June weddings, anniversaries, and children

Bride and Groom Cake TopperHistorically, June was the month when most people wed, and there are some interesting reasons for this. “During medieval times a person’s annual bath… usually fell in May or June, meaning that June brides still smelled relatively fresh…but just to be safe, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide their body odor.” This informative fact is from the website for the Topeka and Shawnee [Kansas] County Public Library. Another reason in the past for the popularity of June weddings from a Huffington Post blog by destination wedding planner, Sandy Malone, is that “the tradition dates back to the Roman times when they celebrated the festival of the deity Juno and his wife Jupiter, who was the goddess of marriage and childbirth, on the first day of June.”

“On a practical note, others chose June in order to time conception so births wouldn’t interfere with harvest work,” the same Topeka library reports. It’s not very romantic to think about smelly summer brides or babies scheduled around a farmer’s calendar, but weddings continue to be planned to allow newlyweds and their families to arrange work vacations.

Now days, Malone finds that even destination weddings occur almost as frequently in most summer months since there are reduced rates available in the off-season. As for 2014 statistics, it appears June (15%) is still the most popular month, but October (14%) is a close second from www.prnewswire.com. May through October are all strong months, with December gaining ground. But I admit that having a June wedding myself fourteen years ago, found me nostalgically reminiscing about the life-changing event that a wedding is. After all, wedding anniversaries serve as a tangible reminder of the love story that two people share. Even the most unromantic of folks would have to admit that reliving the beginnings of their relationship can rekindle the wonder of how they found their way to each other out of all the human beings in the world.Bride bouquet

Yet the day-to-day grind, hectic schedules, and trying to constantly share, can leave even devoted soul-mates perplexed at the concept of doing life together. In many ways, perhaps, this is why statistically speaking, marriage is on the way out. That part about, “Until death due us part” has lost its luster for younger folks who see how poorly those of us of former generations have done it as indicted by the divorce rate. “After decades of declining marriage rates and changes in family structure, the share of American adults who have never been married is at an historic high,” reports a September 2014 column from the Pew Research Center. Specifically, they cite about one in five adults over 25 equating to 42 million American adults as having never married, although they frequently marry later. The opinion about “the role marriage plays in society” is a vital factor as Pew Research also finds, “…with young adults much more likely than older adults to say society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.”

Still, children are being born, and experts say that they fare better when they live with parents who are married. “Children raised in intact families have, on average, higher academic achievement, better emotional health, and fewer behavioral problems,” states www.familyfacts.org. Other websites also confirm that married parents are usually at an economic advantage, and have more time to spend with their children. It appears whatever month a wedding occurs in, it is more than a union between two people. It is also about their offspring, extended families, and society in general. That’s why a wedding anniversary is such a milestone. It is a statement of celebration and hope.

Larry & Christina If we do make it anniversary after anniversary, there is an incredible reward in having someone know us better than anyone else. Hopefully in also having that same someone in our corner during the rough times and celebrating the good times. Marriage isn’t anything like a romantic novel or movie, which creates unrealistic expectations. Admittedly, it would be pretty impossible for an ordinary man or woman to live up to the leading characters in a Nicholas Sparks’ film.

Love isn’t movie-script predictable. It’s always a risk, and sadly divorce can happen to anyone, rendering emotional heartbreak. Yet hearts heal, and anything worth very much in this life is generally a risk, but some risks are worth taking. That’s why an anniversary can be a wonderful reminder of the miracle of real love!

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

 

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The secret obsession of a refrigerator detective

Refrigerator magnets 2You should never judge a book by its cover, but is it possible to judge a person by their refrigerator? For example, when you open a refrigerator, you can usually tell if it belongs to a domestically challenged individual, an aspiring chef, or a family with five children. As for the five children, hopefully their refrigerator would be stocked with all kinds of edibles, a couple gallons of milk, and no cold pizza in sight. After all, if there are any teenagers in the clan, the pizza would be consumed in one sitting, with several siblings fighting over the last piece.

If there is a self-proclaimed chef in the house, in the fridge there’s usually an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables with uncooked meat ready to be prepared. A man or woman who enjoys cooking might even have some tasty leftovers on hand, that they could transform into a delicious meal when an unexpected visitor stops. Then there is the person who never cooks, whose refrigerator contains white boxes stained with soy sauce from Chinese take-out or half-eaten meals from Bob Evans. I really like these people, because they make me feel that being domestically challenged is not the worst thing in the world. So, I’m not Rachel Ray, I can still make a pretty mean meat loaf.

However, it’s not the inside of the refrigerator that tells the real story. It’s the outside that helps you discern what the refrigerator’s owner or owners are all about. There are exceptions, as some individuals are either too young, transient, or minimalistic, to realize they can share their entire life story with magnets, treasured photos, important phone numbers, and inspiring quotations. Refrigerator magnets 1Once I realized the significance of refrigerator decorations, I must admit it was easy to become a bit obsessed. For example, people get a little uncomfortable when they are giving you a tour of their home and you stop dead in your tracks inspecting their refrigerator door. It’s usually best to do a little investigative reporting and get them involved in your quest.

Just ask a doting grandmother about the photo of the little boy or girl that is held in place by a smiley face magnet. You’ll find out more about that child than you ever wanted to know. The proud grandma might even point out the school paper bearing an A and a star, or the scribbled image of some unknown object that this same grandchild painted held in place by another magnet. Just nod agreeably when she explains that they were unaware of this artistic gifting in their bloodline. If there are numerous children’s photos everywhere, it’s best not to ask unless you have a lot of time. List of MedicinesThe phone numbers and lists on the refrigerator door can even provide some insight into the medical issues of an elderly relative or friend. In explanation, people experiencing a health crisis will often have all their resources attached to the fridge. Phone numbers for physicians’ offices, rehab services, clinics, and even medication times might be posted. As for the refrigerator’s magnets, they are sometimes gifts. Therefore, you have to find out if they really define the owner’s personality. There are also those artistic individuals whose refrigerator doors closely resemble the countless badges worn by a proud Eagle Scout.

There are humorous magnets like “I clean house every other day, but this is not the other day,” or “Hand over the chocolate, and no one will get hurt.” I am a firm believer that there is truth buried deep within this kind of humor. However, it’s the magnets bearing a faith-filled quotation that can define a person’s belief system. Many refrigerator doors are adorned with encouraging statements like, “Love bears all things.” You can’t help but wonder how many trials of faith these magnets have weathered, especially when they appear to be yellowed or cracked from age.Refrigerator magnets

Speaking of faith, it was an inspirational Facebook post quoting famous author, Max Lucado, that made me think it was time to confess my refrigerator sleuthing. It said, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it….Face it, friend. He is crazy about you.” The post made me smile, so I hope it will make someone else smile too.  In the end, maybe you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but lately I’ve come to believe that you can find out a lot about a person by their refrigerator.

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy-award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. She is also a Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor.

 

           

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Children and Seniors are going to Bed Hungry

“Could you please give me a dollar, so I could get something to eat?” I was in a restaurant parking lot one evening last summer when a twenty-something male approached me and asked me this question. The slight-built red-head didn’t seem to be high on any substance, but I wasn’t sure.

A Healthy Meal from Panera Bread

A Healthy Meal from Panera Bread

“A dollar? What can a dollar buy?” I replied suspiciously acting a lot tougher than I felt, because the lot was deserted and I didn’t know what to do. I had to do something, because my sense of spiritual and moral responsibility had kicked in. Yet as a female, it’s crucial to be aware of your surroundings and keep yourself safe.“I could get a donut,” he said hopefully.

Here’s the thing, you can never give people who say they need food, money. Not ever. This is a hard and fast rule I learned years ago volunteering in a large ministry’s food pantry. Sadly, the food money can turn into drug money. Now days, gift cards can be sold for heroin too. I’m not judging others who are in dire straits financially. Long ago, as a single mother I was part of the poverty statistic, which fuels my empathy. The point is, if you treat everyone the same, you don’t have to decide who’s high or who’s hungry. Anyway, addicted individuals still need to eat, and more importantly, so do their kids.

According to www.neighborhood-voice.com, “One in four children in Ohio either go to bed hungry or are at risk of going to bed hungry each night.” It’s a frightening feeling being an adult without resources looking at empty cupboards. Can you imagine how much more helpless a child confronted by those barren shelves must feel? Another organization www.feedingamerica.org reports that 21.5 million U.S. children took part in their school’s free or reduced meal program in 2014. But on weekends during the school year, if a food BackPack program isn’t in place, there are children who might not eat. Thankfully, there are also independent summer meal programs for kids in our community, but they need of our support.

Wonderful Gram

Wonderful Gram

There are also millions of malnourished seniors struggling with food insecurity. Long ago, my late grandmother entrusted me with the china platter that is a tangible reminder of this vulnerable population. The ivory-colored serving plate, which was once rimmed with gold, is now glazed with tiny cracks of advanced age. It’s not an antique, being devalued by the ravages of constant use. Still, to me, the platter is priceless. The turn of the century dish first belonged to my grandma’s aged female neighbor, who would sometimes sell it to “Gram” for $5.00 at the end of the month when her check ran out. Being out of money, meant being out of food; and like many older folks living alone, this senior was too proud to tell her family or a government agency that she needed help.

Besides, in those days, five dollars spent frugally could purchase a week’s worth of groceries. The neighbor would simply buy the platter back, when she received her monthly check. My grandmother’s income was more comfortable. I’m sure she would have gladly given her neighbor some groceries, but the purchase of the platter salvaged the pride of an elderly woman who was used to making her own way. It was decades ago, and there weren’t many established senior nutrition programs like “Home Delivered Meals,” or “Congregate Meals.” Gram’s neighbor died without retrieving the dish, which makes me proud thinking that Grandma might have helped her to the very end. The old platter also reminds me to be grateful for the luxury of the abundant food my family is blessed with. It is a symbol that others are not so fortunate, and that they continue to require assistance to meet their basic nutritional requirements.

Like the redhead in the parking lot, but since a donut isn’t a healthy nutritional choice, it wouldn’t solve his problem. Without thinking, I said to the young man who was younger than my son, “Follow me,” and headed back into the restaurant where I had just come from. Trying not to embarrass him, I paid for his meal, making certain it was food not drugs that my hard-earned cash was buying. Then muttering a sincere “God bless you,” I walked out hoping that somehow his circumstances would get better soon. I felt really good for a minute. Then I realized that countless other individuals in our community would be going to bed without supper that night, some of them, innocent children.  

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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A Postcard’s Reminder of Hope by Christina Ryan Claypool

“Help me, Jesus!” Desperately, I prayed this little prayer looking towards the ceiling wondering if Heaven was listening, because the cash register in my thrift/antique store hadn’t rung up many sales lately.

Pictured my postcard with my verse of 2014, Jeremiah 29:11 (Jer.29:13)

Pictured my postcard with my verse of 2014, Jeremiah 29:11 (Jer.29:13)

It was about two decades ago and I was a single mom supporting my young son with the proceeds from my retail establishment. We lived in the back in a tiny apartment and I tried my very best to be frugal with the earnings my small business brought in. But there hadn’t been much income in awhile, and I was pretty frantic. Today, I still pray these three powerful words whenever I don’t know how else to pray. I call this my breath prayer. It is not so much that I recite it while asking for divine assistance. Rather it just comes spontaneously from a place deep inside that believes God is still in control, when circumstances scream that all is lost.

And I have to be honest with you, that’s where I’ve been for months. Like there is just no way that God can make everything alright. This is in contrast to my image as a woman of steadfast faith who has written Christian recovery books and in the past worked in television ministry. So, when I first saw a post asking for guest bloggers to share their Scripture for 2014, I tried to ignore it. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, and pretend that I had something significantly spiritual to tell others when I was experiencing my own dark night of the soul. But the request haunted me. “What will your 2014 Scripture be?” a still small voice asked relentlessly. Suddenly, I knew what it was, because there is an old postcard on my refrigerator that seemed to shout, “I’m it. Look at me.”

Our wonderful wedding on June 8, 2002

Our wonderful wedding on June 8, 2002

To explain about the postcard, I have to travel
back in time. For my husband’s job as a school administrator we have had to move four times in the past twelve years. My spouse came into my life late when my son was grown, and no longer living with me. Even though our first move wasn’t far, it caused me to leave my hometown, and to be miles away from my adult child. I was grieving, and just couldn’t be consoled.

Back then in 2004, I was also attending graduate school in ministry at Ohio’s Mt. Vernon Nazarene University. Every other month, I would travel to the campus for a week of intensive classes. One day in the university book shop, I happened to notice a postcard with a sky blue background and beautiful rainbow with the printed words, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…plans to give you hope and a future…” Jeremiah 29:11. I had always loved this verse. It also said, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 Impulsively, I bought the postcard and tucked it away. I didn’t think much about it, until it came time for our move.

We had rented a lovely ranch house just across the street from the school where my husband would be the principal. Finding the house had been divine intervention, because it was the only home available to rent in the village of 1200 people. Reciprocally, we were an answer to prayer for the owner who was a gracious Christian widow looking for responsible tenants. I was in my new kitchen surrounded by moving boxes busily putting away dishes, when I noticed the familiar looking postcard on the refrigerator that the widow was letting us use. She had left it there. It can’t be? I thought to myself. But it was the very same sky blue postcard with Jeremiah 29:11 that I had purchased just a short time earlier at the MVNU bookstore. It reminded me that God was in control and that He had orchestrated the move, and that He would have plans for a wonderful future wherever we went.

Since then, during every move, I make sure to prominently place the postcard where I can see it on whatever refrigerator I have. Then unexpectedly last winter, another particularly special house we were renting was being sold, and we couldn’t afford to buy it. Moving DayI prayed and prayed that somehow God would help us make that old brick home ours, and was devastated while packing boxes again realizing that this was not to be His plan. I tried to be grateful as God provided a perfect place in a nearby city for my hubby and me to go, one that would finally be our own. But during the move, I seriously injured both of my knees with one requiring extensive surgery. Much of the last six months I have spent in a new community knowing almost no one, trapped inside recovering from painful surgery, further away from my son and with my spouse working his usual 12 hour days. Often, I must admit I have felt forgotten even by God.

But it was that postcard on my refrigerator that wouldn’t let me believe the lie that our Heavenly Father doesn’t care. ““For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,” these words kept reminding me that there is always a divine plan, even when our world appears random and chaotic. My late mother used to always joke, “God, I know you have a plan, but it sure would be nice to have a clue.” When we are distressed, we forget that we can trust our Creator, and that He is working out good on our behalf in the midst of difficult circumstances. When all seems lost, and our best days seem behind us, God promises us that, “He has plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

As we begin this new year of 2014, I’m sure that many of you reading this are in need of hope in your own lives. With hope, which is my word for 2014, we can face whatever today brings, knowing that there will be blessings waiting in our tomorrows. For me, restored health is granting me the gift of truly believing the message of Jeremiah 29:11 again, my Scripture for 2014. Like the children of Israel who found their way even in exile, I will find my way in this new place. I am here by God’s plan, not chance.

Admittedly, there were many times these last months when my heart anxiously cried out, “Help me, Jesus.” Now, I am able to remember that He always does. Like that day in my store twenty years ago, when I didn’t know how I would be able to pay the rent. God came through and brought me the finances I needed. Whatever you need today, may this blog post remind you that he has a wonderful future for you, too. May the gift of His hope be yours as we ring in 2014. Happy New Year!

 

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Losing a Child: A Mother’s Journey of Healing

  One of the greatest heartbreaks a parent can experience is the death of a child. However old that child is, it is not life’s natural progression to bury your offspring. Bruce and Catherine Toal of know firsthand how painful losing a child can be. Bruce is a Sidney businessman who is the owner of Everyday Technologies, Inc. among other interests. Catherine has been a stay-at-home mother to their children including: Jonathan, 27, Antonio, 27, who was raised in an orphanage but has been part of the family since he was 15, Zachary, soon-to-be 23, B.J., 19, and 15-year-old Lilly whom the couple adopted four years ago. But missing from the list is their daughter, Rachel Lindsey Toal, who died on Oct. 6, 1994, at the tender age of six.

 Rachel was born on June 24, 1988. Everything appeared fine until she “was seven weeks old, when they diagnosed her with the biliary atresia,” said Catherine. She was “born pink and healthy and gradually became very jaundiced.”

“In babies with biliary atresia, bile flow from the liver to the gallbladder is blocked…An operation called the Kasai procedure is done to connect the liver to the small intestine…However, a liver transplant may still be needed,” according to the Website for the National Library of Medicine.

In baby Rachel’s case, the Kasai was not effective. “[She] actually had a liver transplant at 17 months ….She was a very, very sick little girl,” said Toal. “The match was not a good one. What actually took her life at six and half, she went septic,” explained her mother describing the infection that proved fatal.

“She was beautiful, with big blue eyes, long black lashes, and long, light brown hair. A typical ‘girly-girl,’ our Rachel loved anything pink and we lovingly called her Ray-Ray.” Rachel’s mom wrote these words in her 2007 book titled, Loving the Journey with my King. The large leather hardback also contains 3 CDs of 28 original songs that represent her pathway to healing.

It is apparent, that faith is what drives 52-year-old Toal, but her faith was shattered by her child’s loss. “Our family struggled to survive the pain of losing her, and I was at my wit’s end, with nothing more to give anybody. Depressed, discouraged, and incredibly angry, I waded through the trauma of such loss the best I knew how,” wrote Catherine. “Kind loving friends and family carried us through this trying period.”

Friends and family also pitched in during the years of Rachel’s chronic illness when she was often hospitalized. For those wanting to assist a family with a sick child, Toal suggests doing practical things like: “Cleaning up the house, cooking a meal, picking up kids from school, picking up the day to day routine so the focus of the caregiver is free to take care of that child.” As the situation grew even more serious, she says it meant a great deal when others simply told her, “I’m praying.”

For the parent dealing with the death of a child, the Sidney, Ohio, woman advises, “Trust the Lord with your heart, don’t turn on Him and forgive everyone up front.” She readily admits that some folks make insensitive statements. “Unless they walked it, they don’t understand.”

For Toal, a turning point for her grieving occurred when she was finally able to let go of the anger that she carried for a long time. Later, “An amazing thing happened—something that had never happened before. A song began to form in my heart,” she wrote. “God gave me a song from heaven…” Many more songs would come to her, “I would begin getting a tune and lyrics…and sing them into a recorder.” Not a trained musician, this musical journey began healing her.   

With the assistance of talented musician Drew Cline and Dove nominated recording artist, Kelly Connor Spallinger, Toal was able to professionally produce her collaborated renditions of these songs in her book. They are melodies filled with praise, rather than despair. “The Word [Bible] tells us the spirit of heaviness is depression,” writes Toal. She cites Isaiah 61:3 as her remedy, “To appoint unto them that mourn…the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

Today, you can often find Catherine Toal at Sidney’s Lion’s Rest Prayer Center. She has spoken at seminars and conferences, and tries to encourage others just as she once desperately needed encouragement during the dark days of losing her precious daughter.

In closing, my personal advice for comforting those grieving comes from Charles Swindoll’s book, Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns, “A little girl lost a playmate in death and one day reported to her family that she had gone to comfort the sorrowing mother. ‘What did you say?’ asked her father. ‘Nothing,’ she replied. ‘I just climbed up on her lap and cried with her.’”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and speaker. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on Sept. 21, 2012.

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