CCHO is celebrating 50 years of ministry! Throughout 2019, we will be sharing stories of the lives that have been forever changed by the work God has done through our family of ministries (CCHO, Encourage Foster Care and Encompass Christian Counseling). Today, Rebecca Ryder (MA, NCC, LPCC-S), Managing Clinical Supervisor with Encompass Counseling, looks at the transformational role stories have played in her personal and professional life. Entry #22 in our 50 Stories for 50 Years of Ministry series encourages us all to embrace the privilege of hearing someone else’s story of growth, healing and change.
Once upon a time…. 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 have 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.
At Encompass, our work surrounds 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 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….
- Like the kiddo who went to church on Easter with a friend and announced to me the following day that she gave her heart to Jesus. And just this week I got to explain to her that Jesus is with her wherever she goes and that she can pray to Him at any time. You see, this summer she has to go live with her non-custodial parent who has been abusive and scary in the past.
- Like the client who has worked so hard to overcome the effects of multiple traumas only to recently be given a serious cancer diagnosis. I have witnessed her faith and identity grow strong and confident to the point where she now regularly prays herself during sessions.
- Like the grown woman who is learning to find her voice that was taken away repeatedly as a child. Watch her make decisions without worry of what others will think, change jobs to pursue the kind of work she only dreamt of before, and begin to learn how to play for the first time in her life.
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 appreciated my own supervision and ongoing consultation with colleagues, because one of my fundamental beliefs is that, ‘If I’m not growing, I’m dying.’
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.
Rebecca shared these words at our 50th Anniversary Benefit Dinner on June 8, 2019. After Rebecca spoke, we debuted the beautiful story of transformation that Ashley, an Encompass client, was generous enough to share with us. If you missed story 17 in our series, watch Ashley’s video now. And catch up on our anniversary festivities by reading our 50th Weekend Recap.