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. 

My Word for 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing is Wasted

I have been listening over and over again to Jason Gray’s song “Nothing is Wasted.” It touched my heart a few weeks ago, and it has been my worship song ever since. “Nothing is wasted in the hands of our Redeemer.”

What a beautiful picture this song paints of God using everything—everything! The tears we cry seed the ground for joy to grow. Deepest wounds allow beauty to bloom. Glory shines from the ruins, from the ashes. God’s grace and love transform every single thing into something that can shine for His glory when we turn it over to Him.

Oh, turn it over to Him? We have a hard time with that, don’t we? I know I do sometimes. I tend to want to hang on to things (problems, challenges, confusion, tasks) so I can handle them in a way I think is best. I trust myself to handle things, so maybe I should just keep control. Less fear and worry that way. If I am holding on tightly, I know what is happening.

Sometimes I get it right. I can make something somewhat beautiful at times through my own creative efforts. I can find ways to be happy. That’s what I used to tell myself. Then I gave control of something personal to God when I ran out of options. I was amazed.

What I had called satisfactory before was nothing compared to the beauty God created from the mess. What I considered happiness was nothing compared to the joy I found in God. But more than that, I realized how many times I waste things. I waste tears. I don’t shed tears for people or situations that break God’s heart. And when I do, I don’t turn those tears over to God to seek His plan. I don’t ask if I am part of the solution. I waste money. I waste resources. I waste gifts.

I waste time when I forget to turn my days over to God. I often set my schedule, then give a few leftover minutes to God. What would happen if I prayed over my calendar before I wrote anything on it? What would happen if I asked co-workers to do the same? What would our days look like if we seriously asked if we were making the best use of our time for God’s glory? I think based on Scripture that God would give us plenty of time for rest and for fun fellowship with others along with other work to spread His grace and love. But our joy would be deeper, and no minute would be wasted in the hands of our Redeemer.

And no person would be forgotten by God. Don’t we sometimes discount the life of a person, forgetting to see gifts present? I have been the “forgotten one” before. It hurts. So this song reminds me that my life is not wasted when I place it in the hands of my Redeemer. God can use my deepest pains to bring beauty into my life. He can use my tears and your tears to bring joy. He can use my minutes for His glory. He can used the person I walked past or gave up on to change the world. He can use everything we give back to Him to transform this world—our communities—our homes—our lives into places of deep beauty and joy. May we stop holding on so tightly…that is my prayer…hold on so tightly only to God and watch what happens next.

Church and the Call to Holiness

As an imperfect human, I struggle at times with the call to holiness. We, as Christians, are being sanctified through the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 10:14). I Peter (along with many other Scriptures), reminds us that as those following Christ we have a call to holy conduct while on this earth. We are called in Scripture to be set apart, to be holy while still on this earth. We are not just waiting for a heavenly change. We are living the reality of holiness here.

At times, however, I don’t live the reality of being separated for God’s honor and service. I want to have things go my way rather than God’s. Often it is because I am being impatient, wanting an answer quicker than God is providing one. At other times, I struggle because God’s plan doesn’t seem logical to me. I can’t imagine how His answer or path could possibly lead to success. Then I realize that I am defining success by human (earthly) standards.

Seeking holiness means listening to God through His Word and letting Him truly be the author of the story of my life. John 14:17 reminds us that the Holy Spirit dwells within us and will guide and teach us. II Timothy 3:16 tells us that the Scriptures are breathed out by God and should be our guide. In Hebrews 1:1-2, we are reminded that God spoke to us through His Son. We have the necessary answers for our life if we choose to hear them.

This same call for holiness goes out to churches, not just individuals. And the same temptations are present for churches and those in leadership positions. At times, a church may try to take or stop an action, wanting things to go “their way” or a particular leader’s way rather than prayerfully seeking a vision from God or hearing God’s vision through someone He chose to speak and work through. At times we may prefer the comfortable rather than the unknown. We may want the status quo rather than the distinction of stepping out to be set apart.

Sometimes, as a church, we also tend to define holiness by our own standards rather than God’s. All through Scripture, God has shown us that He is a God of surprises. When His people start to feel comfortable and “in charge” in our own routines, His call moves His people into the unexpected, into a new place or a new routine, or with unexpected people in our midst.

Our call to holiness means we must be willing, as individuals and a church, to let God be in charge. Let God upset our routines. Let God speak to us through the unexpected voices—the hesitant Moses, the youthful David, the forgiven David, the changed Paul, the fishermen, the women at the well, the tax collectors, the children, the lepers, the widow with only a mite. Remember all of those in Scripture whom He called to leave the expected, the comfortable, and the familiar. He asks us to trust Him as He unsettles us with plans that only He could dream of.

How have I grown today?

Do you ask yourself daily if you have grown emotionally or spiritually in the preceding 24 hours? I didn’t ask myself this question very often in the past. I don’t know if it was because I was subconsciously so egotistical that I thought I didn’t need to grow, or if it was because I had become too complacent over the years, not seeing or being concerned about the deficiencies in my life. Either way, I didn’t check myself to see if I was still growing at all. But I really do want to be a life-long learner.

Growing means more than learning a fact. Memorizing information does not mean I am growing. Neither does watching the news or reading a book. Growing, to me, means I have taken the information and assessed what I am going to do with it.

If I hear new information, what am I going to do with that information? Can apply it to my life? Am I taking new information and becoming more compassionate, more just or more loving? Am I taking new thoughts and seeing the world more through God’s eyes than through my own weak and often unfocused eyesight? Am I taking ideas from a book and letting them teach me to understand life from a perspective other than my own narrow experience?

Have I learned to write better, paint better or teach better? Have I learned a healthier approach to life? Can I cook a new meal to share with family and friends? Only reading the recipe does not help me grow. Learning about new cooking techniques or herbs and then using them does.

Have I prayed a new prayer? Have I gained a new insight? Have I listened more closely to the silent cries of the world? Have I reached out because of a new found courage? Have I moved forward after a stalled period in my life? Have I taken one more step out of my grief or anger? Have I found one more thing to be thankful for? Have I learned how to better express my thanks?

Tough questions can come with a price. We may not like the answers, or we may realize that we haven’t grown in much too long. No matter our age, learning and growing can be a process we claim daily.