The Japanese Ladies’ Lesson

When I look out of my kitchen window I can see the back of Miho’s house. For a long time after she was gone, when evening’s darkness would settle over the neighborhood and the timed lights would turn on in the empty home, I would imagine she was still inside clearing the supper dishes. I did the same thing for weeks when the school bus would come in the morning to pick up the children who live nearby. As was my daily habit, I would gaze out the same window absentmindedly searching for Tetsu and Haru’s faces among the little ones. Then with sadness, I would remember that they had returned to their native country.

The then 10-year-old twins had grown rapidly through the years as our neighbors. But their father’s U.S. work assignment was finished, and it was time for the family to go back to the country where the boys had been born, where their extended family would surely be anxiously awaiting their arrival, and where their years in America would become a memory of a season past.

Their home in Japan, a nation over 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, greatly contrasted the lifestyle they had experienced in Ohio. I would learn much from Miho during the time we were able to spend together, despite our busy schedules. Language was a barrier in the beginning, but that barrier was bridged by the kindred spirit that we shared. Miho was not my first Japanese friend though. It was Kyoko, whom I originally met in an exercise class at the YMCA, who paved the way for me to understand how courageous the Japanese families who live among us, up and down I-75 are. The women are especially brave, because while their men find identity and professional camaraderie in their workplace, the ladies must find their own purpose in a country that is so foreign to their own.

Their children also have to learn to assimilate into a school setting with a language and customs dissimilar to what they’ve known. Yet it is often said that children are more adaptable than adults when it comes to change. Still, that’s not always the case, as I’ve heard stories about little ones crying themselves to sleep at night, overwhelmed by change.

As for the sense of loss and displacement that children and adults can both experience when they are thrust into a different environment, we commonly refer to this condition as homesickness. Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist, who is a University of Alabama associate professor sees this phenomenon in college freshmen. According to a post on www.hercampus.com, “Dr. Klapow stresses that it’s important to recognize that homesickness is a very normal reaction to periods of rapid change and adjustment…people misinterpret what exactly it means to be homesick. It’s not about missing home – [your] house, [your] bed. Very often it’s about missing what’s normal and comfortable, what we’re used to, and not quite being comfortable with our new way of life.”

Yet, Kyoko and Miho shared a common trait that enabled them to find friends, and rewarding outlets and activities, while in the United States. They both sought diligently to master the English language, even though this can be a daunting challenge. By personality, they were also extremely friendly, willing to try new challenges and social situations, and accepting of others. I miss both of these dear ladies, but they left me with an important lesson about being aware of the transplanted individuals in our communities, not only the Japanese, but others who might be struggling with feelings of isolation.

Unfortunately, in recent history, due to terrorism, senseless mass shootings in general, and the Opioid crisis, we have become suspicious of anyone we don’t know. Sadly, now this distrust is even within our churches. There is legitimate cause for this fear, and we need to use wisdom and keep ourselves and our children as safe as possible.

But at the end of the day, we can’t let fear dictate our daily interactions with those who live, work, or worship among us. We need to reach out with hospitality and acceptance, and fight fear with faith. After all, this is America, “the home of the free and the land of the brave.”

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

 

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The Grandness of Grandparenting

The other day I saw a newer SUV with the bumper sticker, “Dog Grandma.” I was surprised that someone would announce their identity as the proud grandparent of a canine to the world. Yet most people are passionate about something and when it comes to grandchildren, even four-legged ones, this is a frequently discussed topic among boomers [born between 1946-1964] and beyond. Generations X [born 1965-1976] also comprise a significant segment of those who have raised children and are now becoming proud grandparents. For proof of bragging rights, take a few minutes and randomly scroll through your social media accounts to see the countless posts and photos about grandkids.

For instance, as soon as I opened Facebook the other day, the first post I saw was one of those too-cute-not-to-read stories and it was written by my Facebook friend, Terry Pontius. Terry is a retired Ohio United Methodist pastor, who titled his post, “The joy of being a Grandpa.” Here’s the story: “Today our 5th Grader Grandsons, Jack and Luke, invited Grandpa and Grandma to their school lunch. I crammed my knees under the kid-high table and wedged onto the small, round seat. Halfway through lunch I commented to Luke, “What if I get stuck here? I’ll have to eat cafeteria food the rest of my life!”

Luke smiled and replied, “They have really good pizza on Fridays!”

Terry’s experience gave me a good chuckle, because as the late TV host, Art Linkletter, used to say, “Kids do say the darndest things.” The truth is even though I am definitely in the grandparent age demographic, I don’t have any stories of my own to tell or photos to post, because I’m not a grandmother. When I was a young mother, I assumed that someday I would be a grandma, but life doesn’t always turn out like we assume.  Although most relatives and friends my age, former school classmates, and older work acquaintances have entered this second stage of enjoying children that are the offspring of their own children. Their faces almost beam in an otherworldly sort of way when they affectionately share tales of their grandkids.

Also, if  you ask someone you meet if they have any grandchildren, be prepared for them to just happen to have a few, which will turn into a couple of dozen photos on their cellphone. The love a grandparent displays for the young ones who are of their bloodline can be almost comical. Have you ever seen a big burly-looking older man gently holding the tiny hand of his grandchild? After all, a grandkid can reduce the gruffest male to a doting puddle of emotions.

Since I’m not a grandparent, there were a few years when I was envious of others who were. I had to emotionally work my way through that, because as human beings we have to adjust to whatever life brings. Of course, I still could be some day, but truthfully I’ve come to realize there are a variety of distressing situations that grandparents can encounter.

First, some individuals, through no fault of their own, don’t have the opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren. Whether due to a broken family tie, geographical distance, or another unfortunate scenario, a grandparent either has no relationship or a very limited one. I have listened to the lament and grief not seeing grandchildren can cause. There are even court proceedings revolving around grandparents’ rights.

Secondly, there are self-sacrificing folks who have custody of their grandchildren, and their ranks are growing due to our country’s opioid crisis. “Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line, according to census figures,” reports the PBS News hour in a Feb. 16, 2016 article by Alejandra Cancino. (AP) I admire these noble people who have given up their expectations for a peaceful empty nest or quiet retirement, and have opened their hearts and homes to their displaced grandchildren. They are everywhere, and they are a reminder of what the word “family” truly means.

When it comes to grandparenting, it’s been enough for me to live vicariously through other folks’ grandchildren, especially on social media. I enjoy seeing your grandkids eat their first piece of birthday cake, play with their dolls or trucks, or to read the funny stories they come up. So grandparents, please keep posting!

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award-winning freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. She is a two-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor who has been featured on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be released in the near future. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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Purses, junk drawers, and too much stuff

Most Americans own a lot more material possessions than they need. According to professional organizer, Regina Lark, “The average U.S. household has 300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards.” (Los Angeles Times)  Although, sometimes I feel like all this stuff is in my purse.

My personal obsession with minimalizing began when my husband and I downsized about four years ago. When you have a designated amount of space, you have to learn how to use that space wisely. Besides, watching the TV show, “Hoarders,” is a pretty frightening reality check about what can happen if one accumulates massive amounts of unnecessary items.

Taking walks in my neighborhood is also beneficial, because there are countless homes I pass with open garages overflowing with who-knows-what. Apparently, “25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them and 32% only have room for one vehicle.” (U.S. Department of Energy) I thought I was keeping my own admiration for knick-knacks in check, until a first-time visit from a family member recently. I had scrubbed and dusted for days, and was proud of my sparkling clean home when the first thing out of my relative’s mouth was, “There are a lot of tchotchkes in here.” Believe me, the statement wasn’t meant to be rude, it was merely an observation. I didn’t know what a “tchotchke” was, but I could tell it wasn’t good.

“What’s a tchotchke,” I asked nervously.

The answer, “knick-knacks,” confirmed my worst fear. I am still a collector of too much stuff. There was no truer validation of this than the junk drawer in my kitchen. When it was opened, often it had to be forced shut. In my defense, I’m pleased to report that many individuals have an unorganized junk drawer in their home. I ascertained this interesting fact through another one of my unscientific Facebook surveys. Dozens of respondents shared about their junk drawers, while some did qualify that they organized their junk drawers. Others commenting protested that a junk drawer would not be a junk drawer, if it was organized. Still, I had to do something about mine, because whenever I searched for a bread tie, magic marker, roll of tape, etc., it was an indictment of my disorganized housekeeping. Like some other folks in the informal survey, I bought various-sized plastic trays to place inside the drawer and filled each tray with specific-like items. I learned this tip from professional organizer, Olive Wagar. Now, the drawer is perfectly arranged, but I’m wondering how long this will last.

That said, I also wonder if there is any hope for my purse, because I don’t think dollar store trays will help. Unfortunately, I’m one of those women who keeps you waiting in the checkout line, while I dig at the bottom of my purse for loose change. After all, everything is in there somewhere.  The purse situation called for another survey, so I asked my Facebook friends if their purses are neatly arranged or chaotic like mine, even though I diligently try to keep it tidy. One honest lady used the words, “hot mess” to describe the inside of her purse, while another used the term, “black whole.” Yet, the majority of the 71 comments either expressed their opinion that they had very organized handbags, or “overall” their purses had everything in its perfect place.

This survey might have been tragically flawed. Most women who have untidy purses are probably not too willing to share that when they stick their hand inside of it, they are unsure what will come out. A junk drawer is one thing, but a purse negatively reflects its owner, and in our brand-conscious society maybe the outside label, even more than the disorganized inside. For instance, the other day I was in a retail store buying a pair of “Grandma” slippers. An attractive young woman with an impressive designer shoulder bag stood in line behind me. I clutched my worn pleather (fake leather) bag close to my body, trying not to envy or feel diminished by this youthful style setter.

Therein lies the problem with the purse. Sometimes, women judge other women or even themselves by their handbag. This war of the purses has to stop. And it will in my little world, as soon as I get my hands on a designer handbag exactly like trendy fashionista. Just kidding, it’s me and my messy, faithful, pleather purse to the end.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio AP award-winning  freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. She is also a two-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, who has been featured on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. 

 

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Not a Wannabe Advice Columnist

How many of you are frustrated advice columnists? When reading the newspaper would your eyes zoom in on the headline, “On the Hook for Someone Else’s Wedding” by Annie Lane? In case you aren’t up-to-date, Annie Lane is today’s version of Ann Landers. For decades, folks relied on the advice of Ann Landers, whose real name was Esther (Eppie) Lederer. Her pen name became a household staple after Lederer began authoring the already established Ann Landers’ column for The Chicago Sun-Times in 1955. In 1987, she joined the Chicago Tribune staff.

When 83-year-old Landers passed away in 2002, she was still writing her monumentally successful column. When she died, Margalit Fox of The New York Times wrote, “She advised millions of readers on problems ranging from acne to alcoholism to AIDS, often in spirited competition with her identical twin sister, who also wrote the advice column Dear Abby.”

Frequently relying on the advice of experts, Landers answered the never-ending questions with a sense of confidence. From the time I was teenager, I mentally chimed in on finding solutions to the stickiest of human dilemmas. Usually, I agreed with the famous columnist. When I disagreed, I would consider writing a rebuttal, but then forget when her next column presented a new challenge.

Ann Landers courtesy of Wikipedia

“At the time of Mrs. Lederer’s death, her column was carried in more than 1,200 newspapers around the world, with a readership of 90 million, according to Creators Syndicate, her distributor,” Fox’s article reported. The copyright to the Ann Landers name belonged to Lederer who said, “When I go, the column goes with me.” Since her death, there have been other advice columnists of lesser notoriety, and amateurs like me who continue to critique whoever is writing the advice column. For instance, Annie’s Mailbox written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar filled the gap until June 2016.

Then Annie Lane followed, and she seems like a good fit. Maybe it’s because the young wife and mom’s name is Annie. Or maybe, it’s because her photo looks like the girl-next-door. More likely, it’s due to her compassionate beyond-her-years advice. There are occasional days when I disagree. For example, in an August 2017 Dear Annie column, “Feeling sad about growing older,” I think Annie Lane tried her best to offer a couple helpful suggestions. Yet it seems rather impossible to empathize with someone whose sand in the hourglass is running out, when your sand is in good supply. Even the most insightful individuals probably can’t truly understand what it’s like to be experiencing so many lasts in life, when their world is all about firsts. Besides, when you are 31 or 41, you don’t really believe you will ever be 81, the age of the letter writer.

“How do I make myself accept the fact that I am old?” she asked. The poor woman didn’t want to be old and to have her body betray her, as only an aging body can do. She felt trapped by all the things she and her husband could no longer do, abandoned by others, and desperately wanted to be part of life, even though her physical being and stamina were diminished.

Annie advised Louise* to, “Let your children or younger family members know that you’re struggling and what you need from them – support, acknowledgment, more quality time together or anything else.” I hope this works, but what if Louise’s children interpret this plea as complaining or whining? This could annoy these young relatives and cause them to stay away even more? My heart broke for this lonely lady who seemed genuinely distraught. Being a lot older than Annie Lane, and with my cup definitely being less than half-full, I readily identified with a few of the writer’s aging issues. On the other hand, not being 81, I didn’t have any profound wisdom. Sadly, no one has discovered the fountain of youth, and growing older is a huge challenge for most people.

Annie also suggested to, “Commiserate with friends your age…” Maybe that will be of comfort. All I know is on that particular day, I was grateful not to be the newspaper’s advice columnist. Dishing out advice comes with the weighty responsibility that if your guidance is wrong, you could negatively impact someone’s life. So for now, I will leave it to the experts like Annie Lane. She seems to be doing an overall great job of filling the really big shoes left behind by iconic predecessor, Ann Landers.

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries, Enjoying Everyday Life and is also a two-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor. 

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My How Times Have Changed

Anyone out there remember wrapping garbage in newspapers and stuffing it in a brown paper grocery sack?  Then you would fill an old 55 gallon drum with the refuse and try to burn this disgusting stuff. Usually liquid seeping from watermelon rinds or some other problematic fluid would cause the paper sack to bust while you were carrying it to the metal drum. There were no trash bags back then, and by the way, this was before disposable diapers, too. I thought about these minor inventions, but they don’t seem very minor when you are a young mother carrying around a bag filled with dirty cloth diapers. That was a long, long time ago, and probably only the most eco-friendly of folks would really want those nasty cloth diapers back.

Not long ago, a local businessman remembered that growing up his family had a phone that they shared with others. It was called a party line, and we had one, too. There was nothing festive or celebratory about wanting to make a call and having to wait until the other individuals who shared it were done speaking. Young cellphone users have no idea what it was like trying to place a long-distance call or having to be worried about how many minutes you were racking up, either.

About a decade ago, I first realized how dramatically the world had changed. No, it wasn’t because of the computer, microwave, GPS system, or even Facebook. It was even before the iPhone or Uber drivers were commonplace.

It happened when a friend told me about an incident with her young daughter who panicked when she accidentally forgot to bring her Bath & Body body wash along for a vacation. The tween frantically asked her mom what she should do, because they were already at the hotel when she noticed her oversight.

“Use the hotel soap,” her mother suggested. This bewildered pre-teen couldn’t fathom using bar soap, because all she had ever known was scented body wash.

About that same time, I asked a bright teenage girl what the ultimate goal of her career would be. Without hesitation, she answered, “I would like to be the president of the United States someday.” In my youth, only boys had this dream. Then in our country’s last election, there was a female candidate running for office. It’s not unrealistic to believe that one day in the not too distant future our country could have a lady president.

Maybe because I was having another birthday, I couldn’t stop contemplating all of the vast changes that had occurred in my lifetime. I wondered how other people felt about this subject. So, I conducted some scientific research by asking my Facebook friends, “What has changed drastically in your lifetime?”

Of course, there were quite a few comments about “communication.” About how the Internet, social media, and today’s phones have created this. There were also several remarks about TV. A Longtime friend, Perry Luhn wrote, “I never saw my first color television until I was 10. We watched The Wonderful World of Disney at a friend’s house, I was in awe. We never got a color set until I was a junior or senior…Now I think the shows in B&W are cool.”

This specific insight sparked my own memory about having only couple of channels to choose from in the old days. TV was something you didn’t take for granted though. What I remember most vividly is how we used to fix our television. When it would get snowy one of us kids would reposition the rabbit ears or give the set a good whack on the side. Our parents had taught us this art of TV repair, which amazingly often worked.

When it comes to communication, not everyone thought the changes were for the better. There were words like “respect, manners, and civility” that some of my Facebook friends find lacking in our society today. Of course, there are times I have to agree.

But just when you are ready to proclaim the world unsalvageable; you encounter folks like Claire and her family. She’s a neighboring teen who I met last night while walking. When I commented to her mother on the lovely flowers in their yard, Claire made me a beautiful bouquet to take home. The colorful blossoms are a little reminder that kindness does remain in the midst of our impersonal, rushed, and ever-changing existence.

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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Losing a loved one to suicide or sudden death

This is a guest post by Emily Boller who lost her 21-year-old son to suicide. She shares this advice for those who want to help when a family experiences the devastation of suicide. Although one reader suggests that it applies to helping loved ones going through any kind of “tragic death.”  

When Someone Dies by Suicide,  What Does One Immediately Do or Say?

First of all, the family is in intense shock. They may not totally understand or grasp the news of what just happened. Initially, in those first few hours, they are in this perpetual state of shock–just surviving–and scrambling to get the news delivered to other family members.Their brains are on overload.

At this point they can’t process a lot of phone calls or texts, except a few from very close friends and family members. If you know details about the death, don’t post anything on Facebook or send emails out to contact lists until the family is talking openly and publicly about it. Give the family time and space to process what just happened.Sit tight for a day or two. Do nothing but pray at this point. Close friends and clergy should come by the house during this time, of course, because their comforting presence is invaluable. (A nearby neighbor brought over warm soup and fresh fruit that first day. Another close friend brought a large salad–and another gave us a wad of cash.)

After a day or two, food in disposable containers, and practical items such as paper plates, toilet paper, tissues, and bottles of water are welcome and appreciated. The family is consumed with funeral and burial decisions, and the last thing on their mind is life’s basic necessities. If you are bringing food, consider foods that promote healing instead of foods that induce additional stress to their already fragile state of being. Examples would be vegetable or fruit platters, bean dips, and hearty vegetable and bean soups.

Monetary gifts, gift cards, and cards of sympathy are also greatly appreciated. (They are also suddenly inundated with an avalanche of unplanned expenses; everything from funeral and burial expenses to crisis-intervention counseling. And especially, if a child was involved, I can’t think of any parents who financially budget for the death of a child!)

Practical helps such as mowing the lawn or taking out the trash are also appreciated. The family is mentally and emotionally overwhelmed and distraught. They may not have the mental capacity to even know what needs to be done. Don’t be afraid to take initiative and just do practical tasks for them–whether they are a close friend or not.

Try not to say, “Call me if you need anything.” Although the kind intention is much appreciated, they don’t have the mental fortitude yet to take the initiative to reach out.

In that first week/month, the family’s routine is completely out-of-sync. Sleep habits are severely disrupted. Everything is upside down in their world. They may not even be able to comprehend or remember anything that is spoken to them. Wounds are profound. Emotions are raw.

Eventually, after the funeral is over and life is a bit quieter for them, visit in-person–but call first. If they don’t answer the phone, take no offense. They may just need space at that moment . . . or they may be embarrassed how messy their house has become in the aftermath of the tragedy. They may want company on-down-the-road. Try again a week or two later. Extend a listening ear without asking a lot of questions. Silence is okay. Just sit with them in their grief. Your presence is invaluable.

And whatever you do, please don’t tell them your grief story. They may act interested, but on the inside they may be falling apart and can’t handle it.

Younger children appreciate getting breaks away from the chaos and sorrow at home. Offer to involve them in your family’s happenings for a welcome distraction–but not for long periods of time–home is still a place of comfort for them. Teens oftentimes are uncomfortable with receiving hugs from adults they don’t know; be sensitive.

Most of all, know that they may suffer for weeks, months, and for many, possibly years to come. Suicide is very complicated to process. It’s not normal grief. Don’t expect a normal grieving pattern.

Most of all, never stop reaching out to the family, even if it feels awkward — and never stop praying for them — even months after the funeral. (The funeral was just the beginning of the long, healing journey ahead.)

Dayspring Greeting Cards

And if you don’t know what to do or say, send a thoughtful card or brief note that expresses you are thinking of and praying for them.

Always remember, love never fails.

Love is what heals a broken heart.

If you have experienced a sudden death, please feel free to share in the comments what helped you the most through those first days and weeks. It is beneficial information for those who don’t know what to do or say–but want to be supportive. (You can do this by going to Emily Boller’s blog here http://emilyboller.com/?p=1840

If a child has died, “The Compassionate Friends” is a wonderful support group for grieving parents. Almost every city in the US has a local chapter.

Emily Boller is a well-known Indiana artist and public speaker whose life was transformed when she lost more than 100 pounds. Please visit her blog at http://emilyboller.com/ to learn more about this inspiring woman. Emily requests that readers feel free to share this post on Facebook or with anyone who might benefit from the message. 

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On another note, if you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, please remember the devastation for those who love you is incomprehensible, instead please speak your a clergy or counselor or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at at 1-800-273-TALK or visit their website at www.suicidepreventiolifeline.org

 

Thank you, Emily, for your bravery and compassion in being willing to share the wisdom you learned from your own heartbreak to comfort others. It is powerful advice! Emily and I recently reconnected at the 2017 Taylor University’s Professional Writing Conference.  

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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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A final good-bye and last words

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

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

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

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Black History: The power of love

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

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

Rosa Parks is booked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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A Tea Room Proposal and Forever Promise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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