+ Editing this while the national conversation around reconciling race is on fire, I am surprised by how pertinent the Story Table conversation around integration is. We all want to know, “What next?” We are tired of seemingly passive prayer vigils, tired of marchings and walkings, and sit-ins and die-ins. “Is change possible?” we want to know. “How will it come?” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” The long to which he refers is daily life.
I wish I could tell students in our School of Psychology—or college students inclined toward becoming therapists—who feel they have to redirect their lives in order to be activists, that they can work toward justice every day no matter what area of expertise they pursue. That’s what we are here together for: to learn to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God. Of course it’s going to take a long time; it’s the life’s work of every follower of Christ. This Story Table teaser—and the video, audio, and transcript from the evening further down on this page—are full of hints toward how to do that. What a revelation. —Lauralee Farrer, Chief Creative
+ The Story Table takes a theme from FULLER magazine and brings it to life at everyone’s favorite conversation place: the dinner table. People who embody the theme in unique ways tell their stories around the table, and members of the community are invited to listen in. This Story Table focuses on the integration of theology and psychology, and we were honored to host faculty, students, grads, and others to reflect together. If you are interested in hosting your own Story Table, we’ve prepared a guide that you might find helpful. Download our Story Table Guide.
Jeremy Cernero, Clinical Psychology Student
Tommy Givens, Professor of New Testament
Cameron Lee, Professor of Marriage and Family Studies
Sheila Muchemi, Clinical Psychology Student
Jenny Pak, Assistant Professor of Psychology
Luann Pannell, Director of Police Training and Education, LAPD
Brad Strawn, Professor of Integration of Theology and Psychology
Michael Wright, Associate Editor: Thank you for coming. On behalf of FULLER magazine, FULLER studio, staff and team, we welcome you to this Story Table—where the themes of FULLER magazine are flowered out in conversation around the table. We are very excited to have the theme of integration of theology and psychology . . .
Lauralee Farrer, Chief Creative: . . . integrated by our very own . . .
Michael: Brad Strawn! Theology and psychology may seem like two separate disciplines that don’t speak to one another, but . . . [they] intersect in very vulnerable ways in all of our lives. When I was in high school I remember reading the verse in John that said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Excuse me, excuse me. I remember misreading that verse . . .
Michael: . . . and then, by my own-will-powered pursuit of virtue, doing some psychological damage. I’m sure we all have stories like that, whether they’re self‑inflicted or from our communities where the misunderstanding of theology and psychology can create destructive patterns.
Fast forward to my time at Fuller, some of my darkest times, the encouragement and support of both ministers and therapists was the reason I was able to make it through. So, I’m very excited for all of us to have this conversation tonight, because for me naturally, and for most of us, theology and psychology naturally go together. We’re going to hear stories from the people around this table, about their struggle to integrate those things in their lives, and also in their academic disciplines.
My name is Michael and I’m the associate editor for the magazine. Now Meggie, who is our Story Table Coordinator, will say a note about the food, a note about who’s here around the table, and will pray before we begin.
Meggie Anderson , Story Table Coordinator: I’ll start by introducing our storytellers for those of you who may not know everyone who’s seated around the table. First we have Dr. Brad Strawn, professor of integration of theology and psychology in the School of Psychology. He was our guest theology editor for the most recent issue of FULLER magazine. Sheila Muchemi is a student in clinical psychology in her fourth year; Dr. Cameron Lee is a professor of marriage and family studies in the School of Psychology; Luann Pannell is a Fuller alumna who now works with the LAPD [director of police training and education]. Lauralee Farrer, oh my gosh. I just butchered your last name!
Meggie: I just stumbled all over that.
Lauralee: From now on, that is exactly how it’s pronounced.
Meggie: She is our Chief Creative here at Fuller. Jenny Pak is our assistant professor of psychology in the department of clinical psychology and Tommy Givens is our professor of New Testament studies in the School of Theology here—our token School of Theology professor at the table!
Tommy Givens: Nice. Nice.
Meggie: Then Jeremy Cernero. Am I pronouncing that correctly?
Jeremy Cernero: Yes.
Meggie: Is also in his fourth year in the Clinical Psychology program. I also just wanted to acknowledge all of the wonderful community members who have contributed their gifts through cooking for us today. Dolores, oh she’s running away.
Meggie: Dolores Allchin has graciously cooked everything on your plates today, and done a really fabulous job. We think it just makes such a difference to actually have people in our community bringing food to this table. It adds to the story and to everything that is the Story Table.
Lindsay Wright made all the delicious deserts, and if you didn’t get a chance to pick one out yet, please treat this like it’s your home, and you’re welcome to get up any time, get coffee, water, desserts. You are welcome to all of that. I am going to open this up with a prayer, and then I will hand it off to Lauralee.
Gracious God, I thank you for every person in this room who is fearfully and wonderfully made in your image. I praise you for the stories that are about to unfold, the courageous act of storytelling, and the divinely mysterious way in which stories usher us in to your greater story, God. I pray that we will be present, and alert witnesses that to this wonderful action that’s happening here tonight. In your name, we pray. Amen.
Lauralee: Thank you. Thank you for coming—especially you as witnesses, and those of you who are storytellers around the table. It is a difficult thing to be asked to tell stories. I think that we are all more comfortable talking about what we believe, and what we think, and what we are willing to argue with. When it comes to talking about our stories, that can be more challenging, and yet there is a healing that takes place when we do.
Let me ask first if there’s anyone at the table who is cued up with something that has been burning on their mind all day long, and they feel like, “OK, I would like to start.” If not, I can prompt that, but anybody? I feel like I’m asking for people to stand and give a word in prayer.
Brad Strawn: Testify.
Lauralee: Ok, it’s going to be you, Brad. You’ve been guest editing the theology section in the last magazine on integration of psychology and theology. Beautifully done, by the way, you and your colleagues some of whom are here around the table. Tell some of your story of how you came to see a connection between theology and psychology, and how that got you to this table and beyond.
Brad: I had the privilege of growing up in a religious family, a Christian family that was very committed to faith and committed to the church. Very committed to the church. You know what I mean?
Brad: I sometimes use the term “orphan of the church” or “to the church.”
Lauralee: In reference to yourself.
Brad: [Yes.] There were a lot of holidays and birthdays and things like that, that were spent at church.
Lauralee: In the nursery, because nobody else wanted to be in the nursery.
Brad: In the nursery, right. But I developed a deep love and care for the church. I grew up in a holiness tradition, of course the dark side of that is legalism, and I certainly experienced some of that as well. I grew up feeling that the church was really good at telling me what I was doing wrong but not particularly helpful in telling me how to change that. Other than what I like to call the “try-more-and-do-better-and-know-more approach.”
It didn’t take me too long in college before I found my way into psychology. I didn’t start off as a psychology major. Immediately my imagination was captured. I felt like suddenly here was all this information about why people do what they do.
Lauralee: Is there a moment that you remember?
Brad: You know what’s fascinating about that? I do remember a moment. It was actually in a group counseling class. Where’s my group?
Lauralee: I do want you to know they’re behind you. Everybody’s going, “Aha.”
Brad: I was in a group therapy class with one of the major mentors of my life, Dr. Gene Mallory—which is a little sketchy now according to the American Psychological Association. There were twelve of us in a circle telling our stories. He had this amazing ability to sort of get people to talk. I remember distinctly one day a student telling something difficult. I remember a sense of “Wow, this is a painful story and I have no idea what to do with it.”
Watching Dr. Mallory shift almost imperceptibly in his chair and look at the student and just empathize and connect in a way that encouraged the student to say more and more. We were all captured and brought into this healing power of relationship. It was that moment when I knew, “I’d like to be a part of that. I’d like to receive that. I’d like to be able to do that.”
It was Dr. Mallory who said to me as an undergrad, “I know the school you should go to.” He told me about Fuller. There were years after that spent in youth ministry as a pastor. There was even an interesting period for me where psychology became my religion for a while—because it did feel so powerful. It felt explanatory and like there was a method.
I had to go through that period developmentally until I was able to come back to the church, and theology, and spiritual practices.
I tell my students that, I hate to tell them this, but some of my best integration happened after I graduated from Fuller. Then you have a little bit of time to read what you like to read, think about things, and be more involved in community practices—things like that.
Lauralee: Was there a moment when you felt a longing for the return to or a recalibration of theology?
Brad: Interestingly, when I got out of Fuller, I was teaching at a Christian undergrad program at Portland Nazarene and I started to read John Wesley—a sort of theological grandfather—and secondary authors around Wesley. Suddenly there was this resonance between Wesleyan anthropology and some of the physiological anthropology and I found, “Wow this guy really did have a method, he really did think about things.”
I wouldn’t want to be as obsessive as Wesley himself was but he had an interesting communal and relational anthropology, his means of grace were relational. I think it was in reading a book by Randy Maddox, a Duke Divinity School theologian, called Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology, that I realized: “OK, I’ve come home.”
Lauralee: Those two thoughts of a method drawing you to psychology and then that becoming relational—they both resonate. You just made a case for integration in your story.
Brad: Thank you.
Lauralee: I’m going to come back to you later. [to Jeremy Cernero] You have a different story don’t you?
Jeremy Cernero: [laughs] On the spot.
Lauralee: Hey, you can’t say it’s on the spot! You are sitting at the table!
Jeremy: It’s the proximity to Brad. I kind of caught some of the draft here.
Lauralee: We call it “the glow.”
Jeremy: In preparation for tonight, I was trying to think about what has pushed the integrative move in me. I realize how non‑linear my story has been in this way, and how roundabout a lot of the journey has been. And how lessons have come in retrospect as opposed to proactively.
As I think about it now, the pieces always seem to be coming together for me. I needed something for my psychology that resonated with what I thought to be true. I wasn’t quite sure what that was, and still I’m figuring that out I think. It’s been a long battle and journey.
What I am hoping for in integration is, “How do I marry the ways of knowing truth? How do I think about things in a way that feels congruent and cohesive and whole?” I started to read new authors, new to me at the time, like N.T. Wright and Richard Beck.
They were able to pull these disciplines together that have the same resonance—that there is something about community and something about relationality that matters very deeply. I think that’s what God is doing, bringing a kingdom here and what we’re doing in psychotherapy, and hopefully what we’re doing in research, too.
Lauralee: You’ve told me what interests you, tell me how you got there. Tell me a story.
Jeremy: About the hard way.
Lauralee: We’re all familiar with that road at least a little bit.
Jeremy: As I grew up, I had my heart set on being a musician. That was it for me. I sold out for that, I dropped out of college and the whole works. I moved to LA. I was going to be the vagabond musician, but something was just not always full. I knew it and I hated that it was that way, but it just didn’t feel like a great fit, and I knew that.
Eventually one thing led to another, and the recognition of my own brokenness and my own need to reconstitute and come back to the church as well led me through many different small moments that connected. It didn’t feel transformative at the time, it was more like “Oh, I look back and I can see the steps ordered behind me, but not in front.”
When I went back to school it wasn’t quite on purpose. It was kicking and screaming largely because I had been laid off and had nothing else to do.
Cameron Lee: Go back to music!
Jeremy: There’s a lot of money there. Who knew?
Lauralee: Your future is secure.
Jeremy: I just wanted a little bit more than what that vagabond life could offer. I found psychology quite unconsciously on purpose, if that makes sense. It has been a really slow moving journey for me and it’s hard to articulate a point where it turned, except for my kid’s birth, I think, where suddenly things mattered more. I determined, “I’m going to get this figured out now.”
Lauralee: A moral imperative.
Lauralee: I heard my dad say that when my mother was pregnant with my sister, he realized that he had to cross the street differently because his life mattered in a way it didn’t matter before.
Jeremy: Exactly. I think that’s the best way to describe it, right there. All of a sudden, the seriousness of the moment takes precedence over daydreams or potentials. It brought me to the present and transformed me in a way that’s unlike anything else I have experienced. It happened again with my second child.
Lauralee: There are a lot of nodding heads around the table at the thought of “unconsciously on purpose.
Cameron Lee: Oh, I’m having an unconscious on purpose moment.
Cameron: The first thing I was responding to when I was listening to Brad talking that I have thought about a number of times over the years is we have so many people around here that are deeply ensconced in a particular tradition. Sometimes in a problematic way, sometimes in an empathetic way, and that’s part of our identity. We’ve got both.
I have always thought of myself as being homeless in that regard. I didn’t grow up in the church, I didn’t grow up in a Christian family. I came to Christ my very first day of college through Campus Crusade. I’m reading the “four spiritual laws” booklet, and there’s a prayer at the end. I haven’t got anything else to do, why not?
Lauralee: Amazing the things we get ourselves into when we don’t have anything else to do.
Cameron: Exactly. There’s something about that that is a theme for the whole of my life, a matter of not knowing where the heck you are going and then something drops in front of you and you say “yes,” and you don’t know why.
You don’t know what you’re saying yes to, and then, “Okay, now I’ve got to figure something out. I’ve got to do something with this.” I came to Fuller because somebody said, “You need to do that.” The reason that I wanted to study marriage and family therapy is I grew up in a family in which there was a great deal of conflict and I ended up being the default marriage therapist. I figured, “Well, if I’m going to do that, I might as well make some money out of it.”
Cameron: I start taking classes from [then professor] Ray Anderson, and it blows my mind. His idea of incarnation ministry, and final exam questions like, “You encounter a homeless person living out of his car and he has ‘this’ question. How you’re going to answer?” That’s not something you pick up out of a textbook. I found myself having to read five times as much as was actually assigned for the class just to figure out how to respond to that.
Over the years, as I started teaching about marriage and family [at church], about couples and children and that kind of thing, I’ve had people say afterward, “Well, that was really good, that was helpful. But it would be better if you put more bible in it.” I had sort of a chip on my shoulder, a cynical point-of-view that thought, “Just sprinkle a few bible verses over it and everyone is going to be happy?”
Then God got ahold of my attitude and said, “No, these people really need something from you. You can’t just superficially baptize things. You’re going to have to do a different kind of work.”
So that has really shaped me over the last 30 years—teaching in ministry contexts where I bring what I know about family and relationships to the teaching of Scripture, and showing why it is that what you get out of the text is not just, “here’s how to be a good Christian,” but is actually transformative. That was a turning point for me. That’s really where most of my integration actually is. It’s what I do on Sunday morning in a Bible class or from the pulpit trying to apply the kinds of things that people are actually struggling with. Even just last night, we had a couple over to the house to help them deal with issues with one of their adult children. It’s very easy to see where the relationship problems are, and to do that as somebody who is representing the church and not as a therapist. How do you help people really grab ahold of the gospel. [Read Dr. Lee’s essay on therapy and faith here]
Lauralee: How are you going to answer that homeless guy? How are you going to answer the people in your church who want or need more than you’re giving them at the time, to your friends that came over last night. You’re saying in such a wonderfully cavalier way, that it’s very clear to you where the problems were.
Lauralee: To them it must have felt like, “Thank God for Cameron who spent all these years learning that!”
Cameron: Yes, but it’s nice to be able to know that because we’re part of the same family they know where it’s coming from.
Lauralee: Yes, true. [pause] Sheila, can I call on you?
Sheila Muchemi: Sure. I resonate with what Dr. Lee is saying. First let me frame my context. I come from Kenya. I grew up there. All my sensibilities have been shaped in Kenya. I think Africa, in general, is very spiritual. Our world is very spiritually in tune, so the idea of psychology entering into that space has always been very foreign.
My own integration journey is exemplified by the fact that I went for therapy, and in my context no one does such things. That seed [of my interest] was sown on different occasions: one that stands out was at a CAPS [Christian Association for Psychological Studies] conference with my advisor. I remember him sharing how therapy was so transformative for him and thinking, “Mm‑hmm, OK, that sounds good. But . . . .”
Even though I’m in the profession, I remember actually arguing with one of my student friends: “I don’t understand why you guys do therapy; I have God and I have my friends, and they seem to play the same role. I don’t see why I need therapy.”
So, hearing my advisor and thinking, “Mm‑hmm, it sounds like an experience that really changed you,” but also, “Well, my Kenyan‑ness will not allow me to venture into that direction . . . .”
Lauralee: By the way, I don’t think it’s just “Kenyan‑ness.”
Sheila: Another instance was during a trip I took to China with one of the School of Psychology programs. We had a forum where we got to talk to Christian psychologists—not so much the theory, but more the stories of things that have shaped them. I remember hearing from this mixed group of people about their encounters with God through therapy experiences and I could see that one particular lady had this light in her eyes that was just so, “wow!” One of the images the Lord gave me was a window with a lot of mud on it and therapy being a process that clears the mud so the light shines through much brighter. Here I was seeing this particular woman, with the light shining through much brighter and I thought, “That is so powerful!” Yet again the Kenyan in me thought, “Yeah, that would be really good to go to, but I don’t see myself really daring to.”
Then when I came back for the new quarter, I’m taking the trauma and faith class with Dr. [Cynthia] Eriksson who says, “You know, trauma is very intense. You should think about how to care for yourself.” Then, “You need a self‑care practice that you’re going to do this full quarter.” So I thought, “Maybe it’s time to find a therapist as my self‑care practice.” And I did!
It’s actually been a year now since I’ve gotten into therapy. Of course, we all have issues but we don’t think we do. At least I didn’t think I had issues, and I’ve just been surprised at how much I have loved my therapy experience and what a sacred space it’s been. I’ve met God in ways that have surprised me. I’ve gotten to know myself in ways that have changed me, and I’m like, “This so beautiful,” and, “Where was I? Why didn’t I start this process much earlier?”
I’ve gained some treasures that have shown me the beauty of this profession. When I’m done with my program I desire to go back to Kenya where psychology is still very young and therapists aren’t the people we go to. I could count in my context here so many of my colleagues or friends or people I know who go for therapy. Back at home, except the people who are in psychology programs who are mandated to take hours of therapy, people rarely go for therapy and often don’t see the benefits of receiving that kind of help.
For us integration is inevitable, it’s not a luxury. Spirituality has to be something that we package with our mental health, with our process of how people receive help, since it’s not that there are no mental health needs. There are.
Lauralee: Luann, I know your story or some of it. Tell the rest of us how the connection between psychology and theology was made for you.
Luann: I’m trying to think of where to start in this story. My experience is that God doesn’t waste any of our experiences. You can peel back the layers and go back to high school when I was trying to search and find God, and figure out what I wanted for my life. I remember I was comparing myself to my three older brothers—we had a little bit of a competitive household.
Lauralee: Really? That’s so hard to imagine.
Luann: At some 16‑year‑old point I was in tears talking to my father about how my brothers had all these trophies and team jackets and things. Of course, I was good at nothing and I was having a bit of a crisis. He said, “Honey, you’re good at other things” and I’m asking, “When will I get a trophy for that?” He replied, “You’re such as good friend.” I’m like, “Yippee.”
Luann: I had groups and cohorts of friends who came and talked to me all the time. My grandmother said to me, “Well, it’s about time you get paid for that. You are doing this all the time anyway.” I enjoy people. I like their stories. There are stories behind all the eyes in this room. There’s just not enough time to hear all of them. I’ve always had that piece of me.
I’m going to take a little risk and tell you: There was one youth meeting, and I remember having this major conviction and I went outside and I cried. I said, “OK. Lord, I don’t know. What is this?” I went through different things like, “Missionary? No, that’s not it. What about this? What about that?” This is going to sound completely weird, but I felt this impression, “I want you to be a female Tony Campolo [American sociologist, pastor, speaker].” I’m like, “What is that? Where do I go to school to be that? What are you talking about?”
I couldn’t get a different impression than that, so I said, “All right. Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I’ll just put that away. Honestly, I haven’t said it quite openly like this ever. That’s part of my story, because if you want to know what threw me in that discussion, that cheerful discussion with my father about where I should be and who I should be, it was him, as a sociologist saying, “You’re good at some of these things. Why don’t you try psychology?” I just thought, “hmmm?”
There was a lot of “hmmm?” in my discovery. I started building my faith in God by saying, “Okay. I won’t say it’s too weird or too anything. I’ll take a step in that direction if you open the door . . . .”
I did a bit of peer counseling at school. I grew up in Red Deer, Alberta, population maybe 35,000 people. We all went to the same junior high and high school and had that growing up experience where you felt like you knew everybody. I distinctly remember this one girl telling me how she had slept on her friend’s couch because they had been kicked out of their home. I’m like, “Why would that happen?” I grew up in a Christian family. Lots of love. Lots of, “I love you.” Lots of support. It struck me I had been given such a gift, but the support that I felt, the love that I felt—not everybody got to experience that. So, for a few people in high school I couldn’t say, “Oh yeah. That happened to me too” or, “Yes, my parents fight all the time.” I didn’t have those experiences. I felt like I had been given this firm foundation and I knew who I was and I knew whose I was. I kept moving forward in faith in that regard.
How I ended up at Fuller is I went to college and my professor there, who had been a Fuller grad, saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. He’s like, “You need to go.” He took a bunch of students on a circuit and Fuller was one of the places that we went to. In fact, his mom is near here, and we all slept in sleeping bags in her floor in Pasadena.
Lauralee: God bless her.
Luann: Forever. Lovely lady. I thought, “Ooh, I think I could go here.” You got to remember I grew up in Canada, very cold environment.
Lauralee: Red Deer.
Luann: Red Deer.
Luann: After college graduation I went back home and I worked for a couple of years with women in prison and did some different things. As I heard more stories I just knew, “You need to go back to school, girl. You do not know what you’re doing. You need more help. Get back to school.”
I ended up a year and a half later getting accepted to Fuller. I remember having a conversation with God going, “That is so unfair. This is a school I want to go to. There is no way in the world I can go to Fuller now. Why would you let me get accepted here when you know I can’t go?”
Lauralee: Why couldn’t you go to Fuller?
Luann: There was family conflict. I was the last of four. Did I mention that?
Lauralee: Yes. Three boys.
Luann: School funds had run out. My father had left my mom, and during the two years that I was home my mom was in a very, very difficult place. Some of the money I was raising at that time went to help my mom staying at home. I didn’t see how it was going to work. I will say, I will never forget my mom looking at me and saying, “You’ve been here for two years. You’re going.” I said, “Mom, I can’t.” She said, “You’re going. I don’t know how.” My mom had always had such a strong faith and I somehow believed her. I’m thought, “Okay. I’m going.” I will say I drove down [from Canada] to Fuller in a car that started with a screwdriver.
Luann: I stayed with “the little old lady from Pasadena,” my professor’s mom, in the back room of her house for the first year. I look at all these pieces of “Lord, it’s not possible. I can’t go. It’s not going to work out. If you want me to, I’ll take a step in that direction, but I think it’s crazy.”
I love hearing stories about being health and wholeness and healing, and yet I had this heart of, “Lord, I cannot do this without you.” The daily faith walk has only grown through the years. I couldn’t have written the story where the girl from Red Deer, Alberta ends up in the LAPD as a commander, as the director of police training and education. I can’t imagine that story.
Lauralee: You’re going to hear that one in a little while. Jenny, my darling, talk to us about how you made this connection yourself. I’m interested in this study right down here, the analytics. You know something about story and how it relates to the therapeutic process and theology. First, tell us your story about making that connection between theology and psychology.
Jenny Pak: Actually I was resonating with everyone’s stories and wondering where to jump in.
Lauralee: Where to start.
Jenny: Yeah, where to start. It’s hard because it feels so full already with everyone’s stories. One of the surreal moments as I was listening to everyone, one particular is having Cameron sitting right in front of me at this table. Actually, I was one of your students over 27 years ago.
Lauralee: When Cameron was 13.
Brad: He was the Doogie Howser of Fuller.
Lauralee: I’m afraid that’s going to stick, Cameron.
Brad: You’re welcome. Any time.
Lauralee: The night is long.
Jenny: I really resonated with many of the things that Cameron shared, because I think integration began for me when I started at Fuller.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. I was first in my family to become Christian. In high school I was very fortunate to have best friends, they’re twins, whose father was an episcopal priest. I was very active in the youth group. Yet I had a moment where I had many questions about life and faith. I was at a crossroad wondering about my heritage, ascendance, and where was God in that process. It was a really big question wondering, “Is God just?” I remember having this conversation with their father. He simply said, “As you head off to UCLA, my wife and I will be praying for you. One day I’m sure God will answer your question.”
He left it at that, and I didn’t know when that moment was going to be until I came down to UCLA and I was surrounded by Christians on all sides. In the dorm, front of me, back of me, side of me, in classes. I spent probably the very first quarter at UCLA almost fighting them all off.
Jenny: I used all my brain power to argue my way out. I don’t know why I was resisting so much. Then God took hold of me, and it was the moment where it really humbled me in recognizing I had to surrender and trust that truth that it wasn’t something that I could just figure out. That was the moment I began that relational journey that has been unfolding ever since.
This whole idea of justice, fairness has always been very important to me. I was born in Korea where I knew from very early on that being a girl there was no fairness. Being a male meant having privilege that the females did not. Being a second class citizen you had to work two, three times harder to prove your worth. That was something I struggled with. That was part of my deep brokenness of, “Why do I have to work so hard to prove my worth?” My encounter with God was a release from that.
Taking Ray Anderson’s class was really powerful for me. I knew prior to it about God’s love for me and grace and what it meant. Theologically, however, it came together when I was here. When he gave the whole biblical drama of how we’re equally created—equally sinned and equally redeemed. While I was taking psychology and theology here, my burning question all throughout was living in religion and culture can’t be separated. How is this conversation of culture invested into our conversation of integration? For me, as a woman, the gender aspect is a big part of that integration . . . .
I felt called on very early on. I was 17 when I really received Christ. From that moment on, I felt called. I thought I had to give up everything for Christ. I couldn’t give school because my parents were sending me to school, so I thought I’ll do my duty and send my diploma to them, but as soon as I’m done, so are my books. Then I’ll be heading off to some foreign land to serve God.
Lauralee: As a missionary?
Jenny: Yes, as a missionary.
Jenny: The ironic thing is that God never let me leave Southern California ever since I came down to attend college. I married a man who became a pastor. I realized somewhere mid‑journey that my mission field was right here in my own “backyard” so to speak. Now, from time to time, God takes me to other countries to do missionary member care training, work with scholars in China on research projects, etc. After a long journey, twenty or thirty years later, he opened those doors. I realized whatever mission, whatever work of integration God’s doing, he will do it first and foremost in my life.
While I was here at Fuller I was initially attracted to the marriage and family therapy (MFT) training mainly to help my husband and his ministry. He encouraged me to check out the MFT program.
I had spent a year praying whether I should focus on psychology or theology. At the time, in the ’80s, all the pastors in the church said, “We should not touch psychology. That’s the devil and theology is not for a woman.” I’m like, “What should I do?” As I spent a year praying, the answer came in the shape and form of my husband. When he said, “do all the above,” I married him.
Lauralee: That was the beginning of integration.
Brad: So relational.
Lauralee: So lovely. Let me move on to Tommy. We’ll come back. You’re a little bit of an outlier here from the School of Theology. . . .
Brad: We love Tommy in SOP though. He’s one of ours.
Cameron: That’s a given, right?
Brad: That’s a given. [laughs]
Lauralee: I see: humor.
Cameron: Yeah, we do that once in a while.
Tommy Givens: I was sitting here listening, wondering what kind of integration I should be trying to address. Also the case that I didn’t study at Fuller. Fuller has been a part of my life only recently. I have a lot of things on my mind reacting to these intriguing and beautiful stories, each one. I am not exactly sure which direction I should take, is there some way you want to prompt me?
Lauralee: Yes, I’m thinking about what Michael said earlier. In some ways the idea of thinking of psychology and theology as two separate things is artificial, because they really are both engaged here. I am also intrigued by something that Sheila said about having an encounter with God through therapy. You can tell any story you want, let me start out by saying that.
Tommy: I appreciate how Michael began because I think that one of the challenges of our time is the way that we have divided knowledge into relatively distinct categories. The result is insulating ourselves, probably from what we don’t know.
There is a whole bunch of things that we could pursue that way, but maybe in terms of a personal experience that I might now name as an encounter with God, that moved me to pursue theology with all kinds of psychological turmoil in the midst of it.
Lauralee: Is it ever any other way?
Tommy: I don’t think I’ve ever been a person cleanly at peace. I don’t find myself searching for that either to be honest with you. I grew up much as Brad did in a relatively church‑addicted home. My dad was a pastor of a very large church, not far from here. I spent a lot of time at church and became what, in some ways, what was the poster child of a brand of Christianity that we were developing, by becoming a foreign missionary—under the assumption that the real calls to service take us far from home. I think there are some psychological problems there.
Tommy: Maybe just a few. I did that though, went far from home to Spain and took with me a white suburban gospel. I could describe it that way. That was very difficult to live with outside of the bubble in which I had grown up.
I remember in Spain, literally going from door to door with a bag full of really bad Jesus videos and tracks and preying upon unsuspecting Spanish mothers in their apartments in the middle of the day. I hated every minute of it, but it’s what we were supposed to do.
Tommy: Trying to lead them into some conversation with a set of rhetorical clown tricks. Inevitably, they would be generous enough to ask me why I was there. What I had come to say randomly at their door at 10:45 in the morning on a Thursday.
I would begin to give the script. The more that I repeated this script, the less I believed it. I just thought, “This is so empty. It’s so sterile. It touches so little of anyone’s life, especially my own.” I actually began to read the Bible in a searching way for the first time in my life.
I think before that I had read the Bible mostly out of a sense of duty. In an effort to learn what I needed to master other people. Now, I was reading the Bible because I was so unsure of myself.
Here I was, with all these people making what I thought were immense sacrifices for me to be in Spain as a missionary. I didn’t believe in what they had sent me to do. Lots of turmoil at this time with Kim, my wife, as well.
She was psychologically a lot more healthy, I think, than I was. She fought me with some of my attempts to fill the void that I was suddenly discovering. I began to read veraciously the Bible, but also quite a bit more broadly and to ask myself, “What is the gospel?” If it’s not a formula of beliefs that people need to get into heaven and have a somewhat better life between now and then. Then what is it?
I’m a church planter, supposedly. Why do we plant churches? What is the church? I had left my missionary training and upbringing with the impression that on the mission field, the church was primarily a mechanism of dissemination. Maybe a support group. I thought, “That’s not a good enough reason to plant churches.” It’s hard. Over the course of the initial years in Spain, I became an avid student of the Bible, as I had not been, and of other books. I began to gravitate to old people.
I felt they carried with them, often, a memory that I needed. They had outlived some of the lies of their youth and were able to reflect on them. I spent a lot of time with old people. I’m really grateful for old people.
Lauralee: I thank you on behalf of old people.
Tommy: I’m thinking of people quite a bit older than you. That’s what generated my interest in theology. As you might imagine from what I’m saying, I was a missionary pastor of this church of 11 people. Trying to figure out what the gospel is. What the church is. The basics of the faith were suddenly gaping holes for me. The result is that my theological formation has been determined by pastoral angst. I haven’t really known a purely speculative kind of theology. It’s always been something that I’m hurting for. That’s partly why I’m not seeking existential peace. I find that unrest in my life, is life‑giving.
Lauralee: Let’s just pause on that for a second here. For whom does that ring a bell? Besides everybody at the table. What do you think?
Jeremy: The first thing I picked up on was what is the inadequacy of that white suburban Jesus, white suburban gospel, in the face of pain and suffering and angst? Realizing the . . . I don’t want to call it power, but the beauty, I think almost, in the suffering moment. Its ability to teach and grow. I feel that’s largely why it’s difficult for me to pinpoint a particular moment because this is what I’m wrestling with. The part of me that wants to be at peace and the part of me that knows how valuable unrest has been.
Lauralee: Even saying, as has resonated around the table several times, “I didn’t know what to do next.” That’s a deeply difficult and grievous place to be. We can say that light‑heartedly, but that’s probably the hardest place to live. “I didn’t know what to do with myself when I woke up in the morning. I didn’t know who I was. I don’t know if I’m seen or if I even know who I am.” That’s the kind of existential suffering from which so much of the integration we’ve been talking about around the table comes.
Jenny: I want to jump in and say that when I look back, God was my first psychoanalyst. In the sense that he knew before I knew, there are deeper things that are unconscious that he was working through in me. Some of that restlessness, questioning, not knowing, the darkness, was part of even him working in me. To give an example, when I was at UCLA in my junior year, I was praying for gift of singleness. I thought it was all in preparation to go overseas to do mission work. I was going from Saul to Paulette, and thinking, you know. . .
Lauralee: From Saul to Paulette!
Jenny: I truly was giving everything up including books. I thought that I had to give up marriage, but I knew inside I couldn’t handle this all myself if God didn’t give me strength, so I was starting to pray about it. One day God asked me, “Why are you asking for this gift?” I couldn’t believe the moment I opened my mouth I said, “Why should I serve any men, when I can just serve you?”
In that moment, all my gender issues from growing up in a very Confucianistic traditional, fundamental cultural background led to me saying that I wasn’t going to bow to any men. The only one that was good enough was God. That was my way of escaping. It was the first time I surrendered and just said, “Whatever your will.” I would have repeated moments like this where, even though I think I was consciously asking for one thing, He was working on deeper issues that were so old, sediment from my earliest childhood upbringing that I had no awareness of.
The gift that came back to me was much more, what He was doing was much more integrative. The irony is, of course, a year after that I met my husband and got married. But that was sort of a journey of what it meant, not only in surrendering to Christ, but also in marriage to one another.
Lauralee: But you did just say earlier that you married him because he said “all of the above.”
Lauralee: So, he said to you what God said to you. Because you were saying, “This, or this.” What moved you was that God said, “More. More. More.”
Lauralee: Along comes your lovely husband, God bless him, who says you can be “all of the above.” That had to be really liberating.
Jenny: It was. At the time when we began ministering, for me as a pastor’s wife to attend seminary and work on my own learning was really radical, because that’s not what pastors’ wives do, right? In fact, I’m probably the only Korean pastor’s wife to not play piano.
Jenny: I don’t play organ and I get asked all the time. They’re intrigued whether I play piano or not, and I don’t.
Jenny: When my husband asked me, I really didn’t think I was pastor’s wife material, so I just said, “I don’t think you know what you’re getting into.” I didn’t know what I was getting into, honestly. God was charting a whole new course because I think I only had a certain model of what it means to be a pastor’s wife. When my father heard that I was going to be marrying my husband, he said, “Do you even know what Korean pastors’ wives have to do?” His definition was, you will be locked in a dungeon, and you have to pray every day.
Jenny: The conservatism in the Korean church is probably much more than you can imagine. I didn’t know what I was walking into. In 27 years of marriage and ministry, God has been breaking me out of that shell that was created by the culture. When you say white suburban Jesus is not what we have in mind, I will tell you that the Korean version of Jesus was wrong as well. When I began to recognize that there was pathology and sin in all cultures, I saw the problem in an American Jesus, but I saw also the problem in the Korean Jesus. How did Jesus come to give us life, and life abundantly, when so much of what I was learning in the church was taking life away? It was counter‑intuitive to what my experience of Christ was.
Lauralee: Start by giving everything up.
Jenny: The climax of giving up was through my private practice. I went out and built a private practice trying to serve the Korean community. What I discovered is that everything I learned, though it was wonderful technique I thought would solve all their problems, all I discovered was the start of how much I didn’t know. After five years of working really hard to build my practice, I folded and started all over at USC, working on my doctorate when my daughter was only one year old. Along the way, I had another child, so there were two. I said that was the moment where every day I prayed. If God was willing to put me on this path at USC, then He must somehow magically open the door for a perfect nanny. I really thought He was going to send me Mary Poppins.
Lauralee: How did that go?
Jenny: Never came.
Jenny: It wasn’t until the whole nine years of that journey and finishing my degree, I came to realize, everyday though I pray for a perfect nanny, deep in my unconscious, I was saying, “I was raised by my grandmother because my mother had to work; if anyone is going to mess up my kids, it will be me.”
Unconsciously I wanted to raise my children and do my degree, and I didn’t know how that was going to happen. Every day I went back and forth like this. Is it going to be me? Or, is it going to be my children? It was the dialogue I had when I went to my own individual therapy. Therapists were saying, “It’s your choice. You should make that choice for yourself.” Yet I felt very bound by my duty. Duty and honor were more important than just “What do I want?” The question was, “Is it going to be me, or is it going to be us?” I was stuck. I waited four years for my second child to be old enough to go to preschool before I went back to finish my degree.
For me, my experience of God, and integration was very much embodied in my life. The answer came, I think, one day when I realized that my children needed to stay attached to me in order to survive, in the same way that I needed to stay attached to God for my own survival. Rather than individuating and becoming increasingly more independent, I realized I should be growing into deeper dependence on Him, which was counter‑intuitive to everything I learned in psychology, at least up to that point. I thought everything was moving towards individuation while God was walking me deeper into attachment.
Lauralee: Let me ask, does that ring a bell? Anybody, Sheila?
Sheila: I resonate a lot with discovering how psychology is such a cultural tool, and maybe westernized. I did a lot of psychology when I was back home. It is only when I came to Fuller I began to understand that the values of psychology are also embedded within the culture. I am beginning to think about psychology from our culture or in our context in, “what is mental health in a culture where people don’t seek therapy and don’t talk openly about their feelings?”
What does it look like and where do people go for help? Context shapes psychology in a particular way. My context is appreciating how intertwined the culture and religion are, and so thinking, “Where do people go for help when they have a problem.” Even the collectivist elements, like the things I miss most about home are the different functions that are going on. We’re always are getting together, maybe it’s a baby shower, or a bridal shower, or those traditional wedding ceremonies, or just being in those environments and the dancing and the singing and being around people and the sense of affirmation—that is healing in itself.
I remember when I was home (Kenya), going for a service in the evening, it was like a New Year cross‑over service, and it was one of those days when I was tired and had done a lot of shopping and running around. I was so de‑energized, but I’m like, “OK, I’d said, I’ll go for this thing. Let me go.” As I got into the service, the singing and people are jumping and dancing around and singing in different languages, I realized, “Wow. This is so energizing and rejuvenating. It has healing elements. This feels like when we tell a client who is depressed to just do one thing that day: take a walk, go round the block, or do some activity.”
There’s something very healing about even just being in that atmosphere. I am beginning to use a different lens to identify what mental/psychological health looks like in our context. People will not seek help the way that it’s sought out here. I find that that’s the big struggle for me as an African psychologist, to be able to . . .
Lauralee: . . . to translate . . .
Sheila: . . . yes, to translate that.
Lauralee: I want to go back to something that you ended your last comment with, about, how peace is not necessarily something that you seek.
Tommy: Not that kind, not that kind of peace.
Lauralee: . . . not that kind of peace, and that by allowing that to be the case, that there’s knowledge or blessing or beauty as you put it in suffering. Can we talk a little bit about that of table, do I ask you, Luann to weigh in on that?
Luann: I’ve come to realize “balance” is a verb. It means you are moving. It means you are reacting and moving especially in an earthquake from the environment, where we are most durable is where we have the flexibility to move with things that happen. There’s a part of graduate school that makes you feel you’re in control which is false and misleading. You’re not, and so making peace with the fact that we live in a broken world. The phrase “break my heart with what breaks yours,” comes to mind.
My first five and a half years in the police department, I was working more in a clinical capacity than I am now, but I remember thinking one of my strengths is that I can sit with you in your brokenness and be broken, because I know I’ll get back up. I know that it is okay to be broken with you. You think your brokenness will lead you into despair, and overwhelm you, and completely shatter you, but actually by understanding and opening up that “we are broken in a broken world, and I’ll be broken with you,” creates healing.
I think it’s kind of a human tendency just like that balances of point or destination we get to, that we want to say, you’re either this or this. You’re either Democrat or Republican. You’re one thing or the other. We want to put things in boxes so desperately, police are good or bad and the communities are good or bad, or do this or that, and I think it limits God and creativity the same way.
What if I’m broken and whole? Is that possible? Especially, this last year, I’ve had a lot of brokenness and daily needing to turn to God, and sometimes, I don’t even know what’s happening three hours from now. How do I live in a daily manner place of brokenness and yet have peace at the same time?
Lauralee: Can you tell a little bit—of course, not more than you’re comfortable to—about what has been your life in the last year, and maybe unpack one of those moments of feeling both broken and whole at the same time?
Luann: The biggest part of my story in the last year, in the last seven years, is my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer seven years ago, and they told me he had five years to live. My daughter was eight years old, my son was five. I had a few conversations with God about little boys who are going to be ten in five years, and I think they are going to need a father, and where are you in this story. But through that whole piece, I never felt like I was alone.
I never felt like God wasn’t with me. I didn’t understand, I don’t know, still, even now how to get to “I’m going to fight this with everything I have and I’m also going to accept.” The power of both. How can you be the God of all things? Can’t you can’t just be the God of good things?
Early on, my oldest brother died in an ice avalanche, and my father left home. These things happened in a small period of time. I already had to come to terms with, “You are the God of my life now, and I choose that even in the midst of things that I thought were infallible, that would never fail.” An epic part of my relationship with God has been grabbing God by the lapels, if God has lapels, and saying, “You said you would be faithful.”
I’m going to take a step today, but I actually don’t know how to do this. I worked full‑time up to May of last year, I don’t know how I did that. Again, my son is now 13, my daughter is 16. They are radiant, and beautiful, and fascinating, and a miracle to me. We hurt together, and we have fun together, and pray together, and struggle together, we’re still in the midst of that, it’s been seven months now [since the death of her husband, Phil Pannell].
I find myself saying, “God it’s okay that you keep writing our story. It’s not the story I would have chosen, but again, if you are not God of everything, I just have to give it all.” I think the other piece that’s paradoxical to me is as I was gone from working, buried my husband, put my house back together, at the same time, there’s been this national conversation going on. People are hurting in communities over doing better between community and law enforcement. We need safety and security, but how do we do that? I’m in such a unique position, and it’s very strange while we’re in a time of difficulty and turmoil and unrest in many ways to say, “OK, Lord, if you’re going to bless this work, bless it today.”
I would tell you, look at the people on your left, on your right—maybe it’s for such a time as this, for the person you pass as you walk right into your car. Perhaps you don’t know what you’re touching. Maybe there are Esther moments all the time that we didn’t give God’s significance. Just on your way to something else. That is part of my redefinition of finding God in moments I don’t know how to solve.
Lauralee: You’re nodding over there. Does an example of that come to mind?
Cameron: I’m thinking of, again in the same sense of saying yes to things that you don’t have any control over. I hesitate to use some of the same language of suffering that’s been used around the table. One of the conversations that my wife and I have on a regular basis is, do we realize how privileged our lives are?
At the same time, the thing that’s been happening over the last several years. The more that we open ourselves to walk with the people in our church community and be honest with folks in terms of what we struggle with. Of course the older we get, the more we see of things that you would hope that you wouldn’t have to see. Trying to figure out, what does it mean to walk with a family in hospice? What does it mean?
I think of the phone calls that I get. Having been with a family when they called me asking for a referral for a family therapist, because they discovered that their teenage child had fathered a child and the family was breaking up over that. Going to talk to them and settling things down, and then performing the wedding ceremony for them. How do I talk about that and not try to sweep things under the rug?
Then not too long after that having to preach at the funeral service for the child that didn’t make it and having the theological questions running around in my head, what happens to this child? How do I say that?
I know that these people are sitting out here and what they need is hope in some way. I can’t say, “I know where this child is,” or, “I know what’s going to happen.” Feeling the psychology part of me wants to have an answer, wants to make it better in some way. The only think that I can say at that moment is, “I know you’re having this question and I don’t know what the answer is. But I know the Jesus who welcomes children even when his disciples wouldn’t.”
That has to be it. I have to tell that story and let the story sit, and let people find their own hope in that. Somebody asks you to represent the church or to represent the gospel in a situation that’s difficult and people don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know what the heck to do with it, either. I don’t have an answer, but you show up and you speak the truth as best you know how. The thing that I’ve been more convinced of, especially over recent months is, when you’re looking for hope, part of where we find that is in a community that’s willing to walk with each other, and that people are willing to show up for each other.
Lauralee: And not make it better.
Cameron: And not necessarily make it better. Sometimes trying too hard to make it better makes it worse.
Lauralee: How is it that it’s comforting to have somebody say, “I don’t know what the answer to that is?” What a sigh of relief.
Cameron: I hope you haven’t had people knocking on your door saying it’ll all be better.
Luann: I don’t answer the door when people come over.
Lauralee: What do you think, Brad?
Brad: I was thinking that when Tommy was talking, I remember one of my first integration teacher, Newt Malony.
Lauralee: Wow, all the old names are coming out.
Lauralee: I will say Ray Anderson’s name has been mentioned at nearly every story table so far.
Brad: Really? Ray’s class on Bonhoeffer blew my mind. Talking about psychological integration, I remember Newt saying, “If someone comes with anxiety, what psychology will tell you is you need to fix the anxiety. What if the anxiety is a gift? What if there’s something to be learned from it? What if there’s something about sitting with it?” [Read Dr. Strawn’s essay on the history of integration here] That was important. I can’t sit in my anxiety very well alone or I do all sorts of weird things that should send me back to therapy for the fourth time. To be with people in the church, and community, or in therapy, I find to be powerful. The more I’ve matured as a therapist, the more comfortable I am not knowing the answers to things and even saying to people, “I’m not sure. But I bet together we can survive it and maybe figure it out.” Those have been powerful integrative moments for me and the people I’ve been privileged to work with.
Lauralee: There’s something about being together where you let go of your anxiety and I let go of my anxiety assuming that each other is holding it. Neither one of us are, but both of us are relieved in some way. Whereas if you’re alone in that, all of it piles on because it’s all yours to solve, and to feel, and to fix, and to be overwhelmed by.
Jenny: I ended with the idea of growing deeper attachment. A lot of our story is how to stay attached and connect, whether it’s with God or with each other in pain. I had that moment a couple weeks after 9/11. My sister was in New York and we didn’t know whether she was okay. I was with my two children and stuck wondering, “What am I supposed to do with my life? [laughs] I can’t finish it, and I can’t move in any direction.” One morning, I had thought, “If Jesus were to call me today and I had to stand before Him,” as if the whole 9/11 happened in LA, I thought, “What would I say to Him if He asks, ‘What have you done with your life?'”
At that moment all I could show for it was I went to school all my life and I was trying to raise two kids. “I thought in my 20s I was going to do these wonderful things for You, but that never happened because You cut my life short.” [laughs]
That’s what I would have said to God. The moment I said that, some dialogue was exchanged and what I realized was that He never asked me to be a psychologist. He never asked me to do X, Y, and Z. I put those things on my plate thinking that I had to perform and do these things for Him. The whole idea of being Paulette, a missionary, and giving things up. These are all my trappings.
That’s family dysfunction, cultural dysfunction. I was performing and performing and performing thinking that’s what God had called me to do. That was the first moment I recognized when He said, “I don’t need a psychologist.” I was furious. “Why in the world did you torture me like this?”
Jenny: I thought you wanted me to do this. He didn’t. There was a revolutionary moment for me at the time recognizing, he did it for me. I thought, “What?” The world doesn’t need a psychologist. He needed to put me through this for my own growth, and learning, and understanding.
What I learned in that moment, it wasn’t so much I was going to produce fruit. The fruit was going to come through my attachment to God. Then he reminded me of John 15, about how he is the vine and, “Remain in me.” I can’t remember in that chapter how many time it says, “Remain in me, remain in me, remain in me.” That’s where for the first time I got rid of all my Asian drivenness. [laughs]
Lauralee: All of it, Jenny?
Cameron: Most of it, anyway.
Cameron: There’s still more of it that I got to get rid of.
Jenny: That was the first freeing moment, recognizing that it wasn’t me that was going to be achieving, and doing, and producing, that all I had, every ounce I had in my willpower, my free will, was to remain in Him. It was only through that remaining that somehow I got through the rest. This is how I still continue. People constantly ask me, “How do you do it, juggling children, ministry, full‑time teaching?” I don’t know how, but how I breathe is every day remaining in Him. It was that attachment.
The other thing is, I’m a one‑point‑fiver. That means I’m caught up in the bi‑cultural duality of my life. That was a wrestling that I felt: am I going to go with individualism or am I going to go with the collectivism? It was mixing oil and water. That wasn’t going to happen. Honestly, it was that same moment I came to the realization it’s not about I or we. It was going to be both at the same time. [Read Dr. Pak’s essay on Western individialism and psychology here]
That was difficult to recognize, because here on Earth it’s usually one or the other. You can’t see an example of how both could happen at the same time. That’s when I realized only in God’s kingdom it’s spontaneously possible for both individualism and collectivism to coexist. What I mean by that is for me to be individuated, fully being me, but at the same time for us to be attached.
Lauralee: Jeremy, how about you?
Jeremy: [laughs] I’m trying to think of a particular moment.
Brad: If you want to talk about one of my classes…
Jeremy: First year, first class.
Lauralee: You’re a generous friend.
Brad : I was stalling for you, so you’d have time to think.
Jeremy: No, I appreciate it. Some of the most integrative moments in therapy have come when the client wasn’t Christian. Somehow there was a restoration to the whole thing and it gave me a new framework for integration. It could be very implicit and help me reframe therapy a little bit, in that therapy is integration. It is integrative in that we’re bringing together these pieces of their experience.
One of my favorite experiences, I had a client who was a ardent Daoist, experiencing this intense splitting and trying to figure out how he could be in this very spiritual world without any bridge. He’d come knowing that I was a believer. Together we forged a picture of relationality. That was transformative for me [laughs] more than for him in that space. I began to see, “God’s teaching me something through our time together,” and through that, able to help this person relieve some distress. But I was changed.
Struggling with where to go [laughs] with it after that. It was a switch for me of, “It’s not going to look like sitting down and praying with clients.” For some therapists it might. It was going to be willing to sit in the ambiguity of it all and sit in the oddness of it all and admit that I don’t know where to go sometimes, and that that was integrative. That was kingdom work as I tried to allow myself to be spoken to in those spaces, too.
Tommy: Hey, Lauralee? I was going to respond to the moment you had of realizing that there’s something happening when we share something we think the other person is holding it, then realize for whatever reason that they’re not, and somehow in the process there’s an alleviation. The story that came to my mind was, I was sitting with my dad. My dad was dying in the last few months of ALS. He had lost his ability to speak for some months before then. I was with him late one night. He had to communicate through the most agonizing means of blinking for me to type letters on an iPad or through a device that he could operate with his eyes that never worked quite right.
The frustration of already being cut off from one another in so many ways, bodily, and then not able to find any bridge across this gap. I remember myself feeling such terrible anguish at not being able to connect with my dad. I could tell he was suffering so deeply. Maybe some of it was a messianic complex of wanting to help. A lot of it was for me wanting to be there with him. I remember that we finally had these few sentences that it took him about an hour, or an hour‑and‑a‑half to get out on the computer.
He was telling me in tears that he wanted to die. He was ready to die. It was cathartic for me to hear him be able to say that, and to embrace him, to sit there and weep together. He was still dying and it was still cruel and horrific every minute of the way. But I walked away from that encounter with a strength that came from, “We’ve shared something.” We were there together in ways that we had been unable to reach because of the limits of the disease.
Lauralee: You shared the hard truth. There’s something relieving about that.
Tommy: Part of what we’re getting at is how healing comes through communication in a deep sense. Not a surface level understanding, but a deep mutuality so that people are empowered to live with deep pain when it is shared. Part of our task in learning to be healthy human beings is to try to be truthful about our own pain, and to be able thereby to communicate with others who are hurting, and to share.
Lauralee: There’s something about this story table process. Now that I’ve done several outside of here, and this is our third, I’m always somewhere in my head thinking about what’s next. Have we heard from everybody at the table? Is there a way for me to help somebody open to something that they want to open to, but they can’t quite figure out? There’s a little man with a cigar on a shelf way in the back of my head thinking about those things and shooting information to the rest of my brain.
Then there’s the being present and the listening, and it occurs to me that I always feel different after this is over, just because we sat here together. Whether it was spoken or not spoken, whether part of it came out or some of it felt cramped, I feel different because I’m at the table with you. You’ve told something of yourselves, now I know you. That, too, that feels like the mystery of something being said and something being heard and a contact that takes place, that matters. Finding ourselves or making for ourselves circumstances where we can share those things may not feel like changing the world. It feels much more benign and normal. Yet because of it, when we are passing each other on the street, we can share each other’s pain in those moments by just being together.
Brad: It makes me think of all these wonderful anecdotal stories that therapists will tell about when they’re terminating with patients. We sometimes have these tendencies to ask questions that maybe we shouldn’t ask. But we’ll sometimes say things like, “Tell me about what was meaningful, what was helpful.”
I love the stories of, you know, we’ve spent all this money, we’ve gotten into graduate school, we’ve got all this wisdom, and we’re ready for them to say all that interpretation you gave me, or that homework assignment. They’ll say, “There was that one day I came in and it was raining outside, and my shoes were really muddy, and you said, ‘Why don’t you just take your shoes off and put them over there by the heater?'”
Cameron: What an intervention.
Brad: I went to graduate school for that? That time you offered me a cup of tea, or that time that you bent over awkwardly to unhook the heater because I was hot, and suddenly you were this human person in the room that heard me and responded to me. I’ve also become convinced how much of the healing is never spoken. It just comes to embody the way of being with one another. But we’ve got to show up.
Cameron: There’s another piece to that. I don’t know if it would match with your experience of asking those questions and getting those answers. For me, growing up in the family I grew up in and I’m sure, Jenny, you relate to this. There’s a sense of, “You never get it right. It doesn’t matter what you do, you never get it right.” There’s a desire to want to get it right. You figure if you go to graduate school, you read enough books and you think hard enough, you’ll figure out how you’re going to get it right.
That part of you, that part of me, that is sitting in a room with somebody and is trying to get it right is holding me out of the room. It’s that point at which it’s kind of like, I focus in enough on the other person just to be with them and not worry about getting it right. That’s when the transformative moment occurs, not just for the other person, but for me. I find stuff coming out of my mouth that I didn’t even know was up here somewhere. I don’t know what happened, but it happened and I’m grateful for it. I walk away from that and I know it was the right moment when I say, “I have no idea how that happened.”
It’s not me. It’s not because I’m smart or I know something. I just happen to be there and I showed up and thank God for that.
Lauralee: That’s the transcendent moment thought, right there. That’s the moment you hope for. There’s a moment much lower than that. You can look at it and say, “I made that thing right there happen and good for me. I learned what I learned and I really hit it home.” Then there’s the moment that you just described, which is saying, “I don’t know what took place. It wouldn’t have taken place if we weren’t both in the room. We were. Something happened that was out of my hands, but it was much bigger than both of us.” It goes back to that idea of both being present. Giving something up and having something take place between you that is mysterious.
Luann: You work so hard and you spend yourself. You empty yourself. I think I had five jobs when I was going through Fuller. It was just exhausting. I spend a lot more energy trying to get people to ignore the doctorate, so they can be present with you in many regards.
Cameron: One of my favorite moments with somebody was having a conversation in church and we’re talking about interests and at some point I have to tell him what I do for living. He stops for a second and he says, “You have a PhD?” I said, “Yes.” Then he says, “You don’t act like a PhD.”
Brad: I thought he was going to say, “You’re so normal.”
Cameron: I’ve had that said too, yeah.
Lauralee: Dr. Strawn, on that note . . .
Cameron: On normality.
Brad: Reverend Doctor, I prefer.
Lauralee: Will you close us in prayer?
Brad: Let’s pray. Heavenly God, it’s hard to know how to pray in any sort of summary way and so I won’t try except to thank you for your goodness, for your grace. Thank you that you are mindful of us. Thank you that you are present always with us. Thank you that you are present between us.
Thank you that you let us and call us to participate with you in this kingdom work. Thank you for your gifts of relationship, for laughter, for food, for friends, for meaningful work, and for the crucible that is Fuller. I don’t ask you to go with us because I have confidence that you will continue to go with us, but I do ask for your wisdom. We give you the praise and glory. Amen.
+ The Story Table takes a theme from FULLER magazine and brings it to life at everyone’s favorite conversation place: the dinner table. People who embody the theme in unique ways tell their stories around the table, and members of the community are invited to listen in. If you are interested in hosting your own Story Table, we’ve prepared a guide that you might find helpful. Download our Story Table Guide. Explore other Story Tables here.