Pain: My One Word for 2015

Pain [noun]: “the physical feeling caused by disease, injury, or something that hurts the body or : mental or emotional suffering : sadness caused by some emotional or mental problem”  Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Winter SceneP-A-I-N!  I definitely did not want this bleak word to start the new year. Here in Ohio, January is bitter cold and the days are gray enough. I tried desperately to push the word out of my mind, assured that I was not hearing our heavenly Father’s still small voice clearly.

My search for my one word for 2015 began in December 2014. I prayed that God would reveal what I needed to contemplate in order to grow spiritually and become more like Him. At first, it was difficult to accept that a good God would want me to concentrate on the word, “Pain.” I wanted nothing to do with dissecting its definition for twelve months. I had to wonder if this was a misguided, self-inflicted masochistic leading like cutting my arm as a teen had been. Or if the all-wise Holy Spirit could possibly desire for me to further investigate this topic.

Seeds of Hope coverYou see, I know a lot about the pain of mental torment. When I committed my life to Christ in my early 30s, I was a patient on a psychiatric ward battling depression and addiction. I was desperate for anything that would relieve the anguish. Then in my more than two decades of recovery, I have tried to empower others in their journey of finding wholeness from past brokenness, addiction, or abuse. In my book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors, I share some of the painful circumstances which I have overcome through God’s grace to enjoy the fulfilling existence that I have today. Speaking and writing about the pathway of spiritual & emotional healing, I have found the true meaning of being a “New Creation” in Christ. By profession, I am a journalist, a lover of words, but this particular word has always had a terrible emotional connotation. Pain is a four-letter word that conjures up agony and suffering, and is something I’ve spent my life running from, or trying to overcome.

That’s why, I prayed earnestly for confirmation concerning this 2015 word of the year suspecting the enemy of my soul was sending “Pain” to haunt me one more time. I tried to convince myself that our benevolent Father wanted me to have a positive expression like “Believe.” After all, my 2014 word was “Hope.” This past year, I have enjoyed researching Scriptures and even purchasing keepsakes that point to the hope we have in our Savior.

To prove that I was hearing wrong, I turned to my favorite resource regarding the word of the year, “One Perfect Word,” by Debbie Macomber. I was certain the New York Times best selling author would advise folks to never select a negative word. To my surprise, when I randomly opened her book and began reading, my eyes landed on the heading, “Choosing Your Word.” The famous author writes:

“Sometimes a word will not let you alone –  like my word brokenness. Who would want to spend a whole year exploring something as depressing as that? I’m an optimist by nature, but I’ve discovered over the years that some of the most profound lessons of life have grown out of pain [there it was again] and struggle….. If the Lord seems to be whispering the word that you’d much rather not even think about I encourage you to embrace it. Prepare for a year of discovery and growth. God will bless your willingness to trust Him for your word.”(Page 72, One Perfect Word by Debbie Macomber)

Even after this serendipitous event of divine intervention, I still wanted to push “pain” away. To explain, I have spent almost a year and a half battling debilitating physical pain caused by injury and arthritis. Pain that exhausted me, that took every bit of creative energy away, and that made me feel like an old woman before my time. I had always promised myself that I would never turn into one of those boring individuals who talk only of their physical ailments. Then suddenly, I found myself offering daily reports about the unrelenting pain in my feet, hands, and knees, while discussing doctor visits and surgery. Formerly an athletic individual, I was relegated to life on crutches and the couch. I was the one used to ministering to others, and now I was humbled to require assistance for daily tasks.

I prayed and cried and begged the God who I had always known as Healer to restore me to the vibrant woman I had once been. All to no avail, as the physical pain continued, and fear of more pain increased my anxiety. The resulting emotional turmoil grew so intense that deep depression became a battle like it had been in my youth. I had never experienced anything like this. My heart was broken by my diminished existence, and also for all the other folks living daily with chronic pain. The kind of unceasing torment, that can ultimately cause you to question God’s love for you. Pentecostal by background, I did not theologically know how to explain pain. Didn’t I have enough faith? Was there sin somewhere in my heart? I knew all these faulty questions were not the problem, thankfully my non-charismatic brothers and sisters would never even ask them, yet I had watched others who were struggling being judged over my years in ministry. Even when I was well, I never wanted to judge someone suffering, knowing there is so much we will never understand with our finite mind.

As I wrestled with physical pain, my personality changed too. Like a butterfly who is forming in a cocoon gradually I began to transform into a more gentle human being. Something, my passionate nature and high energy have always prevented. Of course, I did not know this. The pain made me think that I was simply weak and had failed, since I was unable to recognize the person I had become. It was my precious husband who at first was sorely confused by this metamorphosis, but eventually delighted that I was no longer the driven individual he had married.

Finally and miraculously, I am beginning to feel better physically – more like myself, something I will admit I had almost given up hope of happening. There are a couple permanent limitations like everyone grappling with getting older, but amazingly some good days. Sadly though, so many wonderful people around me continue to suffer. With my health being renewed, the last thing I want to do is to think about pain, but there is no escaping it. “Pain” is my one word for 2015 – the word God wants me to “embrace” as Debbie Macomber suggests, because He obviously has more for me to understand about it.Christina Ryan Claypool - Angel Column photo 2

Perhaps, as I reflect upon its meaning, I will learn not to fear it, trusting that God` has always been with me in the midst of it. Then in some small way, maybe I will be better able to assist others struggling with spiritual, emotional, or chronic physical pain for which there seems to be no remedy. In the end, our Heavenly Father will eradicate all of our pain. Revelation 21:4 NIV says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Until that day, it’s up to us to be wounded healers to those we encounter who are desperate for our Savior’s mercy. So, “Pain,” here I come. In 2015, for the first time in my life, I’m facing you head on.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist, Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, and inspirational speaker. She has a Masters in Ministry from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com

 

 

About Alzheimer’s: The Long Good-Bye

Shopping Good Friday“Could you please help me find some sheets?” I was surprised when an elderly man asked me for assistance while I was shopping. Instantly, I realized that the eighty-something senior had mistaken me for a store clerk. It was an autumn Sunday afternoon in an Ohio mall, and the slight-built male was dressed like a farmer in his best church clothes. He was neat, in a non-fussy sort of way, but he seemed so alone. I wondered where his spouse was, because you could tell he was the kind of man who had had a wife for so long that he wasn’t functioning well without her.

“Is your wife gone?” I asked guessing he was a recent widower used to his mate buying the household goods. There was a gold wedding band on his small wrinkled hand. It hung on his finger like he had once been larger than he was now.

“No, she’s still alive,” he answered. “She’s in the nursing home, and I go to see her every day.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, that must be difficult,” I said saddened for his situation. “Is she ill? How long have you been married?” I wasn’t trying to pry with my questions. Rather I learned a long time ago, that sometimes the best gift you can give an elderly human being is to simply listen.

Bride and Groom Cake TopperHis eyes brightened as he told me that they had been together for more than six decades. Then he shared the dreaded diagnosis, “Alzheimer’s. My wife has Alzheimer’s.” In that moment I understood his circumstances.

“More than five million Americans are living with the disease” according to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association Website, www.alz.org. In addition, “In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care…. “ The progression of this cruel malady is sometimes titled, “The long good-bye.” The physical body of those afflicted might remain intact, but right before your eyes, they die gradually to the person they once were, and a part of you often dies with them.

Understanding Alzheimer’s, enabled me to support my husband in healing from the loss of his late father. Traumatically, the doting dad he adored didn’t even know who my spouse was by the end. I had also experienced the trauma of having someone I loved not recognize me. My great-grandmother had some type of undiagnosed dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, but in the 1970s many folks used the general term, “senility.”

Back then, my formerly wonderful grandma falsely accused my poor mother of starving her. Once, shortly after eating a big dinner followed by a couple pieces of pie while visiting us, I overheard her loudly complain to relatives about not being fed. She was petite in an emaciated sort of way, causing her accusations to seem believable. After my mother’s grandmother went to a nursing home, the last time I visited her, not only did she not know me, but she accused me of stealing money from her bedside bureau. I felt shame and hurt, because as a teenager I didn’t understand how common a false allegation from someone struggling with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia could be.

All of these thoughts came rushing back during my conversation with the elderly stranger who wanted new sheets. I was encouraging him to avoid polyester and look for 100% cotton. I was wondering too, what it was like for him at the nursing home. “Does she know you?” I asked hoping that he was one of the fortunate ones. That despite the ravages of this hideous illness, his wife would still know who he was. Maybe not say his name, but at least that her eyes would light up when he entered the room.

A terrible sadness passed over his countenance as he replied, “Today was the first time that I don’t think she did.”28334354-elderly-eighty-plus-year-old-woman-in-a-wheel-chair-in-a-home-setting-with-her-husband

I was so thankful that I had slowed myself down that afternoon and taken time to listen to his heartbreaking story. I was hopeful that somehow just sharing had lessened his burden of this new loss, because Alzheimer’s is all about stages of grief. Besides, once we have experienced Alzheimer’s firsthand, it can become a calling to lighten the load of another who is walking the treacherous path of the long good-bye, because no one should have to walk that difficult journey alone.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. For more information the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline is 1-800-272-3900.

“If you’re not dead, then you’re not done!”

“Am I done?” I kept hearing this internal question over and over last year as I faced a health and aging crisis at the same time. It was the perfect storm for taunting from the dark side about my professional and personal productivity being finished.

I am ashamed to say that I feel into a deep depression and spent weeks sobbing while lying on my living room couch recovering from painful surgery. Then the weeks turned to months trying to get around on crutches. I didn’t have a clue at how to accept the losses accompanied with growing older, especially while dealing with physical limitations. I had worked in ministry for decades, and now I couldn’t muster enough faith to get off my sofa.

You Can Begin Again About that time, I saw the vivid yellow cover of the Joyce Meyer book, You Can Begin Again, on the shelf in my local library among all the other recent releases. It seemed to call to me, “This will help you…there will be answers in here for you.”

After all, when family and friends are experiencing a life crisis, I usually find the perfect Joyce Meyer product to assist them in handling their dilemma. For example, in the past year, I gave a resident of a women’s domestic violence shelter Joyce’s book, The Confident Woman. When a close friend had a debilitating stoke, I took a copy of  Living Beyond Your Feelings to her in the hospital. Recently, I also sent a female family member who always tries to please everyone and usually comes up short, Joyce’s book, Approval Addiction.

Once, when someone stole the classic Beauty for Ashes book from the library, I donated a copy, because it is a grace-filled message of restoration for individuals who were sexually abused as children. I have used information from it when teaching Bible studies and speaking at Celebrating Recovery meetings, and find it a pioneering work for survivors like myself. As for Joyce Meyer CD series, I always try to pass on whatever message fits the situation. I don’t loan products, I usually give them away, asking others to “pass them on” to someone else in need of hope. Joyce Meyer Books

Still feeling beyond hope personally this spring, I didn’t pick up the copy of You Can Begin Again wanting to leave it there for someone who might actually have a chance at starting over. But the thought of that hopeful yellow cover wouldn’t let me go. A week later, I went back to the library telling God that if You Can Begin Again was still there, I would read it. New releases are never there a week later, and as I had expected the book was checked out. That’s when the young librarian enthusiastically said, “Wait a minute. I think there’s an extra copy on the book mobile. I’ll go and check.” Before I could stop her, she jumped to her feet and was out the door returning minutes later triumphantly holding the yellow book high in the air.

Now, I must admit, for the first time in a long time, I felt faith stirring deep inside me as I reached for that copy and clutched it to me like a lifeline. After all, over the past two decades, God has used Joyce Meyer’s teachings to rescue me from giving up before.  I didn’t have to read very far in You Can Begin Again to realize that the Holy Spirit had done it again. On page 10, these words jumped off the page and gripped my heart:  “It’s no accident you picked up this book; I believe God is whispering to you right now. He wants you to know your life isn’t over. He has a plan and a purpose for you, and He wants you to discover a life greater than anything you could have imagined. I recently heard someone say, “If you’re not dead, then you’re not done!” Why not claim today as a day of new beginnings!”

Believe me after that direct message, I devoured the book and found the encouragement that enabled me to embrace a fresh start. There are so many inspirational stories of new beginnings included. As I read them, along with Joyce’s spiritual wisdom, my tattered faith was renewed. As I neared the final pages, I didn’t want the book to end, and I prayed that there would be some final advice that I could hold onto.That’s when I got to the very last paragraph of the Afterword which reads:       “God put this book in your hands because He loves you greatly, and since you are part of His story, it is important for you to remember when one of those hard days comes along and you feel like you may not make it, it is only one page in the story of your life; it is not the whole story, so turn the page and keep writing.”

Hand on ComputerWell, I guess you can’t get any spiritual advice much clearer than that, because I am a journalist by profession. So I decided I better “keep writing.” I completed my first fictional novella, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife, to be released later this year. It’s a book I started 10 years ago, and never had time to finish until now.

Whether you’re 19 or 90, if you are sunk in your own pit of despair thinking you’re “done”, I’m praying that you will find the courage to face tomorrow searching for new possibilities and embrace a fresh start of your own.

Unemployment and the over 50 worker

 

Younger workers can be more desirable for full-time positions than those over 50.

Younger workers can be more desirable for full-time positions than those over 50.

Recent unemployment statistics look like things are getting better. Yet they don’t adequately count those seeking jobs who have fallen off the rolls or just given up. Nor do they reflect the underemployed who deserve better.

For me, this unemployment lesson began innocently one night in a busy Ohio coffee shop. The brightly lit coffeehouse seemed particularly inviting with the smell of freshly brewed beans filling the air.

The 20-something employee was a professional young lady destined for greater things. While she was preparing my skinny caramel latte, I absentmindedly asked, “Are you in school?”

Unfortunately, I had hit an obvious nerve. The brunette barista began pouring out her tragic tale of finishing college, landing her dream job then just as quickly being downsized. In the midst of this tirade, she mentioned something about owing a fortune in school loans.

With mounting agitation, the café server finally revealed the real culprit responsible. It turned out to be me because she blamed all the folks over 50 who refuse to retire as the reason young people can’t find a decent job. Instantly, my delicious java tasted as bitter as her unlined face looked.

Since I’m a journalist, I thought that explaining my side of the story might enable her to better understand life through bifocals.

For example, bitter barista probably doesn’t realize that our erratic retirement accounts aren’t what they once were. A volatile stock market, lack of savings, reduced home equity and longer life spans force folks into staying on the job. This probably won’t improve for future generations, since according to the U.S. Social Security Administration’s website, ssa.gov, 50 percent of the current 158 million American workers have no private pension plan, and 31 percent have no savings earmarked for retirement.

Besides economic need, there’s the ingrained work ethic that many boomers share. Admittedly, countless wage earners look forward to retirement to enjoy spending time with grandchildren and playing golf. But for others, our life purpose centers on the societal contribution that we make through our profession.

How about a word picture representing the heart cry of the over-50 displaced worker? Remember being a child sprawled out on your living room floor with a coloring book and crayons. While you were carefully coloring, staying in the lines, meticulously choosing each color, suddenly you heard your mother’s voice informing you that it was bedtime. If you were like me, you frantically wailed, “But I’m not done yet.”

But some baby boomers are done, even though they don’t want to be. According to recent AARP statistics, individuals over 55 have unemployment levels that have more than doubled since 2007.

In addition, a Reuters’ Money article by Mark Miller headlined “Older unemployed workers half as likely to get hired” outlines the challenge for aging Americans. Miller cites research from the Urban Institute displaying that seasoned employees are less likely to lose their jobs due to seniority. But if they do with the exception of successful C-level executives, it’s probably going to be an uphill battle for them to find new full-time employment.

This subtle, unspoken discrimination against mature workers was birthed in the dark days of recession. Employers can’t afford to hand over a coveted vacancy to an aging candidate who they fear might not be tech savvy or could increase their health insurance premiums and claims.

In fairness to skinny latte lady, her own path was never supposed to include being a barista with a college degree or moving back in with her parents to save money. Even though it might seem like a young-eat-old-worker world out there, coffee girl is desperately looking for a real job to call her own.

Older unemployed individuals aren’t giving up either. Experience can still open a door for part-time or consulting opportunities. You may be making less per hour than you could get for babysitting the neighbor’s kids. Nevertheless, you take it, proud to be part of the workforce again.

Others are opening small businesses to put themselves back to work. Information reported by Dane Stangler for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation shows boomers aged 55 to 64 account for the “highest rate of entrepreneurial activity” this past decade.

Bottom line, if you can’t find a job, you can create one. As a past small business owner, I know that being an entrepreneur is risky, especially in this economy. But if you are like me, I’ll bet you always told your mother, “Please, give me a little more time. I’m not done yet.”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 


A Lesson from Morrie: Always live like you’re dying

                                                                                                   Hand on Computer

Last fall, I met my writing idol, Mitch Albom. The famous journalist was the keynote speaker for a Cancer Awareness Symposium held near Dayton, Ohio. Like hundreds of other mostly Ohio fans, Albom signed my copy of his book, The Time Keeper. Then he let my husband snap our photo together, which I promptly posted to Facebook.

It’s increasingly difficult not to see the literary genius of this Detroit Free Press columnist. Albom’s book writing genre was originally sports-related, although several have dealt with spiritual issues. They include “Have a Little Faith” published in 2009, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” (September 2003) and 1997s “Tuesdays with Morrie.”  All of which were made into movies.

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

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

“Tuesdays with Morrie” continues to sustain popularity probably because it addresses one of the most challenging issues that individuals must face; human mortality. It wasn’t predicted to be a bestseller, but years and millions of copies later and counting, readers have voiced their opinion.

In the book, Mitch Albom and Morrie Schwartz explore the reality of death and the lessons learned in life. For fourteen consecutive Tuesdays, Mitch interviewed an elderly Schwartz; his former college professor who was dying from (ALS) Lou Gehrig’s disease. Albom quotes Morrie as saying people don’t talk about death, because “no one really believes they are going to die.” Tuesdays with MorrieAdmittedly, death can come as a shock when it occurs in our inner circle, because it isn’t supposed to happen to us or to the people we love. Or when we hear of another family’s tragic loss we sometimes feel guilty, because we are grateful that it happened to someone else. So, we hug our spouses and kids a little tighter, hoping to stave off this inevitable grim reaper

 It was almost a decade ago, when the question of death began to preoccupy my own thoughts. At the time, I was waiting for the results of a biopsy for a relative who I love more than my life. During those long days of waiting, I tried desperately to busy myself with distracting activities, so I opted for a little “Retail Therapy.” While spending time shopping, I first heard the now classic country tune, “Live Like You Were Dying” being sung by Tim McGraw.

Don’t stone me, but I’m not a big country fan. Yet the lyrics stopped me in my tracks. The song is about a man in his early forties whose medical tests reveal that his time on this Earth will be short. When asked what he did when he got the news, the verse says, “I went sky diving, I went Rocky mountain climbing…And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying…And I finally read the Good Book and I took a good long hard look at what I’d do if I could do it all again…”

While listening to these poignant words, I stood motionless in the store aisle clutching a pair of kitchen curtains, fighting back tears. My faith crumbled.  I was fearful that the song was some kind of prophetic preparation for the bad news that was soon to be relayed concerning my loved one’s biopsy. Thank God, I was wrong. The physician’s verdict was “no cancer.”  I was so relieved that I can’t remember what the doctor said after that. But since then sometimes these challenging lyrics come back to me.

Like recently, when just days before the pool closed for the season, I heard Live Like You Were Dying over the loud speaker there. It’s been almost a decade since I had first heard this tune, and I now view life a lot like Morrie Schwartz. Because I think it was Morrie’s wisdom that taught me to try embrace whatever life stage you’re in as I traveled through his last days with him thanks to Albom’s writing.

You see, on the very day I met Mitch Albom, I had buried a precious 41-year-old friend after her valiant three year battle against breast cancer. Making me all too aware how fragile and brief this life can be. Albom’s Morrie didn’t become an iconic example of how one should die, but rather how one should live especially in a society that seems terrified of both growing old and death. In parting, a bit of Morrie’s sage advice, “Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die. It’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

 Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. This column originally appeared in The Lima News, & Troy Daily News, among others. Contact her through her Website: www.christinaryanclaypool.com