Friends from the Beginning: 10 Year Celebration

When Cyndi Mesmer agreed to participate in the very first Training Certificate program in 2011 (now Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care Level I), she anticipated a laid-back conference where she would gather a few insights and make small talk with other attendees.

Instead, what she and fellow facilitator Scott Gibson encountered would change the course of their lives, relationships, and therapeutic practices. So today on the podcast, as we continue to celebrate 10 years of The Allender Center, Dan and Rachael engage Cyndi and Scott in conversation about how they first came to be involved with The Allender Center early in its founding and why they’ve remained, how engaging their own stories and the stories of others impact their practices and relationships, and so much more.

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Episode Transcript

Dan: Rachael, do you have your party hat on?

Rachael: Yes. In fact, I do a little tiny party hat that I get out for celebrations in my home.

Dan: Yeah, I have. My party hat is more like a yarmulke with a little bit of a propeller that goes with it. Nonetheless, this is an opportunity for us to say We’ve existed for 10 years and we’re going to celebrate and before the audience goes, I don’t know if I want to be around for that party and we’ve got to really intriguing folks that have been with us from the very beginning and have remained with us through thick and thin. It’s so sweet to be with these people, but I’ll let you introduce them.

Rachael: Sure, Well we are delighted and privileged to be joined by Cindy Mesmer and Scott Gibson, and Cindy and Scott bot actually we’re part of our very first NFTC I, our narrative focused trauma care training certificate back when it was called something totally different. They were part of our very first cohort and both of them also currently serve in multiple roles with The Allender Center team. And so they have travel traverse through many different iterations of this 10-year endeavor that we have been a part of The Allender Center but Cindy is a co-owner of The Art of Living which is a group counseling practice that she owns with her husband Steve, but it’s a group counseling practice that offers care to those in the community and also some training for professionals and lay care providers. She is obviously married to steve and they have five children and a dog. Welcome, Cyndi.

Cyndi: Thank you so much. So good to be here.

Rachael: And Scott also is a private practice therapist, runs men’s intensive is and is married with 32 cents and a granddaughter, three cents and a granddaughter, which has been a delightful endeavor right now. And you also have two dogs, one of whom is the number one border terrier in the entire United States of America, is that correct?

Dan: No, no, no, no, no, it’s not correct. No, no. It’s the cosmos. There is no question. These dogs are like, I love Scott, I love Cindy but I really love his dogs. And you can, you’re on Instagram like when, when I get a new video to watch like Becky will go, are you watching Scott’s dogs? It’s like you can see the joy in my face. So anyway, I’m sorry Rachel. Yeah, it may be claimed to be national, but it’s cosmic.

Rachael: No, I love that and words so delighted that you’re with us Scott.

Scott: It is delightful to be here. Good, great to join you all.

Dan: So look, we’re just gonna have a conversation and I think most people unless they know a therapist actually think therapists are fairly, bright wise, and balanced and we know that’s just a lie. We just actually, I think everybody knows it’s a lie. So just to begin with, to say, you know, you are both remarkably honest, deeply hopeful, gospel living people. So when you began coming into The Allender Center, you’re already competent therapists, what, what possessed you to do this? And I don’t know how to put it better than what, what did you gain from the beginning?

Cyndi: Yeah. Such a great question. To be honest, I feel like we might, we might have gotten manipulated into like starting have to be asked. And what I would say is Scott and I were part of a large community church in our area. And The Allender Center kind of approached, this church that we volunteered at and served that and asked, hey, do you have a group of people that would be willing to come and do this training with us like that we’re doing in St. Louis actually at the time, that was the first time we did in St. Louis. And, and so that’s how it was, you know, presented. And I thought I have five children, it would be a nice vacation. I love to learn things that will be, it’s going to be like a conference, I’m going to sit back and take notes and it will be chill and easy and, I had no idea really actually what I was stepping into, no idea. And so that’s kind of a little bit of how our journey began was, I think we were just invited in to participate in a conference and it was a very different kind of confidence and I had ever been in in my entire life. So, it became abundantly clear that this was not a conference, probably within the first 10 minutes of Dan speaking.

Scott: Yeah, I actually had had that prior summer had been on the men’s recovery week for the first time. And so on the way out the door to that week, I think dan mentioned something like, hey, we’re gonna be in St. Louis in the fall would be great to have you come and join us and then got approached by the church group to come to join with them. So that probably says a little bit more about my sanity level that I actually had some awareness of what I was stepping into because I was after that week, both thoroughly disrupted and confused and thought I’ve got to sit more with these people to kind of to understand what is going on here. So I just, was, that’s kind of how I came with a little bit for knowledge, but most we didn’t know what I was getting into as well too.

Cyndi: Yeah. And he didn’t even tell Scott. You didn’t even tell us that anything. You just like kept it all to yourself.

Scott: Well, I was sworn to confidentiality of course.

Dan: Right, hilarious. At least Scott you had a little bit better idea, but Cindy. Oh my gosh. I oh, I know you well, I forgot or didn’t know that you just sort of fell into the deep end.

Cyndi: I know it was crazy. It was crazy. What was most surprising? I’m sorry Rachael?

Rachael: No, no, I just was thinking for those listening who have had an opportunity to do any of our offerings, you would know that we do have some conference like offerings, but definitely the certificate was a, you know, immersive experiential small group, you know, you’re, you’re leaning into stories. So I’m just more laughing at like the invitation coming in to come do this kind of conference training, which many of us in lots of different vocations have gone to where you’re gaining information and inside and you take notes and the speakers up there and you’re back here and maybe you get in some intense conversations at lunch about it, but that’s the extent of the disruption. So I’m more just laughing and also like a little mortified. You know, we’re kind of thrust into this environment that is very different than a, you know, conference where you get to just kind of stay in your little spot and take your notes and not have to interact that much.

Dan: So well I’d be curious what, what was disrupted for both of you and in that beginning process.

Cyndi: Yeah. Oh, go ahead, Scott, go ahead.

Scott: You want to go?

Cyndi: Okay. So a couple of things, one I would say like, the very first session we had with Dan, he started telling a little bit about his story, and kind of like a little bit of a shady past what I would say maybe. And I remember him kind of going into detail and I’m like, I haven’t actually, I read a couple of dance books and I never heard him speak, never met him. And I remember him saying like for protection, he used to keep a gun in the back of his pants. Okay, so he’s telling these stories and I’m like, okay, this is interesting. But he went from that to them talking about how important confidentiality is in the context of our groups. And he said, he went on to say like, listen, confidentiality is of utmost importance and you will not repeat anything that went on in your group or I will come find you and I’m like, I texted my husband and I’m like, what in the world did I get myself into? Like, what is, this is crazy. But so that was like my first introduction, real introduction to Dan Allender and as you began to speak, like there was this just kind of odd, like I was so disrupted by what I was being invited into, but so wanted more at the same time. And so it was just this just ambivalent feeling of like, like what you’re speaking to and what you’re inviting us into is so different than what I had ever experienced before. And then I get to step into a group with a phenomenal facilitator who engaged. I watched him engage other people’s stories and it was disruptive and, and it and it’s set up for me to want more. So, so you’re right. I did come in with this sense of like, I’ve already been a therapist for over a decade, but I didn’t have any idea like the depths of actually where people are bound in their story until I actually entered into this type of training, until it was disrupted, but let you know, set me up to want more. That’s, that’s how I started now I did kind of pick a fight with my facilitator a little bit because, you know, I wrote a story was a surprise. Yeah, I know, well I wrote a story about my dad and then he started to like kind of go after my mom and I’m like, listen buddy, they’ll be going after my mom had a little protection around my mom and so he and I battled it out a little bit so he just remain calm so I might have thrown a few choice words his way that’s possible,

Dan: Just to underscore I don’t carry a gun. But this morning back in, I took a walk early in the morning and I did carry bear spray.

Scott: Yeah, I would say similarly. You know, I had been obviously the recovery familiar with the beautiful, meandering way in which you communicate dan. And so I think what was disruptive in the kind of teaching part of it was like one my mind was grasping to understand the concept, but I noticed my body doing something completely different and I just started to feel so seen so connected and I often found myself just noticing I was weeping, not even a clear why, but there was something being disruptive in the way that you communicated about our story, about how we engage with our stories and then like Cyndi said to jump into a group where a trained facilitator, doesn’t, doesn’t just kind of let you get by with, I had a good Christian mother and father, kind of line and it really challenges and invite you into your body. And I think those were the things that were really initially just, I didn’t know what to do with, certainly initially. But it kept me coming back, you know, it was like, I just, I knew I needed to keep coming back because there was something happening in the tears and what my body was doing with listening to you, the other teachers and in the group process that I know like there’s something really life given here that I need to be a part of, I guess I’m aware. I’m curious because with you guys coming in as like established therapist into this work that’s kind of disruptive and messing with paradigms.

Rachael: I’m just very curious. How did it impact how you went back to realms that you’ve already done a ton of work in? You know, your work with people in the therapeutic realm, your relationship with your family just would love to hear more what that was like because I know for a lot of people it’s part of some of the barriers to wanting to do the work when you already have such an established way of doing things.

Cyndi: So yeah. Yeah. Great question. I think for me, I already have been practicing and had, you know, pretty large practice at that point. And so and had been offering care and what I thought was really good care to the people I was engaging and going through this train jing this training, this certificate program. It drastically changed my lens in which I saw my clients, how I engage my clients. I felt like I had the freedom to actually go deeper into like not just engage kind of their symptoms that they were presenting as they walk in my office, but to actually, instead of saying like, what’s wrong with you, it’s kind of like what happened to you? Like there is a significant shift in regards to how I viewed them. And so it changed how I counseled people. It changed actually how I did my marriage, it changed how I parented my children. It changed how I interacted with my friends. So it drastically changed like how I actually see the world, how I see God, and how I interacted with people so much that my clients were like, you’re kind of different, like you’re kind of different than you were before. And you know like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. So and I actually was able to come back and share with my husband like, like what I was learning, what I was experiencing, what was shifting in my body, what was shifting in my story, The freedom that I was experiencing that created space and room for me to experience, not only healing but for me to be able to actually kind of innocence shed. Some of the things that were bound to me for like years or decades. And so I had an opportunity to able to share that with my husband, who hadn’t been a part of the training. He didn’t come with me. And so he’s like this sounds really cool. And there was this sense of like, oh you can tell somebody so much about this, but you really don’t get it unless you actually go through it, you know? And so he then ended up doing the certificate program the next year, which was held in Chicago. And I was so grateful because then we could have common language and how we engaged our Children and how we engaged our own practice and how we engage the people that work that are not only under our care but that we work with drastically changed, so.

Scott: I’d say a similar to I think I saw a huge, I remember the first year, so like the the the thing was on Thursday, the weekend went from Thursday to Sunday, we drove back Sunday night and I wasn’t thinking this thing through. So the first year I actually saw people fully on Monday, so which I now would do to myself, obviously I wouldn’t advise anybody do that, but I was totally spent right kind of thing and just had been kind of through a meat grinder myself. And so trying to help people and what was so fascinating about that was like I saw more powerful things happened on that Monday often because I entered those conversations with clients, so much more connected, so much more embodied, so much more humble present and so a big, big impact that I think the training has had on me and continues to invite me into is just, is to enter the heart that I have instead of kind of stay up in my head with strategies or interventions or things to do as a therapist, you know? This obviously then I was like, Cyndi said has a disruption in my marriage because you know, and you know, to be honest with you, you know, I did marry above my level. And so when my wife starts hearing me, you know, say some of things I’m learning. And some of the things that I’m learning out of things, she had been given me feedback for decades. So she’s both delighted and terrified. Like who is this man becoming? But yeah, just my marriage is a very different relationship. We are, we’ve always been best friends but there’s a level of authenticity and openness and honesty about our brokenness that we’ve never had. So just extremely, extremely grateful toThe Allender Center and for you dan and Rachel for your leadership because it just has rocked my world.

Dan: Mm it’s so sweet. You know, I hope people are still listening because it’s just good news. I’m grateful for the work we’ve done. But the privilege of being with people as lovely and odd as you both and to see redemption just to hear and see redemption. My soul needs it particularly in these days. But I have another question that I want and let me begin with you Scott. Like look, I want you to describe a little bit about what you do with your puppies so that people have a better sense. But what I’m asking was how has this labor invited you and enabled you to play And just to underscore, I’m not going to go into your story, it’s your story, but play has not been, shall we say, one of the realms that you developed a whole lot of expertise and you are, you are a very serious, hardworking, deeply committed good man. But watching you, I mean I love watching your dogs of course, but frankly, I love watching you with your dogs as much if not more because of what I know about you. But I see joy. I see play, I see a goodness and I’ve already said too much but ahead.

Scott: Yeah, I mean I think yeah, definitely. I concur with, you know, grew up in a very midwestern hardworking kind of knows the ground kind of family and so very intense. And so that’s one of the things I think that really drew me to as I watched you and the other facilitators is watch you like have fun and play and laugh kind of thing, you know? And so 10 years ago I didn’t have the dogs and so at one point during the process I decided, you know, this would be fun for me, a big part of my story and it really the first time that I met God was through my dog as a tent, right? As a 10-year-old where God brought The comfort of yeah, way to my heart. And I was a 10-year-old in a, in a dog competition in 4H and so, you know, re-engaging with that story of that 10 year old helped me really re Repair broken connection with the goodness of that 10-year-old, you know, and so later that day I actually heard from Jesus, you should get a dog, you need a dog again, you know? And so I woke up and said to my wife, I’m supposed to get a dog I think, and long story short, you know, you know, six years later scouting pip. And so and you know, again like what, what, how that’s impacted my life, but also my relationship with my wife comes and supports me and travels and she’s a videographer on the team. And, and so I said to her one time, you know, you don’t have to come, it’s a long day to watch these dog events and you know, you, you could do other things you don’t come to every day, you know, and she said something that I’m still figuring out how to take in, but she said, I’ll never forget, you know, I love to come and watch you play. Yeah, and you know, At some of the work that I think I did and re helping repair this connection with this 10-year old that just had to not play too much. So I play with the dogs and it is a blast and I play with my clients and I play with my Allender Center supervision group and, and, and group and it is a blast. So I just again beyond grateful just for the joy of playing.

Dan: I do need on behalf of our listeners, a little bit more clarity as to what you do with these two. Remarkable.

Scott: Yeah, so we, yeah, so we compete in the American Kennel Club, has agility competitions all over the country. We compete each weekend that we choose to in dog agility, it’s a companion sport where the dog runs around with you and has to follow a sequence of jumps and tunnels and weaves and obstacles and so we do some training obviously for that and, and then have a lot of celebration too.

Dan: We’re going to move quickly to Cindy, but I have one more question with you, like do you, do you train to run because like when I watched the videos on, on Instagram, I get exhausted.

Scott: Yeah, yeah, yeah, especially the younger one pip is a lot faster than me. So you do have to, I do, I do train and our trainers help us. That’s what the videos do because you see like, oh my goodness, this is an old old man that needs to get to get some speed up right now, so that helps me. Yes, I do.

Dan: Before we shift, I just want to say that you too can follow along on the adventures of Scott and Scout and Pip. That’s if you just search Instagram for Scout and Pit, they come up.

Scott: It is quite that: Scout underscore and underscore Pip.

Cyndi: Oh, that’s so fun. It’s so fun to watch Scott talk about his dogs. Scott and I actually lived pretty close together and me and my children had an opportunity to actually watch Scott and pip like as a dog, sit them. And they’re just so delightful and so yeah, so we have lots of pictures of Scott and Pip with all my kids and so that’s set up for them to actually ask on a daily basis if they could get a dog. So thanks for that.

Dan: That’s the same with Becky and the answer is, no.

Cyndi: Yeah, thanks for that Scott. Thanks. So, we finally relented and you know, even in a house with five kids, that’s a lot, there’s a lot going on. So we’re like, oh, you know, dogs going to add a lot, which they do. And so we now have a German Shepherd and she is beautiful and sweet and kind and what is kind of magical and sacred about her is that she, she has a different relationship with each person in the family and so she, she sees each person really well and meet them where they need her. So, so if I’m having an incredibly stressful day, she’ll just come and snuggle right next to me. And so for somebody that grew up in more of a kind of avoidant attachment, very, you know, distant parents to have a dog, be able to read me well and then actually offer me comfort and care has been really healing for me. And so I probably owe you a thank you to Scott we now have a dog, so that’s been delightful. I would say to like, I think when I, when we initially did the training, like the very first training and I think one of the things that was fun for me is that after we would come out of group at the end of night, we had this long day that felt like it was a year you know scott and I and some of our colleagues and friends would just sit and talk and laugh and you would think after actually engaging trauma stories that like we’d all be serious but there’s just it creates such freedom to actually be able to laugh and to be able to to engage in just the joyfulness of like being what it’s like to actually be alive and so so it was just it was lovely and sweet and and so yeah it has shifted my ability to actually connect better with my kids to be able to play with them to be able to cuddle with them which you know based on my story like like those are things that are drastic changes for me in regards to being able to like love them well cuddle with them, play with them like it just opened the door for like the younger versions of me then have permission to be able to play to be able to rest, to be able to enjoy life more. I keep this after The Allender Center after I did certificate one. There wasn’t any programs after that at that time, there was just that and so ever since then I took this picture of my daughter when she was about the age where I did a lot of my story work around and I put this picture on my desk at work. Mhm just as a reminder of like, oh I want to reclaim what was stolen from that girl? Like I want to reclaim her carefree nous her playfulness, her innocence, her loveliness. That that in the stories of my life like felt like got stolen from me, felt like evil kind of stolen marred parts of me. And so she, that picture is still on my desk in my office as just a constant reminder to like play to be carefree, to love well until there’s to love well, to love me well.

Dan: It’s what it evokes in me as again, just this deep, deep not just appreciation, which is too small word, but this deep sense of yes to you. But yes to the wild and wonderful ways the spirit draws us through his creation back to pictures of who we are meant to be that were taken from us and yet become in some sense of lens of becoming your you’re using rightfully your daughter as a picture of what you have as a mom have allowed her to be but perhaps have not allowed your own 8 10, 12-year-old child to be. So that’s enough. We’re not done. But that’s enough for me to go, hey, this is worth celebrating Really. We’re celebrating before we end. I’d love for you both because you’ve been with us 10 years at different seasons and now very richly and fully, what would you hope for with regard to The Allender Center we’re all going to be here of course 10 years from now celebrating 20. What, what would you want to be saying about The Allender Center 10 years from now?

Cyndi: I feel like everyone needs this like I feel like, I think everyone needs like this kind of healing and so my desire for The Allender Center, is that we have the capacity to train others to be able to go into the world and show them who Jesus is who Jesus really is that he is a god that attunes really well to us and creates containment and repair. Like, like for us to be able to train people all over this world to actually bring this goodness so that there might be freedom, like the kind of freedom that Scott and I are talking about and even though it is disruptive, like it’s so disruptive in such a glorious and beautiful way. You know, to tell somebody, hey, I’m gonna, I’m gonna step into a group and talk about trauma stories doesn’t sound all that appealing to most people. You know what it’s like you’re going to do, what, what are you going to do? And I’m like, you know, and ever since, ever since that first weekend, I’ve been a part of my own story group in which I continue to engage my own stories, but, but to tell just somebody who hasn’t experienced it, like, yeah, I step into my trauma stories and they’re like, what is up? Why would you do such a thing? And, and I think what I answer to them is like I want to be the best version of me that God intended, I want to be able to offer to other people what they then don’t have. And I think the only way I can do that is if I continue to actually work on my stories and so when I imagine The Allender Center in the next 10 years, like, oh, wouldn’t it be delightful to be able to continue the work that we’re doing? Not only on a personal level to be able to engage our personal stories, but more of a collective level. Wouldn’t it be great if we could actually not only work on healing our own personal wounds, but actually the wounds that are so evident in our world today that we’re all a part of, and so like, I want The Allender Center to be like in the forefront and in the lead and inviting people to healing in a, in a different way. Not only healing personal, but both collective, that that is what, that is why I’m here, that is why I love this work even though it’s hard at times like that is why I’m here.

Scott: Yeah, I’d add to that, I think just I’m not a theologian obviously, but I grew up in a Christian environment where you had to know the right answers to the questions and believe and do the right things and I think you know there is no accident that like we have a god that is in a human body. And so I just, I think the elder center has really invited me and many others into listening, you know, to the god of the universe through the human heart, through your body and I just imagine that you know, we get to invite many more, more people around the country around the world into that journey that really is so sacred and freeing and so I yeah, again just like Cindy just really as long as I’m here so excited to be a part of a growing and helping other people continue that journey as well as my own personal continued journey in that process. But to me that’s been the significant shift is that Jesus is in a body and he speaks to our bodies, he speaks to our hearts and we get together listen and see some of the amazing things that he does in our lives

Dan: Mhm and let me turn and say, Rachael, you will be here a decade from now …

Rachael: Well you have to take that up with Jesus because I don’t, I stop planning that far out because I never really worked out for me but I’m not going anywhere today yeah, I mean, I’m sorry Dan, I was not ready to answer this question, I was ready to express gratitude to Scott and Cyndi, but I will try to find…I don’t know if there, I don’t know if there’s more that I would add than what has already been named, but just to say I mean, I guess what I would add is that we continue to grow our partnerships in ever in an effort to do that, that this would be a place that yeah, it’s on the leading edge, but in community and in the sense of we don’t have to go it alone and I’m with you both of you, I want people to get a taste of God, a taste of Jesus and experience of the true living God through any engagement with our team with our offerings with our content and I want people’s lives to be transformed so that we can actually be people who do justice and love mercy and walk humbly and so I yeah, in this season that has just felt kind of rocked with a lot of hardship and wickedness in our world, where it feels like the trauma in many ways is unending. I also would love to see The Allender Center be a place where you’re involved with the labor, you get to experience the joy of co-laboring with people in a mutual way that gives you life and reminds you’re not alone. So that’s what I would say Dan, anything you would want to add?

Dan: Well it’ll be right near my 80th birthday. So I’m hoping for a really good party hat, so that’s one thing. But I, I think beyond that, the notion that we have engaged, I think quite well personal stories and occasionally making a move into more familiar stories. I want us to develop a very rich and deep move into marriages because it’s where trauma shows itself most dramatically is in a committed covenantal relationship. So to enter that we’ve got to deal as well with the larger collective. And that is we, yeah, due to the prompting of lots of our staff, but also to the crumbling of the systems around us, if we don’t address, the issues of supremacy, white supremacy, racial trauma and misogyny and the reality of what patriarchy has brought to this world and the relationship of patriarchy to white supremacy to capitalism and consumerism and the violent stealing of lives and resources in a way that literally the earth is not going to be around a lot longer if we do not talk well about why we devour and why we kill. And so I think that’s some of what I hope we get to move more into over the next 10 years. With that, I will simply say to both of you, what an honor, what an honor to be with you, and what an honor to have you bring the array of your gifts both broken and beautiful, stunning. And to be part of redemption with you. And to bring in one sense the redemption, you have to others feels like again, what we get to celebrate.

Cyndi: Thank you so much. Yeah, so grateful for you both.