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.  

DD Awareness and a post office miracle

Who would ever expect to find a miracle at the post office? About a decade ago, I did. While waiting in line there, it seems common practice to act somewhat aloof, distracted, and hurried. There is also an unspoken etiquette about children staying with their parents and not addressing strangers.

Late one afternoon, a young mom with three small charges was blatantly breaking all these rules by allowing her kids to run free. Well, at least two of them were enjoying freedom as she precariously perched a chubby infant on the counter. Then she spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time discussing her mailing needs with the postal clerk.

This mom appeared oblivious to the lobby full of customers and to her approximately 4-year-old girl, who was constantly checking on another sibling hiding under one of the mailing tables. When I say, “hiding,” that’s not exactly accurate. From where I was standing, I couldn’t see the young boy, but I could hear his voice beckon to each new customer who would come within range.

“Hi Buddy, how are you?” the boyish voice would call aggressively. Some folks ignored the voice, while others would bend down and answer the child’s question. If they didn’t answer, the voice would become more insistent. I wondered why this mother didn’t tell her son that he was defying post office etiquette, and that he should leave these busy adults to their hectic world of personal thoughts.

As the minutes passed, I drew closer to the table. Although the child still wasn’t visible, I glanced at the burly middle-aged man with soiled coveralls who was about to be the boy’s next victim. I thought to myself, Mom, you really need to intervene. This stoic looking factory worker is in no mood to deal with your ill-mannered child.

Too late. “Hi, Buddy, how are you?” It must have been the 20th time I had heard that statement. The boy’s tone had become so demanding that instinctively the tired laborer bent down to look under the table. The worker’s indifferent face softened into a smile, and an almost tender, “Hello,” came from his lips. He extended his large callused hand to shake the child’s tiny hand. I couldn’t wait to see this kid who could turn a gruff-looking man into an affectionate puppy.

I didn’t have to wait long, since it was now my turn. Eagerly, I peered under the table unprepared for what I was to see. The boy was about six-years-old, but his smile and the look in his eyes were different from that of other children. He was like my nephew, who is almost thirty, going on three. Instantly, I regretted my harsh judgment of his distracted mother.

During March, our nation observes Developmental Disability Awareness Month, where we note the many accomplishments of the folks that I like to refer to as God’s special children. Their achievements are indeed noteworthy, because they have to overcome countless obstacles, and need the support of the community to succeed.

Diverse groups, including lawmakers, educators, and individuals with disabilities themselves, have been pushing for change and heightened awareness for years. According to the U.S. Library of Medicine online, “Developmental disabilities are severe, long-term problems. They may be physical…[or] may affect mental ability…Or the problem can be both physical and mental, such as Down syndrome.”

Besides those with disabilities, we should remember the sacrifices required from their parents, siblings, extended families, and by those who compassionately care for these precious people. After all, unless you are involved firsthand, it’s impossible to fully understand the daily challenges a disability can present. Especially, in a society that values physique, intellect, and success, there is sometimes little empathy for this vulnerable population.

That’s why, even though the progress made in acknowledging the rights and accomplishments of individuals with disabilities is exciting, we can’t forget to applaud the parents and families who devote so much for the betterment of their loved ones. In addition, a hearty societal “thank you” to all of the dedicated workers, educators, and professionals, who spend their lives caring for God’s special children.

For the beautiful song, “Sometimes Miracles Hide” about being the parents of a child with a disability by Christian musician, Bruce Carroll, please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgZvax0NKSg 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award-winning journalist. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com