Lighting Torches and Illuminating Caves: The Allender Center Way

sunshine in a cave

The room bears an uncomfortable silence unless someone dares to shift in their seat. The chairs squeak, air bounces through the heating ducts above. Eyes stare down at shoes with fleeting and awkward glances up toward other participants. Who will be the first to speak?

Stories are alive in our bodies. They occupy our chest cavities, swirl in our minds, sit at the center of our tongues. They long to be exhaled, wait to be embraced, hunger to be cradled. Sometimes they also burrow deep and hide in recesses—full of shame, terror, and bewilderment.

I share first. This is the Allender Center way. As a facilitator, as teaching staff, as leader, I will speak my story before anyone else. I won’t ask you to crawl into your holes or burrows unless I first carry the torch into my own. I am always stunned by how closely you follow me, how bravely you enter the dark with me so that I am not alone. There is a witness. There are new eyes who challenge how I have made sense of things.

I have called myself a story junkie. I am perpetually stunned by the transformation that comes from such brief engagement. I am a junkie not merely because of the growth, healing, redemption, and brilliance I have seen in the lives of participants. I am a junkie because my life has been radically restored and my narrative heard with curiosity and deep care. I am a junkie because we are storied people who are meant to participate in one another’s freedom. Freedom comes from bearing each other’s moments of heartache and tragedy and inviting a different and challenging lens. You change me.

After I finish reading I take a moment to stare at the pages in my hands. I do not dare to make eye contact with any of you. It feels too precious and vulnerable for you to look upon my face and see the fear, know the heartache, offer compassion. I adjust in my chair and it groans. I groan inwardly, but I also want to risk. After a pregnant minute I look up. Some of you have tears brimming in your eyes. One of you appears angered and another is staring again at the office carpet under your feet. Someone dares to speak and we begin. You light your own torches and illuminate a path in my once isolated cave.

This is Gratitude. This is Awe.