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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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!”

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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Remembering a Brave Prom King

Corsage and CrownMost people attend a prom or two, but I’ve attended lots of proms. Like most teenage girls, as a high school junior, I was excited about the prospect of my first prom. Truthfully, it wasn’t much fun, since the boy I had a crush on didn’t ask me.

My senior prom was monumentally worse. By then, I was a patient at Toledo State Mental Hospital following an almost fatal suicide attempt. After spending a couple months in a private psychiatric ward, my insurance ran out. I was committed to the decaying institution that then housed thousands of mentally ill individuals. Before Mental Health reform, that horrible place was reminiscent of the one depicted in the classic film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Battling depression and an eating disorder, I looked more like a 17-year-old Holocaust victim than a carefree teenager. The psychiatrist granted me a weekend pass hoping that attending prom would lift my spirits. My date was a classmate who suffered from epilepsy. He must have empathized with my situation, and proudly escorted me to the prom ignoring the stares from a few overly-curious students.

Fast forward three decades to May 2002, when my life looked nothing like that struggling teen. Faith, education, and the support of a few encouraging mentors had positively changed my circumstances. I was also engaged to a wonderful man who was a school administrator, whose job necessitated that we chaperone prom. Never having had an opportunity to go to prom together, Larry and I decided to don a tuxedo and gown and make it our night, too. Larry and me

Since then, my husband and I have attended quite a few proms. The impressive decorations, twinkling lights, and colorful dresses, still take my breath away. But the prom I remember most vividly is the one when a precious senior who was dying of bone cancer was elected prom king. It was the last year that my spouse served as a middle/high school principal at a rural school in northwestern Ohio.

We had all come to love this quiet dark-haired youth whose given name was Anthony-Dillon James. Better known as A.J., he had waged a long and valiant battle against Osteosarcoma. For nine months, he was spot-free, but then the disease turned deadly. Despite his illness, A.J. was compassionate and wise beyond his years.

Somehow in a tight-knit community where folks have known each other forever, tragedy is worse, because everyone is affected. Prom wouldn’t have been prom without A.J. being there, and he knew it. Even though, it had been months since the senior had been able to attend school, he mustered all his strength and accompanied by his dedicated fiancée`, he showed up looking handsome in a white tuxedo.

As the disc jockey played pulsating music, the students danced energetically, while silently grieving the inevitable loss of the fun-loving youth who had always been part of them. When his classmates voted for their prom king, I shouldn’t have been surprised  when A.J.’s name was announced.

There was a moment when the reality of the high school student’s dismal prognosis hit me full force. It happened when a pretty senior asked if she could take a picture with him, and they  posed humorously cheek to cheek with toothy grins. What A.J. didn’t see, was that when the blonde turned away, her expression crumbled into a painful grimace. She had taken the photo as a memory of the boy she had probably known since kindergarten, realizing he would soon be gone. Like a trained actress, before she turned to face A.J. again, the golden-haired girl mustered her courage and smiled brightly. Her affection for her terminally-ill classmate wasn’t romantic love driven by adolescent hormones. Rather it was the kind of caring that country kids take for granted growing up in a close circle of friendship.

When my husband and I visited him for the last time, A.J. sensed that my heart was breaking. He smiled his dazzling smile, and said, “I’ll be okay.” Then the 18-year-old lifted his T-shirt sleeve and displayed a large tattoo of a compassionate Jesus. A visual reminder of the Bible’s promise, “I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

That July, the bravest prom king I’ve ever known took his last Earthly breath. Still, he lives on in the hearts of those he inspired, forever wearing a white tuxedo and a jeweled crown.

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

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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

 

 

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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

 

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The Truth about Time

DSCF0044“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Many of us have heard this famous Bible verse turned Byrds’ lyrics, but have you ever considered how it applies to daily life? Personally, I’ve been rather stuck on thinking about the intangible concept of time for quite awhile. My quest began on an unplanned Florida vacation three years ago.

To explain, I was supposed to join my late mother and two sisters on a cruise ship headed for the Caribbean to celebrate my sister’s 50th birthday. Instead birthday girl had a frightening health crisis in the Washington airport and was rushed to the hospital.

This left me stranded in the airport in Ft.Lauderdale, not wanting to board the ship without news of her status. Inwardly panicking about what to do next, my brother who is a Florida realtor heard about my plight. He called me in the airport with a gracious invitation to stay with his family in Naples just a couple hours away. Thankfully, I later received word that my sister would be fine, too.

Despite the fact that it was the busy season for selling real estate and I was an unplanned-for guest, they made me feel incredibly welcome. One night after supper, my brother even offered to take me to the beach near sunset. It was there that we met an elderly woman who gave me a lesson about time. Her tanned face was so leathery and wrinkled from the Florida sun, that it was difficult to tell her age. Probably mid-eighties, yet there was a kind of vitality about this silver-haired senior that made you think she was younger. She was a widow who had enjoyed the Floridian lifestyle in retirement, but she shared that she would be reluctantly returning to the Midwest soon.

“It’s time,” she said simply. “I have a daughter and her family up north.” My compassionate sibling shook his head knowingly, and with understanding in his voice softly echoed her words back in acknowledgement. “It’s time.” Time for what, I wondered, while guessing that this was a final life stage. As soon as the woman disappeared, I sat on a bench pensively staring out at the vast blue-green Gulf of Mexico picking up seashells sensing that something sacred had just happened. Finally, I asked Don, “What did she mean, ‘It’s time?’”

I can’t remember his exact words, but he explained that often there comes a season when it’s no longer wise for retired Florida transplants to live alone. When health, security, and planning-ahead requires them to move to an area where they will be surrounded by family who can care for them in case of a crisis. Usually this means moving back home. These practical seniors are planning for their final days, but that doesn’t mean that the joy of living and being fulfilled stops.

After all, there is also, “A time to be born, and a time to die.” Yet there is that metaphorical dash that exists between these two stages. Each day we are given needs to be cherished, because inevitably a moment comes for all of us when the sand in the hourglass runs out.

My nephew, Chris is barely thirty, yet he has also been thinking about time. My sister, Janet, told me that her son believes that when you are young time goes slowly because you are doing everything for the first time. While for those of us who have been around the block more than once, nothing is new, so time speeds swiftly by. I’m not sure I agree with Chris’s theory, but I find it admirable that he’s willing to contemplate the time warp aging creates. After all, decades ago when my late grandmother shared her impression that as one ages, “Time flies,” I found it rather unscientific and random.

Through the years, I have discovered that Grandma’s opinion is all too true. Like, 86-year-old Victor Delamonte, a main character in Mitch Albom’s 2012 book,  The Time Keeper, I find myself wanting to beat Father Time and hold onto the valuable moments of today. You have to read the book to see the lengths that wealthy Victor undertakes to try to make this happen.

In the end, there is no way to buy more time. Instead we have to make the most of each precious day that we are given, living it as though it were our last. While understanding that time is truly one of the most valuable gifts that we possess.

 Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1  This column originally appeared in The Lima News and the Sidney Daily News.

 

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What will be under your tree this Christmas?

It was a long ago Christmas, when the budget was tight, and hope seemed far away. That year, presents were notably absent under the artificial two foot pine tree in our cramped apartment. Probably, some of you reading this are experiencing economic difficulties like I was back then.

Even the yellowing angel that sat atop the tiny tree had seen better days. That holiday season more than two decades ago, “…was the best of times, [and] it was the worst of times…” as Charles Dickens once wrote. The worst of times, because as a single mom I found myself part of the U.S.poverty statistic. Yet, it was the best of times, because I was a new Christian with a committed faith in the God who could do anything, but fail His children.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” according to Hebrews 11:1. If you have walked with God for awhile, you probably know firsthand that there can be profound joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. It really is true what Philippians 4:11 says, “Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances.”

At Christmas, mature believers are often grateful simply for good health, the gift of a loving family, and the celebration of the birth of their dear Savior. They understand that there is little more they can want. But children can’t help but dream of brightly-colored presents filled with treasures they’ve longed to call their own.

How many of you remember anticipating childhood holidays by studying the thick department store catalogs that used to come in the mail? Or making Christmas wish lists printed in pencil, numbering the most desirable gifts first? Even as adults, it’s not wrong to want things. Psalm 37:4 records, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Although Matthew Henry’s commentary cautions that God “has not promised to gratify all the appetites of the body…but to grant…all the cravings of the renewed sanctified soul.”

Yet our Heavenly Father also promises to give His children good things, if we ask Him. (Paraphrase Matt. 7:11) Our faith is often the catalyst that causes us to reach for the otherwise unobtainable. Therefore, it is always the balance of being content, yet pro-active about seeking what God wants us to have in our lives.

All of this theological jargon is lost on a young child wanting a few gifts to celebrate the season. That’s why it is important during the holidays that we as Christians find the time and use our resources wisely to support: church outreaches, Toys for Tots, Angel Tree, the Salvation Army, or to assist a neighboring family facing financial struggles.

Maybe this year, finances won’t allow you to bless others. You find yourself in need of assistance, and wondering how to celebrate the birth of our Savior. After all, Scripture says, “…It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35b) That’s the lesson I learned twenty years ago when there was no money for gifts. In the newness of my faith back then, I realized that Christmas was simply the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. He was the one having the party, the one who should receive presents. It became glaringly apparent that there was nothing under my tree for Him. 

Pastor Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, also had this same revelation. Slaughter, whose rural United Methodist Church has grown from double digits when he took over in 1979 to approximately 5,000 weekly attendees, first challenged his congregation in the fall of 2004, “I want you to have a slim Christmas this year . . . and whatever you spend on your family, bring an equal amount for hunger relief in the Sudan. Because Christmas is not your birthday; it’s Jesus’ birthday.”

That year, Ginghamsburg’s “Christmas Miracle Offering” brought in more than $300,000. Now an annual tradition, the church has raised over $5 million for The Sudan Project, a humanitarian program in Darfur, Sudan. In 2011, Pastor Slaughter authored the book, “Christmas Is Not Your Birthday,” which is rapidly becoming a Christian classic. The book’s back cover reads, “Every year, we say we’re going to cut back, simplify, and have a family Christmas that focuses on the real reason for the season—Jesus. But every year, advertisements beckon, the children plead, and it seems easier just to indulge our wants and whims…This Christmas, cut through the hype that leaves you exhausted and broke at the end of the year. Instead, experience the peace of knowing that God is truly with us, the joy of giving sacrificially, and the love of a Savior who gave everything he had for us.” Slaughter’s devotional, “A Different Kind of Christmas,” was also released in the fall of 2012.

Like the Ginghamsburg congregation, I have found joy in focusing on helping others. As far as presents, admittedly you can’t purchase a tangible gift for a God who created and owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Psalm 50:10) But if you pray and listen very closely, you can trust that His Holy Spirit will tell you in a still small voice what the Savior of Mankind wants you do for Him this Christmas.

There are gifts like blessing others with time, money, or services; or using God-given talents to promote His kingdom. It could be the sacrificial act of forgiving a seemingly unforgivable offense. Or it might be a repentant present of confronting a habitual sin or addiction by giving up drugs or alcohol, finding a recovery group, and getting some help. But if finances allow, use your resources to assist those struggling to meet their daily needs. These are all ways to put something under the tree for dear Jesus. After all, it is His birthday!

 Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and evangelistic speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and on Joyce Meyer Ministries  TV program. She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1 or contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

 

 

 

 

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The Controversial Case for Profanity

 

I  guess you could call me a recovering curser. Not one to appeal for a supernatural calamity type of evil curser. Rather the profane, get-your-mouth-washed-out-with-soap-by-your-mother when you were a kid kind. My late mom wouldn’t have approved when on July 13, 2012, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC policy permitting broadcasters to be fined for profanity on live TV finding the regulation unconstitutional. I’ll bet residents of Middleborough, Massachusetts, didn’t approve either. Early in June, they were so fed up with public profanity that they voted to impose a $20 fine on anyone ticketed for the offense. The violation appears to be limited to individuals swearing frequently and loudly. But it was protestors who made their voices heard loudly on June 26, 2012 by hosting a public protest against the pending statute. Reportedly, most of them weren’t even from the town of just over 22,000 residents which is located less than 40 miles from Boston.

For me, profanity is personal, because using colorful expletives became an entrenched habit early in life. Besides Mom’s Ivory soup, when I was only 19, the owner of the restaurant where I waited tables, reprimanded me for my foul mouth. Being an educated and successful businessman, I listened intently as he corrected me by saying, “Intelligent individuals know how to use their vocabulary to express their emotions without resorting to obscene words.”

But after finishing college while employed as a corporate representative for a large manufacturer, my supervisor seemed almost amused by my vulgarity. It was in the early eighties, and I was desperately trying to make it in what was then a man’s world. I used obscenity as a defensive weapon to balance my gender inequality, and to create an impression. Regrettably, I must have been creating the wrong impression, since I never moved up the corporate ladder. Let’s be honest are you awed by a female whose salty language could make the late comedian George Carlin blush?

Speaking of Carlin, I did walk out of one of his shows back then. He was doing his famous monologue where he lists one bad word after another, making people laugh hilariously. Yet for the first time in my life, I was enlightened to the fact that a lot of dirty words are simply references to female anatomy. Being a lifelong champion of women and being one myself, I couldn’t support degrading the very sex I had tried diligently to defend.

Yet it’s been decades since I let those four letter words fly freely. My endeavor to curb my wayward tongue started when I became a Christian believer almost 25 years ago. There were Scriptures that convinced me that spouting obscenities was probably not attractive as a Jesus follower. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3: 9 & 10 NIV

For those of you, who want to know how far you can go before it becomes sin, I think that Ephesians 4:29 in the New Living Translation is pretty clear, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” If that verse is not convincing enough, take a look at Colossians 3:8 NLV, “But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.” The term, “dirty language” is referred to in the Bible’s King James Version as “filthy communication.”

According to The Preacher’s Files [preachersfiles.com], “In the Greek language, the phrase, ‘filthy communication’ means foul speaking, low and obscene speech.” More than two decades ago, in respect to my newfound faith, it took a concentrated effort requiring vigilance and time to liberate me from my potty mouth. For months, I bit my lower lip constantly to avoid swearing, shocked by how frequently I cussed like a sailor.

Fully rehabilitated, and moonlighting as a prerelease speaker at North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio, more than a decade ago, I was surprised when an educator negatively commented about my lack of expletives. Following my lecture, the public school principal said, “When ‘John Doe’ comes to speak, he uses the ‘F’ word, and the prisoners can relate.”

“I know the ‘F’ Word,” I said with sarcasm. “But I don’t use it, because I thought we were trying to teach the inmates to aspire to a better life.” Inwardly, I was disappointed that someone trained to instruct others, thought we should incorporate their bad habits into our delivery to communicate more effectively. Besides, everyone knew that “John Doe” was paid thousands for his speeches, while I barely made three figures.

Recently, I’ve noticed that even clergy sometimes seem to think it makes them appear more relevant if they throw in a few four letter words occasionally. Of course, I don’t think most folks in ministry would venture into the “F” bomb terrain, but apparently a British priest did. I read the account of a vicar in northern England who used the infamous word on his Facebook page. The Church Report shared the story on May 25, 2012, “Priest Apologizes for Unholy Language on Facebook.” Seriously, Father, what were you thinking?

As a transformed gutter-mouth girl, I’ve been on both sides of this argument. Only one expletive away from a relapse, I’m biting my bottom lip again, but this time it’s over the outcome of Middleborough’s ban. This new ordinance is under scrutiny from the American Civil Liberties Union as a possible violation of the First Amendment regarding freedom of speech. The ordinance also had to be filed with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office by July 11, 2012, and then there would be a possible 90 day review period to review the bylaw’s constitutionality.

Interestingly though, the ordinance actually decriminalizes public profanity which has been an illegal, but rarely enforced offense in Middleborough since 1968. The recent demise of the FCC policy probably sets a precedent that the First Amendment protects people’s right to cuss up a storm. But how about a little common courtesy in public? Maybe we could designate a “foul language only” section in community settings and eateries. Although if my former boss was still around, I’ll bet he might have a little chat with patrons about their deficient vocabulary, if he caught them swearing in his restaurant.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award winning freelance journalist, inspirational speaker, and author of the book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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