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. 

Guest Blogger: A Voice of Awareness

In honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I am sharing this blog (with permission) written by a survivor. Every journey is different. Every voice weaves another thread into the story of abuse and violence that so many face daily. For some, their lives are taken at the hands of their abusers. For others, they are still looking for a way out. The survivors find the courage to begin again…to start a new journey…to find a way to heal…to find a way to share their stories and take action that can end domestic abuse forever for all people…
by: Awnya Kenny (guest blogger)
 
    A narcissist is a person who will never hold themselves accountable for their actions. They will shift the blame on others, such as their victim, their circumstances and or even the devil. No matter what it is they have done or not done, it is the fault of everything else. A narc will not own it or take the blame for their actions, and they will never apologize.
    A narc will manipulate their victims in simple ways at first. The victim is always wrong; they are “jokingly” told how they don’t know what they are talking about…the way they remember things are wrong…the way they do things, wrong. No matter what it is they say or do, where or how they shop or worship, wrong. OR could be better. The victim is not living up to their potential. Every aspect is wrong no matter how hard they try. It is easy for a narc to manipulate people, mainly because of how others perceive the narc. It must be the victim. The victim really must have their heart on their sleeve.
    Mental abuse is as severe and savage as physical abuse. Some will argue this point. I get that, but being a victim of both, I, after just learning what “Narcissistic Abuse” is, would have to say that narcissistic abuse is so much worse.
    A narc is a very devious form of mental abuse. Mainly because every one of a narcs’ actions is justified in their minds; they are usually “backed up” by their family members who will stand up for the narc. Thus, helping the narc to further “shame” the victim, publicly or privately–in every form or fashion–and God forbid the victims try to stand up for themselves.
    A narc will go out of their way to make sure people see their victims as “ify” or “shady.” For example, they can have something “major” happen in their life and if their victim is not right by their side, they and their family are fast to jump all over the victim. However, they may not include the fact that they themselves have done the same exact thing to their victim! Let me explain here. I had a surgery; my narc had gotten mad at me, I’m still to this day not sure why, but the narc stopped talking to me before my surgery, didn’t call or text after my surgery to check on me. Nothing. But they themselves had a surgery and I was attacked on Facebook by his sisters for not being there for him. He even told me that he was disappointed I wasn’t there.
    Have I stepped on toes? I hope not; my intentions are to step on the throats of narcissists everywhere. I want to make people aware of this form of emotional abuse. To this day, I am in counseling, but I still wonder if my abuser meant to be an abuser. If I am looking too far into the way things in our relationship went. I was chastised for calling/texting too much. Then, I would wait for him to call/text me, but when he did it was, “why haven’t I heard from you?” Or if I really needed to talk to him, I would say, “I am sorry for bothering you, but will you please call me when you get a chance?” In a “normal” relationship, people don’t apologize for that sort of thing. Sometimes he would call me, but usually he would “forget.”
    The term “Narcissistic Abuse Disorder” has come to have a very deep meaning for me personally and a couple of my remaining acquaintances. Now that my eyes are open to this type of abuse, I can see how people suffer so horribly because of it. See, I always blamed me, while going through this and after. When my narc decided he wanted out of the relationship again, he said (and I quote), “I can’t be the type of man you need, I want to be the type of man that my daughter deserves.” That hit me deep. At that point, I “wanted too much, needed too much. Was too demanding. Wore my heart on my sleeve and took everything too personally. I needed more counseling, I wasn’t “Christian” enough.” I was so alone. My friends/family meant nothing to him, so I shied away from them. I was isolated and alone.
    Let me go back and say a few things that I have since learned. First of all, a narc will use guilt, fear and shame to weaken their victims. You are never aware of what is going on until the damage is done. Oh sure, like me, you might realize you are dating a narcissist, but you never know the abuse is going on until they finally decide that you are no longer an asset. I stopped giving money. I stopped taking time or waiting at the house. I stopped texting/calling and started pointing out the fact that if I did call or text, I was always in the wrong for doing so. I had tried to make the split amicable. I continued to go to the church HE made me go to in “order to spend time together” because he never had enough time to spend with me any other times. I never received birthday presents, had to pay for my own birthday dinners…he never had to and he got birthday presents. The last year and final year we were together was the first time I had ever gotten a Christmas present from him. I was supporting three kids without child support. He had two jobs and his daughter was grown, so he wasn’t paying child support.
   
    Being a victim or Narcissistic Abuse is kind of like being bitten by a spider… you never really feel it until the poison is in your blood.
    A narc really doesn’t care about you or anything you are going through. My narc looked me dead in the eye, two days after my father passed away and told me I didn’t know how to mourn a father! I mean NOTHING I did was right. The pastor of the church TOLD me I needed to leave the relationship, even with the narc being a Sunday school teacher. Who watched (and was open about it with certain individuals at church) porn. Had a gambling problem. He went to a Bible College and was an ordained (but not preaching) minister! So, I was quick to take the blame for everything that happened in the relationship. I was quick to see my faults, though very slow to see his.
    There is help out there. My family relationships are not that strong. I had cut ties with all my friends and none of them to this day know the level of abuse I took from this person. My best friend never liked him. OPENLY. Told me so all the time. Even though I agreed with her reasoning, I was at fault (in my own mind, because I never told him) for her not liking him. Even though I was telling her the truth, I thought that maybe I had put too much emphasis on the things he did. But I didn’t. I didn’t put enough! I have staggered through this healing process and I am still learning. I am doing it alone, except for the one day, one hour a week counseling that I go to.
    But, I do not suggest this to just anyone because I get so suicidal. The only thing that keeps me from killing myself, is that I don’t want my kids to find me dead in the home that I worked so hard to pay off. Their home. But I do imagine all sorts of different things killing me.
I’m working on a FREE way for others of this form of abuse to all get together and share and heal. because there is strength in numbers! There is healing within sharing!
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 New International Version Bible
(From Chris: Thank you for the courage to share your voice and your story! You are wonderful and courageous and strong!)

Tell Your Story

Someone asked me once why I liked to write in first person. It’s because the story belongs to the person who lived it. The truth about a life should first be told by the one whose truth it is. Then we may share the story to bring it into the global conversation—to weave it into our communal history. I, as the writer, merely empower the characters to tell their own truths.

From Without a Voice:

first person quote

Love Heals

Thistle Farms in Nashville has a quote that they use a lot. “Love heals.” That is such a powerful statement even though it seems so simple. What does that mean? For me, yesterday brought two perfect examples.

First, my best friend in Nashville sent me a beautiful picture for my wall. She became my best friend because we loved each other enough to listen to the life story of the other. We are nothing alike and many times she confesses that my story is so hard for her to understand. She’s happily married-I was married to an abuser who still creates problems in my life. She lives comfortably. I struggle financially because of the past and because of current medical bills for my daughters. The list of our differences goes on. But when I am struggling the most, her “love heals” because she never gives up on me.

Second, when I sent out an announcement about my book, I had someone email back saying she had lost contact with me because she knew of some of the challenges in my life but had no idea what to say. It was awkward for her. But now the conversation is started. She told me what she knew, and I told her what would have helped. Silence hurt. Love heals.

I hope the characters in my novel, Without a Voice, help paint that picture of how love does heal. That includes loving ourselves enough to take the first steps to healing!

Make a Change: Let’s Talk about Domestic Violence

Make a Change: Let’s Talk about Domestic Violence

I’m using my voice as an author and a parent to continue conversations that often start because of a news report. Without a Voice, a novel set in the 1840s, tells the story of Sarah, a young wife leaving domestic violence. She travels across three states with her young daughters as they learn about their own strengths and abilities, and as they discover a new life with family and friends. I encourage you to use some of the thoughts in this book to start or continue conversations concerning domestic violence in our communities.

Who are the people affected by domestic abuse?

We are …

  • Musicians and Videographers
  • Teachers and Parents
  • Writers and Artists
  • Executives and Reporters
  • Retail Employees
  • Accountants and Chefs
  • Among many other titles …

We are from…

  • Small towns
  • Large cities
  • From Collierville and Byhalia and Chicago and L.A. and Paducah and Jackson
  • From Texas and Wyoming and Vermont and D.C.
  • From the middle class, the working class and the wealthy
  • From universities where we earned our master’s degrees
  • And from colleges where we got a two-year degree…
  • And from high schools where we barely got by…

 Our families look a lot like yours with…

  • With kids
  • Or now empty nesters
  • With 4 bedrooms and 3.5 baths
  • With a two-bedroom fixer-upper
  • In the suburbs
  • Or downtown
  • With a garage
  • Or on the bus route
  • Or in a biking community…

Our faith shapes us … We are …

  • Christian, Jews, Muslims…
  • The person who walks in to worship weekly
  • The person who hasn’t been in a while
  • The person you know well
  • The person who just says hello and walks on
  • The person you prayed with or prayed for
  • The person who leads worship
  • Or teaches a class
  • Or reads the Scripture

But we face abuse…daily, weekly, whenever our abuser lashes out at us…

We stay because…

We are scared…

We are weary…

We don’t have access to any resources…

We can’t afford a lawyer…

We wonder what you will think of us…

We believe the lies…

We don’t have a place to live…

Our abuser has befriended our family and friends…you like him…

Our church expects me to carry this cross…

My children will have a broken home…

My abuser controls the money and the car and the house…

My abuser knows where I am every minute of every day….

I think it’s my fault…If I was a better person…

You tell me all couples fight…

My abusers apologizes…

I don’t know how to leave…

CAN YOU HEAR US?

Will you believe us?

Will you help us find safe places to tell our stories?

Will you listen without judgement?

Will you locate and support community resources for victims of domestic violence?

Will you keep brochures in your church or your office or your community center?

Will you stand by us as we journey through courts and through applications and relocations, as we journey to safety and healing?

We you tell us we are strong enough and wise enough and courageous enough to do what is necessary to be free from abuse?

 Understand that…

….the court process can be lengthy and challenging…

…our abusers are controlling and don’t want to lose control…

…our abusers may lie, even in court…

…our attorneys may not understand domestic abuse…

…judges may not listen at times…

 Our abusers may …

  • Manipulate our children
  • Steal our resources
  • Draw out the process so we run out of funds
  • Manipulate family and friends
  • Lie about everything
  • Apologize and beg for forgiveness
  • Bring gifts and flowers
  • Claim a need for mercy due to an illness or condition
  • Blame everyone else for the problem

How can families and friends become more aware of what domestic abuse looks like and what steps can be taken to help a victim leave the abuse? Check local resources to see what may already be available in your community. Find a local support group. Also tap into national resources.

Churches and nonprofit groups—do your part. Post small signs in bathrooms (beside sinks or on the back of stall doors) to let people know that help is available for victims of any type of abuse. Post numbers of local agencies that can provide help or information. If those agencies have small brochures, keep them handy with your other information on grief, depression, etc.

 Be a voice to end abuse!

 www.chrispepple.com

Tennessee author Chris Pepple announces release of Without a Voice

Chris Pepple, published author from Germantown, Tenn., announces the release of her fifth book, Without a Voice. WITHOUT A VOICE takes you on a journey across three states in the 1840s, traveling with Sarah and her daughters as they learn about their own strengths and abilities, and as they discover a new life with family and friends.

Sarah’s younger brother knows that she hides a secret, and he wants to help her break free from the pain she is hiding from others. Sarah wonders, though, if she is courageous enough to break the chains that tie her to a life of suffering and sorrow. She fears that she is not strong enough to care for her two young daughters alone.

“Writing this book has been a very meaningful experience for me,” says Pepple. “I was honored to have these characters share their voices with me and allow me to write them down for you. These voices are part of a larger story—the story of the voices that can’t share the hurts and fears that are hidden behind closed doors. There are so many hardships that people never know how to discuss. I hope this book opens the door for some healing conversations to take place.

“Writing Without a Voice changed my life because I was finally able to share the voice of so many women I know who have lived without a chance to tell their stories. I also found my own voice with this book. Of course, this book is 100% fictional, so no one person’s story makes up Without a Voice; no one character represents one person.

“Well, there is one historical character—I love to uncover stories from the past that I have never heard before. When my own daughter became interested in developing her artistic talents, I decided to research the lives of early American artists. I ran across the works of George Caleb Bingham and decided to weave him into this story. His paintings told the story of so many people from his time, so I wanted him to help me tell this story. Besides being a painter who really lived in Arrow Rock, Missouri, the other parts of his life were fictionalized to fit this work. But I challenge you to look up his works and to visit the actual town of Arrow Rock. You might be surprised by what you find.”

When asked about Without a Voice compared to her previous works, Pepple responded, “I really grew as an author when writing this book. I listened to my characters more and let them guide me. I was also less timid as a writer with this book.”

“There are moments in life that define us, set us on a new course that we had never even dreamed of. Sometimes those moments begin when an unexpected person finds their voice. Sometimes it begins when we decide to listen.” (Chapter 1)

 

voice book cover 1

Chris Pepple is a motivational speaker, published author, and freelance writer with articles regularly appearing in national and international publications. She has five published books, including a book she uses in her writing classes for children and teens. She has a writing degree from the University of Memphis and a master’s degree from Emory University. She lives in Tennessee with her two daughters. www.chrispepple.com