Rocks and Watermelon Seeds

f you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Rocks and Watermelon Seeds

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all hanging in there this week. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, this season of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple, and today I’m going to talk about what matters in life sometimes. We are all faced with so many choices this year—choices that not only affect our lives, but that also affect the lives of people around us. I am sentimental and during these times reflect upon the small things that make such a huge difference in life when we are faced with so much brokenness. I also love writing and like to use fiction to reflect upon reality. Today I’m going to share a short story that I wrote many years ago. I chose this story today because, with everything else going on in the news these days, some stories are being repeated over and over again. The particular stories I’m talking about here are stories of domestic abuse. Stories of women losing their lives when they had already warned people they were being abused. Stories of women leaving and struggling financially. 

I hope this story reminds us to be the bearers of hope and love for people. I hope this story reminds us to sit at the table with people and really listen. I hope this story reminds us how important love is. Yes, we need people to help fight legal battles and stand up to bring changes to our healthcare industry so medical debt isn’t so overwhelming. We need people to be allies and stand with us in court. We need people to help us find financial assistance to get our feet on the ground. But love also matters. When we are weary from the battles, we need to feel loved at the end of the day. All people need to feel loved. All people. Love heals. 

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ROCKS AND WATERMELON SEEDS

         I can’t believe Katelyn is moving. She has lived in this tiny apartment for six years with her two girls. I still remember the day they moved in. It sure was a hot one. I think we went through three pitchers of lemonade that day. Moving her in was easy in some ways. She didn’t have much at all. We had fun organizing it, though, and deciding which picture should hang in which room. 

         Six years ago, I really wasn’t sure she was going to make it. Trying to get away from her husband had been a rough process. It was hard for me to accept how difficult it could be to get away from an abusive person. The process of leaving, though, had wiped out her finances, her energy and her self-esteem. When she moved into the Mountain View apartments, she had very few resources to rely on. 

         “I’m glad I can rely on you,” she said as she smiled at the end of the moving day. My thoughts were betraying her, though, even as she spoke. I didn’t think she was going to make it. 

         I remember when the girls first saw their new apartment. They thought they were rich.

         “Look,” Emily squealed, “we live in a place with two swimming pools. And it’s a huge building. There’s even a playground here.”

         “We live close to bunnies,” Emma giggled as she watched two bunnies hop just out of sight of their patio. I had picked out this place for them because it seemed so tranquil, just the opposite of the chaos they were fleeing from. It felt good to see them smiling even though I knew all three were nervous about the move and all of the changes they faced in their lives.

         The first few months seemed to move so slowly. Katelyn struggled to get a job and find childcare for the girls. Affordable childcare seemed impossible to find. I kept the girls for her as much as I could, and she managed to hire somewhat affordable sitters for the other days. She finally got on as a teacher’s aide in a private school nearby. With the help of a few people from the community, she enrolled the girls there so they could all be together. They needed that so much. It was a gift to all three of them just to have those worries lifted off their shoulders. 

         I still wondered if Katelyn was going to make it, though. She had so much to learn about life. Her questions were endless at times. I swayed between wanting to teach her and wanting her to shut up at times. Her needs and her questions overwhelmed me every once in a while. I tried to hang in there with her, though. 

         “Teach me how to do their hair,” Katelyn asked one day.

         “Sure, we’ll do it one day,” I responded as I kept picking up books the girls had been reading. When I looked up, Katelyn was sitting patiently with a brush. I realized she meant right then. She was trying to get them ready for their open house at school. I knew Emily and Emma’s hair usually needed brushing, but it had never dawned on me that Katelyn had never been shown how to really take care of their hair. I remembered some old barrettes I had in my daughter’s room. I brought those down and we spent the next half hour making each girl look and feel adorable. We were all giggling when we were done. 

         The next few years seemed to pass quickly. Katelyn worked so hard to keep her family going and growing. She babysat for neighbors a couple of evenings a week so she could set aside a little money for the future. She usually managed to get through each month even though it was a struggle at times. I grew to love my time with her girls. I actually began to look forward to their days off from school so we could sneak away to the library or the park. 

         I also learned to handle Katelyn’s questions a lot better. At times, I can even say I enjoyed them. It was fun to see her learn. When we were apart, I always came back and shared my adventures with all three of them. I brought back books and CDs for them when I traveled. 

         Even though Katelyn always seemed appreciative for what I did, it never seemed enough to me. I wanted to do so much more. If I could have three wishes, I would have wished for Katelyn more money to survive on, more time to rest, and more chances to travel with her girls. I never could make all of their problems disappear, though. Katelyn still faced legal issues because of her ex-husband. He seemed to be constantly trying to disrupt their lives with more of his abuse. She had old legal and medical bills to pay. She never had enough time to rest or enough money to really be comfortable. I always felt like I was failing them somehow.

         Now she has saved up enough to move a little closer to work and in a slightly bigger apartment. I came over today to help pack, but never dreamed of what I would hold in my hands—rocks and watermelon seeds in plastic bags with a ribbon tied on to each one. A neatly written note was inside of each bag.

         “Rocks from Maine, 2001. I can’t believe Grace thought of me on her trip. Being remembered is the sweetest gift of all.”

         “Rocks from Colorado, 2003. When Grace looked out across the mountains, she fell in love with the view and brought part of it back for me. She cared enough to share with me what she saw. Sharing memories is a wonderful gift.”

         “Rocks from Switzerland, 2004. No matter how far she goes, she never forgets me. She could have walked away so many times. These rocks remind me of the beauty of the landscapes she can see and of the beauty of the friendship she shares with me.”

         “Watermelon seeds, 2000. Grace bought us a watermelon—first one in our new home. Emma, Emily and I decided to dry and keep the seeds. The watermelon made us all smile. It was the perfect gift for us. I hope one day we plant seeds of love and joy just like Grace does for us. That’s what I want to teach my girls.”

         The bags had been stored in a shoebox. On the lid, Katelyn had written, “Rocks and watermelon seeds—all a person needs in life. With these, I know I can make it now. We’re really going to make it.”

         I slipped one watermelon seed out of the bag and into my pocket. Having it there made me feel very loved by the three people that I didn’t think I had helped enough. I put the shoebox in my car to take on to their new home. Yes, they are really going to make it now. Maybe they already have. 

**

Your challenge for the week: Think about who you can offer love to. What simple gifts can you offer someone that could be very meaningful in their life? Do you offer love that heals? Maybe you can help change lives one small moment at a time. Offer love to those in your community. This story message doesn’t just apply to domestic violence victims. Offer love to someone of a different race or a different viewpoint. Offer kindness and loving gestures to someone in the LGBTQ+ community. To someone of a different religion. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of my Look to See Me Podcast. If this is meaningful to you or you enjoyed it, please leave a review and share with others. I hope you return for my next episode. 

Those Who Grow

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

***

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all hanging in there this week. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, to this season of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about personal growth. 

When we talk about babies, we talk a lot about growth and development stages. When should they sit up? Are they crawling and walking as they should by a certain age? Are they making sounds and forming words? Once kids start school, we focus even more on intellectual growth and meeting academic expectations. Can they read on schedule? Have they developed math skills? Are they understanding basic grammar skills? We also talk about their social skills. Are they getting along with their peers? This trend continues until we complete our education. It’s then that our discussions of personal growth tend to lessen and sometimes even go away. We may still talk about professional development, and if we are religious, we will use growth language when we talk about our faith. But even then we are rarely assessing ourselves to see if we are maturing in any real way. We have formed our life habits by then, and unless we are forced by circumstances to change any of those habits, most people are content to just get through life without much additional work toward growing. 

Through developmental and psychological research, we know that adults have the ability to continue to grow spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. We can break habits, learn new skills, and change our behaviors. We come into adulthood with our life perspectives developed through our experiences and influences beginning in infancy and continuing through young adulthood. We are affected by our family and societal relations, by our educational and religious experiences, and by the technological access and cultural influences from our surroundings. But growth and change are still possible.

Psychologists tell us that the ages between 18 and 29 can be referred to as emerging adulthood. This is a time for individuals to focus on their goals and explore their unique identities and the possibilities that are before them in life. This is also a key time in life to explore our relationships and all of our societal connections to others. In this time, new relationships help individuals realize that they may need to break away from old habits, unhealthy ways of thinking, and prejudices that were handed down from family and friends. 

But what about those of us over 30…over 40…over 50? Are we will still exploring our own identities and thinking about our habits and the thoughts we carry each day? I can answer for me. For a long time, I wasn’t thinking about any of this. I was in all-out survival mode—keeping my head above water physically and financially. I went to Sunday school classes, but I didn’t really assess any of my religious beliefs. The places I went just affirmed what I already believed. I didn’t think much about my larger community. I didn’t spend a lot of energy wondering about what I needed to change in my life. When things were going well, I enjoyed the good times as they were. When things weren’t going well, I just tried to hang on and survive. 

How many of us get stuck in this pattern and never think about the world around us, how we can use our gifts and talents to bring positive changes to our communities, or how we can join in with other community members to improve the quality of life for others while we also increase our own strengths and find happiness in pursuits we had never imagined? 

Changing is so hard. It’s not something we just naturally feel good about as adults. We like many of our routines, or we at least feel comfortable in them. We are reassured by predictability in our lives. So, a first step for many of us involves a recognition that we have not actually grown in quite a while and we haven’t even assessed ourselves lately. Let me clarify here…self-assessment does not mean we get stuck in our patterns of self-criticism. Self-criticism is allowing negative beliefs about ourselves to take over our internal conversations. This actually slows our personal growth because we don’t see ourselves as strong or worthy or possessing qualities or talents that we can share. 

I’m talking about taking time to asks ourselves questions about why we believe what we believe, how can we open ourselves up to new people and new opportunities, and how can we be a person who helps bring positive changes to a hurting world. 

Brené Brown—a research professor, author and public speaker—talks about our next step: a willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is letting go of our need for absolute control. It’s stepping out of our comfort zones and doing something new that forces us into new conversations and exposes us to new perspectives. It brings us uncertainty and emotional exposure. In a 2013 interview with Forbes magazine, Brown says: “Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. I was raised in a ‘get ‘er done’ and ‘suck it up’ family and culture (very Texan, German-American). The tenacity and grit part of that upbringing has served me, but I wasn’t taught how to deal with uncertainty or how to manage emotional risk. I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few. Learning how to be vulnerable has been a street fight for me, but it’s been worth it.”

Brown reminds me that vulnerability is worth it because, even though we feel uncertain and exposed at first, we soon discover new joys that new relationships bring. We move from surviving to thriving. We become members of our larger community, and we find ways to strengthen these local, national, and international communities. We also find ways to let them strengthen us. They bring beauty into our lives, and we realize that we bring beauty into the lives of others. 

With vulnerability, we redefine success and stop tying our legacy solely to what we earn or what job we show up to every day. We stop trying to be perfect and try instead to be good and to be kind and to be open to life. We aren’t scared to admit that we need to improve and grow. 

Growth and change take more than just vulnerability. We also have to have courage. The changes I made in my life were terrifying at first. I remember having to walk into a new career at a university in Nashville. I had just moved there as a single Mom and knew no one at all in the city. I had to wake up every day and find the courage to start this new phase of my life. Then I added vulnerability. I sought out new people and new experiences. I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended lectures and even gave some. I learned about the nonprofit groups in the city and the needs of those they served. I took risks and wrote articles while others were unsure about whether or not the stories needed to be told. I learned to walk away from people and places I needed to walk away from, and I learned how to grow again. 

It takes courage to admit that we still have things to learn. It also takes courage to admit that we are responsible for educating ourselves. I admit that I get frustrated when adults just want education on a new topic just handed to them without effort. Kids can’t be responsible for their own education. They need teachers and parents to feed them new information. We have to provide the information and the materials and help them interpret everything new. But as adults, we get lazy at times and still want our own learning to happen that way. 

Well, it’s not anyone’s job but ours to educate us. It’s not a person’s job to educate us about what it’s like to be Black in America or live with deafness or be Native American or flee your homeland or be a woman or face cancer or live with grief or survive abuse. It’s our job to open our eyes and read and research and be vulnerable to this learning. It’s our job to hear new stories and let them soak in. It’s our job to volunteer at the Refugee Empowerment Center or attend their public programs or read their social media posts. It’s our job to read nonfiction pieces by people outside of our own race and gender. It’s our job to use the search tool within a new group and read what answers have already been posted there. It’s our job to read articles written by people trying to overcome homelessness. The information is already there. We don’t need people to feed it to us. We just need to learn to use reliable sources, to stop misinformation, and to use what we find to grow. 

Your challenge this week: be vulnerable and courageous in a new area of your life. Do at least something simple like reading an article written by someone of a different race and one by someone whose life perspectives may be different from yours. Explore recipes from another culture and read the history behind the recipe. Read books written by those working in the nonprofit world such as Becca Stevens who works with Thistle Farms. Read fiction and nonfiction pieces which expose you to new perspectives. Start a Zoom meeting with people you have never met in your community. Be open and vulnerable to learning. Those who grow make a difference…those who grow are changed for the better and bring changes for the better. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of my Look To See Me podcast. I hope you return soon.  Be well and stay safe. And remember: You are loved. 

Happy Pride Month

Happy #pride month…

When I say this, it’s not a political statement…there’s no secret agenda to hope to convert the entire world and turn everyone gay…I’m not ignoring God or Scripture…oh, the silly things people tell me. 

For me, it’s a statement of faith that God is the creator of all people and of all love…

It’s a statement of love for the people who are my family and friends…

It’s a statement of beauty…for the sweet weddings in the LGBTQ+ community…for the warm smiles shared…for the family moments…for the friendships made…for the births celebrated…for the homes built and the art created and the dances danced and the hugs shared.

It’s a statement reflecting my appreciation for all members of the LGBTQ+ community who are nurses, doctors, soldiers, police officers, lawyers, social workers, pharmacists, dentists, teachers, researchers, preachers, and a thousand other careers. 

It’s a statement of thanks for the people who have befriended me and cared and sent love and offered prayers and included me in their lives. 

It’s a statement of hope that one day the hate and the bullying and the taunts and the disrespect will end…that true equality will be a reality. 

Love wins. God loves you. Others can’t define you. They may try to politically strip you of your identity and your rights, but I will stand with you when you speak, vote for equal rights in every election, face hate head on with you, and love deeply, respect you, and always know we are better together. 

This Mama Bear loves you and sends virtual 🤗 hugs to you. Happy #pride

Tables or Sides

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

***

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all safe tonight and are finding moments of peace and hope in these challenging days. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, to this season of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about tables. 

I used to naively believe that there never had to be “sides.” There never had to be choosing who to stand with because I thought we could learn to stand together. I believed in tables…I believed in conversations. I believed in being a lifelong learner and being willing to hear another person’s voice, to understand another person’s life experiences.

For example, I’m not a farmer, but I can come to the table with a farmer and hear their joys and their struggles and grow from that…find ways I can be true to who I am and still find ways to help farmers be successful in their lives. 

I’m not black, but I can come to the table with black men and hear their fears and cry with them over the racism they have faced. I can still be true to who I am and find ways to stop racism, end discrimination and senseless deaths, and help black men fulfill their dreams and raise their families and be successful in their careers. 

I’m not transgender, but I can come to the table with a person who is and hear their life story. I can still be true to who I am and find ways to help them feel safe and loved and respected in this world. I can make their life better so they can find hope and follow their dreams. 

I’m not a child about to age out of the foster care system, but I can come to the table with them and see the struggles they have faced. I can hear their fears and see the worry in their eyes. I can still be true to who I am and help bring changes that will make their future brighter. 

I don’t have to give up any of my dreams to make this happen. My dreams have a place at the table, too. We talk it through at the table. We bring hope and love and respect to the table. We listen to each other and find ways to make a life of hope possible for all people. I was taught that nothing is impossible with God, so this is what I thought could happen. I didn’t want it to be about choosing sides. 

But then life taught me that some people are unwilling to come to the table and listen. They not only refuse to sit with some people, but they try to take the chairs away from the people on the way to the table. 

I first realized this when I faced domestic abuse. There were people who didn’t want to hear or believe me. They judged me harshly, and some still do. They sided with the abuser and took my chair away from the table they sat at. 

Then I saw the members of the LGBTQ community try to come to the table to talk. I first saw this in the 90s during the AIDS crisis. Churches closed their doors. Families cast people out. Too many people refused to sit at the table with a gay person and try to share love and hope in the middle of a tragedy for the world and for our nation. Without a shared table, I had to choose sides. I chose to stand with the LGBTQ community. I led a funeral for a dear cousin who died of AIDS. I presented his square to the AIDS Memorial Quilt. I lost my seat at many tables, but I found much joy and love with the people who were willing to share their table with me. 

Then I met wonderful people who are transgender. I happen to have someone in my family who was accidentally assigned the wrong gender at birth. I learned what nonbinary means and queer and bisexual and pansexual. I came to the table and listened. But then I realized again that too many people refused to come to the table. Our table, instead, was spit upon and cursed at and judged by people who refused to join the conversation. So, I had to choose sides. I chose the table full of love and respect. We help each other dodge the rocks thrown our way. We hug through the tears of rejection. But we find joy and love. 

Then I heard the cries of black men dying from police brutality and from white vigilantes declaring it their right to kill anyone they are suspicious of. I saw black mothers crying. I looked around and realized that again too many people were refusing to come to the table and hear their cries and find ways to stop the deaths and the racism causing them. I had to choose sides. I stood with the people declaring that black lives matter. I chose justice and love and respect for all people. I chose to stand with people who want to live their lives without fear of being killed for no justified reason at all. And I found Jesus standing right there next to me. And I found people praying that I could kneel with and pray. I found people who heard me and who shared their stories and their tables with me. 

I still believe in tables. I believe that we can learn to hear each other and stop declaring that we have to choose sides. Humanity does not have to be divided up into sides. We can come to the tables with respect and love. We can listen. We can stay true to who we are and allow others to be respected for who they are. We can see the beauty in the diversity around the tables. We can learn from the gifts and talents and stories of others. We can share our gifts and talents and stories with them. 

I heard a preacher this past Sunday ask the question, when you use the word “we,” who do you exclude? When you say “we” are joining at the table, who do you refuse to sit with? The transgender teen? The black man? The impoverished single mom? The one on welfare? The domestic abuse survivor? The crying mother? The gay man? The married lesbian couple? The Native American? The Mexican family? The immigrant? Who do you exclude from the table? 

It hurts to lose your seat at the table. We all want to be loved and included. I want to love and include you…all of you…but I tell you this…if you exclude someone, you will force me to choose sides. And if I have to choose sides, I will always get up from your table of privilege and stand with the person you refused to sit with. I will walk with the ones being discriminated against. I will work to stop racism and hate crimes and transphobia and homophobia and bullying of all forms. I will willingly give up my seat at your table of privilege if you are unwilling to listen to the voices of others and respect them. 

Stop making us all choose sides. This is humanity…all of us together…the diversity of skin colors and genders and sexual preferences and gifts and talents and life stories. It’s a beautiful view from my perspective when I picture us all coming to the table for significant conversations that will bring so much love and joy to us all when we work for peace and hope and justice for all people. I will never give up this hope. I no longer regret the times I’ve lost a seat at a table for being true to this hope…for being true to who I am and what I believe and what I stand for…

Come to the table…join the conversations that can be so hard to hear at first…bring love with you and you will be loved in return…there’s laughter and joy on the other side of the tears we will shed when we realize all the unnecessary losses that have occurred when we excluded people from the table. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of my Look To See Me podcast. I love you…you are worthy…you are strong…you are beautiful…never let another person define you…join me at the table, won’t you? 

It Was Me

It Was Me

I am the one that 

was raised to be

part of the problem…

who was raised to stay 

on the white side of the street

and who was raised to label 

everyone in conversations…

“the black family on the street”

“the Muslims one street over”

“the Jews who live in the cove”

“that Indian man who owns the store.”

I learned all the assumed adjectives…

lazy, cheater, thug, thief, 

will steal you blind…

and I learned that people 

hired you for cheap labor

but never appreciated your work…

Then I met you…it was a new world…

you were smarter than me in trig class…

you tutored me, you taught me about life…

you were the coach of my team…

you doctored me back to health…

you befriended me…

you were there when I cried…

you taught me to get back up…

I learned your history and saw

everything wonderful and strong about you…

and I had to live with the fact that I 

never spoke up before now…

I was raised to be part of the problem…

my silence allowed your beatings and death…

the labels stripped you of your seat at the table…

the lies about you took away your hopes and dreams…

And my silence never brought change…

But I promise you now

I will roar for you

and film the wrongdoing

and call out the racism

and name it

and pray for change

and work for change

and be the change

though it will never

bring lost ones back to life

or heal the wounds from beatings

or restore all that you have lost…

but I will lose the labels

offer respect

fight for justice

and never be silent again.

–Chris Pepple ©2020

The Belief Came Tumbling Down

Dear person in the pew, person in the street, person declaring your rights—I hear you. I’m a listener. I want to understand you. You are fighting for a belief—for a right. You are declaring that belief to be key to your religious life. You, however, are not setting your beliefs in stone and building upon them. You, instead, are creating paper towers that tumble when the wind blows. 

You declare that businesses have the right to turn away gay couples who want a wedding cake. You say it’s their right to determine what they are comfortable with in their own business. However, you declare that Whole Foods can’t decide that they are going to require people to wear a mask. You threatened any business that decided their faith told them to care for their employees and customers in this way. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that protests should never interfere with traffic when Black Lives Matter groups block cars and walk across a bridge. You say that is interfering with the safety of others and creating a dangerous situation, yet you block roads around a hospital and a state building when you are angry about public policy. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that you can protect your own home in a way that seems best to you and declare that you can shoot and kill intruders, yet you have a black man arrested for shooting a gun in the air inside his house when people walk into his home unexpectedly. 

Your belief just came tumbling down… 

You declare that truth should be held up as an ideal in this nation, yet you do not call out lies caught on tape. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that life is sacred and should be protected against those who seek an abortion, yet you let children die in our protective custody. You let domestic violence continue to kill women and men and children in this nation. You fight against medical care that would save thousands of lives each year. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that sexual purity should be an ideal that we all seek, so you fight against access to birth control and condoms. You, however, let rapists go free. You keep the pornography industry in business. Child sexual abuse is still prevalent in our nation. You say “boys will be boys” when they grope girls against their will. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare marriage to be sacred and demand that it be exclusively a right given to a man and a woman, yet you have high divorce and adultery rates and don’t question your buddies when they cheat on or abuse their spouses. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

Your paper foundations that fuel your protests and your anger burn quickly when held up to the light of your actions. The ashes blow away in the wind when your need for comfort and personal satisfaction collides with your declared beliefs. 

What do you believe? How often do you ask yourself if your life reflects what you yell so loudly? Do you really live your beliefs, or do they come tumbling down when your own actions bump up against them?

I believe in the sacred worth of all people…

I believe that love heals and love wins…

I believe that my actions should reflect my faith and should help work towards the greater good—should build a nation where we are all respected.

I believe that all people deserve a chance at health and all should be allowed to join with the love of their lives and find joy…

I believe that gender is more complicated than we knew, and I’m willing to be a lifelong learner…

I’m willing to listen to you and also work to include you in the community…

I believe we can end hunger and abuse and unnecessary deaths if we work together…

I believe we can come together in community and seek truth together, in conversation with each other… 

I believe we can share a common table…grab a chair and have a seat with me…

Let’s pray to God who taught me these beliefs… 

Deeper Conversations

I read the news every morning to stay updated. Two things are still sticking with me. One: more than 40,000 deaths in 49 days. That’s a powerful virus we are up against. That doesn’t count the people left with heart or lung damage or the actor who had a leg amputated after complications from the virus or the thousands still on ventilators or weak at home. 

Then I saw a protestor holding a sign that said, “I need a haircut.” She was yelling for hair salons and barber shops to open. 

We are all weary at this point. Many of us have lost income. We know someone who has been sick. Many know someone who has died and can’t even be honored with a funeral. We don’t know what’s next and don’t have all the answers. 

Another protestor held a sign that said, “Facts over fear.” This I do know as a fact. I don’t “need” a haircut even if I want one. I will give up my financial stability for the life of a person. The death toll is growing. I am called by my faith to give so that others may live. I am called by morality to value life over anything material. 

I don’t want to fail financially. I don’t want to lose my home or have less to eat. I don’t want my kids to do without anything. I don’t want that for any of us. But life is worth sacrificing for. The vulnerable in this society deserve better than sacrificing them for a haircut. 

We can do both things: strive to help create financial stability for everyone and strive to save lives. Ma’am, put down your haircut sign and write, “Let’s work together to find answers.” 

Sir, change your sign to say, “Love over fear.” You are fearing financial loss. Love someone enough to step out of your fear and see their fear of the virus. Let’s all put down fear and dig deep to overcome both fears together. I know the answers are there. It takes all of us coming the table for hard conversations to find the answers.

All That Is Good

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

***

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all hanging in there this week. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, to season three of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about all that is good. 

I’m going to start this episode with a poem since April is National Poetry Month. I wrote this poem in March of this year as I was staying with my two young adults trying to figure out how to do college classes from home. There are so many things we are all having to figure out how to do differently. This poem is simply titled Now

I have used this time to do a lot of listening. I have a diverse online friend group and have spent time reading their social media posts and blog posts. I’ve chatted with people through Zoom meetings. I’ve participated in several online church meetings. I’ve realized that I have found a core group of people that I can identify with. We share many of the same general beliefs and think alike on many issues. One of the key reasons that I find joy when I am reading posts or having conversations with these people around the country is that we share a common definition of what is good. 

That seems so obvious if you look at this on the surface only. I mean don’t we like to hang out with people who think the same things are good as we do? But I’m not talking about what food is good or what movies are good or what music is good. That’s just a bonus for me if I’m with people who have similar likes in these areas. Isn’t life fun when we like the same pizza toppings as the person sitting across the table from us? 

But this past month I have been thinking about how people define “all that is good.” I hear people debating if the economy is the goodness that we should strive to protect, if our local or our national governments are representative of all that is good, if our healthcare system defines or protects all that is good. Now here’s where conversations normally break apart and often end. We disagree over one of these topics, or we make these topics and “either-or” choice as if two of these things can’t be good at the same time—we ask people to choose one or the other. 

I am challenged by people often, asking if I am negating the goodness of one group of people when I am affirming another group. It’s not either-or. It’s both. It’s all. I can love and respect one group without negating my love for others or disrespecting others. 

Are any of these listed above really representative of all that is good? 

I have listened to many people and read many books. I read my Bible. I read the writings of many religious leaders—Christian and Jewish and Hindu and Muslim and many others. I have thought long and hard about what I consider to be the good in the world…what I will choose to love and be a voice for as much as I am able. I think we all need to use this time to define what we will stand for and what we define as all that is good in this world.  

For me, the first part of goodness is people. All people. I love the diversity of people I have met over the past few years. For so long, I was in my own little world with very limited interaction with people outside of my circles. And then I found the rest of you…I heard your voices and saw your talents. You taught me to dance to songs I had never heard before. You painted pictures that I could have never imagined. You hugged me and laughed with me. You shared your sorrows with me and together we discovered new joys. I heard others say, “Be careful. You know how ‘those people’ are.” But what’s so funny is that I do know how you are…you are beautiful and strong and courageous and gifted and curious and loving and struggling with many of the same things I struggle with. 

But you are part of all that is good, and I am so blessed that I see that now. I am blessed that I opened my heart and my eyes to see beyond the walls I had previously hidden behind. I am blessed by the diversity of friends I have. 

The next part of goodness for me is community. We are stronger together. We were meant to be in community with each other, sharing laughs and joys and sorrows and hurts. We each have strengths and gifts that make the community stronger. Each of us has something we bring to the table, and each of us is worthy to have a seat at the table. When we exclude others from the table, we break this community and a chance for growth and love for us and the person excluded. 

The next part of goodness that I hang on to is love. Love is what ties people together in community. Love is what keeps us going. Love is what makes us stronger and heals us. Never let someone tell you that you are unworthy to be loved. Walk away from anyone who says that until they can see your beauty and know you are beloved. What they say is not true. You are loved. And you have love inside of you. It’s there even if you have been hurt and can’t feel it right now. It’s there. 

And let’s talk about passion. When I talk about passions, I’m talking about recognizing that which you feel deeply about. I’m talking about the personal gifts and longings inside of us that we can either use to build up only ourselves or that we can use to strengthen both who we are and build up those in our local and global communities. What do you feel passionate about? What insights and gifts do you have that make you feel most alive when you engage them? And how do you use your passions? When you use them for others, that becomes part of all that is good in this world. 

An architect can design both their own castle and a humble home for someone who doesn’t have one. A pilot can fly their own planes only or can also fly a patient to their next treatment site. An accountant can keep their own books and work for business purposes only, or they can donate some time to mentor others in financial matters. Following your passions and using your gifts should be life-enriching to both you and others. That’s part of all that is good in this world. 

Nurture the gifts that you have and use them for good. Let them build you up and bring you joy and let them allow you to share that joy with others. 

And I can’t end this without talking about compassion. Compassion is extending my passion and love to others. Compassion is a true concern for others. If we have compassion, we must be listeners. We must hear the stories of others without listening only through our own life experiences. We must accept that things happen in this world that we have never experienced and have not yet previously understood. But when we deny someone’s story, when we try to deny their truth, we cause a deep harm in them and in our community. We can’t define another person based on our own experiences and beliefs. We can’t deny a life event because we didn’t see it. 

Abuse happens even if we do not see it. Abusers exist even if they seem nice to you. Racism is real. Poverty is real and occurs for many reasons. Homophobia is real. People being beaten because others disagree with them is real. Hunger is real. Child abuse is real. Sexual abuse is real. 

We often don’t want to admit that someone is experiencing any of this, because it’s hard to hear and because then we must admit that our silence played a role in allowing to continue. Compassion is the opposite of silence. Compassion is the opposite of refusing to accept someone’s story. Compassion is the opposite of looking away or of inaction or of not being a part of the solution. 

Let’s all use this time to define what we know is the good in this world. Let’s be part of the good. Let’s love. Let’s be part of the healing and part of the compassion and part of the growth and part of the table building so all can have a seat with us. 

Your challenge this week: write down all that you think is good in this. world. Then look at that list compared to what your personal faith says is good. Look at that list and ask how it lines up with love and compassion and hope. Look at the list and ask how it is life-affirming and life-giving. 

Hang on to all that is good. Now is the time to embrace the good, share the love, offer hope, enable healing, and find joy and love and hope for yourself in the process. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Look To See Me. I hope you tune in again soon for another episode. Stay safe and stay well. 

Nurses and Their Tradition of Sacrifice

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

***

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all hanging in there this week. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, to season three of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about nurses. 

I’m recording this during the shelter-at-home mandate in my city during this coronavirus pandemic. I want to use this podcast to thank some of the people who are selflessly working to help bring this crisis to an end and who are working to help ease the suffering of all who are ill at this time. I’m also going to talk about some of the famous nurses in United States history. 

First, let’s look at today’s nurses. During this pandemic, we realize how valuable nurses and doctors are to our society. They sacrifice so much for our well-being. They care for children getting vaccines during well-child check-ups; they care for children dying from cancer. They clean up after sick patients. They take temperature and other vitals at all hours even when we complain about the care. They reassure parents; they try to keep worried families updated. They do all of this while still taking care of themselves and their own families. So, we all owe a debt to all of the caregivers and service workers and doctors and nurses providing hope in this pandemic. I’m just going to highlight a few specific examples of today’s nurses giving back. I’m sure your community could add thousands of examples to this podcast. 

The first shout out I’m going to give is actually to a nursing student who understands what her fellow nurses are facing. As a senior nursing student at LSU Health New Orleans, Kristina Rigterink decided she needed to do something to help nurses on the front lines of the pandemic crisis. She and her mother realized that medical supplies were in short supply across the country. Hundreds of healthcare workers were testing positive for coronavirus because they couldn’t get the masks, gloves, and other items they needed to stay safe while treating others. 

The two women decided to make a difference. They started organizing ways to collect supplies and get them into the hands of people who needed them the most. They gathered unused face masks, disposable gloves and surgical gowns that protect medical workers from catching and spreading the disease. As the word has spread around social media, more people are donating the supplies needed to keep our nurses and other healthcare workers safe. This nursing student stepped up when needed. 

On March 22, New Jersey issued a call for help. They needed nurses to help care for the patients flooding in for help. The New Jersey State Nurses Association answered the call. Their CEO, Judy Schmidt said: “We will do our part to swiftly contain COVID-19 by caring for every patient — no matter the sacrifice.”

Within one day, they had recruited more than 470 additional nurses who had been retired for less than five years. Other states are taking similar measures…nurses who have retired are stepping back into work for the greater good of our citizens. 

Eileen McStay, a registered nurse at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and many others like her are worried about protecting their families. McStay decided to send her kids to stay with their father during this crisis, and she doesn’t let friends come visit her because she could have possibly been exposed to the virus by patients. She works long shifts, then she goes home to an empty apartment with no one to care for her. It’s a choice that many nurses around the nation are making. 

But nurses have been making sacrifices throughout the history of our nation. Let’s look at some of the nurses who have made a difference in the past. Many of us read about the nurse Clara Barton when we were in school. Her life is certainly worthy to be discussed. Here, though, I want to talk about one of her relatives—her aunt, Martha Ballard. Ballard was born in 1734 and died in 1812. She was an American midwife that also worked as a nurse and herbal healer. She worked for 27 years as a caregiver in a pioneering community in Maine. 

During that time, Ballard delivered 816 babies and treated numerous ailing residents in a time when people often died due to lack of healthcare. What is fascinating about Ballard is that not only did she step up to serve, but she also kept detailed medical records on her patients. Many doctors at the time didn’t even do that. Through her diaries and writings, Ballard still gives us valuable information about the history of medical work in her day. For example, in an August 1787 entry, Ballard writes about traveling from house to house to care for children with scarlet fever, which is a form of a strep infection. While she was serving others, she recorded details about the herbal remedies she used. Thanks to her service, many people survived what could have killed them without care. Thanks to her writings, we have a glimpse at very early medical records from the beginnings of our nation.

Dorothea Dix didn’t start her working life as a nurse. She was first a teacher and an administrator for a private school in New England. During the Civil War, she saw a greater need, however. She volunteered for the Union Army and helped recruit other women to the nursing field. Dix eventually served as the Superintendent of Army Nurses for the Union Army. Dix became known for many things, but three things stand out to me: 

  1. She treated both Union and Confederate soldiers. Dix did not discriminate when it came to helping others. She saw the greater good and worked to help anyone in need. 
  2. She pushed for formal training and more opportunities for women nurses. She saw the valuable role nurses could play in the healthcare field and fought for the training they needed to succeed.
  3. Dix also fought for mental healthcare improvements. She devoted time to advocate for better treatment and care of patients suffering from mental illnesses. She eventually helped found a total of 32 institutions in the United States dedicated solely to the treatment of mental health illnesses.

Just a little aside here…did you know that First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and poet Walt Whitman also volunteered as nurses during the Civil War. They stepped up in a time of need. Now, I’m mentioning them here because they did much more than just volunteer. Mary Todd Lincoln actually realized the value of the trained professional nurses and pushed for the organization of an actual nursing corps. After visiting his brother who had been wounded, Whitman signed up to be a nurse at the battle zone in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and volunteered in this capacity for three years. Some of his most famous poems are about his time as a nurse. 

Next I want to talk about Mary Seacole. She nursed wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. She actually set up what was known as the “British Hotel” behind the lines during the war. She and Florence Nightingale were working during the same time period. Seacole, born in Jamaica, applied to the War Office to officially work as a nurse during the war. She was turned down, and she (along with historians studying her life) wonder how much of a role racism played since Seacole was a mixed race, born to a Scottish father and a Jamaican mother. 

Being turned down didn’t stop her at all. She used her own resources to open a facility to nurse wounded officers and servicemen. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004 she was voted the greatest black Briton. Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), is one of the earliest autobiographies of a mixed-race woman, and it details her work as a nurse and her challenges in working to overcome racism in this field.  

So, nurses have a long history of stepping up in times of need. They have worked tirelessly to ease suffering, help heal the sick, and mend the wounds of both soldiers and civilians. They have left a legacy of heroism and determination and self-sacrificing work. 

Our challenge for the week: thank a nurse. Mail a card. Send a text. Call in an order to a local restaurant and have food delivered to their home. Remember that there are people in the world that work without much recognition. If you are a nurse, I thank you for all of your work. I pray that you all stay well during this pandemic and that your families stay safe. Hang in there, nurses. Know that we appreciate all that you do! I’m doing my part and am following the requests for people to stay at home. My kids are taking their college classes from home, and I am working from home. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Look To See Me. I hope you tune in again soon for another episode. Stay safe and stay well.