Friday, September 5, 2014

Changed... by Story

I've tried to consider what to write about The Story Workshop I attended in Seattle: four days that I just can't really put into words. There was good teaching by Dan Allender in our large group setting. A psychologist and a theologian, he has the ability to really make you think. I loved sitting under his teaching (as I love reading his books). But where the work was really done was in our small groups... and confidentiality for those women keeps me from saying much about what happened there.

It's amazing that we walked into that first group not knowing each other at all and walked out probably knowing each other better than our best friends at home. The intimacy we shared was significant. We shared our stories... sometimes stories that had never been shared as they were there and sometimes stories that had never been shared at all. We helped each other discover our stories; see them more clearly. After journeying together the way we did, it seemed really strange to just walk away from each other at the end of those four days with just a hug and a blessing – most likely never to see or hear from one another ever again. Just a blessing? So much more. The blessings those women spoke over me have changed me. I hope mine have changed them as well.

I can't say that I walked away with an earth-shattering revelation or direction. And yet... I did walk away changed. I did discover some things about myself and my story that I hadn't seen before. And I think I walked away with a new sense of confidence. I still don't know quite what to do with that, but it's there.

So... what happened? Not what I expected. The problems I'd discovered on my own in the weeks before the workshop (e.g. perfectionism as my idol) never really came up. Instead, what came up was my own attitude towards that 6 year old girl who was abused. I had written my story from the perspective of an 8 year old and described what I felt when I discovered what had really been done to me: "Humiliation overwhelmed me as I realized I wasn't special to him, he didn't love me... I was just a dumb kid who didn't know any better... and he knew it." Through that and other statements that had described feeling foolish and stupid, my facilitator pointed out the hatred I had for that little girl. I argued the point, saying I was just describing how that little girl had felt, not what I now believed. Yet... over the next couple of group sessions, and an individual session, I began to realize that by "protecting" her and continuing to do everything in my power to make sure I was never caught unaware again, I was in fact still speaking disparagement to that little girl. Facing that was huge. I now realized I had to reach out to that little girl inside me and stop telling her she was stupid and foolish.

I was still grappling with that a couple of hours later when I walked into the next small group session... where I came face to face with another unexpected truth. Our facilitator had given me a compliment of sorts and as soon as I'd muttered my thanks, I realized I'd entirely forgotten what had just happened (what was I even being complimented on?). When I admitted it, our facilitator pointed out that I'd just left them... where did I go? I hadn't even seen it, but she did. And when she confronted me on it, I knew the truth of it... and the truth hit me with a searing pain. I didn't know where I had gone, but I knew why... I ran from being enjoyed.... and as we explored why I had that reaction, I suddenly knew... "because when I find out it's not true, it hurts too much."

I did a lot of thinking and writing that night....

I think I walked into the next small group session with a little more confidence. It must have been noticeable, because our facilitator finally turned to me towards the end of the session and said, "Okay... I'm curious...?" I ducked the question for a moment asking, "About what?" but when she just grinned and asked again, I pulled out one of the journal entries I'd written the day before and read it to the group: 
I'm shaking inside. As I question why every muscle is tensed, it occurs to me... I have fought hard: fought to maintain control; fought to deny the weakness of my own feelings; fought to portray an image of strength and self-sufficiency... to mask the quaking little girl inside me. 
I thought I was protecting her; shielding her from the world around her. She was too little; too innocent. She needed that protection. And all the while... all the while I was the one whispering to her, "You'll make a fool of yourself if I let you out." My protection condemned her to a life of silence. My protection took her voice... confirmed... confirmed what? I don't know. That she wasn't able to do it herself?
I called her names without even hearing it: Stupid... Dumb... Foolish.... I fought to make sure she would never face the humiliation of not knowing ever again; would never be made the fool of again. And by fighting... I pronounced her guilty of the very thing I wanted to protect her from.
So hear me now, little Jenn... you were the victim of an abuser. You were gloriously innocent. You looked up to his face with the glowing admiration and the unwavering trust of a small child. He abused that trust. It was his sin, his mistake, his responsibility. You weren't foolish. You were trusting. No one had ever given you reason not to trust before. You didn't know because you couldn't know. You gave him the gift of your trust. There is beauty in that. The evil of abuse marked that beauty, but it is beauty.
The problem is, little Jenn, that you've had a hard time with trusting ever since then. You don't trust others... and you don't trust yourself. I haven't trusted you.
So... dear, little Jenn... lift up your sweet, innocent face and look into my tear-filled eyes. Take my hand as we learn to trust... together. Truth is... I'm still scared of looking foolish... but somehow... I think maybe... just maybe... you... can teach me... how to play.

When I finished reading and looked up, tears were streaming down our facilitator's face.

After some discussion and affirmation, someone asked what I needed. I fumbled for a moment, not knowing. Then I realized... I told them I had to risk looking foolish. I needed to share something growing within me... I hesitantly stumbled over the words as I admitted that even before the workshop I'd been considering pursuing the lay counseling certificate... just to take something back to my home church. I was asked why that felt foolish... and I had to answer that I didn't like admitting desires... I'd prefer not to admit them even to myself... and that I didn't feel like I was good enough... that I struggled with having something to say... who was I to think I could help someone else? That's when nearly every member of the group looked me in the eye and spoke to me of the power of my words... of the way the Spirit had used me there in that room. I have a hard time writing that, actually... it feels like patting myself on the back and I hate that. But what was happening in that room was important... was working to tell that little girl inside that she wasn't stupid or foolish... that her voice could make a difference.

One woman looked at me and told me, "Every time I think of my breakthrough, I will see your face." I honestly didn't have a clue what she was talking about... what I'd said... but I couldn't doubt the look in her eyes. Her words to me were a powerful salve. I already knew another woman had shared something she had never shared before simply because I had shared my story. Now someone was telling me that something I had said to her had changed her as well. I walked out of the room a slightly different person than the one who had entered. Slightly more confident... contemplating what it all meant... willing to contemplate what it all meant....

The next day we had our large group celebration service. I sat until almost the very end, trying to deny the still, small voice inside that told me to get up and speak. This wasn't our small group, but the entire large group! I finally gave in, stood up, and spoke into the mic... not sure anyone could even hear my voice over the pounding of my heart. I spoke a few moments and then read the journal entry. I was still shaking when I sat down. One of my small group members leaned over to me and whispered, "You just changed lives." I didn't really believe her, but at least I'd been obedient. A little while later, though, at the conclusion of the celebration, another woman walked up to me from across the room, pressed a card into my hand, and asked me to email her what I'd read – saying it was something she'd needed to hear. I can't really say much beyond that except to say that the emails we've shared back and forth since then have confirmed what my small group member had told me: my obedience, my words... changed at least one life that afternoon.

So... now what? I'm not sure. I've still got my own issues and my own broken spots. And yet... there is such a strong desire to change lives... to just sit with someone in their story... to give them the freedom and the space to tell their stories. But what does that look like in reality? I really don't know. I'm at a loss... and more than a little scared of it... of even admitting it, actually. At a crossroads, too, I think... but more open. Changed... by story.


For More information on The Story Workshop, see


  1. I can't help but smile big. YES. Do the Lay Counseling Program. It is more of the same, over a longer period of time and so beneficial, challenging, wonderful and difficult. I have become convinced I am headed next to The Seattle School to get a Master's in Counseling. Which is crazy, but not really. Not after my time at the Lay Counseling program. I have applied for next Fall. Send me a friend request on fb and we can chat more. Sorry it took me so long to find your message on fb, and to read this blog entry. But I'm glad I did. It encourages me and makes want to shout hallelujah!

  2. Thanks, Kelli! I actually did apply for the LCC... but my application was denied (they thought I needed to do more work on my story first). Not sure at the moment what that means for me....

  3. SO MUCH GOODNESS HERE. I never thought about my not wanting to admit my desires- but that is absolutely a thing for me. Because I assume I'll fail- and then people will KNOW I failed. Also, not wanting to look foolish. *SO* understand that. This is some brave work you are doing, friend. Well done, you.