Forgiveness: The gift you give yourself

One of the most complex subjects human beings grapple with is understanding and embracing the concept of forgiveness. “…62 percent of American adults say they need more forgiveness in their personal lives, according to a survey by the nonprofit Fetzer Institute,” reports www.johnhopkins.org.

To be honest, I’m certainly not an expert on forgiveness. That’s why I was really surprised when a personal story of transitioning from unforgiveness to forgiveness that I wrote, was included in the recently released book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Forgiveness Fix.”

Like a lot of folks, I have secretly wrestled with this tricky topic for most of my life. According to the article, “What is Forgiveness?” on www.greatergood.berkeley.edu, “Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”

There’s the complicated component, forgiving someone who has harmed you who might not “deserve your forgiveness,” especially when they aren’t remorseful for their actions. Two decades ago, I learned a lot about undeserved forgiveness from a Jewish Holocaust survivor named Elisabeth “Liesl” Sondheimer. My late friend, Liesl, eventually made her home in Lima, Ohio, after she fled her German homeland during Hitler’s reign of terror.

Liesl celebrated our wedding as if she was the grandmother of the bride.

Like the famous Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Mrs. Sondheimer spent decades retelling the horrific account of the World War II extermination of more than six million European Jews to countless audiences. She was featured in the regional Emmy award-winning documentary, “A Simple Matter of God and Country.” Unlike Wiesenthal’s quandary concerning forgiveness highlighted in his book, The Sunflower, Liesl always maintained, “You must forgive, but never forget, or Hitler has won.” The silver-haired survivor’s ability to forgive astounded me.

Oh, I knew about forgiveness. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I grew up mouthing these words as a Catholic school girl, almost daily reciting this line from “The Lord’s Prayer,” also known as the “Our Father.” Although I recited words about forgiveness, in my heart I had no idea how to forgive childhood trauma. I was the ultimate grudge keeper wearing my unforgiveness as a badge of honor.

In my twenties, shortly before one hospitalization for depression

As a vulnerable teen, I became consumed with a lack of forgiveness, which resulted in depression, migraine headaches, ulcers, and a failed suicide attempt. As a high school senior, I was committed to Toledo State Mental Hospital. During the 1970s, the barbaric institution only intensified my desire for validation, that I was the one who had been wrongfully treated. Yet when we are victimized, we become a further victim when we hang onto the hurt and bitterness. Thus, I spent years in and out of psychiatric facilities battling depression.

There is a famous quotation that’s been circulating for decades, it says, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Our health truly can be affected. “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards…lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure and levels of anxiety, depression and stress,” this according to the article, “Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on it” from www.johnhopkins.org.

Don’t get me wrong, this column isn’t about “cheap” forgiveness, which is denying the offense or violation. Nor does forgiving a grievous offense mean the perpetrator should be spared from consequences. Whether it’s a prison sentence, a permanently broken relationship, or instituting healthy boundaries; there are circumstances where we must protect ourselves or those we love from physical or emotional abuse being repeated.

For less serious matters though, it’s crucial to remember, no one’s perfect. It’s a pretty lonely existence when we refuse to forgive. In addition, the hardest thing can be to forgive ourselves when we mess up in a major way. Forgiveness is truly a gift we give ourselves. It is the condition of the heart where we let go of bitterness, anger, and a desire for revenge, and find emotional freedom.

2014 – Me reading my first Chicken Soup for the Soul book as a contributor – such a happy day!

But back to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Forgiveness Fix book,” which was released on Nov. 5, 2019. This is my third title as a contributor for this inspirational series of uplifting books. I’m beyond thrilled to have my story of embracing forgiveness as one of the 101 stories included. After all, for a girl who once was a champion grudge holder, this seems like a consummate testimony to the extraordinary power of God’s grace.

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

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 past October, I couldn’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, nine 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 late 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 recent inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online retail outlets. Amazon link.

Who doesn’t go to the Dollar Store?

What does the typical dollar store shopper look like? It’s difficult to define that demographic, because all kind of folks frequent them. In the past, I’ve noticed grandmotherly types, young couples with children, older men, students in search of snacks, and teachers purchasing classroom supplies.

Dollar Store containers for decluttering

Recently, I realized how diverse the economic circumstances of dollar store shoppers can be when on a mission to return some of the varied size containers I had purchased in a frenzied attempt to get organized. Honestly, the containers were only adding to my clutter, so I decided to exchange them for something I really needed. No sense in asking for a cash refund at a dollar store, because the shelves are stocked with lots of useful products. Things like: assorted gift bags, party supplies, books and coloring books, mailing items, tissue paper, snacks, cleaning products, etc. with everything costing a dollar. Each time I visit there to pick up one specific item, I tend to fill my cart with about 20 other products.

Anyway, that day a newer Mercedes-Benz SUV pulled up to the dollar store. A young mother with three older children who all resembled models for a Ralph Lauren commercial got out and hurried into the store to shop. This confirmed my suspicion that dollar store enthusiasts are everywhere.     

It was in the southern states in the 1950s when dollar stores first cropped up. Now, they are a successful phenomenon nationwide. Another version of a dollar store has all types of products many costing more than a dollar, which might be the only retail option a shopper has, especially in a rural or impoverished area.

However, in July 2019, www.CNN.com posted a less than positive article, “Dollar stores are everywhere. That’s a problem for poor Americans,” by Nathaniel Meyersohn regarding, “…opponents…argue that discount chains stifle local competition and limit poor communities’ access to healthy food.” Proponents would disagree, especially if there’s no competing grocery store that might be affected.

The success of the rapidly growing number of dollar stores in the midst of a highly unfavorable brick and mortar retail climate is certainly convincing of consumer demand. A CBS Moneywatch June 2019 article by Sarah Min reports that this year, “The top five retailers for planned store openings are Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Aldi and Five Below. Dollar General alone is planning to open 975 stores… making it the No. 1 company for expansion…Dollar Tree follows with about 350 planned store openings.”

An unscientific study of Facebook friends asking whether they frequent dollar stores and what they purchase there, came up with a noteworthy 88 comments. Referring mostly to the chain of dollar store where everything costs a dollar, comments were posted about buying a plethora of items including: “Gift bags, greeting cards, seasonal decorations, paper products, party supplies, snacks, and on and on.”

 There are some things you might want to avoid purchasing according to an article in the Philadelphia Enquirer, “10 items you should never get at the dollar store,” by Lia Sestric, either because they aren’t a good deal or due to poor quality. Among those, toys for children made in China untested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and off-brand canned goods or off-brand medicine and pet food, whose ingredients should be carefully monitored.

Personally, I started shopping at a dollar store, when it was my only choice when I lived in a rural area a dozen years ago. Sadly, the small, local grocery had closed within months of the dollar store’s opening though. So, I was grateful I was able to purchase much-needed supplies when caretaking for an ill relative prohibited me from driving the required fifteen miles to reach a full-size grocer.

You can even get Birthday balloons from a Dollar Store and all kinds of party products.

Besides, my little survey proved there are a lot of individuals who enjoy a trip to a dollar store. Take my nephew, Andy, for example. He lives in a faraway state, and my means of staying in touch with him is through cards and little gifts. One of those gifts I often include is a little “green” money for him to make a trip to his local dollar store, because I learned that’s one of his happy places.

 This must run in the family, because the dollar store is one of my happy places, too. After all, you just never know what a dollar store shopper looks like, because we truly are everywhere.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a an award-winning freelance journalist who is a three-time Chicken Soup for the Soul book contributor. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life and CBN’s 700 Club. Her latest book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on Amazon and through all major online outlets. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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.

Dear Christian Book Reviewer,

“Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” by Christina Ryan Claypool

Thank you for all you do to promote the faith-filled books, which are written to both entertain and minister to folks in some way. Without all of you incredibly special reviewers and your steadfast support, I don’t know how I could have had any Kingdom success with my book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel.” I am very grateful to all of you!

Yet for a very small number of reviewers, when you are reviewing and rating a self-published book, please remember your review holds significant weight. Indie authors often spend a lot of their hard-earned money on editors, book designers, formatting issues, etc., and sometimes also have to purchase large quantities of their books from self-publishing companies in order to get published. This can total thousands of dollars. There is no publishing staff putting a book together, rather an individual writer with a God-given vision.

Self-published authors can spend thousands of dollars to produce a credible book.

One negative review or rating from a highly-followed reviewer could be damaging to a book’s sales potential, especially if this review is posted during the title’s initial release. After all, self-published books already have a questionable reputation in general due to some being poorly edited, which is a huge hurdle for a diligent author to overcome anyway. 

Reviewers do need to warn their followers when a book is poorly written or not edited well though. But when an author has produced a credible work, please consider that any three star or even 3.5 star or under review accompanied with criticism might mean to a reviewer, “I still liked the book,” but to a potential reader, it says, “This is a mediocre work, and there are plenty of really great books out there, so why bother with it.” This is especially disheartening, if the book truly promotes the Gospel’s message.

I’m not referring to mean-spirited reviewers, who enjoy posting caustic or damaging things about a book just for fun. Most authors have suffered unfairly from their destructive words on occasion, since we can usually count on a small number of insensitive and emotionally troubled individuals in this world to be unkind or even cruel. There’s not much a writer can do to combat this type of hurtful viciousness.

Instead I’m talking about well-intentioned faith-driven reviewers who might not realize the intense weight their review can carry. Of course, if a book truly deserves a mediocre rating, a reviewer must follow their conscience in the matter. Plus, an author needs and can learn from constructive criticism from a wise reviewer, but only when it is cushioned and balanced by the positive attributes within a book.

Reviewing books myself on occasion, I simply do not leave a review or rate at book if it is 3 stars or under, or if I find it poorly written or edited in a sloppy manner. Still, I am not a reviewer called to recommend books to readers, so again, they might feel called to leave a negative review if they feel this is necessary when following their heart. I would never want a reviewer to be forced into being dishonest to support a book that should not be supported, but honesty and kindness do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Although, despite dozens of good reviews, self-published authors frequently do not have the support base to overcome even one negative review by an esteemed or major reviewer. A less-than-positive review, is also devastating for an author in a personal sense and emotionally painful, whether they are self-published or traditionally published. There is a fragile human being behind that author name on a book, one who is probably trying to do his or her very best to serve God as His wordsmith.

Again though, my deepest thanks to all of the caring and compassionate Christian reviewers who took the time to read and review my novel. I am grateful for every single one of you, and for your invaluable ministries of promoting God’s army of writers.

Christina Ryan Claypool has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries “Enjoying Everyday Life” TV show, and on CBN’s 700 Club. She is also an a national Amy/Ohio AP award-winning columnist, and two-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor. Her most recent book,“Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel,” is available on all major online outlets. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

#reviewers # Christianreviewers #book #books #review #bookreview #self-publishing #Indieauthor #self-publishedbook #theGospel 

“Suicide: All the Reasons Why Not” by Christina Ryan Claypool

“Why” is the question we are haunted by when someone we love takes their life.  Netflix picked up on this quandary and created the series, “13 Reasons Why,” about a teenage girl’s decision to complete suicide. She leaves her tragic story behind on cassette tapes implicating others for her fatal action. The teen drama was released on March 31, 2017, and has been renewed for its third season to air sometime later this year.

When this controversial show was originally broadcast, all kinds of folks weighed in. I didn’t. It was too close to home. I suppose I’m a reluctant expert, because in my youth I almost died by suicide. Still, it seems important to speak up now, because according to a recent Forbes article by Dr. Robert Glatter, “…[a] study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital noted that from 1999-2014 the suicide rate increased three fold among girls between the ages of 10-14.” In addition, “Suicide is the second most common cause of death in the U.S. among youths between the ages of 10-19….”

Within the faith community, Pastor Rick Warren, the well-known author of the New York Times #1 best-seller, “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For?” and his wife, Kay Warren, have stepped to the forefront in the battle for mental health awareness. Since, Matthew Warren, their 27-year-old son’s highly-publicized suicide six years ago, they have been champions for the cause raising awareness for those silently suffering with a mental health issue.

Despite their efforts, there are archaic beliefs that continue to abound within the church. For instance, condemning an already emotionally fragile person for not having enough faith to overcome a mental health issue. Some even claiming it’s a sin to allow yourself to plummet into a pit of despair, ignorantly comparing a clinically depressed state to a self-induced pity party.

If you’ve never struggled with any form of clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or even crushing anxiety, you probably don’t understand how an afflicted person can’t simply will themselves out of their hopeless mindset. Depression, which is often a precursor to suicide, is different than being sad, disappointed, or experiencing an occasional down day. Instead when depression accompanied by suicidal ideation is unrelenting and untreated, it’s rather like having terminal cancer and being in so much agony nothing alleviates the pain.

Sadly, www.mentalhealthamerica.net reports, “44,000 Americans die by suicide each year…[and] There is one death by suicide for every 25 attempts.” Addiction increases the risk, “Individuals with substance abuse disorders are six times more likely to complete suicide….”( www.verywellmind.com )

Since Netflix is preparing a third season of the graphic and exploitive “13 Reasons Why,” parents of teens should be alarmed, because some experts consider the program to be extremely harmful. It’s not only, “13 Reasons Why,” but reading books or viewing movies like, “Breathe” or “Me Before You,” which glamorize and promote physician-assisted suicide can influence individuals of any age to falsely decide a mental health/personal crisis can only be solved by terminating their existence.

If someone is contemplating suicide, I would like to offer you some reasons why not. Beginning with the fact, the people who love you will change, but not for the better. Most likely, they will never stop wondering what they could have done to make you stay. Those left behind will probably blame themselves and be filled with regrets. A counselor will shake his or her head sadly confirming no one is to blame, but deep inside many loved ones will continue to be tormented by “what might have been.” I know this firsthand, because I lost someone I loved more than my own life to suicide. Someone I would have gladly traded places with if only it worked that way, but it doesn’t. 

For those of us who are suicide survivors, defined as losing a loved one to suicide, there are never any good answers. Survivors grapple with the “Why?” question, until this internal wrestling exhausts us, and we reluctantly accept we will never know why. So, please don’t embrace the lie that you are a burden, and suicide will free those you love.  Instead you will create an agonizing pain for family and friends – a heartache so unbearable they could lose all hope for tomorrow. After all, statistics reveal those who lose a loved one to suicide can become vulnerable to taking their own life.

Stay alive for the people you care about, even in the midst of the depression and the darkness. Reach out and get the help you need, because with professional treatment you can recover. My life is a testimony that with God’s grace you can live one day at a time. You will see the light again. Hope will return and one day you will remember you are on this Earth for a purpose.                   

If you are contemplating taking your life call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a national Amy and Ohio AP 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. Learn more at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her latest book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online outlets.

Twenty years after Columbine: Remembering Bonhoeffer and Bernall’s Legacy of Faith

The threat of school violence is all too real for me. As a school administrator’s wife, at two different public school systems, I’ve lived through a bomb threat and lock down with my husband, Larry, inside the endangered buildings. Yet as a journalist, there is no violent episode more personally memorable than the one that occurred in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. Twenty years ago, employed as a west central Ohio television reporter at WTLW TV 44, I was horrified by the live footage of bloodied bodies being transported on gurneys from Columbine High School. That historic afternoon, we witnessed a massive display of school violence. Sadly, I fear many folks have become hardened to horrific scenes of mayhem at learning institutions, because they are all too commonplace.

For some of us, our analytical minds have tried to go to the dark place where we question why a loving God would allow such evil? Yet it’s not God’s fault that  people choose destruction. Rather it is up to us as believers to be the light, fragrance, and hope in the midst of human cruelty.

The Bible tells us that Christians should have “lives [that] are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at [us.]” In other words, there really should be something unique about believers, because “Christ himself wrote not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit: not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it” by the way that we live each day. (II Cor. 3:2-3 The Message)

The April anniversary of the Columbine tragedy is a reminder of  two 20th century martyrs who lived with such Christ passion that their legacies continue to preach us lessons. This month we not only commemorate the tragic murder of Columbine victim Cassie Bernall, but also the selfless sacrifice of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They both gave their lives in defense of the faith they embraced.

Bonhoeffer was a brilliant young professor, writer, and ordained Lutheran pastor who could have easily ignored the tragic plight of the Jewish race as many of his countrymen did. Instead he passionately fought Hitler’s Nazism within his native Germany. Bonhoeffer himself once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Ultimately, his militant opposition resulted in his being imprisoned by the Gestapo in April of 1943. Two years later, 39-year-old Bonhoeffer was hanged on April 9, 1945 at the Flossenburg concentration camp. It would be naïve to think that Hitler’s reign of terror ended at the close of World War II. There has even been speculation that it was Hitler’s April 20th birthday that might have motivated the Columbine tragedy on the same date 110 years later. Yet we will never know for sure.

Two decades later, one thing we do know is many of us will forever remember the horror of April 20th, 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. As television commentators shared the biographies of the 13 victims, a beautiful blue-eyed blonde teenager named Cassie Bernall was among them. As 17-year-old Cassie was studying Shakespeare in the school library, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris conducted their bloody rampage leaving 15 dead including the two gunmen. Nationwide, it was reported that one of the killers pointed a gun at Cassie and asked her if she believed in God. Supposedly, she answered, “Yes,” knowing it would probably cost her life. In that instant the young man fired and sent Cassie into eternity.cassie-bernall-book

Perhaps, the reason I identify with Cassie is because she was like many of us, she had not always believed. Just a few years earlier she dabbled in witchcraft and was obsessed with suicide. Then she had a radical conversion and became a spokesperson for the God she once shunned. According to a statement issued by Cassie’s parents at her funeral, she made her decision despite the consequence. “Her life was rightly centered around our Lord Jesus. It was for her strong faith in God and His promise of eternal life that she made her stand,” said the Bernalls. In a generation where there seem to be no absolutes or firmness of conviction, it continues to inspire me that a teenager was courageous enough to give her life for what she believed.

Cassie Bernall and Dietrich Bonhoeffer have both become legends. For example, shortly after the Columbine tragedy, Cassie was memorialized in t-shirts, books, and songs. “Yes, I believe,” was a slogan that seemed to crop up everywhere. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy lives on within the pages of the books which he authored, and those written about him. Probably, his best known work is The Cost of Discipleship. Others include: Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Letters and Papers from Prison, and Ethics.

As believers, we all need to be reminded of courageous stories like these, which are God’s living letters of faith. After all, being part of a society that has grown increasingly intolerant of people of faith often makes it socially and politically advantageous for us to hide our convictions. However, this April remembering the sacrifices of these 20th century martyrs, there seems little eternal advantage to political popularity. Following both Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s and Cassie Bernall’s example may God grant every believer the courage to say, “Yes, I believe, too.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Her most recent book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online outlets. Her website is 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.  

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 have attended quite a few proms. 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 whose given name was Anthony-Dillon. Better known as A.J., he 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 the senior had been able to attend school, he 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 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 an AP & Amy award-winning journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

A Library Lover all year long

“Love you guys!” These three words came out of my mouth spontaneously, when I only meant to think them, not say them out loud. I wasn’t saying goodbye to a family member or close friend. Instead I was simply walking out of a public library on a cold winter’s day last month.

The statement was directed towards a young library clerk behind the checkout desk who had just handed me two movies and a big thick novel to get me through the blustery storm headed our way. This particular librarian had never seen me before, even though I’m a frequent visitor to quite a few area libraries. She appeared mildly startled by my outburst of affection, so I tried to clarify it by adding, “I love all libraries.” Decades ago, my library love affair began with the classic Nancy Drew mystery series. As an elementary-aged school girl, I devoured these intriguing novels checking them out one-by-one. Like the Hardy Boys, these classics continue to pique the interest of some aspiring pint-sized detectives.

 The books taught me the benefits reading could provide. For instance, one can escape daily problems or exchange a boring existence for an exciting adventure within the pages of a good book. Travel, romance, inspiration, education, spiritual growth, and professional success can all be achieved by reading, too. 

Like today, in my youth there were wonderful programs for children. I was hooked after entering my first book contest at the library. Later, as a painfully shy-11-year-old, I had the great fortune of portraying a character from the classic book, Little Women, at my local library. These programs have enabled countless youngsters to acquire: a love of learning, increased imagination, socialization skills, and the list goes on. 

Once, the public library was the resource for books of all genres and valuable information of all kinds. This was before Amazon cornered the market on book selling and Google answered lots of our endless questions with rapid search engine capabilities. But don’t for one moment think the library is in danger of extinction. Its place of prominence in a community’s list of amenities remains a high priority. After all, the ground is level at the library. 

Whether it’s a book club meeting, group coloring for relaxation, information needs/resources, or children enjoying a movie, the free and often educational events bring folks of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds together. There are books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and music, in many forms and genres to check out, computers to use, and an endless variety of programs. 

The operative word is FREE, and despite being a word most of us like, having access to resources without charge is a necessity for many community members. Whether it’s a single mom or dad, a young family struggling to get established, a senior citizen on a fixed income, or anyone else with a tight budget, the library offers entertainment, education, and social interaction without cost to everyone.

“Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” and
“The Forgiving Jar” on display at a bookstore

Of course, most library lovers are bookstore lovers. Still, many folks couldn’t afford to buy or read a book by a favorite author, unless it was available at the library. Then there are the children. The children who are our responsibility as a community of concerned citizens. Sometimes, when browsing the shelves at the library, I see a young mother wrangling a couple kids, while clutching books and movies that will be making their way into their home.

Witnessing the sheer delight and anticipation in the children’s faces, I remember back to my own days of being a single mom with a little one in tow. I can recall the feeling of fulfillment I had when checking out books and videos for my then young son. The library allowed me to be a better parent by providing these precious commodities when there wouldn’t have been any funds to cover their cost.     

February was Library Lovers’ Month, and you might be thinking that the month is already over. But this year, why not do something special for those wonderful library ladies and men who make our lives so much richer? Maybe though, instead of saying, “Love you guys,” like I did, why not say, “Thanks for all you do to make our community a better place all year long!”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an 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 recent release, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel,” is now available on all major online outlets. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

.