Oh, the messes I get myself in, all because I speak before I think. Often, before listening, which leads to a fair amount of miscommunications and relational tension. To listen, truly listen…

That’s the call of a great friend, right? And a good wife and mother?


Today author Cynthia Toney, author of Bird Face, talks about her tendency to listen (or not) and what she believes this says about her witness.

Read her thoughts then share yours, but first, I wanted to announce the winner of Shannon Taylor Vannatter’s give-away from two weeks ago. Shelia, congrats! You won a copy of Rodeo Song. I’ll contact you soon to discuss how to get this novel to you. 🙂

Am I listening by Cynthia Toney

Last month for the first time in my life, I read Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret. I didn’t know what to expect. The title was so old, no one was talking about it any more.

If you’re familiar with the story, you know little Margaret has a personal relationship with God. She believes God listens to her, even if her family members don’t seem to. But the story got me thinking, because not everyone has such a close friendship with God that they have the confidence Margaret does.

We encourage our children, family members, and friends to pray. Whether something goes wrong or right, or a favor is needed, God will listen, we tell them. But do we? Really listen to them, I mean.

“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish” (Proverbs 18:13 NLT).

The urge to inject our own emotions, opinions, and related experiences into the conversation when someone confides in us and asks for our help is so strong. Sometimes we think about our response when we should be listening. We’re eager to say, “When that happened to me…”

But when we’re speaking, we’re not listening. When we’re multitasking, we’re not listening. When a friend is pouring busy-woman-1070268-mout her heart to me, but I interrupt her to take a call, am I listening? And if my child or sibling doesn’t believe that I—perhaps the one person he trusts—am listening, will he believe God is? After all, I’m right in front of him in the flesh or on the phone or Skype.

Fortunately, I’m now a Margaret. I know God listens to me even if no one else seems to.  Wendy, the main character in my novel Bird Face, is often like Margaret but sometimes not. Like many of us at different times, she loses trust that God listens and cares. Why? Because some of the people she trusts to listen and show they care, don’t.

Jesus was a great listener, and He showed us that we can trust Him and the Father to listen always. He set the example I want to follow, to reassure my loved ones that they will be listened to.

I’m reminded of a scene from the TV sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Raymond and Deborah visit their priest for pre-marriage counseling. The priest asks what they plan regarding children. Deborah says they want children. Ray says he hasn’t thought about it. She says, “We talked about it.” He says, “That doesn’t mean I thought about it.”

BIRD.FACE.FC.tinyBird Face

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

At the end of eighth grade, Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like her good-looking classmates Tookie and the Sticks—until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even her best friend, Jennifer, is hiding something and pulling away. But the Spring Program, abandoned puppies, and high school track team tryouts don’t leave much time to play detective. When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer, will Jennifer still be around to support her?

Using humor and offering hope, this story for ages 11 to 14 delicately addresses issues of bullying, eating disorders, imperfect families, and teen suicide.

Buy it here.

Let’s talk about this. I hate to use a cliché, but time LivingbyGracepictruly does fly, and if we’re not careful, relationships will slip away. I’ve seen this in my marriage and with my daughter. Prior to getting sick, I spent a great deal of time doing–always writing, editing, checking or responding to emails, on my phone… I missed out on so many opportunities to connect with my family because I chose to stay home or in my office, working, instead.

Then I got sick, and for a chunk of time, it really laid me out. I won’t go into detail because much of it is embarrassing, but suddenly, I wasn’t able to join my daughter and husband on family outings. I’m not sure I can quite explain how that felt. Each time they left to go to a movie, to the mall, out to dinner, whatever, I remembered all those times I could’ve gone but chose not to. And oh, how I regretted them!

Praise be to God, I’ve since improved greatly in stamina and health, but more than that has changed. My view–my priorities–have also shifted. Now, I’m determined not to waste a moment. I’m determined to be fully present, to engage.

I believe that’s one of the greatest blessings of living with chronic illness. It clears away the fluff and distractions and reminds one of what’s truly important and to grab hold of each moment, whatever it holds, with both hands.

What are some ways, today, that you can be fully present?

What can you do this week to connect, to  listen, to engage?

What about you? Pause to consider your relationships–with others and with God. Are you fully engaged? Time flies. Don’t let it depart without you!

Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

DailyActofKindness If you’re one of my lovely Facebook friends, you’ve probably already learned about this challenge. It’s similar to the Reach Out to Live Out we did some time back. Which was totally awesome! I loved reading about the many diverse ways God’s children reached out to others and experienced God’s love pouring through them. In my opinion, there’s nothing like it. Christian, the abundant life comes when we surrender fully to God in every area of our lives, including our to-do lists and schedules.  (For an excellent devotion about this very thing, click here.) Because this Christianity thing is more than a Sunday gathering. 🙂

I’ll share one, an act that seemed small, maybe even insignificant, but meant the world to the recipient. Donna* has a chronic illness that most often is quite manageable. But Saturday night, for whatever reason, it flared, and she felt as if her entire body was in revolt. Pain intensified and refused to be abated. It kept her up past ten, past eleven, past twelve… and Sunday was scheduled to the hilt. She had much too much to do to forego sleep.

She prayed God would take the pain away. Prayed He would maybe knock her out so she could get a few hours of sleep, enough to allow her to press through her commitments the next day.

But as the clock ticked by, she began to realize, she might need to ask for help. So she did, sending out a text message to some sweet friends asking them to perhaps cover some of her commitments. It was humbling, a moment of admitted weakness. To her, it felt like failure.

At 3 am and after a sufficient amount of Tylenol and Ibuprofen, she finally crashed.

The next morning, she woke up feeling a fair amount better. Not 100%, but enough to press through her commitments. So, she sent out another text, alerting everyone that she could indeed honor her commitments.

jacketShe went to church loaded up with her medicines and still feeling a bit shaky–not to mention exhausted. Apparently shivering, for a dear sister in Christ approached her, and offered her a leather jacket.

What a small gesture, right? But to Donna, this felt like a giant hug. In fact, the rest of the day, when she looked at this jacket and thought of the small act of kindness, her heart swelled. She can’t quite explain why that simple act meant so much, except maybe that it was offered at a time when she felt defeated. But that’s the way it is with simple acts of kindness, isn’t it? They don’t have to be grand or complicated to touch someone deeply. Really, it’s largely in the act, in the, “I get it, and I care.”

*Name changed for privacy purposes.

livingbygracepic.jpDo you have an act of kindness story to share? Send it my way at jenniferaslattery@gmail.com.

So what about you? What’s one thing you can do today to show kindness to someone else? I’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace. 

We all face trials, heartaches, and disappointments, but with Christ, we can rise above. Today, Susan Sleeman shares her struggles with chronic illness and how God helped her move forward. Please note: Susan is giving away a copy of her novel Double Exposure to one randomly selected reader who leaves a comment or question for her on today’s post.

Do you have a situation in your life that you’re struggling with? Maybe a job loss, financial difficulties, a home loss, loss of a family member or friend, your own illness or the illness of someone you love? If you do, then you’re like most of us on any given day. We all face struggles and need to overcome them to move on.

I live with a chronic illness. Each day can be a challenge from the time I get up to the time I fall asleep at night. I could (and have) wallowed in the pain and suffering. I’ve clung to it like an old friend and felt sorry for myself.

But why? What good did it do me?

None. Absolutely none.

Focusing on my situation only made it worse. Made it grow. Bigger and bigger until it was insurmountable and the only reaction is self-pity. That’s what I used to do, but what do I do now?

I can best tell you by sharing the words of the popular song Trading My Sorrows by Darrell Evans?

I’m trading my sickness
I’m trading my pain
I’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord

When I first heard these words, I wondered how I could trade my sickness and pain. Trust me if I could trade it for health I would in a heartbeat. But the song is really saying lay down how you feel about the illness and pain. Lay down the self-pity. Praise the Lord for all He has done for you. All He is for you and be joyful. Even praise Him for the suffering, because it’s in the fires of suffering and pain that we draw closer to God and we find out who we are.

So whatever you’re facing, lay it down for the joy of the Lord. Trust Him to be faithful and bring you through your problem. Trust that He knows and hears your pain and is walking each step with you. Trust that He loves you and whatever situation you are going through will ultimately work for good. Trust Him!

Dead Wrong:


When her client and old college friend is murdered, P.I. Kat Justice knows the killer will come for her next. Her survival depends on finding her unknown enemy first…and working with homicide detective Mitch Elliot, her onetime crush.

It’ll take all her professional skills to ignore the sparks between them, but Kat can’t allow the handsome cop to get close. She’s seen too many people she loves die, so she vows just to do her job without getting emotionally involved. Yet keeping her distance may not be the best way to protect her heart—or their lives.

For more info about and to read and except for Dead Wrong visit Susan’s website at about http://www.susansleeman.com/books/dead-wrong/

SUSAN SLEEMAN is a best-selling author of inspirational romantic suspense and mystery novels. Her first romantic suspense title, High-Stakes Inheritance earned a spot on the ECPA bestseller list and her Garden Gate Mystery series, which features Nipped in the Bud, and Read Between the Tines has enjoyed time on Amazon bestseller lists as well. And The Christmas Witness was named a finalist in the 2011 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. In addition to writing, Susan hosts the popular internet website TheSuspenseZone.com.

She currently lives in Florida, but has had the pleasure of living in nine states. Her husband is a church music director and they have two beautiful daughters, a very special son-in-law, and an adorable grandson. To learn more about Susan stop by any of these locations on the web.

To learn more about Susan stop by any of these locations on the web.

Website           www.SusanSleeman.com

Facebook        http://www.Facebook.com/SusanSleeemanBooks

Twitter            http://www.Twitter.com/SusanSleeman

Review Site     http://www.TheSuspenseZone.com

Let’s talk about this. I loved Susan’s reminder to trust in God–to trust He’s walking with us, that He hears us, that He sees our pain, and that He cares. Join us at Living by Grace today as we talk about drawing near to God during trials and times of weakness.

And make sure to come back to Living By Grace Friday and Saturday for a continuation of our in-depth look at the book of James.