Cultivating…new thoughts

So, it’s February, and I’m still hanging in there with my process of cultivating new things in my life in 2020. I wrote about cultivating new relationships in my last post. I want to share with you something I’m working on along with that: cultivating new thoughts.

I’ve carried a lot of thoughts with me through the years that I have had to learn how to toss out. Most of these thoughts were handed to me by toxic people in my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t just dismiss those thoughts. I allowed them to become part of my daily journeys…part of what I thought about myself and the world around me. As I have grown through the years, I found found a place of strength and healing where I have learned to let go of those words. If someone judges me or places their own negativity on my path, I can now recognize their words as toxic and know to leave them there on the path to be washed away by the next rains.

But if I am getting rid of thoughts that I don’t need to carry with me, what am I replacing them with? When I’m waking every morning or walking or meditating with my dog beside me, what thoughts do I allow to settle into my mind? Where do I look for new thoughts that will offer me hope and will carry me instead of pulling me down into their treacherous waters?

There’s not one place alone that I search. For me, I often turn to the words of Scripture, not to the toxic interpretations handed out by people seeking their own comfort and wanting to control others, but to the words as they were written…words of love and hope and a call for peace and true community.

I also turn to poetry and music. Today, I have read through several poems written by Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, and Mary Oliver. These words fill me with hope and sense of being a part of a larger community and a world full of beauty. I can relate to their struggles and find comfort in their understanding. I am given a new glimpse of the beauty of the world around me.

I also seek out the words of encouragers in my community. There are people who can say such kind things and offer words that make me laugh and make me feel such hope and joy. Sometimes I just listen in on conversations in restaurants or as I walk along a busy sidewalk. People can be inspiring as they help others along the way. The kindness doesn’t have be directed toward me to appreciate it.

The more I cultivate new thoughts, the more I find that I can be an encourager as well. When I was with these new thoughts in my mind and in my soul, I find it easier to share them with others. I can spread hope and love when I am walking with both of them.

What thoughts are weighing you down? Can you find a way to leave them on the path and walk with new thoughts? Don’t let others pull you down with their harsh judgments or their negativity or desire to control or harm.

Cultivate thoughts that will bring you hope and healing, that will make you strong and help you see your own worth and your own gifts and talents. You are loved and have much love to offer. Let that thought soak in. Share that thought with others.

Cultivating…new relationships

My goal for 2020 has been to cultivate new opportunities for my life. What a challenge! I thought I would choose a word (cultivating) for the year instead of setting a resolution. It sounded challenging, yet doable. How can I fail at living out a word, right? Well, I’m not failing at it, but I am learning how hard changing some of my thoughts and ways can be.

What have I worked on so far? First, I have worked on cultivating new and healthy relationships. I moved away from many toxic relationships in 2019. I had stayed connected to some people out of guilt or out of family or social expectations. No more…if I am going to be healthy, I have to be around people who are healthy for me. People who are encouragers. People who are honest and loving when I ask for feedback. People who want me to be whole and healthy. People who are in my corner and want me to be in theirs.

Forming new friendships can be challenging. It means I have to grow and stretch. I have to reach out to others. That doesn’t come naturally to me. How have I done it? I’ve joined new groups, found book clubs and study groups and volunteer groups. Not only did I find them, but I also actually showed up to places. I introduced myself. I listened to others and got involved. I did this with careful thought, however. I didn’t “over promise.” I agreed to show up when I am available…no long-term commitments or weekly promises that I can’t keep or will feel guilty over. I got social media contacts for a few people so we can stay in touch without a deep commitment at first. I also planned and actually went to dinner with a new friend.

Cultivating new relationships doesn’t come naturally to many of us. I am quite happy with a good book most days. But I need to be part of a larger community to grow and to find new joys in life. I can do that on my own terms, though. I can do that in ways that allow me to have my down time, my alone time to regroup and be quiet.

I have found new joys. I have laughed and chatted with new people that I would not have known had I not been intentionally cultivating new relationships. I am learning because I am reaching out to new people who have something to teach me through their life experiences that are different from me. I am finding strength because I am also reaching out to people who share some of my own life experiences and can understand where I am coming from and offer encouragement out of their own stories.

So, on to more cultivating new relationships in life!

My Word for 2020

For the last couple of years, I have been in survival mode more than I have been planning ahead. Both of my children and my parents were going through major changes in life. I also still had court dates dealing with an abusive ex-spouse. My health wasn’t wonderful, so I narrowed my thinking and just “got by.” Sometimes we all have to do that. The problem is that I got stuck in that mode. I didn’t take time to see what changes I needed to make to better plan ahead and to practice some self-care that was needed.

I’m changing the way I think for 2020. As part of that change, I’ve decided to follow the example of some of my mentors and choose a word for the year. My word for 2020 is cultivating. Cultivating means to acquire or develop a quality, sentiment, or skill. That’s what I’m going to spend the year doing.

I’m going to cultivate better cooking skills so I can eat healthier than I have this year and learn to enjoy the meals I eat. I’m going to eat with people more often as well. Cultivating new friendships and renewing old ones tie into this goal.

I’m also going to cultivate authenticity and allow those around me to do the same. Who am I? What do I really know about myself outside of the things I have been taught to think about myself by others? I want to take the time to learn new things about my likes and dislikes, my hopes, and my strengths. I also want to learn new things  about those close to me. As part of that goal, I want to cultivate new relationships in my community and allow people to be authentic in those new relationships. I want to learn more about the people I share this planet with…I want to know who they love, what brings them joy, and what their hopes are for the new year.

I also want to continue to cultivate joy and gratitude in my life and find ways to bring joy to others. Joy is not dependent on my circumstances…I can choose joy even when life is hard.

I know I will still face challenges in 2020. I hope that when I do I cultivate new responses. I hope the same for you as well. What’s your word for 2020?

A Sensory Sensitive Christmas

Christmas tree

Both of my children have always struggled with sensory issues. It’s a hard topic to talk about, even with people who care about you. It seems that our culture values the norm and wants everyone to fit into an easily understood category. When you don’t fit into the boxes created by others, however, life can be more stressful than it has to be. We often ignore our own needs to try to please others. We try to fit into the boxes so others are comfortable. But in doing so, we often neglect our own needs.

I often struggled with how to help my children “fit in” with the expectations of others. I tried to teach them how to handle the stresses that come with holidays and social events and expectations and busy schedules. Until recently, I didn’t realize that I was taking the wrong approach. I tried to help them fit into the preconstructed boxes that I thought we all had to fit into. I was raised to conform and please others. I’ve come a long way in unlearning that, however. Now I’m a box builder.

This year for Christmas, my children and I designed our own holiday. So far it has been the best Christmas we have ever had together. What was different? We left all expectations behind and sought out peace and joy. We packed our bags and headed to a quiet cabin with our dogs. We brought along a few Christmas gifts and some craft projects. I brought my writing pads and pens.

We have given ourselves the gift of quiet and the gift of taking care of our own needs. We came to a place where our senses wouldn’t be overwhelmed with noise and rushing and pressure to eat what others asked us to taste and laugh at what others considered funny. We haven’t had to smile and pretend to be happy. We are happy. This fits us. It heals us. It grounds us so we can go back and face our jobs and school schedules.

It’s so quiet here. I can see the sun glistening off of the ripples in the lake. I hear squirrels  playing in the trees near the cabin. This morning I watched deer watch me as I stepped out front to greet the day. I watched them parading through the woods for their own Christmas celebration. We dined on casseroles we created when we got hungry. We ate on our own schedule. The best part of day has been choosing our own activities–choosing what felt right for us. One child has napped and built with Legos. Another is trying to learn to needlepoint and has journaled a bit. I’ve enjoyed just watching them…reading some…writing some…being lazy with my dogs nearby. We strung popcorn and cranberries last night. We watched part of Christmas in Connecticut (an old movie that makes me laugh every time). We have honored our need for quiet and for stillness and for a time to let our senses rest.

This may sound like a horrible to Christmas to some of you. You may love your traditions and busy schedules and large gatherings. But for us, this has been a healing year, and we are ending it with our own path to Christmas peace and joy.

 

Just a Day Part Two

In part one of this post, I asked us to think about what happens in an ordinary day of a person trying to make a difference. I think sometimes we don’t see our potential to make a difference in the lives of others because we can’t see how we are similar to people who seem to be bringing light to this world. When we think of them as some type of hero or as someone who has unique abilities, we look at ourselves and see that we are ordinary people and don’t think of ourselves as heroic or as unique. We don’t see ourselves as having the ability to bring healing to a hurting world. The job description of a world changer doesn’t seem to match our qualifications. I know that I have stepped away from a task in the past because I devalued my own abilities.

If we want to be a person who helps to bring healing and light to this world, what steps can we take to do that? The first step is recognizing a word in this question: help. We aren’t called to save the entire world. We are helpers united by a common hope and a love for others. We aren’t alone in working to make a difference. When we take steps to bring about change in our lives, in our families, in our communities, and in our world, we will find that others are willing to stand with us and work alongside of us. We also find that we meet others who are already working and are so happy to see us join them.

The next step is to identify what ways we can make a difference. Again, we aren’t called to do things that we don’t have the ability to do. I will never be a doctor or a nurse. I can’t save someone who requires in-depth medical attention. I’m horrible with numbers. If someone is struggling to make sense of their financial situation, I’m not the best person to call. I don’t have financial resources. I can’t buy groceries for a hungry person and pay to have their lights turned back on.

Do you see what I’m saying about feeling unqualified to make a difference? I can’t do things that I hear others being applauded for. If I thought only about what I can’t do, then I would never see myself as having the power to make a difference. But I do have things I can do to bring light and healing to a hurting world. I can hug people. When they feel alone, I can remind them they are loved. When people are grieving, I can go hold their hand. I can join others in sending holiday cards to people who will spend the season alone. I can show up places. I can listen while I’m there. I can stand with people as they are trying to leave domestic abuse.

I can write. I can help bring light to situations that others may not fully understand. I can listen to others and share their stories with their permission. I can give water to someone thirsty. I can write my legislators. I can volunteer with nonprofit organizations and tell others about their life-changing work. I can visit a dying friend. I can hug their children.

You are amazing as you are. You have the skills to make a difference in this world. You can bring light into darkness, healing into a hurting world. We have what it takes to make a difference in someone’s life. What can you do today that will being love and hope and healing to someone else?

Just a Day Part One

I write often about organizations that change lives. I also post my podcast episodes here. I frequently talk about people who change lives. We hear stories about the work of Greta Thunberg and see the news that the biography of Sara Cunningham (who founded Free Mom Hugs) is being made into a movie. We all talk about the power of one person and know on some level that one person can bring change, but what happens in an ordinary day of a person trying to make a difference?

I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the work of others and thinking about those people who have made a difference in my life. I hope I know what I would do if I was faced with extraordinary circumstances. I would call 911 if I saw someone being hurt or saw a house on fire. I would rescue people if I saw them in need. But those moments are rare. If I’m going to be a person who truly makes a difference every day, what do I need to do during my ordinary days? Each person who brings change lives through hundreds of ordinary days just like the rest of us. So what do I do when the day is just an ordinary day?

First, I need to listen. How can I help meet the needs of those around me who are hurting or are hungry or are lonely if I don’t listen. We often think we are changing the world by charging into a situation and solving things the way we think they need to be solved. Many of our solutions are just temporary fixes, however, and some don’t even change things temporarily. The innovators of our time are people who listen to those with a need a create a product or devise a plan to meet that specific need in a way that has a lasting impact for the person or group of people.

For example, I read several articles about fire alarms that are the most effective for waking children during an emergency. The trick wasn’t to put the alarm closer to a child’s bedroom or make the alarm louder. Those methods weren’t working even though they seemed logical. Researchers found that children wake fastest when they hear the voice of a parent calling them. Developers used that information to create alarms that used the voice of a parent to call the names of the children if smoke was detected. This product proved to be very successful.

On a personal level, I have told the story of a woman in a neighborhood who was very lonely and seemed withdrawn after the death of her husband of 50 years. People kept inviting her to luncheons or dinners, but the meals weren’t helping her to reconnect with others and process her grief. Finally a young neighbor asked what this older woman most needed to begin to heal her broken heart. She said that she had always started her day with coffee with her husband and that she was most lonely early in the morning. So the neighbor started coming over very early and sitting with her during morning coffee. They joked together and talked about the happenings in the neighborhood and in the world. The neighbor then headed to work as her husband used to do. Within a month’s time of this new routine, the woman was back to her old routines of volunteering in the community, going to church, and having occasional meals at the local senior events. Other people tried to give her what they thought she needed; one person asked her what she thought she needed.

Listening is a great skill that we don’t use enough. I’m learning to listen to the people I love who struggle with anxiety and depression. I’m learning to listen to people who have faced struggles that I have never faced. I’m learning to listen to people who grieve differently from me. I’m learning to listen to people who have different backgrounds than I do.

I don’t spend hours doing this. I don’t stop all of my work and just listen. When I am talking to people, though, I listen. I ask questions. I try to push aside my own thoughts so I can hear what the person is telling me. Sometimes these conversations are only ten minutes or so. In that time, however, I can get pieces of information, get a glimpse of a life, that I can piece together from what I learned in other conversations.

I stood outside a McDonald’s in L.A. once and listened to homeless young adults talk about their struggles. I learned so much in just 15 minutes. I had never listened to their goals before or to their fears. They weren’t talking to me, but they were sharing with each other while I was waiting for a bus. Those 15 minutes changed the way I thought about the needs of young adults who struggle with family issues or poverty or homelessness.

Who have you listened to today? It’s just a day…but you can make a difference by just listening.

www.chrispepple.com

In Memory…

In Memory of Rep. Elijah Cummings…

 

In Memory…

As we say good-bye, know that

the footprints from your courage

and truth will lead us forward

and your voice will linger

with us still,

calling us to all things

that are right and good

and whispering the words

of hope and justice

that you carried with you

on your journey as a leader

in times when others

wanted their own

comfort and prejudices

to rule the land…

and we will write your name

in the books that tell of

a nation that finds our way back to

being a country that shines the light

for all who face the terrors of hate

and who face the weariness of

oppression and all who

shed the tears from losses

that came from the greed or

carelessness of others…

and we will speak your name

as we shout out proclamations

of renewal and long fought for hope

and as we remember the light bearers

and the courage carriers…

so find your eternal peace and

know that we will pick up here

from where you left off and we will

forge a way through the lies and disrespect

and find you smiling from above as

we see the hope you left behind

to guide us along our way…

–Chris Pepple ©2019