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.

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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. 

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? 

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. 

Today…Together

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.

***

Today…Together

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 people making one right choice at a time today. There’s a quote from Frozen 2 that says, “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.”

The next right thing. As I am keeping my social distance from everyone as we all face this pandemic together, I am staying informed by following a variety of news sites. There are so many governors and mayors and CEOs and school boards and nonprofit leaders that are having to decide each day what the next right thing is. A Colorado educator summed up our choices well when he discussed closing schools: “It is important for our community to remember that these measures were enacted out of an abundance of caution and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” West Grand Superintendent Darrin Peppard added. “We did not enter into this decision lightly. In the end, it will be impossible to know if we overreacted or did too much, but it will be quite apparent if we under reacted or did too little.”

We are left without a road map in these times and are having to learn from each other and from others around the world facing this challenge. We are looking to doctors and scientists and researchers to guide us. We are even turning to history to see what we can learn from past pandemics. I read an article about Philadelphia leaders choosing not to cancel a parade in 1918 when the Spanish flu was making its way through the country. Within 72 hours of the parade, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled and eventually 2,600 people died in the city from flu complications. This was much higher than the death rates in other cities who canceled large public events and put restrictions in place for gathering. 

So, I’m thankful that we have so many people trying to decide what the next right thing to do is. Another thing I am thankful for: I keep seeing social media posts that are so uplifting. In these hard times, people are trying to decide what the next right thing to do is. It’s so easy to only think of ourselves…think of what our immediate needs are. We make our lists and head out to stores before everything is gone. We plan ahead for what could be weeks of staying in. 

Don’t get me wrong. Self-care is important. We have to stay strong and healthy so we can help care for our families and for others who may need us. If we become weak because we haven’t eaten, then we certainly can’t help anyone else. But there’s something beautiful about only taking enough and not taking so much that you take away from someone else. 

And there’s something beautiful about the people who look up from their own lists…who look past their current worries and fears…who look into the eyes of others and see their needs and their worries. In this podcast, I’m going to talk about today…I’m going to talk about what each of us can do in the moment we are in to not only help others but to also bring joy to ourselves as we do it. I’m part of a Mama Bear group, and we always remind ourselves that we are better together. We are stronger when we work together and stand together and get through a crisis together. 

There are some organizations making wonderful choices to give people options for entertainment. 

  • The Metropolitan Opera will be streaming productions at no charge while they are closed.
  • Scholastic has set up a learn-from-home website.
  • Drive-in theaters are opening for people to watch movies from their cars with their families. 

In this podcast, I want to talk about some wonderful things that individuals and communities are doing to think outside of their own worries and work to help others. 

*According to the EdinburghLive Daily News, a convenience store in Edinburgh has been giving away “coronavirus packs” to the elderly for free. The packs contain a roll of toilet paper, handwash, a package of pocket tissues, and a packet of Acetaminophen. Local residents over the age of 65 could pick up a packet. Some staff members even delivered packages to those residents who couldn’t get to the store. Their kindness has been appreciated and is hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

*When an older couple in Oregon needed groceries, they decided that they would drive to the local Safeway and pick up a few items. When they arrived, however, they were worried about being exposed to coronavirus. They waited in their car for 45 minutes until they spotted a young woman, professional runner Rebecca Mehra. They cracked their window and asked her for assistance. The couple, in their 80s, explained that they had no family in town to assist, but they needed a few essentials. They handed Mehra a 100-dollar bill and asked her to shop for them. She agreed and came back to the car with their groceries and their change. When Mehra’s story went viral, she commented that helping was the right thing to do. 

*When the NBA suspended its season, Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love donated $100,000 to help support the team arena’s hourly arena employees after NBA games were suspended. He knew that people losing work because of shutdowns would be vulnerable during this time. He inspires all of us to think of others who may be struggling financially. 

*Elementary students at St. Anthony’s in Columbus, Nebraska, made cards for people in quarantine in their area. The teachers and students understood that isolation is lonely and can increase anxiety and worries for some people. We all need to know that we are remembered. 

*When coronavirus concerns cancelled their daughter’s bat mitzvah party, the Shmidman family turned the food into meal deliveries for people in quarantine in their New York area.The food for the event was already prepared, so the Shmidman family told the caterers to package it up for delivery. Volunteers safely delivered it to those in need. We can all find ways to avoid contact, but still do what is right. They delivered about 150 boxes of food. 

*Local Jewish communities in New York sent care packages to Yeshiva University students in quarantine after a student tested positive for coronavirus. The packages contained snacks and challah and grape juice for use on the Sabbath for students stuck in the dorms.

*People around the world are making personal phone calls. Seems easy enough, but we often forget how comforting it can be to be remembered and to hear a voice. The calls don’t have to be long to be meaningful. Call an elderly person who may not have seen anyone in days. Call someone who is a caregiver and touch base. Read a book over the phone or Facetime to kids to give the parents a break for a few minutes. Small deeds can have a great effect. 

*Order groceries to be sent to someone who may be struggling financially or who may just need treats to brighten their day. Many local stores are delivering to homes for a small fee to cover their expenses. People are picking up on the idea of sending food to others to make a difference in their communities. It helps keep the stores open, and it keeps people out of large groups at the same time. 

*Know someone who lost paychecks? Call their local utility company and make a payment on their account. Pay their phone or light bill. Many local congregations are using this as an outreach tool as a way to keep serving others while social distancing. 

*Give away what you have stored as extra. Jennifer Le gave out face masks to people who had to be out in Singapore. A woman in a grocery store gave an elderly woman some of the toilet paper she just bought. 

There are many things we can do to get through this pandemic together. We can make our communities healthier and stronger by serving others as we also care for ourselves. We can do both well. Your challenge: find the next right thing for you to do. 

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Today’s Historians

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.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome 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 the role historians play in whose stories we are hearing and which people we are seeing.

I love to study history. It was always one of my favorite subjects in school. As I look back now, though, on the things about history I was taught in school, I see that my education was missing quite a bit of information. Now, I know it’s true that teachers only have a certain amount of time each year to teach each subject. There’s no way to cover any era in history with much depth at all. History teachers are wonderful, and they do a great job writing out lesson plans and bringing those lessons to life for their students.

There’s so much the rest of us can do outside of the classroom, though, to make sure that we are still being life-long learners and reading about our past…uncovering truths that may have been buried for generations. Gerda Lerner, the historian who pioneered the field of women’s history, had a valid point when she said, “In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist.”  It’s time to look to see the people from the past that still have something to teach us about the present.

I am thankful that we are in a time of reclaiming more stories from the past and correcting some of that stories that were based more on myth than on truth. I know that there are so many more stories I need to hear. This podcast talks about hearing the stories of those around us. The past two seasons have discussed leaders and organizations that are telling the stories of people whose voices aren’t always heard. We need community leaders and nonprofit groups to walk with people who are journeying on a path that others of us may not have walked along. We need to take a closer look at the work being done to bring hope and healing and love to all people in our communities.

Today I’m focusing on historians, however, because they are working to help us remember the people who walked these paths before we did. They are uncovering stories of people that have brought hope and healing and innovative ideas to our communities in the past and paved the way for us to do so today. Historians are reminding us that people can make a difference and bring about so much good in the world. These stories being brought to light by today’s historians help me better understand the stories of the people around me…the diverse people who make up my community—my local community and my global community. They weave all of us together through a foundation of hope and courage and perseverance that we may have never known we shared.

So, who are some of today’s historians that are teaching us so much through the stories they are unearthing and reviving for us? First, I want to talk about two of my favorite podcasters: Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey. Some of you may recognize these names; they are the cohosts of the popular podcast titled Stuff You Missed in History Class. This is a twice-weekly podcast that takes a look at historical figures with new perspectives. The co-hosts don’t just give us a quick glance at the life of a politician, inventor, writer, or other known personality. They dig much deeper to let us know what happened behind the scenes and often out of the public eye. They share old family letters and memoirs written by known friends. They dig deep into the works of other historians and researchers. They do a good job of telling us what information is probably just a gossipy rumor and what might be a fact. We get past the myths and find out what motivated people and what hurts they overcame to achieve their goals. We also find out who really should get credit for work that we attributed to another person. Their podcasts make history fun for me. They cover every topic from fashion design to medicine to shipwrecks. Listen and find out what you missed in history class.

I’ve also recently found a website that has been fun to explore. 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. He has written several books on the topic and has served on the board of the Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research. Through Schmal’s research, we come to understand the stories that form the foundation for each Mexican state. When we understand the past, we can see the present with new eyes.

Why am I interested in all of this history? Well, can you imagine if a person who knew nothing about you or your past tried to understand your life and make decisions that affected you without knowing anything at all? A doctor needs your medical history to treat you. A counselor needs your history to help find a healing path for you if you are struggling with grief or stress. A psychologist or psychiatrist needs to know in-depth details about your life to properly diagnosis you. A spiritual mentor understands you better once you have talked about your past spiritual journey. Our past has helped shape us and has brought us to our present place on our journey. Our past doesn’t define us or limit our possibilities. We can all overcome quite a lot from our past once we acknowledge it and learn from it. That’s no different from a nation or a cultural group. Past challenges have altered the journey for some people. If we understand that, we can come to see the strengths that people have leaned on to face those challenges. We can see the courage and determination in people. We can see the gifts that all people bring to the table.

Here’s another historian’s name that I’m going to toss out: Clara Sue Kidwell. Kidwell is an academic scholar, historian, and Native American author who is of White Earth Chippewa and Choctaw descent. Kidwell has been instrumental in developing American Indian historical studies programs. She has taught at Haskell Indian Nations University, University of California at Berkeley, Dartmouth College, and University of Oklahoma. In 2007, she started the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina. She is credited with increasing the visibility of Native American history on college campuses and across our nation. Historians like Kidwell fill in the gaps of our understanding and dispel myths that we often taught as truths.

I could toss out many other names in this podcast. Elizabeth Fenn researches the early American West, focusing on epidemic disease, Native American, and environmental history. Allan Berube, an American activist and historian, is best remembered for his groundbreaking work of gay history. He published an award-winning book in 1990 titled Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II. Marie-Josèphe Bonnet is a French specialist in the history of women, history of art, and history of lesbians. Bonnet has written several books and articles about the theme of art, women artists, and the representation of women in art. Vincent Gordon Harding, who passed away in 2014, was a social activist, historian, and a scholar of various topics with a focus on American religion and society. He was one of the chroniclers of the civil rights movement and was perhaps best known for his work with and writings about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Harding knew personally.

These historians, and many others who work in their field, know that we all still have so much to learn from the people who lived before us…people who dreamed and toiled and hoped and loved and fought. Historians bring the hopes and the visions of all who walked this earth before us back into the light so we can learn from their work and build on their dreams.

Your challenge for the week: learn about two people who are no longer living. Choose these two people from sources that you have never used before and choose from a group of people that are outside of your own identity. Be a life-long learner and expand who you have been learning about.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

To Those Seeking Truth

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.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to 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 something that I hope we are all doing—seeking truth.

Throughout the last five years or so, I’ve discovered how much false information is floating around on the internet through our social media sites and through websites that have been created to look like actual news. I had no idea that our society could become so full of misinformation. It’s happening because so many of us aren’t seeking the truth. We’re seeking self-validating stories and things that make us feel good about ourselves instead of things that are making us grow and think through who we are and who others in our communities are.

I’ve also discovered just how much I don’t know about our world and the people in it. I have a master’s degree and have been a lifelong learner even when not officially enrolled in school. I studied literature, a little astronomy, and lots of history. But I picked and chose what I learned about based on my own interests. I didn’t take time to see that I was ignoring topics that would have helped me understand the people around me better. I saw my life as only connected to a small group of people I associated with.

But life itself is bigger than any one person or group of people. Life and its accompanying breath and love and hope draw us all together in an interconnected bond that we often fail to realize. When we disconnect ourselves from the bigger picture, we lose part of our humanity and part of our connection to a love and a hope bigger than ourselves. We limit our view of what life is like and what all of the possibilities are. We also cut ourselves off from opportunities to be loved and to love. We remove ourselves from the people doing the healing work in the world—the people willing to get to know someone different from themselves and walk through some really tough truths to help another person.

When I look back over the podcasts I’ve done throughout the last two years, I’ve chosen topics that need a light shined on their truths…I’ve highlighted groups that really seek to know the truth about people and circumstances and work to help us see the truth about others. So that sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want truth after all? Well, I know I didn’t used to think much about truth. I went about my life not thinking that I needed to know much about others. I was a “good person” after all. I didn’t hurt others, and I was trying to do the best I could as a person.

But then it became personal for me—I needed someone to know my truth. I needed to quit pretending that everything was ok. I had been taught to wear a mask for years—to look like a sweet Southern girl with an amazing family that had no problems. I shouldn’t appear to have any struggles at all. A “smile-for-the-camera” girl. Sometimes we don’t stop to think about issues until they become personal for us—when we realize we can’t handle life on our own at the moment, but we don’t know who to turn to because we aren’t sure who will understand or even believe us. I can tell you how deeply it hurts to tell the truth and have no one care or believe you.

That’s what so many of the agencies I have highlighted are doing right—they are looking at the lives of real people and telling them, “We hear you and we believe you” They are standing with people who have historically been unheard or when heard, not believed. Why? Because there are topics we are uncomfortable talking about. We are much more comfortable remaining in the dark about certain areas of life. We don’t want to admit how badly some people are suffering in our world. We don’t want to acknowledge that domestic violence and child abuse happen in our neighborhoods—in our churches—and that few resources exist to truly help break the chains of abuse. We don’t want to admit that people we are close to became addicted to pain killers or to porn or to gambling or to alcohol. We don’t want to admit that many single parents struggle with having resources to raise their children. We don’t want to admit that in our nation, no one can afford an apartment for a family making minimum wage.

We don’t want to be made uncomfortable, so we separate ourselves from truth. We either ignore it, or we deny it can be true because it doesn’t make sense to us. So, if we consider ourselves to be wise, and something doesn’t make sense or line up with what we have experienced, it’s easier to deny it.

I’ve found this to be true in my own life. I didn’t want to face the suffering of other people. I had enough problems of my own. And I didn’t want to admit that my silence or my unwillingness to listen could actually hurt others. Again, I was a good person, so I couldn’t be harming anyone.

But as I looked at agencies helping others while I was trying to find help, I found that I knew very little about other people’s lives—their families, their joys, their struggles. I had not taken the time to listen to others—to really learn about their cultures, their neighborhoods, their hopes, their faith, their fears. My silence and my lack of understanding was actually allowing suffering of others to continue because I wasn’t even acknowledging that it was real.

I started picking up magazines that covered in-depth stories about international events. I read about different faith communities. I turned on podcasts hosted by a diverse group of people. But reading or listening to a podcast would never be enough. It’s about being in community with other people—seeing them face to face—sitting at the table with them. John Pavlovitz, an American Christian pastor and author, has a book titled A Bigger Table. He refers to the idea that we need to expand our table so we are sitting and communing with new people—diverse people. It’s only then that we are truly learning and accepting others.

That’s what Thistle Farms does—they don’t just hand out money to women who have survived trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. They invite them to table to hear their stories and help them find love and hope and new opportunities for a more fulfilling life.

That’s what the Dorothy Day House does—go back and find that episode. They invite families in to share their table. They don’t just believe the old myths that you must not be trying or you must deserve your lot in life if you are homeless. They see that truth that people lose homes for a variety of reasons, and that we can all be a part of the solution.

That’s what the Big Heart Fund does…invite families to the table who have children suffering from illnesses that affect their hearts.

That’s what Mama Bears do—they see the truth that people in the LGBTQ+ community deserve love and deserve equality and have a lot of talents and gifts and love to share with all of us. They dig deeper in their faith beliefs and go back to original texts and ask hard questions as they learn. They research the scientific findings available and realize the beauty of how people are created rather than seeing their loves as a horrible choice.

It’s what the Refugee Empowerment Program does. It invites people in—listens to their stories—researches to understand what they are fleeing—sees the beauty of who they are—helps them find safety and hope—embraces their children—works to educate the rest of us so we stop fearing what we don’t even try to understand.

It’s about admitting we have a lot to learn. It’s about building a bigger table. It’s about really seeking truth. Who have you turned your back on and walked away because you just didn’t want to be around someone “like that?” Who have you labeled without sitting with? Who have you gossiped about instead of talked to? Who has asked you for an invitation to the table and you have said no because it felt too inconvenient or because you couldn’t understand their perspective?

“I just don’t understand” is never an excuse for taking away a chair at the table. Be a person who seeks truth—listen and meet them face to face. Go to a Jewish synagogue. Dine with a Muslim. Take a victim of violence out for a meal and ask if they are willing to share part of their story with you. Tutor a refugee. Read to a child over the summer through programs like Project Transformation. Create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. Ask to see their wedding pictures and smile with them. Volunteer at Pride events. Sit with them if they visit your church. Go to an original source of a news story and get the whole picture. Shut down lies being passed around. Grow a little each time. Seek truth and destroy myths along the way.

OK, let’s be real. Some of you are asking why? Why get out of my comfort zone? Why be willing to work hard to get to know someone else and help someone else reach their goals? Isn’t that what nonprofits are for? I give them my money.

First, great job if you are helping to support a nonprofit! They certainly need all of us working with them. However, we are also called to be part of the solution to bringing love and hope to this world. We are the people educating ourselves so we can employ people who are healing, encourage those who are hurting, and love those who are working to find hope and fulfill their dreams.

There’s so much joy in building the bigger table and joining in the sharing of bread with others. There’s love for us all when we reach out to others. There’s a satisfaction of seeing someone reach their goals. And there’s the words at the end of the journey: well done.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

When Moms Get It Right

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.

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When Moms Get It Right

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to 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 a group of Moms I have been privileged to meet—some in person and some just online through a closed Facebook group.

Now, if you’re one of my followers, you have probably noticed that I haven’t created a new podcast in quite some time…almost two months. So why today? I waited for this moment because I had a lot to process during this time about what’s going on in the world around me and what I really want to represent here on my podcast. I chose today to reappear because it’s the last day of June—the last day of Pride Month. Many people who are in the LGBTQ community and many who are allies have marched in parades this month, attended festivals, and honored the past heroes who have stood courageously for the rights of all people.

I’m not going to go into much history about Pride here—you can look that up and find many wonderful articles doing that already. I’m going to talk about some Moms who are really working to bring love to all people during Pride month and every day of the year.

I’ll give you a short history of my involvement with Pride parades and festivals…short because my involvement is short. In the early 1990s, my cousin whom I loved dearly died of AIDS. I went to Key West to perform his funeral because at the time, no one wanted to have anything to do with AIDS patients. They were all told they deserved to die because of who they were—mostly gay men at the time. So, I went to Key West and honored my cousin and his friends. Not really an official Pride moment, but it was a form of resistance for me because I was defying the major religious groups I was associated with and I shocked many of my friends by standing with these men facing the AIDS epidemic.

My second moment I remember was wearing a rainbow Pride pin around campus when a group of students protested having a female Episcopal priest who was openly married to a woman preach at our chapel service. A vocal group of students demanded that she be blocked from speaking and demanded that LGBTQ students face some consequence if they were open about their identity. Several students decided to openly wear Pride pins to show that they were not ashamed of who they were. Several of us decided to walk with them as an ally for the day. It felt like the right thing to do.

Fast forward 25 years later and find me at my first Pride parade—nothing in between—no show of support or really even thinking about anything significant as far as rights of the LGBTQ community. I had other things on my mind and just didn’t step up in any way.

So why my first Pride in 2018? Because I went to support my own son. He was courageous enough to come out and I had a choice to make. I could stand with my son and love my son and fully support my son, or we could forever lose the bond that we had. Before Pride, I messaged a Mom who is a minister and had made a post about offering resources to anyone who needed information about supporting the LGBTQ community. She serves an affirming church and was willing to connect me with an online group of Moms.

The group I first joined was Serendipitydodah for Moms. Here’s the official description of the group: This is a private Facebook group exclusively for moms of LGBTQ kids. The group was started in June 2014 and as of December 2018 there are more than 5,000 members. Each day moms of LGBTQ kids gather to share a journey that is unique and often very difficult. The group is a place where members share a lot of information, ask questions, support one another, learn a lot and brag on their kids. The official motto is “Better Together” and the members call themselves “Mama Bears.” An incredibly strong and loving woman named Liz Dyer moderates the group. I can give her name because she openly invites others to join and speaks publicly about the group. No other names or personal information will be shared.

What’s the first thing I felt when I joined the group—acceptance—no judgment. I could ask questions; I could research; I could openly learn from the Moms in the group. These Moms talked openly about their children of all ages—how much they loved them—how much we as parents had to learn—and how much we worry because so many people hate our children just because of who they are—who they were created to be.

The next thing I felt was community. This is a page where we can share our joys that we don’t feel free to share elsewhere because of potential negative comments from non-affirming friends or family members. Wedding pictures—baby announcements—new friends—new support groups—transitions for our transgender kids—prom photos—engagements—prayer requests. These are all things other parents get to be more open about. But if we share online, our bosses may fire us, our friends may scold us, and our family members may distance themselves from us over our joys…so we share with each other and cry and celebrate and love.

The next thing I felt was a Holy presence. Many of the moms are religious and struggle with being told that we are wrong for loving our children. Our faith communities ask us to be silent, or to find conversion therapies, or pray that our kids won’t really be gay or trans or queer. But we study Scripture together and pray together and find the presence of God in our midst—the very God who created our kids and loves them and is teaching us how to parent them.

I soon connected with another amazing nonprofit group called Free Mom Hugs. Since 2014, Sara Cunningham, who is the executive director, and many other parents of the LGBTQ community have joined in the fight for human rights of equality for all. Free Mom Hugs is a registered nonprofit organization made up of parents and allies who love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally and are working toward full affirmation and equality for all. We are dedicated to educating families, church and civic leaders, encouraging them to not only affirm the value of the LGBTQ+ community but celebrate them.

This is who I walked with at my first Pride in my hometown. I gave out free hugs to all who needed one and found so much love and community there at the event. It broke my heart to see young people needing hugs because they were rejected by their own families. This year I marched in my state capital’s Pride parade with both of my children. My daughter joined in as an ally. I stood with a large group of other Moms and hugged as many people as I could. I was also privileged to stand in as an honorary Mom at a wedding this year because one member of the wedding party wasn’t accepted by his family.

So, all of this make it sounds like this podcast is about me—no, it’s about the LGBTQ community and how far we still have to go to grant equality in this nation. It’s about serving wedding cakes and Moms being allowed to show the wedding photos. It’s about not being fired because you are gay. It’s about being allowed to serve even if you are transgender. It’s about no person being attacked or killed because of who they are. It’s about remembering that the first Pride was a riot because of police brutality. It’s about the long line of people that have been hurt because of religious people declaring them unworthy.

My silence though the years allowed all of this discrimination to continue. These two groups of Moms have given me the courage to speak out and to love and to find hope for all people. There is no pride for me in all that I failed to say—didn’t do. For the people I never fought for and spoke up with. I’m so glad the LGBTQ community has never given up the fight even when so many of us stayed silent.

I’m silent no more. I’m a proud Mama Bear giving free mom hugs. See you at the next Pride Parade…Happy Pride Month…Happy World Pride.

You are loved…be courageous…be strong…be you….

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Applause for Public Libraries

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.

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Applause for Libraries

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to 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 the wonderful programs offered by our public libraries.

Let’s be honest—a lot of us take libraries for granted. I know I used to. I thought of libraries as the places that held me captive for hours in high school when I had to write term papers. I remember the dreaded card catalogs that I had to dig through to find my much-needed book locations and the microfiche readers that held the microscopic copies of the journals my teachers required me to use as resources. The libraries were eerily silent and often darker than I would prefer. Even though I was an avid reader, I didn’t necessarily enjoy libraries.

Now, though, I could spend hours in a library. I love the educational programs, the magazine reading rooms and the movies mine has for rent for one dollar. I even worked at a library for a short time—one of my favorite odd jobs. There’s a lot going on every day at a library that many people don’t stop to think about.

First—computer access. Libraries often provide a critical technology link for people who may not have a computer in their homes or for people who need to stop in on a break and print resumes or check email.

Libraries also provide educational programs for children and adults, and these programs are often free. Story times for kids and classes for adults can enrich any community. At my local library, adults can attend programs that teach them to knit, offer advice for writers, or let participants meet a master gardener and ask questions about the next planting season. Lecturers come who give advice about taxes or Social Security or making wills to families who don’t know how or where to get started.

The local artists and musicians in our community also join in on the fun at the library. Our symphony has brought musicians to our library to play for families and talk about their instruments. Theater groups have performed skits in the open spaces. Writers give readings, and even magicians perform a few magic tricks for the audiences who take a break from their busy schedules to have a little fun at the library.

In today’s podcast, I want to highlight two libraries that are doing an exceptional job of reaching out to others and using their resources to meet the needs of their communities.

First, let’s look at Chicago’s public library system and specifically their Laundromat Story Time. I found this good-news story in a U.S. News articlewritten by Joseph Williams in December 2018. The article begins by reminding us all of the importance of reading to young children. Many educators have concluded that future academic success can begin with simple bedtime stories and books shared by family members.

But not every home has books that are readily available to children. And even if they have books, not every parent has a lot of extra time to read. There’s a lot of daily chores involved in running a household and raising children. But the Chicago library system created a program to bring books to some children while the parents are handling one very time-consuming chore: getting the laundry done.

Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods have about 14 laundromats that fill up daily with parents needing to keep younger kids occupied while getting the family clothes clean. Chicago librarians saw a golden opportunity to read to these children. The librarians bring in colorful mats for the kids to sit on and bring with them plenty of books and even musical instruments to add to the fun. The kids are read to. They then get to join in the singing and games. Sometimes librarians bring in puppets to add to the experience.

Parents are learning, too. They are getting a glimpse of ways to engage their children and give their brains the boost they need for future learning. Not all parents know how to help their kids develop strong literacy skills. Families and entire communities are benefitting from the library’s willingness to reach the people where they are and to assess the needs of all community members.

Great job, Chicago libraries! Hopefully other cities will reach out to them and get information from the model they have created to make this program successful.

The next city I’m going to talk about is Miami. The Miami-Dade Public Library System has developed an upcycling program to meet the needs of two groups of people in their communities. I discovered this inspiring story from an article written by Ellen Bookfor Public Libraries Online.

Their program is called “Helping Hands: Upcycling with Dual Purposes” and is an arts and crafts program that meets the needs of two communities. The library wanted to reach out to both older adults and to the homeless in their area. This program reaches both groups at the same time. Older adults gather at the library to enjoy social time together. This gathering time helps many of them break the monotony of their days and helps them break the cycle of loneliness that touches many of their lives.

While they are at the library, these senior adults are tackling the problem of what to do with our overabundance of plastic bags while also helping the homeless population. The bags are turned into a type of string and woven into mats that can be given to the anyone living without a home. The disposable bags have been kept out of landfills and instead have given people comfort. It takes approximately 198 bags to make one adult-sized mat.

The Miami-Dade Public Library System and the Chicago Public Libraries are examples of organizations that think creatively in order to bring about positive changes for their communities. They are still serving the students who need to come in and do research for papers and readers can still come in just to check out books for the weekend. But these librarians are also looking to serve different populations and meet different needs—touch the lives of people who may not even walk into their libraries.

This is what I’m talking about when I use the words “Look to See Me.” These two library systems looked to see the people in their communities. Chicago librarians saw the needs of young children in low-income families. They knew these kids deserved to be read to as much as the kids who could walk through their doors. And they saw the needs of these busy parents who were doing the best they could with the resources they had—parents who were taking care of their families and doing the necessary work of tasks such as laundry.

Miami-Dade librarians looked and saw the needs of their older patrons who wanted time to feel useful and give their gifts back to the community. They also needed time to sit with their peers and just chat about life and their memories and share hope for the coming days. These librarians also saw the need to keep tens of thousands of plastic bags out of the landfills and saw the need of the homeless community members who could use a sleeping mat to provide a little comfort in the midst of their struggles.

Your challenge this week: visit your closest public library. Look at their programs brochures and see what all they have to offer. Find ways you can support the community programs they have designed to reach out to others in your town. Check out a good book or a movie while you are there. It’s a free way to try out new authors or reconnect with one of your favorites.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

The Teens I Know

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.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to 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 a group of people that I know quite well because I’m a Mom. I’m going to talk about teenagers. Go ahead and laugh…what a crazy subject, right?

But teens truly play an important role in our society. We see them speaking out on many social and political issues. We see them taking a stand in their communities, stepping up and volunteering in local, national and international organizations, and developing new products that have the potential to truly save lives.

So, teens are definitely worth looking to see. I’m not going to talk about teens in general, though. I’m going to talk about some teens that have become very special to me because they are friends with my son.

They are amazing teens in my eyes, but they are also very average as teenagers go. They are very “normal” in so many ways—they need a lot of snacks, like caffeine in a variety of forms (coffee, sodas, etc.,)—are constantly either moving, talking, or napping—they know a lot about fashion, but their choices in clothes for the day often reflect comfy rather than trendy. Some of them aced the ACT, and some of them struggled with it. Some of them can work any math problem you hand them, and some of them avoid math as much as possible. There are both readers and writers, artists and comedians in the group. The shy ones surprise me at times when they are laughing and talking as much as the others. The more social ones surprise me at times with their reflectiveness. You know what I’m talking about if you are around teens much.

I’m not around these teens a lot, but I have gotten to know them through some time spent around a local community group and through my son. They’ve been over to the house for a crazy camp out. They’ve bowed for applause together in local plays. They’ve let me know who is vegan and who can’t have dairy and who eats gluten free. I know who needs a ride from time to time and who is always late. I know a few of the Moms and a couple of Dads.

So, ok, teenagers…is this group of people really worth a podcast episode. To me they are. Why? Because so many in this group are misunderstood in today’s society. I’m speaking for the ones that aren’t currently being heard. I’m an ally for this group of kids… this group of transgender teens.

Yes, you heard me correctly…transgender teens. Being a life-long learner, I have been reading everything I can about the transgender community and individuals who walk among us who have declared that they are no longer living as the gender assigned to them at birth.

When I first started to learn about what it truly means to be transgender, I found a lot of misinformation. So, how do I know it’s misinformation? Well, I’m currently teaching a critical writing class to teens. In the class, I teach the students how to identify accurate sources when doing research on a topic. I tell them to look and see the credentials of the person sharing the information. Do they work in the field you are researching? Do they represent an organization that works in the field you are researching? Do they offer actual data instead of opinions? Do they give you the sources of their data—sources you can then verify yourself? Are the sources professional sources in the field?

Why does all of this matter? Well, let me give you an example before I go back and talk more about the teens. Any emotional person connected to an event is certainly qualified to give you their opinion … an eyewitness to a tragedy, a grieving parent, a victim. We need to hear their stories. I don’t ever want to silence anyone. I read many blogs and follow many sites that offer personal accounts on a variety of topics. However, most of the posts that I read are just that…personal, emotional accounts. They teach me a lot about human experiences and perspectives, and I certainly grow a lot because I read them.

However, if that’s all I read about a topic, then I am possibly missing a lot of information. For example, I listened to a college student talk about the trauma of being raped on her college campus. I was able to glimpse the emotional pain she still carried with her. I read posts by a Mom whose teen has faced cancer and had her life forever altered by the damage caused by the very chemo that saved her life. I had no idea how long the effects from chemo could last.

But if I stop by reading these two posts, I certainly am not qualified to make a statement about rape on campuses or about surviving childhood cancer. If I want to really understand these issues, I need to dig further and go to professionals in the field and find verifiable statistics about rape on campuses and about lifelong effects of some life-saving cancer treatments. I have to read data from professionals in the law enforcement field, in the victims’ advocacy field. I have to find medical professionals writing about childhood cancers.

I go to the sources to gain a deeper understanding of the issue. It’s not that I don’t believe the personal accounts…actually, it’s just the opposite. I believe the people I listened to and want to educate myself on the issue so I can better understand how to support these individuals and how to respond to them with compassion and how to help bring about changes that may benefit others. What would bring about change? What groups should I support to bring about change? what research can I donate to? What family support groups can I volunteer with or donate to?

So why am I telling you all of this before I talk about transgender teens? Because we base a lot of our beliefs about transgender people on emotional testimony alone and on misinformation that stems from those statements. Many people aren’t looking at the information from medical professionals, psychologists, or professional organizations that work with transgender people. We are taking information from a religious source alone or from an individual who says they personally thought they were transgender but really weren’t, trying to lead us all to believe, therefore, that no one is really transgender.

So, first, I met some wonderful transgender teens through a community group in my hometown. I’m guessing I knew transgender people in my past, but none that were open about their lives. I heard rumors about people, but I never asked questions or tried to engage anyone. I stayed in my own little safe world and minded my own business, which is what I was taught was the best way to live as a Southern woman.

Even when I had a family die of AIDS in 1993, no one close to me talked very openly about the LGBTQ community. Then I made a few friends while getting my master’s degree who were part of the LGBTQ community…people who were fun to be around, good students to study with, loyal friends. I babysat for some single mothers who also happened to be lesbians who had adopted children. These women were such amazingly good moms and were mentors to me in some ways as I struggled with an abusive marriage and so much confusion around what my career path would be.

But, really, after I graduated, I retreated back into my own world of church life and family struggles and eventually children of my own.

But then I opened my eyes and opened my heart and realized that I was going to miss out on knowing some wonderful people if I turned my back on someone just because they are different than me.

What I loved most about these kids I met was how much grace they showed me as I was learning about what it means to them to be transgender. If you are caring and respectful to this group I met, they will return that respect.

So here’s a few things I learned. I’m not going to quote all of the sources here. I’ll try to link to some when I post this on my WordPress blog. I’ll mention my sources here, of course, because I don’t believe conversations can occur without people quoting from reliable sources that can be cross checked by others in the conversation.

  • I’ve learned that science tells us that people are born transgender. This isn’t some new trend to come out and change your identity. There’s a lot of researchthat states that hormone levels of the mother can affect the gender identity of the child. Science also tells us that our “outside” sex organs develop early—by the end of the first trimester. Brain sexuality isn’t developed until the end of the second or the beginning of the third trimester. There are differences in our brain structure that direct our gender identity—our internal sense of whether we are a boy or a girl. Gender isn’t defined just by our visible sex organs. Gender involves our sex chromosomes, internal sex organs, outside parts, hormones, and brain sexuality. This is just a quick bit of information offered here, but you can find Harvard research studies and many othersthat back this up.
  • I’ve learned that Judaism—even in ancient times—recognizes at least five genders. There are even six genders in the Jewish Mishnah and Talmud. God created day and night (and many times between–dawn, dusk, high noon, darkest midnight, and lands that see days and nights stretch on for months at a time); God created land and water (and many forms between–marshy areas, quicksand, swamps, deserts, ocean floors); God created male and female (and many gender expressions between).
  • I’ve learned that many transgender children are now being vocalabout who they are at a very early age.
  • I’m not going into Scripture here or sexuality in depth because sexual identity is different from gender identity, but you can read a book titled Unclobberedthat goes into depth about our misuse of the Bible on the topic of homosexuality. Oh, I also learned that the word homosexual wasn’t in the Bible until a translation in 1946. In Corinthians, the word we translate as homosexual technically translates as “soft man” and in other places in the Bible this is translated as “a soft man who has not earned his place, but has inherited his wealth without working hard and still doesn’t work hard.” There are only six verses that we today translate as anything to do with being gay, and two are in Leviticus. None of us live by Leviticus. It’s a sin to eat any shellfish, it’s a sin to be in the room with a woman menstruating, Leviticus calls for all debts to be forgiven every Jubilee year. We can’t wear woven cloth made from two types of fabric—so all of our clothes purchased in stores that aren’t pure cotton are sinful according to Leviticus.

 

Why tell you this? Because we are doing serious harm in our nation when we misunderstand gender identity. I have walked past signs telling transgender teens they are going to hell. I have read too many news stories about bullying and high suicide rates among the transgender community. People are murdered just because they are transgender. And people fear them just because they don’t have information to understand.

These teens I’ve gotten to know are amazing. They are smart and strong and funny and talented and loyal to each other and compassionate and leaders and also just teens. They are beautifully and wonderfully made. Let’s look to see the transgender people in our communities. Have a meal with a teen. Go see a play by a queer theater group. Read books such as Becoming Nicole; Being Jazz; Transgender History; or Redefining Realness.

Let’s don’t cause harm to others just because we don’t understand someone with a different identity than our own. Let’s don’t fear what we don’t understand. Instead, reach out and look to see the reality of others. I’m glad I have.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.