A Tale of Two Cardinals

Two CardinalsI never thought much about birds, certainly not Cardinals. Undoubtedly, the males with their brilliant red feathers are eye-catching. Yet not that long ago, I believed that collecting bird memorabilia was better left to those with little to do. Now Cardinal keepsakes are finding their way into my home.

Most people who grow up in Ohio probably know that the Northern Cardinal is our state bird. It is also the state bird for Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

For most of my life, I was just too busy to even notice the crimson creatures who commonly nest in a pair. A pair, that’s what my late mother and stepfather of more than 35 years were. When they died less than five months apart eight years ago, I didn’t think that the holidays would ever be joyful again.

After all, every Christmas my husband and I would fill our car with food, gifts, and suitcases, and make the trip from Ohio to Philadelphia to spend the holidays with my parents. Both my mom and stepfather were musicians. She was a church organist and choir director. Neal also became a choir director later in life, although when he was young he traveled the world with the Navy band. They were an ecumenical couple, since my stepdad was a Baptist, but Mom played and directed music wherever the “Spirit” led.

My beautiful mother

My beautiful mother

Christmas at their house was all about music, too. When my husband and I would arrive, often Mom would invite us to join whatever choir she was currently directing on an interim basis. My hubby and I would both try to graciously decline, but somehow Christmas morning would find us reluctantly dressed in choir robes with my mother directing away.

On our last Christmas together in 2009, my then 77-year-old mother insisted I escort my stepfather to the church platform. By then, he was almost 80, and legally blind from diabetes. Still she wanted him to stand behind her as she accompanied the choir and congregation on the pipe organ as they sang Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. I can still hear his deep baritone voice, as he sang out the notes he must have known by heart.

It was such a shock when “Teddy Bear” as he affectionately called Mom died suddenly ten months later in October 2010.  Following her death, my stepfather’s broken heart stopped beating in less than five months, too.

After someone you love dies you often find out things about them that you never knew. For instance, after my mother’s death my sister shared how Mom would often look out the window above her kitchen sink to watch the birds that would gather in their foliage filled yard. I also learned that the crimson-colored Cardinals were a favorite.

After their deaths, as the holiday season began approaching, I was dreading another Christmas without them. I had no idea how I was going to be able to celebrate or create new traditions. Then one day, I was looking out my own kitchen window when suddenly I spied a Cardinal near the evergreen tree in my backyard. There was a second less colorful Cardinal who landed on one of the tree’s branches. Instantly, I realized that these birds were a couple.

I didn’t know then that Northern Cardinals nest as a pair, and that the female is tan, and often has red in her wings or tail feathers. Nor did I know that the male is incredibly protective and that he sings loudly to keep other males away.  So like my stepfather who always kept a watchful eye on my mother. All I could tell was that these two lovebirds were singing a duet. As I watched the Cardinals communicating, suddenly my gloomy mood turned to one of amazement and joy.Neal and Glenna Sprang with Christina Ryan Claypool, daughter

It was then I began seeing Cardinals everywhere, since they remain in the north all year long. For instance, while passing a store downtown bookstore displayed on the glass window, I saw a picture of the red Cardinal with a story about the Christmas legend that surrounds the beautiful bird.

As for the legend, according to www.relijournal.com, “The Cardinal [is] christened the “Christmas Bird” for its spectacular red color….A glimpse of this brilliant bird brings cheer, hope and inspiration on a gray wintry day. This is nature’s reminder for us to focus on our faith; the Cardinal’s scarlet plumage represents the blood of Christ shed for the redemption of mankind.”

For me, two Cardinals singing together were a Heavenly sign reminding me that those we love live on in our hearts. May this season of unexpected miracles bring you the renewed hope found in the One who is the Creator of Cardinals. Merry Christmas and God blessings to you and your family!

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio APME award- winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV Show and CBN’s 700 Club, and has an M.A. from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife was released fall 2018. 

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Long-married Couples share advice for, “Living Happily Ever After”

June might be the traditional month for weddings, but all year long beautiful brides in flowing white gowns and handsome grooms in black tuxedos promise to be together, “Until death do us part.”  Sadly, if we look at the grim statistics, many of these marriages are destined for divorce courts.

Defying the odds, are Dave and Arlene Gates who celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary on July 2, 2012.  Arlene encourages others to begin their marriage with the conviction, “that this is a lifetime commitment.” The retired teacher has heard people say they never have arguments, but she believes that, “In most relationships there are disagreements…. When we disagree…we normally keep the issue on the disagreement and don’t dredge up accusations and hurtful things just for the sake of retaliating.”

Dave who is in his late sixties, was also a teacher, assistant principal, and head football coach both at Graham and Sidney High Schools. As for disagreeing, he remembers the uncertainty that a difference of opinion can create early in a marriage. “When you’ve been married awhile you have the benefit of looking back and saying, ‘We’ve been there before.’”

Dave stresses that marital battles are not about winning or losing. “There’s no score board in a marriage,” he said. His advice to couples starting out is to take accountability for their actions by recognizing, “What part of this disagreement am I responsible for, and what can I do to see it doesn’t happen again?”

“Sometimes, we agree to disagree,” Arlene admitted. But don’t let a disagreement cause you to imagine that, “We are not suited for each other, [or that] we can’t make this work,” she said. Rather know, “This too will pass.” They attend the First Baptist Church. “…The same faith is a real grounding in sharing what’s important…you are accountable to God even if nobody else knows what’s going on,” said Mrs. Gates.

In a long-term marriage, Arlene mentioned the importance of keeping the “romance and love” alive.” The Gates are also concerned about the lack of positive role models for young people faulting today’s media and celebrities for portraying a skewed picture of reality.

Mary Kathryn Mescher of Fort Loramie would say her role models were her own family. She and 74-year-old husband, James who is retired from Midmark Corporation, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this past June.

 Although the 71-year-old wife never received any specific advice from her parents, their example of a fifty-plus-year marriage was a living testimony. “We were just brought up when you got married you were married. You sort of follow in their footsteps…how they lived. My husband’s father and mother were married 65 years, and I guess that’s what we are shooting for,” she said.

“There’s a lot of difference now days between the kids and us. They have jobs and can make it on their own,” explained Mrs. Mescher. “We were home with our children. We quit working. We relied [on our spouses] to bring the money in….It was a kind of partnership,” she explained of the cultural shift with women working outside the home.

Her advice to couples just beginning their journey is, “It’s a lot of give and take.” For folks experiencing difficult times, “Hang in there, tomorrows going to be better,” encouraged the retired St. Michael’s church employee. As for motivation, “You live for your kids and grandkids.”

Sharing happenings about her children and grandchildren is one experience that Sue Britton misses greatly. “It’s lonely being alone… There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t say, ‘Wait until Bill hears this,” said the 78-year-old widow. Sue and her late spouse, Bill Britton were both battling cancer at the same time three years ago. She survived her bout with ovarian cancer, but tragically Bill succumbed to lung cancer three years ago this past May.

Married in 1955, the couple shared almost 55 wonderful years together. “My father always told me to marry a man who is good to his mother…and Bill was.” Sue is grateful she followed her dad’s wise advice. The couple raised three children together with Sue spending “ninety percent of her married life as a housewife.” Her suggestion for a good marriage is to, “Just trust each other…in every way.” If there are, “any reservations, don’t marry them,” she warned.

Sue’s life seems full with family, friends, and restored health. Yet the outgoing widow said, “I would give anything for just five more minutes” with her husband. “Because I just had so much to tell him that I never told him. It’s…companionship you miss the most…”

In closing from the road less traveled, if you have some things to tell someone you love, why not do it today. After all, they might not be here tomorrow to listen.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist. This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News in June 29, 2012.

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If You Like Love Stories, Just Released in October 2012

Finding the Courage to Love Again

After experiencing the heartbreak of divorce, Christina’s personal love story of meeting her husband of more than a decade, Larry Claypool, is included in this just released OakTara Publishers anthology. If you are frightened to risk loving again this book is for you. Or if you are simply wondering if God can bring you, “Mr. Right?” then this book is also a must read. 42 talented authors share their own true love stories in:

     My Love to you Always

My Love to You Always

Click on the book cover to go directly to the OakTara site to purchase the book

 

 

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