Remembering a Brave Prom King

Corsage and CrownMost people attend a prom or two, but I’ve attended lots of proms. Like most teenage girls, as a high school junior, I was excited about the prospect of my first prom. Truthfully, it wasn’t much fun, since the boy I had a crush on didn’t ask me.

My senior prom was monumentally worse. By then, I was a patient at Toledo State Mental Hospital following an almost fatal suicide attempt. After spending a couple months in a private psychiatric ward, my insurance ran out. I was committed to the decaying institution that then housed thousands of mentally ill individuals. Before Mental Health reform, that horrible place was reminiscent of the one depicted in the classic film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Battling depression and an eating disorder, I looked more like a 17-year-old Holocaust victim than a carefree teenager. The psychiatrist granted me a weekend pass hoping that attending prom would lift my spirits. My date was a classmate who suffered from epilepsy. He must have empathized with my situation, and proudly escorted me to the prom ignoring the stares from a few overly-curious students.

Fast forward three decades to May 2002, when my life looked nothing like that struggling teen. Faith, education, and the support of a few encouraging mentors had positively changed my circumstances. I was also engaged to a wonderful man who was a school administrator, whose job necessitated that we chaperone prom. Never having had an opportunity to go to prom together, Larry and I decided to don a tuxedo and gown and make it our night, too. Larry and me

Since then, my husband and I attended quite a few proms as chaperones. The impressive decorations, twinkling lights, and colorful dresses, still take my breath away. But the prom I remember most vividly is the one when a precious senior who was dying of bone cancer was elected prom king. It was the last year that my spouse served as a middle/high school principal at a rural school in northwestern Ohio.

We had all come to love this quiet dark-haired youth known affectionately by his nickname, A.J.  He was a senior, who had waged a long and valiant battle against Osteosarcoma. For nine months, he was spot-free, but then the disease turned deadly. Despite his illness, A.J. was compassionate and wise beyond his years.

Somehow in a tight-knit community where folks have known each other forever, tragedy is worse, because everyone is affected. Prom wouldn’t have been prom without A.J. being there, and he knew it. Even though, it had been months since he had been able to attend school, A.J. mustered all his strength and accompanied by his dedicated fiancée`, he showed up looking handsome in a white tuxedo.

As the disc jockey played pulsating music, the students danced energetically, while silently grieving the inevitable loss of the fun-loving youth who had always been part of them. When his classmates voted for their prom king, I shouldn’t have been surprised  when A.J.’s name was announced.

There was a moment when the reality of the high school student’s dismal prognosis hit me full force. It happened when a pretty senior girl asked if she could take a picture with him, and they posed humorously cheek to cheek with toothy grins. What A.J. didn’t see, was that when the blonde turned away, her expression crumbled into a painful grimace. She had taken the photo as a memory of the boy she had probably known since kindergarten, realizing he would soon be gone. Like a trained actress, before she turned to face A.J. again, the golden-haired girl mustered her courage and smiled brightly. Her affection for her terminally-ill classmate wasn’t romantic love driven by adolescent hormones. Rather it was the kind of caring that country kids take for granted growing up in a close circle of friendship.

When my husband and I visited him for the last time, A.J. sensed that my heart was breaking. He smiled his dazzling smile, and said, “I’ll be okay.” Then the 18-year-old lifted his T-shirt sleeve and displayed a large tattoo of a compassionate Jesus. A visual reminder of the Bible’s promise, “I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

That July, the bravest prom king I’ve ever known took his last earthly breath. Still, he lives on in the hearts of those he inspired, forever wearing a white tuxedo and a jeweled crown.

Christina Ryan Claypool is the author of the inspirational, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” available through all major online retail outlets. She is an AP & Amy award-winning journalist and speaker, who has been featured on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life and CBN’s 700 Club.  Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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 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.

I hung the bodice on a satin hanger displaying it with some antique hats on an oak coat rack in the apartment where my young son and I lived in the back of my little shop. I never planned on wearing the lace top, because being divorced for over a decade, I assumed my days of being a bride were over.  Eventually, I closed the store, and Zach and I moved to a nearby condo so I could work as a producer/reporter for WTLW TV 44 and he could attend high school.

A couple years after Zach moved out, I met Larry Claypool. We had our first dinner together on June 8, 2001. I wasn’t really into dating, and my assumption was that Larry would simply be a good Christian friend. He was a forty-something school administrator who had never married. Yet 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.

In 2017, 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 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. And not coincidentally, since we know there are no coincidences with God, my dear friend Michelle Redmond was attending the shower as well. She and her husband, Pastor Thom Redmond, were there to celebrate with us when Larry had proposed to me in that very room 15 years earlier.

As they say, “time flies,” because it’s hard to believe, but this June Larry and I will celebrate our twentieth 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. She is the author of several books including, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” available on Amazon and all other major online retail outlets.  Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

Scandalous Grace Transforms Broken Lives like Mine

This post is in loving memory of my friend, “Jennifer.” I sure wish we could have one more cup of coffee together. Yet I know she will be waiting to greet me at Heaven’s gates.

What does a cup of coffee have to do with grace? Well, the Bible mentions numerous occasions when Jesus was found engaging with some rather questionable characters. For example, he recruited Matthew, a greedy tax collector to be a disciple, and the hot-tempered and outspoken Peter to lead His rather motley crew. Then at a public supper, the Messiah allowed a woman referred to as an “especially wicked sinner” to wash his feet with her tears. You can bet that this caused quite a stir.

Also intriguing are the messy circumstances when we find Jesus assisting in the midst of some crisis like sparing the life of an adulterous woman from an angry mob, or healing blind Bartimaeus as he cried out for mercy. So, why should it be of any surprise that Jesus took time out for a heart-to-heart chat with a woman of Samaria? The rather infamous “Woman at the Well” can be found in the fourth chapter of St. John’s  Gospel. This narrative paints a vivid portrait of a socially outcast Samaritan female who was from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks.

Besides, Jesus was born Jewish, and the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. Yet, Jesus asked the woman of ill-repute to draw him a drink from Jacob’s well where he had come to rest. Then He prophetically told her that she had had five husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband, while explaining that the living water that only He could provide would satisfy the thirst in her soul.

Some speculate that the Samaritan woman’s infamous reputation probably forced her to visit the well in the noon day heat when no other women were there in order to avoid their scornful stares. This lost lady’s encounter with Jesus changed her so profoundly that she became the first female Evangelist by proclaiming the Good News of the savior to all who would listen. As a Christian speaker, I have shared her story on many occasions to portray the shockingly scandalous nature of God’s grace that often touches the most unlikely of candidates.

For example, it is the same grace that reached out to the woman of Samaria who found acclaimed author, Brennan Manning in a gutter struggling with alcoholism. The former Catholic priest found his own sobriety, and then went on to become a sought-after interdenominational speaker who penned countless books. The Jesuit scholar’s testimony and writings are particularly healing to those wounded by life’s circumstances. In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, he writes, “When you have made a slobbering mess of your life, as many of us recovering alcoholics have, compassion becomes a tad easier…”

I think it was reading Manning’s works that made me realize about the scandalous nature of God’s grace in a personal way. After all, like the famous scholar, I, too, am a Ragamuffin since Christ’s grace came to me in 1986 while I was a young patient on a psychiatric ward battling substance abuse and depression. In those days, I had a college friend that I will refer to as “Jennifer” who tried to rescue me by faithfully taking me to her church, because she had also struggled with addiction. More than two decades ago, it was Jennifer’s pastor who stood at my hospital bedside on the psychiatric floor praying that God would heal my broken life.

A couple of summers ago, my path crossed with Jennifer again after years of separation. I saw her when I was passing through the small town where we both once lived while stopping in the local coffeehouse. Through the shop’s window, I spotted a woman who looked vaguely familiar. Although her heavily lined face, thinning hair, and emaciated body had little resemblance to the vibrant Jennifer I once knew. But through the transparent glass when I looked deeply into the eyes of the female passing by, I saw my old friend Jennifer trapped inside that decaying body. It wasn’t just age that had taken its toll. Rather it was addiction that had ravaged her so greatly.

Recognizing me, Jennifer ran inside the shop and we hugged each other tightly. Then for the next few hours over coffee, I listened as Jennifer’s tragic tale of relapsing into addiction tumbled out of her like smoldering lava creeping down a volcano’s surface. That night, the woman who had once helped me was in desperate need of God’s grace herself. She said that seeing my transformed life was a reminder to her that His grace is still available.

“The gospel of grace continues to scandalize,” writes Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel. After all, Jesus can always be found by hurting people; whether it is at a deserted well, a street gutter, on a psychiatric ward, or in a coffee shop. If you are in need of the healing power that only God’s grace can provide, remember all you have to do is ask. Like Blind Bartimaeus let your heart cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” I know firsthand that Jesus always answers our heartfelt prayers requesting His help to transform our broken lives.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and Christian speaker, who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries. Contact her though her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com 

Mom’s Advice about Getting Older

My Beautiful Mother

The anniversary of losing someone you love can be quite painful. The calendar date, month, or season can bring back the feeling of the initial grief, as if you are reliving the loss all over again.

Some folks believe this anniversary business is best dealt with by shutting themselves away for the day. Other individuals make a plan to do something special to honor and celebrate their late loved one’s life.

This October, I can’t help but contemplate the sights, sounds, and even fragrance of fall when death came unexpectedly more than once leaving such a gaping hole in my heart. For instance, 11 years ago, my seemingly healthy 78-year-old mother died suddenly of a kidney stone gone terribly wrong.

The fall afternoon my mom breathed her last breath the sky was vivid blue, the leaves were breathtaking shades of red, yellow, and green, and the crisp autumn air smelled invigorating clean. This scene is forever etched in mind, because it was such a sharp contrast to the gut-wrenching task of saying goodbye.

Still, with time grief lessens. The shock, heartbreak, or even horror of death and mourning are often replaced with pleasant or poignant memories from happier days. Like the seemingly meaningless event which occurred on one of my last visits to see my late mother who lived out of state.

Mom and me on our last Christmas together 2009

When family was visiting, Mom would usually awaken early and brew a pot of coffee and set something out for breakfast. We were in the kitchen alone on one of these occasions, when I noticed her bathrobe was threadbare and shiny. In her mid 70s by then, she and my stepfather lived in a newer Philadelphia suburb.

At this point in her life, she had the financial means to buy a new bathrobe. As a young mother of seven biological children, her situation had not always been so prosperous. In the early days of mothering, she often sacrificed personal items for herself to purchase groceries or something for one of her children.

That’s why sometimes my mother could be more than thrifty when it came to spending money on herself. This is probably a quality most nurturing moms can relate to. Yet her once pink housecoat had faded to a pinkish ivory and was glaringly worn. Realizing she was entertaining my husband and myself that weekend, I knew it must be her best robe or she wouldn’t be wearing it in front of us.

When mom and I were alone, my concern overwhelmed me. Without meaning to be unkind, I blurted out, “Mom, you desperately need a new bathrobe. Yours is so shabby I can see through the fabric. It looks awful.”

“Oh, thank you for telling me,” Mom said sincerely, appearing blissfully oblivious to the shape of the garment. Thankfully, she wasn’t insulted by my remark, sensing my heart in wanting her to have better.

“Didn’t you realize it was worn out?” I asked with concern, surprised she seemed unaware of its condition, especially since Mom was the family fashionista. The truth is, I was frightened my mother might be experiencing some cognitive impairment as a result of aging. The dreadful word, “dementia” menacingly flashed through my mind.

“No, I didn’t notice how worn out it was, and I really appreciate you telling me,” Mom said candidly. “You see, honey, sometimes as people get older, they don’t notice the condition of the things they see on a daily basis.”

Mom’s advice has served me well this past decade

Gradually with aging myself, I have come to more fully understand what Mom was saying. Complacency or a desire for comfort can make it difficult to be objective when something has passed its stage of usefulness and needs to be replaced with something new. It might not be merely an old bathrobe, but a more important item like an unsatisfying career, a toxic relationship, or an unhealthy lifestyle requiring a dose of reinvention.

My mother’s practical advice has served me well this past decade even though I continue to miss her greatly. So, I decided to honor her memory by passing it along. Besides, I don’t grieve without hope, because Mom and I had a shared faith and trust that Heaven really is real. I like to think of her waiting there, brewing coffee and opening the box of donuts. Oh, what a joyous reunion that will be.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award winning freelance journalist, Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, and author who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV Show and CBN’s 700 Club. Her inspirational, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online retail outlets. Here’s the Amazon link to learn more.

Surviving Suicide: From a Mental Hospital to the Emmys

Suicide awareness is personal, because I have lost family members and friends and almost died myself. The tragedy of attempting to end one’s own life is often accompanied by a mental health issue like depression, as it was in my own case. 

Yet sharing about a mental health struggle can feel shameful and frightening. Despite this, with the catalyst of educating others, I started to share my story quite publicly while working as a reporter and producer at Lima’s WTLW TV 44. It was during the late 1990s, when Ginger Stache, my former supervisor, who is a talented, award-winning journalist, decided to create awareness about suicide by producing a documentary. I agreed to be interviewed for her project.

My story begins during the 1970s, when as a depressed teenager living in a dysfunctional home I attempted suicide. Only a high school junior, my hopeless and unstable environment resulted in the near fatal, intentional drug overdose, which landed me in an Intensive Care Unit hovering between life and death.

I recovered physically, but not emotionally.  Months later, I would spend much of my senior year in Toledo State Mental Hospital. Back then, little had been accomplished in mental health reform, and the hospital was a barbaric place not offering any real hope for recovery.

As the years passed, following a couple more serious suicide attempts, an ongoing battle with addiction, along with intermittent and lengthy hospitalizations, a psychiatrist in charge of my case said I would probably die by suicide or in a mental institution.

Instead of fulfilling this dire prophecy, over three decades ago, I found emotional and spiritual healing on a psychiatric ward the last time I had to be hospitalized. A pastor visited me there and explained, “What happened to you as a child, hurt God more than it hurt you.” 

This supernatural knowledge changed my perception of our Creator. I didn’t realize God cared and understood the pain I felt as a frightened child living in an alcoholic home afraid to sleep at night. Before the pastor’s reassurance of our heavenly Father’s concern, I had never felt loved by God wondering why He didn’t protect me when I needed His help most.

My healing and faith journey began after learning people and circumstances can break our hearts, but that God’s heart is also broken when His children suffer. I gave my life to Jesus on that same psychiatric ward and started living a different lifestyle by reading the Bible, attending church and recovery meetings, exercising, eating right, and waiting on God’s intervention by praying instead of reacting from pain or panic.  

Depression and shame about the stigma of mental illness gave way to the gradual understanding that my testimony offered hope to others still hurting. Eventually, I graduated from college, and later began working in the broadcasting field. That’s why I took part in Ginger Stache’s documentary, “Before You Say Good-bye,” which aired nationwide and in Europe. She was nominated for two regional Emmys for the half-hour film.

When Ginger invited me to attend the 1999 black-tie Emmy Awards banquet to be held in the opulent ballroom of an historic Cleveland hotel, I felt like Cinderella. There was only one problem, being a single mom on my meager journalist’s budget didn’t allow for ball gowns.

When I found a dark green crepe formal at 85 percent off, I could hardly believe my good fortune. It was my size and fit perfectly. I handed over my hard-earned $20.00 bill and triumphantly left the mall with the dress. In the days that followed, I tried to be grateful, despite the fact I didn’t care much for the nondescript gown.

A couple of my female colleagues were also attending the celebration. While they were excitedly describing their formals and accessories, I couldn’t help but envy them. They weren’t wicked stepsisters, simply women who had more disposable income.

Cinderella in Velvet

One day, another producer, Sheri Ketner noticed that I wasn’t thrilled with my dress. While I was expounding the virtues of finding such a bargain, Sheri candidly asked, “But, you don’t like it, do you?”

My countenance must have visibly fallen, as I dejectedly answered, “No.” Then I saw a determined look on my compassionate co-worker’s face. A couple days later, Sheri brought a large cardboard box into the TV station and handed it to me. Inside was a breathtaking burgundy velvet gown with a beaded neckline, and a skirt made of countless yards of translucent tulle over the velvet.

At the bottom of the box were matching velvet heels. Instantly I was saddened, since shoes rarely fit my narrow size 9 feet. However, I was amazed to see that the shoes were marked, “9N.” Sheri, smiled with satisfaction, and told me, the outfit was “borrowed,” and would have to be returned after the Emmys.

Larry & Christina

Ginger Stache didn’t win a regional Emmy that night, nor did I get my prince. But a few years later on the evening of June 8, 2002, Ginger’s documentary about smuggling Bibles into China garnered the coveted prize. At the same time, I was marrying my handsome husband of almost 20 years now, in a candlelight ceremony.

For me, depression is still an occasional battle. And quite truthfully, it’s been a fierce struggle again in light of this more than yearlong pandemic. We have to be honest, because too many people are giving up hope that things can get better. Media reports suggest 40 percent of Americans are struggling with some type of mental health battle like anxiety or depression. Plus, there are increased addiction issues.

That’s why, we must utilize all the tools of recovery available, while acknowledging that mental health issues still carry a societal stigma. We have to continue the mission to destigmatize this illness, and applaud each one of the millions of Americans trying their very best to get through this unprecedented season one day at a time. For those of us who are believers, it’s also our spiritual duty to show compassion and kindness to each other, because we never know who is the one experiencing some relentlessly dark days.

After all, if I would have died as a teenager, I wouldn’t be here to share this Cinderella tale. Before you say, “Good-bye,” please call the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-TALK, or seek professional counseling. After all, the life you save may be your own.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a National Amy and Ohio APME award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show and on CBN’s 700 Club. Her inspiring fictional, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is her most recent book. Contact her through her website at 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 a few Cardinal keepsakes have found 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 a decade 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 them.  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 bookstore, displayed on the store’s 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  is available on all major online outlets.  

An Attitude of Gratitude

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote these words in his famous book, “Letters and Papers from Prison.” It’s inspiring that that the German theologian, who was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp for his resistance to the Hitler regime, was writing about feeling grateful shortly before his untimely death at the tender age of 39.

Let’s be honest, for many of us, circumstances have also been difficult lately, which can make it very challenging to have an attitude of gratitude. Whether it’s the worldwide pandemic, political polarization, financial uncertainty and lack caused by Covid-19, losing a loved one, a chronic physical or mental health issue, or the constant loneliness created by this unprecedented virus, most of us have some good reasons to feel down.

Down was where John Kralik was when he began to write his 2010 memoir, “365 Thank Yous.” The then 53-year-old attorney was financially struggling, going through a second divorce, forty pounds overweight, and rapidly losing hope that he would ever achieve his career goal of being a judge. I first heard about Kralik’s insightful work through a woman I interviewed who had once lost an adult child to cancer. It just felt like something I needed to read. On the back cover it says, “An inspiring, true story about how a simple old-fashioned act – writing thank you notes – led a hopeless, angry, middle-aged man out of despair and into a wonderful life.”

Kralik’s book is more practical than spiritual, yet gratitude has been said to be one of the greatest of virtues. The lawyer certainly convinces his reader that gratitude is indeed a powerful tool, since eventually his life is restored and he even fulfills his dream of becoming a Los Angeles court judge. In 2013, the New York Times best-seller was rereleased under the title, “A Simple Act of Gratitude.” The message of “365 Thank Yous” stays with me, because it is not so much about writing thank you notes, as it is about becoming grateful. Truthfully, I know a lot about thank you notes being raised in a generation where the correct response to a gift was a mandatory card of appreciation. But, I haven’t always known a lot about gratitude.

Rather, I lived much of my life with the cup half-empty mentality, like many Americans concentrating on what I didn’t have.  Not so much desiring material things, rather missing the everyday blessings that are easy to take for granted. Then there are folks who seem to be naturally thankful for everything. “Gratitude is inclusive,” writes the late author Brennan Manning. For example, in his book, “Ruthless Trust” Manning shares about an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where a man named Tony once said, “If I had to choose among all the diseases that afflict human beings, I would choose mine [alcoholism], because I can do something about it.”

Being grateful for being an alcoholic is one thing, but what about finding gratitude in the midst of heartbreaking loss? Loss like writer Ann Voskamp experienced when as a little girl, she witnessed her 18-month-old baby sister being run over by a delivery truck. As author of the book, “One Thousand Gifts,” Voskamp admits that she spent many years battling depression and anxiety. The wife of a farmer and mother of six finally finds gratitude by conscientiously observing 1,000 simple gifts in her daily life and poetically writing each one down. “Child sobs ebbing, boys humming hymns, laundry flapping, book pages turning, toothless smiles, forgiveness of a sister, and her list goes on and on.

That an alcoholic man and a grieving woman – both find thankfulness – is sobering. I know it’s a terrible pun, but I think Tony would like it. After all, according to Manning at the A.A. meetings that he attended, Tony “introduced himself as a ‘grateful recovering alcoholic.’”

As Thanksgiving approaches, no matter what is going on in our own lives, there is still much to be thankful for. Gratitude is a daily decision. Not only an attitude, but a way of life. May we find beauty in the ordinary and may our hearts be filled with thankfulness for the little blessings that each new day brings.

For those who have lost so much due to the pandemic and are in a time of agonizing mourning and unbearable grief, let’s pray that we can somehow bring hope to them. All the while, being grateful God can use one broken human being like ourselves to comfort another in a season of brokenness even greater than our own. Happy Thanksgiving and remember, you are loved by God. You are never alone!

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her inspirational release, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online outlets. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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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 west central Ohio can readily admit that Mrs. Sondheimer was the one who inspired us.

Liesl has been gone for over a decade 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 shared how decades earlier, 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 his dear lady originally 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. Sadly, others battling mental illness whom I had met along my recovery journey, did not survive. 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 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. My own mother had given me this same advice. The following year, Liesl 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. Upon her passing, people of different faiths honored her legacy.

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 the author of the Inspirational novel, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel.” Available at all major online book sellers. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV program and on CBN’s 700 Club. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com

A Glitter Girl’s Guarantee

“Here Mommy, I want you to have this.” My son handed me a small lump of pyrite better known as Fool’s Gold. The metallic-looking substance brilliantly reflected the room’s light causing countless iridescent rays to dance on its crystalized surface. On an ordinary day, this glistening gold gift would have improved my disposition.

“Thank you. It’s beautiful,” I tried to sound enthusiastic since my little boy was patiently waiting for the praise that should follow such sacrificial generosity. I mean what second grader willingly gives up a glittering mineral? Besides, I was trying to conceal my melancholy mood, but Zach sensed it and wanted to brighten my day.   

Maybe, because I was a single mom, my son learned early on about girls and glitter. Admittedly, all females aren’t fans of glam and bling, although sparkly things do make some of us smile.

Now that he’s a grown man, Zach doesn’t remember that afternoon. Nor would he know about the strange craving for potato chips and hot sauce I had when I was pregnant with him. Those months of pregnancy were the only time I ate this bizarre combination.

Decades ago, greedily munching on greasy chips smothered in smoldering red sauce taught me a valuable lesson. I learned to pay close attention to food cravings, accepting it might be the physical body’s way of saying it has a nutritional need. Our soul and spirit have authentic hunger pangs, too.

This past spring during the Covid-19 lockdown, another strange craving hit me full force. This wasn’t a hankering for an unusual food, rather it was an intense yearning to see something beautiful that glittered. Isn’t this why girls of all ages shop for bedazzled t-shirts, carry ornamented purses, or host costume jewelry parties? Shiny objects don’t have to be expensive, but they do have to glisten in the sunlight.

Bottom line, the pandemic gloom created an emotional hunger for some sparkle. Although, it wasn’t for necklaces, earrings, or sequined shirts. Part of my longing was to bless someone else, because social distancing made me aware of how much I need female friends. Candidly, I must confess I’m not very good at cultivating or nurturing these important relationships.

Yet during the lonely season of sheltering-in-place, I received an inspirational card from a dear friend named Mary. The card’s front cover was sprinkled with decorative gold glitter. It was an encouraging, not-for-any-reason card, reminding me I was “priceless and irreplaceable.”

My friend is in her early eighties. She couldn’t have known how immensely the card would comfort me on some rather dark days while sheltering-in-place. More significantly, I believe Mary has a greeting card ministry. This compassionate retired teacher possesses a spiritual gift to send cards which seem to arrive at the exact moment the receiver desperately needs uplifting. Other women from Mary’s circle can attest to this providential timing.

Don’t get me wrong, I sincerely appreciate receiving a text, email, or personal social media message from a concerned well-wisher. But there’s something special about going to your mailbox and finding an unexpected envelope containing a thoughtful note from a friend.

That’s why, I decided to follow Mary’s example and fill my craving for something sparkly by sending out some greeting cards myself. It wasn’t “essential” to venture out shopping, instead I purchased an assortment of attractive cards on the Internet. Of course, they were decorated with glitter and an uplifting message.  

I ended up mailing a half-dozen greetings out. It was my intent to comfort, encourage, and support a few female family members and friends with some sparkle and heartfelt sentiment. I was blessed back with the incredible sense of reward we receive when we give, expecting nothing in return.

For instance, I had been meaning to send a card to the mother of a former college classmate who died in her twenties. We hadn’t been in touch for decades, but this past year, I couldn’t get my late friend’s mom off my mind, so shutdown gave me time to send her a card.

Her return note turned out to be an unexpected blessing. After all, Covid-19 statistics continue to rise, racial injustice has divided our nation, unemployment is daunting, and we have no idea what tomorrow will hold. Yet this dear lady shared a poignant quote offering hope for the future, “God’s plans are greater than any plans we can imagine.” That’s truly a guarantee a glitter girl can cling to. 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show and on CBN’s 700 Club. Her most recent inspirational book is “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel.” Her amazing life journey includes surviving a near fatal suicide attempt and confinement in a state mental institution as a teen to having a successful life today. Christina has a B.A. from Bluffton University and an M.A. from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

“52 Churches in 52 Weeks” Free PDF Book

While obtaining a Master of Ministry degree from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in 2005, I found myself passionately interested in studying the multiple ways to grow a healthy church utilizing experts’ wisdom gleaned through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I wasn’t interested in church growth to achieve an increased number of attendees, but rather growing a church to reach the largest number of hurting individuals with the truth and healing power of the Gospel.  

More than a decade later, I began to contemplate what it would be like to do a year-long study and visit a different church each week with a church-growth mindset recording what I observed at the numerous and varied denominational and non-denominational fellowships.

You can download the results of this study in this free 60 plus page e-book PDF here, “52 Churches in 52 Weeks” as a gift from my ministry. The reason I want to bless you is because our world is experiencing an unprecedented challenge facing the coronavirus pandemic. Due to this, I realize the financial status of many churches worldwide will be greatly impacted. It is my goal to provide you with some informative reading now and valuable information for the future.

Click on photo to download FREE Book, “52 Churches in 52 Weeks”

The churches involved in the report are listed in the back of the book and were almost all exclusively located in west central Ohio. But they could have been anywhere in the Midwest or other rural area. Through the book, you will find out why friendliness, social media, advertising, the role of the gatekeeper, church signage, and the list goes on, are all vitally important to growing a healthy, organic body of believers.

Originally written in 2016-2017, admittedly this study does not cover some areas that technology has recently provided like the importance of church apps, or in-depth information about online campuses and giving, etc. Still, it is my prayer that you will find something contained within these pages which will be an asset to your specific ministry. Some pastors, leaders, and church boards discovered that the report was a valuable tool in implementing positive change.

Although, I am pleased to provide this PDF book at no cost, if you or your church is part of an inspirational book club or women’s ministry, I do ask that you consider using my inspirational, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” as a possible group study or individual read.

My recent novel includes discussion questions for women’s book clubs, church small groups, women’s bible studies, and recovery ministries. Reviewers and readers have embraced it as both entertaining and inspiring fiction, with a compelling storyline that promotes emotional healing, forgiveness, and restored faith. Here is the link to “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” on my website or though amazon.com, Kindle version, where you can read a sample of Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel.”

May you be uplifted in a special way as you strive for your congregation to become all that God intends. Whether you are a pastor, lay leader, deacon, board member or congregant, my prayers are with you.

As for this trying and uncertain time, may you also be encouraged to remember that our God is with us and He will see us through to the other side. “This too shall pass.” Our merciful Creator will even use this trying season to bring good throughout this Earth.

In God’s Grace,

Christina

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show and on CBN’s 700 Club. She is a past National $10,000 1st Place Amy Writing Awards recipient, Chicken Soup for the Soul book contributor, award-winning newspaper columnist, former TV reporter, and the author of several Christian recovery books. Her autobiographical book, “Seeds of Hope for Survivors,” chronicles her own amazing journey of surviving a near fatal suicide attempt and confinement in a state mental institution as a teen to having a successful life today. Christina has a B.A. from Bluffton University and an M.A. from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.