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.

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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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