Significance of Story Part 7
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Ann Maree: Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the executive director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

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Ann Maree
I am talking once again with Melissa Affolter here on the Safe to Hope podcast. Melissa, if you’ll remember is the designer and the facilitator of the Restoried support groups. Today, we’re going to pick back up talking about story and the uniqueness of storytelling in community, as well as the necessity of story for healing and growth. So here’s a good one. What’s the difference between telling the story being the cathartic way people change and what you do?

Melissa
Yeah, I think when, I think about that word, cathartic, you know, the ultimate goal, typically, with something that is termed cathartic is relief. You know, that’s, what I think of immediately. And you just kind of really paved the way for this point, which is so great. I love it. This is so perfect. It was very unintentional, but so good. The relief that we’re seeking, obviously, we know as Christians, we would say that comes from Christ from the realities of what is to come, even if we don’t experience relief this side of eternity. But I think the goal or the, I guess the difference between something being cathartic, and then what I do or what, what I would hope a lot of us are trying to do with with this kind of work is, yeah, I’m coming right beside someone and saying, ‘I have hope for relief for you. I do. And I even believe it’s possible, this side of heaven’, it’s not that I’m lament doesn’t mean we’re resigning ourselves to living a certain way for the rest of our lives. We’re simply acknowledging this is how it is today. Or this is how it has been. And so I’m, I’m acknowledging, I’m naming, but I’m also shifting, I’m, even if I can’t really get my head around the shift, I’m leaning into those promises of the shift that I’ve seen in the Psalms, in Scripture. This is where in my ReStoried groups, we go back to certain stories, one of my favorite ones, is the woman with the bleeding problem, you know, 12 years of all kinds of not only the physical realities of what that looked like for her, but how that impacted her entire world. And a lot of that, you know, we don’t get all of the, we don’t get the whole story in the Bible, right? Like we get what we get. God chose, by His, you know, divine knowledge and His perfect desire for us to have His word, He chose to have us read in there, what what we have. And so in my group, I will challenge the women. This is where we can sometimes use our creative creativity, our sanctified imagination, we know that’s not like, the ultimate authority, but we can imagine, we can fill in some colors and textures of what life was like for a woman like that. And so when we do that, I think it helps us to see this, looking at her story or looking at my story, or when they’re looking at their own story – That’s what helps us see this isn’t just to be well, when is my relief coming? Like? I’m just pouring out my whole story, all the details. kind of almost like I’m just dumping it there and then and narratives. And now I’m relieved. Because we all know that typically people, when they when they do that they’re not relieved, we think it will result in relief. And then when we don’t have relief, we’re perplexed or frustrated or disappointed. And so the path of story work that we’re trying to aim at, I think is like, saying, ‘How can we land that somewhere else?’ We’re not landing at just this felt relief, like where I’m feeling it internally. And I can almost like, let my shoulders down and give out a long sigh. It’s actually much bigger than that.

Ann Maree
Yeah, lament is purposeful. It has movement to it. Yeah, I think of it as ongoing, I suppose. I don’t think it’s also offer what you said, I don’t think it’s too far of an imagination to think of the cramps that woman must have, you know.

Melissa
And the social and cultural implications of that. I mean, commentators have written about that for years, like, what was life like, at the time for her?

Ann Maree
Yeah, they didn’t have the modern conveniences that we have now, either. Okay, so how… And this is a good question, again, to how will counselor or a survivor know when they’re ready to tell their story, either publicly or not? Are there any benchmarks or processes that we need to look for?

Melissa
Hmm. So I probably stay more away, not because it’s wrong. It’s just not my approach necessarily, or my natural style to look more for like benchmarks, per se. But I look more for helping the person discern what is the Spirit doing here? Like, what is what is His role in this? What how, how has He been already moving? As they’ve maybe shared their story with me or shared it in one of our groups. Or maybe they’ve shared parts of their story with a couple of trusted friends. Then we’ll talk about like, in a reflective way, not just how was that experience of sharing your story a little bit. But in looking back on it, since then, like, you know, maybe they come in for a counseling session, and a week ago, they shared a part of their story with two of their trusted friends. And maybe now they’re being asked, because I’ve had this happen, maybe they’re being asked to share more broadly, maybe a small group at their church has asked them to share a bit of testimony about their story, maybe they want to write about it. We see that oftentimes, you know, and so this is where I’ll start just asking them the more. I don’t know if abstract is the right word, I just can’t necessarily think of a different word. But I guess more open ended, abstract type questions about, Hey, I can’t I can’t discern for you, what the Spirit would be calling you to do with your story. That’s not my role I can help you think through some practical tools, which may be those would be benchmarks, I guess. So thinking through, do they have a good support system in place, so that if they were to start sharing their story, you know, if something were to come back and feel much harder for them, then what they anticipated, maybe they experienced some, some setbacks, or some triggers, or just some some significant bumps in the road from sharing. I want them, I want to know that they feel like they have some good supports in place before they start doing that. So there’s gonna be some practical mixed with the more larger picture stuff of like, what’s the Spirit doing here. Is He calling you to this? And if He is, it’s gonna look different for you than it looked for me or looked for my other person that I talked to last week. Everybody’s way of sharing is going to look different.

Ann Maree
Are there certain elements that a God honoring story should always have?

Melissa
Yeah. I really appreciate this question because I think we, as biblical counselors, we want, if I’m being honest, we want to make sure we hold God and His Word in such high esteem that I think, again, going back to that fear thing, we’re always kind of like, a little bit apprehensive about, well, what if this person shares and they really just don’t ever get to a part that feels redemptive, or that acknowledges God’s work in this person’s life. So I just tend to be very careful here, because my own propensity for a variety of reasons, this is where the counselor has to be so cautious to not put our own convictions, which might be right and appropriate at times, but I can’t force that on to the person that I’m talking to. And so this, again, is where I’m asking myself, and I’m also asking that person, ‘what’s the Spirit doing here?’ What would He want the showpiece or the centerpiece, I guess, of your story to be like? What would that be? And I think, for me, at least when I do this work with the women in the story, because a lot of them are either currently already have tried to share their story with people. Maybe they have felt frustrated or hurt by the way people have responded to their sharing. And so we have a whole segment of resources, where we talk about the theological and the relational implications of sharing your story. And my whole purpose in doing that is to try to help them discern what elements should I or could I potentially have in my story, and I find that that promotes a lot of fruitful discussion between the women in the group, we will talk about, like, there’s one week when we do a theological implication that I’ve titled groaning and God’s goodness. And so we look at Romans 8, and talk about how that that whole passage sometimes can be the way that people might want to hear our story. You know, like, and we might even think I have to get to the part where I’m saying, ‘but God works all things together for good’, right? And so we wrestle through that, and talk about what what is the actual context of what’s being said in Romans 8. Because it’s really not that I have to figure out a way to make my story, see my, but at some point, God’s using it for my good. And so we talk through some of the, the deep theological, like rich truths behind the context there. But we also grapple with how difficult is that as a as a human being, as someone who’s frail and weak to really figure out like, how can I grown and yet experienced God as my good at the same time? So those would be some of the elements that I would probably just be incorporating, when I’m trying to help women think that through, how to share their story.

Ann Maree
Okay. Yeah, that’s a helpful framework to think about. And you just touched on this, too. So is there a time when storytelling can be detrimental to others? And yeah, I can, yeah, I know what the answer is. But go ahead.

Melissa
Yeah. I just, when I saw that question, I mostly just thought of things like, you know, what is my, what is my purpose in, in sharing my story? Is it primarily to convince because sometimes we’ll even start from that place, understandably so, a lot of us, and a lot of the women that we meet with and ReStoried it, and women that we both probably meet with in our counseling work, have felt so disbelieved at times, or disregarded, or dismissed when we’ve shared elements of our story or part of our story. And so our, our purpose might, understandably initially feel like I have to convince people and I do find that if that’s a starting point, I’m not saying that it can’t become more than that, but if that’s my starting point, and I’ve not given space to work through that with a trusted counselor or a trusted friend or someone who is going to help me press into that a little bit more clearly. Then I’m probably going to be really shaken up when I share my story, because I might get reactions that take me right back ,to ‘oh, they have not believed’ or their skepticism or someone turned it and made it about their story then you know, that happens to you try to share your story and somebody takes that and says, ‘Well, in my life that had happened’. And so yeah, that’s the one word that stood out the most to me when I thought about that question was, yeah, am I starting from a place of trying to convince? And if I am, I might, should pause, and really work through that with a trusted caregiver first.

Ann Maree
Thank you. Yeah, that’s a very helpful word. Just to think of that one goal, and yes, can be detrimental. Absolutely. But let’s get some of your input here on these questions about the group setting what makes storytelling in community unique and necessary for healing and growth?

Melissa
Yeah, I’m happy to talk about this particular part of my work. And kind of similar to – in the first section, when we talked about my background, I never would have thought all the years that I spent, as a teacher and then leading small groups for years with young adults, college age students and youth group leader type responsibilities – I just never would have guessed how God was preparing me to be able to take that approach, and then figure out like, oh, how does group ministry, group work actually help people heal, you know. It’s not just about staying connected relationally or doing tasks together or accomplishing a goal. And so I immediately when it comes to storytelling in community, and thinking as a biblical counselor, I immediately go back again to that, that concept that Diane Lanberg has, I think, kind of coined in some ways she because she talks so much about bearing witness, you know, essentially, that is, one of the starting places of group work is that you’re, you’re bearing witness to one another in the group. And so, as we’ve already talked about, and I know you talk about this probably regularly with your counseling work as well, Ann Maree, a lot of the women that are coming to us, that might be the first time they’ve shared their story or, or to that depth. And so those initial stages of community and what storytelling in community looks like, it’s really a lot of, I always see the women they’re connecting dots. And and I love it, because in a group setting, you know, if you’re able to make a habit of scanning the room, or if it’s an online group, I’m kind of scanning their faces and all the little zoom boxes, and I’m seeing people, like visibly have reactions to each other’s stories. And so, if one woman says, you know, ‘I experienced this particular way of betrayal, or deception or manipulation’, you’ll see other women nodding their head at certain points with specific words that really resonate for them. And then you’ll often very frequently hear them respond after that person finishes by saying something along the lines of, you know, I never realized that other people felt that way too. Or, I guess I don’t feel alone anymore. Another big one that I’ve had people respond with, when they hear other people sharing their story. They’ll say, you know, when I have shared my story, it always feels like I’m, I’m not me, like I’m, it’s like third person almost. And they’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback after the groups that when they hear that, that element of sharing their own story, but also hearing someone else’s story, and then hearing each other’s responses, it makes it personal again for them. And they realized, no, this actually did happen to me. It’s it’s no longer this third person kind of like looking down on themselves. And I think that’s a really powerful reality, both in affirming what happened to them, but also spiritually, it reminds them, No, I, am a created being like God created me in His image. And there’s no other creatures on this planet, like humans. And so, you know, animals don’t experience things the same way we do. And so there’s just this really interesting dynamic that happens there when I see the women that have these like aha moments as they share mutually together

Ann Maree
That’s helpful that’s really good. Yes. Because I have experienced that with helping particular women. So yeah, the value of having others to hear and acknowledge and also even share similar. God created us for community, right. So yeah, of course healing in community is going to be key for us, too. So why do we resist it? That’s our next question.

Melissa
A few of the things that came to my mind on on that question about ‘why do we resist it?’ I immediately thought about shame, you know, for this particular topic, especially, you know, a lot of the women that we are working with, and I’ve done enough, I’ve counseled enough years now, and talk to enough colleagues to say that, I think this would be the case for men as well, like if men were in a group like this, or having these types of counseling experiences. Yeah, I believe shame is probably one of the first roadblocks to communal sharing. There’s a depth of vulnerability that is happening in group and I always talk to the women in my groups about the difference between vulnerability and transparency. Which kind of goes back to that whole third person, like, what we were just commenting on. We can we can be transparent with people, which is more about just stating facts. You know, I’ll even equate the this for them in a visual, like a generic visual, you know, nowadays, with social media, you might see people take a photo of their messy house, and they post it on social media so that people can feel like, I’m not the only person with a messy house, right. But that’s actually, from my perspective, as I’ve thought about that, that’s really just being transparent. You’re you’re being transparent, you’re stating the obvious, you’re stating the facts. You’re letting someone have a visual of your life in a factual way. But vulnerability is something very different. Brad Hambrick does a great job. I remember years ago, or several years ago, first reading one of his little mini books on vulnerability. And that’s where it really helped me understand some of the difference. He takes the Sermon on the Mount and just talks about vulnerability, which I never would have thought to make some of those connections, but he did does it really skillfully. And so I think the shame that we are encountering internally, when we come to a communal type setting, is oftentimes linked back to this fear of vulnerability and like, what is vulnerability going to cost me because it is going to cost, it’s going to cost in a myriad of ways. And so we have to have, we have to have something to offer that reminds people, it’s actually worth it. Because it will be really hard work. So to come into a communal context of sharing, it’s going to cost but it’s going to be worth something at the end.

Ann Maree
And many times, people who are in need of telling their story, it was that very vulnerability that was harmed. And so that’s, that’s a big step. But also, having that positive experience of being vulnerable in a group setting, and it not being harmed is the very thing that will start to replace, you know, that fear, I guess, and the shame. So this is a lot of good information. And I actually am the learner in this conversation. I’m hopefully taking some training to get as smart as Melissa is. I don’t I doubt that’ll happen. But anyway, so I have learned a lot and I hope the audience listening has as well. Just to kind of summarize with one one more question that really a summary question, but I won’t. I’m wondering now, probably a lot of people in our audience are like, I want to do that. So can you tell us when or if there’s another ReStoried group in on the horizon?

Melissa
Sure, I’d be glad to. So I just made a shift in the current group that is running. I have two groups right now. One is a morning group and one is an evening group. And after doing ReStoried for five years, this is the first time I’ve shifted to doing them once a month instead of weekly. So it used to be that you do 10 weeks consecutively to go through the group. And now it’s eight months, and you meet once a month with your group. So just to give people some some more specifics about what to expect. And I find that already, in this new group, we’ve done a couple months already. And I’m finding that it’s a huge help in processing the material and the discussion. So I think we’re going to stick with that model where it meets once a month. And I don’t have a specific date set yet, we’re working on finalizing some things with knowing the holidays are coming up. But we do have plans to offer the next round, where people can sign up in early 2023. So it’ll probably start in February, that way people would have, you know, the holidays can be busy, and we forget to sign up for things. So I want to be able to give people all of January to get registered. And so we’ll start those in February at some point that month. If I get enough interest, I would probably consider doing a morning group and an evening group again, just because with time change, too. And people I have people on the west coast that participate and I’m on the east, you know, northeast side of the country. And so that makes different options convenient. And so that’s all information that the links that I’ll provide to you Ann Maree would give people a static link that is always there that always has the next dates. And it’ll also have an option where they can just sign up to receive like an update so that if they want to stay alerted to when we start a new group, it’ll, there’ll be an option where they can do that too.

Ann Maree
Okay, great. Wonderful. And I’m glad you’re offering different times during the day too. So yes, as Melissa said, we’ll put those notes in our show notes and the direct link for you to be able to find out more information about ReStoried.

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You can learn more about Melissa and the restore groups in our show notes. You’ll also find links to Melissa’s website and the Fieldstone Counseling webpage also included our links for some of Melissa’s quotes and Esther Smith’s blog post on creating a timeline. Join us again in two weeks when we continue our conversation with Melissa on the Safe to Hope podcast.

Safe to Hope is a production of HelpHer. Our Executive Producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe To Hope podcast series.

Safe To Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of HelpHer, a 501C3 that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for HelpHer to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax-deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to help her resources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals, or advocacy needs, go to help her resources.com That’s help her resources.com

We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of HelpHer. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

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Melissa’s website with more information can be found here. The next AM and PM Restoried groups will start in February and March 2023, so registration will be open in early January. Here is a link for an overview of ReStoried as well as a sign up for updates and registration details.

The following are links to quotes or resources Melissa mentioned in our interview:

“Anxiety is normal. Peace is possible.”  by Rachael Rosser at the 2019 ABC Conference. See here for full session.

Timeline ideas courtesy of this blog post by Esther Smith.

Brad Hambrick’s mini book on vulnerability.

Fieldstone Counseling in north Ohio.

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