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.
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.
“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
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.
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 is the author of the Breath of Joy gift books and Will You Hold My Story, a child’s picturebook.
Have you ever wondered what’s happened to all the working lighthouses? How could they be defunct? What takes the place of helping a vessel to anchor or to its pier in safe harbor?
Harbor Pilots are, by sheer tenacity, a remarkable crew. The job requires round-the-clock availability, a complete understanding of the local waters, hazards and weather conditions, and the agility to climb a 30-foot rope ladder up the side of a large vessel.
Our harbor has them. Any port of call has them; these sailors are navigational experts regarding local waters.
When a ship comes into unknown waters, the harbor pilot maneuvers a small craft right up to the big rig, climbing up that ladder and getting behind the wheel to steer the vessel into safe mooring.
And so it is with the staff I work with.
There are a few who understand the aim in a specialized way. They can plot the course for shoreline and safe harbor in waters that most of us have never seen prior to this. We don’t want to encounter nasty surprises, do we? What will we do if a rock pierces the hull?
While most of us are sequestered with our laptops and zoom sessions focused in on the target for the day, someone with years in the industry will come alongside and prove their maturity and faithfulness by soldiering our vision through our company’s performance of the necessary tasks.
Tasks, such as security, handling delays, sorting through the troubled complaints and defunct systems, and steering the crew into the final destination with wisdom and other hands-on assignments move us beyond the irritations and angers and abnormal shallows.
These are our harbor pilots – these comrades who are sailing in to assist our somewhat lurching, unsteady building to navigate in unknown waters.
In rough waters, how does a ship or smaller boat find it’s way around sandy banks, jutting rocks, and unusual winds to safe harbor? Guided by the strength and knowledge of someone who has a firm grasp of the way around the banks that would beach us, that’s how.
We all experience waves of gratitude and relief as we are coming to the shoreline.
We are all in this together – but today, let’s take a moment to applaud our unsung heroes, our unseen administrators, first responders, our essential leaders.
A collective “thank you” from all our various ports of call; our kitchen table offices, our cell phones, laptops and heart connections everywhere are warranted. You are worthy deckhands, but it would mean there’s nowhere to land without the harbor pilot.
Can you list one or two harbor pilots in your most choppy, unpredictable waves of life?
Later — when we are all back together — tossed, tested and polished bits of beach glass will emerge gleaming in our midst.
What treasures we will discover.
Kathy Joy, writes the Breath of Joy coffee table series. Simply Summer, Ah, Autumn, Winter Whispers, and Singing Spring. These books make for exceptional “thank-you” gifts and acknowledgments of special someones in your life.