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 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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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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My Bucket List: Paris, a House, and Saving Someone’s Life

OakTara author, Christina Ryan Claypool

OakTara author, Christina Ryan Claypool

If you want to talk about bucket lists, you could begin by viewing the film that started the conversation about this topic. In explanation, the 2007 movie, The Bucket List, was my catalyst for mentally composing my own list of must-do-things before I kick the proverbial bucket. The film stars acclaimed actors Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman who both have terminal cancer. Together they set out on a journey to complete their own “to-do” before dying list. One of The Bucket List’s most comedic moments happens when Freeman [Carter Chambers] argues with Nicholson [Edward Cole] about jumping from the open door of a plane. Although jumping from a plane sure wouldn’t be on my list, because I’ve always had a fear of heights. That’s the beauty of the bucket list. It’s different for everyone. For example, my long-ago career goal of becoming a network TV anchor now seems like just an elusive dream. I did get to work in small market Christian broadcasting for years, but never moved up the ranks. I’ve often thought how great it would be to sit in Diane Sawyer’s chair just for a night, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. Still, you will find getting back into TV on my list, despite the fact that I’m fifty-something.

Also on my bucket list, there’s my lifelong desire to see Paris which could be easily accomplished with a little mad money. I readily admit that checking travel costs to Paris has been a way of life for a long time now. Despite budget constraints, one day I’m going to have to bite the financial bullet to make it to the Eiffel Tower.

Twenty Wishes 2In 2009, after reading a book by New York Times bestselling author, Debbie Macomber titled, Twenty Wishes, I penned my personal list of the 20 things that I would like to achieve before I die. Before that, my bucket list had only been stored in my overcrowded mind. After competing it, I put this important piece of paper in the back of my burgundy leather Bible. Sometimes, I study the now tattered from handling page of my before I check-out of this world desires. I’ve even been able to cross a few off. For example, a life goal had been teaching adults at college level. In 2010 that dream was accomplished when I became an adjunct instructor for Mount Vernon Nazarene University.

I had also wanted to win an award, because although some folks think I’m a successful writer, truthfully I haven’t made much money. Yet I have received enough rejection letters/emails these past two decades to paper the bathroom walls. That’s why, I began to wonder, if I was any good at my craft. It was an amazing surprise when last May I was awarded the national $10,000 first prize in the Amy Writing Awards for a newspaper feature for The Lima News about a family who grappled with forgiving the man who brutally murdered their loved one. To read the article click here: Finding Forgiveness and the Amy Writing Awards. If you are a writer, please read More about the Amy Writing Awards, because you could be a winner, too.

OakTara Publisher's Real-life love stories, the anthology, "My Love to You Always" compiled and edited by Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner

OakTara Publisher’s Real-life love stories, the anthology, “My Love to You Always” compiled and edited by Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner

Just a few months later, I was delighted to find out that I had won another contest. This one sponsored by OakTara Publishers. My short real-life love story about experiencing the heartbreak of divorce, then being given another chance at late in life love with my wonderful husband, Larry Claypool, titled, “Finding the Courage to Love Again,” had been accepted. The story made it into OakTara’s Christian Romance Anthology, My Love to You Always. I was just one of 42 authors to be included in the book, which was released in October 2012.

Then more exciting news, I was also named a winner in OakTara’s Romance Short Story Fiction Contest. My story, “Not just another casserole lady,” was included in the publisher’s Christian romance anthology, I Choose You which was released last month.  For me, this was doubly exciting, because it was the first time that I was blessed to have a fictional piece published. Of course, getting to Paris, having a grandchild, and buying a home instead of renting, are still dreams that haven’t been fulfilled. But that’s OK, because this simply means there’s more time for me to finish this wonderful journey called life.

OakTara Publisher's Romance Anthology, "I Choose You" compiled and Edited By Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner
OakTara Publisher’s Romance Anthology, “I Choose You” compiled and edited by Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner

Speaking of life, one of the most important entries on my list of twenty wishes is to, “Save someone’s life.” I’m not sure how to accomplish this. I’ve been telling my husband that if he would agree to let me rescue a cute little puppy, I could check this one off. But alas, he has severe allergies.

A bucket list is a wonderful tool to remind us of our dreams. Because for most of us, it is in fanning the embers of our God-given visions, no matter how old we are, that can help us get through the difficult days.  After all, having goals gives us something to look forward to; keeping us hopeful, youthful, and reaching for the stars.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1

 

 

 

 

 

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Battling the Day after Christmas Blues

Christmas tree with presents and fireplace with stockings --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisTwas the day after Christmas and in every store, shoppers were returning presents galore:  an ill-fitting sweater, a calendar of cats, unwanted perfume, and NFL hats. They stood in long lines, their foreheads glistening with sweat, disgruntled that they hadn’t been waited on yet. You see, the clerks were all tired and too burned-out to care, while the recipients of gift cards were finding sales everywhere.

The above lines are my brief parody of the well-known Christmas poem, Twas the Night before Christmas written by Clement Clark Moore in 1822. This poem is also commonly referred to as A Visit from St. Nicholas because according to www.carols.org it “redefined our image of Christmas and Santa Claus.” The poem is a classic read for many American youngsters on Christmas Eve, as today’s “visions of sugar-plums dance in their heads.”

The problem is that in our society, children are not fixated on receiving small pieces of sugary candy, but rather on big ticket items that most parents cannot afford. Likewise, the jewelry store commercials have led countless bewildered mates down the path of purchasing a budget-breaking bauble on credit.

No disrespect intended, but maybe you’re one of the sentimental suckers who fell for these ads. Now the day after Christmas you’re experiencing a massive case of post-purchase dissonance. That’s a technical term for the sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re concerned that you’ve spent more on an item than you probably should have. Take heart, I’m sure you did make someone very happy, despite the fact that the gift probably won’t be paid off until Christmastime next year.

Even more depressing are the commercials portraying perfect families gathering to sing carols and toast eggnog. The truth is that many of us spent Christmas alone, or with a tiny remnant of our geographically dispersed families, possibly mourning either deceased loved ones or broken relationships.

Just days ago, the gaily wrapped presents under the tree promised some kind of hopeful Christmas spirit. Now, trash bags filled with ripped wrapping paper and torn cardboard boxes might be a mocking reminder of these unfulfilled expectations. However, the true gifts of Christmas are rarely presents in a box that can be returned the day after Christmas. Rather, they are simply unexpected gifts of love that create memories that can be cherished forever. The greatest example is the origin of Christmas itself, when a baby was born in a Bethlehem stable bringing love to the entire world.

Besides remembering the true reason for the season, it can also be helpful to recant the blessings of holidays past, to battle the day after Christmas blues. One of my miracles happened when I owned a thrift store near the Lima mall and my now adult son was a preteen. Our car had a flat tire the day before Christmas Eve, and Zach and I walked blocks in the sub-zero temperatures back to my store.

Besides the car, I had an old van to haul merchandise, but it had also refused to start the day before. As a single mom, there had been some rough moments, but when I woke up that Christmas Eve, I had no idea how things could work out. I opened my store, praying that I might make extra cash for the vehicle repairs. But where would I find a mechanic on a holiday?

Then early in the afternoon, a slight built young man with dark hair came in and asked if there was any work that he could do to earn $50.00 for a bus ticket, so that he could get home for Christmas. When I asked him what kind of work he did, he told me he was studying in the automotive program at University of Northwestern Ohio. Less than an hour later, he had changed my car’s tire and got the van running again. I gave him the money he needed for his bus ticket, thanking him profusely for his help.

After he left, I stood frozen and speechless, awed by the power of divine intervention. I never saw my Christmas Eve angel again. But this year, when I needed to be reminded of Christmas miracles, I remembered his visit. I’m hoping this column reminds you of your own memories of past holiday blessings, and of all the miracles still to come. These blessings will never be found in a material present. Rather they abound when we come to know the tiny baby born in a manger who is our heavenly Father’s greatest gift of love.

Tis` the day after Christmas, but there’s no need to feel down. Just remember that miracles of love still abound. Happy New Year to all and to all a good day!

Christina Ryan Claypool is an author, inspirational speaker, and wanna-be poet. Contact her at christina@christinaryanclapool.com. This column was originally published in The Lima News.          

                    

 

 

 

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Advice for those Grieving this Christmas

Christmas Dining TableThe holidays are upon us and some folks don’t feel so merry. This is especially true for those who have lost a loved one recently. Grieving can make the glitter of the Christmas season grow particularly dim.

Admittedly, grief comes in stages. One milestone for me occurred late in the fall of 2011, when the remaining leaves on the trees were ablaze with breathtaking color. However, that Sunday afternoon the skies were dark and heavy with rain. The weather matched my downcast mood. When a rented moving truck pulled into my driveway, my heart sank. I inhaled deeply then waved to my stepsister, Cindy, and her husband, Mark. To me, it felt as if the Indianapolis couple were transporting the body of a loved one, instead of our parents’ old furniture.

Losing my mother, Glenna Sprang, suddenly in 2010 was devastating. There had been no warning or preparation. She was a Philadelphia organist who played two church services on the morning of October 10th. That same afternoon, pain from a kidney stone gone terribly wrong sent her to a Pennsylvania hospital where she died three days later.Mom and me

Mom was 78. Even though she had been in excellent health, I should have realized she wouldn’t live forever. Five months later on March 5, 2011, Neal Sprang, my 80-year-old stepfather of 35 years died. Theirs had been an age-old love story. Two hearts so intrinsically intertwined, that one couldn’t keep beating for long without the other.

My stepsister and her husband had made the difficult trip to our parents’ home in Philadelphia to retrieve the furniture that we had inherited. For me, there was my grandfather’s writing desk, a birds-eye maple vanity, and a mahogany table with six chairs. Long ago, Mom and “Dad” had purchased the dining room set from a church rummage sale.

That old table has seen many wonderful memories of Christmases past. Every holiday, formal china and the good silverware would be set on the linen tablecloth, which would be laden with my mother’s steaming homemade dishes. The iridescent flames of the candles decorating the centerpiece would reflect in the crystal chandelier. For hours, my siblings and I would gather around the table sharing stories and laughing solicitously at my stepfather’s corny jokes.  

For awhile, there was an eerie silence that greeted me each time I gazed at that Duncan Phyfe table that ended up in my dining room in central Ohio. Its presence reminded me of the permanence of my parents’ passing.

Then last December, I met Rev. Philip Chilcote who gave me some great advice on how to deal with my parents’ loss. “In a particular family, you might have five children….who lose a parent and that’s five totally different griefs,” explained Rev. Chilcote who is the chaplain at Wilson Hospice in Sidney, Ohio. He is also the bereavement coordinator for the organization who assists the families of hospice patients with their own grief issues.

In addition, sixty-year-old Chilcote is the pastor of Sidney’s First Christian Church. In his role as a minister he has walked alongside countless families devastated by the loss of a loved one. “Grief is a re-adaptation process meaning we have to learn to live our lives without somebody who has always been there,” said the hospice professional. “We have to learn to adapt to a different world. Not only is the world different, but we are different,” he said.

For grieving individuals creating new traditions and rituals is important. Some folks try to ignore the loss, but Chilcote believes that you should, “include the one who is gone in what you do.” For example, if you normally hang Christmas stockings, the expert who has led grief support groups for two decades, suggests that you should hang a stocking for the individual who died.

If the deceased family member “always had the chair at the end of the table,” Rev. Chilcote says that you could leave the chair empty, or choose someone to sit in their place. As for giving, if it was your tradition to purchase a $50.00 gift certificate for the late family member,  you could make a donation to a charity or ministry in their honor, or give to a neighbor in need.  

“People can buy a special candle and at the place at the table where they sat you can light the candle…and go around the table and have each person say what they meant to you,” suggests the seasoned grief counselor. “Tell funny stories about them. Most people who die, wouldn’t want you to be sad,” he added.

My parents would definitely not want the joyous season to be filled with mourning. They were both church choir directors who believed that Christmas wasn’t about presents and mistletoe, but rather about a baby born in a Bethlehem manger whose love lives forever.

That’s why I took Rev. Chilcote’s advice last Christmas and kept my stepfather’s place at the table empty. I placed a candle where my stepdad always sat, and lit it to honor him and my mother. My mother was always too busy serving to sit much, but I made sure there was an empty china coffee cup, since she always enjoyed her pie with a cup of hot coffee.

This past year, I tried to create new family memories around my parents’ beautiful dining room table, realizing that was why it had been entrusted to me. Memories that would make my mother clap her hands in delight, and my stepfather comment, “Very good,” a saying he used when something pleased him. I no longer feel sad when I look at the table, but rather grateful that I was given such a gift.

Yet if you are reading this and you are too depressed to partake in holiday festivities, know that it really will get better. You never stop missing your loved ones, but when we know Jesus, we know that there will be a great reunion someday soon. For now, in the words that my mother always signed her Christmas cards, I wish you, “Peace, Love, and Joy,” this holiday season. 

 Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award winning freelance journalist and  speaker who is the author of the book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors. Visit her Website at  www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in 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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Giving Thanks when it’s not easy

As we observe Thanksgiving week, everyone seems to be talking turkey, family gatherings, and all about giving thanks. Yet, maybe you haven’t been at the top of your game lately, which can make it difficult to have an attitude of gratitude. Whether it’s losing a loved one, unemployment, a chronic health crisis, or a financial dilemma, life’s circumstances can really get you down.

Down is where Los Angeles judge, John Kralik was when he began to write his 2010 memoir, “365 Thank Yous,” later known as, “A Simple Act of Gratitude.” The book’s back cover says that this inspiring story is about how, “… writing thank you notes – led a hopeless, angry, middle-aged man out of despair and into a wonderful life.” Kralik’s book is not really as much about writing thank you notes, as it is about becoming aware of the many blessings one is granted daily.

For example, Ed Ball is grateful for, “…family and friends.” Ball is the executive director of Ohio’s Shelby County Veterans Service Commission. Ball graduated from Sidney High School in 1976 and two days later was in basic training. After a 20 year career in the Navy, he returned to his hometown, and today assists those who have served our country.

Although for many military families, Ball admits that it is, “A tough time of year…We have a lot of veterans not only here in Shelby County, but across Ohio [and all across our country] that are deployed to Afghanistan,” he said. There is an upside though, because “We had 2,000 personnel [from the Ohio National Guard] return…this year. They will be spending the [holidays with their families]…for that we are grateful,” said 55-year-old Ball. 

Still for many there is an empty place at the holiday table. I know my Mom and Stepdad’s absence is something that I’m still getting used to after two years. Like me, many of you might have a loved one overseas, recently deceased, or just absent due to a broken relationship. Or you might spend your holiday dinner alone, since many families feel the fracture of divorce or even simply geographical distance.

Still there are things to be grateful for, no matter our circumstances. Because in another book about gratitude titled, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, author, Ann Voskamp displays how it is the little blessings that folks often overlook.  Voskamp’s memoir is all about answering some difficult spiritual questions like, “How does one slow down enough for the soul and God to live in synch?”

After all, to experience gratitude one must reduce life’s pace, and become aware of the significance in the seemingly insignificant. Thankfulness not only at Thanksgiving, but all year long can be a powerful tool indeed. “To fully live – to live full of grace and joy and all that is beauty eternal. It is possible, wildly,” writes Voskamp in her poetic style.

Truthfully, I haven’t always known a lot about gratitude. Rather, I lived much of my life with the cup half-empty mentality, like many Americans concentrating on what I didn’t have. Not so much desiring material things, rather missing the little blessings that are easy to take for granted. Now I strive diligently to appreciate what each day brings. And sometimes on holidays when your family is broken, or you are grieving for someone who has passed away, I know this isn’t easy.

Still regardless of what is going on in our lives, if we look closely, we will usually find that there is much to be grateful for. After all, there is a God who loves us unconditionally, who will never leave us alone, and who can do anything but fail.  For now, from the Road Less Traveled, a Happy Thanksgiving holiday to you all, and remember to give thanks!  

This column is dedicated to Kimberly Winegardner, my precious friend who won her final battle over cancer on Oct. 1, 2012, by going to be home with her Lord. This column is an excerpt from a column written for the Sidney Daily News on Nov. 22, 2012.

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