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.

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.

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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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. 

 

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.

 

Mom’s Advice about Getting Older

My Beautiful Mother

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

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

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

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

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

Mom and me on our last Christmas together 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom’s advice has served me well this past decade

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

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

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

A Glitter Girl’s Guarantee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“52 Churches in 52 Weeks” Free PDF Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In God’s Grace,

Christina

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

The Love Story Lie

With Valentine’s Day on the way, some folks will probably go out to dinner and then take in a romantic or maybe even a nostalgic film. Although it’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years since the classic movie, “Love Story” first hit the silver screen in 1970. If you’re a boomer or beyond, you are probably familiar with the film’s storyline. “Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal) the heir of an American upper-class East Coast family is attending Harvard College where he plays hockey. He meets Jennifer “Jenny” Cavilleri, (Ali McGraw), a quick-witted, working-class Radcliffe College student of classical music, they quickly fall in love despite their differences,” according to Wikepedia.org.

Huge spoiler alert, viewers know from the beginning that the ending will be heartbreaking. This is revealed in the film’s opening when the audience is presented with the poignant line: “What can you say about a girl who was 25 and died?”

The tragic romantic drama was written by author, Erich Segal, and based on his best-selling novel, “Love Story.” The American Film Institute lists the movie as number nine (#9) on its list of most romantic movies and was the highest-grossing film of 1970 taking in $106.4 million at the box office. But did this seemingly harmless heartbreaker of a movie negatively affect the romantic relationships of the countless then young, impressionable theater-goers who watched it? Sadly, for some individuals, I personally believe that it did.

You see, hosts of impressionable youth might have embraced Jenny Cavilleri’s (McGraw’s) famous line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” to Oliver (O’Neal) when he apologizes for an angry outburst. Later, Oliver repeats the famous line to his millionaire father (Ray Milland) after Jenny dies. With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, some theaters nationwide will host a special viewing of the film during February in celebration of its 50th anniversary this year. When I saw the advertisements, I wondered if a whole new generation of movie-goers might fall for this faulty philosophy. “Am I the only one who thinks that ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’ is just plain wrong?” one individual asks the Internet website, www.Quora.com.

Apparently not, “Erich Segal’s classic is no friend to love,” writes www.DailyMail.com columnist, Amanda Craig in an archived post. “It is quite possibly, one of the worst philosophical guides by which to conduct your life ever to have been offered…Whatever love means saying sorry is a huge part of it.”

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to learn the art of apology. Admittedly, after being married for almost two decades, it’s still a challenge to acknowledge when I’m in the wrong. Yet I’m grateful I quickly grew to disbelieve the quotation’s dangerous message that when true love exists between two people in a relationship, it can be unconditional, no explanations necessary for bad behavior, and no apologies expected for negative actions or unkind words.

If human beings were perfect, never having to say you’re sorry could work. But we are flawed, and sadly our less than perfect natures can result in the unwanted outcome of hurting the ones we love the most. Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Jennifer Thomas believe so strongly that learning to apologize in a meaningful way is necessary to the health of a relationship, they co-wrote the book, “The Five Languages of Apology” in 2006. The book’s theme supports the theory that a sincere request for forgiveness can be an influential tool in mending a relational rift. Chapman is well-known for the New York Times bestseller, “The Five Love Languages.”

In “Love Story,” no apologies are necessary for anything ever, if you love the one you have wounded. The iconic film both won and was nominated for all kinds of 1971 industry awards winning one Oscar for Best Music, the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Drama) along with another eight wins and 16 nominations in various awards and categories. Ryan O’Neal was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He was a young, handsome heartthrob who undoubtedly sold us a bill of goods with his infamous line.  

Ironically in the last scene of his 1972 film “What’s Up, Doc” co-starring Barbara Streisand. Streisand’s character (Judy) tells love interest (Howard) Ryan O’Neal, “Let me tell you something, love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” replies Howard (O’Neal). 

Truthfully, I couldn’t agree more.

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

The Season’s Most Valuable Lesson: A Diamond Necklace

 
Every single parent’s story is probably complicated, because real life can be messy. As Christmas draws near, I’m now blessed to be married and live in a wonderful home of my own. Still, life was not always this easy. That’s why the Christmas when I received the diamond necklace is the one that I will remember forever. Back then, as a single mother I wasn’t expecting to get such a costly gift, especially not from my own son.

Raising a child alone, I found the holidays were the greatest reminder of the absence of family, or at least “family” in the traditional way that one expects will be part of the season. Our modest Yuletide celebration bore little resemblance to the sentimental TV commercials where joyful loved ones gather around a large dining table laden with delicious food, a colorful centerpiece, and flickering candles. On Christmas Eve, it was usually just Zach and me, because my mother and stepfather lived in another state, along with most of our relatives.

Despite this fact, when Zachary was young, I tried desperately to achieve some sense of Christmas cheer, while operating within a very confining budget. I never expected any presents, like many solo parents, I only cared that there would be something special under the tree for my precious youngster. Even the Christmas tree in our apartment was a hand-me-down from another once single mom who had remarried and graduated to greater economic stability.

At Christmastime, I tried to make sure there were lots of packages for Zach to open. Not expensive items, just tiny tokens of how grateful I was to have been granted the special privilege of raising him. My dark-haired sensitive boy never expected much or complained that there should have been more. He understood our “situation.”

Of course, there were generous family members and friends from work or church who realized that our circumstances were difficult. Sometimes little blessings like an unexpected gift certificate, toy for Zachary, or a Christmas sweater for me wrapped in festive paper appeared from unexpected sources.

 “It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” is an age-old Bible verse that represents the plight of the single-parent family best. You have to learn to give without expectation, because frequently little comes back. But this reminds you that the true meaning of Christmas was never about gifts or trees, but rather about a tiny baby born in a Bethlehem stable.

So it was for most of those first twenty Christmases that my son and I spent together. Along the way, he became a man, moved out and began a life of his own. When Christmas Eve rolled around, a grown-up Zach arrived at my door to celebrate our tradition of enjoying the evening together. There was the usual church service, holiday snacks, and finally we opened our presents.

When he finished unwrapping his gifts, he looked at me with excitement as he proudly handed me a small box. I began to tear the decorative paper, expecting a pair of costume earrings or a gold plated bracelet as in years past. His eyes, eager with anticipation, focused intently on me.

Lifting the lid of the ivory satin case, I tried to hide my shock. It bore the name of an expensive jewelry store. I was barely able to swallow an audible gasp, when I glanced down and saw a diamond pendant and glittering chain resting in the box’s burgundy velvet lining. By now Zach’s deep blue eyes were dancing with unrestrained delight. Apparently, my son understood the importance of giving.

Unfortunately, I had not discovered how to graciously receive, since I had little practice. How much had this necklace cost him? It looked to be at least a ¼ carat diamond circled by a thick band of white gold. The unmistakable sparkle of the stone left little doubt that it was real, and Zach’s ecstatic look confirmed its authenticity. The delicate pendant was exquisite, but my faithful man-child worked hard for his money and he was in college too. I often felt guilty that I had not been able to financially assist him more in achieving his educational and career goals.

Suddenly, I thought about the Christmas sermon from the year before. The pastor had spoken about accepting gifts with appreciation and graciousness, never offending the giver. Sensing my discomfort, Zach abruptly said he wanted to tell me the truth about the gift’s origin. He then shared the tender tale of a colleague who was a young single mom with a little boy. Needing some extra cash, she decided to sell the diamond pendant, because being a gift from a former boyfriend it didn’t possess any sentimental value. Zach had simply purchased it to help her make ends meet, and to bless me with an amazing Christmas present.

 All of a sudden, the diamond sparkled brighter and I looked at the glistening gold necklace with new appreciation. Instantly, I realized that Zach had seen our lives and struggles replicated in the life of his co-worker who was also a college student like I had been when he was just a toddler. My gift was a visible witness to the fact that my son had learned the most valuable lesson the season can teach, “It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Her recent inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online outlets. She earned a M. A. in Practical Applied Theology from Mount Vernon Nazarene University and a B.A. from Bluffton University. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.