“There is powerful evidence of how stories can and do actually help people heal from wounds of grief, depression, and loss. All over the world, people have understood that, as John Shea said, ‘We turn our pain into narrative so we can bear it; we turn our ecstasy into narrative so we can prolong it…. We tell our stories to live.'”
Sister Judy Dushku, former Boston Stake Relief Society President, shared examples of how telling stories can motivate and lift us up, also lifting up those we love when they despair. In her session called: STORIES THAT HEAL, she invited conference attendees to share a significant story with one another.
Sister Dushku particularly focused on work she does with THRIVE-Gulu, Inc., her non-profit organization Northern Uganda, which has built a center for trauma healing that provides support for people who have survived a hideous war. One of the things they do there is tell stories to one another and to those outsiders who want to listen and learn. They tell stories of what life was like for them before the infamous war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (headed by the terrifying rebel, Joseph Kony) began its 23 – year assault on their towns and villages. They tell how they were abducted, after they saw their parents killed, and they tell of how they survived up to a decade in captivity – forced to raise children they were forced to have with the rebels. Those who are telling their stories report that it helps them to do this telling. They want to continue.
Now Sister Dushku invites those women interested to join her in a March trip to that center called THRIVE-Gulu, where volunteers from here can assist in gathering stories. The trip will be from March 2-13, 2015. She says:
Last August those of us who work with THRIVE-Gulu, Inc., our non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) went there and began to record some of the stories that people tell us on camera. It was a moving experience. We want to continue it, and this spring we are inviting any woman that wants to go, to join us. We will work directly with the women who survived the war, which ended in 2006. We will collect their stories on video, editing them and helping put them into a collection at the center for use by counsellors with trauma healing groups.
Using insights shared at the Women’s Conference, we are helping women understand that their stories are not yet over, and that what may have been a discouraging story thus far, may as easily take a different direction and lead to successes and triumphs over past horrors. Some women from our Stake who are going, are counselors themselves and have faith in this process. But one does not have to be professionally trained to help in this healing support. There are many roles to play in meeting the women and talking to them about their pasts and in encouraging them in their new paths to being good parents, in being a success at becoming computer literate, and in being a leader in their communities and families.
For information about this trip, contact: Laura McBride <email@example.com>, and/or visit the THRIVE-Gulu website: https://thrivegulu.org/womensretreat/
Also, there is an information session for the upcoming 2015 Women’s Trip to Gulu. We hope you all can make it and bring a friend! Wednesday January 14th 7:00pm a Judy Dushku’s home, 121 Garfield Street, Watertown, MA 02472.
We hope you will join us!
Women from the Boston Stake Relief Society attended two events for the women’s shelter Rosie’s Place in Boston. At the annual benefit fundraiser luncheon, we learned about the history and mission of this first women’s shelter in the United States.
On Dec. 2, 2014, six volunteers had a chance to meet some 150 guests at the shelter. We arrived in time to set up for the lunch by arranging the chairs and tables, including floral centerpieces. Then we served the three-course meal – soup and bread, followed by main dish and salad, and fruit for dessert. As a wife and mom who has trouble getting even a single dish on the table in the evening, I was inspired by the menu and quality ingredients that went into this lunch. The organization is very well-run and our time did not go to waste for a minute. The volunteer coordinator has clearly been honing her task for years and she was able to smoothly direct the ten or so volunteers, which included both regulars and others (like myself) who were there for the first time. After the guests had been served, the volunteers were invited to have a plate of food as well. Two of us sat and ate with one guest who turned out to be deaf. Not deterred, we counted on lip reading followed by some napkin scribbling to carry out a conversation with our tablemate. I can report that both the food and the company were very nourishing!
– Mary M.
All our lives we are surrounded by stories: nursery rhymes and fairy tales, scripture and literature, gossip and family history. How do these stories shape and define us? Can changing a story change a life? I believe that it can. Think about what stories you most often tell about yourself, your family, your faith. What do those stories reveal? What messages are sent? Are there aspects of those stories that don’t work for you anymore? I believe as we come unto Christ we can find the power to rethink and reclaim our stories. It is how we interpret the events of our lives, and not the events themselves, that determine our happiness. Let us be like Mother Eve and realize that we all have the power to transform pain into wisdom, sorrow into joy, and despair into hope.
Today I would like to posit that 1) stories matter to us, as families, as a community of faith, and as individuals; 2) when stories don’t work for us, we suffer; and 3) we have the power to change our stories, and thru Christ, find happy endings.
A. Stories in Families
We all need to see ourselves as part of something bigger than ourselves. We all need to be part of stories where we see that trials and problems are part of life but ultimately we will endure and triumph. In studying families, Bruce Feiler concluded that happy families were not the ones who had the least troubles, but ones that talk about their challenges and found “positive stories” to tell. He writes:
When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship…. The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.
B. Stories in the Gospel
The Lord has always taught us through story. The first chapter of the first book of the Bible is our powerful origin story of Adam and Eve. It explains how we came to be and sets a pattern for all of our lives. We arrive innocent but eventually face ambiguous situations that force us to make hard choices with even harder consequences.
We all know about Eve’s choice to partake or not to partake. And I respect her bravery and foresight. But even more, I love how she responds to the “what now?” challenge: how does she live with that choice. Does she pine away for the Garden? Does she try to shirk her responsibility? Yes, but only for a little while. Eve, like the happy families in Feiler study, knows that they will bounce back. Moses 5:11-12 records her testimony of wisdom and perspective:
And Eve… heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.
They are sharing their family narrative of faith with their kids.
C. Your Story
When you and your family of origin get together, what stories are told? Is there a theme? Crowd favorites? Is there a “smart” one, a “funny” one, a “ditzy” one? What is your role in these stories? Which, if any, of these stories do you tell your friends or your kids? Do these stories serve you? Do they keep you from growth and change? Do you like the character you are supposed to be when you are with them? What part have these stories played in defining you and your family? What have you embrace? What have you rejected?
WHICH STORIES SERVE US? WHICH DON’T? HAVE SOME STORIES HIJACKED YOUR TRUE STORY?
Take a moment to reflect on your current level of happiness. If you are filled with bliss and joy, congratulations! A shuttle to Kolob awaits. If, however, you feel your life is letting you down, take a look at your stories. Do they begin with “This would only happen to me…” “If only…” “Everybody else….” “I’ll be happy when….”
Or the 3 P’s of permanent, personal, and pervasive. Let me explain: this is when you interpret a singular event that happened to be permanent, (I lost my keys. Things will never change); or sometimes we make everything personal (I didn’t’ get invited to that baby shower because they hate me); or we make things pervasive (I burned the birthday cake—I ruin everything). Any and all of these negative explanations cut off any chance of a happy ending. Listen to how you explain the events in your life. Look for patterns. Is happiness perceived as unattainable? Remember, how you interpret and explain the everyday stuff of life will shape your story into a tragedy or an adventure. In short, what is keeping you from happiness? On FB recently I saw a meme that read: When awful stuff happens, shout “plot twist” and move on. Try it. Adventure is everywhere.
Something else that keeps us from joy is we hand our stories over to others. Like being trapped in roles from childhood that no longer fit. And whoever authors your story, authorizes your actions. When we are defined by others expectations, our mistakes are seen as failures, moral flaws. And even our triumphs feel hallow. There have been times when I have lost control over my story because I was trying to live up to an Ideal that did not work for me.
Let’s look at a little discussed story from the OT to see how to “choose one’s own way.” Let’s turn to 2 Samuel 20:16-22 where we find the fun little tale I refer to as “Heads will roll.” It’s a rather bloody chapter, where one of David’s men, named Joab, is tasked with chasing down a Benjaminite rebel named Sheba. Sheba hides within a walled city and Joab and his men plan to destroy the city to get their guy. This is where Sophia comes in, who lives in said city and does NOT want to die. Okay, her name is not Sophia but she is very wise and everyone deserves a name so that’s how I think of her. Listen to how she diplomatically handles the situation where she is ostensibly doomed.
Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee. And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear.
At this point you can practically hear her guilt-inducing reproach of this man that holds her city’s destiny in his hands:
I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the Lord?
Clearly Joab is caught off guard by her spiritual indictment and has no choice but to back peddle: “Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.”
He explains his predicament to Sophia that if Sheba is delivered to the army, Joab will retreat and leave them in peace. What does she say in return?
Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall. Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king.
Not all of us are as brave as Sophia. Fear is a common stumbling block is fear. The sooner we throw away the old scripts about who we are, the sooner we live the glorious life we could be losing. To quote a certain frozen princess: “Let it go!” she writes. Let it go.
Change your story, change your life.
Change your story, change your life. It sounds ridiculously simple, but with the Lord’s help we can own our stories and make them serve us. We can repent, rethink, retell, and reclaim our stories.
The Savior’s atonement is to free us—from death, from sin, but also from suffering and emotional bondage. In Helaman 14:30-31, the Lord tells us, “for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good.” The atonement can release us from whatever keeps us from growing and moving forward. But it is up to us to act. To believe you are trapped in a story is to lose sight of the healing power of Christ.
Rethink your reaction; retell their motives, reclaim your happiness. Remember, whoever authors our story authorizes our actions.
Tell Your Story
How do we tell our stories? We talk to our friends and family and share our lives. We learn to rethink and reclaim our tales with generosity, leaving room for growth and forgiveness. We take our pain and put it into words so that our loved ones can share it and infuse our sorrow with the sweetness of their compassion. We mourn with those that mourn. We revel in the silly and laugh until our embarrassment runs for cover. We bear testimony, at the pulpit and the dinner table so that we know what we believe. We text and email and include real pieces of ourselves. We speak our ancestors names out loud so that no one is forgotten. We tell and retell our stories until we find versions that ring true. And one day, like Eve, we will bear testimony that our pain and sorrows have made way for the joy of our salvation. Repent. Rethink. Retell. Reclaim. Redeem.
Gottman, John M., The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert (New York: Crown, 1999). Available from Amazon here.
Common Myths about Marriage
- Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that communication is the royal road to romance and an enduring, happy marriage. The message we receive about having a better marriage is that we need to learn to communicate better. The idea is that active listening and using “I” statements is going to fix the marriage – however this doesn’t seem to work because at the end of the day, you are still criticizing your spouse. Conflict resolution is not what makes marriage works.
- You should never have disagreements with your spouse. Gottman found that loud arguments, even screaming matches, does not necessarily harm a marriage. His research found that in the 650 couples he tracked for 14 years, the successful couples rarely engaged in “active listening” when they were upset.
- Avoiding conflict will ruin your marriage. “Plenty of lifelong relationships are happy even though couples tend to shove things ever the rug.” No style of conflict is superior – it just needs to work for both people – avoidance, screaming, etc.
- Your partner is going to be the end all/be all. We all need a multitude of people to satisfy different parts of our personality.
- You are never going to wonder, “What have I gotten myself into?”
- You get off to a rough start. Studies have found that you can tell the outcome of an argument in the first three minutes. If your start-up is rough, stop the conversation, take a breath and resume it at another time.
- Criticism of Partner’s Personality
- Denying Responsibility. No matter what your partner charges, you insist in no uncertain terms that you are not to blame.
- Making Excuses. You claim that external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way.
- Cross-Complaining. You meet your partner’s complaint (or criticism) with an immediate complaint of your own, totally ignoring what your partner has said.
- Repeating Yourself. Rather than attempting to understand the spouse’s point of view, couples who specialize in this technique simply repeat their own position to each other again and again. Both think they are right and that trying to understand the other’s perspective is a waste of time.
- The first step toward breaking out of defensiveness is to no longer see your partner’s words as an attack but as information that is being strongly expressed. Try to understand and empathize with your partner. This is admittedly hard to do when you feel under siege, but it is possible and its effects are miraculous. If you are genuinely open and receptive when your partner is expecting a defensive response, he or she is less likely to criticize you or react contemptuously when disagreements arise.
- Stonewalling/emotional withdrawal from interaction: Stonewalling often happens while a couple is in the process of talking things out. The stonewaller just removes himself by turning into a stone wall. Usually someone who is listening reacts to what the speaker is saying, looks at the speaker, and says things like “Uh huh” or “Hmmm” to indicate he is tracking. The stonewaller abandons these messages, replacing them with stony silence. Stonewallers do not seem to realize that it is a very powerful act: It conveys disapproval, icy distance, and smugness. It is very upsetting to speak to a stonewalling listener. This is especially true when a man stonewalls a woman. Most men don’t get physiologically aroused when their wives stonewall them, but wives’ heart rates go up dramatically when their husbands stonewall them.
- Viewing sex as a type of currency or something that belongs completely to you. This is a limited, harmful view of human sexuality. On the one hand we have society saying that we should be oversexed and on the other hand we have the pressure to be sexless. There is also the belief that sex belongs only to you –sex is a service. It brings couples closer together, it is a stress relief, it is a way to focus completely on your spouse and your relationship.
- Feelings of frustration and hopelessness over “failed” repair attempts
- Seeking professional help through therapy too late
Positive Behaviors to Practice
- Have your focus be positive – have the overall view of your marriage be positive – this causes people to feel optimistic about each other. Have your set-point be positive. Most marriage start out with a positive set point – things happen and the set-point becomes negative. This requires a CLEAN SLATE – all the time. Clean slate every interaction. This is difficult.
- Get to know your spouse – really well. Job, stresses, things he does to relax, dreams, favorite movies/etc., how to help him calm down, current thoughts, etc.
- Express support for your spouse.
- Soften your startup, learn to make/receive repair attempts, soothe yourself and partner, compromise, be tolerant of each other’s faults.
- Accept your partner’s faults – Not every hill is worth dying for, and there may be things that will never change. What behavior can you accept that may never change?
- Complain, but avoid criticizing.
- Comment on behavior you want repeated – ignore behavior you do not want repeated.
Be humble in your relationship. Many times you feel vindicated in your anger and maybe sometimes you are, but what good does it do? Does it actually ever make the relationship better? We’ve heard many examples of how anger in like poison – it infects the person holding it, and it is true. Be aware – take a breath – step away – bring logic into the moment. Make every day a clean slate – forget what happened yesterday, forget what happened ten minutes ago. Your partner may initially resist this change but if you are consistent and you stick with it, this will become the new normal.
by David Madrian
Given at the April 2014 Boston Stake Women’s Conference. [Read more…]