A Poem: Anyway

Anyway

When I felt broken

and invisible and was dismayed, 

you reached out anyway. 

I have no words to ever repay, 

but I will say thank you

to the one who loved me anyway…

the one who saw me through,

and believed in me

and believed me

and saw me

and reached out your hand

and held on

and embodied grace and love

and spoke louder than the pain

and refused to fear my scars

and refused to chatter away

with the gossipers erasing truth

and constructing tales that fit

their life’s narrative rather than mine

Thank you…

to the one who loved me anyway.

When we feel broken,

love anyway.

–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

In the Middle

I’m sitting here in the middle waiting for you to join me at the table…

I’m in the middle hoping to protect all police officers as you asked…are you willing to stand with me as I work to protect black lives?

I’m in the middle hearing you say that you want to worship and hold on to your religious beliefs from your tradition…are you willing to allow me to worship and believe according to my traditions?

I’m in the middle hearing you say that you never want an LGBTQ+ person in your home or church…are you willing to give me the right to have them marry in my church and live freely without threats from you in public spaces?

I’m in the middle serving you in restaurants and in stores even though we disagree on many things…are you willing to serve me and all of my friends in your bakeries and restaurants and stores?

I’m here in the middle hearing you declare your love for your homeland…can you hear me say that I also love our country even though I see our imperfections and am working to make us a place that is safe for all people including you?

I’m here in the middle sitting at the community table with my friends and family who are Native American, Black, gay, lesbian, transgender, white, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, mixed race, nonbinary, refugee, immigrant, Southern, young, old

Rocks and Watermelon Seeds

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

**

Rocks and Watermelon Seeds

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

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

**

ROCKS AND WATERMELON SEEDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

Happy Pride Month

Happy #pride month…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Was Me

It Was Me

I am the one that 

was raised to be

part of the problem…

who was raised to stay 

on the white side of the street

and who was raised to label 

everyone in conversations…

“the black family on the street”

“the Muslims one street over”

“the Jews who live in the cove”

“that Indian man who owns the store.”

I learned all the assumed adjectives…

lazy, cheater, thug, thief, 

will steal you blind…

and I learned that people 

hired you for cheap labor

but never appreciated your work…

Then I met you…it was a new world…

you were smarter than me in trig class…

you tutored me, you taught me about life…

you were the coach of my team…

you doctored me back to health…

you befriended me…

you were there when I cried…

you taught me to get back up…

I learned your history and saw

everything wonderful and strong about you…

and I had to live with the fact that I 

never spoke up before now…

I was raised to be part of the problem…

my silence allowed your beatings and death…

the labels stripped you of your seat at the table…

the lies about you took away your hopes and dreams…

And my silence never brought change…

But I promise you now

I will roar for you

and film the wrongdoing

and call out the racism

and name it

and pray for change

and work for change

and be the change

though it will never

bring lost ones back to life

or heal the wounds from beatings

or restore all that you have lost…

but I will lose the labels

offer respect

fight for justice

and never be silent again.

–Chris Pepple ©2020

The Belief Came Tumbling Down

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

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

Your belief just came tumbling down… 

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

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

I believe in the sacred worth of all people…

I believe that love heals and love wins…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deeper Conversations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.