Everything about the place said “welcome”: the rich red bricks of the exterior, the scent and sounds of the waterfront only a block away, the warm light falling on worn hardwood floors inside, and couches and chairs beckoning me to make myself at home. For many years I dreamed of attending a Story Workshop at The Allender Center in Seattle, and finally, I was here.
I came with my satchel packed, like an excited child on her first day of school: notebook, journal, pens, and my story—the one I had written weeks earlier for the workshop. I found a seat in the meeting room upstairs, and as I listened, I thought of my story, tucked away for the time being. I had wrestled deeply with the writing assignment and which story I would tell, agonizing to the point of tears. Finally I committed to pen a story from start to finish without second-guessing. The assignment invited us to write up to 1,000 words, and my finished essay was 1,000 words exactly.
Eventually I would have to pull the story out of my bag and read it aloud to a small group of men and women, revealing much more than mere words. As I pondered this thought, I wrote down the sentence that Dan Allender had just spoken:
“How much truth can you bear this weekend?”
Just as I felt welcome in the space of the red brick building, I felt my spirit offer welcome to whatever would come in that space over the next four days, including truth.
I didn’t pause to consider the weight of Allender’s question or my response. Certainly I felt some anxiety about sharing my story with six strangers, yet I felt confident that my story was truthful, transparent, and brave. After our small group met for the first time, our facilitator—a wise and discerning young man—returned our stories, which he had read prior to our arrival. His comments and questions were scattered throughout my story, and that night I poured over them as I sat in the hotel bed.
One sentence arrested my attention. He wrote, “The word ‘it’ reveals, but it also greatly conceals.” I wasn’t sure why this observation was so disruptive; however, it stayed with me. The next morning I shared my story with the small group. Afterward, group members had the opportunity to engage my story and me. During this time, my use of the word “it” came up again; however, I can’t recall many other specifics of our interaction. I had been looking forward to it; yet, when it arrived, I felt distant and disconnected. Our time ended, the room emptied, and I stayed behind and wept.
I felt shame for the story I had told, embarrassed by my response (or lack of response), and grief that I had ruined an experience that I had eagerly anticipated. After the lunch break I had a one-on-one time scheduled with my facilitator, and when it began, I found myself hesitant to look at him. I didn’t know how to engage—with him, with my story, or with something as simple as eye contact. He was kind and gentle, and in our thirty minutes together, he led me to name the moment of trauma in my story, which was easy to find. “It.” I had spent 1,000 words, yet it was this one two-letter word that deserved my attention. Could I bear its truth?
In the hotel room that night I opened my journal and began to write a new story. Instead of skirting around the edge of it, I entered fully into the darkness of the memory, and there I found the light to see and name the truth. The next morning I read this much shorter but more truthful tale to my small group, and the giving and receiving that followed was redemptive.
In his book To Be Told, Allender writes, “Tragedy asks: ‘Are you willing to do battle with what has broken your heart?’ And it calls out: ‘Will you let God transform you in the midst of your struggle?’” The first time I wrote my story, I responded to these questions with, “Yes…but only this far.” When I faced my reluctance, I found an invitation to enter the battle for my heart, where my greatest weapon was the truth. “How much truth can you bear this weekend?” In the light and grace of a second chance, I surrendered and said, “Welcome.”
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.