Let’s Talk About Our Identities

Greetings! Today, let’s talk about our identities…who are we? How do we define ourselves? On some level, this seems like such an easy question, but then again, we are complex beings that are hard to define at times. 

I wrote a poem called “I Am” that’s in my first poetry book. I have since written two other poems with the same title. Each poem is very different, but each poem is true. Writing down who we are can be a challenge if we try to look at all aspects of how we define ourselves. 

For example, are you an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between? I am definitely in between. I like being at home, being quiet and writing. I like long hikes and cabins. Yet I also love public speaking and teaching. I truly enjoyed being at Mythicon in Austin, Texas last month with my son and thousands of other people. That was an amazing convention. 

Are you religious or spiritual? Do you define yourself by a particular religion or denomination within that religion? Are you a sports fan? Are you a reader? If so, what genre of books do you like? Are you a causal dresser most days or do you really enjoy dressing up? Do you prefer dress shoes or sneakers? Would you rather vacation in the mountains or on the beach? Do you enjoy playing board games or video games or both? How do you like to wear your hair? Do you share personal information with several people or with only close friends, or are you a very private person? What career feels right for you? What’s your favorite food? Your favorite dessert? 

We can’t be totally defined in just a couple of words. There’s a lot of details that define who we are. Part of how we define ourselves is by our gender. That’s what I want us to talk about today. So many people want to oversimplify this discussion, but gender is as complex as any other aspect of our personality. Gender is like any other personality trait in that only you can declare your gender. 

No one can define another person. It’s not possible. No one can re-define another person. That’s not possible either. I’ll give you two light-hearted examples that don’t exactly line up with gender identity at all, but it can lead us into that discussion. 

I am a writer. I have a certain writing style. When I was working under someone as a writer years ago, that person tried so hard to redefine my writing style. She told me, “Stop writing with heart. Think like a marketer.” I left that job. She was a wonderful person that I still have so much respect for. She does so much good in the world, but she couldn’t change me. I took marketing classes and listened to her for quite a long time. I tried to take her suggestions, but my strengths were writing the magazine articles and interviewing people. People would call me and tell me how much they were touched by an article. I won a couple of awards for my articles. I hated writing brochures, though. It wasn’t anything that lined up with my skills. I couldn’t change my writing voice to line up with what my boss wanted for the brochures. I didn’t even want to change. I didn’t want to learn. I didn’t want to write brochures. It’s not who I am. It will never be who I am. I can write grant proposals, magazine articles, books, poems, writing guides. I cannot write a marketing brochure that fits into the marketing mold. She could. My boss was amazing at it. Her talent was evident. 

Going back even further, most people are shocked to know that I was once in the Little Miss Meridian Mississippi contest. Yes, as a child, I had my hair done by a professional, sat still for makeup, wore a formal dress, and danced on stage. If you know me now, you know that none of those things will ever happen again. I was a very active child, and in Meridian at the time, young girls didn’t have many opportunities to join anything to get out their energy, so I was put in a dance class. This led to me being entered into the beauty pageant. Side note…one of the older contestants went on to be Miss America. Back to me, though…that didn’t match up with who I am. That’s no reflection on other contestants. One of my best friends loved it. She stayed in dance for many more years. She always dressed more formally than I did. It was part of what made her feel like herself. I’m thankful I was eventually given a spot on a t-ball team and could wear shorts and run. 

If we acknowledge how different we can be from each other and how complex we can be, why do we try so hard to over-simplify gender identity? So many people say…male or female…that’s it and you are stuck with whatever gender you were assigned at birth. Do you really want to discount what else defines us? Do you not see how much our identities are wired into our brains? Gender identity has more to do with how we are wired in our brains than what’s between our legs or what organs we have. 

Think back to your childhood. Think back to when you began to know who you were. Many people were forced into roles based on their biological sex assignment rather than their gender identity. In many societies, we are told what colors we can like, what jobs we can have, what our household duties are based on what gender we have been assigned. Most of us realize now how crazy this is. We now have women in the military, men as stay-at-home parents, all genders teaching in college, all genders working as surgeons, as nurses…the list goes on. 

We learned that how we defined gender roles didn’t make sense. We were keeping people from using their gifts and talents. 

Now we need to step back and realize that we also need to reconsider what we think about gender identities. Just as we oversimplified so many other things, we did the same in this area. We have discounted that gender identity comes from more than just a visible part of our anatomy. Gender identity comes from inside of us. It’s deeply rooted in who we are, in how we think, in how we define ourselves. Why does that bother so many people. 

It bothers so many people that now many states are making laws against anyone who doesn’t fit into their predefined definitions of gender. My state is trying to pass a law that says children can’t even express themselves by the gender they say they are. It will be a criminal offense for parents to take their child to a medical professional to ask for help for their child who is struggling with gender dysphoria. Being transgender has become a criminal act in many states. 

Many of you may have been in a situation where someone tried to make you be someone you are not. It was often over something that seemed somewhat insignificant…maybe someone tried to make you play or watch a sport you aren’t interested in. Maybe someone tried to force you into a major in college. Maybe you were forced to read books you secretly hated. 

Can you imagine how you would feel if someone tried to force you to think you were a different gender than you internally knew you were? It’s not even comparable to any of the things I listed. We are talking about living as someone you are not. It breaks your spirit because every day you wake up being told that you can’t be who you know you are. You wake up feeling like your body is defying you by have an outward appearance that doesn’t match your appearance your soul and your brain align with. You wake up to a world that won’t even let you tell people how you feel. If you do, they might reject you and make laws to keep you from being who you know you are. This brings on an indescribable depression and anxiety for many people. Parents who walk this journey with their children see the pain and try to find someone who can help heal that pain, but parents are often told they are wrong as well just because others don’t see what they see and don’t understand the journey. 

Here’s what many people think happen with “woke” or liberal parents. They have a son who picks out a pink shirt. Then that son picks out a flowery shirt and wants a one-piece bathing suit. Misinformed people assume these liberal parents run to a doctor and say, “My son would look great as a girl. Can we do surgery so he looks better in that swimsuit?” Or a family has a daughter that starts to play football. She’s pretty good. She also wears jeans every chance she gets and hates dresses. Misinformed people think that the family runs to a surgeon and says that her life would be easier if she was a boy. Let’s give her hormones. 

That is so far from what happens…so far from the truth. If you took time to listen, you would see that the journey to a doctor is a long one. It involves denial first, usually. We just think kids are going through a phase or are being stubborn. Then it moves to frustration often. Parents don’t have answers and have no idea what their child is facing and why this is happening. We still don’t talk with parents enough about children’s development. Then parents see the anxiety and hurt in the child and turn to counseling when it gets more than we know how to face. 

Counselors, thankfully, have now studied and researched the complexity of gender identity.  They know that the brain’s definition of identity can be very complex. Children nearing puberty often need time to work with their counselors and their doctors before having to face those raging hormones and body changes that are difficult for everyone. Hormone blockers are used to give counselors time to let these children grow and develop mentally and emotionally so they can understand their own identities. This buys time for nonbinary or transgender kids to work with a team to help them make decisions as they grow and understand more. 

We use hormone treatments to work with many other kids. This isn’t something new. Kids with growth deficiencies take hormones so they reach a taller height than they would without the hormones. Young children with extremely early and heavy periods can be treated with hormones to manage this. Young boys with a condition that causes them to grow really large breasts can get breast reduction surgery. This is nothing new. 

Why are we fighting against transgender kids who need time to work with doctors and counselors and need to use hormones to do so? 

Why are you fighting this so hard? 

Why are you unwilling to listen and try to understand the reality these kids face rather than make assumptions about liberal parents controlling their children? 

You are causing harm by your beliefs. Is that what you want? Do you really want to harm children because you don’t understand? 

Your beliefs will force children to live with extreme anxiety and depression…you will force children to be psychologically and emotionally harmed by telling them they are unworthy of living their life as they know they need to. 

Buying time gives youth the chance to really study who they are. They can explore and learn all of the options about what is available for them as they grow. They can thrive when they live authentically. 

This isn’t a fad…kids are struggling before they even tell anyone they are transgender. This isn’t liberal parents manipulating children. These are parents seeking healing for the hurt their children live with. These are parents from all backgrounds turning to the medical community to help them understand the words their children have spoken…the truth they are facing. This isn’t a quick or easy journey. 

Be a lifelong learner…be a listener…talk to professionals…talk to anyone who is transgender and willing to be open…read books by parents and by people who are nonbinary or transgender…care enough to be informed. 

Let’s be known by our love rather than defined by our misunderstandings…

This blog post is also available on my podcast. You can listen on the site of your choice:

Apple Podcasts           

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/look-to-see-me-with-chris-pepple/id1415129490

Spotify    

Amazon Music

https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/933c2369-a777-46a8-99d5-9553dff1c934/look-to-see-me-with-chris-pepple

Anchor

OUT

Out

so that I can say 

my name 

with pride

Out

and standing before you

with my true self revealed

Out

following the inspiration 

of those who have 

daringly gone before me

and claimed their identity

despite the taunts

you tossed their way…

who didn’t let the fear

of your hate

block their way 

Out

 and here I am before you

inspired by my own courage

and loving me enough 

to live deliberately

Out

no longer hiding

who I am

and now claiming 

all parts of my identity

loud and free

and choosing 

to love the whole of me

Out

 and finally seeing

the beauty of my life…

Out of breath

from chasing dreams

Out of time 

for worrying 

about what your opinion means

Out of tears

from crying 

over your judgments 

and your fears

Out of patience

waiting for you

to understand 

love and truth

I am out

I am whole

I am loved

I am worthy

I AM OUT

–Chris Pepple © 2022

Fruits of My Labor

Fruits of My Labor

I remember the first time

I baptized my soul

with the juice from 

the freshly picked blackberry 

that covered my tongue 

when my teeth broke 

through its flesh

and pulled the druplets

away from the whole…

I followed the new awareness

of the delight of the fruit before me

with the sweetness of a plum 

grown on my own land

against all odds as I 

learned to nurture the soil

and tame the tangle of weeds

that tried to devour my progress

and frustrate my soul 

as I worked to bring life

to what was buried beneath 

an almost unforgiving neglect 

of what should have been 

cherished as home 

and could still be 

the holder of hope,

and I remembered the witness

of those who taught me

to survive and to love

the feel of dirt moving 

through my hands

as I worked to understand

what I would devour

and what would try 

to devour me…

—Chris Pepple ©2022

Worthy

Worthy

To the unseen trailblazers

who make their way

through uncharted territory

to break chains of abuse

that others claimed to never see,

who walk alone and hungry,

tired and broken at times,

you are worthy and courageous

and I see you

and I know your pain

of being shamed

when sharing truth,

of being outcast

and denied seats at tables

because you are blamed

and named and called untamed

and unworthy to be in the presence

of those who deem themselves better

and use their judgment as an excuse

to leave you alone and hungry and hurting

as you carry your children on your shoulders

to save them from the hate of the one

who wants you defeated and controlled,

but you rose up and spoke your “no”

and cleared a trail out of the horrors

of the life others said you deserved.

And by your strength,

a path has been cleared

that others can now see,

and a new hope

has risen in the souls

of those forgotten

in a world

that rests in comfort.

You are worthy,

wounded warrior

whose scars remind you

never to turn back.

One step more,

one step more,

one step more.

Chains are breaking.

Hope is rising.

One step more.

–Chris Pepple. ©2022

http://www.chrispepple.com

A Parable of Friendship and Faith

I walked through my entire childhood with my best friend. We spent hours together every day as I read stories, played, and went to school. We spent every Sunday morning together in Sunday school. I don’t even know how many hours of Vacation Bible School we spent together. As we grew, I knew my best friend so well. We were so comfortable together. Even into high school and college, we spent as much time together as I could manage with my schedule. It felt comforting to know someone so well. I felt connected because we were so much alike. 

Young adulthood came, though, and nothing seemed the same. I heard new rumors about my friend that I kept denying because they just couldn’t be true. 

“I met your friend at the dance last night. I’m so glad we met.”

“That couldn’t be my friend,” I exclaimed. “You must be wrong. My friend would never be at a dance, much less on a Wednesday night. That’s mid-week Bible study where you can come to if you want to.” 

“I met your friend at Pride. You should have come as well.”

““That couldn’t be my friend,” I exclaimed. “You must be wrong. My friend would never be at a Pride event. I’m sure you’re a nice person, but your choices are so wrong. I’ll pray for, and I’ll tell my friend to help you as well.” 

“I met your friend at the Black Lives Matter march.”

“That couldn’t be my friend,” I exclaimed. “You must be wrong. My friend would never be at a march. The people marching are the ones causing trouble instead of seeking peace. They should all be arrested.”

I was angry and hurt by now. So many people were saying things about my friend that couldn’t be true. I knew my friend. I knew every aspect of their personality. I knew who and what they loved. I knew their house. I knew their heart. I distanced myself from these confused people and went to find my friend. I stepped into church and felt comfortable there. I knew my friend would be here. And they were. But instead of putting my heart at ease, they just kept saying, “You really need to get to know me better.”

“No, stop. I know you. I know YOU!” I didn’t want anything about our relationship to change. I had read their diaries and letters and report cards and poems. I knew them. I resented my friend suggesting that I didn’t after all of these years. I would not let this relationship change. I hung on to the memories I had, and I stayed in that building with a determination that felt crucial to my very existence. 

Years later, I was still in that building with my own child who brought in someone new. I pulled my child aside saying I wasn’t sure this building was the right place for their new friend. “But they know your friend,” my child answered. 

Suddenly my heart warmed as I saw the young friendship of my child and this child starting to grow. I remembered my youth and the feeling of being loved and being able to love. “Where did you meet my friend?” I asked.

“Outside behind the community center. Your friend helps serve soup to all of us homeless families every Saturday.” 

I walked outside and looked around. I saw the familiar artwork that bore the fingerprints of my friend. I saw love in people’s eyes. I saw my community working together to bring love, hope, and justice to so many people I had never even met. My friend was taking part in all of this. I went back into the building and picked up my Bible. The light flooded in the nearby window and illuminated the words of Jesus. Love…weep…leave the ninety-nine to find the one…blessed are the peacemakers…blessed are those who mourn…the Samaritan who gave so much…the bent-over woman…the forgiveness…the women…the leper. 

I had never really known my friend, I realized. I had known me and fit my friend into my shadow. “Come dance with me,” I heard my friend call. 

“I’m coming, Jesus. Let’s go see these people you know. I want to truly get to know you and the ones you love.” 

“I love you. Let’s go. You’re going to love what I have to show you. Put on your dancing shoes and be prepared to hug.” And I walked out of that building holding on to love and hope. 

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? 

Stay-at-Home Activities For Adults and Kids

This post will be a little outside of the norm for me. However, I wanted to share some fun websites that we used when I homeschooled my kids. I will also add a couple of podcast links. I hope some of these will help us all stay positive while we are in our homes waiting for the pandemic to pass. Remember what I always say in my podcast: be a lifelong learner. Find some ways to learn something new, read something you may not have normally read, or explore a subject you don’t remember much about from school.

Websites for All Ages

  • The PBS Learning Media site has a lot of pages to explore. They offer something for a variety of ages.  Click here to explore their site.
  • I love the Smithsonian site. Click here to explore their pages. The Smithsonian Learning Lab is also a fun site to explore.
  • STEM Rising, created by the Department of Energy, has sections for students, teachers, and the general public. “STEM Rising is our initiative to inspire, educate, and spark an upwards trajectory to lifelong success in STEM through sharing the Department’s National Labs, National Nuclear Security Administration, and program office’s programs, resources, competitions, events, internship opportunities and more.” Click here to view their site.
  • The US Patent and Trademark Office also has a fun site that contains information for a variety of ages, including adults. Begin here to learn about what they have to offer.
  • Want to take your thoughts even higher? Explore Space.com and skywatch or catch up with NASA through some new videos.
  • National Geographics educational pages bring excitement into a classroom or home.
  • I also enjoy the Biokids website. This site, run by the University of Michigan, lets you explore many species and have fun at the same time.
  • Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) also has information and games to help us learn and have fun. This site is geared toward children, but it is fun to explore with them.
  • Indigenous Mexico is a website that shares the research of John P. Schmal. Schmal is a historian and genealogist who specializes in the genealogical research and Indigenous history of many of the Mexican states.
  • The Metropolitan Opera will be streaming productions at no charge while they are closed.
  • NASA offers several online image galleries.
  • Digital History is a fascinating site that contains primary sources on United States, Mexican American, and Native American history, and slavery; and essays on the history of ethnicity and immigration, film, private life, and science and technology. These are just a few of the options for you to explore.
  • Do History is a site that helps you piece together the past by looking at fragments that have survived. The site was created by the Film Study Center at Harvard University.
  • The San Diego Zoo has a really fun website to explore. It’s great for young kids and for older ones.
  • You can take a virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park.
  • You can also take a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China.
  • Chrome Music Lab is a website that makes learning music more accessible through fun, hands-on experiments.
  • Cleveland Inner City Ballet is launching a free Virtual Online Ballet Instruction Program.

Websites for Younger Children

  • Scholastic has set up a learn-from-home website.
  • PBS Kids has a variety of games and learning activities.
  • Starfall has a variety of activities for kindergarten through third grade.
  • Squiggle Park has a section for 3 to eight-year-olds and a section for ages nine to 15.
  • Prodigy motivates 1st to 8th grade students to learn and practice math.

Museums with Online Galleries

(not a complete list)

Fun Podcasts for Lifelong Learners

(And All Who Like a Good Story)

Look to See Me

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Wow in the World

Stuff You Should Know

Brains On

Storynory (Stories for kids, but fun for anyone)

Some Interesting Book Lists to Consider

Have fun, lifelong learners! Stay calm and stay positive.

Cultivating…respect instead of fear

Greetings! I guess we are all busy following the news about coronavirus. Students are having to change their foreign travel plans. Nations around the world are quarantining entire regions. Cruise ships are being stopped offshore so passengers can be tested. I still remember the H1N1 scare from 2009. We all wondered if we should send our kids to school.

I’m not a person who panics. I do follow the news and am heeding the advice of our Center for Disease Control and other medical professionals. I have always washed my hands well, so I don’t have to change any habits there. I do find it odd that people across the United States (and maybe elsewhere) are buying things like toilet paper and face masks and bottled water in bulk. Stores are selling out of many common items. People are giving in to fear rather than following the simple steps being advised by professionals.

Here’s what I do know: I hope I don’t get the flu, coronavirus, strep throat, or the stomach bug. None of us like being sick and very few of us have the luxury of being able to afford to be sick. Every year, I make an online post asking people to respect others and stay home when they are sick.

Here’s what else I know: Goodness and justice and love are never present when you make choices based only on your own fears and never also consider the fears of others.

Fear Quote

When we fear, we make decisions that we hope will protect us in some way. We walk faster or pull out our cell phones if we fear the sound of footsteps behind us at night when we are walking to our car. We buy hand sanitizer because we worry about coronavirus. We build a storm shelter when our area has been hit by tornadoes.

But do we consider the fear that others live with? When we don’t feel great, but we also don’t want to lose a paycheck, do we realize that some people with weakened immune systems could be killed by the viruses we are carrying? When we go into a restaurant knowing we are contagious, do we understand that some of the workers fear losing a home or a car if they get sick and lose a paycheck?

People carry legitimate fears for many reasons. If we respect others, we will find ways to understand their fears and help ease those worries. I am around the elderly quite often. I assure them that I will never visit if I am ill or still recovering. I will not compromise their health.

When I am around refugees in my community, I learn about the fears they lived with all of their lives…fear of abusive leaders, of persecution, of war, of hate, of losing their families because of poverty. I try to show that I am willing to learn about those fears and work to find ways to open doors for them to be safe.

When I am around any member of the LGBTQ+ community, I try to make it known that I am a safe ally. I will stand with them if they are being bullied or disrespected in any way. I will love.

And some forms of respect just involve paying attention to what I am being told. Right now, doctors are urging people to quit buying up the entire supply of face masks. They are useless to most of us, and there are people who legitimately need them. I have to consider their greater need over my current fear.

When we live life reacting only to our own fears, we can cause quite a bit of harm to others. We need to be life-long learners and find out how we can care for ourselves and respect the needs of others.

Do not fear. Do not let fear cause you to make decisions that will harm others. Do not let fear cause you to exclude others. Do not let fear cause you to judge others. Respect and love should be our guiding forces in challenging times (and, actually, in all times).

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!