Cultivating…new thoughts

So, it’s February, and I’m still hanging in there with my process of cultivating new things in my life in 2020. I wrote about cultivating new relationships in my last post. I want to share with you something I’m working on along with that: cultivating new thoughts.

I’ve carried a lot of thoughts with me through the years that I have had to learn how to toss out. Most of these thoughts were handed to me by toxic people in my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t just dismiss those thoughts. I allowed them to become part of my daily journeys…part of what I thought about myself and the world around me. As I have grown through the years, I found found a place of strength and healing where I have learned to let go of those words. If someone judges me or places their own negativity on my path, I can now recognize their words as toxic and know to leave them there on the path to be washed away by the next rains.

But if I am getting rid of thoughts that I don’t need to carry with me, what am I replacing them with? When I’m waking every morning or walking or meditating with my dog beside me, what thoughts do I allow to settle into my mind? Where do I look for new thoughts that will offer me hope and will carry me instead of pulling me down into their treacherous waters?

There’s not one place alone that I search. For me, I often turn to the words of Scripture, not to the toxic interpretations handed out by people seeking their own comfort and wanting to control others, but to the words as they were written…words of love and hope and a call for peace and true community.

I also turn to poetry and music. Today, I have read through several poems written by Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, and Mary Oliver. These words fill me with hope and sense of being a part of a larger community and a world full of beauty. I can relate to their struggles and find comfort in their understanding. I am given a new glimpse of the beauty of the world around me.

I also seek out the words of encouragers in my community. There are people who can say such kind things and offer words that make me laugh and make me feel such hope and joy. Sometimes I just listen in on conversations in restaurants or as I walk along a busy sidewalk. People can be inspiring as they help others along the way. The kindness doesn’t have be directed toward me to appreciate it.

The more I cultivate new thoughts, the more I find that I can be an encourager as well. When I was with these new thoughts in my mind and in my soul, I find it easier to share them with others. I can spread hope and love when I am walking with both of them.

What thoughts are weighing you down? Can you find a way to leave them on the path and walk with new thoughts? Don’t let others pull you down with their harsh judgments or their negativity or desire to control or harm.

Cultivate thoughts that will bring you hope and healing, that will make you strong and help you see your own worth and your own gifts and talents. You are loved and have much love to offer. Let that thought soak in. Share that thought with others.

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?

To Those Seeking Truth

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

***

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all 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 something that I hope we are all doing—seeking truth.

Throughout the last five years or so, I’ve discovered how much false information is floating around on the internet through our social media sites and through websites that have been created to look like actual news. I had no idea that our society could become so full of misinformation. It’s happening because so many of us aren’t seeking the truth. We’re seeking self-validating stories and things that make us feel good about ourselves instead of things that are making us grow and think through who we are and who others in our communities are.

I’ve also discovered just how much I don’t know about our world and the people in it. I have a master’s degree and have been a lifelong learner even when not officially enrolled in school. I studied literature, a little astronomy, and lots of history. But I picked and chose what I learned about based on my own interests. I didn’t take time to see that I was ignoring topics that would have helped me understand the people around me better. I saw my life as only connected to a small group of people I associated with.

But life itself is bigger than any one person or group of people. Life and its accompanying breath and love and hope draw us all together in an interconnected bond that we often fail to realize. When we disconnect ourselves from the bigger picture, we lose part of our humanity and part of our connection to a love and a hope bigger than ourselves. We limit our view of what life is like and what all of the possibilities are. We also cut ourselves off from opportunities to be loved and to love. We remove ourselves from the people doing the healing work in the world—the people willing to get to know someone different from themselves and walk through some really tough truths to help another person.

When I look back over the podcasts I’ve done throughout the last two years, I’ve chosen topics that need a light shined on their truths…I’ve highlighted groups that really seek to know the truth about people and circumstances and work to help us see the truth about others. So that sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want truth after all? Well, I know I didn’t used to think much about truth. I went about my life not thinking that I needed to know much about others. I was a “good person” after all. I didn’t hurt others, and I was trying to do the best I could as a person.

But then it became personal for me—I needed someone to know my truth. I needed to quit pretending that everything was ok. I had been taught to wear a mask for years—to look like a sweet Southern girl with an amazing family that had no problems. I shouldn’t appear to have any struggles at all. A “smile-for-the-camera” girl. Sometimes we don’t stop to think about issues until they become personal for us—when we realize we can’t handle life on our own at the moment, but we don’t know who to turn to because we aren’t sure who will understand or even believe us. I can tell you how deeply it hurts to tell the truth and have no one care or believe you.

That’s what so many of the agencies I have highlighted are doing right—they are looking at the lives of real people and telling them, “We hear you and we believe you” They are standing with people who have historically been unheard or when heard, not believed. Why? Because there are topics we are uncomfortable talking about. We are much more comfortable remaining in the dark about certain areas of life. We don’t want to admit how badly some people are suffering in our world. We don’t want to acknowledge that domestic violence and child abuse happen in our neighborhoods—in our churches—and that few resources exist to truly help break the chains of abuse. We don’t want to admit that people we are close to became addicted to pain killers or to porn or to gambling or to alcohol. We don’t want to admit that many single parents struggle with having resources to raise their children. We don’t want to admit that in our nation, no one can afford an apartment for a family making minimum wage.

We don’t want to be made uncomfortable, so we separate ourselves from truth. We either ignore it, or we deny it can be true because it doesn’t make sense to us. So, if we consider ourselves to be wise, and something doesn’t make sense or line up with what we have experienced, it’s easier to deny it.

I’ve found this to be true in my own life. I didn’t want to face the suffering of other people. I had enough problems of my own. And I didn’t want to admit that my silence or my unwillingness to listen could actually hurt others. Again, I was a good person, so I couldn’t be harming anyone.

But as I looked at agencies helping others while I was trying to find help, I found that I knew very little about other people’s lives—their families, their joys, their struggles. I had not taken the time to listen to others—to really learn about their cultures, their neighborhoods, their hopes, their faith, their fears. My silence and my lack of understanding was actually allowing suffering of others to continue because I wasn’t even acknowledging that it was real.

I started picking up magazines that covered in-depth stories about international events. I read about different faith communities. I turned on podcasts hosted by a diverse group of people. But reading or listening to a podcast would never be enough. It’s about being in community with other people—seeing them face to face—sitting at the table with them. John Pavlovitz, an American Christian pastor and author, has a book titled A Bigger Table. He refers to the idea that we need to expand our table so we are sitting and communing with new people—diverse people. It’s only then that we are truly learning and accepting others.

That’s what Thistle Farms does—they don’t just hand out money to women who have survived trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. They invite them to table to hear their stories and help them find love and hope and new opportunities for a more fulfilling life.

That’s what the Dorothy Day House does—go back and find that episode. They invite families in to share their table. They don’t just believe the old myths that you must not be trying or you must deserve your lot in life if you are homeless. They see that truth that people lose homes for a variety of reasons, and that we can all be a part of the solution.

That’s what the Big Heart Fund does…invite families to the table who have children suffering from illnesses that affect their hearts.

That’s what Mama Bears do—they see the truth that people in the LGBTQ+ community deserve love and deserve equality and have a lot of talents and gifts and love to share with all of us. They dig deeper in their faith beliefs and go back to original texts and ask hard questions as they learn. They research the scientific findings available and realize the beauty of how people are created rather than seeing their loves as a horrible choice.

It’s what the Refugee Empowerment Program does. It invites people in—listens to their stories—researches to understand what they are fleeing—sees the beauty of who they are—helps them find safety and hope—embraces their children—works to educate the rest of us so we stop fearing what we don’t even try to understand.

It’s about admitting we have a lot to learn. It’s about building a bigger table. It’s about really seeking truth. Who have you turned your back on and walked away because you just didn’t want to be around someone “like that?” Who have you labeled without sitting with? Who have you gossiped about instead of talked to? Who has asked you for an invitation to the table and you have said no because it felt too inconvenient or because you couldn’t understand their perspective?

“I just don’t understand” is never an excuse for taking away a chair at the table. Be a person who seeks truth—listen and meet them face to face. Go to a Jewish synagogue. Dine with a Muslim. Take a victim of violence out for a meal and ask if they are willing to share part of their story with you. Tutor a refugee. Read to a child over the summer through programs like Project Transformation. Create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. Ask to see their wedding pictures and smile with them. Volunteer at Pride events. Sit with them if they visit your church. Go to an original source of a news story and get the whole picture. Shut down lies being passed around. Grow a little each time. Seek truth and destroy myths along the way.

OK, let’s be real. Some of you are asking why? Why get out of my comfort zone? Why be willing to work hard to get to know someone else and help someone else reach their goals? Isn’t that what nonprofits are for? I give them my money.

First, great job if you are helping to support a nonprofit! They certainly need all of us working with them. However, we are also called to be part of the solution to bringing love and hope to this world. We are the people educating ourselves so we can employ people who are healing, encourage those who are hurting, and love those who are working to find hope and fulfill their dreams.

There’s so much joy in building the bigger table and joining in the sharing of bread with others. There’s love for us all when we reach out to others. There’s a satisfaction of seeing someone reach their goals. And there’s the words at the end of the journey: well done.

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

Podcast Episode: Thistle Farms Cafe

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.

 

Transcript:

Honestly, the Café wasn’t what I originally planned to talk about today, but then I saw their Facebook post this morning and they made me really, really hungry. Since I can’t get to the Café for a few weeks to eat there, I decided to just change the order of my podcasts and talk about them.

Thistle Farms Café is located in Nashville, Tennessee, located along West Nashville’s revitalized Charlotte Pike corridor, and is tied into the Thistle Farms complex with their headquarters and social enterprise facilities. Thistle Farms is a nonprofit organization that lives out the idea that “love heals” through all of their projects. The organization was founded by Reverend Becca Stevens twenty years ago and serves to offer a place of hope and healing to women survivors of prostitution, sex trafficking and addiction. Stevens, who was honored in 2017 as a CNN Hero, wanted to offer women a way out.

Thistle Farms now has 5 residential communities in Nashville where women can stay for two years at no cost. The women support each other through the healing process. The organization grew from just being a residential program, however, when Stevens and the residents started making bath and body products. That aspect of the program grew into a $2 million company with more than 75 employees—2/3s of whom are graduates of the residential program. Their products are ow sold in certain retail stores worldwide.

So, you can see that this is truly a life-changing program. It changed Stevens’ life. You can read more about her story on the Thistle Farms website (https://thistlefarms.org) or through the CNN Heroes project from 2017. She has also written several books, with the latest being titled Love Heals. It was released in September 2017 and shares the principles of the organization that have transformed individual lives and really the community as a whole. I was honored to interview Stevens for a Southern Writers Magazine article about this book and I can tell you that she is a truly inspiring person. Her genuine love for the women and the communities she serves is very evident. She lives by the belief that love does heal.

So, you have the residential program and the manufacturing and products aspect of Thistle Farms, but Stevens and her fantastic team didn’t stop dreaming there. They wanted a place to invite the community into and spread their love and share their principles of healing. In a StyleBluePrint article by Kay West titled “The Café at Thistle Farms: Renewed, Repaired & Ready to Serve,” West quotes Stevens as saying that she first had a simple plan of just a tea shop next to their shop, but it turned into a completely different thing.

And this different thing is what made me so hungry today. I did a quick morning check of my social media sites and there it was: the picture of the black bean quinoa veggie burger with roasted carrot aioli, pickled onions, lettuce and tomato on a house-made butternut squash bun. That’s all I could think about today. It’s on my list now to make another trip to the Café as soon as I can, and I hope it’s on a day when I can eat something on a homemade butternut squash bun.

On my first visit to the Café earlier this year, my teen and I each devoured one of their herbed chicken salad sandwiches on a croissant. They came with a homemade pickle and chips. Even the fruit tea was delicious.

So, you get amazing food here and you are supporting a cause that’s very close to my heart. If you are lucky enough to be there for breakfast, you can choose between menu items such as fresh buttermilk pancakes, a quiche, a yogurt bowl with fruit and local honey, and a breakfast biscuit with local farm eggs, Sweetwater buttermilk cheddar, pesto mayo, and bacon or sausage.

Is your mouth watering yet? Follow the Café at Thistle Farms on Facebook and you’ll be treated to photos like I saw this morning that show their daily specials or some of their more regular menu items such as a grilled cheese and avocado sandwich, a pesto chicken wrap, or their homegrown BLT. Their salads are just as scrumptious as their sandwiches. And let’s definitely don’t forget their house-made pastries and dessert treats. I’m a Southern girl who loves to have a sweet treat after a meal.

For a special treat, make a reservation for one of the afternoon teas served daily between 1 and 3 p.m. You can check their website for current pricing a reservation information.

So, you can see why Thistle Farms and the Café have a special place in my heart. Yes, they have amazing products in their shop and incredible food in the Café, but more than that, they are looking to see the women in the community who needed hope. Stevens and her team take the time to know their names and their stories. And then they love them because it is love that heals the deepest wounds that we too often fail to even see.

The thistle is the symbol for the organization because it represents the truth of so many lives—the thistle is resilient—it grows in the dirt and dust beside the roads that so many women have had to walk to survive. The thistle is strong—tough—and beautiful all at the same time. That’s what Stevens saw in the women she has worked so hard to serve—a strength and a beauty that others failed to recognize.

Café General Manager Courtney Johnson Sobieralski started volunteering at Thistle Farms after graduating MTSU. She eventually oversaw the construction of Café, which had to be renovated after a roof collapse in 2016. When the Café opened in 2013, it started with basically just tea and coffee service with not much else available until the following year when they acquired a little more space and equipment and added soup and a few basic sandwiches.

With the remodel in 2016, they added a full commercial kitchen and an entirely new menu. The Café sources its fresh, produce-driven food and beverage offerings from a variety of Middle Tennessee farmers and makers. The Café is definitely cozy with an inviting atmosphere that gives you a moment to catch your breath. And while you are doing that, stop and remember the love poured into each meal. Love poured in by the founder and the entire team who dreamed up the idea and believed in it enough to make it a reality. Love poured in by the women in recovery who are working to make the café a success and turn their lives around. They start their days with meditation and a time to give thanks.

I’m thankful for this nonprofit organization that offers hope and love to so many people. I think of it every time I wear my love heals hat I got from the shop next door to the café. And I’m definitely thankful that I can plan a road trip soon to get back there and eat another homemade meal that I’m sure will be delicious. Until then, I’ll just have to imagine what it’s like from the Facebook posts.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed the 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

Healthcare and Humanity

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

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

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

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

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

If you care about mental health, make it accessible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!