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Listening is Love

By Kathy Joy, author of Will You Hold My Story? a Picture Book

Listening is a verb. I looked it up. If you need a quick reminder, a verb is “a word expressing action,” according to Webster’s.

Hmmmm. “Action” suggests movement, flow, shifting, adjusting. If anything, listening seems passive, fixed, static.

We moms know a little about the action of listening. I am a mom, but I still need my mom to listen over the dining room table.

When you really think about it, listening takes a certain skill set. It involves intentionally hitting the “Pause Button” of your day and entering into another person’s story. And their story matters. Your choice to listen to it is an action of love toward them.

There’s a cute story I heard once, about a little boy who wanted desperately for his Mommy to know everything about his day. The lad burst into the kitchen where she was prepping the evening meal. As he told his fabulous story, she continued dicing, slicing and sauteing. I’m sure she heard every word; we moms are professional multi-taskers.

Still, that wasn’t enough for the boy. He became exasperated. “Mom!” he cried out. “You’re not listening!

“Oh, yes, honey. I’m listening,” she replied.

“No! I need you to listen with your eyes.”

Wow.  The kid has a point. Listening, if it’s truly an action word, involves putting down the spatula and locking eyes with the storyteller.

Listening is something we think we are doing, when in fact we are pushing the storyteller to the margins; hearing him on the periphery. We think we’ve heard the story, but oh! How much we miss.

I am guilty as charged. Countless times, I have “listened” to the ones I love while checking my phone, scanning the menu, watching the weather channel and searching for my car keys. Is this listening? Really?! No, actually, not.

I’m practicing hitting the “Pause Button”

I’m practicing hitting the “pause button” but I’m not as successful as I’d like to be.

This happened recently when my daughter tried to convey something to me in the car.

Distracted listening is not intentionally loving. It’s minimizing. The storyteller can’t be sure your mind, much less, your heart was open to retaining the information. We are telling that precious soul we are taking in words, but not absorbing the weight and importance of the words.

How likely will this lovely daughter, this marvelous human being, come back to me with new stories to tell? The odds are getting slimmer.

I need to hit the Pause Button, silence the phone, pull the car to the curb, and just listen.

Now, before you think you are already well-versed in the art of listening, I have a simple challenge: try listening with no agenda. Go ahead. Try. It’s really hard. Honestly — I sat with a friend recently. As she shared her story, pouring out her heart, I could hardly wait to find an opening and tell my own story.

This is really not okay. Because, in that place where my brain was buzzing with the answers, the opinions, the questions and my own stories, I was missing her words. And they weren’t just words; they were pieces of her heart, laid out there on the table — bare and trembling and aching to be heard.

To march in with my pat answers is a lot like pushing her stuff to the edges because my stuff is far more interesting.
That’s kind of rude.

Listening is love

Listening is love. It’s an act of the will, an intentional nod in another person’s direction. When you love the storyteller, you need to be willing to listen without formulating your answers. That person really doesn’t need your opinion; she needs your humility and grace. She needs your ear and your uncluttered mind. She needs you to lock eyes with her, so she knows without a doubt you care.

This is exhausting. No wonder listening is a verb — the action of truly listening is a workout. Your listening-muscles will ache later, but keep at it. You just never know when a storyteller needs you to be ready.

Listening is love. Just ask my mom – she’s really good at it. I’m quite sure that’s why I carry all my most precious stories to her kitchen table. She pours tea. She sits across from me and gives me the gift of her undivided attention.

Thanks, Mom! Thanks for listening with your eyes.

Kathy Joy is the author of the children’s book, Will You Hold My Story? When her husband died suddenly, she had no one to listen to her grief and so she hired a counselor. Sally, the grief counselor, wisely advised Kathy to find someone else to hold her story alongside her.  But sometimes people can be so distracted by their activities and their own families, that God decided to create pets. Dogs are especially suited for cuddling, and walking beside you, and listening to your story. Listening moms and friends are absolute treasures.

 

 

Ages 4-8 Will You Hold My Story?
Meggi Beth and old man in Will You Hold My Story? by Kathy Joy

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Grace Runs to Pain

By Kathy Joy
Grace runs to pain like healthy blood to a wound. 
Have you been the recipient of grace lately?  It’s a swoosh of comfort; a balm of healing; an ointment of relief.

Have you been the giver of grace lately?  It’s a nod of affirmation that needs no words; a squeeze of the arm, a spark of warmth in the eyes.

Genuine.

Caring.

Grace.

Some of my work includes greeting the public. We are Human Services, so there’s a steady of stream of humans in need of services including family help, parenting classes, addiction referrals, mental health providers and housing.
As a Christian, I am called to serve others with the love of Christ.
As a Christian in a government-run organization, I am restricted in the earthbound realm.  Even so, I am wholly free to share His grace in surprisingly easy ways: by showing kindness on the phone, by listening carefully to the client who is confused and distraught, by spilling a bit of laughter into a tense moment.
Grace is tangible; you can feel it rush to the place of pain.
Maybe you’ve heard the story of the small boy who learned that his neighbor was grieving the loss of his wife.  The boy asked his mom if he could go next-door and see the man.
When he returned home, the boy’s mom asked what he said to comfort the sad neighbor.
“Nothing,” he replied. “I just sat in his lap and helped him cry.”
Grace is light and airy, but oh! It is profoundly powerful, rippling into a needy world.
Infusing it with hope.
Last year, in preparation to lead a women’s conference, I wrote a poetic essay about the activity of grace.  I hope you like it; I hope you recognize the winsome contrast of grace to the stuff we often experience in the day-to-day.

The world is a fist.
Grace is an open hand.

The world loves a snappy comeback.

Grace loves a kind word.

The world runs from pain.

Grace runs toward the hurt.

The world thunders, “Me first!”

Grace whispers, “You first.

The world upends.

Grace mends.

The world abandons.

Grace abides.

The world quits.

Grace perseveres.

The world shrugs.

Grace hugs.

The world mocks.

Grace grieves.

Grace re-frames everything.

If you like the idea of grace, giving and accepting it, you might like this children’s book, Will You Hold My Story?

Today, a writer I greatly respect—who is herself a widow—recommended and endorsed Will You Hold My Story for widows. It was such an encouraging surprise for Laura Warfel to publicize this little story. Her act is an act of grace towards me and also towards her followers who seek steps ladders.
In the workplace, in church, at home — wherever your day takes you, Grace is a currency we can all exchange with goodwill and generosity.  We can trust the quiet, capable, dynamic activity of grace to heal and heighten and bolster up.

 

About the Author:
Kathy Joy enjoyed being a popular Christian radio DJ in Colorado for many years. When her husband wanted to move to Pennsylvania to live on a 65-acre farm, Kathy accompanied him with their two young daughters. Four years later, Kathy Joy found herself a widow raising two teenagers. To stave off despair, she began writing three everyday celebrations in a journal. Friends on Facebook began prompting her to write a book, and so the beginning of the Breath of Joy series began. Kathy now works in human services, speaking wonder on the weekends to grief therapy groups, motivational corporate meetings, and women’s retreats. Some of her topics include Vision Board workshops, Being a Harbor Pilot, Mirroring the Savior, The Fifth Season, and Bless Your Socks Off..
Link to purchase book: https://amzn.to/2PJGrxl
Kathy’s personal blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my newly-launched book, “Breath of Joy! Winter Whispers”.
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Writer Loses Job; Keeps Pen – Matthew’s Story

How important is taking a moment to listen? Can listening help you reinvent yourself?

One story about these subjects, for me, is told about a worker who lost his tax collecting job. Everything was gone: his income, his years of education, his sense of purpose. He’d been a well-known businessman. Some would say formidable.

The one thing he took away from that career was his pen.

That pen? This guy repurposed it for writing stories that he learned by listening and watching.  His work would be published and passed down to generations of readers.

By all accounts, this author did not make money from his stories.

Something of greater value emerged: his legacy.

The stories became powerful influencers for good: affirmations, encouragement, purpose-filled texts to uplift, to sustain.

I’ve always liked this story. It is timeless. Relatable. Unique yet universal.
We are all repurposing our gifts, just like this writer dude from ancient times.

What is Your Next Must-Read?

It’s amazing, really, this human capacity to listen, adapt, and redirect our energy;

  • To release what we’d planned on and embrace what is, a busy person will lean down to a little person.
  • To be grateful we have paychecks and share a bit while others are still waiting for help.
  • To shift our perspective from Planning as normal to Adapting to what is needed now.
  • To walk away from everything familiar and step into the Unknown.

Perhaps, in a way, we are plying our pens – writing our own stories for our children to read and re-read. Like the apostle Matthew did.

My next book is also my first children’s story. It’s a picture book about listening.  It is also about the sweet lingering ability of dogs and their humans.  It has been released on Kindle, and will soon be accompanied by a paperback version and hopefully, the entire hardcover series because I’m reinventing myself.

Some childhood stories stick with you like bright, bobbing buoys in uncharted seas. They serve as vivid markers as we navigate our days. If you would like to know more about how to share your stories with others, or how to listen closely, please contact me or read my new book.

Kathy Joy, author/blogger/event speaker

Children’s book author of Will You Hold My Story? A Story about Listening for Children and Adults

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When the Kids Don’t Come Home for Christmas

Reprinted by permission from her December 19, 2019 blog, Coffee with Kathy.

This message is bathed in hope for the parent who has not heard from her kids, who might not see them at Christmas.

I want you to know it won’t always be this way.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while,

will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10 

My late husband, Roger, was fond of saying, “Let’s make the kind of memories that keep the kids coming back home – even when they’re grown.”

Oh! How I loved Roger’s enthusiasm for special calendar dates – particularly Christmastime and All Things Winter.

To commemorate the First Snow, he and I wrapped a “snow gift” for each of the girls. For gift-wrapping, he used the funny papers.

He was thrilled at the arrival of egg nog in the dairy section – he went nuts with the stuff, pouring it into his morning coffee and grabbing enough cartons to store in the freezer “to get through the winter months”, he would say.

For years, we bundled the girls and searched tree farms for just the right tree to grace our Colorado home.

Every Christmas Eve, he read from Luke’s account of the birth of Christ; when our daughters became readers, they read it out loud to the family.

We had an advent calendar.

He sang the carols, often adding verses he made up on the fly. 

He insisted on driving us around the neighborhood to look at the festive light displays.

He was big on memories and minimal on material things.

So many rich traditions, steeped in the wonder of raising our girls; the sweet simplicity of being a family together.

And then.

Four months shy of Christmas 2008, Roger died.

The girls were 18 and 15.

A black shadow passed over our little snow globe of a family.

What if they don’t come home?

For three years of emotional drought, they didn’t.

It was dreadful for me, the surviving parent.

A mom who is unsure of her child’s safety and well-being is a pile of misery, and that’s what I was during those lean years.

I won’t go into the whys and the pain of those whys. Grief is weird. A sudden loss can unravel a lifetime and reorder it into something scary, chaotic, unknown.

We all respond in different ways. My daughters turned from me, not in open rejection or hostility, but in the throes of sudden, unexpected loss.

What if they don’t come home?

Christmas during those years was the stark reality of an empty chair, a huge hole he once filled with his larger-than-life-laughter. The emptiness was intensified by my fractured family.

And that star? The one shining in the east? That star was shrouded in a fog of grief and worry; I couldn’t see it through the haze and maze of guilt, fear, anger.

All I could feel was the dull ache of my heart, thumping along in spite of wanting to disappear, to fold up inside my pain.

I’d become an exile to my husband’s family, through a sad myriad of misunderstandings.

Being an outsider to in-laws, that’s pretty hard to deal with.
Being an outsider to your own kids – that’s impossible to endure.

Then, we had a series of fun celebrations together. Endearment was restored like a chain of Christmas lights getting the dud bulbs replaced so that the whole string twinkles, unbroken.

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Fast forward to now:

Covid 19 has crimped the style of families everywhere. For our safety, holiday celebrations are limited, shops, even grocery stores, and home celebrations closed down. We are given tips on how to keep children safe and parents informed during 2021.

During Thanksgiving, people posted humble but joyful pictures of their small feasts for two, three, and even singular plates on social media.  They called it the war of light and loveliness on the darkness of this holiday season.  Still, when I called my own mother to tell her that I had been exposed to the disease at work and could not risk her health, she wept. She and I both sat alone with our thoughts this Thanksgiving, like many others.

My adult girls remember their dad’s corny jokes. They ask about his favorite movies, then they watch them. But, there are many episodes of tragic family attitudes and events in our history, and probably in yours, that haunt our current decisions and lives. Parents are blamed for decisions they didn’t have the wherewithal to tackle; they should have been wiser. Children are not excused because they were trained up better than that.

Helplessly, we grapple for promises of better days from the only One who can provide these to us.

The Lord has promised to restore what the locust has eaten.  

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel 2:25-26

Does this promise mean today, tomorrow, or next year? I believe He does restore our souls in mysterious ways, and we can depend on that, but it doesn’t always look the way we want it to look.  And, this is why our faith is often called a “walk of faith” “traveling in darkness” “running the race” because we don’t bear our weights in vain. They make us stronger.

We honor Roger’s memory in small, sweet ways. We laugh a lot, we cry some, we laugh some more.

His name is a regular part of our conversation.

Before, we avoided saying it for fear our brittle voices would break and scatter on the floor.

We can now dream of the future and we know the strength of forgiveness, the binding up of wounds.

My daughters call regularly to check in on me; my oldest planned a June wedding and made it happen even in the pandemic, and it was a landmark memory I will always cherish.

It’s not a Hallmark movie; there are still some things quietly coming to the light to be dealt with as we continue forward.

Cars break down, we have health scares, there are often misunderstandings to be ironed out. The point is, we’re doing life together again – as an extended family finds ways to do so.

This year, I celebrate the many times the kids and I have been together. It has been a hard year once again, but I am stronger and more creative than I once was. They will come home for Christmas another time.

And that star? The one shining in the east? That star is a glowing reminder of God’s presence, His longing to be in a relationship with us. He traveled from His heavenly home and spiritual body to become human and to wander in a strange, unwelcoming place. It meant everything for Him to do that.

“God with us, Immanuel.”

God with us Immanuel, image by Glenn Daman. In Winter Whispers, Breath of Joy


Kathy Joy, author of the Breath of Joy gift book series
Coffee with Kathy supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com. timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see, “Breath of Joy! Winter Whispers.

Kathy Joy, Author of the Breath of Joy calendarial gift books

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Read a story about Christmas surprises.

©2020 Capture Books and its authors are happily represented by the publicity of Books for Bonding Hearts where you will find novels, memoirs, gift books, and several children’s books of high literary quality.

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Hidden Confetti in the Gloom

“It’s a dark night, sang the kettle, and the rotten leaves are lying by the way; and, above, all is mist and darkness, and, below, all is mire and clay.”

-The Cricket on the Hearth, Charles Dickens

Winter Whispers
Winter Whispers – Breath of Joy, Photo by Lynn Gurdak

I have a memory so richly steeped in the broth of gratitude, I can summon it anytime to fortify myself; it’s like opening a thermos of soup on the coldest day.

The memory involves a bit of confetti, a radio studio, and a Great Dane.

One dreary day beneath the canvas of a gray sky, I scooted my wheels into a parking space at the local grocery store. With my mind on autopilot, I found a cart and headed for the entrance. Then, a passing car sprayed my feet with mud and grit.

As my gaze drifted toward my soggy shoes, a little annoyed with the puddles and a little mad at the driver, something caught my eye. Bending down for closer inspection, I was rewarded to see a tiny metallic rocking horse. It was pink and gleaming and irresistible; a speck of color; an enchanting thing.

At that time I was the host of a radio show on WTMV-Youngsville, Pennsylvania. The studio operated from a refurbished living room on East Main. I remember telling my listeners about the confetti piece and comparing it to unseen treasures all around us – secrets shimmering just below the surface “stuff” of living. Listeners began calling in their own experiences to symbolize the idea of “hidden confetti” – unexpected bits of color in dark times.

Pretty soon, we had a list:

  • Seeing a smile from across the room.
  • A promise in the Bible.
  • Sea salt on the breeze.
  • The first sip from a cup of coffee on an unpleasant, icy morning.
  • A letter in the mail, handwritten and sealed with a kiss.
  • The smell of a pine forest.
  • When your favorite song comes on the radio.

Later, I Scotch-taped the surprise confetti into my journal. The sparkly list inspired more thoughts of unseen treasures all around us – secrets shimmering just beyond what’s so obvious. It may take a little effort, but it’s worth a closer look. Your “confetti” surprise may be very different from mine; perhaps it’s the company of a friend, or a rich memory, perhaps it’s the trusting hand of child’s in yours. An unexpected long-distance phone call.

Collect these discoveries in your own journal or wherever you keep your collection of photos, and soon you’ll be carrying around a generous barrel of confetti to shower on someone else who needs sprinkled light in their gloom.

I recall promising a Great Dane. So, it was that on a rainy winter day, in a radio studio, my nostrils were filled with the smell of wet dog – the station manager’s Great Dane, it was, resting his giant solemn head on my knee, these memories are keen in my heart, punctuated with an odd bit of confetti.

What is Your Next Must-Read?

Perhaps because of this keen memory, I have now made the hero of my new picture book a dog because to my core, I believe that one of the greatest gifts of comfort and happiness that our Creator gave humanity was the gift of a furry dog-gone pet.

This calls for a deeper dive into gift-giving at Christmas. Why not entertain the idea of giving some intangibles this year?

The thought of going from presents to presence might be a little radical, but it can be relationally memorable and exciting!

Here’s a starter list – customize your list to your family and friends and watch a new tradition unfold.

  • Be a tourist in your hometown and try touring some new things with a dog leading the way
  • Volunteer together for something you all care about
  • Plan out a garden together and, with the design, include an I.O.U. – a day of weeding and a packet of favorite seeds
  • Give State Park Passes or National Park Passes or an Art/Science Museum
  • Give a behind-the-scenes tour of a city theater’s costume and art department
  • Ice Skating Lessons or a boating outing
  • Read a children’s book aloud to someone who would appreciate it
  • Offer Painting lessons at a Children’s Museum
  • Write a Letter of honor to someone who has especially touched your life
  • Offer letter writing or make and send cards – on behalf of an immigrant to loved ones
  • Commit to sending handwritten letters in lieu of texting
  • Learn paper folding together and make origami garlands for the tree.
  • Buy two hot chocolates: one for you and one for the Salvation Army bell. Stay with that bell ringer on a frosty Decemberrrrrr evening!
  • Go caroling with a small group to one or two shut-ins during the pandemic, and bring the popcorn balls, figs, pudding, and nickles to reverse payment when you sing
  • Offer to lead a Singing Bible Study in the Psalm Hymns in the new year
  • Most important of all, give room for the unexpected. Linger longer in ordinary spaces, and bear witness to a holy entrance of Possibility.

Sometimes you just need to share the sparkly stuff to shift Christmas spirits upward. Especially, in the early darkness that defines December and January afternoons, Give the unexpected a chance to happen.

Kathy Joy, authorKathy Joy is the author of the Breath of Joy gift books and Will You Hold My Story, a child’s picturebook.

 

 

 

 

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