Story Engagement with Jeanette White

In this episode, Dan Allender interviews his boss, Jeanette White, who is the Executive Director of The Allender Center. You will get to hear some of the themes of Jeanette’s story, from her work in trauma care with The Allender Center to her personal encounters with trauma.

About our guest:

Jeanette White is the Executive Director of The Allender Center and has been a core member of the center’s leadership team since its creation in 2010. Alongside her work with The Allender Center, Jeanette is also a Certified Aroma Freedom Practitioner which pairs neuroscience-based therapeutic techniques with aromatherapy to reveal and release stories, emotions, and subconscious internal beliefs that influence wellbeing. She works with clients around the globe to support inner renewal and targeted healing from trauma through her Reveal & Release practice.

Jeanette has called the Seattle area home since 2007 and graduated from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology with an MA in Christian Studies in 2010. She enjoys spending her off-hours camping and exploring the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and traveling to new places near and far with her husband and young son.

Episode Transcript:

Dan: I have the immense privilege of inviting my boss, Jeanette White, to engage and tell all of us, not only a bit about herself, but how she got in the crazy role of being my boss and directing the Allender Center. But before I, I welcome you, Jeanette, I have to say that I’m so sad that Rachael will not be here today. She is on a trip with her husband and had anticipated the little cabin that they would be in would have internet that worked. It has internet, it doesn’t work. Uh, and so it’s just the two of us. So sad, Rachael, can’t be here, but so delighted Jeanette to have you on this podcast. So welcome.

Jeanette: Thank you, likewise. And Rachael, we miss you, but I’m grateful to have this time with you, Dan, so glad we can keep moving forward.

Dan: Well, and as one person said, Rachael often creates the kindness and priestly presence that sometimes I seem, uh, perhaps not to have in the same abundance that she does. So I, I will, I, I will try and channel a little bit of Rachael through this process, but it probably won’t work out too well.

Jeanette: But it never does Dan ’cause you’re the prophet, you’re the stir, you’re the… She brings the containment and the pastoring

Dan: And we know that only to be too true. Don’t we

Jeanette: So true.

Dan: So to begin you are my boss. How, how in the name of God did you get into the Allender Center universe and, and how did, how did you come to the position that you have recently taken?

Jeanette: Yes. Oh my well, yes, I’m currently the executive director, which I really consider to be a role of service in the form of leadership. You know, I get to support our incredibly talented team and have an eye on stewarding the whole, as we seek to continually develop and advance the work that we’re doing in the world. And, um, you know, I’ve worked at the Allender Center for over 10 years. Now, those of you who are long time listeners to the podcast, heard me on some of our 10 year anniversary things, other series, but I have held roles in event and programming management then moved into oversight over all of our like offerings and products and the teams that get to keep those worlds spinning and also, um, leadership in our overall administration structures and finances. So while I didn’t start out with the intent to keep moving and growing in my various roles at the center, I like to say it’s a bit like having started in this stock room of a company and slowly making your way into kind of more influential roles as time and experience unfolds. But I think for me, like I just, I just continue to love the work that we do, the people on our teams, um, and those that come to our programming, all of you who are listening right now, you know, I just, I feel at home and inspired and alive here and called to keep moving us forward in hopes of this work, getting to reach and awaken more lives to the hope and goodness that this type of story work brings to those who encounter it. So while there was like this steady movement of roles and growth over the years, it wasn’t so much about ambition for me, but more about showing up to where I feel called to be, where people called and invited me in to be, um, and to really serve in whatever capacity best supports the center over the years.

Dan: All I can say, maybe too loud, too clear, uh, your presence is life giving. And one of the ways I have seen it is I, I, you know, I view meetings as the anti-chamber of hell.

Jeanette: I do know this about you and,

Dan: And yet the meetings you run are, I, I’m not gonna say they’re a taste of heaven, cuz I’m not sure that any meeting can ever be a taste of heaven but they aren’t a taste of hell. Uh, and they

Jeanette: I’ll take that.

Dan: They’re actually more often than not, not only helpful, uh, not only, um, thoughtful, helpful and moves us forward, but there are things that I, I kind of learn about one another. I learn about myself. I actually learn about our organization because of the way you engage the creation of a meeting. And this isn’t about how to create a meeting, but I’m just curious how you do that? And are you aware of that?

Jeanette: That’s a good question. I would not say that’s something I have spent a lot of time thinking about other than to say, I like and enjoy meetings where people feel connected, have the capacity to voice, whatever, whatever type of wisdom or thoughts they want to bring, because I feel that that infuses and helps the whole of the work that we’re doing over. So I guess kind of a fairly collective approach. Um, and I also like it when we can move the needle on something we’re a high process culture, so we could spend a whole meeting just talking about something. But, um, my goal is often to say, well, what’s next. Um, and so what do we, we do to, make that next thing happen or, or move that next conversation forward. So seeking to have some effectiveness, I guess, in, in that way.

Dan: But care, true care as you have often offered for everyone in, in our leadership team, uh, often slows things down, but moving the needle, uh, requires a, a kind of mm, movement, direction and directive. Like you, you hold that complexity, uh, incredibly well. How come, how, what, what about your life has enabled you to be able to do that?

Jeanette: Oh gosh, Dan, that’s a, it it’s hard. I don’t come to like immediate stories or things like that. My brain went to thinking about how I’ve been exploring my enneagram nine-ness a bit. And, um, how, it’s just my kind of general, I don’t know if you wanna call it personality or temperament or those things is just that, um, I am seeking to find, um, a collective way forward. Um, I am seeking to, I think honor and hear other opinions, um, seeking to listen well and, um, see what that is telling us. Um, I often, um, I wouldn’t, you know, I’m not someone who would say, I don’t know my own mind, but my mind is informed and, and the frame shifts and changes as others bring their, like their knowing their own sense of knowing their own wisdom, those things to the table. So I don’t know if that answers any portion of that question you were asking, but…

Dan: I’m just curious whether, if I had met you at 21, whether or not that would’ve been true 14, 15, I know you were at 14 or 15, uh, dancing, uh, at Disney world…

Jeanette: Disneyland. Disneyland. You’re right. Yes. Our, our dance team, we would go every summer there when I was 21. So wait, is the question, what would I…?

Dan: Like you hold you hold incredible complexity with so much care and yet the capacity to move, like, has that been true of you through the multiple iterations of Jeanette?

Jeanette: That is a very good question. I would say. I mean, if I were to look back at myself in college or kind of those teenage years, I never would’ve expected that I’d be working full-time in a context, such as this focused on healing trauma in particular. I don’t know, as I ever even used the word trauma or considered it as a category, you know, in my kind of growing up, um, years. And yet I definitely have always been someone who has been, I think, attuned, um, to places where there has been a sense of injustice in some form, whether that’s individually, collectively, it’s just, it’s something that I’ve been attuned to. And I’ve been a personality that has, um, been able, I think, to kind of hold the multitude of perspectives that might make up those situations. Um, but you know, I think that I would be surprised, but glad to see that I’m part of something that’s doing this kind of deeply meaningful work in the world. You know, I found quickly after what I studied in college, I was in merchandising and marketing and like wanted to be a buyer for Nordstrom and those things, you know, I, but I discovered pretty quickly I was more drawn to work that had a more direct impact on the lives and hearts of people. And I actually left that profession. I’d studied for about four years in just ’cause I was feeling drawn to work on settings or work in settings that were centered on shaping and connecting with people’s development and growth, which is what drew me. I mean, you know, I started as a student at the Seattle school back in 2007 with you. So I think it was, I didn’t know necessarily at the time, but, um, it was what was drawing me into this sort of work, whether it’s the work that we do in the world or how we do the work together. You know, I think that, um, you know, you were a core faculty member at that time when I started and I actually didn’t know your work back then when I started at this school, but I was really instantly drawn into the categories you were teaching on and they were new to me. They took me a while to understand, I think in some ways, right, I’m still like, it’s just stuff you can keep mulling on and chewing on for decades. But I really resonated with the frame that you brought for how suffering impacts our lives and hearts and whether it’s capital T trauma and abuse or the more nuanced everyday places where, um, life and experiences brings some form of hurt into our lives. How that, and just the way that you talked about how that inevitably shapes us and often distorts us what, you know, distorts what we were most meant for. Um, and so anyway, all that to say with that foundation of intrigue and resonance, I think I, I met something that, um, sort of was water for my soul of the things that I didn’t realize I was wondering about or trying to move toward in the world. Um, and I think getting to sit with that as a student and have it be just learning about I think about such a rich approach to exploring people’s stories, truly tuning into what’s happened in their life, why those things happened and allowing just those really tender and painful places that we often shove under the rug in our minds and hearts to truly be noticed and tended to in a way that really, um, brings good care and capacity to kind of pull us out of patterns and trauma responses. So just we can move towards like that greater emotional and relational health in our lives. I think that that is what I was always kind of looking for. Um, and again, that can, whether that showed up in a corporate place I was working or in my, my family or those things, like just, that’s what, um, kind of drew me into this work. There was, there was a coming togetherness there in some ways of experiencing that and getting to have it shaped my own life, but then wondering what that means to be involved with a place that is seeking to have that enacted on behalf of others in a bigger way.

Dan: Well, I know that, I know that feels so, so true corporate and, uh, systemically, but I’d also say, I certainly have been the beneficiary of your Enneagram nine care, but also wisdom, uh, the ability to read and see systems in operation and dealing, uh, with what I would call difficult, human beings. Is that a fair, a fair beginning?

Jeanette: Yes, we are a complex bunch.

Dan: Yes. Now, in that, if you, take a breath because I’m gonna ask you about your marriage, um, your husband Campbell is one of the most poetically brilliant, uh, the complexity and goodness, the, I mean, uh, when I think of like, if I were to look in a dictionary, uh, under the word, good, I almost always think of Campbell first. Like there is a volume, a depth, a breadth of just a good man, but who’s also complex, uh, whose capacity to feel deeply and, righteously and to, in some ways, uh, I’ll say has porous boundaries that allows the world and people to deeply affect him. So I’m curious, would you agree with what I’ve spoken?

Jeanette: Yes. 100% Campbell has been like all like fire since we met, like he just he’s got such a light.

Dan: So I’m curious how your marriage has in some ways prepared you to deal with the complexity of the Allender Center.

Jeanette: That’s a really good question. I mean, I think that marriage has been one of those places where you learn so much about your own style and capacity for relating in healthy ways or relating with someone who’s really different from you, has different sorts of needs. And, um, you know, like I, I grew up in like a warm and present, but kind of rather reserved and not particularly like emotionally or verbally expressive family system, uh, when it comes to talking about what’s going on inside of us, um, and Campbell came from a more like kind of bombastic big, you know, like I always think of that… my, what is it, My Big Fat Greek Wedding movie? Where you have like the really quiet family that meets, you know, the loud Greek family. And, um, and it’s just like delightful and, but like hilarious at the same time. But just, and yet, you know, they have their own story of the places where, you know, how is our, our family system, um, supporting each other, each kid, each person has such different needs in those systems. So I think that, um, what came to mind for me when you were asking that question is just, how do you stay engaged and curious, and loving and hoping for growth in the midst of a lot of difference. Um, and I think I’ve kind of lost track of what your original question was, but I think it’s that sense of we each are our own unique person and we bring glory and we bring things that are stunted and hard and clash into each other when you’re trying to figure out how to live out a marriage, not only in normal days, but when things get hard or complex or painful in life. And, um, I often talk about with him, I’m like, you know, my whole hope is, whether it’s in our relationship or like the, you know, we often talk about it with our son, our seven year old son, ’cause you know, as parents, 90% of your life is talking about your children, but, you know, just the, the, the hope is to move the needle a bit. Right. Um, we’re not, we may not see a 180 in our lifetime. We may, but we may not. And if we can seek to move that needle a bit in the way that we grow and how we can engage or connect or see one another or, um, offer the necessary care for someone, um, that may not be kind of our natural way of, of being that, we’ve done well. And so that’s some of the things that come to mind.

Dan: Well, it’s, it, it, you know, knowing your husband and the privilege of knowing your son to some degree, you’ve got a, a lot of complexity in your life. They are rich human beings with imaginations that I can only to some degree imagine what it would be like to have that kind of imagination and freedom and play. So you are around, um, highly complex, brilliant, good people, both in the Allender Center and uh, certainly, in your own family. And maybe it’s, again the same question, but at least ask this way, like what do you know you bring into those plays that, uh, moves the needle?

Jeanette: What do I bring into which, I think I, I’m not track quite tracking with the question.

Dan: Both your marriage and the Allender Center, your family and the, you move the needle, like how, how do you, how do you do that girl?

Jeanette: I see, oh gosh. You know, um, it, that feels hard to answer cause I’m just being me and um, I’m I think just trying to, um, educate myself and act, act in a way that again, is helping where I’m getting to become more fully myself, but that is in response to wanting to, um, wanting to grow and offer deep goodness for the other. And also in hopes that that obviously circles out and kind of embodies the whole and embodies me as well. Um, I, I realize that’s a bit vague per se. I don’t find stories necessarily coming to mind in this moment. Um, but…

Dan: Well, you, you know, that you are a deeply trusted human being. I’m sure there are people in our and other realms that may not trust you fully like a hundred percent, but I don’t know many people who question your heart, your motive, your ambition for goodness, in, uh, individual and collective worlds. And like you are, there’s a grounding in you that we have needed. And in some ways the, the original founders, Cathy, me and others were entrepreneurs, dreamers, big decisions, quick decisions, uh, and sometimes impulsive decisions without managing, or even conceptualizing some of the complexity that we would create in that dreaming movement. There is something about your solidity and your trust. And again, back to that question, has that been true? You know, would friends who knew you in eighth grade, uh, when you were 21, would they come back to say how solid, how trustworthy, like, how come?

Jeanette: Yeah, yeah. I would say yes. I think I, I was coming to mind, I’ve kind of always been the person who’s had, like maybe several, maybe it was a group of friends and something happened and factions began or just like kind of disparate groups of people I’m connected with. I’ve kind of always been the one, um, who gets along with most or all, and is kind of in between not ’cause I’m not, I’m not even seeking to like realign people. It’s just that I’m kind of the common thread that kind of keeps the connections together or um, those things. So that has been true, I think throughout my life. Um, and certainly I think that I’m really stubborn. I hope in good ways in kind of loyal ways. Um, and I’m also, I’m just pretty patient person. I think I have a lot of room for people to be people and to have their moments and um, or their eras, if you will, um, and still honor the fullness of who they are. And um, so yes.

Dan: Yeah, so you, you’re not undone by messiness, but on the other hand, you’re also not indulgent of just imaginative craziness, and that ability to hold those two things in a kind of simultaneity, I just know organizationally, we would’ve eventually imploded. I’ll just speak about myself, imploded in my own erratic, sometimes mania, and that gifting of, you, have a brilliance of care, a brilliance of capacity to move forward and holding both together. Uh, I just think had to have been, uh, shall we say part of how you engaged your own family, uh, how you engaged the world that you were in with friendships. So it, it’s sweet to know that, um, we, we have an eight-year-old and a 21-year-old, uh, also working, uh, on our behalf. Does that make you laugh?

Jeanette: Yeah. Yeah. Picturing myself, oh, like I’m picturing my pink and purple corduroy pants from like third grade. They were amazing two different pairs. One pair was purple. One pair was pink. They were very beloved, very beloved.

Dan: When you think about your fashion sense, ’cause you are a fashionable presence and I don’t mean just in terms of how you dress, but you know, when you think about all the work that you did in that realm, how do you see that playing out in the work as an executive director?

Jeanette: Well, I think that any sort of work I’ve been intrigued with is it’s a, there’s sort of a holistic architecture to it in some ways like even how I used to wanna be a buyer for Nordstrom, right? It’s like you have to hold a whole, you know, like just a whole department and think about what’s happening with trends and you know, this and that and all the things and who needs, what, how do you serve everybody who’s coming in? Um, and just even that sort of picture, like again, dialing back over 20 years ago and that was kind of my, my world. But, um, I, I think I just come at things, looking at them from seeking to get as much of a 360 view as I can. And again, that doesn’t always come from within me. I’m kind of a learner, I’m an information gatherer and um, someone who seeks to synthesize that or invite others to look at that and see, what is the synthesis… is there? What, what is that telling us about, um, what we should be doing or where we should be headed? Uh, so I think that that’s a piece that just comes into the, the work that I do. Um, I mean, I think about like planning a really good Thanksgiving meal, right? It’s like you, you cull through all your, your, uh, recipes, the tried and trues and the new, I always wanna try something, you know, new or, um, those pieces. So I think I’m kind of this balance of like anchoring and also play, like how do we do a bit of both, um, in the work, whatever that might be, whether it’s work with the Allender Center, the vacation that we’re on that we do every single year, but we’re gonna, you know, mix it up in this kind of a way.

Dan: Well, and again, we can say that there have been structures, systems, ways of being in the world that actually you, you know, for the current life of the Allender Center, we, we desperately need and needed. But in that I also know that if somebody looks, I, I think they have the ability, like to look at a name and draw, um, past, uh, uh, episodes of the podcast that, you know, we we’ve been together. You, and me, Becky and Campbell talking about some significant traumas that you and Campbell and your family have known, and I’m just, without necessarily going back to all of that, to say, how has trauma your own brought you into the work of dealing with trauma, uh, from the standpoint of the executive director role?

Jeanette: You know, I think that for most of my prior like kind of life prior to the season, when I began working with the, Allender Center, again, 10, you know, 10-ish years ago now, I would say that I faced pretty typical kind of everyday little “t” traumas that were part of growing up in a world where I had a family system, as I mentioned earlier, I was safe and loving, but not necessarily able to meet all my emotional needs, you know, where I’d certainly faced some heartbreak and loss, but nothing that I would’ve considered like earth shattering. Although of course, knowing what I know now, all these years later working in this field of trauma care and the nuances of stories, I don’t dismiss those as significant. Um, however, shortly before I, um, started at the center, um, I did experience an earth shattering event for my body and heart, which was the first, as you know, we’ve talked about this on the podcast, as you just mentioned, it was the first of a series of seven miscarriages that my husband and I faced over a decade-long period together. And so I, you know, I started this job at the center just six months or so into that first loss. And over time I’ve experienced the very themes that we teach and talk about such as betrayal, hopelessness, ambivalence, powerlessness, the coming to fruition in my own life. Um, in one of the most tender places of my story that continues to play out in some ways, these are lifelong, right trauma, grief, and loss, and are playing in my life. Um, but I don’t know what it would be like to not have this frame that we use at the Allender Center, from which to really kind of hold onto and understand large aspects of the impact of that particular form of suffering in my life. And, you know, and as you know, in the midst of that decade, I lost my dad very tragically about five years ago and those layers of loss are still with me. So I just think that there’s a personal knowing of sorts, um, to how true and meaningful the work is that we do to bring care and tending to wounded in people’s lives.

Dan: Yeah. Yeah. I, you know, we’ve, we’ve done a lot of life together, um, from our first encounter, uh, as you held and managed a trip to Florida. And, uh, I think our first shall we say very, very small “t” trauma was, uh, we were at a hotel checking to see if we could get lunch there. And as you backed up, um, a small, somewhat insignificant accident occurred, but nonetheless it was, shall we say, uh, not the way you would’ve wanted to begin, uh, your travel and work with me at the Allender Center. I mean, you do remember that…

Jeanette: Oh yes. I think we talked about this on our 10 year anniversary podcast. I mean, just right. You’re like, oh, this is my fir one of my first big trips and my new job. I was like manager of conferences. And then I, I get Dan Allender into a car accident on the way to the conference, you know, just really rocking it. But I would say like, even I was the other day I was realizing I had gotten, it was right before I started this new role as executive director in January and the day before me and my family decided that would be a great way, great day to go and get our COVID boosters. And so we go and I wake up to the first day of like my new job as executive director and I couldn’t even get outta bed. Like I, I literally had to call in sick on my first day.

Dan: Oh, so appropriate.

Jeanette: Oh, I was feeling so terrible and it was just, it was, it was pretty funny to actually look back and be like, oh yeah, your first day you, you end up sick in bed. Uh, not what you’d imagine for stepping in with like boldness and, and sweetness into a role, which has been that. But, um, yeah, things don’t always go as we imagine

Dan: Indeed, uh, to even put it in the same, uh, shall we say sentence, uh, I understand has a certain degree of, um, failure of meaning, but small, very small “t” trauma in that beginning accident to miscarriages and losses, particularly with your father’s death that, um, you know, I, I have had the privilege of being up close, uh, as many of our good friends in the Allender Center have to the integrity to suffer, uh, to not minimize, to bear, uh, in some sense the fruit of death, but not, not fundamentally with a despair and yet periods of immense despair, but with that, that small light toward the end that says death does not get the final, final word. And I think that has been, where I would say, speaking on behalf of those who know you, I mean, we trust you.

Dan: We, we trust you to enter our heartache. We trust you to believe in the heart of Jesus. And I think that combination is one of those where, uh, I know that I, you are my boss and we have had our moments of differing on a lot of different issues and the fundamental stance is… It’s not, you’re the boss. It’s you, you are a wise woman. And I think that sensibility for the Allender Center and the future, um, I can’t, I can’t honestly believe that there is a better person on the face of the earth to be our executive director. And for many of the reasons that we’ve talked about today, so, so honored Jeanette to work for you. And, uh, my, I can certainly say, I, I hope that you will be my boss as I fade further. Nonetheless. The fact is you are someone that I will delight to work with and for, for decades.

Jeanette: Dan, thank you. Such a such kind kind words. Um, you know, I think that it’s, it is the trauma that I’ve been through in particular, the start with all of our miscarriages that has allowed like the curiosity and like the attunement that I kind of had all my life to other people suffering, um, to kind of sadly like having to enter my own body. But, um, yeah, I am, I am willing to sit in the dirt with pain and suffering, um, which again comes from really having to wade through it in my own life and just allowing it to be part of the fuller, the full picture of life that we journey with. Um, versus kind of, I think, again, our culture seeks to like kind of cast off and overcome and we say, come and sit and be with and let it be part of the whole story. Um, so it’s, it really is a privilege to get to work with you and our team. We have such a phenomenal group of people and to just hear story after story of people whose lives have been impacted by the work we do, um, immense immense privilege.

Dan: I say again on our all behalf. Thank you, Jeanette.

Jeanette: You’re welcome. Glad to be here.