Rocks and Watermelon Seeds

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

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Rocks and Watermelon Seeds

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

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

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ROCKS AND WATERMELON SEEDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!)
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

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.