The Season’s Most Valuable Lesson: A Diamond Necklace

 
Every single parent’s story is probably complicated, because real life can be messy. As Christmas draws near, I’m now blessed to be married and live in a wonderful home of my own. Still, life was not always this easy. That’s why the Christmas when I received the diamond necklace is the one that I will remember forever. Back then, as a single mother I wasn’t expecting to get such a costly gift, especially not from my own son.

Raising a child alone, I found the holidays were the greatest reminder of the absence of family, or at least “family” in the traditional way that one expects will be part of the season. Our modest Yuletide celebration bore little resemblance to the sentimental TV commercials where joyful loved ones gather around a large dining table laden with delicious food, a colorful centerpiece, and flickering candles. On Christmas Eve, it was usually just Zach and me, because my mother and stepfather lived in another state, along with most of our relatives.

Despite this fact, when Zachary was young, I tried desperately to achieve some sense of Christmas cheer, while operating within a very confining budget. I never expected any presents, like many solo parents, I only cared that there would be something special under the tree for my precious youngster. Even the Christmas tree in our apartment was a hand-me-down from another once single mom who had remarried and graduated to greater economic stability.

At Christmastime, I tried to make sure there were lots of packages for Zach to open. Not expensive items, just tiny tokens of how grateful I was to have been granted the special privilege of raising him. My dark-haired sensitive boy never expected much or complained that there should have been more. He understood our “situation.”

Of course, there were generous family members and friends from work or church who realized that our circumstances were difficult. Sometimes little blessings like an unexpected gift certificate, toy for Zachary, or a Christmas sweater for me wrapped in festive paper appeared from unexpected sources.

 “It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” is an age-old Bible verse that represents the plight of the single-parent family best. You have to learn to give without expectation, because frequently little comes back. But this reminds you that the true meaning of Christmas was never about gifts or trees, but rather about a tiny baby born in a Bethlehem stable.

So it was for most of those first twenty Christmases that my son and I spent together. Along the way, he became a man, moved out and began a life of his own. When Christmas Eve rolled around, a grown-up Zach arrived at my door to celebrate our tradition of enjoying the evening together. There was the usual church service, holiday snacks, and finally we opened our presents.

When he finished unwrapping his gifts, he looked at me with excitement as he proudly handed me a small box. I began to tear the decorative paper, expecting a pair of costume earrings or a gold plated bracelet as in years past. His eyes, eager with anticipation, focused intently on me.

Lifting the lid of the ivory satin case, I tried to hide my shock. It bore the name of an expensive jewelry store. I was barely able to swallow an audible gasp, when I glanced down and saw a diamond pendant and glittering chain resting in the box’s burgundy velvet lining. By now Zach’s deep blue eyes were dancing with unrestrained delight. Apparently, my son understood the importance of giving.

Unfortunately, I had not discovered how to graciously receive, since I had little practice. How much had this necklace cost him? It looked to be at least a ¼ carat diamond circled by a thick band of white gold. The unmistakable sparkle of the stone left little doubt that it was real, and Zach’s ecstatic look confirmed its authenticity. The delicate pendant was exquisite, but my faithful man-child worked hard for his money and he was in college too. I often felt guilty that I had not been able to financially assist him more in achieving his educational and career goals.

Suddenly, I thought about the Christmas sermon from the year before. The pastor had spoken about accepting gifts with appreciation and graciousness, never offending the giver. Sensing my discomfort, Zach abruptly said he wanted to tell me the truth about the gift’s origin. He then shared the tender tale of a colleague who was a young single mom with a little boy. Needing some extra cash, she decided to sell the diamond pendant, because being a gift from a former boyfriend it didn’t possess any sentimental value. Zach had simply purchased it to help her make ends meet, and to bless me with an amazing Christmas present.

 All of a sudden, the diamond sparkled brighter and I looked at the glistening gold necklace with new appreciation. Instantly, I realized that Zach had seen our lives and struggles replicated in the life of his co-worker who was also a college student like I had been when he was just a toddler. My gift was a visible witness to the fact that my son had learned the most valuable lesson the season can teach, “It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Her recent inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online outlets. She earned a M. A. in Practical Applied Theology from Mount Vernon Nazarene University and a B.A. from Bluffton University. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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. 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 eight 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 mother directing away.

On our last Christmas together in 2009, my then 77-year-old mother insisted I escort my stepfather to the church platform. By then, he was almost 80, and legally 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.

After their deaths, as the holiday season began approaching, I was dreading another Christmas without them. 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 bookstore displayed on the glass window, 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. May this season of unexpected miracles bring you the renewed hope found in the One who is the Creator of Cardinals. Merry Christmas and God blessings to you and your family!

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio APME award- winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV Show and CBN’s 700 Club, and has an M.A. from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife was released fall 2018.