A Miraculous Second Chance at Friendship

The post below is dedicated to my courageous friend, Kimberly Winegardner who remains my hero after successfully reaching Heaven’s shores on October 1, 2012. When we are grieving the loss of a dear friend, we have to embrace the comfort that comes from our Heavenly Father. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147: 3 **************************************************************************************************** Kimberly came into my life when I was the single mother of a middle-school son and the owner of a thrift store. New to west central Ohio, blonde and in her early 20s, Kim would occasionally stop by my secondhand shop to chat. We instantly connected and spent lots of time together over the next decade. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding and watched her start her family. Then, when she moved out West, we lost touch. That is, until the phone call came almost a decade later.

“Kimberly’s in the hospital. It’s cancer. The doctors aren’t giving her much hope,” a mutual friend called to tell me. Kim had moved back to Ohio by then. The following day, I drove over 100 miles to be at her side during her first chemotherapy treatment. It was as if we had never been apart.

By then, I had remarried, and almost miraculously, we soon moved only 10 miles away from Kimberly. This allowed us time to reconnect and to share our families with each other. Over the next couple of years, I watched helplessly as Kimberly bravely endured countless treatments trying to fight the deadly disease. Occasionally, my husband and I took her wonderful children out for an evening when she was in the hospital.

At the beginning, Kim made a promise that her life would not be about the cancer, but about the living. That’s why whenever we got together we talked tirelessly, like two best friends on borrowed time. I would pick her up and we would go to lunch and giggle like schoolgirls, despite her oxygen tank and growing tumors.

Kimberly’s graduation – OBM Bible college

Then about a month before her passing, I happened to watch the classic movie, “Beaches,” on TV. It’s about best friends going through the same thing as Kimberly and I. In the movie, Hillary, played by Barbara Hershey, is terminally ill, and C.C., a famous singer played by Bette Midler, rushes to be at her side.

When C.C. sings the song, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” it portrays her admiration and undying love for her courageous friend. The lyrics say, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” Silently, I prayed that seeing that movie wasn’t heavenly preparation for losing my own best friend, who grew weaker each day.

Click here for clip: Bette Middler singing Wind Beneath my Wings video courtesy Youtube

Kimberly was hanging on, wanting to be with her husband and children. I had never seen such great faith. Even when doctors said there was no more that could be done, we continued to pray for the miracle she desperately wanted.

Then it seemed as if she let go and began reaching for Heaven. One evening, I sat at her bedside holding her hand, as tears of gratitude for our second chance at friendship ran down my cheeks.

At 8 am the next morning, the phone call came. My beautiful blonde friend had breathed her last earthly breath. The morning after Kimberly’s funeral, I woke up feeling so empty. I listlessly dragged myself to my Pilates class. Leaving the gym, I noticed a garage sale sign on the corner. It was a perfect autumn day. The sun was shining, the sky was vivid blue and the trees were covered with colorful fall leaves. Still, my heart was unbearably heavy. I didn’t feel like going to the sale, but it was as if some unseen presence led me there.

KimberlyWhile absentmindedly looking over the merchandise, I spied a musical water globe. Inside was an angel dressed in an aqua and lilac robe with long golden hair. The angel was lovingly embracing a small child, and her white-feathered wings were covered with iridescent sparkles.

The globe was only $2. Impulsively, I paid for it. Later, when I wound the musical key, it began to play the tune, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Instantly, I realized it was no coincidence that I had gone to that garage sale or purchased that globe.

That same afternoon, one of the movie channels showed “Beaches” again. This time, I sobbed as I watched it, allowing myself to begin grieving my dearest friend’s loss. Yet, I was also joyful as I realized that God had sent me a garage sale angel to remind me that Heaven is real, and that Kimberly would be waiting there.

The globe now sits in a prominent place in the glass cabinet in my living room. After a decade apart, I am so thankful that my heroic friend and I remained inseparable until the very end, and that I now have the angel to remind me of her every day.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a national Amy and Ohio A.P.M.E. award-winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker. Her book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” will be released in October 2018. To learn more visit her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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About Alzheimer’s: The Long Good-Bye

Shopping Good Friday“Could you please help me find some sheets?” I was surprised when an elderly man asked me for assistance while I was shopping. Instantly, I realized that the eighty-something senior had mistaken me for a store clerk. It was an autumn Sunday afternoon in an Ohio mall, and the slight-built male was dressed like a farmer in his best church clothes. He was neat, in a non-fussy sort of way, but he seemed so alone. I wondered where his spouse was, because you could tell he was the kind of man who had had a wife for so long that he wasn’t functioning well without her.

“Is your wife gone?” I asked guessing he was a recent widower used to his mate buying the household goods. There was a gold wedding band on his small wrinkled hand. It hung on his finger like he had once been larger than he was now.

“No, she’s still alive,” he answered. “She’s in the nursing home, and I go to see her every day.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, that must be difficult,” I said saddened for his situation. “Is she ill? How long have you been married?” I wasn’t trying to pry with my questions. Rather I learned a long time ago, that sometimes the best gift you can give an elderly human being is to simply listen.

Bride and Groom Cake TopperHis eyes brightened as he told me that they had been together for more than six decades. Then he shared the dreaded diagnosis, “Alzheimer’s. My wife has Alzheimer’s.” In that moment I understood his circumstances.

“More than five million Americans are living with the disease” according to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association Website, www.alz.org. In addition, “In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care…. “ The progression of this cruel malady is sometimes titled, “The long good-bye.” The physical body of those afflicted might remain intact, but right before your eyes, they die gradually to the person they once were, and a part of you often dies with them.

Understanding Alzheimer’s, enabled me to support my husband in healing from the loss of his late father. Traumatically, the doting dad he adored didn’t even know who my spouse was by the end. I had also experienced the trauma of having someone I loved not recognize me. My great-grandmother had some type of undiagnosed dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, but in the 1970s many folks used the general term, “senility.”

Back then, my formerly wonderful grandma falsely accused my poor mother of starving her. Once, shortly after eating a big dinner followed by a couple pieces of pie while visiting us, I overheard her loudly complain to relatives about not being fed. She was petite in an emaciated sort of way, causing her accusations to seem believable. After my mother’s grandmother went to a nursing home, the last time I visited her, not only did she not know me, but she accused me of stealing money from her bedside bureau. I felt shame and hurt, because as a teenager I didn’t understand how common a false allegation from someone struggling with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia could be.

All of these thoughts came rushing back during my conversation with the elderly stranger who wanted new sheets. I was encouraging him to avoid polyester and look for 100% cotton. I was wondering too, what it was like for him at the nursing home. “Does she know you?” I asked hoping that he was one of the fortunate ones. That despite the ravages of this hideous illness, his wife would still know who he was. Maybe not say his name, but at least that her eyes would light up when he entered the room.

A terrible sadness passed over his countenance as he replied, “Today was the first time that I don’t think she did.”28334354-elderly-eighty-plus-year-old-woman-in-a-wheel-chair-in-a-home-setting-with-her-husband

I was so thankful that I had slowed myself down that afternoon and taken time to listen to his heartbreaking story. I was hopeful that somehow just sharing had lessened his burden of this new loss, because Alzheimer’s is all about stages of grief. Besides, once we have experienced Alzheimer’s firsthand, it can become a calling to lighten the load of another who is walking the treacherous path of the long good-bye, because no one should have to walk that difficult journey alone.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. For more information the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline is 1-800-272-3900.

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“If you’re not dead, then you’re not done!”

“Am I done?” I kept hearing this internal question over and over last year as I faced a health and aging crisis at the same time. It was the perfect storm for taunting from the dark side about my professional and personal productivity being finished.

I am ashamed to say that I feel into a deep depression and spent weeks sobbing while lying on my living room couch recovering from painful surgery. Then the weeks turned to months trying to get around on crutches. I didn’t have a clue at how to accept the losses accompanied with growing older, especially while dealing with physical limitations. I had worked in ministry for decades, and now I couldn’t muster enough faith to get off my sofa.

You Can Begin Again About that time, I saw the vivid yellow cover of the Joyce Meyer book, You Can Begin Again, on the shelf in my local library among all the other recent releases. It seemed to call to me, “This will help you…there will be answers in here for you.”

After all, when family and friends are experiencing a life crisis, I usually find the perfect Joyce Meyer product to assist them in handling their dilemma. For example, in the past year, I gave a resident of a women’s domestic violence shelter Joyce’s book, The Confident Woman. When a close friend had a debilitating stoke, I took a copy of  Living Beyond Your Feelings to her in the hospital. Recently, I also sent a female family member who always tries to please everyone and usually comes up short, Joyce’s book, Approval Addiction.

Once, when someone stole the classic Beauty for Ashes book from the library, I donated a copy, because it is a grace-filled message of restoration for individuals who were sexually abused as children. I have used information from it when teaching Bible studies and speaking at Celebrating Recovery meetings, and find it a pioneering work for survivors like myself. As for Joyce Meyer CD series, I always try to pass on whatever message fits the situation. I don’t loan products, I usually give them away, asking others to “pass them on” to someone else in need of hope. Joyce Meyer Books

Still feeling beyond hope personally this spring, I didn’t pick up the copy of You Can Begin Again wanting to leave it there for someone who might actually have a chance at starting over. But the thought of that hopeful yellow cover wouldn’t let me go. A week later, I went back to the library telling God that if You Can Begin Again was still there, I would read it. New releases are never there a week later, and as I had expected the book was checked out. That’s when the young librarian enthusiastically said, “Wait a minute. I think there’s an extra copy on the book mobile. I’ll go and check.” Before I could stop her, she jumped to her feet and was out the door returning minutes later triumphantly holding the yellow book high in the air.

Now, I must admit, for the first time in a long time, I felt faith stirring deep inside me as I reached for that copy and clutched it to me like a lifeline. After all, over the past two decades, God has used Joyce Meyer’s teachings to rescue me from giving up before.  I didn’t have to read very far in You Can Begin Again to realize that the Holy Spirit had done it again. On page 10, these words jumped off the page and gripped my heart:  “It’s no accident you picked up this book; I believe God is whispering to you right now. He wants you to know your life isn’t over. He has a plan and a purpose for you, and He wants you to discover a life greater than anything you could have imagined. I recently heard someone say, “If you’re not dead, then you’re not done!” Why not claim today as a day of new beginnings!”

Believe me after that direct message, I devoured the book and found the encouragement that enabled me to embrace a fresh start. There are so many inspirational stories of new beginnings included. As I read them, along with Joyce’s spiritual wisdom, my tattered faith was renewed. As I neared the final pages, I didn’t want the book to end, and I prayed that there would be some final advice that I could hold onto.That’s when I got to the very last paragraph of the Afterword which reads:       “God put this book in your hands because He loves you greatly, and since you are part of His story, it is important for you to remember when one of those hard days comes along and you feel like you may not make it, it is only one page in the story of your life; it is not the whole story, so turn the page and keep writing.”

Hand on ComputerWell, I guess you can’t get any spiritual advice much clearer than that, because I am a journalist by profession. So I decided I better “keep writing.” I completed my first fictional novella, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife, to be released later this year. It’s a book I started 10 years ago, and never had time to finish until now.

Whether you’re 19 or 90, if you are sunk in your own pit of despair thinking you’re “done”, I’m praying that you will find the courage to face tomorrow searching for new possibilities and embrace a fresh start of your own.

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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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