Rocks and Watermelon Seeds

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

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Rocks and Watermelon Seeds

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

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

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ROCKS AND WATERMELON SEEDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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. 

Happy Pride Month

Happy #pride month…

When I say this, it’s not a political statement…there’s no secret agenda to hope to convert the entire world and turn everyone gay…I’m not ignoring God or Scripture…oh, the silly things people tell me. 

For me, it’s a statement of faith that God is the creator of all people and of all love…

It’s a statement of love for the people who are my family and friends…

It’s a statement of beauty…for the sweet weddings in the LGBTQ+ community…for the warm smiles shared…for the family moments…for the friendships made…for the births celebrated…for the homes built and the art created and the dances danced and the hugs shared.

It’s a statement reflecting my appreciation for all members of the LGBTQ+ community who are nurses, doctors, soldiers, police officers, lawyers, social workers, pharmacists, dentists, teachers, researchers, preachers, and a thousand other careers. 

It’s a statement of thanks for the people who have befriended me and cared and sent love and offered prayers and included me in their lives. 

It’s a statement of hope that one day the hate and the bullying and the taunts and the disrespect will end…that true equality will be a reality. 

Love wins. God loves you. Others can’t define you. They may try to politically strip you of your identity and your rights, but I will stand with you when you speak, vote for equal rights in every election, face hate head on with you, and love deeply, respect you, and always know we are better together. 

This Mama Bear loves you and sends virtual 🤗 hugs to you. Happy #pride

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? 

The Belief Came Tumbling Down

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

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

Your belief just came tumbling down… 

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

Your belief just came tumbling down…

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

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

I believe in the sacred worth of all people…

I believe that love heals and love wins…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All That Is Good

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

***

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. 

Cultivating…respect instead of fear

Greetings! I guess we are all busy following the news about coronavirus. Students are having to change their foreign travel plans. Nations around the world are quarantining entire regions. Cruise ships are being stopped offshore so passengers can be tested. I still remember the H1N1 scare from 2009. We all wondered if we should send our kids to school.

I’m not a person who panics. I do follow the news and am heeding the advice of our Center for Disease Control and other medical professionals. I have always washed my hands well, so I don’t have to change any habits there. I do find it odd that people across the United States (and maybe elsewhere) are buying things like toilet paper and face masks and bottled water in bulk. Stores are selling out of many common items. People are giving in to fear rather than following the simple steps being advised by professionals.

Here’s what I do know: I hope I don’t get the flu, coronavirus, strep throat, or the stomach bug. None of us like being sick and very few of us have the luxury of being able to afford to be sick. Every year, I make an online post asking people to respect others and stay home when they are sick.

Here’s what else I know: Goodness and justice and love are never present when you make choices based only on your own fears and never also consider the fears of others.

Fear Quote

When we fear, we make decisions that we hope will protect us in some way. We walk faster or pull out our cell phones if we fear the sound of footsteps behind us at night when we are walking to our car. We buy hand sanitizer because we worry about coronavirus. We build a storm shelter when our area has been hit by tornadoes.

But do we consider the fear that others live with? When we don’t feel great, but we also don’t want to lose a paycheck, do we realize that some people with weakened immune systems could be killed by the viruses we are carrying? When we go into a restaurant knowing we are contagious, do we understand that some of the workers fear losing a home or a car if they get sick and lose a paycheck?

People carry legitimate fears for many reasons. If we respect others, we will find ways to understand their fears and help ease those worries. I am around the elderly quite often. I assure them that I will never visit if I am ill or still recovering. I will not compromise their health.

When I am around refugees in my community, I learn about the fears they lived with all of their lives…fear of abusive leaders, of persecution, of war, of hate, of losing their families because of poverty. I try to show that I am willing to learn about those fears and work to find ways to open doors for them to be safe.

When I am around any member of the LGBTQ+ community, I try to make it known that I am a safe ally. I will stand with them if they are being bullied or disrespected in any way. I will love.

And some forms of respect just involve paying attention to what I am being told. Right now, doctors are urging people to quit buying up the entire supply of face masks. They are useless to most of us, and there are people who legitimately need them. I have to consider their greater need over my current fear.

When we live life reacting only to our own fears, we can cause quite a bit of harm to others. We need to be life-long learners and find out how we can care for ourselves and respect the needs of others.

Do not fear. Do not let fear cause you to make decisions that will harm others. Do not let fear cause you to exclude others. Do not let fear cause you to judge others. Respect and love should be our guiding forces in challenging times (and, actually, in all times).

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.

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.

When Moms Get It Right

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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When Moms Get It Right

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 a group of Moms I have been privileged to meet—some in person and some just online through a closed Facebook group.

Now, if you’re one of my followers, you have probably noticed that I haven’t created a new podcast in quite some time…almost two months. So why today? I waited for this moment because I had a lot to process during this time about what’s going on in the world around me and what I really want to represent here on my podcast. I chose today to reappear because it’s the last day of June—the last day of Pride Month. Many people who are in the LGBTQ community and many who are allies have marched in parades this month, attended festivals, and honored the past heroes who have stood courageously for the rights of all people.

I’m not going to go into much history about Pride here—you can look that up and find many wonderful articles doing that already. I’m going to talk about some Moms who are really working to bring love to all people during Pride month and every day of the year.

I’ll give you a short history of my involvement with Pride parades and festivals…short because my involvement is short. In the early 1990s, my cousin whom I loved dearly died of AIDS. I went to Key West to perform his funeral because at the time, no one wanted to have anything to do with AIDS patients. They were all told they deserved to die because of who they were—mostly gay men at the time. So, I went to Key West and honored my cousin and his friends. Not really an official Pride moment, but it was a form of resistance for me because I was defying the major religious groups I was associated with and I shocked many of my friends by standing with these men facing the AIDS epidemic.

My second moment I remember was wearing a rainbow Pride pin around campus when a group of students protested having a female Episcopal priest who was openly married to a woman preach at our chapel service. A vocal group of students demanded that she be blocked from speaking and demanded that LGBTQ students face some consequence if they were open about their identity. Several students decided to openly wear Pride pins to show that they were not ashamed of who they were. Several of us decided to walk with them as an ally for the day. It felt like the right thing to do.

Fast forward 25 years later and find me at my first Pride parade—nothing in between—no show of support or really even thinking about anything significant as far as rights of the LGBTQ community. I had other things on my mind and just didn’t step up in any way.

So why my first Pride in 2018? Because I went to support my own son. He was courageous enough to come out and I had a choice to make. I could stand with my son and love my son and fully support my son, or we could forever lose the bond that we had. Before Pride, I messaged a Mom who is a minister and had made a post about offering resources to anyone who needed information about supporting the LGBTQ community. She serves an affirming church and was willing to connect me with an online group of Moms.

The group I first joined was Serendipitydodah for Moms. Here’s the official description of the group: This is a private Facebook group exclusively for moms of LGBTQ kids. The group was started in June 2014 and as of December 2018 there are more than 5,000 members. Each day moms of LGBTQ kids gather to share a journey that is unique and often very difficult. The group is a place where members share a lot of information, ask questions, support one another, learn a lot and brag on their kids. The official motto is “Better Together” and the members call themselves “Mama Bears.” An incredibly strong and loving woman named Liz Dyer moderates the group. I can give her name because she openly invites others to join and speaks publicly about the group. No other names or personal information will be shared.

What’s the first thing I felt when I joined the group—acceptance—no judgment. I could ask questions; I could research; I could openly learn from the Moms in the group. These Moms talked openly about their children of all ages—how much they loved them—how much we as parents had to learn—and how much we worry because so many people hate our children just because of who they are—who they were created to be.

The next thing I felt was community. This is a page where we can share our joys that we don’t feel free to share elsewhere because of potential negative comments from non-affirming friends or family members. Wedding pictures—baby announcements—new friends—new support groups—transitions for our transgender kids—prom photos—engagements—prayer requests. These are all things other parents get to be more open about. But if we share online, our bosses may fire us, our friends may scold us, and our family members may distance themselves from us over our joys…so we share with each other and cry and celebrate and love.

The next thing I felt was a Holy presence. Many of the moms are religious and struggle with being told that we are wrong for loving our children. Our faith communities ask us to be silent, or to find conversion therapies, or pray that our kids won’t really be gay or trans or queer. But we study Scripture together and pray together and find the presence of God in our midst—the very God who created our kids and loves them and is teaching us how to parent them.

I soon connected with another amazing nonprofit group called Free Mom Hugs. Since 2014, Sara Cunningham, who is the executive director, and many other parents of the LGBTQ community have joined in the fight for human rights of equality for all. Free Mom Hugs is a registered nonprofit organization made up of parents and allies who love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally and are working toward full affirmation and equality for all. We are dedicated to educating families, church and civic leaders, encouraging them to not only affirm the value of the LGBTQ+ community but celebrate them.

This is who I walked with at my first Pride in my hometown. I gave out free hugs to all who needed one and found so much love and community there at the event. It broke my heart to see young people needing hugs because they were rejected by their own families. This year I marched in my state capital’s Pride parade with both of my children. My daughter joined in as an ally. I stood with a large group of other Moms and hugged as many people as I could. I was also privileged to stand in as an honorary Mom at a wedding this year because one member of the wedding party wasn’t accepted by his family.

So, all of this make it sounds like this podcast is about me—no, it’s about the LGBTQ community and how far we still have to go to grant equality in this nation. It’s about serving wedding cakes and Moms being allowed to show the wedding photos. It’s about not being fired because you are gay. It’s about being allowed to serve even if you are transgender. It’s about no person being attacked or killed because of who they are. It’s about remembering that the first Pride was a riot because of police brutality. It’s about the long line of people that have been hurt because of religious people declaring them unworthy.

My silence though the years allowed all of this discrimination to continue. These two groups of Moms have given me the courage to speak out and to love and to find hope for all people. There is no pride for me in all that I failed to say—didn’t do. For the people I never fought for and spoke up with. I’m so glad the LGBTQ community has never given up the fight even when so many of us stayed silent.

I’m silent no more. I’m a proud Mama Bear giving free mom hugs. See you at the next Pride Parade…Happy Pride Month…Happy World Pride.

You are loved…be courageous…be strong…be you….

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