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. 

Tables or Sides

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 safe tonight and are finding moments of peace and hope in these challenging days. 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 tables. 

I used to naively believe that there never had to be “sides.” There never had to be choosing who to stand with because I thought we could learn to stand together. I believed in tables…I believed in conversations. I believed in being a lifelong learner and being willing to hear another person’s voice, to understand another person’s life experiences.

For example, I’m not a farmer, but I can come to the table with a farmer and hear their joys and their struggles and grow from that…find ways I can be true to who I am and still find ways to help farmers be successful in their lives. 

I’m not black, but I can come to the table with black men and hear their fears and cry with them over the racism they have faced. I can still be true to who I am and find ways to stop racism, end discrimination and senseless deaths, and help black men fulfill their dreams and raise their families and be successful in their careers. 

I’m not transgender, but I can come to the table with a person who is and hear their life story. I can still be true to who I am and find ways to help them feel safe and loved and respected in this world. I can make their life better so they can find hope and follow their dreams. 

I’m not a child about to age out of the foster care system, but I can come to the table with them and see the struggles they have faced. I can hear their fears and see the worry in their eyes. I can still be true to who I am and help bring changes that will make their future brighter. 

I don’t have to give up any of my dreams to make this happen. My dreams have a place at the table, too. We talk it through at the table. We bring hope and love and respect to the table. We listen to each other and find ways to make a life of hope possible for all people. I was taught that nothing is impossible with God, so this is what I thought could happen. I didn’t want it to be about choosing sides. 

But then life taught me that some people are unwilling to come to the table and listen. They not only refuse to sit with some people, but they try to take the chairs away from the people on the way to the table. 

I first realized this when I faced domestic abuse. There were people who didn’t want to hear or believe me. They judged me harshly, and some still do. They sided with the abuser and took my chair away from the table they sat at. 

Then I saw the members of the LGBTQ community try to come to the table to talk. I first saw this in the 90s during the AIDS crisis. Churches closed their doors. Families cast people out. Too many people refused to sit at the table with a gay person and try to share love and hope in the middle of a tragedy for the world and for our nation. Without a shared table, I had to choose sides. I chose to stand with the LGBTQ community. I led a funeral for a dear cousin who died of AIDS. I presented his square to the AIDS Memorial Quilt. I lost my seat at many tables, but I found much joy and love with the people who were willing to share their table with me. 

Then I met wonderful people who are transgender. I happen to have someone in my family who was accidentally assigned the wrong gender at birth. I learned what nonbinary means and queer and bisexual and pansexual. I came to the table and listened. But then I realized again that too many people refused to come to the table. Our table, instead, was spit upon and cursed at and judged by people who refused to join the conversation. So, I had to choose sides. I chose the table full of love and respect. We help each other dodge the rocks thrown our way. We hug through the tears of rejection. But we find joy and love. 

Then I heard the cries of black men dying from police brutality and from white vigilantes declaring it their right to kill anyone they are suspicious of. I saw black mothers crying. I looked around and realized that again too many people were refusing to come to the table and hear their cries and find ways to stop the deaths and the racism causing them. I had to choose sides. I stood with the people declaring that black lives matter. I chose justice and love and respect for all people. I chose to stand with people who want to live their lives without fear of being killed for no justified reason at all. And I found Jesus standing right there next to me. And I found people praying that I could kneel with and pray. I found people who heard me and who shared their stories and their tables with me. 

I still believe in tables. I believe that we can learn to hear each other and stop declaring that we have to choose sides. Humanity does not have to be divided up into sides. We can come to the tables with respect and love. We can listen. We can stay true to who we are and allow others to be respected for who they are. We can see the beauty in the diversity around the tables. We can learn from the gifts and talents and stories of others. We can share our gifts and talents and stories with them. 

I heard a preacher this past Sunday ask the question, when you use the word “we,” who do you exclude? When you say “we” are joining at the table, who do you refuse to sit with? The transgender teen? The black man? The impoverished single mom? The one on welfare? The domestic abuse survivor? The crying mother? The gay man? The married lesbian couple? The Native American? The Mexican family? The immigrant? Who do you exclude from the table? 

It hurts to lose your seat at the table. We all want to be loved and included. I want to love and include you…all of you…but I tell you this…if you exclude someone, you will force me to choose sides. And if I have to choose sides, I will always get up from your table of privilege and stand with the person you refused to sit with. I will walk with the ones being discriminated against. I will work to stop racism and hate crimes and transphobia and homophobia and bullying of all forms. I will willingly give up my seat at your table of privilege if you are unwilling to listen to the voices of others and respect them. 

Stop making us all choose sides. This is humanity…all of us together…the diversity of skin colors and genders and sexual preferences and gifts and talents and life stories. It’s a beautiful view from my perspective when I picture us all coming to the table for significant conversations that will bring so much love and joy to us all when we work for peace and hope and justice for all people. I will never give up this hope. I no longer regret the times I’ve lost a seat at a table for being true to this hope…for being true to who I am and what I believe and what I stand for…

Come to the table…join the conversations that can be so hard to hear at first…bring love with you and you will be loved in return…there’s laughter and joy on the other side of the tears we will shed when we realize all the unnecessary losses that have occurred when we excluded people from the table. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of my Look To See Me podcast. I love you…you are worthy…you are strong…you are beautiful…never let another person define you…join me at the table, won’t you? 

The Belief Came Tumbling Down

Dear person in the pew, person in the street, person declaring your rights—I hear you. I’m a listener. I want to understand you. You are fighting for a belief—for a right. You are declaring that belief to be key to your religious life. You, however, are not setting your beliefs in stone and building upon them. You, instead, are creating paper towers that tumble when the wind blows. 

You declare that businesses have the right to turn away gay couples who want a wedding cake. You say it’s their right to determine what they are comfortable with in their own business. However, you declare that Whole Foods can’t decide that they are going to require people to wear a mask. You threatened any business that decided their faith told them to care for their employees and customers in this way. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that protests should never interfere with traffic when Black Lives Matter groups block cars and walk across a bridge. You say that is interfering with the safety of others and creating a dangerous situation, yet you block roads around a hospital and a state building when you are angry about public policy. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that you can protect your own home in a way that seems best to you and declare that you can shoot and kill intruders, yet you have a black man arrested for shooting a gun in the air inside his house when people walk into his home unexpectedly. 

Your belief just came tumbling down… 

You declare that truth should be held up as an ideal in this nation, yet you do not call out lies caught on tape. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that life is sacred and should be protected against those who seek an abortion, yet you let children die in our protective custody. You let domestic violence continue to kill women and men and children in this nation. You fight against medical care that would save thousands of lives each year. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare that sexual purity should be an ideal that we all seek, so you fight against access to birth control and condoms. You, however, let rapists go free. You keep the pornography industry in business. Child sexual abuse is still prevalent in our nation. You say “boys will be boys” when they grope girls against their will. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

You declare marriage to be sacred and demand that it be exclusively a right given to a man and a woman, yet you have high divorce and adultery rates and don’t question your buddies when they cheat on or abuse their spouses. 

Your belief just came tumbling down…

Your paper foundations that fuel your protests and your anger burn quickly when held up to the light of your actions. The ashes blow away in the wind when your need for comfort and personal satisfaction collides with your declared beliefs. 

What do you believe? How often do you ask yourself if your life reflects what you yell so loudly? Do you really live your beliefs, or do they come tumbling down when your own actions bump up against them?

I believe in the sacred worth of all people…

I believe that love heals and love wins…

I believe that my actions should reflect my faith and should help work towards the greater good—should build a nation where we are all respected.

I believe that all people deserve a chance at health and all should be allowed to join with the love of their lives and find joy…

I believe that gender is more complicated than we knew, and I’m willing to be a lifelong learner…

I’m willing to listen to you and also work to include you in the community…

I believe we can end hunger and abuse and unnecessary deaths if we work together…

I believe we can come together in community and seek truth together, in conversation with each other… 

I believe we can share a common table…grab a chair and have a seat with me…

Let’s pray to God who taught me these beliefs… 

All That Is Good

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 season three 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 all that is good. 

I’m going to start this episode with a poem since April is National Poetry Month. I wrote this poem in March of this year as I was staying with my two young adults trying to figure out how to do college classes from home. There are so many things we are all having to figure out how to do differently. This poem is simply titled Now

I have used this time to do a lot of listening. I have a diverse online friend group and have spent time reading their social media posts and blog posts. I’ve chatted with people through Zoom meetings. I’ve participated in several online church meetings. I’ve realized that I have found a core group of people that I can identify with. We share many of the same general beliefs and think alike on many issues. One of the key reasons that I find joy when I am reading posts or having conversations with these people around the country is that we share a common definition of what is good. 

That seems so obvious if you look at this on the surface only. I mean don’t we like to hang out with people who think the same things are good as we do? But I’m not talking about what food is good or what movies are good or what music is good. That’s just a bonus for me if I’m with people who have similar likes in these areas. Isn’t life fun when we like the same pizza toppings as the person sitting across the table from us? 

But this past month I have been thinking about how people define “all that is good.” I hear people debating if the economy is the goodness that we should strive to protect, if our local or our national governments are representative of all that is good, if our healthcare system defines or protects all that is good. Now here’s where conversations normally break apart and often end. We disagree over one of these topics, or we make these topics and “either-or” choice as if two of these things can’t be good at the same time—we ask people to choose one or the other. 

I am challenged by people often, asking if I am negating the goodness of one group of people when I am affirming another group. It’s not either-or. It’s both. It’s all. I can love and respect one group without negating my love for others or disrespecting others. 

Are any of these listed above really representative of all that is good? 

I have listened to many people and read many books. I read my Bible. I read the writings of many religious leaders—Christian and Jewish and Hindu and Muslim and many others. I have thought long and hard about what I consider to be the good in the world…what I will choose to love and be a voice for as much as I am able. I think we all need to use this time to define what we will stand for and what we define as all that is good in this world.  

For me, the first part of goodness is people. All people. I love the diversity of people I have met over the past few years. For so long, I was in my own little world with very limited interaction with people outside of my circles. And then I found the rest of you…I heard your voices and saw your talents. You taught me to dance to songs I had never heard before. You painted pictures that I could have never imagined. You hugged me and laughed with me. You shared your sorrows with me and together we discovered new joys. I heard others say, “Be careful. You know how ‘those people’ are.” But what’s so funny is that I do know how you are…you are beautiful and strong and courageous and gifted and curious and loving and struggling with many of the same things I struggle with. 

But you are part of all that is good, and I am so blessed that I see that now. I am blessed that I opened my heart and my eyes to see beyond the walls I had previously hidden behind. I am blessed by the diversity of friends I have. 

The next part of goodness for me is community. We are stronger together. We were meant to be in community with each other, sharing laughs and joys and sorrows and hurts. We each have strengths and gifts that make the community stronger. Each of us has something we bring to the table, and each of us is worthy to have a seat at the table. When we exclude others from the table, we break this community and a chance for growth and love for us and the person excluded. 

The next part of goodness that I hang on to is love. Love is what ties people together in community. Love is what keeps us going. Love is what makes us stronger and heals us. Never let someone tell you that you are unworthy to be loved. Walk away from anyone who says that until they can see your beauty and know you are beloved. What they say is not true. You are loved. And you have love inside of you. It’s there even if you have been hurt and can’t feel it right now. It’s there. 

And let’s talk about passion. When I talk about passions, I’m talking about recognizing that which you feel deeply about. I’m talking about the personal gifts and longings inside of us that we can either use to build up only ourselves or that we can use to strengthen both who we are and build up those in our local and global communities. What do you feel passionate about? What insights and gifts do you have that make you feel most alive when you engage them? And how do you use your passions? When you use them for others, that becomes part of all that is good in this world. 

An architect can design both their own castle and a humble home for someone who doesn’t have one. A pilot can fly their own planes only or can also fly a patient to their next treatment site. An accountant can keep their own books and work for business purposes only, or they can donate some time to mentor others in financial matters. Following your passions and using your gifts should be life-enriching to both you and others. That’s part of all that is good in this world. 

Nurture the gifts that you have and use them for good. Let them build you up and bring you joy and let them allow you to share that joy with others. 

And I can’t end this without talking about compassion. Compassion is extending my passion and love to others. Compassion is a true concern for others. If we have compassion, we must be listeners. We must hear the stories of others without listening only through our own life experiences. We must accept that things happen in this world that we have never experienced and have not yet previously understood. But when we deny someone’s story, when we try to deny their truth, we cause a deep harm in them and in our community. We can’t define another person based on our own experiences and beliefs. We can’t deny a life event because we didn’t see it. 

Abuse happens even if we do not see it. Abusers exist even if they seem nice to you. Racism is real. Poverty is real and occurs for many reasons. Homophobia is real. People being beaten because others disagree with them is real. Hunger is real. Child abuse is real. Sexual abuse is real. 

We often don’t want to admit that someone is experiencing any of this, because it’s hard to hear and because then we must admit that our silence played a role in allowing to continue. Compassion is the opposite of silence. Compassion is the opposite of refusing to accept someone’s story. Compassion is the opposite of looking away or of inaction or of not being a part of the solution. 

Let’s all use this time to define what we know is the good in this world. Let’s be part of the good. Let’s love. Let’s be part of the healing and part of the compassion and part of the growth and part of the table building so all can have a seat with us. 

Your challenge this week: write down all that you think is good in this. world. Then look at that list compared to what your personal faith says is good. Look at that list and ask how it lines up with love and compassion and hope. Look at the list and ask how it is life-affirming and life-giving. 

Hang on to all that is good. Now is the time to embrace the good, share the love, offer hope, enable healing, and find joy and love and hope for yourself in the process. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Look To See Me. I hope you tune in again soon for another episode. Stay safe and stay well. 

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?

Podcast Episode: Drip Irrigation

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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Drip Irrigation

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to 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 an organization that I have been following for the last ten years…Healing Hands International.

Healing Hands International, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville, Tenn., began in 1991 when Randy Steger, a Lipscomb University marketing professor, hoped to teach his class how to use their talents to help those in need. Twenty university students hoped to make a difference. Hundreds of donors hoped to help the cause. When hope took over, a small class project grew to become Healing hands International (HHI), an international nonprofit humanitarian relief organization that touches thousands of people’s lives every year. Since its beginning, Healing Hands International has delivered more than $100 million in aid to more than 75 countries around the world (and I’m pretty sure that the number is much higher than this…I think this is an older statistic.)

Here’s more recent information from just one aspect of the work Healing Hands International does: Since it began, the agriculture program for HHI has conducted a total of 535 workshops in 35 countries, training 27,466 people firsthand. Many of their trainees are quick to share what they’ve learned with others, creating a multiplying effect. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization “Agriculture production needs to increase 70% by 2050 to feed the world.” HHI’s simple, practical, affordable, sustainable agriculture training is helping to solve this problem. It is life-saving and life-changing!

HHI does many things well. They are listed as a four-star charity on Charity Navigator. You can go their website and get a full overview on all of their many programs and see exactly how any donations are used. In this podcast, I’m just going to talk about one aspect of their program: the agricultural component. Ever since I first wrote an article about HHI, I’ve been fascinated by the way they work to discover the needs of a community and find practical, sustainable solutions to help meet those needs. The agriculture program empowers communities to fight hunger by providing instruction on basic gardening techniques that can be used even in drought prone areas.

I had the opportunity to interview David Goolsby multiple times when he worked with HHI as the director of international agricultural development and relief. Part of his responsibilities included designing workshops and vocational education to teach community leaders around the world how to help fight the devastating hunger overwhelming many areas. He taught communities to work together to build an efficient and lasting agricultural economy to provide for their own needs by practicing simple sustainable technologies.

“We teach participants to start a garden with minimum resources. For successful gardening we focus on simplicity, affordability, sustainability and practicality. We want to make sure a widow with five small children can tend her garden. People with more resources can adapt what we teach to their circumstances,” said David Goolsby in a 2009 interview.

One method for successful agricultural development Goolsby passed on in his training programs involves a drip irrigation system using simple materials easy to provide to communities around the world. After the first ten farmers went through the training in 1999 and the first fruits of this method became evident by early 2000, a nationwide interest in drip irrigation grew all across Ethiopia. As a result of drip irrigation and survival garden training, families were able to provide more than enough food to sustain them and to share amongst their communities. Thousands of people started to use this method of gardening in Ethiopia and in several other neighboring and regional African countries as well.

The HHI website (hhi.org) has a video to show how to create a drip irrigation system. It teaches families and farmers how to grow vegetables during their dry season. The video shows gardeners how to place drip lines on raised gardening beds to ensure that each plant receives sufficient water. The gardeners are encouraged to use materials they already have available in their communities along with items supplied by HHI. Buckets or barrels placed on a raised stand are connected to the drip lines on the raised beds. A hole is drilled into the bottom of the bucket and connectors are used to secure the drip lines. Various groups help to provide the connectors to gardeners in each area. A cloth over the top of the bucket filters material that may clog the lines from the water. One raised bed can produce enough food to feed a family of five to seven people during the dry season. Extra beds can produce food available to sell at the market or to help sustain other community members.

HHI has worked with people in Haiti since 2013 through sustainable agricultural workshops. During the first workshop, 75 farmers learned how to turn a rocky field into raised planting beds with a compost trench and drip irrigation.

The HHI team has shared many stories of success that can be found on the website.

  • In May of 2011, HHI staff and volunteers traveled to Kayenta, AZ to teach the lifesaving skills of survival gardening and food preservation to families of the Navajo Nation. The “hands-on” workshop taught the use of a drip irrigation kit, composting and seed transplanting.
  • In 2002, Malawi was suffering from years of famine and a growing AIDS epidemic. Orphaned children were dying of disease and starvation and the livestock and crops were decimated. HHI’s Agricultural Director, David Goolsby, traveled to the country to train local farmers in survival gardening techniques. As he taught them he encouraged them to go out and train other farmers in these same techniques. From that initial trip grew a first-of-its-kind operation in Africa. David eventually spent seven months helping more than 200 local workers build the Madalitso (Blessings) Food Plant. The plant turns corn and soybean crops grown by the local farmers into VitaMeal, a vitamin fortified flour that is purchased by Feed the Children and Nourish the Children.
  • In 2008, Dr. Willa Finley, knowledgeable in agriculture and nutrition, Brenda McVey, a missionary in Ghana for more than 20 years, Eleni Melirrytos, a seasoned cook and gifted public speaker, Janice Goolsby, with more than 20 years of experience in food preservation, and Alisa Merritt Van Dyke, the youngest of the group, boarded a plane to Maiduguri, Nigeria. Their mission was new and simple, teach women the skills of food preservation techniques and empower them to bless their families and communities. This project was inspired by a Muslim woman, one of the few women to attend a drip irrigation workshop held by HHI the previous year. She made the comment that it would be useful to the women of her country to learn ways to better preserve and prepare food for their families. From this initial workshop to date, hundreds of women have been trained in food preservation skills. Not only has HHI been able to touch these women’s lives, but many of them are going back to their community and training others, spreading the knowledge they have learned!

HHI workshops teach sustainable food production and preservation skills to those struggling to feed their families. Over the course of two days, trainees are taught survival gardening techniques using drip irrigation, raised garden beds, composting and mulching, seed transplanting and basic garden management. After completing the workshop attendees are given a drip irrigation kit to take with them back to their communities to start their own gardens. HHI also holds workshops that teach methods for drying and preserving food, often in conjunction with the food production workshop.

I think I’m fascinated by this project for many reasons. First, it’s so practical. People need food. What better way to support a community than starting with something so basic as making sure they are fed. Second, because it is sustainable and manageable after the HHI teams leave the area. This work doesn’t leave a community dependent upon outside resources. True, this agricultural work doesn’t solve all of their problems. They may still need fresh water to drink or medical assistance (by the way, HHI has other teams to step in and address these issues), but food is a great way to start.

Third, this work is done with the local people in the community. The HHI teams work with existing leaders or farmers or families to teach them the details about what needs to be done and empowers them to then become teachers themselves.

So what’s our challenge for this week? Let’s find some really practical ways that we can use our knowledge and our resources to help someone. Identify ways that you can mentor someone who can then go forward to be a mentor for someone else. We can change communities one person at a time.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

The Rising

The Rising

I remember the

falling and

the feeling of

failing—the

flight down

took one word

to begin and

years to finish.

Tethered by shame

and pain, I stayed

down until that

one breath—the sigh

that turned into

a whisper …

a small call to

an identity free

from the chains in

the depths of defeat—

and I listened and

I whispered more truths

before finally speaking

my own hope aloud.

And I felt myself

rise first to my knees;

then in prayerful

belief that life awaited,

I felt the pain

of muscles straining

to stand and felt the

flesh tearing as

the chains fell.

But this pain was

affirming my hopes,

and I rose to my feet

and pulled myself

from the pits of your hell,

and as the air reached

my wings, I knew

I had survived.

I rose. I flew.

I began to thrive. 

                                     –Chris Pepple ©2017

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…