Thankful for the Gift of More Time

Martha Farmer 034 Martha Farmer 037 “It wasn’t your time,” the body shop technician said matter-of-factly surveying my husband’s wrecked car. As Nate, whose name was embroidered on his work shirt, began wrapping the totaled vehicle with clear plastic; I dutifully gathered my personal possessions.

Just days before, the black sedan’s pristine finish glistened in the sunshine. Now, what was left of the car was a reminder of how blessed I had been to survive.

“It wasn’t your time,” was the twenty-something auto-technician’s advice on how to conquer the anxiety about driving that my 2008 accident created. I often think of Nate’s simple theology.

His statement reminded me of something German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote in his Letters and Papers from Prison, “We all have our appointed hour of death, and it will always find us wherever we go. And we must be ready for it.”

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who refused to sit idly by as Adolph Hitler killed millions of Jewish citizens during World War II. Instead the German leader joined a movement to have Hitler assassinated, resulting in his 1943 imprisonment. Bonhoeffer’s own appointed hour of death occurred in 1945, when at only 39 years of age he was hanged at the Flossenburg concentration camp.Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’m not comparing my situation to the slain scholar’s, because I felt blessed to be alive that afternoon. After all, a few days earlier while driving in heavy four-lane traffic I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a car rapidly approaching. My frantic mind quickly realized that there was nothing I could do. Suddenly, I heard the sickening sound of crunching metal, and felt the forceful impact that propelled me forward quite a distance.

Miraculously, there was no vehicle directly ahead, nor had I been pushed into an adjoining lane. Momentarily dazed, I gratefully assessed that my injuries were non-life-threatening, although they would require a trip to the hospital. The young man whose vehicle’s front end had connected with my demolished back end assured me that he was ok, too. “We can always get a new car, but we can’t replace precious people,” was a philosophy that I had been taught by my late mother.

Thankfully, I knew my husband agreed with my practical view of totaled automobiles, since I just “happened” to borrow his car that day. Providentially, Larry’s vehicle “was” proven to prevent injuries in crash tests. It lived up to its promise, even though it resembled a folded accordion after the wreck.

photo (2)There were several other remarkable occurrences surrounding the event. When dressing the morning of the accident, my treasured angel pin, a gift from late Jewish Holocaust survivor, Elisabeth Sondheimer, seemed to sparkle warningly as it fell to my bedroom floor. Then before leaving, my normally rushed school administrator spouse stopped uncharacteristically to put his arms around me and say a quick prayer.

I had also placed an antique picture of Jesus standing behind a sailor who is navigating a ship’s wooden wheel behind the driver’s seat that day. The portrait depicts the Jewish carpenter with one hand lovingly resting on the young seamen’s shoulder and the other arm extended, pointing him in the direction he needs to go amidst the turbulent seas.

I had taken the inspirational artwork to give to a colleague who was encountering some rough seas of his own. When cleaning the car out at the body shop, I found the glass and wooden framed picture undamaged just as Nate was sharing his wise advice about it not being my time.Jesus is my Pilot

The borrowed car, the angel pin, my husband’s spontaneous prayer, and the antique picture are all reminders of my own belief that God is always in control, even when life seems randomly chaotic. However, my greatest blessing was the fact that apparently it wasn’t my “appointed hour of death” as Bonhoeffer once wrote. Because someday, death “will find me,” just as it finds us all, since nobody gets out of here alive.

If you disagree with Nate, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and me, perhaps you will like the wisdom in the song lyrics of the former hit, It’s Not My Time by rockers, 3 Doors Down. “My friend, this life we live is not what we have, it’s what we believe. And it’s not my time. I’m not going ….” Hopefully, you and I are not going today. For now, we’ve all been granted the precious opportunity to spend more time with those we love, and to finish our work on this Earth.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an inspirational speaker and Amy Award winning freelance journalist. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  

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An Obituary’s Message to Call your Mother

Mom, This one's for you!

Mom, This one’s for you!

Earlier this year, my local daily newspaper changed the placement of the obituaries moving them to page two. I’ve often wondered how many other newspaper readers are like me, keenly interested in the obituaries. I also question how my gradual transition from reading the comics as a teenager to devouring the death notices as a boomer occurred. Once, an elderly relative humorously confided that he read the obituaries right away to make sure he wasn’t among those listed. Of course, in case you miss one, you can simply go online and Google the person’s name and date of death. Often you can even post condolences to the family or send flowers if you like. Facebook can be another great way to be alerted to the passing of a friend or former co-worker when someone posts their obituary online. Living in a society that is in a constant state of flux geographically necessitates that we stay in touch electronically.

But what’s so important about an obituary anyway? In explanation, caring about people makes you realize what a vital part that death plays in the game of life. Commemorating those who have gone before us is an integral rite of passage, and being there for those left behind is of paramount importance. Yet, to be there, you have to be informed, thus the relevance of the obituary.

An obituary can tell you a lot about a deceased individual, even when you think you already know them. Then there are times, when you aren’t acquainted, but you are startled by the details of their death and human curiosity and compassion kick in. For instance, when someone young dies, even when they are a total stranger, most people probably lament this untimely passing in a deeper way. We sympathize, because the death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and your heart aches for those suffering this loss.CassieCasket

There is death by suicide, too. An obituary doesn’t usually reveal this heartbreaking detail. However, sometimes you can read between the lines to decipher that for some reason an individual could no longer bear to be part of this world. Other tragic deaths include accidents caused by alcohol consumption or those drug-related, of which there are far too many lately. As with a violent murder, the facts are frequently disclosed in a related news story. Another heart grabber is when several members of a family die together.

No one is spared the pain of burying loved ones, that’s why it’s necessary to be there for those left behind. I learned this valuable lesson in my youth, when a teenage friend committed suicide, and I failed her dear mother who was like a second mother to me. In the midst of this crisis, I disappeared. I didn’t visit the funeral home or call, because I was terrified of dealing with death. It wasn’t death itself that frightened me, rather the fear of saying or doing something wrong, or of not being strong. My misconception was that I wouldn’t be missed, but I was.

Growing up through my own funeral home tour of duty I have come to realize that you remember the faces there, and you are acutely aware of the absence of those who don’t come. It’s a defining moment like serious illness, when you realize who your true friends are. After all, the Bible says we should, “…mourn with those who mourn.” When I do pay my last respects now, I no longer feel overwhelmed by the need to have eloquent words of comfort. I simply say how very sorry I am, and offer a hug, remembering how grateful I have been for those consoling embraces in days past.

I wish I could give Robert Downey Jr., my condolences and a big hug. Sadly, the famous actor lost his 80-year-old mother on Sept. 22, 2014. A few days later, he courageously posted a beautiful obituary that he had written about her on his official Facebook page. He candidly included that his mom’s broken career dreams were caused by alcoholism, something she successfully overcame. He even credits a 2004 phone call from her as the catalyst for his own sobriety today.

Obituaries like Downey Jr.s’ are a startling reminder to the living to appreciate our tragically flawed loved ones. He closes it with the poignant words, “If anyone out there has a mother, and she is not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway…”

Oh, how I wish I could, but the only obituary I’ve ever written was my mother’s. Still, maybe it’s not too late for you to take the actor’s wise advice and call yours.

Robert Downey Jr.s Mom

 

Click on the photo of Robert Downey Jr.s’ mother, Elsie, to read his touching obituary.

 

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April’s Columbine Challenge 20 Years Later

Columbine exteriorThe threat of school violence is all too real for me. As a school administrator’s wife, at two different public systems, I’ve lived through a bomb threat and lock down with my husband inside the endangered buildings. Yet as a journalist, there is no violent episode more personally memorable than the one that occurred in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. Twenty years ago, employed as a west central Ohio television reporter, I was horrified by the live footage of bloodied bodies being transported on gurneys from Columbine High School that afternoon. What we were witnessing was one of the firsts in school violence. Sadly, I fear the public is now almost hardened to horrific scenes of mayhem at learning institutions. 

Unfortunately, April has a history of violence. For example, John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. On the same date, 47 years later more than 1500 crewmen and passengers perished with the Titanic. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis on April 4, 1968, and the Oklahoma City Bombing claimed 168 victims on April 19, 1995. On April 16, 2007, tragedy struck on the campus of Virginia Tech, when a student killed 32 individuals, while wounding 17 others, before taking his own life.  On April 15, 2013  Continue reading

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Four Personal Reasons for Hating Breast Cancer

  image All across the U.S. we have been observing October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Many of us are have been wearing pink t-shirts embracing the message. Even NFL players championed the cause with hot pink sneakers. Yet tomorrow as November begins, we will be putting all our pink away. But breast cancer doesn’t just happen in October. It strikes down women and occasionally men, all year long.

For me, fighting breast cancer is personal, but not for the reasons you might think. By profession, I am a freelance journalist. Therefore, when I first found a lump in December of 2007, my mind started racing with breast cancer statistics that I had often reported. Terrified, that it was my turn to become part of them. 

For example, according to the National Cancer Institute one out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at sometime in their lives. In 2013 alone, this organization estimates that 232, 340 women will be diagnosed, while the American Cancer Society reports that about 2, 240 men will also receive this diagnosis.

Thankfully, the reporter in me knew what to do when I found the suspicious lump, because breast cancer is estimated to be as high as 98 percent survivable if detected in the earliest stages according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Immediately, I called my gynecologist and scheduled an appointment explaining the lump’s discovery.

​This predominantly killer-of-women had already become a personal enemy, because over 20 years ago, it took a dear friend’s life. Becky valiantly fought breast cancer for almost a decade, but by the time she reached her mid-thirties she could fight no longer. She was a woman of great faith, a pastor’s wife, filled with dreams for the future. So no one ever expected that breast cancer would happen to her.

Today, her chance for survival would be greater due to positive healthcare advances. image

To honor Becky’s memory, every October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I interviewed  breast cancer survivors. My hope was to encourage women over forty to have a mammogram yearly. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam every 3 years and possible self-exams per American Cancer Society recommendations as well. Women at risk should follow more stringent guidelines.  

My own ambiguous ultrasound six years ago resulted in the need for a biopsy, being told the lump was highly suspicious. I thought about surgery, and about losing my long blonde hair. I looked at wigs and even tried to make my husband Larry promise that if I needed chemotherapy, he would shave his head like former NFL quarterback Brett Favre had done for his wife, Deanna.

It is estimated that about 1.6 million breast biopsies are performed in the U.S. annually with about 80 percent being benign (non-cancerous). These are hopeful statistics, but I did not know them until afterwards. That is after I was sitting on the edge of my chair in the consulting room waiting to hear the biopsy’s results. My husband held my hand tightly as the nurse smiled and shared the good news that I was among the 80 percent cancer-free.

Momentarily, I was elated, but being a journalist I couldn’t help but think about statistics again. Survivor’s guilt reminded me that soon, another woman would be sitting in thatvery same chair hearing that her biopsy revealed she had cancer.

Like my young friend Monica, who is my third reason for hating breast cancer. We used to lie on our mats next to each other during Pilates class and giggle like school girls. Monica was smart. She was a teacher, and she was only 29 when this dreaded disease took her life in 2011.

Then last October this hater-of-females caused my 41-year-old friend Kimberly to head for Heaven’s shores long before what seemed her time. I was there as a bridesmaid when she married, and present at the birth of her first baby. It was only right that I held her hand just hours before she breathed her last Earthly breath leaving behind three children and a grieving husband.

Losing three precious friends to breast cancer, and having had a close brush myself continues to fuel my passion for making sure that other females will have the opportunity to have the preventative tools and knowledge to battle this formidable foe, which takes the lives of 40,000 U.S. women each 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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Condolence cards offer comfort a second time

Dayspring Greeting Cards

Dayspring Greeting Cards offer comfort when our own words fail us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A snow day in Ohio, the perfect time to tackle that old tub filled with greeting cards collected over the years. After all, lately words like simplify, downsize, and de-clutter seem to be calling to me in a rather frantic voice. Of course, you can’t keep all the cards you receive. For instance, those wonderful Christmas greetings which arrive each holiday can accumulate quickly. According to the Greeting Card Association website, www.greetingcard.org these seasonal cards are the most popular of all varieties selling about 1.6 billion units annually.

Although, most of the cards in my laundry-basket-sized tub are the kind you can’t throw out or recycle. They are treasures that are forever memories including every birthday and Mother’s Day card my son ever sent me. There are romantic cards, too. Ones my husband gave me when we were dating and Valentine’s Day cards from each year after we married. Except for that first year, before he knew that a woman without a Valentine’s card could be a lethal commodity. But that really is a whole other column.

Information from the GCA website explains, “Women purchase an estimated 80% of all greeting cards…spend more time choosing a card… and are more likely to buy several cards at once.” Cindy Garland, owner of The Ivy Garland, a gift and flower shop located in downtown Sidney, Ohio, agrees that women buy more cards. “Absolutely, in here it is probably 90 percent,” she said. The Ivy Garland has been in business for 13 years, and card sales have remained consistent. “I still sell about the same amount….I sell a lot of humorous cards…,” said the shop’s owner. “I [also] sell a lot of sympathy cards…,” she added.

My late mother was the consummate card sender. My tub is half-filled with notes, postcards, and greeting cards from her. It didn’t take a special occasion. I used to tell her that she had a card ministry, because she always seemed to send a card with encouraging words at just the right time. Serendipity or divine providence, you decide. Yet, I always believed that my mother’s card giving was a special gift from God to this world. From her, I learned how important sending a card for a happy or sad occasion can be. One celebrates life, the other says, “You are not alone in your pain.”

“I think people appreciate the gesture anytime,” said Cindy Garland. The businesswoman says that the significance of a greeting card is, “To let people know you are thinking of them. It’s something that they can touch.” When it comes to expressing condolences, a sympathy card has a special purpose. It’s a time when, “…a lot of people don’t know what to say,” said Garland. Therefore, a card’s message can help people to better express their feelings.

I suppose it was no surprise that when Mom died, those who had garnered a lifetime of cards from her, would send a condolence card in her honor. You see, my prolific card-sending mother mailed out several hundred Christmas cards every year. So you can imagine how many sympathy cards I received. I read each one when they arrived shortly after her sudden death more than two years ago. Some of the cards contained messages that helped me get through those dark days. I planned to look the cards over one last time, and throw most of them away. Truthfully, this task had been too painful to undertake before.

On a snowy March afternoon with a hot cup of coffee and blazing fire, reading these thoughtful cards produced amazement and tears. Without the blur of shock and grief, I could hear the heart of each sender. Especially those who had also lost loved ones, sharing what helped them through, wanting desperately to offer comfort. The first time around, I missed this vital point about condolence cards. We are all so deeply touched by the loss others experience, because we all live through heartbreaking losses of our own.

My advice is that if you have experienced a recent bereavement don’t dispose of those sympathy cards. Save them. Then read them again in a couple of years, when you will be able to appreciate them more. In the end, I put all the cards back into the tub realizing that they were too precious to discard. Each one was a new memory of being comforted a second time by others who had courageously walked their own grief-filled road.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in The Lima News and Sidney Daily News March 2013.

 

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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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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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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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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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