Story Engagement with Kalee Vandegrift Porter

In this week’s episode, Dan Allender speaks with one of the driving forces behind The Allender Center: Kalee Vandegrift Porter, the Director of Business Development. Kalee shares her journey of being drawn to chaos, grappling with the expectations put onto her growing up, and discovering her own voice in her story.

About our guest:

Kalee Vandegrift Porter received her Master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2011. She is the Manager of Business of Development for The Allender Center, leading the development and implementation of effective building strategies for ongoing sustainability. She is also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, holds a private practice, and is a core facilitator for the Allender Center.

Kalee is passionate about the healing of others and the transformation that occurs through being in relationship. With truth and kindness, Kalee believes in creating safety for the work of blessing the parts of us that have been detested and have been living at the mercy of our inner wars of shame. When we are able to do this with ourselves we are able to give and receive love more freely—with rest, abandonment, and joy. She knows that darkness does not have a permanent claim over us, and finds great joy in drawing out and liberating the goodness and life embedded within all of us. Kalee believes it is an honor and privilege to bear witness to others’ stories of harm and the healing and flourishing that is possible.

She lives with her husband in Dallas, TX, and considers herself an adventurer, novice gardener, witty jokester, and lover of the ocean.

Episode Transcript:

Dan: I have the privilege today to interact with one of our oh, deeply, lovely gifted, and, um, shall we say just compelling presences at the Allender Center, but I also have to say that Rachael, is on a lovely trip with her husband and she was going to join us by, the internet and this little cabin, and the cabin, uh, has foiled us. And so today I am with Kaylee Vandegrift Porter and you’re with me alone, which I, I know bears a little bit of, you know, like what what’s he going to do? And Rachel, more often than not is kind of the priestly presence of humanity that sometimes creates a, a degree of just goodness. So Kaylee, I can only say I am so glad to have you on this podcast and I’m so sorry. Rachel’s not here to join us.

Kalee: I know, I’m, I’m so glad and so honored to be here and be a part of this conversation and I will dearly miss Rachel, and I’m also excited.

Dan: Good.

Kalee: I’m excited to be here with you and do trust our time together.

Dan: I’m grateful. I’m grateful. Well, I want, I want people to have a sense of who you are, but before we even do that, you know, obviously you are very central to the work of the, Allender Center, but before we step into a little bit of that, I just want people to know, it’s really, we’re really not talking about the all center today, at least we are, but more tangentially in that I just want, I want people to have a sense of what in the world, maybe what, in heaven, would’ve brought you into the work of this somewhat mad organization. So really I’m, I really want people to have a better sense of a story and, and who you are. So maybe let’s just start with the question of what do you do in the Allender Center universe and how did you get to your position?

Kalee: Yes. And it’s, that alone has been its own wild journey. I’m quite a story, but I’ll just say I’m the Manager of Business Development for the Allender Center. I also am a facilitator, and have been a facilitator for a while now. And so facilitate in our training weekends and workshops. Um, but that’s really how I initially came to the Allender Center. I had graduated from my master’s. I was getting, becoming a therapist in California and I was a part of a church, not on staff, just like hadn’t even really done anything with them yet, but on their care team. And there was a small group of people coming up from that church to the Allender Center. Someone there had experienced a story workshop or something, and wanted to see about bringing somehow partnering with the Allender Center. So they, they sent a team of us up and lo and behold, I got to come. I was one of the only people not on staff. It really didn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to come, but somehow I got to be a part. And from there it really was like, I drank the Kool-Aid. Um, I had been sort of sick. Like I had just one experience in my story and to see teaching in group work, that integrated story, theology, psychology and biology in a way that I hadn’t yet hadn’t yet experienced in my story. And so, um, that began on my journey in becoming a facilitator, um, going through the trainings and becoming a facilitator. And then I was up visiting, not visiting. I was up for facilitating one weekend and after our days, we would go to dinner, have team dinners, and I’m sitting at dinner and, um, Heather Stringer, who was another facilitator sitting next to me and Cathy Lorzel was sitting across from me. And I was talking about, you know, wanting to move maybe from California, just looking at other opportunities. And I had a practice down there, and doing some other stuff. And anyways, Cathy mentioned, well, we have a job opening. Have you thought about applying? And I was like, oh no, but I just, I thought about it and I, I hadn’t looked anything and about like, I had gone home and a week later I was like, oh, I wonder what that is. And so a lot of my background had been in business and marketing and business strategy. And so I applied and two weeks later, I was now on staff for the Allender Center.

Dan: Yeah. I think, I, I think you can say, don’t ever in our organization, don’t ever let people know that you’re thinking about a change, ’cause it is likely you will be tapped on the shoulder, but were you stunned in that moment, even that that kind of invitation came?

Kalee: Yeah. It was such a generous invitation to even consider something, to like, to even be seen in a way that might be able to add value to a team that I deeply respected. And at the time Allender Center was growing a lot. I mean, I think we’re still growing, but that was in the midst of a big growth spurt hiring on a few other people. And so, um, yeah, it was really exciting and I, I really admired what I mean, I loved, I believed in the mission. I loved what we do. I wanted to be a part, and I was excited to bring other parts of me rather than just in therapy to this work. And so the invitation was like surprising and such a sweet offer and a little terrifying.

Dan: Well, I’m gonna make a generalization that, of course, has about a billion exceptions. But what I’ll say is that, uh, most therapists like you and me are not particularly good at business.

Kalee: Yes.

Dan: But you do, you hold both worlds as a facilitator. You’re a brilliant facilitator. I know that because I’ve been able to watch, your work yet in terms of how you generate and engage, the realm of systems of business, et cetera. It’s also stunning. How do you, how do you understand your ability to hold such complexity?

Kalee: Yeah. Um, I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. Um, and so that was something I was always around. So not only the chaos that comes with being an entrepreneur, that being kind of like a normal rhythm to life, but my mom is very creative and constantly has new ideas that she’s like floating out there. And so I always felt like part of my job was how, how would those actually be executed and what, what could happen? And which there’s a lot more there, but yes, always trying to find a way to contain and like create directions to all of these ideas and navigate, navigate those. And so that was, I would say in terms of family of origin, a big one. And then I, was always just in these business conversations, there was always business talk happening around me. Um, I think also as a default, I didn’t always know who I was or feel comfortable with being honest about what I was drawn to. And so I defaulted what a lot of other people would be interested in or what they, what I thought they wanted of me or anticipated for my life, which led to more of like business marketing thing, strategy communications. Um, and so then I actually also studied in that area and worked in that area and developed those skills. And then I met, I created a, after doing something, I think I read Leading With a Limp, and I was like, oh, I think we need to do that. So then I met with a group of CEOs and founders and did professional development with them, but they also would have their kind of board meeting days that they just talked about their businesses. So I was always in these worlds of, in and out of actual business things, but then learning the complexities of humans and development. And I think kind of going back to my, my mom who you’ve even helped me, but is a more high functioning, borderline personality, that you’re learning to live in and out of two different realities and how to communicate with two different realities. And I think that probably was a big part more than I ever knew.

Dan: Well, again, another generalization, but most entrepreneurs and I, I would certainly put myself in that position, uh, have a kind of what we’ll just call functioning grandiosity. May not be full-fledged narcissism. That’s my defense, but it it’s still like dreamers who create ideas or products or processes, oftentimes don’t know how to land the plane. Uh, they have a certain mania, uh, about their energy. So what I’m hearing you say is you have the ability to, create containment for complex people.

Kalee: Yes. That’s a great, great way of putting it. I think learning how to allow people to dream and seeing the gift of that and it being really beautiful, but also it can be overwhelming and like how to come and create a space where those things can flourish, but also have some parameters or some containment.

Dan: Yeah. So what I’m assuming, but you can tell me that in some ways you’ve lived in the middle of a lot of trauma, because entrepreneurs, high functioning borderline, create lots of drama, and create the potential for, another word would be the word chaos. And so it, like, I, I don’t know how to ask it better than, what drew you into engaging trauma?

Kalee: Well, I think, I mean, you kind of named it, right. I think in some senses it was what I knew. Like it was there a lot of reenactment, or I almost sometimes needed a certain intensity, um, to, I don’t know, to function, but that I was drawn to whether I had words for that or not. I think getting into the Allender Center work helped me realize what was happening in that. And yet, oddly, I thought I was joining the Allender Center on staff I was making this mature move out of some choas into more like order, structure, which we, we do have some, but it was just a, I thought it was this like movement of maturity. Um, but yes, I think there was a lot of, I think my heart was always drawn to it too. There was something I knew of, but I couldn’t name and just had a very tender spot towards, I saw a lot of people wanting to live on the surface and I was like, that’s not, that’s just, there’s something that’s not where it’s at. There’s something over here.

Dan: Back to the phrase. You’ve managed chaos for a long, long time, but in some level also drawn to chaos.

Kalee: Yes.

Dan: So how do you understand both, both realms, both managing, but also being drawn in?

Kalee: Yeah, that’s I think I’m trying in this stage of life to better instead of like, get frustrated by that and condemn that, how to have space for that. And more like approach it, with a lot of graciousness. I know that that may always be some part of the rhythm of my life, but rather being tossed by it. How do I, how do I enter into it or embrace it in some ways?

Dan: Well, if I had the privilege to talk to your 21-year-old self, would, would you have known or better said how aware were you that you are drawn to chaos?

Kalee: Oh gosh. Um, I think she would, like, I think of my 21-year-old self I’m like, oh, I need to like, hold on for dear life. Yeah, I was a graduating senior of college and I was just starting to like move in, not to therapy, I’d been in and out of therapy my whole life, but, um, like actually choosing intentionally to step into my own work. And so I think I would’ve been kind of surprised, but also relieved. Although I majored in communications and marketing, I ended up minoring in psychology. Not really because I wanted to, but just because my advisor was like, you’re one class away. Why don’t you? And so the fact that I’m like, why didn’t I just pay attention to where I was drawn? What I actually liked, maybe that would’ve cut out, you know, some more time, but I think it would still be a while until I really, I, I thought it was actually really a good thing. Like I was like, oh, I’m brave. I’m it made me more confident or I could go and do bigger things. And so I didn’t realize really what was happening. So I think I would’ve been somewhat relieved to like, oh, you, you actually started to figure yourself out.

Dan: So it, again, let me, talk to that 21-year-old, like what were you beginning to name and see at that, senior about to depart from, in some ways the, maybe not totally safe, but the safe womb, of college into the so-called big world. Like, what were you, what were you beginning to name that was either from courses or from other portions of your life, prompting you to, to put words to a reality that I’m hearing you at least say you kind of knew, but didn’t want to fully name.

Kalee: Yeah, I was, there’s just always been so much ambivalence in some parts. I was really excited to leave, not to leave college, but for the next step I had a job that started a week later. I was really proud of myself in that way. Um, now I’m like, man, you should have taken the summer, like, there’s, there’s so many things. But I think I started to step into, I remember going to, um, a mentor who had come into my life that past year and like letting her know I was struggling with some stuff and her, she helped me get into what was called celebrate recovery which is kind of like an AA thing in the church. And it was through that, that I started recognizing like my coping and way of thinking was there was so much idolatry in that and started to put ties to the roots of that. Um, so it was both really illuminating and really overwhelming and became a lot for, I still think such a young, I mean, I just think of myself still so young. Um, I think I always felt very young and behind. And so sometimes even having a job was like, oh, I’m proving myself in this way. Um, so I think that year was really, after I graduated, was stepping into like, now what’s, what’s actually, what do I actually need to address?

Dan: Well, and if, if you’ll let me knock on this door, you felt very young and in some sense of the word, not, I would almost use the word not capable, not competent to in somehow manage, yet what I’m also hearing you say is you’ve been managing complex people, uh, entrepreneurs, uh, many in your family that had a pretty high degree of grand grandiosity minimally. So how do you, how do you make sense of being young, having lived being very young yet also having to be extraordinarily competent?

Kalee: Yeah. It’s always been such a confusing reality and some ways I can feel very mature and interact with older, or even since I was very young, I was always at like dinner parties and expected to sit next to someone even at four or five years old and have a full on conversation. And so I think in there’s those ways I can really do that yet. I’m a, I’m a small, I’m a petite person. I’m a smaller frame and I have a younger looking face. And so I, I was also later in my school year. My birthday is in November. So I was usually one of the younger in the class. So I think in some ways I was, I was really young. Like I, I felt, yeah, even in my body, I felt young. I, and, and yet there was, I know more of life, or I know these intricacies. Like, I know kind of what you were saying is having held these bigger complex things. And yet I didn’t know for myself. Um, and so I always was like trying to catch up and yet I would hear message, you know, my mom, I think I ever heard one time being, she was afraid. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t competent enough. And so there was always these mixed messages of what would I be able to do, but then also being told, but you are strong and you can go do it. And, and what is strength, quote unquote and what is competency? And how is need seen and viewed? And so it, there were always just these mixed messages of you can go, you you’re in this grade, but actually you can’t go to other things because you’re not the same age, just things that were always, um, I was feeling torn between our friends were learning things, even developmentally that about your body or sexuality. Like, I always just felt a step behind.

Dan: Do you hear, do you hear how crazy making that is? Because you’re four or five at a dinner party with multiple forks and, and you’ve got to know which fork to be able to use for which portion of the meal. And you’ve got to be able to be charming and bright to be able to actually carry on a conversation with your, shall we say next door neighbor who’s 30 to 50 years older than you? Um, again, I don’t, I don’t have a resolve, but just to say, you’ve lived in the midst of a lot of craziness.

Kalee: Yeah. Yeah. That feels true. And sometimes I think, and you’ll even say, when things are more subtle, like the more insidious they are insidious they are. And cause I, I think that was always kind of true for me. Like some of those things like, well, this is normal or I was… I’m like, oh yeah, I know how to, I know how to maneuver around the dinner table, give me the number of forks that I’m like, oh, I know that setting, um, and how to be charming and how to engage and that they would then, you know, have a compliment and my mom would be really proud. And, but then when it came to life, like actually having some, some skills, yes, were really given, but then others of, you know, applying for jobs and stuff, I had to really figure, I had to like a budget. I had to go find people to help me learn how to like, get through like take on these next steps. So yeah, it was, it was a lot of craziness.

Dan: Well, I, we have a lot of similarity on, in, certain areas. You know, I can remember being about eight years of age at a cocktail party with my mother interacting with, I didn’t know, actually even what it meant for a human being to be an attorney. But my mother had told me that, oh, that’s a well known attorney. And I was in a conversation with him about Eisenhower’s choice to build essentially super highways rather than public transportation, like railroads like Europe, uh, the choice to create a Detroit oriented car based economy and continent rather than something that had a more universality, of possibility for all people, uh, like much more like Europe. And I was arguing that it was a mistake to give Detroit and Michigan, uh, that kind of ascendancy, not only economically, but politically. And I remember, like just to look like he’s a, he’s a, he’s a young little socialist, and you know, the beginnings of… I had no clue what socialism was. I had no clue what communism was, but being in this conversation where I know I could tell that, uh, I, I was intriguing him. You know, I think I was more intriguing by, uh, an infinite amount than charming. I don’t think, uh, anyone would call me charming, nonetheless, you were more than charming. You were intellectually thoughtfully, quite competent to be able to hold those discussions. So I’m wondering what, how you lived with that kind of insanity. You know, my approach was I, I burned the table down, uh, and, but that’s…

Kalee: Yeah, I got, I took the opposite, a little bit of opposite direction where I… You, you were able to come and engage in those conversations. And I think I became very savvy in, I know how to listen really well and ask really good questions. And I know how to see dynamics at play and processes, processes at play and pick things out of what someone’s saying. And that I think was the way people were, became intrigued and charmed. Yes. But I had manners. I was very polite. I knew how to like move around the room, but it wasn’t going to be, I wasn’t the one, like, you know, singing the song and all of that, like that. I, I wasn’t my, I wasn’t the one taking up all this like more space in the room, um, or putting on a show in that stance in more ways learning and reading the room and how, and who to connect with.

Dan: Yeah. So how, again, I, know it’s an awful question, but how did you come to metabolize the craziness of being so gifted yet undermined that you really can’t live life? In some ways your mom gave you a crown and then, and essentially, uh, let you know that that crown wasn’t gonna work in the real world. So at that’s having to, with craziness.

Kalee: Yeah. I think that’s been a lot of my work, like, um, particularly, really helpful being named when I came to the all center and that was being read and seen in my stories and engaged. And I, was like, oh, that’s why I’ve struggled in a lot of ways. That’s why, um, I would have, you know, it’s not normal to have some sense of suicidality in the sixth grade. That is a really big red flag. Yeah. Um, it’s not normal to have other ways of coping and functioning that are really harmful to the body. And I think that was because it was such craziness and madness, but seemed in some ways normal or no one was telling me it wasn’t, if anything, people were intrigued the it just amped the level of madness internally. Um, and because I wasn’t really great at bringing my voice, it all was just this internal.

Dan: Mm.

Kalee: Yeah.

Dan: Yeah. And, and I, I think if I can underscore, you know, in some ways your, your ability to see, engage and, and maybe not name. During that early season, but to really have a sense of the madness of what is in your presence while simultaneously having such gifts to be able to contain and manage. You know, I look at that and go, oh my gosh, no wonder you were drawn into the Allender Center. Uh, we are and have been, uh, somewhat entrepreneurial mad, with strong impulse to deal with trauma abuse, but we’ve got this, we’ve got that. We’ve got. And this is competing with that. We’ve got that, et cetera, cetera. And to then be able to say, I certainly have experienced you, uh, with perhaps a much, much, much clearer, stronger voice than what had been true before. So what’s your sense of what’s coming alive for you to be able to speak so well, I mean, you are helping us manage, but far more, uh, I think you have named some of the great, um, I mean, uh, the Allender Center has goodness, there’s badness, there’s ugliness, and you have been much freer to name structurally, systemically, and also personally where there’s been some deep failure. So what, what’s your sense of what has come, uh, to enable the voice to be as clear and helpful as it has?

Kalee: Yeah, I think even as you’re talking, it was where I, I think I’ve recognized that often what I thought the madness inside it was inside of me, um, that kept me from trusting myself or believing myself, or even just feeling or being in my own body was actually more external. And so coming to, to do, have done a lot of work around being more in my body and trusting myself and listening to my voice and naming what I see. Um, I think no, you know, nor no organization is perfect by any means, but I, one thing I will say about the Allender Center about our admission, our administrative team, that as we’ve gone through a lot is that there’s been the ability to say things and work through things and talking about, I haven’t been in many places where your voice is actually invited, even if it’s not enjoyable for what’s coming out of it, or maybe someone does agree. But that there’s actually room to be heard and have a seat at the table for the most part. Um, not to say that everything then works out well from there, but I think we, the fact that there’s a sense of some safety and trust and belief in the goodness of all the people, um, has been really, really beneficial and big to that, and help grow. And I think having a team that says we wanna hear from you, um, or we want you to speak to something, or calling and naming giftings has been really, really impactful.

Dan: Well, I know personally, but also corporately, your voice, is clear, strong, inviting, and also kind, and that combination, is in some ways, even more disruptive than an angry voice, because you can’t, you can’t dismiss on the basis of, well, you said it so unwell, you said it well, and oftentimes said it in a way that I’m like, oh shit. Yes. Darn. Darn. Yes. But before we end, uh, I just wanna say there’s some new things happening in your life.

Kalee: Yeah. Yes.

Dan: I just wanna ask a little bit about what’s new and how’s that been like? Yeah. What are you seeing and becoming in the midst of the news?

Kalee: Oh gosh. So actually today, when I just looked down, the date is seven months of my husband and I being married. So that’s really exciting. It’s really exciting then that, that would be, we’d be talking on today because you married us, which to have you and Becky at the wedding was a really, really sweet, sweet honor and gift. Um, but man, I think being newly married is incredible. Beautiful. Also one of those places and times, I’ve felt young again, like I, and therefore refreshing, you probably can hear my voice and like, what do I even put words to this? It’s been so fun. And also at times really scary. And I think even as someone who’s been in this work, that would be like, oh yeah, that’s normal, or has seen things play out in marriages of clients I’ve worked with or friends or family, even my own parents, there’s still something that I was like, would’ve been really helpful to have, I don’t know what, how we would’ve been more prepared, but there’s been some even just when we’ve come to challenges, whether it was, uh, yeah, different obstacles that have been really stressful that have come up and learning to work around that where there’s, if the beginning was a little disappointing for us and it being really hard and sad to name that, and also really freeing to name that we’ve had like five attempts at a honeymoon brutal. I just think the honeymoon needs to go away. Um, yeah. So I think now we’re having, it’s been a really sweet and a lot of fun. It’s also sometimes really hard to let someone love me as much as he does. I, I’m more avoidant or will kind of like keep someone at bay. And I feel like sometimes like I’m young again, like trying to yeah, figure it out. but it’s been, it’s been really fun and playful and also hard work.

Dan: Yeah. Well, I’ll, I’ll just say that Peyton, your husband is, is a, a vastly complex, a complex entrepreneur with incredible integrity and, uh, and will pursue, uh, will pursue an avoidant woman. Maybe not always perfectly, but nonetheless, uh, there, there is a force of his very presence moving and so moving. And so again, what you’ve chosen is you’ll enter into complex relationships. You’ll let yourself feel young and yet begin to engage the issues of what your heart, both desires, but also where, you know, you fear and how you can abscond and back away. And so, you know, I mean the privilege for Becky and I to be at the wedding, uh, and to be in some sense, the formal beginning of and the closure of the dating engagement and the beginning, uh, it it’s, I, I just think the kingdom of God, so richly shows, Jesus shows himself through the two of you in the way the two of you engage and it is, it is stunning. So I’ll just say again, uh, I’m grateful that you have the ability to manage complex entrepreneurs, Plex entrepreneurs, uh, who sometimes in their mania create madness, uh, and indeed, uh, needs both containment, but also the integrity of naming and inviting people, to limits to the honor of choosing a path rather than 400. And that has been, that has been a gift, not only to me, but to the Allender Center. So thank you.

Kalee: Thank you.

Dan: Thank you.