When Pencils Move: A Short Story for Mothers

I found an older short story of mine and thought I would share it here: 

While Pencils Move

               It’s that time of day again. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. The laundry smells fresh from the scent of my fabric softener I used this morning. A warm spinach and feta cheese aroma lingers in the kitchen from our pizza we completely devoured. The cats have settled into their comfy spots for an afternoon siesta. My children are stretched out in the floor in front of me. One has an open math book. The other one has her history book opened to a section on World War II. She is reading and taking notes.

               These moments are times I cherish. I look over my computer screen and watch my children learning and growing. I remember when their legs didn’t stretch out this far. I also remember when their homework involved mostly coloring or cutting and gluing. Now they think intensely as the wrinkle their brows over historical facts and mathematical fractions.

               I close my eyes for a moment and listen to the sounds of their pencils moving across their papers. I wait for this sound every weekday afternoon. To me it is a sound of togetherness and stillness. The sound of pencils moving across paper ties me to the memories of their earliest days of learning. I picture myself writing a letter on lined paper and asking them to copy my work. With wiggly lines, they began the assignment. We clapped when they completed the task.

               Now they don’t need me as much. They start and complete most tasks on their own. I am more of an observer and a motivator these days. Occasionally my children get stuck on a problem and call my name. I can tell when that is about to happen. First, one of the pencils stops moving across the paper. I glance in that direction, careful not to jump in too quickly. I watch the eyes and brows to see if tension rises or clarity pops in. If tension rises, soon I will hear, “Mom, can you help me for a minute.”  I move over and look at the problem. We chat for a minute about the question at hand. Then I hear, “OK, I’ve got it now.” That’s my cue to move back to my seat so the pencil can move freely across the paper again.

These moments never last long enough for me. I want to sit next to them for hours as they conquer the challenges before them. But all too soon I must move from the scene to start dinner or pay bills or take a phone call from a client. The mail waits to be opened. The flowers need watering. I need to check in with a friend and a few relatives who need a call. Sometimes the moment ends when one child gets restless and can’t sit any longer. They usually don’t admit that. Instead they provoke the other child into an argument so they can claim to be the victim and get a break.

But when I hear the sound of pencils moving across paper, I feel a sense of peace and hope. I feel secure about their futures for a moment. I can set aside my worries that arise each time I hear a news report about another mass shooting or teen who died while texting and driving. I can stop worrying about how I will pay for their college tuition. I relax and soak up the moment as we all sit in one room with our minds exploring new thoughts or new approaches to the past.

I hope when I am older, they return home for a visit and sit next to me with pencils in hand. I will ask them to jot down to-do lists or items I need from the store. They may need to write dates of appointments on my calendar for me. They will think I am old-fashioned for not putting it all on a computer. They may also think that the tasks are mundane. But as they write, I know that I will close my eyes and pictures all of our moments together when they were younger and I heard pencils moving across the paper.        

©Chris Pepple 2013 (This story may be forwarded or reproduced with credit given to Chris Pepple as author. This story may not be sold or edited by any other person other than the original author.)             

Cultivating…new opportunities

I can’t believe how quickly the month of February has gone by. I’ve been working on being my best self for two months now. It’s a journey that has many twists and turns. It’s a journey with both humbling moments and much joy. In processing who I am outside of who others have told me I was and outside of “the boxes” society tries to put us in, I have found that I can open myself up to new opportunities that I had never considered before.  These opportunities have come in the form of what I teach, where I speak, what I read, and what I write. They have come in the form of where I choose to shop or what I choose to eat.

Thanks to a friend’s advice, I’ve eaten raw honey. I’ve hiked new paths. I’ve learned that I like to cook fresh veggies. I’ve discovered flavors of hot tea that I like. I’ve found aromatherapy lotion that makes my hands feel so much better. They are usually so dry all winter. I’ve found new neighborhoods to explore. Last month, I picked up a used book by an author that I had never read before. I’m even starting season three of my podcast soon with a new approach to familiar topics and found new freelance opportunities for writing.

Sometimes in life we have to look for the “newness.” We have to open up to new ways and new possibilities. It’s not that we have to get rid of the old. Many things and many people are worth hanging on to. But we can’t stop growing and learning. We shouldn’t stop exploring and hoping and dreaming. It’s when I explore and grow that I find new joys and new aspects of myself that I had never known before. I rediscover interests and talents that I had packed away years before.

This poem was in my first poetry book and addresses both my personal growth and my spirituality that I explore as I grow. I hope you are “awakening” this year to new opportunities.

In Celebration of Our Awakening

We awaken from our deep slumbers
arising from long winters
which buried us in sorrows and burdens
that froze our soul
and in this season our spirit hibernated
out of the instinct for survival
but now we awaken
and rediscover ourselves—
we find in us a child
celebrating dawn as if it were the first…
we find in us a lover
embracing all things beloved in us and around us…
we find in us a warrior
charging forth with courage
as if no one could stand in our way…
and we discover our roots
which seek out sustenance
as they are caressed by the rich soil
through which they move
and we celebrate our new growth
as we reach up to you, Holy Mother,
and we feel your warming powers
which have awakened us this day.

–Chris Pepple ©2019

Cultivating…new thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultivating…new relationships

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

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

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

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

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

So, on to more cultivating new relationships in life!

My Word for 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sensory Sensitive Christmas

Christmas tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Just a Day Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a Day Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.chrispepple.com

In Memory…

In Memory of Rep. Elijah Cummings…

 

In Memory…

As we say good-bye, know that

the footprints from your courage

and truth will lead us forward

and your voice will linger

with us still,

calling us to all things

that are right and good

and whispering the words

of hope and justice

that you carried with you

on your journey as a leader

in times when others

wanted their own

comfort and prejudices

to rule the land…

and we will write your name

in the books that tell of

a nation that finds our way back to

being a country that shines the light

for all who face the terrors of hate

and who face the weariness of

oppression and all who

shed the tears from losses

that came from the greed or

carelessness of others…

and we will speak your name

as we shout out proclamations

of renewal and long fought for hope

and as we remember the light bearers

and the courage carriers…

so find your eternal peace and

know that we will pick up here

from where you left off and we will

forge a way through the lies and disrespect

and find you smiling from above as

we see the hope you left behind

to guide us along our way…

–Chris Pepple ©2019

Accountability Voices

Just a note to get us thinking about whiteness and Christianity… yesterday at a Pride event I attended, a white middle-aged male calling himself Christian walked through the crowds…he was well dressed and had a Bible verse on his t-shirt…he came for one purpose only…to protest. How did he choose to do that? He yelled at people walking past him–mean language and condemnation of people he had never met…he spit on people–yes, spit–people who were just having a fun day at a family-friendly event.

What was happening at Pride? Autozone was there handing out free chips…someone gave out free sno-cones…bands were playing…people were giving hugs and stickers and candy…I met a grandmother who brought her grandson…my son ran around with a lot of his friends…a group of Blue Suede Sisters helped me pick out a birthday present for Augie…Moe’s sold burritos and chips and queso…somebody was selling pasta…several churches were there giving encouragement…music was good…I got free sunglasses and a tote bag and a frisbee and treats for my dogs from Hollywood Feed…Suntrust bank gave out lots of fun things…vendors sold everything from soap to shirts to food to hats…

So whatever you think happens at Pride…well…there you go…

But that’s beside the point…as wonderful as the day was, this man spit on people and told everyone around him that we were all going to hell…

So, friends of mine who are white and Christian, let’s hold each other accountable…let’s make sure people know that’s not what Christianity looks like…and let’s be clear what our privilege looks like. This nice looking white man was NOT arrested for yelling at kids, making preteens cry, and spitting on youth.

He calls it his right to protest…well, many of you called for BLM protestors who peacefully blocked traffic for a moment to be arrested (and they have been given indictments) and for Colin Kaepernick to be fired and banned because he took a knee for his beliefs…yet this man can spit on people and have no serious consequences…can show up at his job on Monday…can go to church today and be applauded…

He calls it his right to live out his beliefs as a Christian…yet when other Christians want to support the rights for others to live freely and we stand with refugees and we speak out against racism, you tell us we can’t live out our religious beliefs…

He spit on people…he yelled…yes, he was eventually made to leave, but he wasn’t arrested…if a gay person had come to a Christian prayer walk and spit on anyone, they would have been arrested and possibly hit or harmed by people there….if a black man spit on white children at the fair, he would have faced serious consequences…

No one at Pride fought back or spit back…we are used to the “yelling Christians,” but for those of us who call our selves Christians….well, we need to speak out….and for us white people…we need to hold people like him accountable…he needs consequences…what is demanded for others in the name of justice, we need to demand for people like “this nice white man who wanted the right to protest and live out his religious beliefs.”

There you go…I love you all…hugs for everyone…and thanks for reading…please think about this…because I love the people who were spit on…and I have no tolerance for anyone hurting others…