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. 

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

Healthcare and Humanity

If you care about mission work, then you should care about making sure every person in this country has access to medical care. That’s a local mission opportunity–to bring healing.

If you care about ending domestic violence, you should care about making sure women (and men) and children who leave abusive relationships can have access to healthcare.

If you care about the dignity of our elders, you should care enough to make sure they have healthcare no matter what their life circumstances are.

If you believe life is sacred, then you should make sure that every infant born can then be cared for.

If you love your community, your state, your country, care enough to sure make people in it have the chance to be healthy so they can all live up to their fullest potential.

If you care about mental health, make it accessible.

If you care about persons who have disabilities, you should care enough to make sure they can live as healthy a life as possible.

If you care about ending drug addictions, make rehab accessible.

If you care about our teens, make sure they have medical coverage.

If you volunteer to teach someone to read, but don’t also fight to get them medical coverage, have you ministered to the whole person? If you donate to a shelter for temporary housing, but you don’t fight for healthcare so people can be healthy enough to change their circumstances, have you completed the mission at hand?

Healthcare needs are woven into many of our needs in this nation…fighting crime, ending poverty, ending abuse, improving mental health, aiding those who fight addictions, improving the lives of our children, enriching the lives of all people who have disabilities, respecting our elders and providing them with a better quality of life than many face….

Yes, tutor kids
Yes, donate to shelters
Yes, visit a nursing home
Yes, mentor a teen….
But don’t stop there…. fight for what will truly help change people’s lives…fight for healing, fight for health-mental, physical and emotional, fight for testing, fight for answers!

Providing healthcare can be done. It takes all of us to agree that this should be the goal. Then we can talk about how to achieve this goal successfully. It will take sacrifices on all sides. But we have the wisdom and the courage in this nation to find out how to make it work. We have to drop party labels and religious labels and personal labels and come to the conversation with the common goal because it is the right thing to do.

Domestic Abuse: An open letter to judges, lawyers and anyone who will listen

This month is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. I want to write to tell you a few facts that many people don’t know. Most people wonder why victims struggle so much trying to leave abuse. Finances play a huge role in a person’s ability to move on from domestic abuse and truly survive and raise children. Here’s what I would like for you to know:

Only 41 percent of single mothers receive the child support they are owed! Only 41 percent according to the Pew Research Center. Judges, courts, legal system…why is this true? Please tell me we can do better than this and reform our system, fighting for people who don’t have the resources to fight for their own rights.

According to a Huffington Post 2015 article, the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the number of casualties lost during war.

Women are held captive in domestic abuse through physical abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse or a combination of all three.

Relating to financial abuse, Ludy Green (in her book Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide to Economic Freedom) talks about the overwhelming power of financial abuse. Part of that continues through attempting to get child support.

Here’s one woman’s documented journey through trying to get child support:

Upon the divorce, this woman was awarded custody and child support of a set amount per month for two children who both had special medical needs. Her domestic abuser (DA) was to also pay half of their medical expenses and for their dental insurance. The dental insurance never happened, so she added them on hers. Half of the medical expenses never happened. Since she was the one taking them in and signing them in for medical appointments, the doctors and medical technicians loaded all of the debt onto her since she brought them in and signed the form saying she understood they had to be paid if insurance did not cover the cost. So she took on medical debt.

The child support amount was only paid for a month or two—would have to look at her court records to be exact, but it soon stopped.

So, she had to pay a lawyer in 2005 to try to recover child support. She scraped together money and paid a large hourly fee and the court filing cost. She was awarded on paper several thousand dollars for back support, but on paper only because Circuit Court in her state does not automatically build in a way for collections. It is just assumed the defendant will pay. He didn’t even show up for court, much less pay. But technically she won quite a bit on paper. She didn’t know she had to file to request garnishment each and every time he switched jobs due to quitting or being fired. How would she have known that and why should she pay a fee to request what is legally owed for child support—to take care of children? And why should she have to track him and his jobs? You have access to his social security number—in five minutes you could track it and find him if you, as the court, chose to.

Now remember, retainer fees for lawyers can range between $2500 and $7500. Hourly fees can run between $250 and $500 per hour. Picking a cheaper attorney, however, can be costly, because if the attorney is inexperienced in handling abusers, the DA (domestic abuser) can come across as a great person to the attorney, and the attorney may go easy on the abuser or may not know how to get to the truth through the manipulation.

Through the years, she threatened to go back to court and would get small amounts paid, but never what was supposed to be paid and never on any regular schedule. She would often be forced to come pick it up. Mostly, nothing was paid. She never had the funds to pursue court action.

This woman saved up again the minimum needed to legally file, and eleven years later she is still in court. She was awarded on paper almost $100,000. Wow! But again, the Circuit Court judges in her state don’t automatically supply any means for that to actually be collected. To have wages garnished, she had to come up with lawyer fees again and court costs to file. Then, a DA can drag it out with modification requests and stalling tactics to run up the other party’s legal bill with the lawyer. The lawyer charges every time he/she has to talk to the opposing attorney or go to court or read material sent. It’s easy for a DA to run up the legal fees for the original victim of abuse, keeping them financially in debt and still not receiving child support owed. It happens daily.

A person has to pay court costs to get a contempt of court charge for failure to pay child support.

Things actually heard by women in court from the referees or judges:

“You don’t really want him to go to jail, do you?”

“Let’s wait and hear what he has to say about why he isn’t in court.  Let’s just see what happens.” (But the Circuit Court Judge never forced this DA to come to court—he just never had a consequence—no warrant—no forced follow up).

“Since you are trying to file without a lawyer this time, why don’t you just make a deal with his lawyer? His lawyer is a really nice guy and a reputable member of the bar.”

Since his last contempt of court thirteen months prior, this woman’s abuser has paid zero child support. She has paid attorney and court filing fees to change that. But he asks for continuances and modifications which stall out the process and allow him to continue to deny his children access to funds that they desperately need.

What are we doing to help children get the child support they deserve? What are we doing to stop domestic abusers from continuing their financial abuse? When will we listen? When will we actively work to stop the abuse the endangers children and kills more women than our wars?

Goals:

Community groups/churches/nonprofit organizations need to have funds established to help provide financial support to pay legal fees for people leaving domestic abuse and people seeking child support enforcement. There’s no excuse for child support to not be received due to an inability to pay the legal fees.

Courts need to build in an automatic enforcement clause with every child support case awarded.

Voters need to bring up these topics in the public forums and question judges about options.

Listen. Please, please, listen. Stop blaming the victims and making excuses. Listen. Hear. Make a difference.