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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The Japanese Ladies’ Lesson

When I look out of my kitchen window I can see the back of Miho’s house. For a long time after she was gone, when evening’s darkness would settle over the neighborhood and the timed lights would turn on in the empty home, I would imagine she was still inside clearing the supper dishes. I did the same thing for weeks when the school bus would come in the morning to pick up the children who live nearby. As was my daily habit, I would gaze out the same window absentmindedly searching for Tetsu and Haru’s faces among the little ones. Then with sadness, I would remember that they had returned to their native country.

The then 10-year-old twins had grown rapidly through the years as our neighbors. But their father’s U.S. work assignment was finished, and it was time for the family to go back to the country where the boys had been born, where their extended family would surely be anxiously awaiting their arrival, and where their years in America would become a memory of a season past.

Their home in Japan, a nation over 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, greatly contrasted the lifestyle they had experienced in Ohio. I would learn much from Miho during the time we were able to spend together, despite our busy schedules. Language was a barrier in the beginning, but that barrier was bridged by the kindred spirit that we shared. Miho was not my first Japanese friend though. It was Kyoko, whom I originally met in an exercise class at the YMCA, who paved the way for me to understand how courageous the Japanese families who live among us, up and down I-75 are. The women are especially brave, because while their men find identity and professional camaraderie in their workplace, the ladies must find their own purpose in a country that is so foreign to their own.

Their children also have to learn to assimilate into a school setting with a language and customs dissimilar to what they’ve known. Yet it is often said that children are more adaptable than adults when it comes to change. Still, that’s not always the case, as I’ve heard stories about little ones crying themselves to sleep at night, overwhelmed by change.

As for the sense of loss and displacement that children and adults can both experience when they are thrust into a different environment, we commonly refer to this condition as homesickness. Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist, who is a University of Alabama associate professor sees this phenomenon in college freshmen. According to a post on www.hercampus.com, “Dr. Klapow stresses that it’s important to recognize that homesickness is a very normal reaction to periods of rapid change and adjustment…people misinterpret what exactly it means to be homesick. It’s not about missing home – [your] house, [your] bed. Very often it’s about missing what’s normal and comfortable, what we’re used to, and not quite being comfortable with our new way of life.”

Yet, Kyoko and Miho shared a common trait that enabled them to find friends, and rewarding outlets and activities, while in the United States. They both sought diligently to master the English language, even though this can be a daunting challenge. By personality, they were also extremely friendly, willing to try new challenges and social situations, and accepting of others. I miss both of these dear ladies, but they left me with an important lesson about being aware of the transplanted individuals in our communities, not only the Japanese, but others who might be struggling with feelings of isolation.

Unfortunately, in recent history, due to terrorism, senseless mass shootings in general, and the Opioid crisis, we have become suspicious of anyone we don’t know. Sadly, now this distrust is even within our churches. There is legitimate cause for this fear, and we need to use wisdom and keep ourselves and our children as safe as possible.

But at the end of the day, we can’t let fear dictate our daily interactions with those who live, work, or worship among us. We need to reach out with hospitality and acceptance, and fight fear with faith. After all, this is America, “the home of the free and the land of the brave.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Ohio APME and Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be released in 2018. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

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Finding Hope in a Lemonade Stand

Lemonade 1For a couple years, there was what I affectionately nicknamed, “The Posse” that assembled whenever there was trouble in my neighborhood. The Posse consisted of about half-a-dozen elementary-aged boys on bicycles. One evening arriving home before sunset, the small band of do-gooders had gathered in my front yard standing upright on their bikes looking forlornly at the cornfield across the busy road. The majority of boys weren’t allowed to cross the road due to their parent’s rules, but it was obvious that something was terribly wrong.

I pulled into my garage, wanting to head straight for my living room couch and a little TV, but I could tell they needed some adult help. Remembering once having had a little boy of my own who is now all grown up, I dutifully approached the group to inquire what was happening. Animatedly talking over each other, the youngsters frantically shared that a neighborhood dog had gone missing in the nearby field. The corn was high like it is right now. The oldest boy and I, the one who owned the brown and white frisky pooch, headed across the road while the others anxiously watched. Miraculously, the curious canine came running when he heard his 10-year-old master’s voice calling his name.

On another occasion, while I was in the yard pulling weeds, a middle-aged female who was new to the neighborhood and to Ohio approached me sobbing about her missing cats. I calmly explained that we would have to call out The Posse. That particular time, even some parents got involved in the hunt. One cat was eventually recovered, but sadly the other was never found. The members of this boyhood group are older now, and seem to have disbanded. It’s been a real loss, because their camaraderie infused a bond among normally isolated neighbors.

Let’s face it, unless we’ve known someone for a long time, most folks keep to themselvesHeadlines 2 in whatever neighborhood we live. Many people are so busy. Besides, the world has grown increasingly frightening these last couple of years, and neighboring can seem like a thing of the past. With terrorist attacks in unexpected places, ongoing school shootings, political unrest, heroin addiction running rampant, racially motivated killings, and then on July 7, 2016, our country witnessed one of the greatest tragedies of this decade. Five Dallas law enforcement officers were murdered, and seven others were injured in a brutal massacre. The following morning, I couldn’t imagine how anything would cause our country to have a bright future, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that thought. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, I wanted to lock the doors and give up on humanity.

But late that morning, I glanced out of my kitchen window, and couldn’t believe what I saw. On the edge of my yard, four or five small children and a little red wagon, a few elementary school girls and one boy sitting in miniature chairs who had set up a makeshift lemonade stand. Children I had never seen on my corner before, with a young mother watching on the sidewalk nearby.Lemonade 3

Despite my formally despondent mood, I felt hope for the future bubble up inside as I observed the kids excitedly interacting with each other. I did what any self-respecting neighbor lady should do. I told my husband who was home on vacation, we had to go outside and buy some lemonade. Even though my spouse has been dieting, I asked him to give the little ones $1.00 for the fifty-cent lemonade. Confused that I was encouraging him to drink sugar and pay double the amount, my poor hubby was surprised a second time when I told him it was best if we throw the sugary drink away once we were back inside. I explained that being a former business owner myself, I had simply wanted to encourage the young professionals that hard work pays off.

Headlines 4Even when another fatal incident happened in Baton Rouge recently with law enforcement officers being targeted again, I remembered the lemonade stand. In the midst of turmoil it remains a sign of hope that there is still a wonderful future waiting for our nation’s children, because they are the future. I saw it in their twinkling eyes as we handed over our money to pay for our fifty-cent lemonade. Dollar bills that still say, “In God we trust.” The lemonade stand was a visual reminder that in the darkest of life’s storms, we can trust that there is a plan for our tomorrows.

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

 

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Recovery: The Art of Repurposing Lives

My mother had an artistic ability to make everything beautiful. For instance, once with half-a-dozen children loaded in her old car, she spied a treasure in the trash about a block from our home in Lima. Mom gasped with pleasure at the sighting, but I was sure the old bookshelf had seen better days. Not to be denied, she marched up to the front door of that house and asked the elderly female owner if she could have the bookcase.

BookshelfThe dark wood was heavily marred with scratches, and it didn’t look like much of a prize. In those days, Old English furniture polish was the standard cure for distressed furniture, so Mom doused the entire shelf in the dark liquid. Almost magically, it seemed to breathe new life into the discarded antique. When the wood dried, she found a lace dolly that covered the deep gouges on top, and then filled the shelves with books and glassware. Even though I had seen her do it countless times, once more this resourceful woman created something of beauty out of second-hand junk.

Back then, we didn’t use terms like: repurpose, refresh, restore, or reinvent. There was no category of household items or furniture known as Shabby Chic or vintage, or stores filled with repurposed products. If something was used, it was simply that, “used.” It was to be looked down upon, rejected, or devalued.

We can devalue others too, overlooking the fact that the art of repurposing isn’t just about old furniture or broken jewelry. Rather it’s about putting back together the pieces of people’s lives that have been shattered by addiction. After all, it’s easy to look at individuals making poor choices, and to believe they are past societal or even spiritual redemption. Addiction is complicated, whether it is heroin, prescription painkillers, countless other drugs, or even alcohol. Since the battle with heroin began, many folks have forgotten that although alcohol consumption is legal, it can still be a dangerous substance if abused. For example, alcohol remains a contributing factor in divorce, domestic violence, and in 40 percent of violent crimes.

Headlines and nightly TV news stories tell us the harrowing tales of the wrongs committed by individuals plagued by substance abuse. There are murders, robberies, fatal car crashes, and overdoses that paint the picture of people whose lives are out of control. But that’s not the whole picture. Whatever the addiction, we can cast off these struggling human beings and offer them and their loved ones little hope for restoration forgetting that recovery is always possible. Celebrities including: Robert Downey Jr., Eric Clapton, Samuel Jackson, and many others have overcome drug addiction. Even the most lost and hopeless of cases can turn into the greatest advocates for change when provided with a fresh start.

Yet this is not a rose-tinted philosophy requiring little effort. Increased funding will have to be continually allocated to addiction and mental health issues, along with ongoing education to know how to better serve this at-risk population. Long-term affordable treatment centers, recovery programs for those incarcerated, and family support networks will have to be established. More twelve step recovery and faith groups will be essential, but prevention among the young will be key. In this recovery fight, there are those on the frontlines who deserve our gratitude for their dedication. Mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, court system employees, first responders, and medical personnel who are daily confronted with the first step in the plan to save lives. Also, twelve step leaders and courageous recovering addicts who share their powerful testimonies in hopes of preventing others from walking the treacherous path of addiction.

Our nation’s heroin epidemic took most of us by surprise, and we are still reeling from its existence. Yet burying our heads in the proverbial sand won’t make it go away. That’s why we should support those on the frontlines, and equip them with whatever assistance we can provide, while wrapping our arms around the families that have been wrestling with a loved one’s addiction in whatever way possible.

Key NecklaceThankfully, my mother’s lesson about reclaiming the vitality of a cast-off item stayed with me. That’s why not long ago, when I found a large rhinestone and silver-plated key at a church sale, I had to buy it.

I had no idea what to do with the sparkling key, but then I happened upon a necklace that had lost its own pendant. The key fit perfectly on the long silver chain, but it still seemed incomplete. I added a few more gems including: a miniature heart with a mustard seed, and a silver charm from a broken bracelet engraved with the words from Scripture, “If you have faith so small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Writing this column is having faith in the impossible. My mother taught me another lesson. When you don’t know what to do, do something. So I’m writing another recovery column, hopeful that keeping the conversation going is a way to fight back. For now, may we all take “one day at a time,” and work together to find solutions by rejecting apathy, refusing to give up, and reclaiming our communities one life at a time.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio AP award-winning freelance 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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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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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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Long-married Couples share advice for, “Living Happily Ever After”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If You Like Love Stories, Just Released in October 2012

Finding the Courage to Love Again

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

     My Love to you Always

My Love to You Always

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

 

 

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