The Truth about Time

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Many of us have heard this famous Bible verse turned Byrds’ lyrics, but have you ever considered how it applies to daily life? Personally, I’ve been rather stuck on thinking about the intangible concept of time for quite awhile. My quest began on an unplanned Florida vacation over a decade ago.

To explain, I was supposed to join my late mother and two sisters on a cruise ship headed for the Caribbean to celebrate my sister’s 50th birthday. Instead, birthday girl had a frightening health crisis in the Washington airport and was rushed to the hospital.

This left me stranded in the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, not wanting to board the ship without news of her status. Inwardly panicking about what to do next, my brother who is a Florida realtor heard about my plight. Don called me in the airport with a gracious invitation to stay with him in Naples just a couple hours away. Thankfully, I later received word that my sister would be fine, too.

Despite the fact that it was the busy season for selling real estate and I was an unplanned-for guest, Don made me feel incredibly welcome. One night after supper, my brother even offered to take me to the beach near sunset. It was there that we met an elderly woman who gave me a lesson about time. Her tanned face was so leathery and wrinkled from the Florida sun, that it was difficult to tell her age. Probably mid-eighties, yet there was a kind of vitality about this silver-haired senior that made you think she was younger. She was a widow who had enjoyed the Floridian lifestyle in retirement, but she shared that she would be reluctantly returning to the Midwest soon.

“It’s time,” she said simply. “I have a daughter and her family up north.” My compassionate sibling shook his head knowingly, and with understanding in his voice softly echoed her words back in acknowledgement. “It’s time.”

Time for what, I wondered, while guessing that this was a final life stage. As soon as the woman disappeared, I sat on a bench pensively staring out at the vast blue-green Gulf of Mexico picking up seashells sensing that something sacred had just happened. Finally, I asked Don, “What did she mean, ‘It’s time?’”

He explained that often there comes a season when it’s no longer wise for retired Florida transplants to live alone. When health, security, and planning-ahead requires them to move to an area where they will be surrounded by family who can care for them in case of a crisis. Usually this means moving back home. These practical seniors are planning for their final days, but that doesn’t mean that the joy of living and being fulfilled stops.

After all, the Bible also tells us about, “A time to be born, and a time to die.” Yet there is that metaphorical dash that exists between these two stages. Each day we are given needs to be cherished, because inevitably a moment comes for all of us when the sand in the hourglass runs out.

Long ago, my late grandmother shared her impression that as one ages, “Time flies.”  I recall thinking her theory seemed unscientific and random. But through the years, I have discovered Grandma’s opinion is all too true. To explain, time is moving way too rapidly as I now find myself growing older at what seems to be the speed of light. 

Lately, I occasionally discover myself desperately wanting to beat Father Time and hold fast to the valuable moments of today. But in the end, there is no way to buy more time. Instead, we have to make the most of each precious day we are given, living it as though it were our last. 

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

Breakfast with a not-so-famous Tony Bennett

It’s easier than it’s ever been to become famous. In my formative years before the advent of the Internet
overnight success was non-existent. Still, back then a lot of little boys grew up wanting to become a well-known president, and girls dreamed of being a famous movie star or the wife of someone important. When feminism hit in the seventies, a lot of young women also decided they wanted to be president. I’ll bet not too many young people today would desire the notoriety of the oval office, but that’s a whole other blog post.

Celebrity has never been a huge draw for me. Of course, it would be great to win a Pulitzer Prize like poet Sylvia Plath, or a Nobel Peace Prize like civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Yet like many renowned people, fame exacted a tremendous cost. The brilliant Plath took her own life, and the inspirational Dr. King was senselessly slain for his convictions.

Anyway, dependent on the size of your pond, there will always be a more famous fish. More importantly, if you climb to the top of the ladder, there’s a good chance you will have to experience the long climb down more than once.

For example, famed singer Tony Bennett was definitely not at the top of his game, when I served him breakfast in the late 1970s. I first saw the musical legend early in the morning, as he sat waiting for a server at the former Cascade Holiday Inn in Akron, Ohio. He was alone, reading his newspaper for what seemed like an eternity, while the small group of waitresses where I worked, argued about who should wait on him.

My co-workers seemed awed by his celebrity, so nobody wanted to take his table. I assumed the poor man was hungry, and even though he wasn’t in my section, I volunteered. Mr. Bennett needed breakfast, and I was a struggling college student with more than a few real problems in need of a good tip.

Honestly, I had almost no idea who he was. By then, his career was in a downward spiral. Two of his mid-70s albums had failed to gain popular success, and he had parted ways with his record label. I had heard of his 1962 hit, “I left my heart in San Francisco,” but was too young to be impressed.

Sadly, I took the singer’s order for Eggs Benedict and served him without even acknowledging that I knew who he was. The talented performer was very polite, and I should have at least complimented him on his incredible voice. Thankfully, Bennett didn’t need my affirmation, because the test of time has proven his enduring talent. By 1986, with a new album and his son as manager, the Italian crooner was back on the map, and more Grammys would eventually follow.

There were also celebrity duets for the famous tenor, probably the most notable was when he teamed up with Lady Gaga. His 2014 CD with her titled, “Cheek to Cheek” won a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. A couple years later, came his dreadful diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Still, Lady G is reported to have remained friends with her unlikely duet partner to the very end.

Bennett was an artist extraordinaire in more ways than one, because he was also known for his paintings.  With his wife, Susan Benedetto, the singer founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts where Susan once served as both a teacher and an assistant principal. The world lost this 96-year-old gentle giant of a man on July 21st, which is why I wanted to pay tribute to him one last time with this post.

After all, it’s been over four decades since that fated breakfast, and meeting the amazing performer was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve always regretted my omission of not expressing my gratitude to him for the importance of his musical contribution. Especially, when he was at the bottom of his game. The truth is, I was a troubled kid back then at the bottom of my game, too.

So, Tony Bennett, I would like to publicly apologize to you for not realizing that you and I were both only in a temporary slump. Your music would end up bringing more joy to our world than you could have imagined.  I read online that your last words were the very ones I wish I would have had a chance to say, “Thank you.” It’s reported you said them to your son, Danny, but I want to take this final opportunity to say them to you, “Thank you, Tony Bennett. Rest in peace. You made the world a more beautiful place by being here!”

http://www.christinaryanclaypool.comChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio AP award-winning freelance journalist and speaker. She has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Her inspirational novel, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife” is available on Amazon and all major online outlets. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Nurse Ratched’s Caregiving Advice

Nurse Ratched and Patient LarryAlmost five decades ago, the classic 1975 movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” won all five major Academy Awards. The poignant drama chronicled the plight of young Jack Nicholson’s character Randle McMurphy who was confined to a state mental institution. This was not a Utopian facility where the nurses and doctors were lovers of people, or even keepers of the Hippocratic Oath. Instead, this description of life in a psychiatric facility vividly depicted the horrors of the treatment of some patients before mental health reforms.

Especially noteworthy in the film was the late actress Louise Fletcher’s 1976 Oscar winning portrayal of the brutally hardhearted and dictatorial Nurse Ratched. This fictional character is everything a good nurse would never want to be. The American Film Institute designated Ratched as the fifth greatest film villain of all time in their series 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains. Today, her criminal treatment of patients would be grounds for a medical malpractice suit of dynamic proportions.

Although I don’t think I’m as bad as Mildred Ratched, I must confess that I possess no aptitude for medical practices. I have a queasy stomach and am rather lacking on the virtue of patience. Therefore, caregiving was definitely not at the top of my list for life tasks. Yet a decade ago, while caregiving for my husband following his third major surgery in eight months, I received an email addressed to “Nurse Ratchet.” The sender, a longtime friend had misspelled the sadistic caregiver’s name, but I knew instantly who she was referring to.

Despite my lack of nursing skills, like many other spouses and adult children, the lot of temporary caregiving had fallen on my shoulders. In light of this, I promised a registered nurse who really is a modern-day Florence Nightingale, that when I made it through my season of caregiving, I would compile a list of practical tips for others facing the daunting task.

Nurse Ratched’s Tips for Caregivers: 

First, a caregiver must determine to maintain his or her sense of humor, be organized, and carefully prepare for this awesome responsibility. If possible, find a way to make the room where your loved one will be recuperating as dark as possible during daylight hours. This does not mean that you cannot shower your “sickie” with sunshine if they desire. But when pain or discomfort has kept them up during the midnight hours, window coverings will help simulate nighttime so they can rest. (This way, the caregiver can rest, too.) To avoid unnecessary expense, you can purchase used drapes to cover windows at a thrift store or garage sale.

Second, check with your physician’s office about the medical equipment that will bePill bottle required. If a hospital bed is necessary, have it in place before your charge arrives home. Stock up on other supplies such as a walker, cane, crutches, shower seat, etc. and even prescriptions. Fill your cupboards and refrigerator with non-perishable groceries and bottled water since it might be quite a while before you will be able to leave your patient unattended. Prepare a journal to record administered medications, treatments, and even meals to avoid confusion.

Then there is entertainment to think about since the most difficult patient is a bored patient. Make sure a television with a remote can be readily viewed from the hospital bed. Plan a pre-op trip to your local library, to check out interesting books and make a must-see list for movies. When consulting with medical professionals, write down the questions you want to ask and request any resources that might be available for your situation. Don’t try to be superman or superwoman, but whenever possible ask for assistance from relatives, friends, or your church by communicating your specific needs.

List of MedicinesThe caregiver has to get out and you can’t allow self-imposed guilt to keep you from taking care of yourself. Exercise, eat right, sleep whenever possible, and remember that “this too shall pass.” Most of all, forgive yourself when your attitude turns sour or when you get overwhelmed.  Plus, forgive the world for moving full speed ahead and forgetting about your difficult situation. The flowers, cards, calls, and visits will probably trickle off rather quickly, since life goes on.

If you are a long-term caregiver like millions of Americans, finding a support group could provide a vital network to alleviate the stress and isolation this responsibility can create. But if you become severely depressed seek professional counseling. After the caregiving season ends, some caregivers also experience a temporary depression unsure of their next purpose. Hopefully, this won’t last long, because life has a way of continually presenting us with new tasks and adventures.

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

Despite Rejection: Keep Writing!

If I could tell an aspiring or discouraged writer only one thing, it would be to never give up, despite the reality of rejection. Once at a writing seminar, a speaker said that to be considered a “real writer,” you must experience at least five rejections. I found this humorous, because I used to keep a manila file folder for negative replies, before the advent of electronic rejections. When the file grew discouragingly bulky, I stopped saving them.

“Even though we are not going to be representing your book, use this (rejection) letter to line your cat’s litter box and keep writing.”

Over a decade ago, there was one creative response I’ve never forgotten. Initially, the national literary agent declined my manuscript proposal tactfully. Then he added, “Even though we are not going to be representing your book, use this letter to line your cat’s litter box and keep writing.”

“Keep writing!” Here’s the primary key for most folks who have been successful in their writing career. They have mustered the emotional stamina and maintained the self-discipline to write with scheduled regularity, perfecting their art to become the best wordsmith they can be.

As writers we can offer a multitude of excuses for why we should abandon our craft. For instance, since living through a pandemic and record inflation, it seems the calls for submissions in various categories have become even more limited and competitive.

Plus, deceitful opportunists masquerading as legitimate publishers have financially scammed countless Indie authors out of thousands of dollars or maybe a professionally completed book. Still, there are reputable self-publishers who continue to be honest and fair. But an author has to extensively investigate a potential publisher before they sign on the dotted line and hand over their book baby.

Yet these challenging circumstances don’t give us permission to abandon God’s calling and metaphorically lay our pens aside. Rather we need to pray and ask our heavenly Father to give us His wisdom and to show us open doors for our gifting as a wordsmith and then we need to be faithful to walk through those doors.

“We learn by practice,” said the late Martha Graham who is referred to as the mother of Modern Dance. The famous dancer and choreographer explained, “Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same.”

Therefore, it only makes sense that one learns to write by writing. That’s not always easy though, because like most wannabe authors, for years I had to work a day job to pay the bills. This means when your friends are chatting over coffee, enjoying the beach, or going to a movie, you have to sacrifice your free time for your writing projects.

Learn to write with excellence and to closely follow submission guidelines. Listen to your editors, since they are often the ones in charge of making a piece the best it can be and don’t be late for a deadline or your submission will most likely never see the light of day.

Then there is the tricky feat of continuing to believe in yourself when literary achievement has eluded you. To combat this, at another seminar I gleaned the importance of sending out a new submission for every rejection.

It would have been easy for me to believe that as a writer, I wasn’t that good, despite some sporadic success. Rejection does that. It makes us compare ourselves to others, which is always a dangerous and non-Biblical practice. Besides, some of my colleagues are award-winning national communicators.

Yet over the decades, I had never won any writing awards. Then I happened to read the now classic book, “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” subtitled, “How my mother raised 10 kids on 25 words or less” by the late Terry Ryan.

Evelyn Ryan, [no relation to me] supported her large family in the 1950s and 60s by writing contest jingles. Somehow, reading about the now deceased Mrs. Ryan’s indomitable spirit made me realize that even though the odds are definitely stacked against a freelance or contest submission, you just never know.

This was my mindset when I sent several submissions to the former National Amy Writing Awards in January 2012. In no way, had I ever dreamed that out of more than 700 submissions nationwide, my article, “Finding Forgiveness” written for The Lima News would be selected as the $10,000 First Prize winner.

In the Bible there is a promise that God will supply our needs. Evelyn Ryan needed to win money and prizes to support her large family and she did. In the autumn of my writing career, I earnestly needed to know that my perseverance as a writer had been the right life path. Winning the $10,000 First Place National Amy Writing Award was my humbling answer. An answer, I took all the way to the bank.

Despite rejection, keep writing! Miracles still happen, so don’t give up.

After all, there had been well-meaning family members and friends along my writing journey who cautioned me to abandon my work as a freelance journalist/author and to pursue another path that offered more monetary rewards. As a writer, maybe you can relate to discouraging comments coming from folks you care about. Because the truth is, most writers never do achieve monetary success as the world sees it.

That’s no reason to quit, if you love to write. Instead make sure you continue to practice your craft to the best of your ability. Join a writing group, attend a writer’s conference, take creative writing classes at a local college, or volunteer somewhere you can put your writing skills to good use. Remember too, good writers tend to be prolific readers.

In closing, I am praying for you, my fellow writer. May you continue to hone the craft that is an incredible gift from God. Despite rejection, keep writing!  

About Christina

Christina Ryan Claypool is a past National Amy and Ohio APME award-winning freelance journalist/speaker who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show and on CBN’s 700 Club. She is also a five-time Chicken Soup for the Soul story contributor, and the author of several Christian recovery books. She has a B.A. from Bluffton University and an M.A. in Ministry from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Learn more at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Her inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online outlets. Amazon Link above.

Connect with Christina Ryan Claypool

Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1. Connect with her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/christina.r.claypool, on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/christinaryanclaypool/ @christinaryanclaypool, or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CRClaypool @CRClaypool.

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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 case. 

Yet sharing about a mental health struggle can feel shameful and frightening. Despite this, with the catalyst of educating others, I started to tell my story 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 an 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, finding freedom from drugs and alcohol, 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.” The documentary aired nationwide and in Europe resulting in my talented boss being 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, my meager journalist’s budget didn’t allow for ball gowns back then.

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 over two decades now, in a candlelight ceremony.

For me, depression is still an occasional battle. And quite truthfully, it’s been more of a struggle living through a pandemic and aging. We have to be honest, because too many people are giving up hope that things can get better. Recent media reports countless Americans are struggling with some type of mental health battle like anxiety or depression. Plus, there are ongoing deadly 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. Admittedly mental health resources are stretched thin, but we can’t give up. 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 visit the website for the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline , or call 988, or seek immediate professional crisis 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 available at all major online outlets. Visit her on Facebook or her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

The Banana Nut Bread Christmas

The Christmas season more than three decades ago, “…was the best of times, [and] it was the worst of times…” as Charles Dickens once wrote. The best of times, because we were healthy, the worst, because as a single mom I found myself part of the U.S. poverty statistic.

This memory came flooding back recently while shopping at the supermarket. I began to wonder how people with limited financial resources like I once had, could possibly feed their families with the escalating prices at the grocery. Besides, the daily struggle, Christmas is coming for this economically endangered population. 

Even when your financial situation is rocky, Christmas comes with the human expectation should celebrate by giving to others. That’s when my mind recalled my own plight as a young single mother on welfare living in a government-subsidized apartment, despite a newly acquired college degree. I was ashamed of betraying my hard-fought dream of becoming a middle-class citizen through higher education. After months of sending out resume after resume during the recession and record unemployment of the early eighties, there was still no career prospect on the horizon.

Wanting to give presents to my loved ones is how the banana nut bread Christmas came to be. Not blessed with much domestic talent, I surprised myself that winter by mastering a recipe for banana nut bread. I got a couple boxes of Bisquick, nuts, some reduced over-ripe bananas perfect for baking, and a dented box of foil from a food salvage store.

Loaf after loaf of golden-brown bread baked in my little apartment oven in borrowed loaf pans. Then once the delicious smelling bread cooled, I wrapped it in seasonally appropriate, silver (aluminum) foil and tied a festive red bow around it. Admittedly, the nuts in the nut bread were quite sparse, due to my budget.

Through the years, I have been blessed with financial stability, and it’s easy to forget the frantic tension not having enough money for monthly bills, rent, food, or even diapers can produce within a family unit. And everything seems worse at Christmas. This all came rushing back wondering how on Earth people would “make ends meet.” as my grandmother used to say. 

This is not a political column being written to point a finger of blame at anyone for the rising inflation and prices. Besides, that would be a useless technique in helping folks who are struggling with food insecurity.  Thankfully, my own circumstances have improved dramatically for the better over the years, but millions of Americans are not so fortunate.

For instance, an employed friend recently confided their present need to visit the local food pantry to supplement the family’s monthly groceries. This saddened me, because I had no idea this friend was experiencing such need. Hearing this story reminded how tricky poverty can be. I remember only too well the destitution and shame it produces, which silences you. Once your voice is gone, you can give in to apathy and hopelessness.

The 2021 U.S. Census Bureau reported the poverty rate at 12.8 percent, also citing child poverty even higher at almost 17 percent. These sterile numbers do not adequately represent the plight of the innocent children or endangered seniors who face each day without nutritional food since healthy food costs more or those who might go to bed hungry.    

Senior citizens can be at special risk. Last month, a senior friend expressed their embarrassment at going to a food pantry once, admitting their pride prevented them from returning. These true stories were refresher courses for me about what scarcity feels like.

Thankfully, many communities take note of the needs of those less fortunate during this season of giving believing the Biblical viewpoint that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” especially where children are concerned.

It’s wonderful for all the organizations who make sure a child to has some gifts to open. But this Christmas, let’s also remember the food pantries that minister to our friends and neighbors or maybe we can make a gift of grocery gift card to someone we suspect is in need. 

As for me, I will never forget the banana nut bread Christmas. Since, “It [really] is more blessed to give than to receive,” giving the homemade bread as presents to family and friends gave me special joy. I had beaten the recession Grinch who had tried to steal Christmas.

When one is able to give something – anything – hope arises in the midst of lack. Hope for a brighter future and better life!

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

A Novel about True Friendship

It was our last lunch together. My friend Kimberly had an aggressive form of cancer and knew her time was short. I hadn’t accepted the fact yet, because she was only in her early forties and had a loving husband and three children to finish raising. But she couldn’t fight anymore.

Preparing for my friend of almost two decades to visit that fated day a decade ago, you would have thought royalty was coming. I brewed a teapot of piping hot flavored tea and set the dining room table with the good china, candles, and prepared a lunch feast, even though there would only be the two of us. Usually, lunch together meant going to a restaurant, but Kim had wanted to come to my home. It was our custom to bless food wherever we ate. Truthfully, I can’t remember who said grace, but I vividly recall her tell-tale prayer at the end, “And God, please give Christina a friend.”

Now, wait just one minute, Kimberly. I don’t need a friend, I have you. This thought raced through my mind, denying the reality she had already accepted. A few weeks later, she was gone.

Those of you who have also lost a close friend, empathize with how painful this loss can be. It’s a rare gift to find a faithful friend, although many folks have an ardent desire to experience intimate friendship.

But is friendship becoming extinct? One of the reason’s I wrote the inspirational fictional book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is because I’m worried about friendship. I’m concerned it might soon be as outdated as last year’s technology, and I’m pretty sure technology is the culprit deserving most of the blame.

To explain, recently a school bus filled with adolescents passed me when I was driving, and I noticed a lot of their young heads were in a downward position. Many were probably listening to music, texting, or checking their social media accounts on their smartphones. This, instead of taking the opportunity to be social with the kid in the seat next to them.

That’s why my novel is about the close friendship between an early 40s pastor’s wife and a sixty-something widowed coffee shop owner. I chose to make the main character a fictional minister’s spouse, because there’s often an unrealistic social stereotype for this supporting ministry role, even within Christian circles.

I empathize with the difficulty these precious women can have when trying to find a confidential friend to share their current issues or even past heartbreak. We often place ministerial families under a microscopic lens of scrutiny, and have the unrealistic expectation their lives should be perfect. Quite frequently, the needs and even existence of a pastor’s wife can also be overlooked, especially if her husband is an in-demand dynamic leader.

Plus, during my years working in broadcasting, I was asked to host a TV special, where pastors’ wives shared about their lives. One guest was concerned about me interviewing her, apprehensive over my understanding of her situation. Only minutes before the show was to be broadcast, she anxiously asked what my husband did.

“He’s a public-school administrator,” I answered nervously, unsure of how she would view this revelation. But instantly, she visibly relaxed, smiled a wide smile, and teasingly joked, “Oh, that’s the same thing.”

This wise lady understood whenever you are married to a man in any kind of leadership role, it can be isolating and most challenging to find a trustworthy confidant, fearing you could jeopardize your mate’s position simply by being a flawed human being.

If we’re truthful, all of us are flawed, and burying our pain and problems forces us to wear a societal mask. And masks can become a type of prison that morph into a lifestyle of pretending everything’s perfect when everything’s a hot mess. The bottom line: “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is about the desire most women carry deep within to experience intimate friendship. The kind of friendship allowing us to take our mask off, sit down with a steaming cup of coffee or hot tea, and pour our worries out to someone who won’t judge us, and to be a listening ear in return.

Of course, if we’re married, our spouse should be our best friend, but as women we need other females who will walk this crazy journey of daily living with us. We don’t require hundreds of friends, not like on Facebook where friendship is created by clicking “confirm.” Instead, we need someone with skin on to put their arm around us when we are hurting, to love us enough to tell us when we’re wrong, and to be present in our time of crisis or heartbreak, and we should be there in return.

A friend like Kimberly was to me or like Katie in my novel. The widowed coffee shop owner is a trustworthy confidant for Cassie, the pastor’s wife. I hope the book is an entertaining read and it is designed with discussion questions for book clubs and church groups. Yet at the end of the day, my desire is for this novel to provide comfort and encouragement for everyone who needs emotional or spiritual healing or support, the kind of support true friendship provides. 

Mike Ullery photo

Christina Ryan Claypool is a national Amy and Ohio APME award-wining freelance journalist, five-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, and Inspirational speaker. Her book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available at all major online outlets including Amazon.com, or visit her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com for more details. 

 

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