Maryam: never far from a friend


“I think God knows what he is doing with us,” says my friend Maryam.

Maryam is a woman of faith, bravery and sweetness.

  • Faith because she sees God’s work in her own life.
  • Bravery because she is a public speaker in a foreign language in a foreign country.
  • Sweetness because she is quick to smile and notice kindness in others.

Daring to try

MaryamAbout a year and a half ago, Maryam left her home of Iran to be at her husband’s side in the U.S. while he worked on his Ph.D. studies in physics at Mizzou. She wanted to learn English better and work on speaking so her husband took her to a meeting of the Downtown Toastmasters Club where I am a member.

How was her first meeting? “It was really frightening!” she said. People were hard to understand because they spoke so fluently and fast. Not one to give up easily, she kept returning every week to our Toastmasters meeting.

Her first goal was learning English but more than just finding a place to practice English speaking, she found many good friends. Her new friendships gave her the opportunity to know American culture and let us learn more about Iranian culture over the past year of her membership in Toastmasters.

Maryam gave a speech on how Iranians celebrate their new year in spring with special foods and meaningful symbols on the table . She taught us how they stay up together during the longest night until they see the sun rise. She spoke to us of Persian poets and how their words live in her heart. She made us laugh about her wedding photos and her attempts to make her face look sexy.

American and Iranian cultural exchanges

I asked her how it has been to live in America. She said, “We say America is the land of opportunity. If you can study hard and work hard, you get the best job. It doesn’t depend on your religion or your politics.”

Maryam’s sweet spirit and openness are charming. She looks for the goodness in people. She said, “All Americans are really kind people. People are so open when I say, ‘I’m a foreigner. I came from another country and I’m learning English.’ They encourage me and help me.”

I asked if she ever had difficult experiences because she is a Muslim from Iran and things can seem tense between our two countries. No one has ever said anything bad to her. She said, “Don’t trust your TV. When two governments are not so good to each other, they can make the people of the other country look bad. But people are completely different than politics. We all work, we all have children.”

Challenging days on her own made her stronger

In Iran, adult children usually only leave their parents when they marry. Maryam was an exception. She applied for a MA degree in the south of Iran, far from her family in Tehran. She was alone and had to learn how to handle things by herself. She worked, studied and made friends. After graduation, she got a job that required travel for work. Those days made her stronger.

Life often surprises us. She could never have predicted her current situation living 6,800 miles from home. But she explained that coming to the U.S. was not so hard. Her faith and a sense of purpose gave her strength. She says, “God had a plan. He was preparing me. Because of those days on my own, I could bear being alone without my parents and family. Now I’m OK, no problem!”

No matter where she is, she will never be far from a friend because she makes friends so easily.

Funny stories for the future

Where will she go from here? Maryam says she is not satisfied with her English and feels she should work harder. She used to write a blog and stories in Farsi, her native language. Now she dreams of being a writer in English and making funny stories out of everyday life.

I treasure my friendship with Maryam. Whether she is giving a speech or writing a story, she has an audience in me!

3,000 sermons later: a pastor talks about speaking

Wondering where God intersects with mathematics and metaphor? Tim Carson has a book for you. Feeling overcome with emotion but unable to speak about it? Tim Carson has a hug for you.

One morning in church, the congregation struggled to sing a hymn that had words in an African language. We mumbled and mouthed our way through. Then from the back of the sanctuary, a rolling voice rang out and sang with confidence. In an instant, all of us could sing the song. We raised our voices and our volume increased from 3 to 11. This is the power of Tim Carson, who builds up hundreds of people in his roles as pastor, musician, author and friend.

A strong voice strengthens everyone else. Someone has to be bold enough to start the conversation and bring up ideas. This gives you a starting point to define where you stand.

Whether he’s singing out or speaking up, Tim has one of the strongest voices of anyone I know. I sat down with him to talk about how to make an impact.


He first revealed you need to have commitment to what you’re saying. Only speak about things that are dear to you. If you don’t believe, then no one else will. You can’t pretend passion.

“There’s a part of you that fears social disapproval but then there’s another part that says, ‘Am I going to be true to myself or not?’ It’s integrity vs. fear,” he said.


He next talked about recognizing the affinity. Why has this group gathered? They wouldn’t be there unless they all cared.

If you speak on a regular basis to people you know, then you have a chance to have a deeper exchange. He said it’s a comforting relationship with the congregation because they are friends he sees every week.


Tim then told me the most important part for a powerful talk: focus. If you focus, engage and lift your spirits before you say a word, you ensure that you are heard once you start speaking.

Remind yourself to focus your energy before you begin. If you’re a believer, this the time you whisper a prayer to God and ask the Holy Spirit to flow through you.

In Tim’s case, his Sundays at Broadway Christian Church are busy. With an hour of Christian education plus three different services in one morning, he relies on this prayer while waiting to give his third sermon in a row.

If you lose your stride in a talk, you can regain your focus in two ways: a cue word or a focal point. You might tell yourself “Focus” or use a reset object in the room. A former high school football player, Tim mentioned how football games require maximum focus for about 30 seconds from snap to huddle. A football player looks at the goal post and says, “Reset.” In that moment, all that has gone before is history.

Keep your mind in the present and forget any mistakes.


He illuminated his art as a speech designer. Because the launch can be the hardest, be careful about what you do in the first minute. You can start in a provocative way such as asking a series of questions without giving the answers. Connect with your audience and build the energy.

During a longer talk, you need to include meaningful pauses that give people space to gather their thoughts and energies.  Ask your audience to concentrate for a while and then give them a moment to absorb the ideas or feelings. Try making the pause explicit, saying, “Let’s take a minute to think about that.”

Taking it to the streets

Raise your voiceI appreciate Tim’s wisdom to commit, connect, focus and pause.

I’ll apply his advice to not only to my speaking, but to my personal conversations, my writing and my daily life. This week, I’ll remind myself to focus. We live in a world often scattered, distracted and rushed. If we were more present, how much richer would our relationships be?

Read Tim’s blog at vitalwholeness

What spoke to you in this post? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!