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.

***

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. 

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

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?

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.

Redefining Family

The word “family” can stir up wonderful memories for many people. Thoughts of holidays with loved ones, family photos to celebrate one member’s milestones in life, or simple summer afternoons sharing a picnic or a game. That same word, however, brings up a longing in others—a hope to one day reunite with a loved one. A hope that a family member may change and become more loving. A hope to feel loved and connected to others. Some of us often grieve over the word family—grieve for members who have died, grieve for those who face hardships or illnesses, grieve for those who left, grieve for those who hurt us rather than love us.

When “family” is something we lost or must leave, how do move forward? Do we toss out the idea of ever being a part of a family again? Can we redefine what family means to us or redefine who we consider our family?

The characters in Without a Voice faced these questions as they struggled with the emotional challenges of losing family members and leaving family members. Some quotes from the characters give you a glimpse of how they redefined family as they journeyed forward:

“The images of my mother and father seemed like ghosts that I could see but not grasp. I realized that my parents were now just memories. The people before me were my family now. Together we had redefined home with each place we stopped along our way. We never said aloud that we loved each other, but, somehow, we knew the feeling was there.”

“Uncertainty still loomed ahead, but facing the unknown with loved ones seemed more hopeful. Love eases so many fears. Jane reached out and squeezed my hand as if she could read my thoughts. Together would be much better than alone.”

“I smiled at the thought of being a part of this group that had bonded like family. We were strangers thrown together by the sheer coincidence of location on our separate journeys—different needs on the same road.”

If you are part of a book club reading Without a Voice, discuss the theme of family and how the theme evolves throughout the book. If you journal, write down your thoughts of how we redefine family as we face the changes life brings us.

With Eyes Wide Open

With my eyes wide open, I saw your post about the overweight woman in the gym, about the “losers” on welfare, about the older woman with dry skin still wearing sandals with her cracked skin on her heels exposed, about the shoes a female political candidate was wearing, about the “riff raff” who can’t get insurance, about the fake news you were spreading without checking other sources, about the immigrants that you have never even talked to, about the gay people you think are trying to destroy your faith, about the transgender people you think are trying to harm people in bathrooms…

With my eyes wide open, I looked for your posts about trying to stop sexual abuse on college campuses, but I didn’t see one. I looked for your posts about ending domestic abuse, but I didn’t see one. I looked for your posts saying you were meeting with scared, pregnant young women to sit with them and talk with them about their options, but I only saw your post judging them because they considered abortion.

With my eyes wide open, I looked for your post that says you talked with many of us who are uninsured to discuss why we are insured and ways this nation may help families who are struggling. I just saw your posts about hoping you save money. I looked for your posts about stopping fake news and getting back to truth. I just saw your posts that repeated falsehoods that made you feel comfortable.

With my eyes wide open, I looked for your posts that said you sat with immigrants to hear their life stories. I only saw your posts about “radicals” who you think are trying to kill us all. I looked for your posts that said you sought out this nation’s hurting people so you could comfort them and spread love. I only saw your judgments.

With my eyes wide open, I looked for the invitation to the table you share with others…it never arrived…