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 six years 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 my new Inspirational genre 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 I’m concerned it might soon be as outdated as last year’s technology, and I’m pretty sure technology is the culprit deserving most of the blame.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.

Having a social media connection isn’t like having a faithful friend. A recent article on www.healthline.com, “Social Media is Killing your Relationships” reports, “What if every like, heart, and reply we give to someone on the internet is actually taking away from our energy for offline friendships?” The article’s writer Jennifer Chesak appears to believe we might be, “…unknowingly draining our social energy for in-person interactions.”

“Research shows that good friendships are vital to your health,” according to the Heathline article. “More specifically, having close friendships correlates to functioning better, especially as we get older.”

That’s why my recently released novel is about the 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 mate, 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 ministerial spouse was concerned about me interviewing her, apprehensive over my understanding of her situation, so 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.

My best friend hubby and me – photo courtesy Sharon E. Lange
www.sharonelainephotography.com

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. 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, Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, and Inspirational speaker. Her latest book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” was released fall 2018. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  The novel is available at all major online outlets including Amazon.com, or visit her website for more details. 

 

 

 

 

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Avoiding the Pitfalls of Public Speaking

“Public speaking ranks as our No. 1 fear, even outranking the fear of death, says Peter Desberg, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University,” according to www.everydayhealth.com. The website also reports Desberg, who is the author of Speaking Scared, Sounding Good: Public Speaking for the Private Person as saying, “Some people have so much anxiety about speaking in front of an audience that they turn down promotions and ruin their careers.”

I intimately understand this phobic dread, despite being a public speaker for more than 25 years. Yet the first time I presented a brief message in a public speaking class at a Columbus college, I think I actually cried.

This occurred decades ago, leaving my memory about the terrifying experience a little fuzzy. I believe I also received the award for the “most improved” student that semester. Not the “best,” rather the one who no longer dissolved into a puddle of tears making a presentation. Later, I even became part of the Intercollegiate Speech Team at Bluffton University.

Back then, I would have never imagined I would eventually become a (former) TV reporter, speak in conferences, churches, civic meetings, or teach in a university setting. But like many folks presented with a challenging opportunity, we can either close the door due to fear, or we can walk through the open door with our hearts racing with anxiety.

After all, a famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote says, “Always do what you are afraid to do,” and public speaking terrifies lots of people. With this in mind, I’ve written a list of pitfalls a public speaker can avoid. Most of these, I’ve learned the hard way.

First, “Know your audience.” Define your audience and be aware of the specific demographics, dress appropriately and tailor your message accordingly.

Secondly, “Be prepared.” Absolutely, do a run-through for technical issues at the designated venue ensuring your technology is compatible with their technology. Plus, practice, practice, practice your presentation in front of a mirror, for a willing family member, or even for your dog. Also, make sure it fits into the allotted time slot. Thirdly, “Be confident.” Your knees might be shaking, your stomach might be rumbling, and you might be perspiring from terror, but employ the classic philosophy, “Don’t let them see you sweat.” Smile and act like “I’ve got this,” even if you feel like you don’t.

Back to the second point, by being well-prepared you will have the confidence to present the subject matter with authority. If, despite your best preparation, technology fails you, proceed without it, acting in complete control, despite the fact you are churning with disappointment.

The fourth vital point is, “Engage your audience.” Avoid the trap of constantly looking down at your notes or monotonously reading from them. It frustrates the listener to hear someone with a riveting message deliver it as though the audience isn’t there. Fear might cause you to look down, but look up. Avoid making eye contact with individuals who appear bored or disapproving, and lock eyes with supportive audience members. It’s the only way you will be effective.

“Engaging your audience” holds true whether you are speaking to a civic club, delivering a sermon, reporting for TV, or instructing a college class. Envision one person in the crowd, who sincerely needs to hear what you have to say. Then speak to that fictitious individual who probably really does exist out there. That way your presentation won’t seemed staged or emotionless.

In closing, another paramount point is to watch for reliance on repetitive words throughout the presentation. Most of us who do public speaking fall into a bad habit of having “pet” words or phrases including: 1) you know, 2) okay, 3) um, 4) and the new “you know,” which is 4) “so.” Whether used when stalling for time to formulate our next thought, as a transition, or due to a bad habit of repeatedly saying the word, this can be quite distracting for the listener and negatively impact our message’s effectiveness.

There are other significant pitfalls, but not enough space to write them all. “So,” if this information isn’t helpful in combating your phobia about public speaking, “you know,” you could run from the challenge. “Um,” but that wouldn’t be a good idea. We never experience success without pushing past our fears to embrace a new opportunity. “Okay?”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and public speaker both in the secular and Christian communities. Her new Inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available at all major online outlets. Or for more information contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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