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 I’m concerned it might soon be as outdated as last year’s technology, and I’m pretty sure technology is the culprit deserving most of the blame.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

 

Happy 55th Birthday to Barbie

Barbie will turn 55 on March 9th and this year she’s getting more press than ever. Maybe that’s because the iconic Mattel doll made the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue recently.

Although I wasn’t happy about the magazine cover, I do have wonderful Barbie memories. As a young girl growing up in a large financially-struggling family, there wasn’t any money for Barbie outfits. That’s why I vividly recall the delight I experienced when my mother sewed an entire wardrobe for my blonde Barbie on her old Singer Sewing machine. A silver brocade gown was my favorite.

The timeless doll was originally created in 1959 by Ruth Handler, who along with her husband Elliot founded the Mattel Company in 1945 in their garage. According to www.mattel.com, Barbie quickly propelled Mattel to the “forefront of the toy industry” and by 1965 their sales were more than $100 million. In the meantime, Mattel also created the Ken doll in 1961 to serve as Barbie’s one true love.

The idea for Barbie was birthed through the paper cut-out dolls that Ruth’s daughter, who was named Barbara, enjoyed playing with. Just like Barbie, who was named for the Handler’s daughter, Ken was named for their son. Barbie’s friends, the Midge doll (1963) and Skipper (1965) were also added to the line. In 1968, Christie, Barbie’s African American friend was introduced. The company’s website reports that Christie was the “first of many ethnic friends of Barbie, which …include Theresa (1988) and Kira (1990) Barbie Latina and Asian friends.”

Who would have guessed that fifty-five years after her introduction, Barbie would still be inspiring young girls and adult collectors everywhere? Barbie products have included everything from dolls and accessories to jewelry, eyeglass frames, pillows, backpacks, digital items, and even McDonald’s Happy Meal packaging.

For many of us, Barbie has been part of our own history as women. About five years ago, the Mattel doll became even more personal for me. This was due to an elegant woman named Reggie who I met on a cruise ship. This was my one and only cruise, since I spent the whole time being seasick. The sixty-something female accountant practically gushed when she told me that she once represented Mattel’s Barbie to Toronto stores. I was seated next to the blonde French Canadian every night for supper, a meal which I valiantly tried to keep down. We were from different countries, but Barbie had somehow worked her way into our collective hearts. We giggled like school girls as we discussed the doll’s early days and her unprecedented success in the toy market with both of our husbands looking on in quizzical dismay.

Feeling nostalgic, that Christmas I bought my then four-year-old niece a Barbie to start her own collection. However, when I arrived with the present, I found my little red-haired relative carelessly clutching an already naked Barbie who was having an obviously bad hair day from being drug around.

After all, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Barbie. For example, some folks are deeply concerned about her unrealistic dimensions. The fashion doll’s measurements vary on Internet websites, but would be an approximate 39/36-18/16-33 if she were a real person. Talk about a catalyst for eating disorders and low self-esteem, since young girls and even older females have a difficult enough time accepting their flawed bodies without being faced with Barbie’s unattainable role model.

Adding the plastic doll to the other models being sexually objectified by Sports Illustrated hasn’t helped either. In explanation, “Swimsuits (and unrealistic body images) were never the same after the first doll rolled off the assembly line in 1959 and this is, after all, Sports Illustrated’s 50th anniversary swimsuit issue..,” according to Cindy Boren in a Feb. 18, 2014, Early Lead column in the Washington Post.

After fifty-five years, I do wonder if the female race is better for having known her. For more than five decades, our own body images have been sabotaged by a doll, with an unattainable perfect build that never wrinkles. But we can’t blame Barbie for all of this, or can we?

Apparently, last year’s sales statistics portrayed a decline in Barbie’s popularity, too. In a July 2013 AP article by Mae Anderson for the Associated Press the headline read, “Mattel’s Barbie Sales Plummeting While other Girls Brands Climb.” Maybe that’s why, desperate marketers put her on the cover of a men’s magazine last month.

Well anyway, “Happy 55th Birthday, Barbie!  I still love your perfect little self and treasure my memories, but only time will tell, if you’re here to stay.

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

Four Personal Reasons for Hating Breast Cancer

  image All across the U.S. we have been observing October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Many of us are have been wearing pink t-shirts embracing the message. Even NFL players championed the cause with hot pink sneakers. Yet tomorrow as November begins, we will be putting all our pink away. But breast cancer doesn’t just happen in October. It strikes down women and occasionally men, all year long.

For me, fighting breast cancer is personal, but not for the reasons you might think. By profession, I am a freelance journalist. Therefore, when I first found a lump in December of 2007, my mind started racing with breast cancer statistics that I had often reported. Terrified, that it was my turn to become part of them. 

For example, according to the National Cancer Institute one out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at sometime in their lives. In 2013 alone, this organization estimates that 232, 340 women will be diagnosed, while the American Cancer Society reports that about 2, 240 men will also receive this diagnosis.

Thankfully, the reporter in me knew what to do when I found the suspicious lump, because breast cancer is estimated to be as high as 98 percent survivable if detected in the earliest stages according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Immediately, I called my gynecologist and scheduled an appointment explaining the lump’s discovery.

​This predominantly killer-of-women had already become a personal enemy, because over 20 years ago, it took a dear friend’s life. Becky valiantly fought breast cancer for almost a decade, but by the time she reached her mid-thirties she could fight no longer. She was a woman of great faith, a pastor’s wife, filled with dreams for the future. So no one ever expected that breast cancer would happen to her.

Today, her chance for survival would be greater due to positive healthcare advances. image

To honor Becky’s memory, every October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I interviewed  breast cancer survivors. My hope was to encourage women over forty to have a mammogram yearly. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam every 3 years and possible self-exams per American Cancer Society recommendations as well. Women at risk should follow more stringent guidelines.  

My own ambiguous ultrasound six years ago resulted in the need for a biopsy, being told the lump was highly suspicious. I thought about surgery, and about losing my long blonde hair. I looked at wigs and even tried to make my husband Larry promise that if I needed chemotherapy, he would shave his head like former NFL quarterback Brett Favre had done for his wife, Deanna.

It is estimated that about 1.6 million breast biopsies are performed in the U.S. annually with about 80 percent being benign (non-cancerous). These are hopeful statistics, but I did not know them until afterwards. That is after I was sitting on the edge of my chair in the consulting room waiting to hear the biopsy’s results. My husband held my hand tightly as the nurse smiled and shared the good news that I was among the 80 percent cancer-free.

Momentarily, I was elated, but being a journalist I couldn’t help but think about statistics again. Survivor’s guilt reminded me that soon, another woman would be sitting in thatvery same chair hearing that her biopsy revealed she had cancer.

Like my young friend Monica, who is my third reason for hating breast cancer. We used to lie on our mats next to each other during Pilates class and giggle like school girls. Monica was smart. She was a teacher, and she was only 29 when this dreaded disease took her life in 2011.

Then last October this hater-of-females caused my 41-year-old friend Kimberly to head for Heaven’s shores long before what seemed her time. I was there as a bridesmaid when she married, and present at the birth of her first baby. It was only right that I held her hand just hours before she breathed her last Earthly breath leaving behind three children and a grieving husband.

Losing three precious friends to breast cancer, and having had a close brush myself continues to fuel my passion for making sure that other females will have the opportunity to have the preventative tools and knowledge to battle this formidable foe, which takes the lives of 40,000 U.S. women each year.