Stories - by Rebecca Ryder
“Once upon a time…” - That’s probably the most famous opening line of a story.
I have always loved stories. There were many nights as a kid that I was the last one asleep in the house because I couldn’t put my book down. I was the kid who could block out the rest of the world by getting caught up in a story – much to the frustration of my parents or siblings when they wanted or needed my attention. I always carried a book with me everywhere I went so I could read any time I had a free moment.
You may remember that a couple of decades ago, one of the major morning news networks aired a Friday feature called “Everybody Has A Story.” I loved this segment so much because it focused on some obscure person who may have never been given a spotlight otherwise to share their personal journey. There was never a time when the person chosen didn’t tell an amazing and inspiring story! At the end of the segment, the reporter would blindly throw a dart at a map of the US to select the next town or city where he could find his next story. I couldn’t wait to see what would be shared the following week.
Since then, I have been moved by the fact that Everybody Has a Story – we just have to get close enough to hear it.
Recently I have realized that all of the major jobs or ministries I have ever done have placed me in the role of witnessing stories. I was made for that - to be a container, an encourager, a keeper, and validator of the story… To journey alongside someone as the story unfolded. Changed. Healed.
My first career was in education. My first teaching job was in an inner-city middle school in Kansas City, MO. There was a steep learning curve in finding ways to reach and teach students who came to school daily despite the circumstances and obstacles in their individual worlds. Most days I became a nurse, mom, mediator, social worker, counselor, or referee before I ever had a chance to teach them something. I learned quickly that I had to make an intentional effort to know each student if I wanted to gain any trust and any hope of helping them overcome barriers to learning and growth. Spending extra time with many of them by taking advantage of an after-school program earned me the right to know their stories and unlocked a passion for one-on-one work.
Later, a desire was born for counseling. A lot of that came from the 1:1 experiences I was having with people and their stories. Counseling involves the ability to listen and be a witness to someone else’s story and pain. For me, it is teaching…but in a different way. I teach coping and communication skills, probe for insight, and help people find their identities in Christ. But mostly, I get to become a container for stories. The work focuses on the whole person. It is built on what the client already knows. We celebrate the courage it took to walk through the door and bravely share their stories. On my office wall, I have a quote from one of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp. It states, “Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.” I want to be a safe place for clients and people to share their stories and unlock steps to growth. I can’t do that without God’s strength and Spirit working in and through me. I rely on Him to help people reframe and reshape the stories of their lives so they can bring glory to God.
Witnessing growth is a privilege. As a supervisor, I get to work with interns and counselors as they hone their skills and develop discernment and wisdom with their own clients. I get to teach them and pass on wisdom I have gained through my own training and experiences. I appreciate my own supervision and ongoing consultation with colleagues, because one of my fundamental beliefs is that ‘If I’m not growing, I’m dying.’ In the midst of loving other people to life, I also have to love myself to life and pursue God with intention and passion.
Most of the stories I have witnessed don’t have a “happily ever after” ending. At least not like you see in the movies or read in books. Growth? Yes. Progress? Yes. Healing? Yes. God showing up and doing what he does best? You bet. He transforms what we cannot. He becomes the wisdom, and power, and glory. He makes beauty from ashes. I just get a front row seat.
You don’t have to be a counselor to know someone’s story. You just have to get close enough to listen.