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 I’m concerned it might soon be as outdated as last year’s technology, and I’m pretty sure technology is the culprit deserving most of the blame.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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Business or Writing: Thanking a Professor for his wise advice

Most of us have a special teacher, school counselor or college professor who somehow changed our life for the better. We remember these folks fondly, yet we rarely follow up on the long overdue “Thank you,” which they so heartily deserve. Maybe that is why I’m such a sucker for those Hallmark commercials portraying a deserving mentor finally receiving a card which expresses exactly what I’ve never said.Hallmark Hall of Fame

For example, my favorite spot features a retiring professor who is busy clearing his office of the evidence of his decades spent teaching. While he is rummaging through papers and boxing up books, a former student who is now a middle-aged woman walks in and offers him a greeting card. The curmudgeonly old professor momentarily stops his tasks and opens the card. He can’t find his glasses, so the student reads the message of gratitude the card expresses, then anxiously awaits his reaction. After all, when someone has been a supportive teacher, they forever hold this place of respect in our hearts.

Over a decade ago, I think it might have been this classic commercial that originally provided the catalyst for me to visit one of my favorite instructors. I had heard through the college grapevine that “Doc” was failing physically and mentally, and that he had been placed in a nursing facility. I was saddened by this news, because I had not only been his student, but I had once worked for this brilliant man.

As a student employee, Doc’s inability to understand that not everyone was as bright as him had been a bit of a challenge for me in the beginning. To explain, one day as a senior business major, he innocently asked if I would be able to oversee his economics class the following afternoon. Being enrolled in the course myself, I knew that particular day’s schedule was to be an explanation of the computation of the Gross National Product. Therefore, I frantically explained to Doc that I could answer his phones and grade his tests, but I was presently unable to compute the GNP.

It was also during this senior year of college in the early eighties that I was blessed to serve a year’s internship at my local newspaper, The Lima News, under the direction of then city editor, Mike Lackey. Under this award-winning journalist’s watchful eye, I learned to report about everything from election night results to a Toledo businessman’s ordeal of being held captive by Venezuelan terrorists.

Hand on ComputerApparently, my love for journalism and the English language didn’t escape Doc’s watchful eye. One day, as graduation loomed on the horizon, I asked him what he thought I should do with my life. Barely looking up from the stacks of books and endless papers that covered his office desk, he told me that I should write.

This advice left me somewhat bewildered, because I had studied diligently to finish my business degree. Therefore, I assumed my professor would say I was destined to be an international business diva. Besides, I was the single mom of a toddler, and needed more financial security than an uncertain career in journalism could provide. As a result, I didn’t heed his wise counsel for many years.

I remembered all of this the evening when I went to visit Doc at the nursing home.
On that particular night, Doc’s eyes investigated my once familiar face searching for recognition. Then he reached for my hand, and asked, “What do you do?”
“I’m a writer,” I said explaining that he was once my professor and had told me to write. Doc, who was in his eighties by then, was confined to a wheelchair. His silver-hair fell to one side as he struggled to hold his head upright. Still there was that kind smile that I had grown so fond of long ago.

For a moment, Doc looked deeply concerned about my career choice then he hesitatingly asked how it turned out. I leaned down and assured him that it turned out OK. “I’ve written a couple books,” I said. Instantly, a smile of satisfaction slowly formed on his lips. Doc is gone now, but even near the end, he was ever the consummate professor who wanted his students to do well. Sadly, I didn’t have a Hallmark card to pull out of my purse to say “Thanks.” Instead I just smiled back and squeezed his wrinkled hand.

Here’s the Hallmark commercial click on the Hallmark logo below: Hallmark Hall of Fame

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

 

 

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A Lesson from Morrie: Always live like you’re dying

                                                                                                   Hand on Computer

Last fall, I met my writing idol, Mitch Albom. The famous journalist was the keynote speaker for a Cancer Awareness Symposium held near Dayton, Ohio. Like hundreds of other mostly Ohio fans, Albom signed my copy of his book, The Time Keeper. Then he let my husband snap our photo together, which I promptly posted to Facebook.

It’s increasingly difficult not to see the literary genius of this Detroit Free Press columnist. Albom’s book writing genre was originally sports-related, although several have dealt with spiritual issues. They include “Have a Little Faith” published in 2009, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” (September 2003) and 1997s “Tuesdays with Morrie.”  All of which were made into movies.

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

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

“Tuesdays with Morrie” continues to sustain popularity probably because it addresses one of the most challenging issues that individuals must face; human mortality. It wasn’t predicted to be a bestseller, but years and millions of copies later and counting, readers have voiced their opinion.

In the book, Mitch Albom and Morrie Schwartz explore the reality of death and the lessons learned in life. For fourteen consecutive Tuesdays, Mitch interviewed an elderly Schwartz; his former college professor who was dying from (ALS) Lou Gehrig’s disease. Albom quotes Morrie as saying people don’t talk about death, because “no one really believes they are going to die.” Tuesdays with MorrieAdmittedly, death can come as a shock when it occurs in our inner circle, because it isn’t supposed to happen to us or to the people we love. Or when we hear of another family’s tragic loss we sometimes feel guilty, because we are grateful that it happened to someone else. So, we hug our spouses and kids a little tighter, hoping to stave off this inevitable grim reaper

 It was almost a decade ago, when the question of death began to preoccupy my own thoughts. At the time, I was waiting for the results of a biopsy for a relative who I love more than my life. During those long days of waiting, I tried desperately to busy myself with distracting activities, so I opted for a little “Retail Therapy.” While spending time shopping, I first heard the now classic country tune, “Live Like You Were Dying” being sung by Tim McGraw.

Don’t stone me, but I’m not a big country fan. Yet the lyrics stopped me in my tracks. The song is about a man in his early forties whose medical tests reveal that his time on this Earth will be short. When asked what he did when he got the news, the verse says, “I went sky diving, I went Rocky mountain climbing…And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying…And I finally read the Good Book and I took a good long hard look at what I’d do if I could do it all again…”

While listening to these poignant words, I stood motionless in the store aisle clutching a pair of kitchen curtains, fighting back tears. My faith crumbled.  I was fearful that the song was some kind of prophetic preparation for the bad news that was soon to be relayed concerning my loved one’s biopsy. Thank God, I was wrong. The physician’s verdict was “no cancer.”  I was so relieved that I can’t remember what the doctor said after that. But since then sometimes these challenging lyrics come back to me.

Like recently, when just days before the pool closed for the season, I heard Live Like You Were Dying over the loud speaker there. It’s been almost a decade since I had first heard this tune, and I now view life a lot like Morrie Schwartz. Because I think it was Morrie’s wisdom that taught me to try embrace whatever life stage you’re in as I traveled through his last days with him thanks to Albom’s writing.

You see, on the very day I met Mitch Albom, I had buried a precious 41-year-old friend after her valiant three year battle against breast cancer. Making me all too aware how fragile and brief this life can be. Albom’s Morrie didn’t become an iconic example of how one should die, but rather how one should live especially in a society that seems terrified of both growing old and death. In parting, a bit of Morrie’s sage advice, “Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die. It’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

 Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. This column originally appeared in The Lima News, & Troy Daily News, among others. Contact her through her Website: www.christinaryanclaypool.com

 

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My Little LinkedIn Experiment

Hand on ComputerI hate deception. That’s why it took sidestepping my core values to create a LinkedIn connections’ list filled with mostly perfect strangers. This is not recommended, since LinkedIn advises that you only connect with individuals you know well. But after doing my research, I wonder if many of the 200 million members follow this advice.

The goal of my project was to see if I could gain 500 plus noteworthy associates. In the LinkedIn world, 500 is the magic figure, because after that your total number of colleagues isn’t visible anyway. My motive: it was entertaining. Besides, isn’t narcissistic visibility what social media is all about?

To name drop, one of my more famous connections is mega-church pastor, Rick Warren. Despite the constant media bashing he endures, I deeply respect this author of The New York Times bestseller, “The Purpose Driven Life,” which has sold more than thirty million copies. Recently, the now Christian classic was re-released in a 10th anniversary edition titled, “What on Earth Am I Here For? The Purpose Driven Life.”

By the way, most best-selling Christian authors sell in the mere thousands. Could jealousy be fueling some of that criticism? Anyway, gaining Warren as a connection was like obtaining the Boardwalk property when I was a kid playing Monopoly.

The minister was a kingpin during my little experiment which began in August 2012. Because I have gleaned a lot from reading his books, when I saw his profile picture on a friend’s connections’ list, I thought, “Why not?” With a just for fun click of the mouse and a pitiful plea to please accept my invitation, I sent the request. Let’s be honest, how could Pastor Warren turn down an invitation from a desperate follower. Besides, we have a lot of connections in common. Even if most of mine were bogusly obtained.

In reality, I would describe myself as a small market journalist and inspirational speaker from the hills of Ohio. Although I have been blessed with a few professional milestones, which I fully exploited on my LinkedIn profile. Creating an impressive profile is of paramount importance. You can make yourself stand out by shamelessly listing the bigger than life moments of your career at the top. An award that you’ve won, being featured on a TV show, etc. Even if you only held a prop it still counts. Then folks who are not sure if “you are somebody” connect to insure they stay in the LinkedIn loop.

Metaphorically stealing another’s connections is the dangerous beauty of LinkedIn. In explanation, if one of your contacts leaves their connections public, once you are connected you can send requests to their connections. Being a colleague of a colleague, is like having an instant recommendation. This is how I gained access to the hundreds of literary agents, authors, publishing house owners and editors that I am now connected to.

It was pretty easy to get them to accept my invitations, after I nabbed a couple celebrity status associates and made a few mutual connections. After decades of book proposal rejections, this part of my research became more than a test. It became a personal vendetta.  To explain, I have published several books, but that’s just the point, I self-published, or as we authors say, I “vanity-pressed” my way into becoming an author. But enough bitter ranting.

Once I hit 500 plus, the invitations starting rolling in. I think most of them are from professional people who want to look successful. In their attempt to climb the LinkedIn ladder, they think that connecting with another 500 plus person like myself, will be of some use down the road. But in my case, I highly doubt that.

Anyway, midway into my research, I sent an invitation to the wrong lady. An executive director of internal affairs for a large organization who replied back about her hesitancy to connect with someone she didn’t know. This stopped me in my tracks for a couple days, because I realized I barely knew anyone on my own list. There were those cautious individuals who initially ignored my requests, but this female director was the only one to question my motivation. Besides, those who ignored me originally, most often jumped on board when my numbers grew.

Unfortunately, some LinkedIn users don’t seem savvy enough to keep their connections’ list private. After you connect there is a privacy setting that can make sure new associations only view mutual associates. At least, I had the decency to employ this tool, so stalkers like myself wouldn’t violate my hard-earned contacts.

On another note, it’s such an honor when a LinkedIn colleague takes time to endorse you for your professional expertise. Unfortunately, when it is someone you have never met, and they send an unsolicited endorsement for your skills, it really makes you wonder. Am I going to endorse them back? No way. I do have my scruples, if loosely.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some great contacts through LinkedIn. It’s an important social media tool for professionals. My little experiment was just to prove how less than ethical individuals can misuse the site for their own promotion. Still, I had to giggle this past February when LinkedIn sent me an email congratulating me for being, “one of the top 5% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012.”

As for social media in general, most people are simply hoping that being a visible presence on the Web will somehow give them a career advantage. And who can blame them? These remain difficult economic days, and most of us can use all the positive public relations we can get.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1

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My Bucket List: Paris, a House, and Saving Someone’s Life

OakTara author, Christina Ryan Claypool

OakTara author, Christina Ryan Claypool

If you want to talk about bucket lists, you could begin by viewing the film that started the conversation about this topic. In explanation, the 2007 movie, The Bucket List, was my catalyst for mentally composing my own list of must-do-things before I kick the proverbial bucket. The film stars acclaimed actors Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman who both have terminal cancer. Together they set out on a journey to complete their own “to-do” before dying list. One of The Bucket List’s most comedic moments happens when Freeman [Carter Chambers] argues with Nicholson [Edward Cole] about jumping from the open door of a plane. Although jumping from a plane sure wouldn’t be on my list, because I’ve always had a fear of heights. That’s the beauty of the bucket list. It’s different for everyone. For example, my long-ago career goal of becoming a network TV anchor now seems like just an elusive dream. I did get to work in small market Christian broadcasting for years, but never moved up the ranks. I’ve often thought how great it would be to sit in Diane Sawyer’s chair just for a night, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. Still, you will find getting back into TV on my list, despite the fact that I’m fifty-something.

Also on my bucket list, there’s my lifelong desire to see Paris which could be easily accomplished with a little mad money. I readily admit that checking travel costs to Paris has been a way of life for a long time now. Despite budget constraints, one day I’m going to have to bite the financial bullet to make it to the Eiffel Tower.

Twenty Wishes 2In 2009, after reading a book by New York Times bestselling author, Debbie Macomber titled, Twenty Wishes, I penned my personal list of the 20 things that I would like to achieve before I die. Before that, my bucket list had only been stored in my overcrowded mind. After competing it, I put this important piece of paper in the back of my burgundy leather Bible. Sometimes, I study the now tattered from handling page of my before I check-out of this world desires. I’ve even been able to cross a few off. For example, a life goal had been teaching adults at college level. In 2010 that dream was accomplished when I became an adjunct instructor for Mount Vernon Nazarene University.

I had also wanted to win an award, because although some folks think I’m a successful writer, truthfully I haven’t made much money. Yet I have received enough rejection letters/emails these past two decades to paper the bathroom walls. That’s why, I began to wonder, if I was any good at my craft. It was an amazing surprise when last May I was awarded the national $10,000 first prize in the Amy Writing Awards for a newspaper feature for The Lima News about a family who grappled with forgiving the man who brutally murdered their loved one. To read the article click here: Finding Forgiveness and the Amy Writing Awards. If you are a writer, please read More about the Amy Writing Awards, because you could be a winner, too.

OakTara Publisher's Real-life love stories, the anthology, "My Love to You Always" compiled and edited by Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner

OakTara Publisher’s Real-life love stories, the anthology, “My Love to You Always” compiled and edited by Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner

Just a few months later, I was delighted to find out that I had won another contest. This one sponsored by OakTara Publishers. My short real-life love story about experiencing the heartbreak of divorce, then being given another chance at late in life love with my wonderful husband, Larry Claypool, titled, “Finding the Courage to Love Again,” had been accepted. The story made it into OakTara’s Christian Romance Anthology, My Love to You Always. I was just one of 42 authors to be included in the book, which was released in October 2012.

Then more exciting news, I was also named a winner in OakTara’s Romance Short Story Fiction Contest. My story, “Not just another casserole lady,” was included in the publisher’s Christian romance anthology, I Choose You which was released last month.  For me, this was doubly exciting, because it was the first time that I was blessed to have a fictional piece published. Of course, getting to Paris, having a grandchild, and buying a home instead of renting, are still dreams that haven’t been fulfilled. But that’s OK, because this simply means there’s more time for me to finish this wonderful journey called life.

OakTara Publisher's Romance Anthology, "I Choose You" compiled and Edited By Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner
OakTara Publisher’s Romance Anthology, “I Choose You” compiled and edited by Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner

Speaking of life, one of the most important entries on my list of twenty wishes is to, “Save someone’s life.” I’m not sure how to accomplish this. I’ve been telling my husband that if he would agree to let me rescue a cute little puppy, I could check this one off. But alas, he has severe allergies.

A bucket list is a wonderful tool to remind us of our dreams. Because for most of us, it is in fanning the embers of our God-given visions, no matter how old we are, that can help us get through the difficult days.  After all, having goals gives us something to look forward to; keeping us hopeful, youthful, and reaching for the stars.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1

 

 

 

 

 

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