When Thanksgiving isn’t Happy

photo (9)A not-so-happy, “Happy Thanksgiving,” to you. I don’t want to bring you down, but not everyone is happy this Thanksgiving. Some folks are in tremendous pain having lost a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or the very worst, a child this past year. There will be an empty place and a voice missing as they sit down to their Thanksgiving celebration. Inside of them, there won’t be any celebration at all. I have to ask you to be gentle with these grieving ones, if their tears fall, or if they don’t show up at all, overwhelmed by all that will never be again.

Others are experiencing the heartbreak of divorce, maybe a broken relationship with a prodigal child, or the betrayal of their own body brought on by illness or aging. This always seems worse as the holidays approach. There are also those who have no family to fit into. Single moms and dads who pack up their little ones and send them off to a family they are no longer part of, while spending the day alone. They act brave in front of their children, waving good-bye from the front door, but when they close it, they often feel the sting of rejection.

Some people have grown so used to spending Thanksgiving by themselves, that it becomes easier to decline the offer from a well-meaning co-worker or church friend, than to be a part of someone else’s gathering reminding them that they have no real relatives of their own. Long ago, their family might have been broken by circumstances too painful to remember.

All of these folks, even the grieving ones, are brave and forge ahead most days, trusting that God has a plan and that He does all things well. But on holidays, they feel small, weak, and orphaned, wondering what on Earth they have done to end up so isolated when everyone else seems to be a part of so much more. The Gospel tells them to go help someone in need, but they can’t even help themselves, so that becomes one more burden of guilt. Yet, their heartbreak does not go unnoticed by a God who has big shoulders, and can take it, when His children get angry that life seems so unfair. The Creator steadfastly loves them, when they are at the top of their game, but He holds them closest when they are at the bottom. Psalm 147:3Psalm 147-3

For whatever reason, if this Thanksgiving is not a “happy” one, we must be careful not to get swallowed up in self-pity, because that can open a door to long-term depression. Instead, it’s important to realize that probably half the world feels lonelier at holiday celebrations than any other time of the year. Besides, it is so easy to concentrate on all that is gone, but what remains? What is there to be thankful for? Even if the word, “thankful” might be a difficult pill to swallow right now, what is it that you can hang onto? Hang onto that, with all you are worth. You are not alone. You are loved more than you can imagine by a God who sees every tear, and even when you don’t believe He hears your prayers, He is still listening. Ask Him to help you get through this day. If you are like me, remember, “It’s [always] one day at a time!”

The Legacy of the Runner-Up

 

HeadlinesDespite isolated protests, by now most people are probably glad that the election is over. We can once again go about the routine business of our everyday lives. If your candidate or issue didn’t win, it might be difficult to trust that all will be well with the world. Besides, in our competitive society, there is an entrenched stigma involved with losing anything. But in Norton, Kansas, a small city with a population of just under 3,000 people, a museum honors presidential candidates who have lost. The portraits of those who have been unsuccessful in their bid for the presidency are displayed inside the First State Bank on the mezzanine overlooking the lobby.They Also Ran Gallery will soon include a picture of Hillary Clinton in their collection after obtaining permission and finding just the right photo according to museum curator Lee Ann Shearer. About 250 people visit this unusual museum each year, especially those “who love political history,” said Shearer who is also an employee of First State Bank.

In 1965, former Norton bank president William Walter Rouse conceived the idea for the gallery after reading, They Also Ran, a 1943 book by historian Irving Stone. To learn more about the museum’s Hillary Clinton inaugural event visit their Facebook page or their website at www.theyalsoran.com. they-also-ran-gallery-3Like Clinton, countless individuals have experienced the anticlimactic letdown of being a runner-up? Whether it was in a political contest, a professional endeavor, a sporting event, a romantic relationship, or a beauty pageant, only one person walks away with the crown. The loser on the other hand often drops below the radar, and is sometimes never heard from again. Or else, an individual can handle a loss optimistically, and begin planning a new strategy.

For example, many people know that Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin and received limited education as a child. He repeatedly experienced challenging circumstances. According to www.u-s-history.com, as a young man, Lincoln had a hefty monetary failure in the grocery business, but later went on to study law. In 1843, www.historyplace.com states that Lincoln was “unsuccessful in a try for the Whig nomination for the U.S. Congress,” but in 1946 he was elected to the House of Representatives. This Website also records that twice he was not chosen to be a U.S. Senator. Yet in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was finally elected as this country’s 16th president, and was responsible for the history-altering Emancipation Proclamation during his presidency. Most people would have given up, but Lincoln’s key to success was simply that he refused to quit. For me, he has long been a role model of persevering in the face of defeat, because it’s then we have to find a new plan.

Purpose Driven Life coverIn the classic bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold over 40 million copies, Pastor Rick Warren emphasizes the fact that there is a divine purpose and plan for every person. When we lose, we especially need to believe that something better is around the bend, because coming in second place can be deeply disheartening. I know because I’ve been a runner-up myself a few times. For instance, the day before Thanksgiving over 15 years ago, I received a phone call informing me that I was a runner-up out of the final three candidates for a job that I desperately needed at the time.

The representative phoned to tell me that he had been in favor of my hire, but unfortunately his vote was not the majority. I began to feel sorry for him, as he stammered and stuttered, while expressing his disappointment in the decision. Of course, I was disappointed, too, but I told this gentleman about my profound belief that some things are meant to be, while others are not. Later, I found a position that was a much better fit, but the key was not giving up.

Like Abraham Lincoln, who in his first inaugural address on the brink of the American Civil War, desperately tried to create unity within our country. “We are not enemies, but friends,” he said. “Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Let us remember the wisdom of this historic politician as our nation strives to find unity. During this Thanksgiving season, may we also be grateful, despite the fact that we don’t always take first place in the game of life.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Work martyr: The new workaholic

Hand on KeyboardOur country’s workplace has changed a lot. The day of getting a job right out of school and staying there for four decades is long gone. www.balance.com reports that the 21st century worker will have to switch jobs at least a dozen times during their career. All this change has resulted in some individuals becoming increasingly fearful of what tomorrow will bring. Fear is a formidable foe that can cause us get out of balance in our daily lives.

Long ago, the fear of failure or possible lack was the catalyst for my becoming trapped in the proverbial “rat on the treadmill” syndrome, better known as workaholism. Psychotherapist, Bryan E. Robinson, defines workaholism as “an obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests itself through self-imposed demands, an inability to regulate work habits, and an overindulgence in work to the exclusion of most other life activities.”

Our culture gives pats on the back to those willing to devote their entire existence to their career. Whether you are employed as a six figure executive or struggling single mom like I was, people-pleasers share the commonality of saying, “yes” when we really want to say “no.” Your health can suffer, along with your family and personal relationships. It can be an especially difficult balancing act for working moms, unlike the storybook family photos on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram. According to the Barna Group’s FRAMES project, 76% of women in our nation reported to overall satisfaction in their lives, but this data is a lot like posed social media pictures.

When Barna researchers unpacked the 2013 survey, the reality is that 62% of moms with children in their household are “dissatisfied with their balance between work and home life…Eight in 10 moms (80%) feel overwhelmed by stress…and seven out of 10 (70%) say they do not get enough rest…”

The Best YesNational best-selling author and speaker, Lysa TerKeurst believes that we should learn to say, “No.” In her 2014 book, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands, she writes, “I misuse the two most powerful words, yes and no. I slap purpose across the face and stomp calling into the ground as I blindly live at the mercy of the requests of others that come my way each day.” I read TerKeurst’s book last year. I wish I could have read it fifteen years sooner, before I fell flat on my face from physical exhaustion and burn out, and couldn’t work for months.

Approximately 10 percent of American adults can be classified as workaholics according to Steven Sussman who is a professor of preventive medicine and psychology at the University of Southern California. Unfortunately, there’s a modern version of workaholism, that of being an “office martyr” which significantly affects millennials. That’s right, millennials, the group of individuals born in 1981 or later who are often accused of wanting to have a workplace voice without paying their dues. Looks like society might have pegged some of these young workers incorrectly.

vacation-photoAccording to Project: Time Off, http://www.projecttimeoff.com/about-us, “Millennial workers are the most likely generation to forfeit time off, even though they earn the least amount of vacation days. Millennials stay at work because they feel more fear and greater guilt about taking time away from the office than any other generation.” Society is concerned about this newest endangered demographic, but not for the right reasons. Instead of being worried about their prematurely high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, or work-related weight gain, the travel industry is concerned that as millennials forfeit vacation days the result is billions of dollars of lost revenue according to a June 2016 Washington Post article by Robert Samuelson.

Still, a vacation can be a good thing. A post on www.bustle.com by Carolyn Steber points to the benefits of time off including: reduced anxiety, increased productivity, better work/life balance, rekindling relationships, and resetting your focus. Some advice gleaned from my own workaholic journey is that if you’re used to always saying “yes,” you might have to say “no,” to everything that’s not a mandatory work assignment, until you reestablish your priorities. If you’re a people-pleaser like me, pause to consider the consequences before committing to a task whenever professionally possible. Also, it’s extremely valuable to be accountable to someone who cares about you. In the end, time is a precious gift, let’s use it wisely.

Claypools - CopyChristina Ryan Claypool is an author and an inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

The Golden Rule of Good Manners

imageDid you hear the joke about the little boy who came home from a birthday party, and his mother asked him,

“Did you have a good time?”

“Yes,” the little boy replied.“

When you left did you thank your friend’s mother for inviting you?”

“Well, I was going to,” answered the child, “but when I was standing at the door getting ready to leave, the little girl in front of me said, ‘Thank you.’”

“Then my friend’s mother said, ‘Don’t mention it,’” said the boy. “So, I didn’t.”

Maybe a lot of us are like this little boy, we don’t know how to politely respond, because good manners are rapidly becoming extinct in our society. According to the website, http://www.rightparenting.com, “Just surf the net for an hour and you will imagecome across thousands of rude, arrogant and obnoxious comments on major public sites…even in real life, people are often displaying the rude side of their persona without any remorse.”

Sometime ago, I was lamenting over the issue of manner extinction with a friend who is a retired ethics professor. Although she chooses to remain nameless, I can assure you the distress in her voice was genuine when she expressed her concern over the fact that as a nation we have lost “basic respect for all others resulting in the loss of good manners.”

Wikipedia’s http://www.backdrop.net states that the purpose for manners is to “ease the stress of communal living, and mannerly behavior recognizes the right of others to share communal space.”

Once, daily conversation speckled with “please” and “thank you,” courteous listening in conversations, prompt RSVP’s to invitations, and thank you cards for a gift received were commonplace. Today gifts sent often go unacknowledged and RSVP’s are frequently ignored. This might seem minimal in comparison to catastrophic issues besetting our world, but if you are the one planning a catered event this oversight could be expensive.

In addition, what about the grandmother or aunt, who has sent a gift card or item by mail? Of course, most givers would like a formal response acknowledging how wonderful their gift choice was, but many would settle for an email informing them the present wasn’t lost in the mail.

My ethics professor friend assures me that if Americans would return to embracing the Golden Rule this could even help to curtail social issues like bullying. There have been books and essays written about the famous adage to “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” One definition of the Golden Rule is, “…Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them…” (The Message)

List of MedicinesProbably most people reading this column are pretty good at common etiquette. Still, it’s becoming acceptable to bemoan a hectic schedule as ample apology for dismissing social graces, but think about the legacy this creates. If we’re too busy to put our phone down to listen when interacting with others, our children and grandchildren are learning not to give others their full attention as well.

There are folks like famous country singer, Tim McGraw, who seem to realize just how important courteous and respectful behavior can be. Lyrics to his 2016 number one song, “Humble and Kind” tell us to, “Hold the door, say ‘Please,’ say, ‘Thank you’— Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie,” etc.

McGraw felt impressed to share the song’s message, but he didn’t write the words. Songwriter and mother of five, Lori McKenna did. http://www.tasteofcountry.com reports that the lyrics “…sprang from McKenna’s concern over raising her younger children in the age of cellphones and social media, and hoping they understood the proper way to treat others.”

For those of us who have survived parenting, remember the challenge of teaching the concept of “sharing” to a toddler? Often, we taught by example, like sharing dried cheerios from a zip-lock bag. In the end, we cheered when our tiny charge extended their pudgy hand offering us a few pieces of their saliva-soaked cereal.

It wasn’t always pleasant, and it was a long arduous process. So, it is with good manners. It’s an increasingly lost art that needs to be taught and role-modeled. Let’s get off our cellphones, get out those thank you notes, answer the invitations clamoring for an RSVP, and reinstate the Golden Rule whenever we can.

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

Walking a mile in a teacher’s shoes

schoolroomThe school year is in full swing with teachers back in their classrooms. Some folks might mistakenly believe that teaching is an easy job. Not me. Fifteen years ago, on my first morning as a substitute teacher, I vividly remember standing in front of a class of about 25 high school students at multi-academic levels waiting for my instruction. Over and over the school bell rang that stressful day signaling the next period and at least 20 new faces would fill a vacated desk. Some of the students looked bored, some seemed intent on learning, while others were openly rebellious.

Thus began my year as a substitute middle/high school teacher. It’s necessary to qualify that I am not a teacher by training. Rather I was an unemployed journalist who had a rose-tinted vision of imparting knowledge to young people. My idealism about changing the world was quickly diminished when after a few weeks of subbing my goal turned to that of survival.

The truth is many substitutes never really get the chance to teach, since thankfully an absent teacher’s lesson plans include; a relevant movie, worksheet, or directions for a project already in progress. Seasoned educators know that subs are babysitters, just like veteran reporters know that recently graduated journalists are cubs. It’s a new substitute’s job to prove oneself, but that can be very difficult moving from school to school and classroom to classroom. For example, that first fall a particularly boisterous group of high school boys threatened to end my budding teaching career. While trying to take attendance, they proudly revealed that they had gotten rid of their last sub, “an elderly gentleman with purple hair” by flying handmade paper airplanes at him.school-desks

The mischievous teens laughed in mocking delight as they encircled me, while I frantically maintained that they were to “take their seats.” Their loud taunting voices were suddenly silenced when their principal mysteriously appeared in the back of the room offering them two for one Saturday School if they continued to be disrespectful.  Order immediately returned, because most high school students want to avoid punishment at all costs. Sadly, some parents enable their children to disregard school rules. This can become a teacher’s worst nightmare, when a student is empowered by the fact that they will have no consequences at home for acting up.

In my short tenure, I observed innocent teachers threatened for something as simple as denying a disruptive student a hall pass or even occasionally being pelted with undeserved obscenities by an unruly youth. I withstood my own daily teaching tests pretty well, choosing to focus on the majority of obedient, compassionate and helpful students who could be found in every classroom.

Although by early spring, it was the middle-school students who convinced me that I would have to end my career as a nomadic sub. Most of them didn’t seem to understand consequences like the high-school students did. Therefore, pandemonium broke out once when I was placed in a classroom with 15 middle-schoolers, 15 sewing machines, and a missing bobbin.

sewing-stuffMy young charges began to angrily blame each other for the missing bobbin, while imploring me to mediate the situation. In exasperation, I said, “What is a bobbin?” My admission of ignorance drew a look of disdain from the teens and tweens who showed me the small sewing machine part wrapped with colored thread. After settling the dispute, I leaned against the blackboard and gazed heavenward, silently asking, “God, what have I done to deserve this?” My answer came in the lessons gleaned during that memorable year.

Even though my brief teaching career ended shortly after the “sewing machine” incident, I learned that the life of a caring teacher is anything but easy or carefree. Their evenings are filled with grading papers, creating lessons, and doing all the things they can’t get done in a classroom filled with boisterous kids. This experience also prepared me for life as a school administrator’s wife, since I married one the following summer.

Headlines occasionally report the story of an unscrupulous mentor who lacks integrity and takes advantage of an unsuspecting youth, but these isolated incidents are the exceptions to the rule. Most educators invest countless unseen hours striving diligently to make the world better, one student at a time. My deepest respect goes out to teachers, knowing firsthand how difficult their path can be, because I was once honored to “walk a mile in their shoes.”

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

The Danger of Glamorizing Suicide

me-before-you-2Did you ever think of suicide as being romantic or glamorous? In September, as we observe Suicide Prevention Awareness Month it’s important to remember that young adults with impressionable minds might be persuaded to. That’s why it’s crucial to talk about suicide, because “one conversation can change a life.” This statement is from www.nami.org, the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, which also reports that “suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people.”

Yet Hollywood has sometimes glamorized suicide. A prime example is the recent movie, “Me Before You.” Billed as a drama/romance starring Emilia Clarke “Lou” and Sam Claflin,”Will” the film was released on DVD on August 30, 2016. It’s frightening to think of all the teenagers who will be viewing this movie and ingesting the deadly message that if you are disabled, it’s all right to put an end to your existence. (No apology for not offering a spoiler alert.) www.imbd.com describes the movie as, “A girl in a small town [who] forms an unlikely bond with a recently-paralyzed man she’s taking care of.” www.amazon.com says, “Will’s cynical outlook starts to change when Louisa shows him that life is worth living…their lives and hearts change in ways neither one could have imagined.”

I sure couldn’t have imagined that “Will” would decide to end his life in a physician assisted suicide clinic with his adoring love interest “Lou” at his side. This scene’s gushing cinematic drama is better suited to a royal event than the intentional death of a vibrant young man. moneySupposedly, the happy ending is that “Will” leaves “Lou” all kinds of money, so she can have a wonderful life after he’s gone. This too is a fallacy, because those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide will tell you that no amount of money in the world is worth their loss.

Another example of suicide being idealized is that of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard who was suffering with terminal brain cancer. She took her life on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. This young woman’s tragic story went viral through a YouTube video when Brittany described her plan to end her life with lethal drugs administered through Oregon’s Death by Dignity Law. She even moved from California to Oregon to fulfill her final wish.

Some applauded Maynard as a courageous heroine for stepping into the national spotlight while working with the group Compassion and Choices to herald the cause of what proponents call the, “Right to die with dignity.” My heart breaks for Maynard’s family and for the pain and suffering she endured. Her gesture of ending her physical suffering from this incurable illness might appear rational and even altruistic. It seems she spared her family the horrible progression that losing someone to a terminal disease can entail.

Pill bottleLike many folks, I have held the hand of a loved one dying of cancer and witnessed this end of life suffering firsthand. I am thankful for any medication that will alleviate their pain, but not death, because those last days can be precious gifts where miracles of reconciliation and preparation abound for them.  An essential point of this debate concerns the legacy suicide leaves behind. Especially, for the young and impressionable who will face life crises which can seem hopeless. Suicide appears to be an option, a way out of these difficulties that this earthy existence is guaranteed to present. Besides, statistics indicate that if an individual within a family takes their life, the probability that someone else within that family unit will die by suicide increases. According to www.nami.org, “Family history of suicide” is an important risk factor regarding suicide or suicidal behavior among youth.

As someone who almost died from an overdose resulting from debilitating depression as a young woman, I do not view Brittany or “Will’s” tragic choice as either brave or romantic, but as deeply misguided. After all, millions of folks live with daunting challenges each day. One in five American adults annually battle a mental health issue, returning military personnel fight post-traumatic stress disorder, countless individuals suffer with incapacitating physical illnesses, aging limitations, disabilities, and the list goes on. It was once considered noble and courageous to allow the end of life to come in its natural timing, because each day of our existence is vitally meaningful. Many people of faith still believe that it is only in the Creator’s way and His time that we should breathe our final breath – that truly is dying with dignity.

Suicide Prevention LogoIf you are someone you love is suicidal, please rethink this tragic decision by getting professional help. Call the National Suicide Prevention hotline or a local mental health center in your community. The life you save may be your own.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why laughter is good for you

 

Paper Towel Holder for blogDid you ever have one of those days when nothing seems to go right? I’m not talking about huge problems here, just a string of trivial irritations that add up. Then with a lot on your mind, when a normally minor annoyance occurs it’s easy to get out of sorts. In my little world, the last straw for me on a particularly stressful day was the paper towel machine in the ladies restroom of a public building that refused to cooperate. Concerned about being late for an important appointment, I stood there frantically waving my wet hands in front of the designated detector with no success.

I thought this was going to turn into be one of those humiliating moments when a couple teens were about to mock an uptight baby boomer. You see, two attractive teenage girls were looking on in amusement at my plight, when one sympathetically said, “Don’t you hate when that happens?”

And then I laughed. It was the kind of belly laugh that comes from deep inside when pent up emotion is finally released. The teens chimed in laughing with their girlish giggles sounding like a rippling melody. It’s that simple, I laughed, and suddenly the whole world seemed brighter. Decades were spanned in that moment of laughter too, and camaraderie forged between the generations.

In that instant, I was reminded that sometimes the young are just as afraid of not being accepted by us mature adults, as we are of them. I also realized that it had been awhile since I had heard the sound of unrestrained laughter. Instead, lately I have noticed the stoic faces of human beings everywhere, assuming the continually charged political climate, back to school blues, or unusual summer weather might have been taking a toll.

Headlines 3

Still, people need to laugh. There have been many studies that provide documentation for the medical benefits of laughter. For example, on the website www.moodwatchers.com we find that, “Research has shown health benefits of laughter ranging from strengthening the immune system to reducing food cravings to increasing one’s threshold for pain. There’s even an emerging therapeutic field known as humor therapy to help people heal more quickly… ”

An April 2016 post on the Mayo Clinic website www.mayoclinic.org, “Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke,” reports that laughter can, “Stimulate many organs…Activate and relieve your stress response… [and] soothe tension.  Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.” We have known that laughter is healthy for us dating back to Biblical times. To quote the famous proverb, “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones,” which remains a common saying in our everyday language.

Many of us could use some relief from stress, but we won’t all find the ability to laugh through the same method. Recounting humorous events, telling funny jokes, reading the comic section, watching slapstick TV, or viewing a comedic movie might result in a few chuckles. If all else fails, you could try tickling a loved one. I wouldn’t tickle a co-worker though, because you will probably find yourself unemployed.

Speaking of employee etiquette, I used to have to endure colleagues who relished telling dumb blonde jobs before the advent of political correctness or lawsuits for workplace discrimination. I never enjoyed being the brunt of the joke having had blonde hair all my life. I was deeply touched once when a co-worker asked for my forgiveness for telling a rather harmless dumb blonde story sensing my discomfort. That’s why a word of caution is necessary, because humor can be based on cruelty. That’s why a word of caution is necessary, because humor can be based on cruelty.  Hopefully, most folks mature into understanding that it’s never appropriate to make fun of other people, unless you are a presidential candidate of any party. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But it is good to laugh at ourselves when we are taking life too seriously.

Baby Singing

For me, on blue days watching a couple YouTube videos of babies laughing or pets doing funny things usually lifts my spirits. Click on this cute baby’s photo and I’ll bet you that you won’t be able to not smile. Yet it is those spontaneous happenings when someone in a conversation or group does or says something that is so hilarious that you can’t help but bust out laughing, no matter what else is going on, that’s best.  Think about it. When was the last time, you had a good belly laugh? So good that you wiped the tears from your eyes and ran for the nearest restroom? When you get there watch out for the paper towel machine.

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

52 Churches in 52 Weeks: The Ultimate Church Hopper

Church windowI am a self-admitted church hopper or at least I have been for almost a year now. Late last summer, I embarked on a project, “52 churches in 52 weeks.” If you Google this title, you’ll find that other individuals have taken this same journey. So far, I have visited about 46 different churches, all but three of them located in Miami County. I have attended Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Apostolic, United Church of Christ, Church of God, Brethren, Catholic, Assemblies of God, and non-denominational services, and the list goes on.

When my husband and I relocated to Miami County a few years ago, one of the questions people frequently asked us was, “Where do you attend church?” However, this might be the wrong question if you are trying to decide whether you share a similar faith experience and denominational or theological stance. After all, statistics from the website www.city-data.com reveal that the largest population growth in religious attendance in Miami County is in the category of those who do not attend at all. In a county of approximately 104,224 people estimated by July 2015 data from the United States Census Bureau, currently about 64,347 individuals are not attending or claiming affiliation with a religious group. This is a 21 percent increase from the 52,998 individuals who claimed no religious affiliation in 2000 when there were approximately 99,000 residents. Of course, this dramatic rise must be adjusted for the population growth that has occurred in Miami County.

This is not a phenomenon peculiar to Miami County as nationwide especially mainline denominational churches have seen a tremendous decline in attendance in recent years. This is often attributed to the large proportion of the young adult (millennial) population who are not church-goers. It was this statistic about those with no religious affiliation which originally spurred me to investigate the churches in Miami County. This began as a private project for possible publication, because while completing a master’s degree in ministry some years ago, my studies included a personal emphasis on church growth.church windows

The project was eventually accepted as my research report to fulfill a Leadership Troy requirement. As a part of the 2016 class of Leadership Troy, it has been an interesting journey documenting my experience visiting dozens of our county’s houses of worship to prepare to write a report not about specific churches, but about the local faith community in general. I hope to let you in on the results in a few months, but for now, if I haven’t visited your Miami County church or other religious fellowship, temple, etc., and you would like me to, please send me an email, being sure to include service times and location. In my report, one of the items to be addressed is that some religious establishments are neglecting Internet postings through a website, blog, or Facebook page regarding basic information like service times. Although there are also fellowships that are doing an exemplary job of having an Internet presence to get their information out.

On a positive note, I have been profoundly changed on this path. About halfway through the project, there was a Sunday when my husband and I visited a West Milton congregation. As the sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, tears filled my eyes. Not tears of sadness, but of gratitude for what I have witnessed in fellowships all across our county. Whether it was 30 elderly seniors gathered in a century-old brick building singing traditional hymns or hundreds of people of all ages clapping and making a joyful noise in a converted bowling alley, I have been privileged to observe local residents expressing their faith.

Church window 2Witnessing the zeal of many church attendees reminded me that there are citizens who still care deeply about this nation, and about this community. Those who want to do the right thing and support the schools, the elderly, the poor, the sick, and to battle the county’s heroin epidemic like the 40 plus area churches that joined together for the Hope over Heroin event in July. I gleaned all this information from reading church bulletins listing numerous outreaches mostly led by volunteers, and by listening to heartfelt Sunday morning prayers and sermons. I have been blessed by friendliness and inspired by devout dedication, relieved to find that there are thousands of wonderful believers alive and well in Miami County. To be continued …

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who earned a master’s in ministry from Mount Vernon Nazarene University.  Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Finding Hope in a Lemonade Stand

Lemonade 1For a couple years, there was what I affectionately nicknamed, “The Posse” that assembled whenever there was trouble in my neighborhood. The Posse consisted of about half-a-dozen elementary-aged boys on bicycles. One evening arriving home before sunset, the small band of do-gooders had gathered in my front yard standing upright on their bikes looking forlornly at the cornfield across the busy road. The majority of boys weren’t allowed to cross the road due to their parent’s rules, but it was obvious that something was terribly wrong.

I pulled into my garage, wanting to head straight for my living room couch and a little TV, but I could tell they needed some adult help. Remembering once having had a little boy of my own who is now all grown up, I dutifully approached the group to inquire what was happening. Animatedly talking over each other, the youngsters frantically shared that a neighborhood dog had gone missing in the nearby field. The corn was high like it is right now. The oldest boy and I, the one who owned the brown and white frisky pooch, headed across the road while the others anxiously watched. Miraculously, the curious canine came running when he heard his 10-year-old master’s voice calling his name.

On another occasion, while I was in the yard pulling weeds, a middle-aged female who was new to the neighborhood and to Ohio approached me sobbing about her missing cats. I calmly explained that we would have to call out The Posse. That particular time, even some parents got involved in the hunt. One cat was eventually recovered, but sadly the other was never found. The members of this boyhood group are older now, and seem to have disbanded. It’s been a real loss, because their camaraderie infused a bond among normally isolated neighbors.

Let’s face it, unless we’ve known someone for a long time, most folks keep to themselvesHeadlines 2 in whatever neighborhood we live. Many people are so busy. Besides, the world has grown increasingly frightening these last couple of years, and neighboring can seem like a thing of the past. With terrorist attacks in unexpected places, ongoing school shootings, political unrest, heroin addiction running rampant, racially motivated killings, and then on July 7, 2016, our country witnessed one of the greatest tragedies of this decade. Five Dallas law enforcement officers were murdered, and seven others were injured in a brutal massacre. The following morning, I couldn’t imagine how anything would cause our country to have a bright future, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that thought. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, I wanted to lock the doors and give up on humanity.

But late that morning, I glanced out of my kitchen window, and couldn’t believe what I saw. On the edge of my yard, four or five small children and a little red wagon, a few elementary school girls and one boy sitting in miniature chairs who had set up a makeshift lemonade stand. Children I had never seen on my corner before, with a young mother watching on the sidewalk nearby.Lemonade 3

Despite my formally despondent mood, I felt hope for the future bubble up inside as I observed the kids excitedly interacting with each other. I did what any self-respecting neighbor lady should do. I told my husband who was home on vacation, we had to go outside and buy some lemonade. Even though my spouse has been dieting, I asked him to give the little ones $1.00 for the fifty-cent lemonade. Confused that I was encouraging him to drink sugar and pay double the amount, my poor hubby was surprised a second time when I told him it was best if we throw the sugary drink away once we were back inside. I explained that being a former business owner myself, I had simply wanted to encourage the young professionals that hard work pays off.

Headlines 4Even when another fatal incident happened in Baton Rouge recently with law enforcement officers being targeted again, I remembered the lemonade stand. In the midst of turmoil it remains a sign of hope that there is still a wonderful future waiting for our nation’s children, because they are the future. I saw it in their twinkling eyes as we handed over our money to pay for our fifty-cent lemonade. Dollar bills that still say, “In God we trust.” The lemonade stand was a visual reminder that in the darkest of life’s storms, we can trust that there is a plan for our tomorrows.

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

 

Acquaintance Rape: A Reality on College Campuses

Turner’s recent conviction for two felony charges of sexual assault, and one for “attempt to rape” have sparked immense controversy over Judge Aaron Persky’s lenient six-month jail sentence for the crime. The 12 page impact letter that the victim read in the courtroom went viral. Despite the terrible trauma the young woman referred to as “Emily Doe” experienced, there really is a profound good that has come from this tragedy. That is the platform for exposing the ongoing and often silent threat of acquaintance rape on college campuses.

The www.freedictionary.com defines acquaintance rape as a, “Rape committed by someone with whom the victim is acquainted.” According to the National Institute of Justice, in college rapes, the perpetrator is known to the victim 85 or 90 percent of the time. In only about half of the cases are they a dating partner though. For example, Turner and his victim’s only connection was attending the same fraternity party.

Sexual assault can happen to women or men, and can occur anywhere. Yet RAINN, the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network reports, “9 out of 10 rape victims were female in 2003.” So, let’s talk about young women on college campuses where 99 percent of rapists are male. (Campus Safety Magazine) The Bureau of Justice Statistics, estimates that 80 percent of sexual assaults of college females are likely to go unreported. Other information from www.campussafetymagazine.com reports that alcohol is often a contributing factor in sexual assaults, “… 69 percent involve alcohol consumption by perpetrators.” This research also finds that 43% of victims had consumed alcohol.

Alarmingly, campus sexual assault surveys indicate that about 1 in 5 female students will be a victim of sexual assault. These statistics, however accurate are not the point according to Tyler Kingkade in his December 2014 Huffington Post column. Kingkade says the point is that victims are finally speaking up asserting that once they did report, their cases were handled poorly by campus hierachy. After all, a university can be hesitant to admit that they have a problem with rape on their campus. It’s not exactly a PR selling point for parents, “Have your daughter come to our college and then take your chances.”

In fairness, some universities are aggressively addressing this tragic phenomenon through preventive education. Yet this knowledge can come too late for acquaintance rape victims, since freshmen and sophomore students are at the highest risk of violation. That’s why, it’s paramount for parents to speak candidly with their college-bound kids. Warning their daughters not to go to a party alone but with other females, and not to ever leave with a male she doesn’t know well.

Tell her to guard her drink and never drink from a punch bowl or open container, because Pill bottledrug facilitated rapes are an ongoing issue. “Alcohol remains the most commonly used chemical in crimes of sexual assualt, but there are also substances being used by perpetrators including: Rohypnol, GHB, etc.,” according to the RAINN Website.

Tell your sons that, “No,” means, “No.” Regardless of how far the sexual activity has gone, and if a young woman is incapacitated like Turner’s victim was, her ability to legally consent is impaired. Don’t assume that your child will not drink, attend parties, or make poor choices, even if they are a church-goer or home-schooled, because a teenager’s newfound freedom can be a dangerous gift with deadly consequences. Lastly, don’t expect public high schools to be solely responsible for prevention. They are inundated with a multitude of prevention issues like: bullying, teen dating violence, prescription drug abuse and heroin prevention, nutrition, safe driving, etc. Instead parents have to step up to the plate, and start this difficult conversation, because sexual assault is an all-too-common reality.

In addition, acquaintance rape can be a very problematic crime to prosecute turning into a “He did,” versus “She wanted to,” conversation. Many times, the victim can be traumatized a second time through the brutally invasive process, when her character is put on trial. In Brock Turner’s case, there were two Stanford students from Sweden passing by who witnessed the sexual assault of the unconscious victim, and detained Turner until authorities arrived.

Emily Doe has no remembrance of the circumstances, because her blood alcohol was three times the legal limit. This in no way excuses Turner’s criminal behavior, but in all reality if it weren’t for the intervening Swedes,  this startling case might have been one more unreported statistic.

6353664 - CopyChristina Ryan Claypool is a past two term board member for the former Ohio Coalition against Sexual Assault. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries and on CBN’s 700 Club. Her book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors for everyone who has ever been brokenhearted, addicted, or a victim is available on www.amazon.com. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.