A Tea Room Proposal and Forever Promise

With Valentine’s Day upon us, sentimental folks might recall their own romantic moments. My special memory begins in the early 1990s, when I was the owner of a shabby chic store. Back then, as a thirty-something single mom, it wasn’t easy to make ends meet selling the discarded treasures of others. Auctions, flea markets, and garage sales were the way I stocked my vintage shop.

One summer day, I stopped at an estate sale. The attached garage of the stately brick home was filled with the earthly goods of an elderly widow. As she walked towards me, the old woman’s fragile condition caused her to lean heavily on a three-pronged cane. She was liquidating over a weekend, what had taken a lifetime to collect. Her gray hair was disheveled, and her eyes reflected the resignation that must have cost her a great deal. The widow needed to sell everything, and move to a place where she wouldn’t be alone. The newspaper’s classified ad didn’t say all that, but it didn’t take much to figure it out. I decided to buy a few things to help her in her season of transition.

“To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…a time to keep and a time to cast away.” I had always liked this insightful wisdom from the Book of Ecclesiastes, but the verses weren’t very comforting in light of this woman’s heartbreaking circumstances. After all, it was my “time to keep,” and her “time to cast away.” That’s why I let her do all the talking. I never even asked the stranger her name, since she didn’t volunteer it.

There was a vintage blouse among the possessions I selected to purchase. When the widow saw it her eyes seemed to look far away. It was as if she was transported to another time. A time when she was young and in love, and her future lay before her. Decades earlier, I think she said it was the 1940s, the lace top had been part of her wedding attire. Fifty years later, her husband was gone, and she could no longer care for herself. Reluctantly, she gently handed the blouse to me. My original intention was to resell it, but learning the garment’s history, instantly my plan changed. Before I realized what I was doing, I blurted out, “I promise you that I will keep it always.”

I’m not sure, whether the aged woman gave me a look of disbelief, relief or resignation. Her reaction didn’t matter. I made a promise, and I intended to keep it. For years, I hung the bodice on a satin hanger displayed with some antique hats on an oak coat rack in the apartment where my young son and I lived. I never planned on wearing it, because being divorced for over a decade, I assumed my days of being a bride were over. Then I met Larry Claypool. Larry was a forty-something school administrator who had never married. Almost right away, we both felt that divine providence had brought us together.

On February 9, 2002, I sensed that Larry was going to propose. That morning as I dressed for our date, I instinctively reached for the ivory top, which represented decades of a marriage that had lasted. I had never worn the blouse before, so I carefully removed it from its satin hanger and put it on over an off-white camisole. Larry surprised me by taking me to the Swan House Tea Room in Findlay, Ohio, where he knelt down on one knee, and asked me to be his wife. The busy teahouse filled with women fell strangely silent. When I said, “Yes,” the hushed patrons erupted in congratulatory applause and joyful laughter.

Recently, an older never-married-friend whom I hadn’t seen in over 15 years invited me to her bridal shower the first week of February 2017 at the Swan House. Exactly fifteen years to the week of my romantic proposal there. It was only right to wear the antique top to the tea room again, because this June Larry and I will celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary. The vintage blouse remains a cherished memory of my own proposal coupled with another bride’s long ago wedding day. Unfortunately, I will never know her name. Still, I intend to keep my promise to her to care for it – for as long as time allows.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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June weddings, anniversaries, and children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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Warning: Valentine’s Day is on the Way!

With St. Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I find myself confident that I won’t be forgotten. Being a hopeless romantic and having spent years of Valentine’s days alone, I know firsthand what it is like to not have any expectations Valentine's Candyfor the holiday. But for a dozen years, I’ve been married to a man who wouldn’t think of forgetting.

Still for over a decade as a single mom, I knew that no bouquet of flowers or balloons, or even a card bearing my name would arrive. Back then, I worked as a reporter at WTLW TV 44. With a videographer’s assistance, I went out into the community and did a “Man on the street” investigating what Valentine’s Day meant to other people.

One 90-year-old gentleman I polled proudly told me that he would definitely have a surprise in store for his wife. When I asked him if he had ever forgotten the day dedicated to lovers, a grim look crossed his countenance. With the camera rolling, he replied hesitantly, “I don’t think I better talk about that.” So he had forgotten once.  I could tell it had been such a painful experience that it had never happened again. After all, a woman scorned can be a formidable foe.

Anyway, other folks freely told me about the cards, chocolates, roses, and teddy bears that they were planning to present to their beloved. Although one honest young man revealed that he couldn’t remember the last time he had received a Valentine’s Day card. The fact that he look like a ski model from the cover of GQ soothed my own wounded ego back then.

My quest for more information about Valentine’s Day led me to investigate its history. There are conflicting stories about the day’s origin. The one that I like the best deals with St. Valentine as a third century priest. At the time, Emperor Claudius II decreed that marriage be outlawed, deciding that single men made the best soldiers. The History Channel website reports that, “Valentine realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.  When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.”

The demise of Valentine was as melodramatic as any opera one could attend. Coincidently, a decade ago on Valentine’s Day, I surprised my spouse with opera tickets. This was a real sacrifice, because opera is his love, not mine. Still, I thought that I would never outdo the display of undying affection that I assumed my hubby must have planned, since we were still almost newlyweds.

When that fated Valentine’s Day dawned, I awoke with the expectation of a kid on Christmas morning. Despite the fact, there was no breakfast in bed, or even a rose anywhere in sight, I excitedly guessed it was only a matter of time before I would be presented with some token of his enduring love. That Saturday passed quickly in chores, errands, and general weekend routine. By late afternoon, I began to get suspicious that the love of my life might have forgotten. However, being married less than two years I rationalized away that ridiculous fear.

Finally in the car on the way to the opera, Larry confessed that he had overlooked the arrival of Valentine’s Day. Being a bachelor all his life, he tried to find a good excuse for his lapse, but none of them were working. Needless to say, it was a rather subdued evening after that.

Yet when we returned home, there was a small bag hanging on our front door. Inside was a beautiful Valentine’s Day card with a silver bracelet bearing one heart charm. There was also a note from my husband’s best buddy explaining that Larry must have accidentally left these items at his house on an earlier visit.Valentine's Couple

Sounds too good to be true? It was. Something about the card just didn’t seem right. So being a former investigative reporter, I simply asked, “Did you buy me these things?”

Larry’s honest character caused him to immediately blurt out, “I called my friend right before we left for the opera, and told him I needed help.” All I could do was laugh, because I knew that in the future my hubby would understand even “old married” couples should celebrate the gift of love. I guess people like me are born hopelessly romantic, while others become romantic desperate for survival. No matter what kind of romantic you are, Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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A Postcard’s Reminder of Hope by Christina Ryan Claypool

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

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

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

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

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

Our wonderful wedding on June 8, 2002

Our wonderful wedding on June 8, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A Tale of Two Cardinals

Two CardinalsI never thought much about birds, certainly not Cardinals. Undoubtedly, the males with their brilliant red feathers are eye-catching. Yet not that long ago, I believed that collecting bird memorabilia was better left to those with little to do. Now Cardinal keepsakes are finding their way into my home.

Most people who grow up in Ohio probably know that the Northern Cardinal is our state bird. They might not know that the bird is named after the Catholic Cardinal because of the clergy’s bright red attire. It is also the state bird for Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

For most of my life, I was just too busy to even notice the crimson creatures who commonly nest in a pair. A pair, that’s what my late mother and stepfather of more than 35 years were. When they died less than five months apart a couple years ago, I didn’t think that the holidays would ever be joyful again.

After all, every Christmas my husband and I would fill our car with food, gifts, and suitcases, and make the trip from Ohio to Philadelphia to spend the holidays with my parents. Both my mom and stepfather were musicians. She was a church organist and choir director. Neal also became a choir director later in life, although when he was young he traveled the world with the Navy band. They were an ecumenical couple, since my stepdad was a Baptist, but Mom played and directed music wherever the “Spirit” led.

My beautiful mother

My beautiful mother

Christmas at their house was all about music, too. When my husband and I would arrive, often Mom would invite us to join whatever choir she was currently directing on an interim basis. My hubby and I would both try to graciously decline, but somehow Christmas morning would find us reluctantly dressed in choir robes with my then seventy-something mother directing away.

On our last Christmas together in 2009, my mother insisted that I escort my stepfather to the church platform. By then, he was 80, and almost blind from diabetes. Still she wanted him to stand behind her as she accompanied the choir and congregation on the pipe organ as they sang Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. I can still hear his deep baritone voice, as he sang out the notes he must have known by heart.

It was such a shock when “Teddy Bear” as he affectionately called Mom died suddenly ten months later in October 2010.  Following her death, my stepfather’s broken heart stopped beating in less than five months, too.

After someone you love dies you often find out things about them that you never knew. For instance, after my mother’s death my sister shared how Mom would often look out the window above her kitchen sink to watch the birds that would gather in their foliage filled yard. I also learned that the crimson-colored Cardinals were a favorite.

Last year, as the holiday season began approaching, I was dreading another Christmas without my parents. I had no idea how I was going to be able to celebrate or create new traditions. Then one day, I was looking out my own kitchen window when suddenly I spied a Cardinal near the evergreen tree in my backyard. There was a second less colorful Cardinal who landed on one of the tree’s branches. Instantly, I realized that these birds were a couple.

I didn’t know then that Northern Cardinals nest as a pair, and that the female is tan, and often has red in her wings or tail feathers. Nor did I know that the male is incredibly protective and that he sings loudly to keep other males away.  So like my stepfather who always kept a watchful eye on my mother. All I could tell was that these two lovebirds were singing a duet. As I watched the Cardinals communicating, suddenly my gloomy mood turned to one of amazement and joy.Neal and Glenna Sprang with Christina Ryan Claypool, daughter

It was then I began seeing Cardinals everywhere, since they remain in the north all year long. For instance, while passing a store downtown last December, displayed on the glass window of Peter’s Pense Religious Library, I saw a picture of the red Cardinal with a story about the Christmas legend that surrounds the beautiful bird.

As for the legend, according to www.relijournal.com, “The Cardinal [is] christened the “Christmas Bird” for its spectacular red color….A glimpse of this brilliant bird brings cheer, hope and inspiration on a gray wintry day. This is nature’s reminder for us to focus on our faith; the Cardinal’s scarlet plumage represents the blood of Christ shed for the redemption of mankind.”

For me, two Cardinals singing together were a Heavenly sign reminding me that those we love live on in our hearts. For now, From The Road Less Traveled, may this season of unexpected miracles bring you the renewed hope that is found in the One who is the Creator of Cardinals. Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years!

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in The Lima News, Sidney Daily News, and Troy Daily News.

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Liesl’s Legacy: A Holocaust Survivor’s Lessons for Life

Liesl celebrated our wedding as if she was the mother of the bride.

Liesl celebrated our wedding as if she was the mother of the bride.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” said Eleanor Roosevelt. The late Elisabeth “Liesl” Sondheimer was deeply inspired by this former first lady who was once her house guest. Yet many of us in northwestern Ohio can readily admit that Mrs. Sondheimer was the one who inspired us.

Liesl has been gone for over four years now, but her life lessons live on. Being a Jewish Holocaust survivor, she had every reason to believe that the world was an ugly place filled with horrific evil. As a young woman she was forced to flee her beloved Germany during Hitler’s regime.

Instead of becoming bitter, she embraced forgiveness. Not the cheap kind of forgiveness that pardons atrocity by denying its existence, but genuine forgiveness which is a gift to yourself. Once, during an interview, I asked her how she could forgive. She gazed at me intently, and simply said, “You must forgive, or Hitler has won.”

Liesl was silver-haired and wrinkled, but still ethereally beautiful, by the time I met her shortly after her 90th birthday in 1997. While interviewing her for a TV feature about the Holocaust, I was honored when the local celebrity asked me to join her for supper. One of my greatest life blessings was that this courageous woman took me under her mentoring wing.

Since Liesl loved adventures, especially ones that involved supporting the arts, music or books; I would occasionally pick her up and whisk her away to an event. It was on these outings that she freely shared her wisdom about life. Once while I was driving her to an art museum, my friend absentmindedly asked, “Did I ever tell you about the time Eleanor Roosevelt stayed at my house?”

“No, I think I would have remembered that,” I jokingly replied.

She then began to share how over five decades ago, she had invited Eleanor Roosevelt to visit northwestern Ohio simply by sending her a letter. Her cause was successful, due to some assistance from an influential friend. This Liesl dissertation was the, “You never know… anything can happen if you try” lesson. I needed this motivational message, because life circumstances had tattered my own faith.

My brokenness was probably one of the reasons that this dear lady reached out to me. Surviving a near fatal suicide attempt, and then being confined in a state mental institution as a teen had left scars on me that only another survivor could see. Therefore, Liesl, who had been educated in social work, gently guided me in understanding the lesson of “Survivor’s Guilt,” that I must go on, and be grateful for surviving.

In explanation, when one triumphs over negative circumstances, it is easy to get stuck in the guilt created by contemplating why others have not been so fortunate. After the Holocaust, the Jewish survivor admitted that this quandary haunted her, too. But she refused to allow this never to-be-answered question about the past, to destroy her future.

Yet to prevent these tragedies from reoccurring, she also believed that it was a survivor’s moral responsibility to speak up on behalf of those still struggling. Even though she forgave, she never forgot the millions of Holocaust victims. Instead she passionately shared her story to warn others about the dangers of prejudice.

On a lighter note, there was also the “Beauty is Ageless” teaching, which I learned vicariously while watching Liesl shop for clothes. She took time to look her best, and never stopped caring about fabric, color, or finding just the right accessory. In 2007, for her 100th birthday, I drove her to a mall in a neighboring state where she enthusiastically tried on countless outfits looking for just the right pieces for her wardrobe.

Although most important was the “Love” lesson that Liesl taught me. When I met school administrator Larry Claypool in 2001, past hurts had left me too afraid to love. When it came to romance, Liesl used to describe me, “As a burnt child, who was afraid of the fire.”

But at heart, Liesl was a hopeless romantic, who challenged my initial fears about dating Larry, by asserting that one must be willing to risk everything to have another opportunity for happiness. The following year, she sat smugly in a church pew dressed smartly in a pale pink suit smiling with satisfaction as Larry and I recited our vows in a candlelight ceremony.

For me, Liesl’s legacy of living courageously includes: the challenge to embrace forgiveness, to speak up against injustice, to support the arts, to reach for your dreams, and to always look your best.

However, I will always be most grateful for Liesl’s “Love” lesson. After all, it was my precious husband’s protective arms that comforted me when we buried my remarkable 101-year-old friend in spring of 2009.

This humble humanitarian shared her messages with civic clubs, women’s groups, universities, and in school classrooms across our community. Her story of surviving seemingly impossible circumstances graced her listeners with the gift of hope everywhere she went.

Today, her lessons live on. You see, those we love never die. They are always in our hearts, shaping our tomorrows with their valuable influence.  

Christina Ryan Claypool is an author and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in The Lima News.

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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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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:

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