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

Totality August 23, 2017

Filed under: musings — Stephanie @ 10:07 am
Tags: , , , , ,

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


The First Week September 28, 2016

Filed under: musings — Stephanie @ 4:34 pm
Tags: ,

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.


callings August 27, 2015

Filed under: musings,seriousness — Stephanie @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve never truly admitted to myself that I want to be a writer. But I do. I want to be a writer. And maybe I already am. But I hesitate to apply the term to myself. I always say, “I write.” Not “I’m a writer.” Maybe because it sounds too arrogant or too grandiose or something like that. Maybe I’m not brave enough to call myself out like that. It’s a pretty loaded statement. There’s no turning back once you declare something like that. You’re either all in or not. To me, it feels like there’s no halfway to it. Oh wait, I lied. I’m not a writer after all.

The truth is though, I feel like I’m called to be a writer. I honestly believe that God has gifted and called me to write the same way he calls some to preach and others to serve. And that sounds conceited to my ears. Do I even have the courage to agree with him? Can I allow him to make that claim on my life? Where do I take this call? But God lays claim on everyone’s life…and I guess, no, I know, that this is his on mine. It has been mine since I can remember, even when being a writer was just a childhood dream. And then in high school, people started telling me I was a good writer. But I didn’t believe them, not really. I doubted myself then as I doubt myself now. I question not only my call, but my ability. No matter how many times I’m told that I’m a good writer, I still question it.

And why write? What is so important about words that God would call some to be writers? In the Bible (words), God calls Jesus the Word made flesh. God used words to make his truth known throughout the history of Israel. He inspired Moses to write down the history of creation and slavery and freedom. Without those words, we’d likely know nothing about our God and our heritage. The songs of praise and adoration from David and the other Psalmists. And look at Paul’s letters. He used words to express God’s truth to the gentiles. Words are everywhere. And I think God calls some of to write his truth still—through non-fiction and fiction, because truth is everywhere if you look for it.

So here I stand with a call, pondering my next move. If I agree with God and say I’m a writer, then I’ve got to write. And writing is hard. Sometimes words flow and sometimes it’s like dragging them out of hell. But God never said it would be easy, he just said to do it. So I am trying. Trying to write, but more than that, trying to be faithful.

©stephanie g. pepper


on being wrong June 14, 2013

Filed under: musings — Stephanie @ 9:48 pm
Tags: , , ,

It’s not the first time I’ve been wrong about high school. I carried a lot of baggage around those days. But one thing I’ve carried around for all these years became a fragment of my identity. A partial definition of me. It lay in my soul like a stone at the bottom of a quiet stream; always there though the disturbance from its entrance had long since ceased. I was so sure that my perception of events was the right one that I banished all thoughts of any other possibility. (Though I had no confidence in myself, I had every confidence that the rest of the world only wanted to hurt me.) And so I nursed that grievance; held it close and sheltered it from the light until it became not a small stone but a boulder that disrupted the flow of my heart.

But I was wrong.

So here I am as the paradigm of my universe shifts around me like so much sand. What I thought of as true isn’t true at all and history has somehow altered its reality. And this grudge I’ve held these 20 years dissolved into dust in a conversation. A friendship reinstated and at least a slice of high school redeemed. And how many other things have I been wrong about?

I was wrong. And I’m glad I was wrong.

And I’m glad that, for once, I found this little bit of hidden brave and raised that stone up into the light. An Ebenezer.

There’s grace in this, people.

© stephanie g pepper, 2013


those days June 3, 2013

Filed under: musings — Stephanie @ 2:41 pm
Tags: , , , ,

It’s one of those days. You know those days. We all know those days because we all have them whether we admit it on Facebook or not. When the sandwich you made for lunch was cut diagonal instead of vertical or had cheese on it when it shouldn’t have; the milk wasn’t cold and why did you make broccoli anyway? When the biggest boy and the middle boy won’t leave the littlest boy alone to sleep. And all you really want to do is space out in front of the computer or play candy crush saga and eat that hidden bag of m&m’s, but that only makes the brain fog worse. And I know, because I’m doing it (minus the m&m’s unfortunately). I have to keep reminding myself that bad days don’t make bad people. But most of the time it doesn’t make any difference because that just doesn’t feel true. What feels true is that I’m lousy. And nothing will change that, not even if I pull off the treasure chest birthday cake, the skull cookies and a map for a pirate treasure hunt. It won’t matter because it’s not enough. Nothing I can do is enough. My best intentions fall to the ground and scatter like legos. And then I step on them at unexpected times and curse that I haven’t picked them up yet. Maybe it’s time I ditch my good intentions and lofty expectations and face the facts:  not everyday can be a pinterest day. And the good thing is, Jesus didn’t say every day had to be picture perfect. And most days aren’t. He did say that every day I can choose to lean on his all-sufficient grace, that his power is made perfect in weakness and that he is always with me. And that’s true whether I feel it or not. Whether I made sandwiches cut like Mater or haphazardly slapped peanut butter and jelly on bread. Whether we read books all day, made baking soda and vinegar volcanoes or the trio of boys watched SpongeBob for two hours. And that’s a darn good thing. Because it means that I’m ok. And so are you.
© stephanie pepper, 2013


life itself November 23, 2012

Filed under: musings — Stephanie @ 10:37 am
Tags: , , , ,

It presses in hard. This living. Its list of to-do longer than done. Its piles and stacks and heaps. Its needs and spills and tears. Piled laundry. Stacked dishes. Spilled milk; tears. The daily doing it all over. One more time. To get to the end of the day and a bowl of ice cream. From where I sit, longing to snatch a few moments of calm, I hear the tears of the littlest boy, locked out by the brothers. See laundry, once clean, knocked over and trampled on the floor; spilled cereal in hardened milk rings on the table.

And all I want—all I need, is a few minutes of quiet. Solitude. A chance to sit with the Maker and draw life. Breath. And this time, it falls short. Needing a deeper breath, a longer drink. To find the water in the living. The breath in the doing. Turn the to-do into to-be. To look and find the Holy in the common. The Sacred in the mundane. Because it’s there. It must be. Buechner writes, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than the excitement and gladness:  touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” (Frederick Buechner, Now and Then) Holy hidden in ordinary. Jesus in the laundry basket. All moments sacred. Praise in the piles. And the tears of that littlest boy birth a prayer. And somehow, in all the living, that Water keeps flowing and that Life keeps breathing. And it’s enough.

© stephanie pepper, 2012