The First and Last Time

Corsage and CrownThere is a first time for everything. Whether it’s attending a prom, a kiss, buying a home, or watching our children take their first steps, these rites of passage are forever imbedded into our memory. Last winter, a few weeks before Christmas, I witnessed what appeared to be a toddler’s first experience with the simple phenomenon of Christmas lights. I was pretty low on holiday spirit and not looking forward to all the work that the preparation for the season would necessitate. Then just before sunset, I observed a neighbor man stringing Christmas lights with his little boy looking on.

The December darkness had begun to settle in, and there was no traffic on the deserted street. It was cold, but not the blustery kind of cold that produces snow or ice. Still, the toddler was bundled up against the elements, reminding me of decades ago when my now grown son was about his age. The youthful father completed the task of wrapping the green strands of clear lights around the bushes in the family’s front yard. He headed into the nearby garage to switch on his handiwork. His about three-year-old son stood next to the shrubbery by the open garage not moving. When the twinkling white lights came on, his little chubby face lit up in amazement.

Christmas Tree 2015I happened to be walking by at the exact moment when the tiny boy’s uninhibited delight made me reassess my own lack of enthusiasm. It’s this gift that children give us of seeing the beauty and excitement in this world, because often adults take so much for granted. We get buried in the day-to-day struggle, the hectic pace, and the tedium produced by aging, forgetting that there is so much wonder constantly surrounding us.

 

First times can be memorable, but sadly often we don’t know when a last time will occur. I thought about this the other day when I saw the Facebook post, “Cherish every moment and every person in your life, because you never know when it will be the last time you see someone.” Many of you reading this can relate to the trauma created by the unexpected loss of a loved one. Grief is tinged with horror and disbelief. We doubt if we will ever be able to breathe again without feeling a giant lump in our throat, and we silently argue with God about the unfairness of the circumstance. Then regret can take over. We think of all the things we should have said or done, if we could have just had some preparation that someone who meant so much to us was about to be unpredictably ripped from this existence. Besides, even if a terminal illness prepares us, we are never ready to say, “Good-bye,” to those we love. Sadly, some people get stuck in loss. Hopelessness and bitterness swallow them up. For most individuals though, in time—life goes on. Reluctantly, we learn to accept what we cannot alter, adjusting to a new normal.

Yet everything changes in that instant. Then the holidays arrive, and this blessed season can be a reminder of the precious people who are no longer here to celebrate it. Maybe in youth, one can blissfully ignore the chasm death and even geographical distance create. But as we grow older, we often become nostalgic for those who were once a vital part of our celebration, causing us to cling to traditions that are no longer useful. Instead of getting stuck in what was, why not create something new?

After all, there is another recent quote attributed to best-selling author, John C. Maxwell that asks, “When was the last time you did something for the first time? …Or are you still doing what you’ve always done?”  Whether it’s about creating a new Christmas tradition or reaching for a goal that we’ve had simmering on a back burner, Maxwell’s sage wisdom might be one key in moving forward. Of course, human beings are usually terrified to take risks, because risk can result in failure. “Trying new things – and sometimes failing – is one of the best ways to grow,” counters the national leadership expert.

As we wind up the final month of 2016, may we all be more like the toddler who experienced the wonder of Christmas lights for the first time. There’s a whole world of firsts out there, regardless of our age. Let’s go fearlessly explore!

6353664 - CopyChristina Ryan Claypool is a national Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. She has appeared on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV program. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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.