…learning to live a life filtered by the truth of the gospel.

Totality August 23, 2017

Filed under: musings — Stephanie @ 10:07 am
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I am not easily impressed. My husband says I could stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and say, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a hole in the ground.” Or at the ocean’s edge, with the salt water lapping at my ankles and say, “It’s just a bunch of water.” But, on August 21, 2017 at 1:28 in the afternoon, I was impressed. More than impressed, even. I stood in absolute awe and wonderment at the spectacle. I have birthed three babies, even reaching down and pulling one into the world with my own hands, and this, well, it eclipsed that.

Learning that we were “in the path of totality” meant nothing to me. I had no frame of reference, no understanding. And while Brian took off work a year in advance, I could’ve cared less. I had seen a partial eclipse before and didn’t know that this would be a different animal entirely. So as Brian planned, I forgot. He planned to take the boys out of school, while I wondered how I would word that school excuse.

As the day approached, and the hunt for ISO 12312-2 approved eclipse glasses intensified, I actually got excited. McRae and her boys planned to come up from Atlanta. We planned to meet at the town center at 11:00 in the morning for the viewing party the town was holding. I bought Moon Pies and Sun Chips and Sunkist orange soda. I was finally into it.

We set up camp under a tree. The boys immediately wanted Kona Ice, even before lunch. We spent $40 on hamburgers and hotdogs at the Flying Pig food truck. Then we waited. The boys kicked the soccer ball and tossed a mini football around in an open space in front of our tree. Periodically, we’d don our glasses and take a look as the moon slowly ate the sun.

The true countdown to 1:28 p.m. began in earnest at 1:15. How much longer? Eight minutes, then seven, then five. Now four and we move to a field away from the crowds. A field where a fifty-something hippie is moving through sun salutations on her yoga mat unrolled in the tall grass. The temperature dropped noticeably and the eerie darkness descended. Two minutes, then one. Through our glasses, the diamond ring and Bailey’s Beads. Glasses off! And there the world stood, completely out of whack from all known reality. The moon had swallowed the sun completely. Just the burning edge of the corona left of the giant, burning orb that lights the day. Cheers and whoops and hollers went up from the crowd at the moment of totality. In fear? In awe? Both? And my voice joined in as people danced and stomped and clapped. A plane passed in the sky. I looked at Brian, my voice shaking, “this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!” My 10 year old fell to the ground. But I admit, I was not concerned about my children’s experience. I was completely wrapped up in my own.

A minute and a half of darkness and that burning, glowing ring in the inky sky. Glasses on! More cheers from the crowd as the sun was released from its captor, the moon. These celestial actors moving stage left and beginning the return to normality.

The crowd dispersed, even the hippie and her partner, a man who had set up his photography gear in the field apart from the groupings of lawn chairs and coolers and corn hole to document the event. We lingered, not wanting it to end. We put our coveted glasses on and glanced back at the sun, now partially eclipsed and dangerous to the eyes again, until we were nearly alone under the shade of our tree. The final act of the cosmic play was winding down, with no one to see the curtain call. Finally, reluctantly, we broke camp, packing the wagon with camp chairs, melted Moon Pies, and the cooler of Sunkist. We gathered the kids from where they had returned to kicking the soccer ball. Slowly, we returned to reality, our feet firmly on earth again. Although, my head was still in the heavens.

We started doing normal things. Calling at boys to come on and help get these things loaded up. And wait right here on the sidewalk while I load all of this in the van. We wondered what to do next, a bit lost.

It was an existential experience. One that reached down and touched the very core of who I am.

It was a physical experience. One that evoked a very real reaction with laughter and tears.

It was an intellectual experience. One that called into question everything that I thought to be true about how the universe worked.

It was a spiritual experience. One that moved the deepest parts of my understanding of myself.

The word “totality” is now a part of my narrative. A word that will conjure specific images and emotions upon hearing for the rest of my life.

I will search a lifetime and never come up with the words to describe that moment when the moon effortlessly slipped in front of the sun, leaving darkness, chilly air, and a burning ring where the sun had stood just moments before.

And so I turn to others, hoping they can express what I fail to do. Songs and essays and commentaries, the soundtrack of the day—from U2’s “Staring at the Sun” to Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse,”—and yet, nothing, nothing even scratches the surface. The cultural references to such a phenomenon, their words, like mine, fall short. Even knowing the scientific explanation doesn’t capture the experience adequately. Every person trying to explain it, to describe what they saw, it all fails.

My mind cannot let this go. Neither can my heart. Conjuring the image, tears pool in my lower lids and spill out of the corners of my eyes. At night, lying in bed with only my thoughts, Brian snoring beside me, the picture floods my mind and I see it again: the corona—the edges of the sun—burning behind the moon. Real, physical bodies in space married together, one lost behind the other.

It’s a big, over-the-top statement, but my life is now “before” and “after.” There was a time when I was unimpressed. Time when life moved along in normal fashion and only the regular, everyday happening keeping me company. The sun and the moon tracking time in their respective order, day and night, on and on. I live in a time now, and will for the rest of my life, where I saw the moon eclipse the sun completely. They say a total eclipse passes over your tiny place of existence only once in a lifetime. This was my once in a lifetime.

©stephanie g. pepper, 2017


City sunset as captured by the photographer  February 11, 2017

Filed under: poetry pops — Stephanie @ 9:26 pm

And the sky flames in a brilliant display of orange and
red and yellow, a fiery explosion
of the ending day.

The jagged outline of the city, the black buildings–that
shine so bright in daylight–standing still, tall and dark
in the burning sky.

The cars, headlights and taillights;
glowing in the semi-dark sunset light,
captured motionless now.

Twin stop lights glaring,
red eyes stare intensely back at me,
looking down Shelby Street.

The waxing gibbous moon burns, too,
reflecting the relentless,
dying passion of the sun.

And the spindly branches of leafless trees
stand stark in their blackness against the glory of the
sun, the wedding of day and night.

©stephanie g. pepper


You come from that place

Filed under: poetry pops — Stephanie @ 9:25 pm
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Group of Black-eyed Susans

You come from that place where Queen Anne’s lace
and milk thistle grow thick on the creek bank
behind the house.
Black-eyed Susans, opened to the sky,
sway strong and tall in the wind.
A dogwood blooms;
in remembrance of friends gone.

And the dust gathers
heavy over that forgotten place.
My heart closed up like a daylily
at moonrise.
And I, a late blooming rose,
far into an Indian summer.

You left; then I—
left and shook the dust not just from feet,
but hair, skin, bones.
It collected deep inside, though.
As you did.

We never said goodbye.

© stephanie pepper, 2013


The First Week September 28, 2016

Filed under: musings — Stephanie @ 4:34 pm
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Day one: I miss Facebook. I can’t do this.

Day two: Missing Facebook really badly.

Day three: Craving human contact. Any human contact. Feeling alone and separated from the world.

Day four: Feeling like this experiment is pointless and stupid.

Day five: Still in detox mode. At the soccer park waiting for a game with nothing to do.

Day six: First day talking to real people besides my family.

Day seven: Do I really want/need to keep up with 490 people? Do they want to keep up with me?

Day eight: How have I survived 8 days without social media? Still a long way to go. I haven’t bothered to do the math. It’s just a really long time.

Giving up social media has been harder than giving up Coke. And giving up Coke was hard, achievable only under compulsion, a dare from my boys. It was something I never thought possible. And while there is the option of drinking Coke again at Christmas, I have lasted this long with only minor temptations after the first few days. While I don’t have the physical withdrawal symptoms with social media as I did with Coke—no caffeine headache, no shaky hands—I have withdrawal symptoms just the same. Crabby mood, slightly disoriented, restlessness, boredom. And I feel the same sense of loss that I felt when I passed up the Coke at the store. Something I depended on for comfort is no longer there. I feel it acutely.

While I am here making this brief connection, I am tempted to give an account of everything that happened in my life last week. All the funny things my boys have said and done, the pictures I have taken, the blogs I’ve read and wanted to share. But that would turn this into a glorified status update so I will resist the urge.

All the thoughts have gone through my head. Does anybody miss me? Does anybody wonder where I’ve gone? Does anybody even remember me? Or have I disappeared? Have I been erased from the social media consciousness already? Have I been relegated to a “whatever happened to” status? There’s a lot of philosophizing going on in my head right now. Ninety days is a long time, and with today’s here today, gone tomorrow mindset, there’s a good chance I’ll be forgotten while I’m gone. In my mind, I’ve already fallen off the face of the Facebook earth.

I realize that in the grand scheme of things, giving up social media is minor. I am not an alcoholic struggling to resist the next drink. I’m not a drug addict looking for a hit. James says that we’re all addicted to something. Just because my addiction is “acceptable” and not as severe as something like alcoholism doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Social media clouds my thinking. It numbs me. It takes time away from the important things. It has dumbed me down, reduced my life to micro stories and 40 character tweets instead of the novels I used to feast on. Even blog posts have become too long for my stunted attention span. And writing? If I can’t get something out in less than an hour, I quit. My mind doesn’t function the way it did before social media.

Though people emphatically commented “enjoy!” as I embarked on this experiment, I have not enjoyed my break so far. Far from it. I crave the satisfaction that comes from posting a status update. I miss scrolling through my newsfeed. I miss feeling connected even if it’s on a superficial level. I miss the instant gratification of those likes and comments. Yes, I have had lunch with a friend. I have read four books in a week. I have written every day. I have shelved books at the library. But, I have also sat on the couch with my phone in my hand looking for validation. Hoping to find in the tiny little screen a sense of worth. Looking for anything to occupy my mind and my hands, I check Goodreads for new books to read and class dojo for Paul’s behavior points and iNow for the boys’ grades. MyPayments+ for cafeteria balances. I check these multiple times a day. I know that Paul buys ice cream or chips or rice crispy treats every day in the cafeteria, that Jack saves his money, buying only a basic lunch, and Eli buys ice cream every Friday. That Paul typically earns good behavior points every day and that they all have good grades. Even now my phone is beside me, email pulled up, futile though it is as I rarely get anything other than junk. Waiting for texts that don’t come. I can only text Mom and email Brian so many times a day. It’s strange that as an introvert I crave so much interaction. I am alone all day, it’s true. I have very little human contact outside of my boys and Brian. Adult conversation is rare. I need approval. I need to know that I am loved. To know that I matter to people. I can’t just rest in the fact that I matter to God. I thrive on the approval of others.

But I am learning, I hope, how to engage my mind again. I have checked out enough books to last 90 days. Already, in 8 days, I have noticed my attention span lengthening, spreading out. Reading, while satisfying, is a slow satisfaction. I have to read paragraphs and pages and chapters to find satisfaction and true satisfaction only comes with the final word. Reading makes me slow down. And I don’t like to slow down. I want that lightning fast, quicker than quick, satisfaction. My attention span and focus have been diluted so much that anything more than a couple of sentences is too long for me to read. I first noticed this when I’d try to read blog posts. I just couldn’t focus on them long enough to get to the end. And when I try to read books, my attention is divided between the book and my phone. I know the solution is to not have my phone sitting beside me all the time but I rationalize having it by thinking what if someone texts me and I have to get up and walk across the room to get my phone. I’m a little lazy too.

I am also learning, I hope, how to cultivate real relationships with the people standing right in front of me. I am not good at this yet. As Paul says, “All she does is sit on the couch and look at her phone.” If this sabbatical is teaching me anything, it’s that the relationships that are the most important are the ones with the people living in my house, the ones I can look in the eye. They are worth me putting down my phone to watch a soccer trick, look at a drawing or help with homework.

I think I’m getting a little better. Something longer than 40 characters can hold my attention again. I can stay up past my bedtime to read just one more chapter. I can sit across the table from someone and have a two hour face to face conversation without looking at my phone. I can write 1000 words a day. I’m not saying that online relationships are worthless, don’t hear that at all. I miss my Facebook friends. I miss hearing about their lives. I wonder if I will know when babies are born or if someone dies. How could I? I am learning what it feels like to not have constant validation of my worth. And that it’s ok to not have that validation. I still crave it, need it, want it though.

Will I come back? That question has already been posed to me. And something I’ve already thought about. Will I? I don’t know. My gut reaction is a resounding YES, I can’t wait! I miss being in the loop. I miss not knowing. I miss my friends. I’m already planning my comeback status update. But, I honestly don’t know if I will get back on social media. Can I live without knowing the latest details? I know myself and I know that I can’t just have one. Like a package of Oreos in the pantry, Facebook tempts me and I know that I won’t be able to go back to it and restrain myself. I will be all in, checking multiple times a day. I have long known that I am lacking in the area of self-control. The same way I can’t eat just one Oreo, I can’t check Facebook in moderation. I don’t know that I can go back to social media and be reasonable about it. If I log back in to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I will be logging back in to a life glued to my phone. A life I see through a window instead of being able to touch and smell and taste the world. A life merely watched and not lived.


Experimenting September 21, 2016

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 6:46 pm
Tags: , ,

Monday, my therapist, James, suggested that I take a 90 day social media sabbatical. He laughed and said my eyes widened at his words, and I’m sure they did. I can’t go 90 minutes without checking Facebook, much less 90 days. Think about it, he said. My psych nurse endorsed the suggestion when I mentioned it to her later that day. Too much social media, she said, like TV, exacerbates depression. The studies prove it. So I wrestled with it. There’s no doubt that I am addicted to Facebook, spending up to 12 hours a day checking, liking, watching, reading. Glancing at the little blue and white icon on my phone, hoping to see the red circle indicating that someone liked what I said; that someone liked me. See, Facebook is my lifeline; my connection to the world. All of my information is gleaned from scrolling through my newsfeed. I spend hours just looking back at my own timeline, looking for confirmation of my self-worth. Pathetic, I know. (But I don’t think I’m the only one.) And this dawns on me: I have no life outside of the one I present on Facebook. I do nothing.

And so I realized that I had to follow James’ suggestion. I had to go live my life out from behind my phone, my laptop. Who am I even? What motivates me? What excites me? What do I want to be? What do I want to do with my life? What do I love? I cannot answer these questions if my phone is constantly in my hand; if my head is bowed, staring at a 5.44 x 2.64 inch screen, finger hovering, swiping, tapping. I have to put down my phone. I have to engage my life before it’s too late.

Kentucky writer James Still once said in an interview that “writing comes out of a life lived.” If I want to write, I have to live. And one thing I know is this: I want to write. But I have not been living for a long time. I have been existing, one orbit around the sun at a time. And I don’t want to come to the end, a sad old woman wondering where the time went. Wondering about all those things left undone, unsaid, unwritten.

This all coincides with a desire to find myself. It started a month ago, this nagging desire to figure out what it is that makes me tick. To find my passion. The need to try and make something of my life. To do something, make a difference, even if it’s a small difference. To leave a footprint.

And honestly, Facebook isn’t going to help me discover my calling in life.

Today I read a timely blog post by Ann Voskamp from A Holy Experience. She writes:

“You miss Jesus—when you don’t look for Him in the right places…
Your soul misses Jesus when more time is spent on Facebook than face in the Book.
Your soul misses Jesus when more time is spent on Instagram feeds than feeding on His Word.
Your soul misses Jesus when more time is spent on Twitter chats than chatting with Jesus whom you claim to follow.
Balanced social media can be a soul meal; too much social media can be a soul suicide.”

And I might add that you miss life. I know I miss the everyday graces. I’m so busy figuring out how to post about an experience that I miss the experience itself.

So here comes the experiment: 90 days without social media. It will be December the next time I check Facebook. I’ll miss the election drama. I’ll miss my birthday. I’ll miss countless events in my friends’ lives.

I’ll miss sharing my life in short anecdotes. I’ll miss posting pictures of my boys being who they are. I’ll miss sharing quotes that inspire or motivate me.

And I’ll miss the affirmation that comes from the likes and the comments. The feeling of being somebody.

And I admit that this will be hard for me. To disconnect. To let go of my voyeuristic need for constant information. Already, two days in, I’ve thought a few dozen times “I’d like to share that on Facebook.” But Facebook hasn’t been there for me and I’ve felt the void.

I know, I need a plan. I need something to fill the empty space, to replace social media. Maybe more than one thing. So here’s my plan.

Read. In one day I’ve read a collection of short stories (“Final Vinyl Days” by Jill McCorkle) and I’m now halfway through an autobiography (“Dimestore: A Writer’s Life” by Lee Smith). I plan to indulge my intellect and feed that part of me that I’ve long neglected.

Write. Every day. Chronicling my time free from social media, journaling, writing a story, writing my story. Discovering who I am as a writer, finding my voice.

Volunteer. Get out into the world. Yesterday I sorted papers for Paul’s teacher. And this morning I shelved books at the public library.

Who knows, maybe I’ll clean my long neglected house. Maybe I’ll learn to engage with the world. Maybe I’ll get off the couch discover who I am.

So when my finger hovers above the screen, my eyes searching for the blue and white icon, I’ll put the phone down. Pick up a book. Or sit at the computer and watch my words fill up the screen. Read a book to Eli. Run. Call my Mamaw. Unload the dishwasher. Shelve books at the library.

And maybe in the process, I’ll discover who I am and what I’m here for.

(This will post to social media, but trust me on this, I won’t be there to see it. I hope.)


this beautiful thing August 2, 2016

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 5:00 am
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This beautiful thing happened last week. Beautiful as a sunrise, bursting with color and lighting up the sky. But just as a sunrise only happens after the dark of night, so too with this beautiful thing. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let me go back.

At the beginning of our story, I am a ship without an anchor, drifting alone at sea. And then a storm arose and hell cut loose. It’s hard to tell this story because I won’t go into a lot of details about the storm. But suffice it to say that this storm raged violently. And I raged with it.

It started with a Monday morning therapy session two weeks ago, processing some junk and dragging it out kicking and screaming. Junk that hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. And my broken self would have been glad to leave that junk in the dark, buried beneath the surface of my consciousness. But out it came. Therapy is good for that. I had opened Pandora’s box and nothing was going back in. What came out of that box was ugly. And I got ugly with it. It triggered me and whether it triggered a mixed episode, a full on hypomanic episode or an ugly reaction to the ugliness, it was ugly. Get it? I was a mess of anger and rage. I hurt people that I love. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t see past the red hot anger. I spiraled out of control and finally crashed to the bottom of the pit. This wasn’t like the pit of depression with its suffocating ocean of thick darkness. This burned. Like raging hot coals heaped on my head until I thought they would burn right through me. And who can walk on burning coals?

But here’s where it gets good. I have these friends and what they do is point me to the truth. From the one who understands exactly where I’m coming from to the one who tells it like it is and the ones who turn my eyes straight to Jesus, these friends surrounded me. They bore my burdens, carrying them as if they were their own. And I began to see the Lord’s hand moving. Slowly, surely moving. Randy said, you’ve done this before and the Lord brought you through it. He’ll do it again. And Renee, God chose you, he loves you. Find all the times the Lord says he is your shield and protector.

I desperately wanted these things to be true.

And so I started to believe them. I found verses like Psalm 3:3—“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head.” And Psalm 28:7—“The Lord is my strength and my shield…” But it was Psalm 18 that stood out. “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:1-3) I held these verses close to my chest as I fell asleep last Sunday night.

I woke the next morning to a text from Julie. The first three verses of Psalm 18. Awe. It seems like a small thing, inconsequential and maybe even coincidental. But I know it’s not. God did that just for me. He has nothing to prove, yet he chose to prove himself anyway. So that I would know how much he loves me. So that I would know he is with me. And so I fell back into him, trusting that he would catch me. “Come to me” and “rest” (Matthew 11:28-30). I started to think of it as a retreat; a falling back into him and allowing him to advance and defeat this for me. I fell straight into his secure grip, into his safe arms. I had doubted that he would catch me. Why am I so slow to remember who he is? Slow to trust who he is?

Nothing has changed yet everything has changed. Pandora’s box is still wide open. Those things that triggered me are still there. I am still fragile. Still reeling from the work I’ve done and the work I’ll continue to do in therapy. But, I don’t have to do it alone. He is here, with these people he has given me walking along side me as well. And he has given me peace and calm as only a gentle, kind Father could. 

And so I write all of this because I want to show off my God. I want you to see him for who he is, in all his glory. In all his goodness and mercy. I want you to stand in awe as I have. To know that he is alive and well.

This beautiful thing.

©stephanie g. pepper


Who am I? Who I am. April 19, 2016

Filed under: seriousness,Uncategorized — Stephanie @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

Who am I? Whenever think about that question, I usually respond in bullet points. I am a wife, a mother, a writer, a reader, a Christ follower…and the list goes on. But who am I? Where is my identity? I know what the answer is, but it is so hard to believe. I am a child of God. A redeemed daughter of the Father, saved by grace alone and called good. Why is that so hard to believe? Because I don’t think I’m worthy to be called these things. In my eyes, I am a miserable wretch, undeserving of grace, of anything good. But that isn’t true. My true identity no more rests in those lies than it does in the fact that I have brown hair or am 5’4” tall.

On a women’s retreat recently, I was consumed by anxiety and wrought with fear. Fear of being inadequate. Anxious about the social aspect of the weekend—making friends, finding a place to sit for meals. I realized that for all my bravado, for all the times I proudly said “I have bipolar” instead of “I am bipolar,” for all the times I put on the persona of a confident woman, I was still allowing my illnesses and weaknesses to define me. I was identifying as being bipolar, being anxious and being inadequate. They were my identity. Even realizing this during a conversation did not allay my fears or calm my anxious heart. I continued to categorize myself in terms of my faults, my weaknesses, my illness, not allowing God to have the final say in who I was. And they consumed my heart as I allowed these thoughts to reign.

So what is identity? The dictionary defines identity as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” And being is defined as “the most important or basic part of a person’s mind or self.” At its core, identity is how we are defined. It is fact. And while there are many facts about me, it is in the facts that are me that my identity is found. It is in these facts of being that we find our true self.

What’s the difference in facts about me verses facts that are me? A fact about me is that I have brown eyes. I am not brown eyes though. I could have colored contact lenses and a casual observer might think that I have blue or green eyes. I have brown hair but someday it will turn gray. A fact that is me is that I am a child of the King. I am his beloved daughter. Those facts define me to the core of my being. They are who I am. It is the most basic part of my true self. It is who he has made me to be.

How, then, do I live out of the reality of who he says I am, who he has called me to be instead of letting “about” facts take the place of “are” facts? It’s a heart change. One wrought by years of beating down a path in your heart to make the truths personal and real. It’s allowing his words to penetrate deep down and take root in your soul until your heart finally believes the truth of who you are.

While other things may be descriptors of my person-hood, they are not definers of my soul. One word separates the two—have. I have brown eyes, I have anxiety, I have bipolar. But I am a child of God. My identity is found only in who he says I am. And he says I am loved, honored and precious.

©stephanie g. pepper