About Christina Ryan Claypool

Christina Ryan Claypool is a two-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, and a past $10,000 1st place Amy Writing Awards winner. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer's Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. She is a contributing columnist for several Ohio newspapers and a 2014 Ohio Associated Press Media Editor award recipient. She is also the author of several recovery books including Seeds of Hope for Survivors. Her debut novel, Secrets of the Pastor's Wife, is scheduled to be released in early 2018. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Twenty years after Columbine: Remembering Bonhoeffer and Bernall’s Legacy of Faith

The threat of school violence is all too real for me. As a school administrator’s wife, at two different public school systems, I’ve lived through a bomb threat and lock down with my husband, Larry, inside the endangered buildings. Yet as a journalist, there is no violent episode more personally memorable than the one that occurred in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. Twenty years ago, employed as a west central Ohio television reporter at WTLW TV 44, I was horrified by the live footage of bloodied bodies being transported on gurneys from Columbine High School. That historic afternoon, we witnessed a massive display of school violence. Sadly, I fear many folks have become hardened to horrific scenes of mayhem at learning institutions, because they are all too commonplace.

For some of us, our analytical minds have tried to go to the dark place where we question why a loving God would allow such evil? Yet it’s not God’s fault that  people choose destruction. Rather it is up to us as believers to be the light, fragrance, and hope in the midst of human cruelty.

The Bible tells us that Christians should have “lives [that] are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at [us.]” In other words, there really should be something unique about believers, because “Christ himself wrote not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit: not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it” by the way that we live each day. (II Cor. 3:2-3 The Message)

The April anniversary of the Columbine tragedy is a reminder of  two 20th century martyrs who lived with such Christ passion that their legacies continue to preach us lessons. This month we not only commemorate the tragic murder of Columbine victim Cassie Bernall, but also the selfless sacrifice of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They both gave their lives in defense of the faith they embraced.

Bonhoeffer was a brilliant young professor, writer, and ordained Lutheran pastor who could have easily ignored the tragic plight of the Jewish race as many of his countrymen did. Instead he passionately fought Hitler’s Nazism within his native Germany. Bonhoeffer himself once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Ultimately, his militant opposition resulted in his being imprisoned by the Gestapo in April of 1943. Two years later, 39-year-old Bonhoeffer was hanged on April 9, 1945 at the Flossenburg concentration camp. It would be naïve to think that Hitler’s reign of terror ended at the close of World War II. There has even been speculation that it was Hitler’s April 20th birthday that might have motivated the Columbine tragedy on the same date 110 years later. Yet we will never know for sure.

Two decades later, one thing we do know is many of us will forever remember the horror of April 20th, 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. As television commentators shared the biographies of the 13 victims, a beautiful blue-eyed blonde teenager named Cassie Bernall was among them. As 17-year-old Cassie was studying Shakespeare in the school library, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris conducted their bloody rampage leaving 15 dead including the two gunmen. Nationwide, it was reported that one of the killers pointed a gun at Cassie and asked her if she believed in God. Supposedly, she answered, “Yes,” knowing it would probably cost her life. In that instant the young man fired and sent Cassie into eternity.cassie-bernall-book

Perhaps, the reason I identify with Cassie is because she was like many of us, she had not always believed. Just a few years earlier she dabbled in witchcraft and was obsessed with suicide. Then she had a radical conversion and became a spokesperson for the God she once shunned. According to a statement issued by Cassie’s parents at her funeral, she made her decision despite the consequence. “Her life was rightly centered around our Lord Jesus. It was for her strong faith in God and His promise of eternal life that she made her stand,” said the Bernalls. In a generation where there seem to be no absolutes or firmness of conviction, it continues to inspire me that a teenager was courageous enough to give her life for what she believed.

Cassie Bernall and Dietrich Bonhoeffer have both become legends. For example, shortly after the Columbine tragedy, Cassie was memorialized in t-shirts, books, and songs. “Yes, I believe,” was a slogan that seemed to crop up everywhere. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy lives on within the pages of the books which he authored, and those written about him. Probably, his best known work is The Cost of Discipleship. Others include: Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Letters and Papers from Prison, and Ethics.

As believers, we all need to be reminded of courageous stories like these, which are God’s living letters of faith. After all, being part of a society that has grown increasingly intolerant of people of faith often makes it socially and politically advantageous for us to hide our convictions. However, this April remembering the sacrifices of these 20th century martyrs, there seems little eternal advantage to political popularity. Following both Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s and Cassie Bernall’s example may God grant every believer the courage to say, “Yes, I believe, too.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Her most recent book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online outlets. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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Mitch Albom’s books & My Message about Suicide

Mitch Albom, best-selling author with Christina Ryan Claypool, blogger

Interesting how books written by an inspiring author can make you contemplate aspects of your own faith, but that’s exactly what  Mitch Albom’s books can do. Albom’s genre was originally sports-related, but he skyrocketed to literary celebrity in the late 1990s with his bestselling, Tuesdays with Morrie, followed by The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and For One More Day. My personal favorite was always his 2009 non-fiction, Have a Little Faith, about a dying rabbi and an inner city pastor. Yet, his 2018 release, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, might be my new personal favorite. Let’s just say I was sobbing into my tissues at the end of the book, but it was one of those cathartic ugly cries women live for. 

Although Tuesdays with Morrie is probably Albom’s best known work. It has become a modern classic and continues to sustain popularity with over half a million followers on Facebook alone. Probably because the book addresses human mortality, one of the most challenging and perplexing issues that we all must face.

Confronting death head-on in, Tuesdays with Morrie, Albom interviewed an elderly Morrie Schwartz, who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. In one chapter, the Detroit Free Press columnist quotes Morrie as saying people don’t talk about death, because “no one really believes they are going to die.” But none of us is getting out of here alive unless theology-permitting, the Rapture happens first, because the Bible tells us that our human bodies are wearing out on a daily basis.

For some reason, even though death is all around us, it still comes as quite a shock when it happens in our circle. To explain, when we learn of someone close who loses their child or mate, it’s easy to experience guilt for the gratitude we feel that the tragedy happened to them, instead of to us. We hug our own spouses and kids a little tighter, hoping to stave off this inevitable grim reaper.

Over two decades ago, the question of mortality began to haunt me again. It had not been so intense since my days as a troubled teen, when I buried several other despairing acquaintances who took their lives. Even though I found myself in an Intensive Care Unit a couple times due to intentional overdoses, my young life was miraculously spared. To honor the memory of my  late friends, I appeared in Ginger Stache’s regional Emmy-nominated documentary, “Before You Say Good-Bye.”

I was just one of the folks interviewed by Ms. Stache for the 1997 suicide prevention piece that aired nationwide and in Europe. I shared my testimony of surviving several near fatal suicide attempts as a young woman. Later, I would tell this story over and over in schools, prisons, and churches. It was not the “wanting to die” part, but rather the “grateful that I’m still here” message that I shared. My goal was to offer a glimmer of hope that with God’s help there is always a reason to live. 

Still it was Jewish Holocaust survivor, Elizabeth Bing Sondheimer who exposed the truth about my passion to spare others from suicide. She spotted my surivivor’s guilt almost immediately after first meeting me. This wise mentor gently guided me in relinquishing the guilt of surviving when others had not. She, too, lived with this same dilemma losing most of her extended family to Hitler’s diabolical genocide. Liesl taught me renewed awe and gratitude for the gift of life, while finally accepting my purpose birthed through the pain of loss.

After all, suicide is a lot like cancer, without intervention one’s irrational thoughts can result in a tragic decision. When our mental health is jeopardized, the darkness and hopelessness close in, creating despair. This is a time when a hurting person needs help, because it’s never our choice to decide whether life is worth living.

The Bible tells us, “You realize, don’t you, that you are the temple of God, and God himself is present in you?” (I Cor.3:16) Then there’s also, “Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for…” (I Cor 6:19) The high price that God paid for each one of us was himself dying a painful and humiliating death on a cross. Jesus died for us to give us what Scripture says should be an “abundant” life.

When life gets rocky, we have to remember that God is still in control. Yet that’s difficult to do when you’re elderly and alone, middle-aged and unemployed, or a troubled teenager like I once was. Sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens. Nationwide elderly males are at great risk, too. The use of drugs or alcohol also increases the propensity towards suicide. 

As believers, we can offer assistance to others struggling by being, “Christ with some skin on.” We can pray, listen, and destigmatize mental health issues by encouraging those battling illnesses like depression and addiction to seek professional help.

Suicide is never a solution. Life is always worth living. If you or someone you love needs help, please talk to a concerned pastor, counselor, or call the  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or click on the logo to visit their Website.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and Christian speaker. Her book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors is available through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  

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Remembering a Brave Prom King

Corsage and CrownMost people attend a prom or two, but I’ve attended lots of proms. Like most teenage girls, as a high school junior, I was excited about the prospect of my first prom. Truthfully, it wasn’t much fun, since the boy I had a crush on didn’t ask me.

My senior prom was monumentally worse. By then, I was a patient at Toledo State Mental Hospital following an almost fatal suicide attempt. After spending a couple months in a private psychiatric ward, my insurance ran out. I was committed to the decaying institution that then housed thousands of mentally ill individuals. Before Mental Health reform, that horrible place was reminiscent of the one depicted in the classic film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Battling depression and an eating disorder, I looked more like a 17-year-old Holocaust victim than a carefree teenager. The psychiatrist granted me a weekend pass hoping that attending prom would lift my spirits. My date was a classmate who suffered from epilepsy. He must have empathized with my situation, and proudly escorted me to the prom ignoring the stares from a few overly-curious students.

Fast forward three decades to May 2002, when my life looked nothing like that struggling teen. Faith, education, and the support of a few encouraging mentors had positively changed my circumstances. I was also engaged to a wonderful man who was a school administrator, whose job necessitated that we chaperone prom. Never having had an opportunity to go to prom together, Larry and I decided to don a tuxedo and gown and make it our night, too. Larry and me

Since then, my husband and I have attended quite a few proms. The impressive decorations, twinkling lights, and colorful dresses, still take my breath away. But the prom I remember most vividly is the one when a precious senior who was dying of bone cancer was elected prom king. It was the last year that my spouse served as a middle/high school principal at a rural school in northwestern Ohio.

We had all come to love this quiet dark-haired youth whose given name was Anthony-Dillon. Better known as A.J., he had waged a long and valiant battle against Osteosarcoma. For nine months, he was spot-free, but then the disease turned deadly. Despite his illness, A.J. was compassionate and wise beyond his years.

Somehow in a tight-knit community where folks have known each other forever, tragedy is worse, because everyone is affected. Prom wouldn’t have been prom without A.J. being there, and he knew it. Even though, it had been months since the senior had been able to attend school, he mustered all his strength and accompanied by his dedicated fiancée`, he showed up looking handsome in a white tuxedo.

As the disc jockey played pulsating music, the students danced energetically, while silently grieving the inevitable loss of the fun-loving youth who had always been part of them. When his classmates voted for their prom king, I shouldn’t have been surprised  when A.J.’s name was announced.

There was a moment when the reality of the high school student’s dismal prognosis hit me full force. It happened when a pretty senior asked if she could take a picture with him, and they  posed humorously cheek to cheek with toothy grins. What A.J. didn’t see, was that when the blonde turned away, her expression crumbled into a painful grimace. She had taken the photo as a memory of the boy she had probably known since kindergarten, realizing he would soon be gone. Like a trained actress, before she turned to face A.J. again, the golden-haired girl mustered her courage and smiled brightly. Her affection for her terminally-ill classmate wasn’t romantic love driven by adolescent hormones. Rather it was the kind of caring that country kids take for granted growing up in a close circle of friendship.

When my husband and I visited him for the last time, A.J. sensed that my heart was breaking. He smiled his dazzling smile, and said, “I’ll be okay.” Then the 18-year-old lifted his T-shirt sleeve and displayed a large tattoo of a compassionate Jesus. A visual reminder of the Bible’s promise, “I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

That July, the bravest prom king I’ve ever known took his last earthly breath. Still, he lives on in the hearts of those he inspired, forever wearing a white tuxedo and a jeweled crown.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an AP & Amy award-winning journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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A Library Lover all year long

“Love you guys!” These three words came out of my mouth spontaneously, when I only meant to think them, not say them out loud. I wasn’t saying goodbye to a family member or close friend. Instead I was simply walking out of a public library on a cold winter’s day last month.

The statement was directed towards a young library clerk behind the checkout desk who had just handed me two movies and a big thick novel to get me through the blustery storm headed our way. This particular librarian had never seen me before, even though I’m a frequent visitor to quite a few area libraries. She appeared mildly startled by my outburst of affection, so I tried to clarify it by adding, “I love all libraries.” Decades ago, my library love affair began with the classic Nancy Drew mystery series. As an elementary-aged school girl, I devoured these intriguing novels checking them out one-by-one. Like the Hardy Boys, these classics continue to pique the interest of some aspiring pint-sized detectives.

 The books taught me the benefits reading could provide. For instance, one can escape daily problems or exchange a boring existence for an exciting adventure within the pages of a good book. Travel, romance, inspiration, education, spiritual growth, and professional success can all be achieved by reading, too. 

Like today, in my youth there were wonderful programs for children. I was hooked after entering my first book contest at the library. Later, as a painfully shy-11-year-old, I had the great fortune of portraying a character from the classic book, Little Women, at my local library. These programs have enabled countless youngsters to acquire: a love of learning, increased imagination, socialization skills, and the list goes on. 

Once, the public library was the resource for books of all genres and valuable information of all kinds. This was before Amazon cornered the market on book selling and Google answered lots of our endless questions with rapid search engine capabilities. But don’t for one moment think the library is in danger of extinction. Its place of prominence in a community’s list of amenities remains a high priority. After all, the ground is level at the library. 

Whether it’s a book club meeting, group coloring for relaxation, information needs/resources, or children enjoying a movie, the free and often educational events bring folks of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds together. There are books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and music, in many forms and genres to check out, computers to use, and an endless variety of programs. 

The operative word is FREE, and despite being a word most of us like, having access to resources without charge is a necessity for many community members. Whether it’s a single mom or dad, a young family struggling to get established, a senior citizen on a fixed income, or anyone else with a tight budget, the library offers entertainment, education, and social interaction without cost to everyone.

“Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” and
“The Forgiving Jar” on display at a bookstore

Of course, most library lovers are bookstore lovers. Still, many folks couldn’t afford to buy or read a book by a favorite author, unless it was available at the library. Then there are the children. The children who are our responsibility as a community of concerned citizens. Sometimes, when browsing the shelves at the library, I see a young mother wrangling a couple kids, while clutching books and movies that will be making their way into their home.

Witnessing the sheer delight and anticipation in the children’s faces, I remember back to my own days of being a single mom with a little one in tow. I can recall the feeling of fulfillment I had when checking out books and videos for my then young son. The library allowed me to be a better parent by providing these precious commodities when there wouldn’t have been any funds to cover their cost.     

February was Library Lovers’ Month, and you might be thinking that the month is already over. But this year, why not do something special for those wonderful library ladies and men who make our lives so much richer? Maybe though, instead of saying, “Love you guys,” like I did, why not say, “Thanks for all you do to make our community a better place all year long!”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show and on CBN’s 700 Club. Her recent release, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel,” is now available on all major online outlets. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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Clemmie’s Colorblind Love Lives On

During Black History month, we remember those courageous people who positively impacted us. If you read my recently released book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel,” you will learn about the example and sacrifice of a loving black woman named Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jones. Lizzie is based on a precious lady who is an important part of my own history.

To explain, during the racially turbulent sixties, as a Caucasian child growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t know anything about racism. Therefore, it seemed only natural when Miss Clemmie came to take care of me and my siblings, while my mom was seriously ill.

Clemmie was an extremely overweight African-American woman who had a heart as huge as the girth that surrounded it. My financially struggling family couldn’t have paid her much of a salary, yet she lovingly looked after all of us. With Clemmie there, I instinctively knew that everything would be alright.

What I didn’t know then was that a Civil Rights movement was being birthed out of the frustration regarding injustices that African Americans like Clemmie could no longer bear. Not yet a first grader, I couldn’t imagine anyone hating such a wonderful woman, simply for the color of her skin. Eventually, my mother regained her health, so Clemmie no longer came to care for us. Yet her colorblind love, which was based on her faith in the Gospel’s message, “…Love one another, as I have loved you…” had made a lasting impression.

A few years later, on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave his memorable Civil Rights address calling for an end to the acceptance of segregation in educational institutions, retail establishments, restaurants, and hotels. He also demanded that African Americans be able to vote without the fear of harmful consequences.

Just hours after Kennedy’s eloquent speech, Medgar Evers, a Black Mississippi Civil Rights leader was brutally gunned down by a white Ku Klux Klan member. Evers, a World War II Army veteran had survived the Battle of Normandy, but that June night he lay bleeding to death in his own driveway. Fifty minutes later, he died at a local hospital.

Although I’ve never been grievously wounded like Evers, I do know what it feels like to lie on cold asphalt too hurt to move. As an eight-years-old girl walking to school, I tripped and fell so hard that it momentarily knocked the wind out of me and scattered my science project everywhere. I was blocks from my family’s house, but an older middle-aged woman heard my cries, and rushed down her porch steps to care for me.

I didn’t know my Good Samaritan who shared Clemmie’s mahogany complexion. My grandmotherly rescuer tended my cuts, and then she carefully helped me put my science project back together. She smiled with maternal satisfaction when she finally sent me off to school. That beautiful smile is a treasured memory, as is the remembrance of Miss Clemmie’s massive arms hugging me to her bountiful chest.

It’s important to remember the selfless acts of compassion of others. Because whatever our race, everyday society gives us the choice to tolerate racism based on the justification that someone of another ethnicity probably once mistreated us.

The late Jewish Holocaust survivor, Liesl Sondheimer, often shared a profound truth regarding racial forgiveness. Like Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Mrs. Sondheimer spent decades retelling the painful account of the extermination of more than six million European Jews during World War II. Unlike Wiesenthal’s quandary concerning forgiveness outlined so poignantly in his book The Sunflower, my dear friend, Liesl, always maintained that, “You must forgive, but never forget, or Hitler has won.”

Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once wrote, “…if we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.” But Mrs. Sondheimer didn’t have that choice.

Yet we all have a daily choice about permitting racism, which continues to be just as deadly to our society, as Hitler’s gas chambers once were. But sadly, not everyone has a Miss Clemmie or a Liesl to teach them what compassion for their fellow man is all about. Still, if we follow Jesus’ command to, “Love one another,” it would be a much better world.

Mike Ullery photo

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy/Ohio APME Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show and on CBN’s 700 Club. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her novel, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife” is available at all major online outlets.

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Black History Month: Remembering Coach Herman Boone’s Titans

Herman-Boone with football playerWhat may be to some a mere coincidence is to others a divine appointment. For me, meeting Coach Herman Boone at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, on the night of January 22, 2009 still seems more miraculous, than coincidental. I had gone alone to the ONU English Chapel simply as a spectator to hear the famous coach speak about, “…The Importance of observing the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.” Boone made national headlines in 1971 when as head football coach at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, his team won the state championship by overcoming enormous racial tensions.

T.C. Williams was comprised of three newly integrated schools that year. Boone and his assistant coach, Bill Yoast, who had been a successful head coach at one of the former schools joined forces to lead the Titans to victory. The friendship that developed between Boone, a black coach with an impossible task, and Yoast, a winning white coach is truly inspiring. The Titan’s story was so inspirational that Coach Boone made headlines again in 2000 when Walt Disney Studios released the now classic movie, “Remember the Titans.” Starring Denzel Washington as Coach Boone, the film is a vivid reminder of the courageous pioneers in the Civil Rights movement.

It wasn’t only Boone’s incredible tenacity in the face of adversity that impressed me, but it was also his ability to make rival teams come together. Therefore, when I originally watched the movie, I found the interview with the “real” Coach Boone fascinating. Although, Boone doesn’t resemble Denzel Washington, he jokes about his imaginary likeness to the Hollywood star.

Concerned that I might not get a seat at ONU that night, I arrived an hour early and found a place way off to the side in the front row. Some high school students filled all the seats nearby, except for one empty chair next to me. Then shortly, before the program started an older black man of small stature asked if it would be okay if he sat next to me. I recognized him instantly from the movie’s special features. It was Coach Herman Boone. I invited him to take the seat, which seemed reserved just for him. While waiting for the program to start, Coach Boone began to converse with the boys from nearby Lima Senior High School. He let them know in no uncertain terms, that he didn’t care for sagging pants and that no respectable young man should wear them. The high schoolers were polite, which was good, because I could tell they had no idea who he was. Thankfully, the boys weren’t wearing sagging britches.

Coach Herman Boone

Coach Herman Boone

Then Herman Boone turned to me, and we chatted briefly. I told him how deeply the movie inspired me, and he smiled graciously. When Coach Boone addressed the crowd, he shared about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saying, “[We] gather not to remember Dr. King’s death, but to remember his life…not the sadness of losing him… [but] his message of peace and love [that] was universal.” Dr. King taught us all the importance of relationship, and Coach Boone shared about the way the Titans became a team by learning to “talk to each other….We had problems, but we found a way to respect each other,” he said.

The other night, “Remember the Titans” was showing again on the Family Channel. This time as I watched it, the film seemed like far more than just an inspirational story. After all, I met the real Coach Boone. More than 70-years-old at the time, he greeted countless ONU and community students patiently answering their questions following his message. When it was finally my turn, I asked the coach if he thought divine intervention helped him to win the 1971 state championship. Without hesitation, Boone answered, “I think so…I’m a believer in God…God does work in mysterious ways sometimes…”

Dr. Martin King, Jr. had a dream, “That one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

Coach Boone had a dream, too, and he found a role model in Martin Luther King, Jr. “In the face of danger, he motivated me and my family,” he said. If we are honest, we all have dreams. May the legacy of Dr. King and Coach Boone’s Titans remind us to fight for our visions with perseverance, faith, and the non-violent weapon of love. In the words of the inspiring coach, “..Let us continue to dream, because dreams have no expiration date.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker whose inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is now available on Amazon.com. Contact her at through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  

 

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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. 

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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. 

 

 

 

 

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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

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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. 

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