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. 

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!

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

Sourly Patched Theology

This poem was written out of my frustration with comments I have heard recently from people who call themselves Christian. I am a Christian…I remember my grandmother’s faith and strength and that of her siblings. I went to what was then a small country church when I was a child…I loved VBS, Sunday school, and all things between. And I still love the words of Jesus.

But some people have left love and hope out of their faith. They use their faith to exclude others and judge others. That’s not from the faith I know and follow. My faith tells me to welcome and sit with strangers, to hug people who hav been rejected by others, to encourage and love those with broken hearts…to be a Mama Bear…to speak out against abuse…to speak out for children being harmed…to give hope…to be a light in darkness…to care…to listen…to be open to leaning something new…to embrace the diversity of God’s creation…

Sourly Patched Theology

I wade through the murky bog
filled with your misconceptions
and self-informed thoughts
of who I am and I watch you
live out your sourly patched theology—
patched together with verses
cut from the whole and
stitched together to wrap
you comfortably in your
creation that you name truth…
the sweet for those you choose,
the sour for those who differ,
and gone when we don’t bend
to the pressures of your
need for others to conform
to your convenient readings
of the Holy Word you toss
around to prove the rightness
you need to cling to so
your house built on comfort and
convenience doesn’t
wash away with the
waves of truth our presence
sends into your life, and
I wonder why you
withhold seats at the table
and close doors and build
shelters from those you
claim to fear when you
have locked yourself away
from the joys being sent your way
and from the love waiting
just outside of the walls
you say are God-designed,
and you offer a superficial smile
and quick hugs to the peers
who join you in your
steeple-topped fortress
and polished pews
often built or cleaned
by the hands you push away
and your stained glass
hides the view of the hurting
and the hunger and the brokenness
you deem deserved by those
who carry the load, and
you toss out demands
to push any wanderers
farther away from
the hope you have locked
away by your own false fears
and your moat filled
with self-ordaining
holy water
that drowns out
the cries of those
clinging to the cross
you claim as yours
and yours alone…
your birthright to
the land you claimed as holy…
your inherited right
as one of the chosen few…
your legal right
as a citizen of the inner circle…
your claimed right
as a person who deserves
to feel happy and secure.

I wade through the waters
you called baptismal
but had tainted with your
own rumors of who
I needed to become
when I arose from
the cleansing depths,
and I pushed through
the falsehoods you
heaped upon me
and spewed about me…
thoughts born of your own
prejudices and fears and
assumptions believed
because you declare that
your own opinions and
interpretations are what
must be engraved in the
stones of the foundations
of your faith,
and you fear that my
presence may unearth
the roots you grow from
and may cause you
to face uncertainty
rather than the peace
you call yours to claim…
and I break free from the cross
built from your insecurities
that you tried to nail me to
and I move into the clearer waters
that are cool and refreshing
to my soul and the waves
of hope wash over
my wounds and cleanse them
and open arms pull me
from the depths of
my struggles and into
the arms of the Loving One
who had himself broken free
from your cross you nailed him to,
and he walked across the waters
of your moat and met me on the
the other side and together
we dined on the hillside
with others you tossed aside,
and I listened to his
words of love and hope
that only resembled the
words you had said were true,
and he called me by name
and saw me and touched my wounds
as I touched his
and he built a table
for all of us and we
saved a seat for you…
we’re waiting just outside
your walls of hate and fear
and disbelief…we have shed our labels
you branded us with…and
we dance and sing and
break bread and learn from
the One who is The Word…
and with the bread,
he left a trail that leads
you to the Life that
The Word called you to…
Come to the table
on the other side…

–Chris Pepple ©2019

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.

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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.