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?’”

I can’t remember his exact words, but 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 onto 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 who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries TV Show. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  Her latest book “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online outlets. 

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 

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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The Role of Women in a Growing Church

Every year, Forbes Magazine releases their list of, “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” After all, secular society heartily embraces and harnesses the contribution that women make to organizations. Yet many churches are unsure if women should hold positions of authority, speak in the pulpit, or possess any kind of power.

In explanation, today’s females are employed as: congresswomen, senators, bank presidents, physicians, school superintendents, attorneys, mayors, and business owners, among other influential occupations. They have worked diligently to utilize their God-given gifts to become leaders in the community, but often we allow them little freedom to exercise these same gifts in our churches.

Despite this oversight, most congregations desire to grow. Or else, there would not be so many church growth experts writing books, surveying mega-churches, and espousing theories about how it’s done. Spiritual folks can harbor negative feelings about these studies thinking that it’s God’s job to increase the number of worshippers.

These skeptical believers tend to view words like “seeker friendly” and “church growth” as no better than aggressive marketing tools; forgetting that the goal of church growth is simply to reach the lost and hurting with the life-changing news of the Gospel, not to sell them a useless product.

Women are a vital part of this spiritual expansion. The Bible itself is filled with dynamic women of faith who did great exploits for their God. For example, the prophetess Deborah was a great leader who judged Israel (Judges). Phoebe was also a church leader (Romans 16). The Greek word describing Phoebe as a servant refers to her being a deaconess. Lydia was a business entrepreneur who was also a worshipper of God, (Acts 16) and Priscilla was a Bible teacher. (Acts 18: 24-26)

Like these Biblical heroines, my Christian journey has included countless ministry opportunities provided by supportive men and women of God. Yet not all my Christian sisters have been so fortunate. Since many churches still erroneously reject or greatly limit the contribution of women, citing a couple of out-of-context poorly exegeted Bible verses. In explanation, the Biblical history of the women who were told to remain silent within the church (I Cor.14:34) comprises unbridled, untaught women who lacked submission to their own husbands. Also, the church in Corinth was already struggling with disorderly worship.

As for not allowing a “woman” to teach, the Greek in I Timothy 2:11-15 refers not simply to the word, “woman,” but more specifically to the word, “wife.” Of course, women are never to domineer or exercise authority over their husbands, but this has little to do with teaching God’s Word, being a pastor, serving on a board, serving as a deaconess or elder, or fulfilling their ministry calling. True Biblical submission in a marital relationship is when a husband loves his wife so much that he will lead, enabling her to fulfill God’s destiny in her life. Whether that destiny entails being a housewife, pastor, or the president. Besides, the Bible tells us, “There is [now no distinction] neither Jew nor Greek, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:28 Amp.

In his book, “Women: God’s Secret Weapon,” Ed Silvoso, founder and president of Harvest Evangelism asks, “Why are the spiritual gifts that are entrusted to women so often openly disqualified…?” Silvoso believes that denying women their rightful place in the church is spiritually abusive, contrasting their plight to that of a sexual abuse victim. Silvoso asserts that women who are victimized by sexual abuse receive compassionate support, while “women victimized by spiritual abuse are seen as rebellious, ambitious and non-feminine.” This area of abuse greatly concerns me because I fear it will not only wound women, but it will impede church growth.

Many females have worked diligently to gain both academic and Biblical education. Successful women in numerous occupations could provide incredible role models to fuel the vision of the younger women within the church. Clinging to patriarchal tradition by refusing to allow trained and gifted women to hold positions of leadership or to operate in their God-given gifts might result in a church losing them to another congregation. Even worse, frustration and discouragement could cause these valuable ladies to stop attending church altogether, which would be a momentous loss to the kingdom. After all, a growing church is not an institutional organization, but rather a living organism relying on each member to fulfill his or her God-given purpose.

Christina Ryan Claypool has appeared on national TV on Joyce Meyer Ministries and been featured on CBN’s 700 Club. Her latest book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is now available through all major online outlets. Contact Christina through her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Mitch Albom’s books & My Message about Suicide

Mitch Albom, best-selling author with Christina Ryan Claypool, blogger

Interesting how books written by an inspiring author can make you contemplate aspects of your own faith, but that’s exactly what  Mitch Albom’s books can do. Albom’s genre was originally sports-related, but he skyrocketed to literary celebrity in the late 1990s with his bestselling, Tuesdays with Morrie, followed by The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and For One More Day. My personal favorite was always his 2009 non-fiction, Have a Little Faith, about a dying rabbi and an inner city pastor. Yet, his 2018 release, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, might be my new personal favorite. Let’s just say I was sobbing into my tissues at the end of the book, but it was one of those cathartic ugly cries women live for. 

Although Tuesdays with Morrie is probably Albom’s best known work. It has become a modern classic and continues to sustain popularity with over half a million followers on Facebook alone. Probably because the book addresses human mortality, one of the most challenging and perplexing issues that we all must face.

Confronting death head-on in, Tuesdays with Morrie, Albom interviewed an elderly Morrie Schwartz, who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. In one chapter, the Detroit Free Press columnist quotes Morrie as saying people don’t talk about death, because “no one really believes they are going to die.” But none of us is getting out of here alive unless theology-permitting, the Rapture happens first, because the Bible tells us that our human bodies are wearing out on a daily basis.

For some reason, even though death is all around us, it still comes as quite a shock when it happens in our circle. To explain, when we learn of someone close who loses their child or mate, it’s easy to experience guilt for the gratitude we feel that the tragedy happened to them, instead of to us. We hug our own spouses and kids a little tighter, hoping to stave off this inevitable grim reaper.

Over two decades ago, the question of mortality began to haunt me again. It had not been so intense since my days as a troubled teen, when I buried several other despairing acquaintances who took their lives. Even though I found myself in an Intensive Care Unit a couple times due to intentional overdoses, my young life was miraculously spared. To honor the memory of my  late friends, I appeared in Ginger Stache’s regional Emmy-nominated documentary, “Before You Say Good-Bye.”

I was just one of the folks interviewed by Ms. Stache for the 1997 suicide prevention piece that aired nationwide and in Europe. I shared my testimony of surviving several near fatal suicide attempts as a young woman. Later, I would tell this story over and over in schools, prisons, and churches. It was not the “wanting to die” part, but rather the “grateful that I’m still here” message that I shared. My goal was to offer a glimmer of hope that with God’s help there is always a reason to live. 

Still it was Jewish Holocaust survivor, Elizabeth Bing Sondheimer who exposed the truth about my passion to spare others from suicide. She spotted my surivivor’s guilt almost immediately after first meeting me. This wise mentor gently guided me in relinquishing the guilt of surviving when others had not. She, too, lived with this same dilemma losing most of her extended family to Hitler’s diabolical genocide. Liesl taught me renewed awe and gratitude for the gift of life, while finally accepting my purpose birthed through the pain of loss.

After all, suicide is a lot like cancer, without intervention one’s irrational thoughts can result in a tragic decision. When our mental health is jeopardized, the darkness and hopelessness close in, creating despair. This is a time when a hurting person needs help, because it’s never our choice to decide whether life is worth living.

The Bible tells us, “You realize, don’t you, that you are the temple of God, and God himself is present in you?” (I Cor.3:16) Then there’s also, “Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for…” (I Cor 6:19) The high price that God paid for each one of us was himself dying a painful and humiliating death on a cross. Jesus died for us to give us what Scripture says should be an “abundant” life.

When life gets rocky, we have to remember that God is still in control. Yet that’s difficult to do when you’re elderly and alone, middle-aged and unemployed, or a troubled teenager like I once was. Sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens. Nationwide elderly males are at great risk, too. The use of drugs or alcohol also increases the propensity towards suicide. 

As believers, we can offer assistance to others struggling by being, “Christ with some skin on.” We can pray, listen, and destigmatize mental health issues by encouraging those battling illnesses like depression and addiction to seek professional help.

Suicide is never a solution. Life is always worth living. If you or someone you love needs help, please talk to a concerned pastor, counselor, or call the  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or click on the logo to visit their Website.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and Christian speaker. Her book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors is available through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  

Clemmie’s Colorblind Love Lives On

During Black History month, we remember those courageous people who positively impacted us. If you read my recently released book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel,” you will learn about the example and sacrifice of a loving black woman named Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jones. Lizzie is based on a precious lady who is an important part of my own history.

To explain, during the racially turbulent sixties, as a Caucasian child growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t know anything about racism. Therefore, it seemed only natural when Miss Clemmie came to take care of me and my siblings, while my mom was seriously ill.

Clemmie was an extremely overweight African-American woman who had a heart as huge as the girth that surrounded it. My financially struggling family couldn’t have paid her much of a salary, yet she lovingly looked after all of us. With Clemmie there, I instinctively knew that everything would be alright.

What I didn’t know then was that a Civil Rights movement was being birthed out of the frustration regarding injustices that African Americans like Clemmie could no longer bear. Not yet a first grader, I couldn’t imagine anyone hating such a wonderful woman, simply for the color of her skin. Eventually, my mother regained her health, so Clemmie no longer came to care for us. Yet her colorblind love, which was based on her faith in the Gospel’s message, “…Love one another, as I have loved you…” had made a lasting impression.

A few years later, on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave his memorable Civil Rights address calling for an end to the acceptance of segregation in educational institutions, retail establishments, restaurants, and hotels. He also demanded that African Americans be able to vote without the fear of harmful consequences.

Just hours after Kennedy’s eloquent speech, Medgar Evers, a Black Mississippi Civil Rights leader was brutally gunned down by a white Ku Klux Klan member. Evers, a World War II Army veteran had survived the Battle of Normandy, but that June night he lay bleeding to death in his own driveway. Fifty minutes later, he died at a local hospital.

Although I’ve never been grievously wounded like Evers, I do know what it feels like to lie on cold asphalt too hurt to move. As an eight-years-old girl walking to school, I tripped and fell so hard that it momentarily knocked the wind out of me and scattered my science project everywhere. I was blocks from my family’s house, but an older middle-aged woman heard my cries, and rushed down her porch steps to care for me.

I didn’t know my Good Samaritan who shared Clemmie’s mahogany complexion. My grandmotherly rescuer tended my cuts, and then she carefully helped me put my science project back together. She smiled with maternal satisfaction when she finally sent me off to school. That beautiful smile is a treasured memory, as is the remembrance of Miss Clemmie’s massive arms hugging me to her bountiful chest.

It’s important to remember the selfless acts of compassion of others. Because whatever our race, everyday society gives us the choice to tolerate racism based on the justification that someone of another ethnicity probably once mistreated us.

The late Jewish Holocaust survivor, Liesl Sondheimer, often shared a profound truth regarding racial forgiveness. Like Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Mrs. Sondheimer spent decades retelling the painful account of the extermination of more than six million European Jews during World War II. Unlike Wiesenthal’s quandary concerning forgiveness outlined so poignantly in his book The Sunflower, my dear friend, Liesl, always maintained that, “You must forgive, but never forget, or Hitler has won.”

Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once wrote, “…if we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.” But Mrs. Sondheimer didn’t have that choice.

Yet we all have a daily choice about permitting racism, which continues to be just as deadly to our society, as Hitler’s gas chambers once were. But sadly, not everyone has a Miss Clemmie or a Liesl to teach them what compassion for their fellow man is all about. Still, if we follow Jesus’ command to, “Love one another,” it would be a much better world.

Mike Ullery photo

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy/Ohio APME Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show and on CBN’s 700 Club. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her novel, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife” is available at all major online outlets.

A Miraculous Second Chance at Friendship

The post below is dedicated to my courageous friend, Kimberly Winegardner who remains my hero after successfully reaching Heaven’s shores on October 1, 2012. When we are grieving the loss of a dear friend, we have to embrace the comfort that comes from our Heavenly Father. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147: 3 **************************************************************************************************** Kimberly came into my life when I was the single mother of a middle-school son and the owner of a thrift store. New to west central Ohio, blonde and in her early 20s, Kim would occasionally stop by my secondhand shop to chat. We instantly connected and spent lots of time together over the next decade. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding and watched her start her family. Then, when she moved out West, we lost touch. That is, until the phone call came almost a decade later.

“Kimberly’s in the hospital. It’s cancer. The doctors aren’t giving her much hope,” a mutual friend called to tell me. Kim had moved back to Ohio by then. The following day, I drove over 100 miles to be at her side during her first chemotherapy treatment. It was as if we had never been apart.

By then, I had remarried, and almost miraculously, we soon moved only 10 miles away from Kimberly. This allowed us time to reconnect and to share our families with each other. Over the next couple of years, I watched helplessly as Kimberly bravely endured countless treatments trying to fight the deadly disease. Occasionally, my husband and I took her wonderful children out for an evening when she was in the hospital.

At the beginning, Kim made a promise that her life would not be about the cancer, but about the living. That’s why whenever we got together we talked tirelessly, like two best friends on borrowed time. I would pick her up and we would go to lunch and giggle like schoolgirls, despite her oxygen tank and growing tumors.

Kimberly’s graduation – OBM Bible college

Then about a month before her passing, I happened to watch the classic movie, “Beaches,” on TV. It’s about best friends going through the same thing as Kimberly and I. In the movie, Hillary, played by Barbara Hershey, is terminally ill, and C.C., a famous singer played by Bette Midler, rushes to be at her side.

When C.C. sings the song, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” it portrays her admiration and undying love for her courageous friend. The lyrics say, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” Silently, I prayed that seeing that movie wasn’t heavenly preparation for losing my own best friend, who grew weaker each day.

Click here for clip: Bette Middler singing Wind Beneath my Wings video courtesy Youtube

Kimberly was hanging on, wanting to be with her husband and children. I had never seen such great faith. Even when doctors said there was no more that could be done, we continued to pray for the miracle she desperately wanted.

Then it seemed as if she let go and began reaching for Heaven. One evening, I sat at her bedside holding her hand, as tears of gratitude for our second chance at friendship ran down my cheeks.

At 8 am the next morning, the phone call came. My beautiful blonde friend had breathed her last earthly breath. The morning after Kimberly’s funeral, I woke up feeling so empty. I listlessly dragged myself to my Pilates class. Leaving the gym, I noticed a garage sale sign on the corner. It was a perfect autumn day. The sun was shining, the sky was vivid blue and the trees were covered with colorful fall leaves. Still, my heart was unbearably heavy. I didn’t feel like going to the sale, but it was as if some unseen presence led me there.

KimberlyWhile absentmindedly looking over the merchandise, I spied a musical water globe. Inside was an angel dressed in an aqua and lilac robe with long golden hair. The angel was lovingly embracing a small child, and her white-feathered wings were covered with iridescent sparkles.

The globe was only $2. Impulsively, I paid for it. Later, when I wound the musical key, it began to play the tune, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Instantly, I realized it was no coincidence that I had gone to that garage sale or purchased that globe.

That same afternoon, one of the movie channels showed “Beaches” again. This time, I sobbed as I watched it, allowing myself to begin grieving my dearest friend’s loss. Yet, I was also joyful as I realized that God had sent me a garage sale angel to remind me that Heaven is real, and that Kimberly would be waiting there.

The globe now sits in a prominent place in the glass cabinet in my living room. After a decade apart, I am so thankful that my heroic friend and I remained inseparable until the very end, and that I now have the angel to remind me of her every day.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a national Amy and Ohio A.P.M.E. award-winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker. Her book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” will be released in October 2018. To learn more visit her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

Golden Wings for a Grieving Traveler

Mother’s Day is upon us. Like me, you might be missing your mom. There are also mothers experiencing the painfully unnatural grief of missing children. After all, we assume that someday we will bury our parents, but never anticipate having to grieve the death of a child.

Mother’s Day spent mourning a lost loved one can be an especially, treacherous emotional sea to navigate. Maybe though, your mother or child didn’t die, instead circumstances have somehow estranged you. Life can be complicated, but personally I believe in happy endings.

That’s why I’m a sap for sentimental movie plots like the traditional boy gets the girl or a stranded puppy finds their way home. The holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” always thrills me when a rather bumbling angel named Clarence finally gets his wings.

Although, I must admit I wasn’t thinking about the possibility of a happy ending on that awful afternoon almost eight years ago. I sat rigidly in my cramped seat on an airplane trying not to cry. As I gazed at the oblivious passengers, the business flyers looked weary, but other folks seemed animated traveling for pleasure and family excursions.

Family. That was my problem. My 78-year-old mother, Glenna Sprang, had died suddenly the day before. An accomplished organist, Mom played two church services on Sunday morning. Later that afternoon, pain from a kidney stone gone terribly wrong caused her to be rushed by ambulance to a Philadelphia hospital. By Wednesday afternoon, I stood helplessly at her bedside watching my mother breathe her last breath, just as she had been with me when I breathed my first.

Glenna Giesken Sprang

Glenna Giesken Sprang

I felt isolated by grief, as I traveled back to Ohio to be with family until her funeral. Being a Christian speaker by profession, my mother had left a written request that I “preach” her funeral, if I was able. I was honored by her last wish, but my heart was broken, and I had no idea how I was going to do it.

That’s when a forty-something flight attendant who I’ll call Dan, pulled his beverage cart next to my aisle seat. The seasoned steward shared the same reddish hair color that my four brothers and sister have. The color that caused them to be teased ruthlessly when we were kids.

At that very moment, an obnoxious traveler was mercilessly making fun of Dan’s hairstyle. I gave the flight attendant a sympathetic look, but the undaunted steward defiantly threw his head back while laughing profusely. For the first time in several days, I laughed, too. Suddenly, Dan looked deeply into my exhausted eyes and sounding concerned asked, “Are you going home?”

“My mom just died,” I blurted out. Instantly, I was embarrassed that I had burdened a stranger with my grief.

“It will get better,” Dan said encouragingly. He then shared the story of losing his own mother some years earlier promising me that time would ease my heartache.

It was a short flight, with the airline attendant being busy for the rest of the trip. Minutes before landing safely on the runway, Dan made his way back to my seat at the rear of the plane. Then he ceremoniously handed me a pin shaped like a pair of golden wings. “Now, you can say, you got your wings at the same time as your mother got hers,” he said with a boyish grin.

When I arrived home, I placed my “wings” on the vanity’s top in my bedroom. The following week, I fulfilled my mother’s last wish of preaching her funeral describing her courageous life with the Scripture, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” [2 Timothy 4:7]

Then I allowed myself to grieve. During those difficult months, every time I looked at the golden wings, I clung to Dan’s promise that time would lessen the pain and that someday my broken heart would begin to heal.

There’s another promise that also gave me great hope. It’s the one found in the thought-provoking movie released recently “I can only imagine.” Of course, I still miss Mom, but I’m no longer overwhelmed by earthly sadness, instead I’m excited about seeing her again someday in Heaven where she is now experiencing incomprehensible joy. Mom and me

If you are the one grieving inconsolably, hang on, time can be a great gift in healing grief. For me, it has gotten better, just as the flight attendant promised. In reality, I know that Dan was probably just a compassionate cabin steward, but to a brokenhearted traveler, he seemed like an angel in disguise.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker. Her book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors, is available through her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com