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.

**

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. 

**

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. 

**

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. 

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.

***

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? 

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.

***

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. 

Today…Together

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.

***

Today…Together

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 people making one right choice at a time today. There’s a quote from Frozen 2 that says, “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.”

The next right thing. As I am keeping my social distance from everyone as we all face this pandemic together, I am staying informed by following a variety of news sites. There are so many governors and mayors and CEOs and school boards and nonprofit leaders that are having to decide each day what the next right thing is. A Colorado educator summed up our choices well when he discussed closing schools: “It is important for our community to remember that these measures were enacted out of an abundance of caution and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” West Grand Superintendent Darrin Peppard added. “We did not enter into this decision lightly. In the end, it will be impossible to know if we overreacted or did too much, but it will be quite apparent if we under reacted or did too little.”

We are left without a road map in these times and are having to learn from each other and from others around the world facing this challenge. We are looking to doctors and scientists and researchers to guide us. We are even turning to history to see what we can learn from past pandemics. I read an article about Philadelphia leaders choosing not to cancel a parade in 1918 when the Spanish flu was making its way through the country. Within 72 hours of the parade, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled and eventually 2,600 people died in the city from flu complications. This was much higher than the death rates in other cities who canceled large public events and put restrictions in place for gathering. 

So, I’m thankful that we have so many people trying to decide what the next right thing to do is. Another thing I am thankful for: I keep seeing social media posts that are so uplifting. In these hard times, people are trying to decide what the next right thing to do is. It’s so easy to only think of ourselves…think of what our immediate needs are. We make our lists and head out to stores before everything is gone. We plan ahead for what could be weeks of staying in. 

Don’t get me wrong. Self-care is important. We have to stay strong and healthy so we can help care for our families and for others who may need us. If we become weak because we haven’t eaten, then we certainly can’t help anyone else. But there’s something beautiful about only taking enough and not taking so much that you take away from someone else. 

And there’s something beautiful about the people who look up from their own lists…who look past their current worries and fears…who look into the eyes of others and see their needs and their worries. In this podcast, I’m going to talk about today…I’m going to talk about what each of us can do in the moment we are in to not only help others but to also bring joy to ourselves as we do it. I’m part of a Mama Bear group, and we always remind ourselves that we are better together. We are stronger when we work together and stand together and get through a crisis together. 

There are some organizations making wonderful choices to give people options for entertainment. 

  • The Metropolitan Opera will be streaming productions at no charge while they are closed.
  • Scholastic has set up a learn-from-home website.
  • Drive-in theaters are opening for people to watch movies from their cars with their families. 

In this podcast, I want to talk about some wonderful things that individuals and communities are doing to think outside of their own worries and work to help others. 

*According to the EdinburghLive Daily News, a convenience store in Edinburgh has been giving away “coronavirus packs” to the elderly for free. The packs contain a roll of toilet paper, handwash, a package of pocket tissues, and a packet of Acetaminophen. Local residents over the age of 65 could pick up a packet. Some staff members even delivered packages to those residents who couldn’t get to the store. Their kindness has been appreciated and is hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

*When an older couple in Oregon needed groceries, they decided that they would drive to the local Safeway and pick up a few items. When they arrived, however, they were worried about being exposed to coronavirus. They waited in their car for 45 minutes until they spotted a young woman, professional runner Rebecca Mehra. They cracked their window and asked her for assistance. The couple, in their 80s, explained that they had no family in town to assist, but they needed a few essentials. They handed Mehra a 100-dollar bill and asked her to shop for them. She agreed and came back to the car with their groceries and their change. When Mehra’s story went viral, she commented that helping was the right thing to do. 

*When the NBA suspended its season, Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love donated $100,000 to help support the team arena’s hourly arena employees after NBA games were suspended. He knew that people losing work because of shutdowns would be vulnerable during this time. He inspires all of us to think of others who may be struggling financially. 

*Elementary students at St. Anthony’s in Columbus, Nebraska, made cards for people in quarantine in their area. The teachers and students understood that isolation is lonely and can increase anxiety and worries for some people. We all need to know that we are remembered. 

*When coronavirus concerns cancelled their daughter’s bat mitzvah party, the Shmidman family turned the food into meal deliveries for people in quarantine in their New York area.The food for the event was already prepared, so the Shmidman family told the caterers to package it up for delivery. Volunteers safely delivered it to those in need. We can all find ways to avoid contact, but still do what is right. They delivered about 150 boxes of food. 

*Local Jewish communities in New York sent care packages to Yeshiva University students in quarantine after a student tested positive for coronavirus. The packages contained snacks and challah and grape juice for use on the Sabbath for students stuck in the dorms.

*People around the world are making personal phone calls. Seems easy enough, but we often forget how comforting it can be to be remembered and to hear a voice. The calls don’t have to be long to be meaningful. Call an elderly person who may not have seen anyone in days. Call someone who is a caregiver and touch base. Read a book over the phone or Facetime to kids to give the parents a break for a few minutes. Small deeds can have a great effect. 

*Order groceries to be sent to someone who may be struggling financially or who may just need treats to brighten their day. Many local stores are delivering to homes for a small fee to cover their expenses. People are picking up on the idea of sending food to others to make a difference in their communities. It helps keep the stores open, and it keeps people out of large groups at the same time. 

*Know someone who lost paychecks? Call their local utility company and make a payment on their account. Pay their phone or light bill. Many local congregations are using this as an outreach tool as a way to keep serving others while social distancing. 

*Give away what you have stored as extra. Jennifer Le gave out face masks to people who had to be out in Singapore. A woman in a grocery store gave an elderly woman some of the toilet paper she just bought. 

There are many things we can do to get through this pandemic together. We can make our communities healthier and stronger by serving others as we also care for ourselves. We can do both well. Your challenge: find the next right thing for you to do. 

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

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.

Cultivating…new relationships

My goal for 2020 has been to cultivate new opportunities for my life. What a challenge! I thought I would choose a word (cultivating) for the year instead of setting a resolution. It sounded challenging, yet doable. How can I fail at living out a word, right? Well, I’m not failing at it, but I am learning how hard changing some of my thoughts and ways can be.

What have I worked on so far? First, I have worked on cultivating new and healthy relationships. I moved away from many toxic relationships in 2019. I had stayed connected to some people out of guilt or out of family or social expectations. No more…if I am going to be healthy, I have to be around people who are healthy for me. People who are encouragers. People who are honest and loving when I ask for feedback. People who want me to be whole and healthy. People who are in my corner and want me to be in theirs.

Forming new friendships can be challenging. It means I have to grow and stretch. I have to reach out to others. That doesn’t come naturally to me. How have I done it? I’ve joined new groups, found book clubs and study groups and volunteer groups. Not only did I find them, but I also actually showed up to places. I introduced myself. I listened to others and got involved. I did this with careful thought, however. I didn’t “over promise.” I agreed to show up when I am available…no long-term commitments or weekly promises that I can’t keep or will feel guilty over. I got social media contacts for a few people so we can stay in touch without a deep commitment at first. I also planned and actually went to dinner with a new friend.

Cultivating new relationships doesn’t come naturally to many of us. I am quite happy with a good book most days. But I need to be part of a larger community to grow and to find new joys in life. I can do that on my own terms, though. I can do that in ways that allow me to have my down time, my alone time to regroup and be quiet.

I have found new joys. I have laughed and chatted with new people that I would not have known had I not been intentionally cultivating new relationships. I am learning because I am reaching out to new people who have something to teach me through their life experiences that are different from me. I am finding strength because I am also reaching out to people who share some of my own life experiences and can understand where I am coming from and offer encouragement out of their own stories.

So, on to more cultivating new relationships in life!

My Word for 2020

For the last couple of years, I have been in survival mode more than I have been planning ahead. Both of my children and my parents were going through major changes in life. I also still had court dates dealing with an abusive ex-spouse. My health wasn’t wonderful, so I narrowed my thinking and just “got by.” Sometimes we all have to do that. The problem is that I got stuck in that mode. I didn’t take time to see what changes I needed to make to better plan ahead and to practice some self-care that was needed.

I’m changing the way I think for 2020. As part of that change, I’ve decided to follow the example of some of my mentors and choose a word for the year. My word for 2020 is cultivating. Cultivating means to acquire or develop a quality, sentiment, or skill. That’s what I’m going to spend the year doing.

I’m going to cultivate better cooking skills so I can eat healthier than I have this year and learn to enjoy the meals I eat. I’m going to eat with people more often as well. Cultivating new friendships and renewing old ones tie into this goal.

I’m also going to cultivate authenticity and allow those around me to do the same. Who am I? What do I really know about myself outside of the things I have been taught to think about myself by others? I want to take the time to learn new things about my likes and dislikes, my hopes, and my strengths. I also want to learn new things  about those close to me. As part of that goal, I want to cultivate new relationships in my community and allow people to be authentic in those new relationships. I want to learn more about the people I share this planet with…I want to know who they love, what brings them joy, and what their hopes are for the new year.

I also want to continue to cultivate joy and gratitude in my life and find ways to bring joy to others. Joy is not dependent on my circumstances…I can choose joy even when life is hard.

I know I will still face challenges in 2020. I hope that when I do I cultivate new responses. I hope the same for you as well. What’s your word for 2020?

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?

Just a Day Part One

I write often about organizations that change lives. I also post my podcast episodes here. I frequently talk about people who change lives. We hear stories about the work of Greta Thunberg and see the news that the biography of Sara Cunningham (who founded Free Mom Hugs) is being made into a movie. We all talk about the power of one person and know on some level that one person can bring change, but what happens in an ordinary day of a person trying to make a difference?

I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the work of others and thinking about those people who have made a difference in my life. I hope I know what I would do if I was faced with extraordinary circumstances. I would call 911 if I saw someone being hurt or saw a house on fire. I would rescue people if I saw them in need. But those moments are rare. If I’m going to be a person who truly makes a difference every day, what do I need to do during my ordinary days? Each person who brings change lives through hundreds of ordinary days just like the rest of us. So what do I do when the day is just an ordinary day?

First, I need to listen. How can I help meet the needs of those around me who are hurting or are hungry or are lonely if I don’t listen. We often think we are changing the world by charging into a situation and solving things the way we think they need to be solved. Many of our solutions are just temporary fixes, however, and some don’t even change things temporarily. The innovators of our time are people who listen to those with a need a create a product or devise a plan to meet that specific need in a way that has a lasting impact for the person or group of people.

For example, I read several articles about fire alarms that are the most effective for waking children during an emergency. The trick wasn’t to put the alarm closer to a child’s bedroom or make the alarm louder. Those methods weren’t working even though they seemed logical. Researchers found that children wake fastest when they hear the voice of a parent calling them. Developers used that information to create alarms that used the voice of a parent to call the names of the children if smoke was detected. This product proved to be very successful.

On a personal level, I have told the story of a woman in a neighborhood who was very lonely and seemed withdrawn after the death of her husband of 50 years. People kept inviting her to luncheons or dinners, but the meals weren’t helping her to reconnect with others and process her grief. Finally a young neighbor asked what this older woman most needed to begin to heal her broken heart. She said that she had always started her day with coffee with her husband and that she was most lonely early in the morning. So the neighbor started coming over very early and sitting with her during morning coffee. They joked together and talked about the happenings in the neighborhood and in the world. The neighbor then headed to work as her husband used to do. Within a month’s time of this new routine, the woman was back to her old routines of volunteering in the community, going to church, and having occasional meals at the local senior events. Other people tried to give her what they thought she needed; one person asked her what she thought she needed.

Listening is a great skill that we don’t use enough. I’m learning to listen to the people I love who struggle with anxiety and depression. I’m learning to listen to people who have faced struggles that I have never faced. I’m learning to listen to people who grieve differently from me. I’m learning to listen to people who have different backgrounds than I do.

I don’t spend hours doing this. I don’t stop all of my work and just listen. When I am talking to people, though, I listen. I ask questions. I try to push aside my own thoughts so I can hear what the person is telling me. Sometimes these conversations are only ten minutes or so. In that time, however, I can get pieces of information, get a glimpse of a life, that I can piece together from what I learned in other conversations.

I stood outside a McDonald’s in L.A. once and listened to homeless young adults talk about their struggles. I learned so much in just 15 minutes. I had never listened to their goals before or to their fears. They weren’t talking to me, but they were sharing with each other while I was waiting for a bus. Those 15 minutes changed the way I thought about the needs of young adults who struggle with family issues or poverty or homelessness.

Who have you listened to today? It’s just a day…but you can make a difference by just listening.

www.chrispepple.com

In Memory…

In Memory of Rep. Elijah Cummings…

 

In Memory…

As we say good-bye, know that

the footprints from your courage

and truth will lead us forward

and your voice will linger

with us still,

calling us to all things

that are right and good

and whispering the words

of hope and justice

that you carried with you

on your journey as a leader

in times when others

wanted their own

comfort and prejudices

to rule the land…

and we will write your name

in the books that tell of

a nation that finds our way back to

being a country that shines the light

for all who face the terrors of hate

and who face the weariness of

oppression and all who

shed the tears from losses

that came from the greed or

carelessness of others…

and we will speak your name

as we shout out proclamations

of renewal and long fought for hope

and as we remember the light bearers

and the courage carriers…

so find your eternal peace and

know that we will pick up here

from where you left off and we will

forge a way through the lies and disrespect

and find you smiling from above as

we see the hope you left behind

to guide us along our way…

–Chris Pepple ©2019