person in the crowd, who sincerely needs to hear what you have to say. Then speak to that fictitious individual who probably really does exist out there. That way your presentation won’t seemed staged or emotionless.

In closing, another paramount point is to watch for reliance on repetitive words throughout the presentation. Most of us who do public speaking fall into a bad habit of having “pet” words or phrases including: 1) you know, 2) okay, 3) um, 4) and the new “you know,” which is 4) “so.” Whether used when stalling for time to formulate our next thought, as a transition, or due to a bad habit of repeatedly saying the word, this can be quite distracting for the listener and negatively impact our message’s effectiveness.

There are other significant pitfalls, but not enough space to write them all. “So,” if this information isn’t helpful in combating your phobia about public speaking, “you know,” you could run from the challenge. “Um,” but that wouldn’t be a good idea. We never experience success without pushing past our fears to embrace a new opportunity. “Okay?”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and public speaker both in the secular and Christian communities. Her new Inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available at all major online outlets. Or for more information contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

An Abandoned Puppy’s Forever Home

During October, we observe “Adopt a Shelter Dog Month” sponsored by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Like many folks, I have my own tale of a canine creature longing to be loved.

My story begins more than a decade ago. The alarm clock read exactly 11:52 p.m. when the automobile’s headlights shone through my bedroom window, instantly waking me from sleep. Before dozing off, I had prayed a childlike prayer simply asking for “help.” My need for divine assistance that fall was created by the homesickness relocating can produce. My school administrator husband and I had just rented an old, rural farmhouse in a new school district. Moving can be an exciting adventure; but meeting new people, and packing and unpacking countless boxes can leave one anxious and tired. Missing family and friends left behind is even more heartrending.

I soon discovered the lonely nights in the country can be eerily silent. That’s why, after being awakened, my mind became suddenly alert at the sound of stones grinding beneath unfamiliar tires. Creeping from my bed, I crouched under the windowsill to look out at the stranger’s car. Mysteriously, the driver turned the aging sedan’s headlights off, and then quickly backed out onto the road again. My husband slept through it all.

“Woof, woof, woof!” It was not until about 7 a.m., when we both heard barking. The car’s owner had dropped off an adorable, but mangy poodle, who was hiding on our front porch. I tried to comfort the neglected-looking pup, but his body shook spasmodically as he cowered beneath our outdoor white wicker sofa.

“It’s okay, little buddy. Nobody’s going to hurt you,” my husband said soothingly. Hearing Larry’s male voice, the approximately six-month-old canine shook harder and growled threateningly. We instinctively realized he had probably been abused.

Adorable Sammy – a friend’s pet

A few hours later, I sat on the farmhouse porch sympathizing with the abandoned animal who refused to eat the dog food I had purchased for him. Finally, after a lot of coaxing, the poodle came out from beneath the couch and greedily devoured his food. By the next morning, he wouldn’t leave my side. Soon, he warmed up to my hubby, too.

Unfortunately, a few days later, our elderly landlords came to our door and said the puppy couldn’t stay. In fairness to this wonderful couple, we had promised we were a family without pets, but that was before the pintsized poodle showed up.I was heartbroken, but I have to admit I was overwhelmed by the constant care and attention the pooch required. Larry and I both worked lots of hours and while we were away, the puppy would chew things up and bark incessantly.

Later, our landlord’s forty-something son offered his advice, “Whatever you do, don’t name him.”

My husband and I looked at each other guiltily.

“You already have, haven’t you? What’s his name?”

“Blessing,” we chimed in unison.

The wise middle-aged farmer didn’t speak, but his concerned look did. He knew that a blessing is a God-given present. He also knew his elderly mother was serious, we couldn’t keep our “Blessing.”

I was devastated, but determined to find my canine charge the best possible home. Thankfully, I quickly located some caring folks at a nearby county’s Humane Society. They promised to find Blessing a wonderful home, and allowed me to monitor his progress. That night, I tearfully surrendered Blessing into the arms of a compassionate female employee, understanding it was the right thing to do. A week later, I called the shelter and found out Blessing was immensely enjoying the company of the other dogs there. The following week, I phoned again. This time, a rescue worker excitedly informed me, at that very moment “my” puppy was being adopted by an older couple with a good reputation. The husband was disabled and needed companionship. My heart leapt for joy, because Blessing had found his forever home.

My husband believes Blessing wouldn’t have been adoptable, if we hadn’t fostered him and helped him to trust again. As for me, Blessing reminded me our prayers for “help” are always answered, as the puppy’s temporary presence gave me renewed purpose.

Remember the ASPCA estimates that 3.3 million dogs enter a shelter every year. Although, October’s awareness month is coming to a close, like Blessing, each one of this precious animals needs a forever home. Please don’t forget them!

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a national Amy award-winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life and CBN’s 700 Club. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” was released fall 2018 and is available at all major online outlets. 

Move Over and Save Lives

Sometimes, I feel like driving on the interstate has become like driving in a war zone with hidden landmines. For instance, there are distracted drivers everywhere, occasional reports of people behind the wheel overdosing on heroin and driverless trucks becoming a part of our future. Some think driverless trucks are a good thing, eliminating the human fatigue factor that is a dilemma for drivers making a long haul. Of course, other folks are terrified this unproven technology might be even more dangerous than current conditions.

But back to distracted driving, which has increased dramatically due to cellphone activities such as talking, texting, sending emails, checking social media accounts, etc. Distracted drivers might be one significant reason why our state’s “Move Over Law,” pertaining to interstates and state highways, was expanded in 2013.

“Ohio’s Move Over Law… requires all drivers to move over one lane passing by any vehicle with flashing or rotating lights parked on the roadside,” according to the Ohio Department of Transportation website.

“The original law took effect in 1999 to reduce risk to law-enforcement officers and emergency responders. It was expanded in December 2013 to apply to every stationary vehicle with flashing lights, including road construction, maintenance and utility crews.”

Of course, sometimes it’s not safe to move over on a two-lane highway, and the Move Over law has that covered. Also, in instances where traffic or weather prohibit safely moving to the other lane, “In those situations, slow down and proceed with caution,” advises the ODOT website.

Sadly, nationwide, one law enforcement officer and 23 highway workers are killed each month, and a tow truck driver loses his life every six days in a roadside accident, reports the same website. Yet there continues to be some confusion about the law, as many well-meaning citizens believe that moving over is simply a common courtesy and not an actual state law. Other individuals are negligent distracted drivers who are not paying attention and recklessly endangering the lives of others. 

Tragically, in June, Matthew Mazany, a Mentor police officer, was hit and killed on Route 2 during a traffic stop. North Coast Emergency Services co-owner, John Leonello, knew Mazany through his company’s work providing roadside assistance in the area.

“Leonello believes more awareness of the (Move Over) law in the form of a public service campaign is needed, and (believes) it needs to be taught more consistently in drivers education classes,” reported Cleveland’s ABC News Channel 5’s Joe Pagonakis. Prompted by Officer Mazany’s death, Leonello and his business partner Chris Haire, told News 5’s Pagonakis, they believe the state needs to “launch a stronger public awareness campaign similar to the ‘Click It or Ticket’ public service announcements on television, radio and online” to prevent the deaths of law enforcement personnel and other roadside workers. Haire told News 5’s Pagonakis, “… more awareness is needed and (Haire) said distracted driving is another major cause of roadside fatalities.”

The Ohio State Highway Patrol did try to do something to enlighten motorists about the Move Over Law during the week of July 22-28 through an “Enforcement and Awareness campaign” by issuing 586 citations to drivers. Ignorance of the law is not a defense, and drivers might be surprised by the weighty consequences this law can possibly carry.

The ODOT website explains, “… the issue is so serious that fines are doubled. Violators are fined (up to) 2 x $150 for the first violation (a minor misdemeanor), 2 x $250 for the same violation within a year of the first, and 2 x $500 for more than two violations in a year.” Jail time can also be possible for drivers who have had prior traffic offenses.

The majority of states do have some type of Move Over Law, and many also have signage enabling drivers to realize that moving over is not a courtesy or a suggestion but a state law. For instance, Tennessee has signs that read, “State Law – Move Over For Stopped Emergency Vehicles.”

So, maybe in Ohio, we can do a little better by updating some of our current signs that say, “Move Over For Stopped Vehicles with Flashing Lights” by adding, “Move Over: It’s state law.”

Maybe, too, some of the revenue from all those Move Over tickets this past July could be used for billboards and a public service campaign letting folks know that moving over whenever possible is the law, a law that could save lots of precious lives!

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her fall 2018 book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available through all major online booksellers. 

A Miraculous Second Chance at Friendship

The post below is dedicated to my courageous friend, Kimberly Winegardner who remains my hero after successfully reaching Heaven’s shores on October 1, 2012. When we are grieving the loss of a dear friend, we have to embrace the comfort that comes from our Heavenly Father. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147: 3 **************************************************************************************************** Kimberly came into my life when I was the single mother of a middle-school son and the owner of a thrift store. New to west central Ohio, blonde and in her early 20s, Kim would occasionally stop by my secondhand shop to chat. We instantly connected and spent lots of time together over the next decade. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding and watched her start her family. Then, when she moved out West, we lost touch. That is, until the phone call came almost a decade later.

“Kimberly’s in the hospital. It’s cancer. The doctors aren’t giving her much hope,” a mutual friend called to tell me. Kim had moved back to Ohio by then. The following day, I drove over 100 miles to be at her side during her first chemotherapy treatment. It was as if we had never been apart.

By then, I had remarried, and almost miraculously, we soon moved only 10 miles away from Kimberly. This allowed us time to reconnect and to share our families with each other. Over the next couple of years, I watched helplessly as Kimberly bravely endured countless treatments trying to fight the deadly disease. Occasionally, my husband and I took her wonderful children out for an evening when she was in the hospital.

At the beginning, Kim made a promise that her life would not be about the cancer, but about the living. That’s why whenever we got together we talked tirelessly, like two best friends on borrowed time. I would pick her up and we would go to lunch and giggle like schoolgirls, despite her oxygen tank and growing tumors.

Kimberly’s graduation – OBM Bible college

Then about a month before her passing, I happened to watch the classic movie, “Beaches,” on TV. It’s about best friends going through the same thing as Kimberly and I. In the movie, Hillary, played by Barbara Hershey, is terminally ill, and C.C., a famous singer played by Bette Midler, rushes to be at her side.

When C.C. sings the song, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” it portrays her admiration and undying love for her courageous friend. The lyrics say, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” Silently, I prayed that seeing that movie wasn’t heavenly preparation for losing my own best friend, who grew weaker each day.

Click here for clip: Bette Middler singing Wind Beneath my Wings video courtesy Youtube

Kimberly was hanging on, wanting to be with her husband and children. I had never seen such great faith. Even when doctors said there was no more that could be done, we continued to pray for the miracle she desperately wanted.

Then it seemed as if she let go and began reaching for Heaven. One evening, I sat at her bedside holding her hand, as tears of gratitude for our second chance at friendship ran down my cheeks.

At 8 am the next morning, the phone call came. My beautiful blonde friend had breathed her last earthly breath. The morning after Kimberly’s funeral, I woke up feeling so empty. I listlessly dragged myself to my Pilates class. Leaving the gym, I noticed a garage sale sign on the corner. It was a perfect autumn day. The sun was shining, the sky was vivid blue and the trees were covered with colorful fall leaves. Still, my heart was unbearably heavy. I didn’t feel like going to the sale, but it was as if some unseen presence led me there.

KimberlyWhile absentmindedly looking over the merchandise, I spied a musical water globe. Inside was an angel dressed in an aqua and lilac robe with long golden hair. The angel was lovingly embracing a small child, and her white-feathered wings were covered with iridescent sparkles.

The globe was only $2. Impulsively, I paid for it. Later, when I wound the musical key, it began to play the tune, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Instantly, I realized it was no coincidence that I had gone to that garage sale or purchased that globe.

That same afternoon, one of the movie channels showed “Beaches” again. This time, I sobbed as I watched it, allowing myself to begin grieving my dearest friend’s loss. Yet, I was also joyful as I realized that God had sent me a garage sale angel to remind me that Heaven is real, and that Kimberly would be waiting there.

The globe now sits in a prominent place in the glass cabinet in my living room. After a decade apart, I am so thankful that my heroic friend and I remained inseparable until the very end, and that I now have the angel to remind me of her every day.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a national Amy and Ohio A.P.M.E. award-winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker. Her book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” will be released in October 2018. To learn more visit her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

Liesl’s Legacy: A Holocaust Survivor’s Lessons for Life

Liesl celebrated our wedding as if she was the mother of the bride.

    Liesl celebrated our wedding as if she was the mother of the bride.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” said Eleanor Roosevelt. The late Elisabeth “Liesl” Sondheimer was deeply inspired by this former first lady who was once her house guest. Yet many of us in northwestern Ohio can readily admit that Mrs. Sondheimer was the one who inspired us.

Liesl has been gone for almost a decade now, but her life lessons live on. Being a Jewish Holocaust survivor, she had every reason to believe that the world was an ugly place filled with horrific evil. As a young woman she was forced to flee her beloved Germany during Hitler’s regime.

Instead of becoming bitter, she embraced forgiveness. Not the cheap kind of forgiveness that pardons atrocity by denying its existence, but genuine forgiveness which is a gift to yourself. Once, during an interview, I asked her how she could forgive. She gazed at me intently, and simply said, “You must forgive, or Hitler has won.”

Liesl was silver-haired and wrinkled, but still ethereally beautiful, by the time I met her shortly after her 90th birthday in 1997. While interviewing her for a TV feature about the Holocaust, I was honored when the local celebrity asked me to join her for supper. One of my greatest life blessings was that this courageous woman took me under her mentoring wing.

Since Liesl loved adventures, especially ones that involved supporting the arts, music or books; I would occasionally pick her up and whisk her away to an event. It was on these outings that she freely shared her wisdom about life. Once while I was driving her to an art museum, my friend absentmindedly asked, “Did I ever tell you about the time Eleanor Roosevelt stayed at my house?”

“No, I think I would have remembered that,” I jokingly replied.

She then began to share how decades ago, she had invited Eleanor Roosevelt to visit northwestern Ohio simply by sending her a letter. Her cause was successful, due to some assistance from an influential friend. This Liesl dissertation was the, “You never know… anything can happen if you try” lesson. I needed this motivational message, because life circumstances had tattered my own faith.

My brokenness was probably one of the reasons that this dear lady reached out to me. Surviving a near fatal suicide attempt, and then being confined in a state mental institution as a teen had left scars on me that only another survivor could see. Sadly, others battling mental illness whom I had met along my recovery journey, did not survive. Therefore, Liesl, who had been educated in social work, gently guided me in understanding the lesson of “Survivor’s Guilt,” that I must go on, and be grateful for surviving.

In explanation, when one triumphs over negative circumstances, it is easy to get stuck in the guilt created by contemplating why others have not been so fortunate. After the Holocaust, the Jewish survivor admitted that this quandary haunted her, too. But she refused to allow this never to-be-answered question about the past destroy her future.

Yet to prevent these tragedies from reoccurring, she also believed that it was a survivor’s moral responsibility to speak up on behalf of those still struggling. Even though she forgave, she never forgot the millions of Holocaust victims. Instead she passionately shared her story to warn others about the dangers of prejudice.

On a lighter note, there was also the “Beauty is Ageless” teaching, which I learned vicariously while watching Liesl shop for clothes. She took time to look her best, and never stopped caring about fabric, color, or finding just the right accessory. In 2007, for her 100th birthday, I drove her to a mall in a neighboring state where she enthusiastically tried on countless outfits looking for just the right pieces for her wardrobe.

Although most important was the “Love” lesson that Liesl taught me. When I met school administrator Larry Claypool in 2001, past hurts had left me too afraid to love. When it came to romance, Liesl used to describe me, “As a burnt child, who was afraid of the fire.”

But at heart, Liesl was a hopeless romantic, who challenged my initial fears about dating Larry, by asserting that one must be willing to risk everything to have another opportunity for happiness. My own mother had given me this same advice. The following year, Liesl sat smugly in a church pew dressed smartly in a pale pink suit smiling with satisfaction as Larry and I recited our vows in a candlelight ceremony.

For me, Liesl’s legacy of living courageously includes: the challenge to embrace forgiveness, to speak up against injustice, to support the arts, to reach for your dreams, and to always look your best.

However, I will always be most grateful for Liesl’s “Love” lesson. After all, it was my precious husband’s protective arms that comforted me when we buried my remarkable 101-year-old friend in spring of 2009.

This humble humanitarian shared her messages with civic clubs, women’s groups, universities, and in school classrooms across our community. Her story of surviving seemingly impossible circumstances graced her listeners with the gift of hope everywhere she went. Upon her passing, people of different faiths honored her legacy.

Today, her lessons live on. You see, those we love never die. They are always in our hearts, shaping our tomorrows with their valuable influence.  

Christina Ryan Claypool is the author of the Inspirational novel, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife” which will be released in fall 2018. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com

School Supplies: A Teacher’s Last Wish

      “I don’t have a pencil.” The over-sized middle school boy explained his plight to me, while staring into space and not doing his assigned work. “My mom’s dead,” he said matter-of-factly, offering this as the reason why he was without a pencil. I swallowed the lump in my throat, refusing to let the adolescent see my look of unchecked sympathy, because no teenager wants to be the object of anyone’s pity. I grabbed a pencil off of the teacher’s desk and handed it to him with an encouraging smile.

The other students in the class were quite vocal about the fact it had been a couple of years since the juvenile had lost his mother, and that he always offered up this excuse when it came time to do work. But two decades ago, I was a substitute teacher without knowledge of the teen’s history.

Yet as a former single mom, I did understand that school supplies can be a precious commodity for disadvantaged children. Specifically, as back-to-school season looms on the horizon, there is often enormous stress for a family with financial struggles. There are back-to-school clothes and shoes, pictures, school fees, electronics, and of course, back-to-school supplies.

Last year, USA Today ran CNBC’s David Gernon’s article, “The surprising expenses of back-to-school shopping” on August 15, 2017. “Parents of elementary school students can expect to pay an average $662, up 1% from last year,” Gernon reported “Middle-school students’ parents will fork over $1,001, a 4.6% increase.” High school students’ back-to-school expense will be even higher with clothes and shoes being their priority items.

On July 12, 2018, Good Housekeeping posted Carol Picard’s, “The Ultimate Back-to-School Shopping Lists From Kindergarten to College.” The Good Housekeeping associate editor compiled recommended lists for different age groups complete with Amazon prices for the products. For example, Picard suggests a kindergartner might need: a pencil box ($5), crayons ($5), colored pencils ($3), washable markers ($6), No. 2 pencils ($6), pencil sharpener ($5), erasers ($6), glue sticks ($5), blunt-tipped scissors ($3), plastic folders ($15 for six), assorted construction paper ($9), wide-ruled notebook or pad ($4), tissues ($4), backpack ($20 and up), and [possibly] a lunchbox ($17). Hopefully, most kindergarteners won’t require a list this extensive, but there are still quite a few supplies a child needs to begin the school year. And these items cost money, money an economically disadvantaged family doesn’t have.

Many caring teachers donate their own hard-earned cash to buy supplies, but they can’t possibly fill the vast demand. That’s why, local and national organizations, churches, companies, and individuals step up to the plate by donating back-to-school items to guarantee students will have what they require to start their year off right. When I see the advertisements for back-to-school products, I am grateful for these generous human beings who contribute their financial resources to equip the community’s less fortunate children.

So, recently when I read the Internet headline, “Teacher’s Unusual Final Request for Her Funeral Goes Viral,” I had to take a look at the inspirational story of Tammy Waddell. The late Mrs. Waddell was a dedicated teacher who lost her battle to colon cancer on June 9, 2018. According to the Faithit article, “Two weeks before her death, in lieu of flowers, the 58-year-old asked that funeral attendees bring backpacks of supplies for children in need.”

When Tammy’s cousin Dr. Brad Johnson @DrBradJohnson posted a photo of the backpacks filled with supplies lining the chapel where the late teacher’s Celebration of Life was held, thousands of folks reacted to the emotional twitter picture. Johnson’s touching tweet about his late cousin read, “…A teacher to the end.”

The obituary of the Georgia educator describes her, “Tammy served the children and community of Forsyth County for thirty years as a paraprofessional and elementary teacher in Forsyth County Schools. She had a passion for literacy and believed that every child deserved an opportunity to learn.”

But children can’t learn if they don’t have the necessary supplies to do classwork. In honor of Mrs. Waddell and of the countless compassionate teachers in our local school systems, may we band together once again to ensure no child is without a pencil like the teen I met as a substitute teacher. Instead let’s make sure every student has the tools they need to have a productive and successful school year.

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy/Ohio AP award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be available in Fall 2018. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

 

 

Erma Bombeck: Her legacy lives on

Erma Bombeck made an appearance of sorts near her hometown of Dayton this summer. The “of sorts” refers to the fact that the celebrated humor columnist has been deceased for more than two decades.

So, how did the famous writer who elevated the American housewife from invisible fixture to celebrity come back to life? Through the expertise of Chautauqua performer, Susan Marie Frontczak. Frontczak’s captivating June 2018, Chautauqua living history performance as Erma Bombeck at the Hance Pavilion in Piqua’s Fountain Park initially hooked me.

After all, if you are an “older” female journalist like me, you can’t help but be impressed by Bombeck’s successful and pioneering career. Born in Dayton in 1927, by 1942 Erma became a copygirl at the Dayton Herald during her high school years, and eventually graduated from the University of Dayton in 1949.

It wasn’t smooth sailing for the famous writer who went on to have her syndicated column, “At Wit’s End” appear in 900 newspapers nationwide and write more than a dozen books, many bestsellers. Ironically, during her first year of college at Ohio University, she was told she should give up her dream of being a writer. Thankfully, a University of Dayton professor later countered this when he encouraged her with three profound words, “You can write.”

Referring to her successful column writing formula, Bombeck instructed, “Hook ‘em with a lead. Hold ‘em with laughter, Exit with a quip they won’t forget.” Yes, Erma was a wordsmith extraordinaire who put a face on the then suburban wife’s devalued plight of running a household and mothering children, and who made people laugh while doing it.

Personally though, it wasn’t her humor that inspired me most, but a poignant poem she penned titled, “If I had my life to live over.” For many years, I carried a newspaper clipping of the poem in my billfold until the paper turned yellow, and became so brittle from handling that I finally had to throw it away.

 

Seeing Erma come to life again through Frontzcak’s Chautauqua performance reminded me of the poem, now memorialized in the book, Eat Less Cottage Cheese and More Ice Cream: Thoughts on Life from Erma Bombeck. I’m sharing it with permission of the Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency:

 

 

“If I had my life to live over”

“Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.

My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.   

If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.

I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.

I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.

I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.

When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”

There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”

Erma Bombeck may have left us in 1996, but her wit and wisdom live on in many of our hearts. For more information about Ohio Chautauqua visit http://www.ohiohumanities.org/ohio-chautauqua/

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy/Ohio AP award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be released fall 2018. 

A letter to younger women

  • If I could give young women some advice from the lessons I’ve learn along the way, here are a few of my most significant takeaways on this crazy journey we call “LIFE.”

Dear young woman,

I know you think you will never get old, none of us do, but you will some day. That day will come quicker than you can imagine.

First of all, whatever you do, avoid being competitive and territorial. This will cause you great loneliness, and it is something most of us females struggle with due to insecurity. Make friends, and encourage other women on the journey. In turn, you will discover many blessings. Don’t just be someone’s friend, because of what you hope they can do for you.

Secondly, be the best you can be, and strive for excellence. Still, don’t allow giving life your best, to cause you to embrace perfectionism. It’s guaranteed you will fail, but when you fail, you will learn, so get back up and fight the good fight of faith.

Education will be a game changer for you. Read, read, read, anything enabling you to grow, to learn, to embrace new horizons. Be disciplined in your studies, delay immediate gratification to achieve your educational goal whatever that is. The life you change will be your own.

Women my age fought in a societal sense, so that you could have the opportunity to be anything you dreamed of, if you work hard enough. Yet don’t use others to get there. Doors will open, but manipulating them open, will only cause frustration. I promise you, material things and prestige won’t provide lasting happiness.

About your family: They need to be your top priority. Success in a worldly sense will fade away soon enough, but you will find out your family is all you really have.

When your grown children make poor choices or break your heart, don’t wallow in what you did wrong. Their lives are their own. Remind yourself you did the very best you could with the knowledge you had at the time. Give them wings and let them find their way.

As for being a victim, don’t allow others to abuse you or use you for a doormat, even family members. You can pray for them from afar, but forgiveness does not mean permitting someone to wrongly hurt or violate you. Get counseling, seek a support group, but keep yourself and your children safe.

Most of all, about God, put Him first. Let Him lead and guide you. Then when you look back, you will have peace, knowing you did your very best with the time you were given!

    Mike Ullery photo

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist & speaker. Her novel, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife” will be released in fall 2018. Her website is: www.christinaryanclaypool.com