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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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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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 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

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Golden Wings for a Grieving Traveler

mothers-day

Mother’s Day is upon us. Like me, you might be missing your mom. There are also mothers experiencing the painfully unnatural grief of missing children. After all, we assume that someday we will bury our parents, but never anticipate having to grieve the death of a child.

Mother’s Day spent mourning a lost loved one can be an especially, treacherous emotional sea to navigate. Maybe though, your mother or child didn’t die, instead circumstances have somehow estranged you. Life can be complicated, but personally I believe in happy endings.

That’s why I’m a sap for sentimental movie plots like the traditional boy gets the girl or a stranded puppy finds their way home. The holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” always thrills me when a rather bumbling angel named Clarence finally gets his wings.

Although, I must admit I wasn’t thinking about the possibility of a happy ending on that awful afternoon almost eight years ago. I sat rigidly in my cramped seat on an airplane trying not to cry. As I gazed at the oblivious passengers, the business flyers looked weary, but other folks seemed animated traveling for pleasure and family excursions.

Family. That was my problem. My 78-year-old mother, Glenna Sprang, had died suddenly the day before. An accomplished organist, Mom played two church services on Sunday morning. Later that afternoon, pain from a kidney stone gone terribly wrong caused her to be rushed by ambulance to a Philadelphia hospital. By Wednesday afternoon, I stood helplessly at her bedside watching my mother breathe her last breath, just as she had been with me when I breathed my first.

Glenna Giesken Sprang

Glenna Giesken Sprang

I felt isolated by grief, as I traveled back to Ohio to be with family until her funeral. Being a Christian speaker by profession, my mother had left a written request that I “preach” her funeral, if I was able. I was honored by her last wish, but my heart was broken, and I had no idea how I was going to do it.

That’s when a forty-something flight attendant who I’ll call Dan, pulled his beverage cart next to my aisle seat. The seasoned steward shared the same reddish hair color that my four brothers and sister have. The color that caused them to be teased ruthlessly when we were kids.

At that very moment, an obnoxious traveler was mercilessly making fun of Dan’s hairstyle. I gave the flight attendant a sympathetic look, but the undaunted steward defiantly threw his head back while laughing profusely. For the first time in several days, I laughed, too. Suddenly, Dan looked deeply into my exhausted eyes and sounding concerned asked, “Are you going home?”

“My mom just died,” I blurted out. Instantly, I was embarrassed that I had burdened a stranger with my grief.

“It will get better,” Dan said encouragingly. He then shared the story of losing his own mother some years earlier promising me that time would ease my heartache.

It was a short flight, with the airline attendant being busy for the rest of the trip. Minutes before landing safely on the runway, Dan made his way back to my seat at the rear of the plane. Then he ceremoniously handed me a pin shaped like a pair of golden wings. “Now, you can say, you got your wings at the same time as your mother got hers,” he said with a boyish grin.

When I arrived home, I placed my “wings” on the vanity’s top in my bedroom. The following week, I fulfilled my mother’s last wish of preaching her funeral describing her courageous life with the Scripture, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” [2 Timothy 4:7]

Then I allowed myself to grieve. During those difficult months, every time I looked at the golden wings, I clung to Dan’s promise that time would lessen the pain and that someday my broken heart would begin to heal.

There’s another promise that also gave me great hope. It’s the one found in the thought-provoking movie released recently “I can only imagine.” Of course, I still miss Mom, but I’m no longer overwhelmed by earthly sadness, instead I’m excited about seeing her again someday in Heaven where she is now experiencing incomprehensible joy. Mom and me

If you are the one grieving inconsolably, hang on, time can be a great gift in healing grief. For me, it has gotten better, just as the flight attendant promised. In reality, I know that Dan was probably just a compassionate cabin steward, but to a brokenhearted traveler, he seemed like an angel in disguise.

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

 

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Overcoming Fear: “Do It Afraid!”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Attitude of Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The First and Last Time

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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The secret obsession of a refrigerator detective

Refrigerator magnets 2You should never judge a book by its cover, but is it possible to judge a person by their refrigerator? For example, when you open a refrigerator, you can usually tell if it belongs to a domestically challenged individual, an aspiring chef, or a family with five children. As for the five children, hopefully their refrigerator would be stocked with all kinds of edibles, a couple gallons of milk, and no cold pizza in sight. After all, if there are any teenagers in the clan, the pizza would be consumed in one sitting, with several siblings fighting over the last piece.

If there is a self-proclaimed chef in the house, in the fridge there’s usually an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables with uncooked meat ready to be prepared. A man or woman who enjoys cooking might even have some tasty leftovers on hand, that they could transform into a delicious meal when an unexpected visitor stops. Then there is the person who never cooks, whose refrigerator contains white boxes stained with soy sauce from Chinese take-out or half-eaten meals from Bob Evans. I really like these people, because they make me feel that being domestically challenged is not the worst thing in the world. So, I’m not Rachel Ray, I can still make a pretty mean meat loaf.

However, it’s not the inside of the refrigerator that tells the real story. It’s the outside that helps you discern what the refrigerator’s owner or owners are all about. There are exceptions, as some individuals are either too young, transient, or minimalistic, to realize they can share their entire life story with magnets, treasured photos, important phone numbers, and inspiring quotations. Refrigerator magnets 1Once I realized the significance of refrigerator decorations, I must admit it was easy to become a bit obsessed. For example, people get a little uncomfortable when they are giving you a tour of their home and you stop dead in your tracks inspecting their refrigerator door. It’s usually best to do a little investigative reporting and get them involved in your quest.

Just ask a doting grandmother about the photo of the little boy or girl that is held in place by a smiley face magnet. You’ll find out more about that child than you ever wanted to know. The proud grandma might even point out the school paper bearing an A and a star, or the scribbled image of some unknown object that this same grandchild painted held in place by another magnet. Just nod agreeably when she explains that they were unaware of this artistic gifting in their bloodline. If there are numerous children’s photos everywhere, it’s best not to ask unless you have a lot of time. List of MedicinesThe phone numbers and lists on the refrigerator door can even provide some insight into the medical issues of an elderly relative or friend. In explanation, people experiencing a health crisis will often have all their resources attached to the fridge. Phone numbers for physicians’ offices, rehab services, clinics, and even medication times might be posted. As for the refrigerator’s magnets, they are sometimes gifts. Therefore, you have to find out if they really define the owner’s personality. There are also those artistic individuals whose refrigerator doors closely resemble the countless badges worn by a proud Eagle Scout.

There are humorous magnets like “I clean house every other day, but this is not the other day,” or “Hand over the chocolate, and no one will get hurt.” I am a firm believer that there is truth buried deep within this kind of humor. However, it’s the magnets bearing a faith-filled quotation that can define a person’s belief system. Many refrigerator doors are adorned with encouraging statements like, “Love bears all things.” You can’t help but wonder how many trials of faith these magnets have weathered, especially when they appear to be yellowed or cracked from age.Refrigerator magnets

Speaking of faith, it was an inspirational Facebook post quoting famous author, Max Lucado, that made me think it was time to confess my refrigerator sleuthing. It said, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it….Face it, friend. He is crazy about you.” The post made me smile, so I hope it will make someone else smile too.  In the end, maybe you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but lately I’ve come to believe that you can find out a lot about a person by their refrigerator.

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy-award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. She is also a Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor.

 

           

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Advice for Ministry



Jeremiah 29:11 & 13
My humble advice about ministry: God bless your heart for wanting to reach others. As for advice, pray for open doors, and then when God opens them be willing to walk through them if you sense God’s leading. Even though, they are not the doors you expected to open or wanted to open.
Many times, it will not be like you think. Try to stay humble no matter how people treat you. Good or bad. Try to stay grateful to God.
If you have a family, put them first. This of course, is first after God. Ministry can become more important than your family, and this is something God would never want.
Don’t worry about what other people think of you, but worry about what God thinks of you. When you feel that He is telling you to say, “No,” have the courage to do that too. Don’t let ministry push out a relationship with your Heavenly Father.
Always, love and forgive His people even when they hurt you. This is what He would want, but don’t allow them to abuse you. Shake the dust off then.
Take care of yourself, eat right, rest, and remember to have fun. There will be times you will be at the top and other times at the bottom. But it’s not about you, it’s about Him. Give God the credit and praise always, and rest in Him during times of failure and loss.
Never forget to pray, spend time apart, and to love God more than anything. Remember you’re not alone, He is with you even when you feel forsaken, misunderstood, and undervalued. You are loved, not for what you do, but because you are His!

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